Fu Manchu to Release Live at Roadburn 2003; Preorders Available

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 29th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Total no-brainer, right? Fu Manchu, Live at Roadburn 2003. Bam. Preorders up. If you’re going to the fest next month, you can pick it up there if you want. Otherwise, ship it or wait till June when the band have it out on their own At the Dojo imprint. Either way, I feel like I don’t even need to say anything about this. You can stream “Squash that Fly” at the bottom of the post — and contrary to what the Bandcamp player says, it’s from 2003, not 2013 — and hear for yourself, and honestly, that’s gonna do more for you than any kind of dumbass fanboy hyperbole I can throw your way about how awesome Fu Manchu are. Get the LP. There. Done.

No really, that’s it. From the PR wire:

fu manchu live at roadburn 2003

The big news of today is that Roadburn Records will do a one time pressing of the Fu Manchu set at Roadburn 2003 (yes that is a while ago ;-)) on blue vinyl. This album will be available first at the festival and will be shipped out by the end of April for all pre-orders.

Scott Hill from Fu Manchu comments:

“Playing Roadburn back in 2003 was a blast! It was a year before we put out our “Start The Machine” release and we played a couple of songs from it live for the first time on that tour. One of the songs that’s on this live record, “I Wanna Be,” is a different arrangement than what ended up on the final studio release. We’re stoked that the show was recorded and that people will get to hear it. Always a good time playing at Roadburn!”

The album will be a one time pressing of 500 on blue vinyl. Later this year, the band will release the set worldwide on their own At The Dojo label. The album is available to pre-order online now – but will be available first at Roadburn 2019.

Full setlist
1.Squash That Fly
2.Hell On Wheels
3.Eatin Dust
4.Laserblast!
5.I Wanna Be
6.Boogie Van
7.King Of The Road
8.Written In Stone
9.Saturn III

Line up:
Scott Hill – vocals guitar
Bob Balch – Lead guitar / backing vocals
Brad Davis – Bass – Backing vocals
Scott Reeder – Drums / Backing Vocals

Preorder: https://www.burningworldrecords.com/products/fu-manchu-live-at-roadburn-2003-lp-vinyl-blue-pre-order

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Fu Manchu, Live at Roadburn 2003

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the-top-30-of-2018

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 2018 to that, please do.

It just wouldn’t be a year if it wasn’t completely overwhelming, right?

2018 has certainly met that standard and then some. The swath of output, whether it’s a new generation adopting and adapting established methods or out and out reinventing the stylistic wheel and then pushing it uphill on a seemingly endless barrage of tours, has been staggering, and it’s still happening. There’s a little more than a week to go in the year. You think a band isn’t putting something out today? Of course they are. It’s every day. It’s all the time.

But this year wasn’t just about quantity either. I think one of my biggest struggles in writing about albums in 2018 — and with the last Quarterly Review and various premieres and video posts that were basically album reviews in disguise, let’s estimate we’re somewhere past 300 records reviewed one way or another — was in conveying just how killer so much of the stuff coming through was. How many times can you say the word “awesome?” Well, I’m sure we’ll see it a few more times before this list is over, so there you go.

I say something like this every time I do a list, but please keep in mind these are my picks and I’m one person. But I am a person. I know there’s the whole internet-anonymity thing, but I assure you, I’m a human being (more of a cave troll, really) typing these words. I’m all for everyone sharing their own picks in the comments, and all for passionate advocating, but please, let’s keep it civil and respectful. These things can spiral out of control quickly, but let’s remember that we’re all human beings and worth of basic courtesy, even if some of us are dead wrong about a good many things. You should definitely punch nazis, though.

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

[UPDATE: You’ll notice the inclusion of an ’18a.’ I had Stoned Jesus in my notes as number 18 initially and they got dropped as I was adjusting things along the way. I’ve added them back in, but it didn’t seem fair to bump everyone else down after the post had already been published. That was the best I could come up with for a solution. If you’re pissed about one more killer record being added, please feel free to email me and tell me all about it.]

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Chicago’s The Skull had no small task before them in following up their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) — let alone living up to their pedigree — but their second album demonstrated a creative growth that sacrificed nothing of memorability when it came to songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “All that Remains (Is True).” They got down to work and got the job done, which is what a working band does. 2018 was by any measure a fantastic year for doom, and The Skull were a big part of why.

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

The Dec. 2017 murder of Rev. Jim Forrester was tragic. No other way to say it. Foghound, who were in the midst of making Awaken to Destroy at the time, put together an album that not only features Forrester‘s last recorded performance, but pays respect to his memory while the wound is still raw and manages to kick ass all the while. It’s a record that can’t ever be divorced from its circumstances — just can’t — and so it can be a heavy listen in more than just its tones, but it’s basically Foghound proving they’re unstoppable. And so they are.

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

Who among us here today is not a sucker for Orange Goblin? Come forward an be judged. I mean, really. Nine records deep, the London sceneforgers are nothing less than an institution, beloved by boozehounds, riffhounds, doomhounds, and really, a wide variety of hounds the world over. Also dudes. With its essential title-track hook and highlight cuts in “Ghosts of the Primitives” and “Burn the Ships” — or, you know, any of them — they added to one of heavy’s most unshakable legacies with an album as furious as it is welcoming to its generations-spanning fanbase.

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

fu manchu clone of the universe
Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed Feb. 15.

There are two kinds of people in this world, and they’re both Fu Manchu fans. Clone of the Universe turned heads with a guest appearance from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson on the 18-minute side-B-consuming “Il Mostro Atomico,” but really to focus on that instead of “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” etc., is only seeing half the point of the album in the first place. The long-running lords of fuzz hit a new stride with 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), and Clone of the Universe was in every way a worthy successor.

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain
Released by Svart Records. Reviewed May 16.

It was an unenviable task before Witch Mountain in replacing vocalist Uta Plotkin, but founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson found the right voice in Kayla Dixon and solidified the lineup with her and bassist Justin Brown enough to make a declarative statement in Witch Mountain‘s self-titled LP. That’s the story of it. They pulled it off. Met with what was unquestionably a bummer circumstance, they pushed through and moved their sound forward through a new beginning — and not their first one. Watch out when their next record hits.

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Richmond, Virginia, doomers Windhand‘s second collaboration with producer Jack Endino produced a marked and purposeful expansion of their sound, encompassing classic grunge influences and a heavy psychedelic swirl that added color their previously-greyscale sonic haze. Resonant in tone and emotionalism, Eternal Return readjusted Windhand‘s trajectory in such a manner that, where one might’ve thought they knew where the band were headed in terms of their progression, they’ve made themselves a less predictable outfit on the whole. For that alone, it’s a triumph. Then you have the songs.

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

I don’t even want to admit how long I was waiting for Sun Voyager‘s first long-player to show up, but when it finally did, the New York trio did not disappoint. Catchy, energetic, fuzzed-out tunes with driving rhythms and a heavy psych flourish, they tapped into shoegaze and desert vibes without losing any sense of themselves in the process, and if the extra wait was so they could be so remarkably coherent in their expression on their full-length, then I wouldn’t want it to have shown up any sooner. An easy pick to stand among 2018’s best debut albums. Now to wait for the next one.

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

It should tell you something that after working quickly to produce three albums, Louisiana’s Forming the Void are still defined by their potential. If I had my druthers, I’d put the recent Ripple signees on tour for the bulk of 2019, across the US and in Europe for festivals and support-slot club shows, really give them an opportunity to hammer out who they are as a band and then hit the studio for LP four. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but they’d only be doing the universe a favor by kicking into that gear. As it stands, their progression is palpable in their material and they stand absolutely ready for whatever the next level might be for them.

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

Released by BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed June 29.

Aside from the speed at which Spaceslug have turned around offerings — with Eye the Tide following 2017’s Mountains and Reminiscence EP (review here) and Time Travel Dilemma (review here) full-length and their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here) — the Polish outfit have undertaken significant progression in their sound, moving from pure heavy psychedelic warmth to incorporating elements out of extreme metal as they did on Eye the Tide. Adding to the latest record’s accomplishment is the smoothness with which they brought seemingly opposing sides together, only adding depth to an approach already worthy of oceanic comparison.

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

Conan Existential Void Guardian
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Conan‘s reign of terror has been unfolding for more than a decade now, and each of their albums has become a kind of step along a path of incremental growth. Consider the melody creeping into the shouts of founding guitarist Jon Davis, or the emergence of bassist Chris Fielding as a vocal presence alongside, the two sharing a frontman role more than ever before while welcoming drummer Johnny King to the fold of destructive tonality and doomly extremism. Existential Void Guardian may end up just being another stomp-print on their way to the next thing, but it affirmed the fact that as much as Conan grow each time out, their central violence continues to hold sway.

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

PALE DIVINE S/T
Released by Shadow Kingdom Records. Reviewed Nov. 21.

Look. A new Pale Divine record doesn’t come along every day, so yeah, their self-titled was probably going to be on my list one way or the other, but it definitely helps that not only was it their first outing in six years since 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here), but it had the songs to live up to a half-decade-plus of anticipation. It marked the first studio appearance from bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis alongside guitarist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey — now both of Beelzefuzz as well — and made a strong argument for how much Pale Divine deserve more than 20 years on from their initial demo to be considered classic American doom.

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands
Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed May 11.

The return and rise to prominence of Washington pure heavy rockers Mos Generator might be the underground’s feelgood story of the decade, but it hasn’t by any means been easily won. In addition to rebuilding the band however many albums ago, guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed has put in innumerable hours on tour and worked to actually develop the group creatively in addition to in terms of stage presence. This is shown throughout some of the classic prog elements making their way onto Shadowlands, and perhaps some of the collection’s moodier aspects are born of the aforementioned road time as well. Hard for that kind of thing not to be a slog after a while, but at least they have killer tunes to play.

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

The only safe bet about Stoned Jesus‘ fourth long-player, Pilgrims, was that it was going to sound different than the third. That 2015 outing, The Harvest (review here), preceded the band touring to celebrate the fifth anniversary and after-the-fact success of 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but Pilgrims defied narrative in that instead of incorporating elements from the second record in more of a heavy psych or jam sound, Stoned Jesus instead showcased a tighter, more sureheaded sense of craft than they’ve ever displayed before, and arrived on Napalm Records with a collection of songs that demonstrated the growth and sense of creative will that drives them. While one can take a look at their moniker and think immediately they know what’s coming, Stoned Jesus have made themselves one of the least predictable bands in heavy rock.

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

“Pirate Smile.” “Lines.” “Whatever.” “It Ain’t Right.” “Threes.” “Cinderella.” “Generals.” “Big Enough.” “Alone.” “Lucky. Mike Cummings, Jessica Baker, Erik Larson. Every player, every song, every minute. If you want to know what heart-on-sleeve sounds like, it fucking sounds like Backwoods Payback. In their line from hardcore punk to grunge to heavy rock, they encompass experiences and emotionalism that are both shown in raw form throughout Future Slum, and build all the while on the chemistry they set out in developing with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), when they welcomed Larson to the lineup on drums and revitalized their mission. Also worth noting, they were the best live band I saw this year. Anywhere.

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

No question the excitement of C.O.C. putting out their first record with frontman Pepper Keenan involved since 2005’s In the Arms of God was one of this year’s top stories in heavy. And No Cross No Crown tapped directly into the spirit of 1994’s Deliverance (discussed here) and 1996’s Wiseblood (discussed here) in terms of direction, while updating the band’s style with a four-part 2LP in mind. In some ways, it’ll be their next album that really gives listeners a sense of where they’re at and where they might be headed, but as welcome returns go, having Keenan alongside Mike DeanWoody Weatherman and Reed Mullin is in no way to be understated, and neither is the quality of their output together, then and now.

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It is no simple feat to hypnotize an audience and convey serenity while at the same time holding attention with songcraft, so that the listener isn’t actually so much unconscious as malleable of mood and spirit in such a direction as the band suggests. Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to become experts at this, and their third full-length fosters tonal warmth and jammy progressions with an overarching naturalism that finds them so committed to analog recording that one can buy direct transfers of the tape master of III. Some acts take classic-style practices as an aesthetic choice. With Naxatras, it seems to be the stuff of life, yet their sound is only vibrant and human in a way that, at least one hopes, is even more representative of the future than the past.

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

It was time for Clutch to make a change in producers, and the Maryland overlords of groove seemed to know it. Known as a live band, they went with Vance Powell, who’s known a live band producer. The results on Book of Bad Decisions might not have been so earth-shatteringly different from 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here), which was the too-soon follow-up to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — both helmed by Machine — but the inimitable four-piece indeed succeeded in capturing the electricity of their stage performance and, as ever, treated fans to a collection of songs bearing Clutch‘s unmistakable hallmarks of quirky lyrics, funky rhythms and heavy roll. They may always be a live band, but Clutch‘s studio work is in no way to be discounted, ever, as this record reaffirmed. Plus, crab cakes.

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

After 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), I wasn’t sure Ancestors were going to put out another record. They kicked around word of one for a while, but it wasn’t until the end of last year that it really seemed to congeal into a possibility. And by then, who the hell knew what they might get up to on a full-length? With Suspended in Reflections, in some says, they picked up where they left off in terms of finding a niche for themselves in progressive and melodic heavy, but I think the time showed in the poise of their execution and the control of the material. Suspended in Reflections can’t help but be six years more mature than its predecessor, and that suits its contemplative feel. In tracks like “Gone,” and “The Warm Glow,” they tempered their expansive sound with an efficiency that can only be had with time.

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

The narrative here was hard to beat. Matt Pike spending an album cycle talking about Lemmy Kilmister and paying homage to his dirt-rock forebear and the gods of old? It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Electric Messiah was the third collaboration between High on Fire and producer Kurt Ballou behind 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), and while it seemed after the last record that the formula might be getting stale, the band only sounded more and more lethal throughout the latest offering. Even putting aside their contributions to underground heavy, they’ve become one of the most essential metal bands of their generation. Metal, period. Doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re talking about it. If you’re listening to High on Fire, you know it. Usually because you’ve just been decapitated.

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

You know, if you take the time to separate Yawning Man from their 30-plus-year history and their legacy as one of the foundational acts of what later became desert rock, and you listen to The Revolt Against Tired Noises, you’re still left with basically a dream of an album. Mostly instrumental, as is their wont, they nonetheless had bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) sing this time around on a version of the previously-unreleased “Catamaran,” which Kyuss covered once upon a whenever although Yawning Man had never officially put it to tape. But really, that and all other novelty aside, guitarist Gary Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are a chemistry unto themselves. I don’t know if they’ll ever be as huge as they should be, but every bit of acclaim they get, they’ve earned, and if The Revolt Against Tired Noises helps them get it, all the more so.

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

Swedish heavy rock mavens Greenleaf have become an entirely different band than they once were. No longer a Dozer side-project from guitarist Tommi Holappa with a rotating cast of players, they’re a solidified, road-tested, powerhouse unit, and Hear the Rivers bleeds soul as a result. Holappa, frontman Arvid Hällagård, bassist Hans Fröhlich and drummer Sebastian Olsson sound like they’re absolutely on fire in the album’s tracks, and far from being staid or formulaic as one might expect a sixth long-player to be, Hear the Rivers built on what the band accomplished with 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) and came across as all the more vital and nearly frenetic in their energy. I won’t say Greenleaf has seen their last lineup change, because one never knows, but the band as they are today is the realization of potential I don’t think even Greenleaf knew was there.

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 4.

Five records deep into a career into its second decade, Gozu haven’t had a miss yet. Admittedly, some of their early work can seem formative considering where they are now, but still. And after the 2016 rager, Revival (review here), to have the band return to the same studio — Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where strides producer Dean Baltulonis — for the follow-up allows for the four-piece to directly show how their sound has grown more encompassing in the last couple years. And it has. Equilibrium is a rich and varied listen that holds true to Gozu‘s well-established penchant for soulful vibes and crunching, hard-hitting riffs and groove, but while it shares the directness of approach with Revival, it makes moves that a band could only make moving from one record to the next. I expect nothing less their next time out as well, because a decade later, that’s Gozu‘s proven track record.

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

monster magnet mindfucker
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 23.

The battle for the best album title of 2018 ended early when New Jersey everything-rockers Monster Magnet announced the release of Mindfucker. And what else to call a Monster Magnet LP at this point? They’ve stopped writing to genre. They’re driven by the creative mania of frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf, and they’ve seen psychedelic expanses and commercial success the likes of which would serve the tenure of four lesser bands. What’s left to do but whatever the hell you want? So that’s what Monster Magnet are doing. It just so happens that while they’re doing it, they’re still basically outclassing the entirety of the former planet earth as songwriters. As Monster Magnet fan in 2018, there was nothing more I could’ve asked than what Mindfucker delivered. And if you’re still trying to get your brain around it however many months later, you’re not alone. I think that’s the idea.

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Best doom album of 2018. The combination of craft and passion behind the delivery. The way the dark tones fed into the emotions so clearly on display and sheer presence of it in listening to songs like “Keeping the Lighthouse,” “Ruination by Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here.” Apostle of Solitude never seem to be the highest profile band out there, but their work seems never to be anything less than outstanding, and I refuse to accept them as anything less than among the most pivotal American acts out there making traditional doom. And not just making it, but making it their own, with a sense of new pursuits and individualism that extends to playing style as well as atmosphere. I know doom isn’t exactly in short supply these days — figuratively or literally — but if you miss out on what Apostle of Solitude are doing with it, you’ll only regret it later. I’ll say it one more time: Best doom album of 2018.

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

holy grove ii
Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 31.

Every now and again, anticipating the crap of an album really pays off, and such was the case with Holy Grove II, the Ripple Music debut from the Portland outfit whose 2016 self-titled (review here) seemed like such a herald of excellence to come while also, you know, being killer. Holy Grove II brought the four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis to entirely new levels of composition and execution. In songs like “Blade Born,” the shorter, sharper “Aurora,” the patiently rolling “Valley of the Mystics,” “Solaris” and closer “Cosmos,” which boasted a not-really-necessary-but-definitely-welcome guest vocal appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt, — and oh wait, that’s all of the tracks — Holy Grove entered a different echelon. Anticipation will likewise be high for Holy Grove III, but it’ll be hard to complain with this record to keep company in the meantime.

6. All Them Witches, ATW

all them witches atw
Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Over five All Them Witches albums, the Nashville four-piece have gone from a nascent heavy Americana jam band to one of the most distinct acts in the US underground. Their development in sound is chemistry-driven, so it was a risk when the founding trio of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) and drummer Robby Staebler welcomed new keyboardist Jonathan Draper into the lineup to take the place of Allan van Cleave. Amid a more naturalist production than that of 2017’s Sleeping Through the War (review here), the revamped four-piece flourished in terms of songwriting and conveying their stage-born sonic personae. From the gleeful fuckery of opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” to the memorable moodiness of “Diamond” and the back-end jam “Harvest Feast” en route to the stretched-out end of “Rob’s Dream,” All Them Witches essentially confirmed they could do whatever they wanted and make it work.

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

yob our raw heart
Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed June 7.

Actually, if you want a sample of YOB‘s raw heart, the place to go is probably 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), but whatever the Eugene, Oregon, shapers of cosmic doom might’ve lacked in titular accuracy on their eighth long-player, they made up for in a new, statesman-like posture. Their approach was mature, hammered out to a professionalism working completely on its own terms, and they never sounded so sure of who they are as a band or as confident of their direction. In extended cuts “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and “Our Raw Heart,” they explored new and progressive textures and melodies, and managed to reaffirm their core aspects while finding room for conveying emotion that came across as nothing but ultimately sincere. They have been and still are one of a kind, and as they continue to move forward, they remain a band that makes one feel lucky to be alive to witness their work. Our Raw Heart was perhaps more refined than it let on, but the heart was there for sure, as always.

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t a fan of the (relatively) harder-hitting approach Brant Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band took on 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), but Mankind Woman brought in some more of his soul influences, and whether it was the subtly subversive funk of “Chocolatize” and “Brand New Old Times” or the callout “1968” and laid back vibes of the title-track and “Swagger and Sway,” Bjork — working with guitarist Bubba DuPree on songwriting and production — offered a definitive look at what has made his 20-year solo career so special and demonstrates not only his longevity and his legacy, but his will to continue to progress as an artist honing his craft. His discography is well populated by now to be sure, but Mankind Woman represents a turn from the last couple records, and if it’s in any way portentous of things to come, it bodes well. Bjork is right at home nestled into classic-style grooves, and his legacy as one of the principal architects of desert rock is continually reaffirmed.

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

They’ve been great, not just good, for a long time now, and as forerunners of the San Diego heavy scene, they’re godfathers to an up and coming generation of bands taking their influence — let alone acts from the rest of the world — but Black Heaven is a special moment for them because of its departure. No, it wasn’t not the first time guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sang on an Earthless recording, but it did represent a tip of the balance in that direction for the band on a studio full-length, and that resulted in a special moment. Album opener “Gifted by the Wind” was one of the best songs I heard this year, and while “End to End” and the all-thrust “Volt Rush” affirmed that more traditional songwriting was well within the grasp of Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, they still found space for a sprawling jam or two, keeping their claim on the instrumentalism that’s (largely) fueled their tenure to date. Earthless don’t want for acclaim, but every bit of it is earned, and while their primary impact has always been live, Black Heaven saw them construct a traditional-style LP that still bore the hallmarks of their collective personality. It was the best of all worlds.

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

king buffalo longing to be the mountain
Self-released/released by Stickman Records. Reviewed Sept. 27.

In the dark early hours of 2018, the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson issued the Repeater EP (review here) as a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), so Longing to Be the Mountain didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but even with Repeater preceding its arrival, I don’t think anyone necessary expected King Buffalo‘s second album to have such a scope or to be so engrossing with it. In its melody, patience, atmosphere and heft, it was an absolute joy to behold. Its songs were memorable at the same time they were far-reaching, and while Orion was already my pick for the best debut of 2016, Longing to Be the Mountain realized even more potential than that record had hinted toward. It could be intimate or majestic at its whim, and its dynamic set an individual characterization of heavy psychedelia and blues-style sprawl that the band wholly owned. With production by Ben McLeod of All Them Witches behind them, they worked to serve notice of a progression undertaken the results of which are already staggering and still seem to be looking ahead to the next stage, literally and figuratively. One of the principal standards I use in constructing this list every year is what I listen to most. That’s this record.

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

Obviously, right? To some extent, when Sleep surprise-announced on April 19 they’d release their first album in 15 years the next day, and then did, they took ownership of 2018. Even with records still to come at that point from YOB and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike‘s own High on Fire, there was no way that when the end of the year came around, it wasn’t going to be defined by the advent of a new Sleep record. And even if it sucked, it would probably still be Album of the Year, but fortunately, as Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om) and drummer Jason Roeder (also Neurosis) took their long-running stage reunion to the studio, they brought material that highlighted the best elements from all players. Pike‘s wild soloing, Cisneros‘ meditative vocals and Roeder‘s intricate but smooth style of roll all came together in older pieces like “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Sonic Titan” and newer highlights “Giza Butler” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” and aside from the excitement at their existence, they showed the mastery of form that Sleep had been demonstrating live since 2009 and which they hinted toward in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here). A new Sleep full-length was something long-discussed, long-rumored and long-considered, but when it finally happened, I think the results vaporized expectation in a way no one could’ve anticipated. There’s a reason Sleep are Sleep. Having The Sciences as a reminder of that brought about the defining moment of 2018.

The Next 20

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a Top 30 at all if it didn’t go to 50. Don’t try to make sense of it, just look at the records.

31. Atavismo, Valdeinfierno
32. Grayceon, IV
33. Clamfight, III
34. Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique
35. Megaton Leviathan, Mage
36. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland
37. Arcadian Child, Superfonica
38. Freedom Hawk, Beast Remains
39. The Machine, Faceshift
40. Messa, Feast for Water
41. Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium
42. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Science Fiction
43. Domkraft, Flood
44. Träden, Träden
45. Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
46. Samavayo, Vatan
47. Foehammer, Second Sight
48. Bongripper, Terminal
49. Mansion, First Death of the Lutheran
50. Sunnata, Outlands
51. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Come and Chutney

Believe me when I tell you, I sweated over this section more than I did the actual top 30. Mansion should be higher. So should Chubby Thunderous, though something in me thought they might like being #50 on a list of 30. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Clamfight, Black Rainbows, Foehammer, Seedy Jeezus, Messa, Domkraft. All of these were fucking awesome. And there are more (we’ll get there). Eventually numbers add up. I won’t say a bad word about any of these. That’s it.

Honorable Mention

This section always winds up expanded as other people point out things I missed and so on, but here’s what I’ve got in the immediate, alphabetically:

  • Alms, Act One
  • Ape Machine, Darker Seas
  • Belzebong, Light the Dankness
  • Black Moon Circle, Psychedelic Spacelord
  • Blackwater Holylight, Blackwater Holylight
  • Bong, Thought and Existence
  • Carpet, About Rooms and Elephants
  • Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery
  • Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree
  • Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need
  • Death Alley, Superbia
  • Drug Cult, Drug Cult
  • Dunbarrow, II
  • Electric Citizen, Helltown
  • Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn
  • Evoken, Hypnagogia
  • Funeral Horse, Psalms for the Mourning
  • Fuzz Evil, High on You
  • Graven, Heirs of Discord
  • Graveyard, Peace
  • Green Dragon, Green Dragon
  • Green Druid, Ashen Blood
  • Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing
  • High Priestess, High Priestess
  • Horehound, Holocene
  • IAH, II
  • JIRM, Surge ex Monumentis
  • Killer Boogie, Acid Cream
  • Lonely Kamel, Death’s Head Hawkmoth
  • MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure
  • Moab, Trough
  • Mountain Dust, Seven Storms
  • Mouth, Floating
  • Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence
  • T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid
  • Onségen Ensemble, Duel
  • Orango, Evergreen
  • Owl, Nights in Distortion
  • Pushy, Hard Wish
  • Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground/Meditation
  • River Cult, Halcyon Daze
  • Rotor, Sechs
  • Somali Yacht Club, The Sea
  • Sumac, Love in Shadow
  • Sundrifter, Visitations
  • Svvamp, Svvamp II
  • Thou, Magus
  • Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse
  • Weedpecker, III

Special Note

Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to include these in the list proper because they’re not really underground releases, but there were two more records I especially wanted to highlight for their quality:

  • Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
  • Judas Priest, Firepower

Best Short Release of the Year

Normally I’d do this as a separate post, but as a result of being robbed earlier this year, I feel like my list is woefully incomplete. If you have any demos, EPs, splits, singles, etc., to add to it, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Still, the top pick was clear:

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Rarely do two bands work in such coherent tandem to their mutual benefit. Here are a few other essential short releases for 2018, alphabetically:

  • All Them Witches, Lost and Found
  • Alunah, Amber & Gold
  • Canyon, Mk II
  • Demon Head, The Resistence
  • Destroyer of Light, Hopeless
  • Ecstatic Vision, Under the Influence
  • Godmaker & Somnuri, Split
  • Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul
  • King Buffalo, Repeater
  • Minsk & Zatokrev, Split
  • Sleep, Leagues Beneath
  • Stonus, Lunar Eclipse
  • Sundecay, Gale

Looking Forward

A good many albums have already been announced or hinted at for 2019. I in no way claim this to be a complete roundup of what’s coming, but here’s what I have in my notes so far, in absolutely no order:

Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Cities of Mars, Heavy Temple, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan (LP), Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Om.

Okay, That’s It

Yeah, no, I’m serious. List is done. Everybody go back to your lives. Your families miss you.

Really though, while this is by no means my last post of 2018, I can’t let it pass without saying thank you so much to everyone for checking out the site this year, or for just digging into this, or for sending me music, or hitting me up on social media, sharing a link, anything. Thank you. Thank you. I could never have imagined when it started out where it would be now. Or that I’d still be doing it. Your support means more to me than I can say, and I thank you so much for being a part of this with me.

So thanks.

If you have something to add to the list, please do so by leaving a comment below, but keep in mind as well the above note requesting civility. Please don’t make me feel stupid because I forgot your favorite record. I forgot a lot of people’s favorite records. I’m one dude. I’m doing my best.

And please keep in mind if you’ve got a list together that the Year-End Poll is open and results will be out Jan. 1.

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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Friday Full-Length: Fu Manchu, Daredevil

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Fu Manchu, Daredevil (1995)

What’s most incredible about listening to the earliest Fu Manchu albums, whether that’s 1995’s Daredevil or their preceding 1994 debut, No One Rides for Free (reissue review here), is just how vividly the band knew even at that point what they wanted to do. Granted, guitarist/vocalist Scott Hill, bassist Mark Abshire and drummer Ruben Romano had worked together in the prior outfit, Virulence, whose work Southern Lord reissued in 2010 as the collection, If this isn’t a Dream… 1985-1989 (review here), but even so, for all of Fu Manchu‘s reputation as a bunch of aloof, laid back surfer dudes who, I don’t know, just happened to plug in their guitars and help define fuzz rock?, the coherence and the consciousness at work in No One Rides for Free and Daredevil, the sheer songcraft in cuts like “Trapeze Freak,” “Gathering Speed,” “Sleestak,” “Egor” and “Push Button Magic,” the structure of the album — CD era linearity, to be sure, but still vinyl-ready at 11 tracks/43 minutes, and indeed reissued by the band on LP in 2015 via their At the Dojo imprint; it’s up on their Bandcamp page — and the performances themselves leave no doubt that Fu Manchu were aware of the sound they were seeking out. The groove that would so much come to fruition on subsequent outings like 1996’s In Search Of… (discussed here) and 1997’s The Action is Go (discussed here), the Eatin’ Dust 10″ in ’99 and 2000’s King of the Road, was already embedded in their sound, and in its toneand overarching flow, Daredevil shows that without question. It emits that SoCal sense of cool born of skate and surf culture that still resonates nearly a quarter-century later, and not just because kids are walking around in flannels and boots again (hilarious though that is), but because it taps into the timeless notion of American self-determinism; the will and ability to look at what the masses are doing and say, “nah, not for me.” As long as there’s been cool, that’s been it, and listening back to Daredevil now, thinking of it in its world-just-getting-over-grunge-and-wondering-what’s-next context, Fu Manchu were doing precisely that.

As the band continued to evolve into the immediately-identifiable processes it continues to carry out to this day — their latest album, Clone of the Universe (review here), is a winner — so too did the lineup change. Daredevil marked the departure of Abshire from the four-piece with HillRomano and lead guitarist Eddie Glass, and the arrival of bassist Brad Davis, who remains in the lineup. One might then think of it as a bridge between the debut and In Search Of… to come, but that does something of a disservice to the chorus of “Coyote Duster,” the fu manchu daredevilstart-stop riff and Glass‘ solo there, or the shimmy in second cut “Tilt,” which backs “Trapeze Freak” at the outset and, like that track, tosses the name of the record into the lyrics. Certainly at the time Daredevil came out, no one knew Fu Manchu would be back the next year with a genre landmark, and while Daredevil still has its formative elements in terms of their approach, to listen to the semi-spaced push of “Travel Agent” and its ultra-stoned nodder compatriot “Sleestak” and its consciousness-drifting answer in “Space Farm,” the roots of what they’d become are right there in the depth of distortion, the weight of their rhythm and their seemingly endless supply of hooks. “Lug” has some elements of the Southern Cali punk scene that birthed them, and “Egor” and “Wurkin'” back-to-back are solid mid-paced groovers that are no less memorable than anything before them while retaining their edge as more than just exercises in songwriting. Top it off with “Push Button Magic” as a late highlight, and Daredevil winds up as a completely underrated inclusion in the Fu Manchu catalog. It may be the that the Hill/Glass/Davis/Romano lineup were getting their feet under them in these songs, but there’s no question they absolutely did so at some point before they hit the studio to record. Seriously, who’s gonna fight with Glass‘ watery solo in “Space Farm?” Jerks, that’s who.

There’s no denying — and I mean none — what Fu Manchu would go on to create, and I’m not taking anything away from those records. And as Glass and Romano departed in order to re-team with Abshire in Nebula, and a fresh-off-Kyuss Brant Bjork took over on drums and Bob Balch came in on lead guitar, Fu Manchu‘s delivery only continued to smooth itself out to a point of unmatched fuzzy refinement. One could argue that 2001’s California Crossing and 2004’s Start the Machine (the latter their lone release on DRT Records, which at that point was also handling Clutch) took them too far into a commercial direction, but that’s mostly a quibble with production value, since Fu Manchu have always been and remain an immediately accessible listen. Even unto their Century Media years with 2007’s We Must Obey (discussed here) and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power (discussed here), which beefed up their fuzz considerably, they never had anything approaching pretense in their sound, and their latter-day work on 2014’s Gigantoid (review here) and the aforementioned Clone of the Universe, has found them reopening the conversation with their punk and hardcore roots with a rawer take while retaining an affinity for the heavier elements they helped make so essential in the first place. Classic band? Definitely.

And most importantly, the value of Daredevil extends beyond the academic to the songs themselves. 23 years after the fact, it’s still a gnarly listen, brimming with attitude and a quality of output that, yes, demonstrates clearly that Fu Manchu‘s vision of fuzzy heavy rock was not happenstance, but moreover, simply kicks ass. To my knowledge, they’ve never played it in its entirety live as they have The Action is GoIn Search Of… and (I believe) King of the Road, and I’m not sure they would, as it doesn’t have the same kind of profile as those records, but if any of these tracks made its way into a set, as “Push Button Magic” still does every now and then, I can only imagine feeling lucky to be there to see it.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

If you’re reading this, that at least means I made it to the end of the week enough to get it posted, so you’ll pardon me if I take a second to congratulate myself on that.

Before I get into anything else, I want to say thanks to everybody who listened to the first episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio. Can’t even begin to tell you how much that means to me. If you get the chance, it’s re-airing two more times over the next couple days:

Saturday, Sept 29 at 11am ET / 8am PT
Monday, October 1 at 11am ET / 8am PT

If you get to check it out, it’s hugely appreciated.

I’ve already turned in a playlist for a second episode — yes, it starts with YOB — but have to learn how to use their voice-recording dealy before it actually gets to air. We’ll see how it goes. Either way, my plan is to bring on The Patient Mrs. for a guest spot following up on the first episode’s cameo.

And next week I’m also traveling to Norway for the Høstsabbat festival, so I might try to chase down dudes in Asteroid or Elephant Tree, etc., and see if they want to record a couple minutes to air at a later time. That would probably be episode three. Look at me, thinking ahead.

I leave for that on Thursday, get into Oslo on Friday. Fest starts Friday evening, runs through Saturday, starting in the afternoon, and then I fly back on Sunday. Quick, efficient, in and out. My flights have a layover in Copenhagen, but nothing long enough to actually leave the airport. Still, I’ve never been to Denmark. Now at least I can say I was in and out. That’s more than I’ve ever been able to do with Sweden, much to my ongoing shame.

But I’m looking forward to Høstsabbat and incredibly grateful for the chance to get back there. It’s going to be good.

The Patient Mrs., The Pecan and I were in Connecticut last weekend, and it was good to get out of the house for a couple days and kind of reset the brain after having to put The Much-Missed Little Dog Dio down. At least not be somewhere where everything reminds me of her, which seems to be the case at home. It’s been rough. I know loss is universal, and everyone goes through it, and it always sucks, but some you feel more than you feel others. This one I’ll have with me for as long as I have anything.

What part of the week I didn’t spend writing or falling asleep against my will, I mostly spent taking care of the baby. Last semester, The Patient Mrs.’ schedule allowed her to come home between classes, feed him before she went back, and at least give me a couple minutes to get a post up or do something crazy like shower or go to the bathroom. The shifts (that is, mine) are longer now and her commitments outside of teaching classes are manifold. Lot of meetings, lot of favors done for colleagues. The Pecan is 11 months old as of earlier this week. He’s walking and babbling, climbing the furniture and getting into absolutely everything, but he’s also a lot, a lot, a lot of fun right now.

He’s had stretches where it’s been hard to take — those early teething stretches were not great — but (fingers always crossed) he’s sleeping through the night, which I know because I’m up for most of it and have the baby monitor on while I write, and he wants to play and read books and mash up blueberries and laugh and have a good time. Sure, we spent all day yesterday watching the Kavanaugh hearing, and that was probably the most screen-time he’s ever had, but even so, it’s a blast to chase him around the room, pick him up, give him his stuffed Porg to play with and so on. A lot of fun. Feels good. Money is super-tight — as in, The Patient Mrs. got paid last Friday and we were broke by the time I finished grocery shopping and buying gas this past Tuesday — but “daddy” is the best job I’ve ever had, hands down.

Emotions.

I’ve got a lot of stuff in the works for next week, including at some point a Wasted Theory video premiere that needs to get placed, but here’s where the notes are at right now ahead of the Norway trip:

Mon.: Megaton Leviathan interview and track premiere.
Tue.: The Exploding Eyes Orchestra album stream.
Wed.: Bourbon album stream.
Thu.: Probably Wasted Theory video premiere or otherwise Windhand review.
Fri.: King Buffalo interview… me.

A word about that last entry: Yes. Drummer Scott Donaldson from King Buffalo wanted to do an interview with me. He sent me questions and I answered them, and I’m going to post that on Friday. It was a fun, silly kind of thing, and it feels super-weird and self-glorifying in a way that makes me really, really uncomfortable, but it gives me another chance to talk about their new record, so whatever. I hate the thought of posting it like it’s some ego trip like who the fuck am I to think anyone gives a shit about anything I say other than “yo, riffs are cool,” but yeah. I’ve told myself I’m putting it up and in all likelihood, unless I can manage to talk myself out of it between now and then — as, rest assured, a big part of me is trying to do — it’ll be up sometime before the fest starts on Friday in Oslo.

Alright, that’s enough. It’s 5AM and time to put up the first of today’s six posts. Woof. Then maybe I’ll have some more coffee and read or go back upstairs and try to crash out for a bit until the baby gets up, which I expect he will within the hour. I was up a few times between when I first fell asleep at 9PM and 2:30AM when the alarm went off, so whether it’s during baby-nap or what, more sleep is probably going to happen today one way or another.

Have a great and safe weekend, and again, thank you for reading. Back Monday, and please check out the forum and the radio stream.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe: Don’t Panic

Posted in Reviews on February 15th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

fu manchu clone of the universe

Hey, look. If you’re Fu Manchu — and if you are, thanks for the riffs — having a guest appearance from Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson on your new record isn’t going to hurt your cause. But make no mistake. With the SoCal fuzz innovators’ 12th full-length, Clone of the Universe — released through their own At the Dojo Records imprint — the case is much the same as with the rest of their discography: The highlight of the Fu Manchu album is the Fu Manchu album. I’m not decrying Lifeson‘s spot on the 18-minute “Il Mostro Atomico” that closes out Clone of the Universe. It’s a massive, multi-faceted, explorational space jam topped with killer solos set to a dead-on weighted nod; essential Fu Manchu fuzz setting off on a five-year mission. There’s one verse and it doesn’t start until after nine minutes in.

Cool as hell, right? Of course, but it’s the earlier songs — opener “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” “Nowhere Left to Hide” and “Clone of the Universe” itself — that really tell the story of the record. Side A. And side A finds the San Clemente foursome of guitarist/vocalist Scott Hill, bassist Brad Davis, guitarist Bob Balch and drummer Scott Reeder in tight and top form as regards songwriting. Following suit from their last long-player, 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), the band continue to strip out some of the thickness from their fuzz as compares to records like 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power or 2007’s We Must Obey (discussed here), and it’s telling that even in working with Jim Monroe at The Racket Room in Santa Ana, CA, they also returned to Moab guitarist/vocalist Andrew Giacumakis — who helmed Gigantoid — at SUSSTUDIO in Simi Valley for additional recording.

That moves gives a sense of continuity of approach between the two albums, despite the four years separating their release, and context to the rawness of tone coming from Hill and Balch‘s guitars throughout Clone of the Universe, which very much plays out in two-sided fashion. The already-noted “Il Mostro Atomico” consumes all of side B in four distinct movements, and fair enough for that, but the earlier cuts running from about two to four minutes apiece make up a varied side A drawn together by the universal tightness in the band. They’re not through “Intelligent Worship” before Reeder‘s on his cowbell, and neither should they be. One could easily argue Fu Manchu know who they are as a band — after 12 records, they ought to, frankly — and are content to play to that in their general approach.

Fu manchu John Gilhooley

Which is to say, Fu Manchu sound like Fu ManchuHill‘s core vocal style won’t really change at this point, groove always remains central, and they blend Southern Cali laid-back-itude with heavy rock shred like the best in the business in part because they helped invent that “business” in the first place. And Clone of the Universe doesn’t fix what wasn’t broken coming off Gigantoid. Hooks abound in “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Slower than Light” and the title-track itself very much in a milieu that Fu Manchu fans will recognize as the band’s own. But on the other hand, there’s the raw drive of “Don’t Panic” — a 2:08 punker thrust with zero broach for nonsense that’s there and gone and still catchy that would be welcome to start any set I happen to be standing in front of — which, when paired with the easy-grooving start of “Slower than Light,” showcases the dynamic of tempo shifts that the band is working with across the still-quick span of the record as a whole, which even with 18 dedicated to “Il Mostro Atomico,” tops out at 38 minutes with seven songs.

Davis‘ bass signals a faster turn into the finishing movement of “Slower than Light” and with a semi-lurching rhythm, “Nowhere Left to Hide” delivers another memorable chorus in the ongoing series of them while also serving as the longest of the non-“Il Mostro Atomico” cuts at 4:27. Its vibe is foreboding but never really goes so far as to be a threat, despite the title, though the churning riff does bring to mind some unseen malevolent force. A later highlight guitar solo gives way back to the central riff that closes out and echo leads the way into the start-stop immediacy of the verse to “Clone of the Universe.”

No question why it’s the title-track; “Clone of the Universe” is quintessential, and it all the more represents the side of the album on which it appears for its ain’t-got-time-to-bleed lack of flourish and the push that emerges after the midpoint, only to slam into a wall of silence and then cut back to a slower version of the central riff to finish. From there, it’s off to “IlMostro Atomico,” which likewise wastes no time getting airborne and staying that way for the duration. There’s nod, there’s jangle, there’s tension building, and finally there’s angular space-o-prog that carries the band out, with a quick return to the first riff before a final fade.

Again, the Lifeson guest appearance is notable, and no doubt it was a thrill for Fu Manchu to bring him into the studio and get him on the record — mom always said there were two types of people in the world: Rush fans and the rest — but the focal point as one approaches Clone of the Universe shouldn’t be that singular moment or any other, rather what the record as a whole does with Fu Manchu‘s trademark sound and style, one part drawing it tighter than it’s ever been drawn before and the other pushing more broadly than it’s ever gone. Whichever side of the album happens to be on at any given point, Fu Manchu remain recognizable as who they are, and if anything, their will to add so much to that identity some 33 years after they got their start speaks to how special a band they really are. You can clone the whole universe, there’s still only going to be one Fu Manchu, and they’re in top form here.

Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe (2018)

Fu Manchu on Thee Facebooks

Fu Manchu on Instagram

Fu Manchu on Twitter

At the Dojo Records website

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Fu Manchu Announce Clone of the Universe out Feb. 9

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 4th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Fu manchu John Gilhooley

Fu Manchu will issue their new album, Clone of the Universe, on Feb. 9, 2018, via their own At the Dojo Records imprint. An extensive round of US and European touring has already been announced to support the record.

You don’t need me to tell you the prospect of a new Fu long-player is an automatic for the most anticipated albums of 2018 list, but I’ll say that’s especially the case because of how excellent their preceding offering, 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), was in its sheer assault. It seems like they might be going for something a little different this time around — you don’t bring in Alex Lifeson from Rush for a guest spot if you’re playing beefed-up punk songs (or maybe you do?) — but whatever they’re up to, rest easy. It’s Fu Manchu. If “reliable” had a band moniker, it would be theirs.

Nothing to do now but sit back and wait for the fuzz to roll in. Get stoked.

Just in from the PR wire:

fu manchu clone of the universe

HARD-ROCK VETERANS FU MANCHU TO RELEASE 12TH ALBUM, ‘CLONE OF THE UNIVERSE,’ ON FEB 9TH

FEATURES GUEST APPEARANCE FROM ALEX LIFESON OF RUSH
2018 TOUR DATES ALSO ANNOUNCED

Southern Californian hard-rock legends FU MANCHU have announced plans to release their 12th studio album, Clone of the Universe, on February 9th, 2018 via their own label At The Dojo Records. The upcoming record will be their first in 4 years, following the 2014 release of Gigantoid. Additional details and pre-orders will be announced soon. Follow the band at https://www.facebook.com/FuManchuBand for additional updates.

In addition to the album news, FU MANCHU has also announced a world tour in support of the record. Dates are listed below.

Clone Of The Universe marks a new chapter for the “fuzz rock” pioneers as they mix the straight ahead blistering rock with unexpected time shifts, featuring tracks like the roaring cuts “Don’t Panic” and “(I’ve Been) Hexed” and the dynamically complex “Clone of the Universe” and “Slower Than Light.” The centerpiece of the album is “IL Mostro Atomico,” an 18 minute 8 second, side long epic featuring a special guest performance by Alex Lifeson, guitarist and songwriter of the legendary band RUSH. Heavier than anything they’ve ever done and broken into 4 distinct sections, it’s new ground for a band that’s been pushing the boundaries of “fuzz and wah” since its formation in 1990.

The band will be playing 2 album release shows in Southern California before hitting the road in Europe in March of 2018 and returning to the US in May of 2018. Additional 2018 shows will be announced in the coming months.

“We are excited to get out and play this stuff, especially “Il Mostro Atomico,” says founding guitarist, Scott Hill. “We think it’s some the strongest music we’ve ever done. We really love the overall sound of the album and having Alex (Lifeson) play on it is just incredible. It gives it that special validation for the idea that we had to try something like a side long song.”

The album was recorded and produced by FU MANCHU and Jim Monroe at The Racket Room in Santa Ana, CA with additional recording by Andrew Giacumakis at SUSSTUDIO in Simi Valley CA and will be released worldwide for streaming and on vinyl and CD on the band’s own AT THE DOJO RECORDS. FU MANCHU is Scott Hill (vocals, guitar) Bob Balch(Guitars), Brad Davis (Bass) and Scott Reeder (Drums and Percussion).

Track Listing:
Intelligent Worship (3:08)
(I’ve Been) Hexed (2:48)
Don’t Panic (2:05)
Slower Than Light (3:26)
Nowhere Left To Hide (4:19)
Clone Of The Universe (2:58)
IL Mostro Atomico (18:08)

FU MANCHU 2018 Tour Dates:
9.Feb – Los Angeles, CA – The Troubadour
10.Feb – San Diego, CA – The Casbah

2.March – Paris, France – Le Trabendo
3.March – Hengelo, Netherlands – Metropol
5.March – Berlin, Germany – Festsaal Kreuzberg
6.March – Copenhagen, Denmark – Pumpehuset
7.March – Oslo, Norway – Rockefeller
8.March – Stockholm, Sweden – Debaser Medis
10.March – Helsinki, Finland – Nosturi
11.March – Riga, Latvia – Meina Piekdiena
13.March – Warsaw, Poland – Poglos
14.March – Prague, Czech Republic – Klub 007
15.March – Vienna, Austria – Arena
16.March – Budapest, Hungary – A38
18.March – Zurich, Switzerland – Mascotte
19.March – Bern, Switzerland – Dachstock
20.March – Munich, Germany – Hansa 39
21.March – Wiesbaden, Germany – Schlachthof
23.March – Hamburg, Germany – Markhalle
24.March – Cologne, Germany – Bürgerhaus Stollwerck
25.March – Haarlem, Netherlands – Patronaat
26.March – Leuven, Belgium – Depot
27.March – London, England – 02 Academy Islington

1.May – Phoenix, Arizona – Rebel Lounge
3.May – Dallas, Texas – Curtain Club
4.May – Austin, Texas – Barracuda
5.May – Houston, Texas – White Oak
7.May – Atlanta, Georgia – Vinyl
8.May – Raleigh, North Carolina – Kings
9.May – Washington, DC – Rock & Roll Hotel
11.May – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Underground Arts
12.May – New York, New York – Bowery Ballroom
13.May – Boston, Massachusetts – Brighton Music Hall
15.May – Cleveland, Ohio – Grog Shop
16.May – Columbus, Ohio – Ace of Cups
17.May – Detroit, Michigan – El Club
19.May – Chicago, Illinois – Bottom Lounge
22.May – Denver, Colorado – Streets of London Pub

https://www.facebook.com/FuManchuBand
https://www.instagram.com/fumanchuband
https://twitter.com/fumanchuband
http://www.atthedojorecords.com/

Fu Manchu, “Future Transmitter”

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Fu Manchu Announce 25th Anniversary Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 24th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

fu manchu (Photo by Andrew Stuart)

You know Fu Manchu‘s 25th anniversary tour is gonna be hell on wheels, but that’s no big deal. Actually, wait, it is a big deal. It’s frickin’ awesome. The masters of fuzz will head out starting this June on a round of shows spanning months and countries, hitting the West Coast of the US before hightailing it to Europe in September and not looking back. This is the first leg of the tour, and they’ll be reissuing 1999’s hook-factory King of the Road on 2LP through their own At the Dojo Records imprint to mark the occasion, also playing the album front-to-back at a free show in Chicago as one of two sets.

Two sets! At a free show! That’s twice the Fu at no cost to you, the consumer. If this was an infomercial, you’d already be dialing.

The band posted the following on Thee Facebooks:

fu manchu 25th anniversary tour

FU MANCHU announce 1st leg of their 25th Anniversary 2015 / 2016 Tour

The band will be hitting the West Coast of the USA, Canada and 14 countries in Europe from mid June through the end of October. There will also be a special FREE Chicago show at The Double Door on July 11th.

The band will be touring without an opening act in most markets and playing a 2 set show of rarely played songs spanning their 11 Album career and an entire set of their album “King Of The Road” from start to finish for the first time. “King Of The Road” will be reissued as a double LP for the tour. More shows will be added soon. Tickets go on sale this friday.

june 13 Costa Mesa CA wayfarer
june 25 calgary, canada sled island festival- Dickens
june 26 calgary, canada sled Island club show- The Palamino
july 11 chicago, IL double door (free show)
july 15 san francisco, CA bottom of the hill
july 17 portland, OR hawthorne
july 18 seattle, WA neumos
july 19 vancouver, canada rickshaw
july 21 reno, NV jub jubs
july 22 san jose, CA the ritz (support by Dusted Angel)
aug 8 west hollywood, CA troubadour
aug 15 san diego, CA casbah

September
Sat 26 Nijmegen Doornroosje, Netherlands
Sun 27 Haarlem Patronaat, Netherlands
Mon 28 Hamburg Kunst, Germany
Wed 30 Copenhagen Beta, Denmark

October
Thurs 1 Malmo Babel, Sweden
Fri 2 Oslo John Dee, Norway
Sat 3 Stockholm Debaser Strand, Sweden
Mon 5 Helsinki Nosturi, Finland
Tues 6 Tallin Rock Cafe, Estonia
Thurs 8 Poznan Minoga, Poland
Fri 9 Berlin Astra, Germany
Sat 10 Erfurt HsD Gewerkschaftshaus, Germany
Mon 12 Budapest A38, Hungary
Wed 14 Vienna Szene, Austria
Thurs 15 Salzburg Rockhouse, Austria
Sat 17 Milan / Mezzago Bloom, Ilaly
Sun 18 Geneva Usine, Switzerland
Mon 19 Zurich Mascotte. Switzerland
Wed 21 Munich Strom, Germany
Thurs 22 Cologne Gebaude, Germany
Fri 23 Paris Le Marpquinerie., France
Sat 24 London Islington Academy, UK

https://www.facebook.com/FuManchuBand
http://www.fu-manchu.com/
https://twitter.com/fumanchuband
http://fumanchuband.bigcartel.com/

Fu Manchu, King of the Road (1999)

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 30 of 2014

Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by JJ Koczan

the-obelisk-top-30-of-2014

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

This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.

I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.

Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.

Okay. Here we go:

30. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss

orange-goblin-back-from-the-abyss

Released by Candlelight Records. Reviewed on Nov. 17.

The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.

 

29. Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty

mos-generator-electric-mountain-majesty

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed on March 14.

A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos GeneratorElectric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.

 

28. Pilgrim, II: Void Worship

pilgrim-ii-void-worship

Released by Metal Blade Records. Reviewed on April 15.

Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.

 

27. John Garcia, John Garcia

john-garcia-john-garcia

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed on July 7.

His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”

 

26. Swans, To be Kind

swans-to-be-kind

Released by Mute/Young God Records. Reviewed on May 9.

An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.

 

25. Alunah, Awakening the Forest

alunah awakening the forest

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Oct. 14.

I initially made this list without Alunah‘s excellent third album and Napalm Records, but when it came down to it, not having the UK four-piece on here haunted me to the point where I had to come back in and swap them out with somebody else. Just couldn’t live with myself for not giving this record its due, which, to be frank, I’m still not since it should be higher on the list than it is. At least it’s here though, so the mistake is somewhat corrected.

 

24. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes

greenleaf-trails-and-passes

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed on April 25.

The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.

 

23. Earth, Primitive and Deadly

earth-primitive-and-deadly

Released by Southern Lord Recordings. Reviewed on Sept. 9.

Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.

 

22. Ogre, The Last Neanderthal

ogre-the-last-neanderthal

Released by Minotauro Records. Reviewed on March 10.

Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.

 

21. The Wounded Kings, Consolamentum

CANDLE415CD_BOOKLET.indd

Released by Candlelight Records. Reviewed on Jan. 30.

Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.

 

20. Floor, Oblation

floor-oblation

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed on April 22.

Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.

 

19. Druglord, Enter Venus

druglord-enter-venus

Released by STB Records. Reviewed on Feb. 14.

Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.

 

18. Ararat, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz

ararat-cabalgata-hacia-la-luz

Released by Oui Oui Records. Reviewed on April 4.

For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.

 

17. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt

radio-moscow-magical-dirt

Released by Alive Naturalsound. Reviewed on May 29.

You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.

 

16. Apostle of Solitude, Of Woe and Wounds

apostle-of-solitude-of-woe-and-wounds

Released by Cruz del Sur. Reviewed on Nov. 6.

Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.

 

15. Stubb, Cry of the Ocean

stubb-cry-of-the-ocean

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed on Nov. 24.

Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.

 

14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower

brant-bjork-and-the-low-desert-punk-band-black-power-flower

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed on Nov. 10.

Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.

 

13. Dwellers, Pagan Fruit

dwellers-pagan-fruit

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed on May 22.

An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.

 

12. The Golden Grass, The Golden Grass

the-golden-grass-the-golden-grass

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed on March 25.

What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.

 

11. The Well, Samsara

the-well-samsara

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed on Sept. 22.

My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which GrahamAlley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow SeasonThe Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.

 

10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute

montibus-communitas-the-pilgrim-to-the-absolute

Released by Beyond Beyond is Beyond. Reviewed on Dec. 4.

Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.

 

9. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid

fu-manchu-gigantoid

Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed on May 14.

Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew GiacumakisFu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”

 

8. The Skull, For Those Which are Asleep

the-skull-for-those-which-are-asleep

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed on Nov. 5.

Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.

 

7. Blood Farmers, Headless Eyes

blood-farmers-headless-eyes

Self-released on CD, LP on PATAC Records. Reviewed on March 24.

Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.

 

6. Lo-Pan, Colossus

lo-pan-colossus

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed on Oct. 7.

A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.

 

5a. All Them Witches, Lightning at the Door

all-them-witches-lightning-at-the-door

Self-released. Reviewed on Sept. 25.

What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.

 

5. Witch Mountain, Mobile of Angels

witch-mountain-mobile-of-angels

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed on Aug. 20.

A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angels that brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.

 

4. Conan, Blood Eagle

conan-blood-eagle

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed on Jan. 22.

In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon DavisSkyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.

 

3. Wo Fat, The Conjuring

wo-fat-the-conjuring

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed on June 18.

Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.

 

2. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia

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Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed on March 11.

Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.

 

1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend

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Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed on Sept. 3.

“It’s time to wake up.”

Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend — YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.

 

 

Honorable Mention

First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.

A few other honorable mentions:

MothershipMothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.

Sólstafir, Ótta — They were originally on the list proper but had to be moved to make room for Alunah. I didn’t really get to know this record in 2014 anyway.

Ice DragonSeeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.

TruckfightersUniverse — I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.

SteakSlab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.

GodfleshA World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.

ThouHeathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.

Corrosion of ConformityIX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.

SpidergawdSpidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!

Monster MagnetMilking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.

SlomaticsEstron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.

Electric WizardTime to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.

PallbearerFoundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.

The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.

Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.

Thank you.

More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.

And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.

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Fu Manchu Added to Up in Smoke Festival

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 8th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Supporting their 2014 album, Gigantoid (review here), SoCal fuzz progenitors Fu Manchu have been announced for a slot at this year’s Up in Smoke indoor fest, which runs Oct. 3 and 4 in Switzerland. It’s the first of what I expect will probably be more European tour dates to come for Fu Manchu, who also recently wrapped a successful US run alongside Electric Citizen.

They join an out and out killer lineup for Up in Smoke, which as you can see in the poster already includes the likes of Dozer, Mars Red Sky, Greenleaf, Conan, Naam, Ufomammut, Brant Bjork, Kadavar, and many others. The PR wire makes it official:

Up In Smoke Festival – October 3rd & 4th 2014 – Fu Manchu Confirmed !

We are stoked to tell you that the Southern California legendary quartet FU MANCHU is now confirmed to play at UP IN SMOKE INDOOR FEST, on FRIDAY, OCTOBER 3RD 2014 !!

For 20 years, fuzz rock progenitors FU MANCHU deliver their delightfully heavy, crisp riffs, many tones, grooves, low ends, doubling of great vocals, and have consistently grown their style from album to album.

After a long five-year gap since their previous studio effort, FU MANCHU have rolled out a new album “Gigantoid” in April, treating the listener with 10 tracks of unadulterated stoner rock righteousness. An amazing example of the sheer impact that a group of musicians can achieve by just doing the simple things right, and having a good time doing it!

For that reason, and because their celebrate the 20th anniversary of their 1994 debut, “No One Rides for Free”, we are especially proud to add them to this year’s line-up! It’s gonna be a blast!!

This news will be published at 13:00 on our websites. FU MANCHU join the 16 bands we’ve already announced, which you can discover here below if you missed our past news. Most of the line-up is now unveiled, the last bands will be announced in August / September, so get your TICKETS right now on www.z-7.ch and via Ticketmaster!

Check-out our Facebook page for constant updates.

https://www.facebook.com/FuManchuBand
https://www.facebook.com/UpInSmokeIndoorFestivalInZ7
www.z-7.ch
http://www.ticketmaster.de/event/up-in-smoke-festival-2014-tickets/98509

Fu Manchu, “Anxiety Reducer” from Gigantoid (2014)

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