Because no attendee of this festival can possibly be in two or five places at once, something with which every Roadburner must contend is the notion of self-curation. You look at the schedule and you pick your own path. I’ve said time and again that every Roadburn means hard choices, but make no mistake, Roadburn is meticulously put together to enable those who are fortunate enough to be here to be able to find their path among one of the most packed bills in the universe.
Case in point, today was John Dyer Baizley‘s curated day. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Baroness fan. If you are, great. You certainly have plenty of company, especially here, especially this weekend. Just never been my thing. Yes, I’ve seen them. Yes, I’ve heard the records. Not my thing. My priorities, then, were inherently going to be much different today than many attendees. It was a light day for me. For many others, I very much suspect it was not. That’s cool. Like a good choose-your-adventure book, Roadburn 2017 accommodates any number of contingency plans.
Mine started early. I knew after watching them at Cul de Sac the other night (review here) that I was not done with California’s Atala. Today they opened Extase at 14.00. I left the 013 office mid-folding session and was already dragging ass as I have been the last couple days — I’ll explain why shortly — and headed around the corner to the smallest Roadburn venue, where I closed out last night with Backwoods Payback and to which I’d return twice again this afternoon and evening. Atala did pretty much the same set as the other night — reasonably so — but seeing it a second time gave me a better feel for the material that comprised it, whether it was the harshness in “Grains of Sand” and “Death’s Dark Tomb” or the textured hook of “I am Legion.”
But for the flashing strobe behind them, the Twentynine Palms residents were an easy band to watch again, drummer Jeff Tedtaotao and guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton both in YOB shirts while bassist Dave Horn represented Graveyard. Whatever the wardrobe, Atala were righteous again, but the light proved abrasive and hit me pretty hard, so I split after “I am Legion” and headed over to the Main Stage to catch the start of classic French mesmerproggers Magma. I was not the only person who had this idea, and like yesterday’s early headlining gigs from Crippled Black Phoenix and SubRosa, today it was Magma drawing an afternoon crowd into the big room. Soon Roadburn will just be headliners on the Main Stage. All sets headlining sets. Think it won’t happen? It’s already happening.
There was a point at which I was watching Magma, who were no less of a joy today than they were when they played in 2014 as part of the curated day helmed by Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth, and trying to imagine what it would be like for a normal person to bear witness to their set. That is to say, what does a square make of the band who for the last 40-plus years have been led by drummer Christian Vander in telling stories of the planet Kobaïa in a made-up language, who are positively orchestral on stage and so deadly serious about what they do that to insinuate otherwise could only offend band and assembled audience alike? Where I finally landed was that said hypothetical square — how that person would even get in front of a stage where Magma was playing, I don’t know, but for the sake of argument let’s say they did — would probably think they were from another planet.
So in other words, the group’s desired effect would be achieved. Whatever you’re doing, Magma, it’s still working. Keep it up, you legendary weirdos!
Before they were done, my wanderer’s soul had me headed back toward Extase to get a spot up front for Ruby the Hatchet. You know how sometimes you just get a feeling there’s a place you need to be? That was me watching the Philly-area troupe today. Not that I couldn’t see them in the States at some point, and not that I haven’t before, but especially at Roadburn you just know some bands are going to bring everything they’ve got, and the sense I had was that Ruby the Hatchet would be doing precisely that.
To absolutely toot my own horn, I was 100 percent correct in that impression. Getting underway with the new song “Planetary Space Child” from their recently-finished third album, which frontwoman Jillian Taylor announced would be out this summer on Tee Pee Records — they’d also share a cut called “Pagan Ritual” from the record and one or two others the titles of which I didn’t manage to remember when I asked the band about them later outside a cafe in Weirdo Canyon — Ruby the Hatchet completely owned that stage and that room. Their organ-laced post-Uncle Acid garage-psych-doom was nothing short of a thrill to behold, and watching them play I look forward all the more to hearing how the obvious growth they’ve undertaken since the release of their 2015 sophomore album, Valley of the Snake (review here), manifested itself in the studio — because it certainly did in terms of their live presence. They were a blast; no question the most fun I could’ve been having at that moment was watching them play.
And yet, I had to bow out. Speaking of feeling like you need to be somewhere. I couldn’t rightly figure out what the problem was, but I made my way to the back of the room and decided to head back to the hotel before Joy went on. Instead of turning right, though, I turned left, and wound up directed back toward the 013. What was going on? I didn’t know. And why was it that the smell of the barbecue cooking outside the venue made me want to take my own life? And why was it that I wanted to build an altar to the French fries being served in paper cones to the eager, smiling denizens of Roadburn 2017?
Suddenly it dawned on me that today was Friday and the last time I had a meal it was Monday.
Since then it’s been nothing but protein bars and powder in coffee. I was, apparently, starving. And this was a genuine surprise for me to discover.
Well, I didn’t get barbecue and I certainly didn’t get fries — because, you know, self-denial and all that — but I did go downstairs into the basement of the 013 where the crew dinner was set up and have an arugula salad topped with some pesto-covered fresh mozzarella from a tomato dish, other shredded cheese and hot sauteed spinach. Look. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like sauteed spinach saved your life before, but after two plates of this makeshift salad, I was pretty well convinced it had saved mine. And I was at least half-sure that shit came out of a giant can. Didn’t even care. I pounded as much as my ailing system could take and still made it back to Extase in time to catch a most-righteous pre-set drum solo from Joy‘s Thomas DiBenedetto.
One would not usually think of a drummer’s soundcheck as something earning audience response at all let alone rapturous applause, but the dude tore into it and the room was well on board — myself included. And no, it was just post-spinach euphoria on my part either, because once the rest of the San Diego three-piece was ready to roll, they were all-shred on all fronts. Guitarist/vocalist Zach Oakley punished both his whammy bar and his wah pedal thoroughly while ripping into choice leads and bassist Justin Hulson reminded me directly of the subdued presence of Anthony Meier from Radio Moscow — quiet, unassuming, and an incredibly adept player capable either of being the anchor while the guitar goes off or going off himself at a moment’s notice on a whim of winding basslines and classically rocking dynamic.
I dug Joy‘s third and most recent full-length, Ride Along (review here), plenty when it came out on Tee Pee last Spring, but like the best of the West Coast heavy psych set from Earthless on down through the aforementioned Radio Moscow, Mondo Drag, etc., they blew the record right out of the water with the energy and power behind their delivery. Head-spinning, really. I knew they were a band I wanted to watch today, but I didn’t know just how much I wanted to watch them until they were actually on stage handing Extase its ass like it was wrapped in a paper cone. Lesson learned.
Though today was a lighter day than yesterday in terms of what I needed/wanted to see, it did have probably my most mandatory performance of the weekend smack in the middle, which was SubRosa‘s mostly-acoustic “SubDued” set at Het Patronaat. I knew to get there early, so I scooted over from Extase as Emptiness were still pummeling the place with their blackened post-Goth and made my way toward the front in anticipation of what was to come. Sometimes in those instances one can wind up sitting in a spot for more than half an hour to watch 15 minutes of a performance before having to run off to the next thing. For SubRosa, however, I wasn’t budging. Clear my calendar! Hold all my calls! No email. No Facebook. No texts. Nothing. For a solid hour, I stood in front of the Patronaat stage and had my mind blown and my spirit lifted as SubRosa reinvented/revisited songs from their back catalog as dark, dramatic neofolk the likes of which seemed to offer nothing less than true Americana redemption.
Set of the weekend? How about set of the year? Every Roadburn brings some landmark moment — at least one — and for me, SubRosa‘s performance of “Mirror” was it. Lined up across the front of the stage, Rebecca Vernon led Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack in harmonies while tapping one of Andy Patterson‘s drum sticks on the mic stand. It was gorgeous and devastating. Patterson backed on percussion, and though bassist Levi Hanna had that song off, his still-plugged-in low end gave heft to the rest of the band’s material, including set-closer “No Safe Harbor,” which with bars of light shooting down from the rig above them proved just as heavy as their runthrough of For this We Fought the Battle of Ages yesterday on the Main Stage. It was stunning. Something genuinely special. In my notes, I wrote, “How stupid I am to every do anything that’s not this. Unreal. In a way that makes reality itself the facade, while delving into its own vision of truth.” I’m not sure what that means, but give me a few years to process what I saw tonight and I’ll get back to you on it. By then I should’ve come to grips with it enough to have it make sense.
My brain duly melted, I stumbled out of the church and across the alley to the 013. I had decided I owed it to myself to check out tonight’s set from artists-in-residence Gnod, but there was still a while to go before they went on. Amenra were on the Main Stage as they were last year, and fair enough, but my interests were elsewhere. I decided to make my way back to the hotel to get a jump on dumping photos from my memory card, which seemed like an especially dangerous proposition only because there was a decent chance I wouldn’t leave again, would miss Gnod tonight and end up calling it a day at like 9PM or whatever time it was. Risky move.
Fortunately, it didn’t happen that way. I did take a brief respite, and was tempted to put my pajamas on to go see Gnod, but wound up in the Green Room still in jeans and all in time to see the dual-bass/dual-guitar UK heavy psych bizarros start their pulsating set. Ultimately, I’m not sure I owed to myself at all in the sense of having in some way earned it, but it was cool to see anyway, and as Sunday opens with a collaboration between Gnod and Radar Men from the Moon called Temple of BBV that I’d like to see, catching the former on their own felt like a solid precursor to that. Or, at very least, a molten, liquefied precursor. It got really weird, really quickly, and clearly that’s what Gnod were going for. No regrets for being there to watch it happen, except maybe not wearing my pajamas for the occasion. That might’ve been fun.
Tomorrow’s another packed day here in Tilburg, starting with the ceremonial Weirdo Canyon Dispatch folding session bright and early, so I’ll leave it there and say thanks for reading and if you’re so inclined you can check out more pics after the jump. Bing bong.
I’d gotten to Cul de Sac early, so made my way over to one of the cafes right down the way in Weirdo Canyon to get an espresso. My I’m-out-of-practice-at-this mistake for the evening was not bringing my bottle of water with me to the show so I had it for taking ibuprofen and general hydrating purposes. But the espresso helped, anyway. The Hard Rock Hideout is the annual kickoff for Roadburn. Like the rest of the festival, it’s gotten bigger over the years — going from two bands to three, bringing in different kinds of acts and so on.
Generally it can be relied on to offer a healthy dose of thrash, which it did in Distillator and Heretic, while post-desert heavy rockers Atala opened up as one of several sets they’re playing this weekend. With half the point of the show being to ease people into the vibe before Roadburn 2017 gets going earnest tomorrow, I think a more diverse bill better suits that, but I’m sure one or two thrashers in the crowd might offer a general counterargument for more Slayer covers. Fair enough.
Here’s how it went down:
Much of what they played came from the forthcoming follow-up to last year’s Shaman’s Path of the Serpent (stream here; review here), titled Labyrinth of Ashmedai and due out sometime in the coming months on Salt of the Earth Records, and songs like “Death’s Dark Tomb” and “Infernal” found them in raw form as compared to “I am Legion,” which is a standout of the new record with cleaner vocals, so they’ve only become more diverse in their sound, but that was very much the case when they moved into Shaman’s Path of the Serpent from their 2015 self-titled debut (review here) as well, and in talking to guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton before the set, he was already moving on to the next release, which will work under still another mindset. Hard to hold progression against them, particularly when it suits their songwriting so well. They were loud enough to vibrate the monitor off the front of the stage at the Cul de Sac and the groove came thick from Stratton, bassist Dave Horn and drummer Jeff Tedtaotao for the duration. They were outliers on the bill for sure, but their appeal was cast in loud volume and psychedelic flourish, and it was plain to see they turned heads ahead of a set as part of Roadburn proper on Friday that I’d expect will be even more packed.
Even before they closed out with a cover of “Metal Storm/Face the Slayer” after hinting at “Raining Blood” in a transition from their own “Suicidal,” native Dutch trio Distillator weren’t exactly shy about where they were coming from in terms of influence. The right and left sides of the stage found the three-piece flanked by fog and light machines and much to their credit they waited until the third song into their set, “Estates of the Realm” from the soon-to-be-released Summoning the Malicious, before firing them up. They whipped the crowd into a let’s-drink-like-we’re-Metallica-circa-’84 fervor, and though rethrash has never really been my thing, I’d have a hard time arguing with the tightness, intensity or effectiveness of their delivery, all of which were on point throughout their set, drummer Marco P. driving home the extremity one could also hear in the backing vocals Frank R. put behind guitarist Laurens H.‘s periodic falsetto yaps. They were right on for what they were doing, but out-thrashed the hell out of me as I had to go sit down on the step by the side of the room to be periodically kicked by those on their way to or from the can. I’d like to think that’s an effect of the travel I’ve done in the last day-plus, but yeah, probably more just that I’m old.
Comprised of Thomas Goat, Tony Hellfire and Tom auf der Axe, long-running Eindhoven post-Misfits sleaze punkers Heretic are set to issue their next album, Underdogs of the Underworld, May 20 through Ván Records, and they headlined the Hard Rock Hideout as one of several representatives throughout the weekend from that respected imprint. Mesh shirt, devil spike, logo somewhere between Misfits and Motörhead and a song called “Black Metal Punks,” they, yes, hit all their marks as one might expect from an act of their experience. The room knew them better than I did, which wasn’t really a surprise, and were all about the scummer thrust, and by the time Heretic got to “Mr. Chainsaw” from 2015’s Alive Under Satan, the party was in full swing. It would stay that way as the time stretched on past midnight at Cul de Sac and what started out for many as a measured evening before digging into a few long days gave way to liver-destroying nihilism of fine beers and who knows what else. Clearly, Roadburn 2017 has gotten started. It’ll be back in action early tomorrow afternoon, and the launch that Heretic gave it was nothing if not riotous. “Maniacs are Go” is more than just a clever title.
Back at the hotel now. I ate my protein-bar dinner a bit ago and will be up early in the morning to go to work finalizing and folding the first issue of Weirdo Canyon Dispatch tomorrow, which I’ll also be posting and am excited to get out into the world. More to come on that and more to come as Roadburn 2017 starts tomorrow. It’s going to be a busy day. I can’t wait to dig in.
Some more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 24th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
I don’t even know what to say about Roadburn 2017 at this point, which means the annual pilgrimage must be getting close. There comes a moment every year where I just kind of have to throw my hands up, be in awe of the festival’s scope, and leave it at that. As Roadburn announces the lineup for its annual Hard Rock Hideout and who’ll be at the Cul de Sac venue over the subsequent four days — that Thursday lineup pretty much invites one to camp out there all day, but as ever, Roadburn will mean hard choices in terms of schedule — as well as art shows and other odds and ends for its bill, with more still to come, it’s safe to say we’ve hit that point. Hard to type with your hands thrown in the air, and yet here we are.
Most of the fest is sold out, which is about as surprising as a sunrise, but a few single-day tickets remain for those who want to get whatever piece of the action they can. Can’t say I’d blame you. I’ll be there. If you’re going, say hi. I’m the dude with the beard.
From the PR wire:
Cul-de-Sac line up, art exhibitions and more announced for Roadburn 2017
With weekend and Saturday day tickets already sold out for Roadburn 2017 and other day tickets not far behind, there are only a handful of acts and exhibitions still to announce. Following the below additions, there will be just one further announcement ahead of the festival.
CUL DE SAC & NEW ADDITIONS
In keeping with what has become Roadburn tradition, the festival’s fifth and most intimate stage returns to Cul de Sac. Once again, in collaboration with Never Mind The Hype (an independent Dutch music platform for everything heavy, alternative and deviant), we will focus on bringing you the most promising Dutch and Belgian bands, plus others from futher afield. Positioned just around the corner from the 013 venue, the intimate surroundings of the Cul de Sac mean you can get up close and personal with some of the most exciting bands the underground scene has to offer, squeezed in alongside some established acts too!
In 2017 the band that Roadburn is specifically choosing to showcase to our audience is Utrecht’s LASTER. The spotlight of Roadburn Introduces… this year will fall on this Dutch trio; to call them black metal doesn’t do justice to the complexity of each horrific layer of putridity they heap upon our senses. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
CUL DE SAC LINE UP Thursday: Ritual Object Joy Harsh Toke Verwoed Ortega Bathsheba
Friday: Ritual Object Kuro Zaum Telepathy Jonkoklapper
Saturday: Laster Bear Hedonist Lotus Mantis Slow Crush
Sunday: Sink Stone in Egypt Faal MNHM Jaye Jayle Turia
In addition to the full Cul de Sac programme, two more bands have been added to the main Roadburn programme.
Describing their addition to Roadburn 2017 as “a dream come true”, California’s ATALA will bring their hypnotic riffing to the festival ahead of the release of their new album, Labyrinth of Ashmedai, this Spring.
ANTROPOMORPHIA plan to let the murky brutality of their intricate yet straightforward-sounding death metal to do the trick when they welcome Roadburners to their own home town.
Another Roadburn tradition is a commitment to visual arts alongside musical offerings and 2017 is no different. A diverse selection of artists will exhibit at Roadburn Festival this year.
The Two Worlds of MARALD VAN HAASTEREN: Born in Leiden, The Netherlands in 1970, Marald is best known for his collaborative work with John Dyer Baizley on the images and packaging artwork of Baroness latest album, Purple. Being part of the DIY underground scene since the late 80’s, Marald has also been making art for the likes of High on Fire, Kylesa, and Bolt Thrower to name but a few. His distinctive blend of jaw-dropping craftmanship and delicate, compositional sensibility ranges from black and white ink works to full colour paintings, enhanced by digital media – though the basis for Marald’s stunning technical masterpieces, remains hand drawn imagery.
FURSY TEYSSIER – Exhibition of Drawings: Hailing from France, Fursy Teyssier is a visual artist and composer who has refined his talents over the years to entwine a strong artistic identity with mesmerizing aural creations. Teyssier’s band, Les Discrets, is the culmination of all his artistic endeavours, whether it’s his take on shoegaze, post-rock and, of course, black metal, or his work as an illustrator, painter, or animated film director. The band conveys his art, and in turn Teyssier’s artwork captures Les Discrets’ dream-like approach.
Got No Obvious Direction: A Visual Art Exhibition by GNOD: Established in 2007, psychedelic, anarcho, sonic pioneers GNOD celebrate their tenth anniversary as artist in residence at Roadburn 2017. In conjunction with their musical explorations, there will be outsider art on display at the 013 venue by various GNOD-bods.Since 2009, GNOD have based their operations from Salford’s premiere arts venue, Islington Mill. Being influenced by the static and transient artistic community the building has hosted, some pieces have been featured on the band’s early releases, as well as artwork used for their Tesla Tapes label.
ROLAND SCRIVER – Familiar Ink: Not content with levelling small buildings and causing tectonic shifts via the power of six deadly strings, erstwhile Serpent Venom guitarist Roland Scriver is also a visual wizard who works magickal art under the name Familiar Ink, art with an unexpected lightness – both of touch and imbued within the art itself. Come let the light in with Roland Scriver, AKA Familiar Ink, at Roadburn 2017!
HARD ROCK HIDE OUT
Whilst many Roadburners arrive in Tilburg on Thursday, the first official day of the festival, hundreds more arrive the day before. And to keep them out of trouble, or at least contain it, we’re thrilled to announce that The Hard Rock Hideout, Roadburn’s official pre-show party will return on the Wednesday evening at Cul de Sac.
Forging 80s inspired thrash metal, Holland’s own DISTILLATOR, black’n’roll veterans, HERETIC, and Californian riff masters ATALA – yes, them again – will crack one (or more) open and kick off the festival in style.
Artists already announced for Roadburn 2017 include Coven, Warning (playing Watching from a Distance in full), Artists in Residence – GNOD, My Dying Bride (performing Turn Loose The Swans in its entirety), Ulver, Hypnopaz?zu (David Tibet & Youth), Zeal & Ardor, Mysticum, Deafheaven, Chelsea Wolfe, and our 2017 curator, John Baizley who will perform with Baroness, plus many more. Roadburn Festival will take place 20-23 April, 2017 at the 013 venue, Tilburg, The Netherlands.
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Not saying I’ve heard it or anything, but Atala‘s new album, Labyrinth of Ashmedai, is indeed another progressive step for their sound. They made a pretty huge leap between their 2015 self-titled debut (review here) and last year’s Shaman’s Path of the Serpent (review here), and wound up finding a niche for themselves somewhere along the lines of cosmic doom and heavy, desert-infused psychedelics, but what the Billy Anderson-recorded tracks of Labyrinth of Ashmedai do is further tie their diverse influences together into a cohesive, new entirety that’s all the more the trio’s own.
Today, Connecticut-based imprint Salt of the Earth Records announces it’s picked up Atala to release Labyrinth of Ashmedai, and hints at future doings from the band including new videos — there are at least two forthcoming from what I hear — and an initial incursion to European shores set for this spring. Could one or more fest appearances be in the offing? It probably won’t be all that long before we find out.
In the meantime, here’s the album art by Kyle Stratton and a press release I wrote as circled back through the PR wire:
ATALA Sign to Salt of the Earth Records
New Album ‘Labyrinth of Ashmedai’ Coming Soon!
High-desert-dwelling psychedelic crushers ATALA have signed with Salt of the Earth Records to release their upcoming full-length, Labyrinth of Ashmedai. The band toured both coasts to support their 2016 sophomore album, Shaman’s Path of the Serpent, and returned once more to the studio with Billy Anderson (Sleep, Neurosis, Acid King, etc.) to track the new collection, which will release this Spring in time to coincide with their first trip to Europe.
“I am very excited that Atala has signed on with Salt of the Earth Records,” says ATALA guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton, who also designed the album’s cover. “It’s great to be part of the family. Now we are labelmates with Scissorfight, Buzzard Canyon, When the Deadbolt Breaks, Ol’ Time Moonshine, and my favorites, Cortez. How cool is that?! This is really Some great company to be keeping, And We count ourselves very lucky to be part of this.”
Shaman’s Path of the Serpent represented a huge leap forward in sound from ATALA, and fans should expect no less from Labyrinth of Ashmedai. The Twentynine Palms-based trio remain committed to bringing together elements of post-metal and sandy-landscaped psychedelia for a progressive sonic brew unlike any other. Their time on the road has only made them stronger, and Labyrinth of Ashmedai sees them rise to the occasion of a crucial moment in their growth. Expect new heights and depths to be explored and for ATALA’s sound to be bigger and heavier than ever before.
Salt of the Earth label head Scott Harrington echoes Stratton’s sentiment: “I love ATALA. I love them as artists, I love them as people. And all of us here at Salt of the Earth Records couldn’t be prouder to have ATALA officially on our roster. Just wait till to you hear their new album. It’s a game changer, and a neck wrecker. 2017 is going to be an amazing year!”
Look for Labyrinth of Ashmedai to be released by Salt of the Earth Records in Spring 2017!
ATALA, Labyrinth of Ashmedai tracklist: 1. Grains of Sand 2. Tabernacle of 3. Deaths Dark Tomb 4. I am Legion 5. Wilted Leaf 6. Infernal
ATALA is: Kyle Stratton (Guitar and Vocals) Jeff Tedtaotao (Drums) John Chavarria (Bass)
More details will be made public closer to the release, along with European tour dates, new videos and much more!
Posted in Features on January 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Looks like it’s going to be another busy 12 months ahead. It’s been a busy better-part-of-a-month already, so that stands to reason, but you should know that of the several years now that I’ve done these ‘Tomorrow’s Dream’ posts, this is the biggest one yet, with over 150 upcoming releases that — one hopes — will be out between today and the end of 2017.
Actually, at last count, the list tops 180. Do I really expect you to listen to all of them? Nope. Will I? Well, it would be nice. But what I’ve done is gone through and highlighted 35 picks and then built lists off that in order of likelihood of arrival. You’ll note the categories are ‘Gonna Happen and/or Likely Candidates,’ ‘Definitely Could Happen’ and ‘Would be Awfully Nice.’
Beyond that last one, anything else just seems like speculation — one might as well go “new Sabbath this year!” with zero info backing it up. The idea here is that no matter where a given band is placed, there has been some talk of a new release. In some cases, it’s been years, but I think they’re still worth keeping in mind.
Another caveat: You can expect additions to this list over the next week — probably album titles, band names people (fingers crossed) suggest in the comments, and so on — so it will grow. It always does. The idea is to build as complete a document as possible, not to get it all nailed down immediately, so please, if you have something to contribute and you’re able to do so in a non-prickish, “You didn’t include Band X and therefore don’t deserve to breathe the same air as me,” kind of way, please contribute.
Other than that, I think it’s pretty straightforward what’s going on here and I’ll explain the category parameters as we go, so by all means, let’s jump in.
— Tomorrow’s Dream 2017 —
1. Abrahma, TBA
Late last year, Paris heavy progressives Abrahma announced a new lineup and third full-length in progress. No reason to think it won’t come to fruition, and a follow-up to 2015’s Reflections in the Bowels of a Bird (review here) is an easy pick to look forward to. Even with the shift in personnel, it seems likely the band will continue their creative development, driven as they are by founding guitarist Seb Bismuth.
2. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War
If 2017 ended today, Sleeping Through the War would be my Album of the Year. Of course, there’s a lot of year to go, but for now, Nashville’s All Them Witches have set the standard with their second album for New West Records behind 2015’s Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (review here) and fourth overall outing. They’ve got videos up so far for “3-5-7” (posted here) and “Bruce Lee” (posted here). Both are most definitely worth your time. Out Feb. 24. Full review should be later this week.
3. Alunah, Solennial
Seems like UK forest riffers Alunah are on this list every year. Wishful thinking on my part. Nonetheless, their fourth LP and Svart Records debut, Solennial, is out March 17, and if the tease they gave already with the clip for “Fire of Thornborough Henge” (posted here) is anything to go from, its Chris Fielding-produced expanses might just be Alunah‘s most immersive yet.
4. Arbouretum, TBA
I asked the Baltimore folk fuzzers a while back on Thee Facebooks if they had a new record coming in 2017 and they said yes, so that’s what I’m going on here. The last Arbouretum album was 2013’s Coming out of the Fog (review here), and even with frontman Dave Heumann‘s 2015 solo outing, Here in the Deep (review here), factored in, you’d have to say they’re due. Keep an eye on Thrill Jockey for word and I’ll do the same.
5. Atavismo, Inerte
This is another one that already has a spot reserved for it on my Best-of-2017 year-end list. Spanish heavy psych rockers Atavismo up the progressive bliss level with their second full-length, Inerte, without losing the depth of style that made 2014’s Desintegración (review here) so utterly glorious. It probably won’t have the biggest marketing budget of 2017, but if you let Atavismo fly under your radar, you are 100 percent missing out on something special.
6. Bison Machine, TBA
In addition to the video for new track “Cloak and Bones” that premiered here, when Michigan raucousness-purveyors Bison Machine put out the dates for their fall 2016 tour, they included further hints of new material in progress. As much as I dug their earlier-2016 split with SLO and Wild Savages (review here) and 2015’s Hoarfrost (review here), that’s more than enough for me to include them on this list. Killer next-gen heavy rock.
7. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, TBA
News of a follow-up to Brothers of the Sonic Cloth‘s 2015 Neurot Recordings self-titled debut (review here) came through in October, and it remains some of the best news I’ve heard about 2017 doings. Took them a while to get the first record out, so we’ll see what happens, but it kind of feels like looking forward to a comet about to smash into the planet and cause a mass extinction, and by that I mean awesome. Can’t get here soon enough.
8. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kosmic Dust
Okay, so maybe I jumped the gun and did a super-early review of Denver trio Cloud Catcher‘s second long-player and Totem Cat Records debut, Trails of Kosmic Dust, but hell, no regrets. Some albums require an early-warning system. Their 2015 debut, Enlightened Beyond Existence (discussed here), was a gem as well, but this is a band in the process of upping their game on every level, and the songwriting and momentum they hone isn’t to be missed.
9. Colour Haze, TBA
I’ve gotten some details on the upcoming full-length from Colour Haze. They do not include a title, artwork, audio, song titles or general direction. Less details, I guess, than word that the CD version of this answer to 2015’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here) is set to come out next month, as ever, on Elektrohasch. That puts it out in time for Colour Haze‘s upcoming tour with My Sleeping Karma (announced here). Fingers crossed it happens. Colour Haze are perpetual top-albums candidates in my book.
10. Corrosion of Conformity, TBA
Signed to Nuclear Blast after being rejoined by guitarist/vocalist Pepper Keenan, North Carolina’s C.O.C. have been in the studio since last year. The lineup of Keenan, bassist/vocalist Mike Dean and guitarist Woody Weatherman and Reed Mullin on drums is the stuff of legend and last worked together on 2000’s America’s Volume Dealer, so no question this reunion makes for one of 2017’s most anticipated heavy rock records. They nailed the nostalgia factor on tour. Can they now add to their legacy?
11. Elder, TBA
I was incredibly fortunate about a month ago to visit progressive heavy rockers Elder at Sonelab in Easthampton, MA, during the recording process for their upcoming fourth album. I heard a couple of the tracks, and of course it was all raw form, but the movement forward from 2015’s Lore (review here) was palpable. That LP (on Stickman) brought them to a wider audience, and I expect no less from this one as well, since the farther out Elder go sound-wise, the deeper the level of connection with their listeners they seem to engage.
12. Electric Wizard, TBA
Could happen, could not happen. That’s how it goes. Announced for last Halloween. That date came and went. Word of trouble building their own studio surfaced somewhere along the line. That was the last I heard. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it showed up tomorrow, if it showed up in 2018, or if the band broke up and never put it out. They’re Electric Wizard. Anything’s possible.
13. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
Out Jan. 28 on Napalm, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues (review here) is the first-ever acoustic album from former Kyuss frontman John Garcia, also of Unida, the reunited Slo Burn, Hermano, Vista Chino, Zun, etc. — basically the voice of desert rock. He does a couple Kyuss classics for good measure, but shines as well on the new/original tracks, and while it’s a piece for fans more than newcomers — that is, it helps if you know the original version of “Green Machine” — his presence remains as powerful as ever despite this new context.
14. Goya, Harvester of Bongloads
Riffs, dude. Goya seem to have them to spare. The Arizona-based wizard doomers have set a pretty prolific clip for themselves at this point, with at least two short releases out in 2016, one a 7″ of Nirvana covers (review here), and the The Enemy EP (review here). Set for a March 3 release through their own Opoponax Records imprint, Harvester of Bongloads continues the march into the abyss that 2015’s Obelisk (review here) and 2013’s 777 set in motion, finding the band coming more into their own as well. Creative growth — and bongloads! The best of both worlds.
15. Ides of Gemini, TBA
Ides of Gemini are set to record their yet-untitled third album with Sanford Parker early this year, and it will also mark their debut on Rise Above Records upon its release. They’ve also got a new lineup around vocalist Sera Timms and guitarist J. Bennett, so as they look to move forward from 2014’s Old World New Wave (review here), one can’t help but wonder what to expect, but to be honest, not knowing is part of the appeal, especially from a band who so readily specialize in the ethereal.
16. Kind, TBA
Three-fourths of Kind feature elsewhere on this list. Bassist Tom Corino plays in Rozamov. Drummer Matt Couto is in Elder. Vocalist Craig Riggs is in Roadsaw. And for what it’s worth, guitarist Darryl Shepherd has a new band coming together called Test Meat. How likely does that make Kind to release a second LP in 2017? I don’t know, but their 2015 Ripple Music debut, Rocket Science (review here), deserves a follow-up, and I know they’ve demoed some new songs. If it happens, great. If it’s 2018, at least these dudes will be plenty busy besides.
17. Lo-Pan, In Tensions
Yes, Lo-Pan‘s In Tensions (review here) has already been released — CD/LP with an artbook on Aqualamb. It’s out. Limited numbers. You can get it now. Why include it on a list of most anticipated releases? Because that’s how strongly I feel about your need to hear it. The fruit of a shortlived lineup with guitarist Adrian Zambrano, it distinguishes itself from everything they’ve done before in style while still keeping to the core righteousness that one hopes the Ohio outfit will continue to carry forward. It’s more than a stopgap between albums. Listen to it.
18. The Midnight Ghost Train, TBA
It seems to have been a rough ride for hard-boogie specialists The Midnight Ghost Train since their 2015 Napalm debut and third album overall, Cold was the Ground (review here). They’ve never taken it easy on the road or in terms of physicality on stage, and between injuries and who knows what else, their intensity at this point veers toward the directly confrontational. Nonetheless, they’ve been writing for album number four, may or may not have started the recording process, and I expect that confrontationalism to suit them well in their new material.
19. Monster Magnet, TBA
I have it on decent authority that NJ heavy psych innovators Monster Magnet were in the studio this past autumn. I’ve seen no concrete word of a new album in progress from Dave Wyndorf and company, and I wouldn’t necessarily expect to until it was time to start hyping the release, but after their two redux releases, 2015’s Cobras and Fire (review here) and 2014’s Milking the Stars (review here), their range feels broader than ever and I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.
20. Mothership, High Strangeness
A pivotal moment for Mothership arrives with High Strangeness, and the heavy-touring, heavy-riffing Texas power trio seem to know it. Their third record on Ripple Music pushes into new avenues of expression and keeps the energy of 2014’s Mothership II (review here) and 2012’s Mothership (review here), but thus far into their career, it’s been about their potential and what they might accomplish going forward. 2017 might be the year for Mothership to declare a definitive place in the sphere of American heavy rock.
21. The Obsessed, Sacred
On Halloween 2016, founding The Obsessed guitarist/vocalist and doom icon Scott “Wino” Weinrich announced a new lineup for the band, with his former The Hidden Hand bandmate Bruce Falkinburg on bass/vocals, Sara Seraphim on guitar and Brian Costantino continuing on drums. A genuine surprise. Their first album since 1994, Sacred (due on Relapse) was tracked as the trio of Weinrich, Costantino and bassist/vocalist Dave Sherman, but clearly they’ve moved into a new era already. Wouldn’t even guess what the future holds, but hopefully Sacred still comes out.
22. Orange Goblin, TBA
When it was announced that London’s Orange Goblin were picked up by Spinefarm as part of that label’s acquisition of Candlelight Records last Spring, the subheadline from the PR wire was “Working on Ninth Studio Album.” I haven’t heard much since then, but even as 2014’s Back from the Abyss (review here) pushed them deeper into metallic territory than ever before, their songs retained the character that’s made the band the institution they are. Always look forward to new Orange Goblin.
23. Pallbearer, Heartless
Doomers, this is your whole year right here. I haven’t heard Pallbearer‘s third album, Heartless (out March 24 on Profound Lore), but I have to think even those who haven’t yet been won over by the Arkansas four-piece’s emotive, deep-running style have to be curious about what they’ve come up with this time around. I know I am. These guys have been making a mark on the genre since their 2012 debut, Sorrow and Extinction (review here), and there’s little doubt Heartless will continue that thread upon its arrival.
24. Radio Moscow, TBA
Fact: Radio Moscow stand among the best classic heavy rock live acts in the US. They’re the kind of band you can watch upwards of 15 gigs in a row — I’ve done it — and find them putting on a better show night after night, in defiance of science, logic and sobriety. Word of their signing to Century Media came just this past week and brought with it confirmation of a follow-up to 2014’s stellar Magical Dirt (review here), and for me to say hell yes, I’m absolutely on board, seems like the no-brainer to end all no-brainers. Can’t wait.
25. Roadsaw, TBA
Nearly six full years later, it’s only fair to call Boston scene godfathers Roadsaw due for a follow-up to their 2011 self-titled (review here). Granted, members have been busy in Kind, White Dynomite, and other projects, but still. Their upcoming outing finds them on Ripple Music after years under the banner of Small Stone Records, and though I haven’t seen a solid release date yet, my understanding is they hit Mad Oak Studio in Allston, MA, this past fall to track it, so seems likely for sooner or later. Sooner, preferably.
26. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
Speaking of albums by Boston bands a while in the making, This Mortal Road (out March 3 on Battleground Records and Dullest Records) is the debut full-length from Boston atmospheric extremists Rozamov. Haven’t heard it yet, but I got a taste of some of the material when I visited the band at New Alliance Audio in Aug. 2015, and the bleak expanses of what I heard seem primed to turn heads. I’m a fan of these guys, but in addition, they’ve found a niche for themselves sound-wise and I’m curious to hear how they bring it to fruition.
27. Samsara Blues Experiment, TBA
It’s been a pleasure over the last couple months to watch a resurgence of Berlin heavy psych trio Samsara Blues Experiment take shape, first with the announcement of a fourth album in October, then with subsequent confirmations for Desertfest, Riff Ritual in Barcelona, and a South American tour. Reportedly due in Spring, which fits with the timing on shows, etc., the record will follow 2013’s righteous Waiting for the Flood (review here) and as much as I’m looking forward to hearing it, I’m kind of just glad to have these guys back.
28. Seedy Jeezus, TBA
Work finished earlier this month on Melbourne trio Seedy Jeezus‘ second full-length. As with their 2015 self-titled debut, the band brought Tony Reed of Mos Generator to Australia to produce, and after their blissed-out 2016 collaboration with Earthless guitarist Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts (review here), it’s hard not to wonder what experimentalist tendencies might show in the trio’s style this time out, and likewise difficult not to anticipate what guitarist Lex “Mr. Frumpy” Wattereus comes up with for the cover art.
29. Shroud Eater, Strike the Sun
Not to spoil the surprise, but Feb. 1 I’ll host a track premiere from Florida’s Shroud Eater that finds them working in a different context from everything we’ve heard from them to this point in their rightly-celebrated tenure. They also recently had a split out with Dead Hand, and their second long-player, Strike the Sun, will be their debut through STB Records. It’s been since 2011’s ThunderNoise (review here) that we last got a Shroud Eater album, so you bet your ass I’m dying to know what the last six years have wrought.
30. Sleep, TBA
If Sleep were any other band, they’d probably be in the “Would be Awfully Nice” category. But they’re Sleep, so even the thought of a new record is enough to put them here. The lords of all things coated in THC are reissuing their 2014 single, The Clarity (review here), on Southern Lord next month, but rumors have been swirling about a proper album, which of course would be their first since the now-legendary Dopesmoker. If it happens, it’ll automatically be a heavy underground landmark for 2017, but it’s one I’m going to have in my ears before I really believe it.
31. Stoned Jesus, TBA
Even as they tour playing their second album, 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), to mark its fifth anniversary and continued impact, Ukrainian trio Stoned Jesus are forging ahead with a fourth record behind 2015’s The Harvest (review here). The capital-‘q’ Question is whether or not looking back at Seven Thunders Roar and engaging that big-riffing side of their sound will have an impact on the new material, and if so, how it will meld with the push of The Harvest. Won’t speculate, but look forward to finding out.
32. Stubb, TBA
Since reveling in the soul of 2015’s Cry of the Ocean (review here) on Ripple, London trio Stubb have swapped out bassists, and they were in Skyhammer Studio this month recording a single that may be an extended psychedelic jam. I’ll take that happily, but I’m even more intrigued at the prospect of a third LP and what guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist/vocalist Tom Hobson and drummer Tom Fyfe might have in store as the band moves forward on multiple levels. Might be 2017, might not.
33. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us
It Runs around the Room with Us seems to find peace in its resonant experimentalist drones, loops, open, subdued spaces, but there’s always some underlying sense of foreboding to its drift, as if Boise’s Sun Blood Stories could anticipate the moment before it happened. Toward the end of the follow-up to 2015’s Twilight Midnight Morning (review here), they execute the 90-second assault “Burn” and turn serenity to ash. Look for it in April and look for it again on my best of 2017 list in December.
34. Ufomammut, TBA
Any new offering from the Italian cosmic doom magnates is worth looking forward to, and while Ufomammut have left the 15-year mark behind, they’ve never stopped progressing in style and form. To wit, 2015’s Ecate (review here) was a stunner after 2012’s two-part LP, Oro (review here and review here), tightening the approach but assuring the vibe was no less expansive than ever. They started recording last summer, finished mixing in November, so I’m hoping for word of a release date soon.
35. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn
Born out of Creedsmen Arise, whose 2015 demo, Temple (review here), offered formative thrills, Swedish trio Vokonis debuted with last year’s Olde One Ascending (review here) and proved there’s still life in post-Sleep riffing when it’s wielded properly. They signed to Ripple in November and confirmed the title of their sophomore effort as The Sunken Djinn, as well as a reissue for the first album, which will probably arrive first. I don’t know how that will affect the timing on this one, but keep an eye out anyway.
Gonna Happen and/or Likely Candidates
Obviously some of these are more likely than others. Some have solidified, announced release dates — Dopelord‘s out this month, Demon Head‘s out in April, etc. — and others come from social media posts of bands in studios and hints at upcoming releases and so on. A big tell is whether or not a band has an album title with their listing, but even some of those without have their new albums done, like Atala and Royal Thunder, so it’s not necessarily absolute.
Either way, while I’m spending your money, you might want to look into:
36. Against the Grain
39. Attalla, Glacial Rule
40. Ayahuasca Dark Trip, II
42. Beaten Back to Pure
45. Buried Feather, Mind of the Swarm
46. The Clamps
47. Cold Stares
48. Coltsblood, Ascending into the Shimmering Darkness
49. Come to Grief, The Worst of Times EP
51. Cruthu, The Angle of Eternity
52. The Dead-End Alley Band, Storms
53. Dead Witches, Dead Witches
55. Death Alley, Live at Roadburn
56. Demon Head, Thunder on the Fields
57. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
58. Devil Electric
59. Doctor Cyclops, Local Dogs
60. Dool, Here Now There Then
61. Dopelord, Children of the Haze
62. Doublestone, Devil’s Own/Djævlens Egn
63. Dread Sovereign, For Doom the Bell Tolls
64. Drive by Wire
65. Elbrus, Elbrus
66. Electric Age
67. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals
68. Endless Floods, II
69. Five Horse Johnson
70. Forming the Void, Relic
71. Funeral Horse
73. Green Desert Water
75. Grifter / Suns of Thunder, Split
76. Hair of the Dog, This World Turns
77. Heavy Temple, Chassit
78. Here Lies Man, Here Lies Man
79. Hollow Leg, Murder EP
80. Holy Mount, The Drought
81. Hooded Menace
82. Horisont, About Time
83. Hymn, Perish
84. Lecherous Gaze
85. Magnet, Feel Your Fire
87. Merlin, The Wizard
89. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream
90. Mirror Queen
91. Moonbow, War Bear
92. Mos Generator
93. The Moth
95. Mouth, Vortex
96. My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
99. PH, Eternal Hayden
100. Psychedelic Witchcraft, Magick Rites and Spells
101. Royal Thunder
102. Saturn, Beyond Spectra
103. Season of Arrows, Give it to the Mountain
104. Siena Root
105. Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
106. Six Sigma, Tuxedo Brown
108. The Sonic Dawn, Into the Long Night
110. Spidergawd, IV
112. Stinking Lizaveta, Journey to the Underworld
113. Sula Bassana, Organ Accumulator
115. Sun Voyager, Sun Voyager
116. Sweat Lodge, Tokens for Hell EP
117. Thera Roya, Stone and Skin
119. Troubled Horse, Revelation on Repeat
120. VA, Brown Acid The Third Trip
122. Youngblood Supercult, The Great American Death Rattle
Definitely Could Happen
Maybe a recording process is upcoming (Gozu, Cities of Mars, YOB), or a band is looking for a label (The Flying Eyes), or they’ve said new stuff is in the works but the circumstances of an actual release aren’t known (Arc of Ascent, Dead Meadow, High on Fire), or I’ve just seen rumors of their hitting the studio (Freedom Hawk, La Chinga, Ruby the Hatchet). We’ve entered the realm of the entirely possible but not 100 percent.
So, you know, life.
123. The Age of Truth
124. Ape Machine
125. Arc of Ascent
126. At Devil Dirt
131. La Chinga
132. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters
133. Cities of Mars
134. Crypt Sermon
135. Dead Meadow
136. Death Alley (Studio LP)
137. Dee Calhoun
138. Destroyer of Light
140. Devil Worshipper
144. Electric Moon
145. Elephant Tree
147. The Flying Eyes
148. Freedom Hawk
150. The Great Electric Quest
151. Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun
152. High on Fire
154. Insect Ark
155. In the Company of Serpents
156. Iron Monkey
157. Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus
158. The Judge
159. Killer Boogie
160. King Dead
161. The Kings of Frog Island
162. Lords of Beacon House, Recreational Sorcery
164. Mondo Drag
166. Mountain God
167. The Munsens
169. Never Got Caught
175. Purple Hill Witch
176. Ruby the Hatchet
178. Satan’s Satyrs
179. Serpents of Secrecy
181. Shooting Guns
182. Sleepy Sun
183. Slow Season
184. Snowy Dunes, Atlantis
185. Spectral Haze
186. The Sweet Heat
187. Switchblade Jesus
191. Zone Six
Would be Awfully Nice
This last category is basically as close as I’m willing to come to rampant speculation. Endless Boogie have hinted at new material, and Queens of the Stone Age have talked about hitting the studio for the last two years. There were rumors about Om, and though Kings Destroy just put out an EP, they have new songs as well, though I doubt we’ll hear them before the end of 2017. I’ll admit that Across Tundras, Fever Dog, Lord Fowl, Lowrider and Hour of 13 are just wishful thinking on my part. A boy can hope:
192. Across Tundras
194. Elephant Tree
195. Endless Boogie
196. Fever Dog
197. Fu Manchu
198. Halfway to Gone
199. Hour of 13
201. Kings Destroy
202. Lord Fowl
204. Masters of Reality
207. Queens of the Stone Age
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. Whatever this year brings, I hope it’s been great so far for you and I hope it continues to be so as we proceed inexorably to 2018 and all the also-futuristic-sounding numbers thereafter. At least we know we’ll have plenty of good music to keep us company on that voyage.
As always, comments section is open if there’s anything I’ve left out. I’m happy to add, adjust, etc., as need be, so really, have at it, and thanks in advance.
Posted in Features on December 15th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
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 2016 to that, please do.
Of all the lists I do to wrap up or start any given year, this is the hardest. As someone obviously more concerned with first impressions than I am and thus probably better-dressed once said, you only get one chance at them. For bands, that can be a vicious bite in the ass on multiple levels.
To wit, you put out a great debut, fine, but there’s a whole segment of your listeners who’re bound to think you’ll never live up to it again. You put out a meh debut, you sell yourself short. Or maybe your debut is awesome but doesn’t really represent where you want to be as a band, so it’s a really good first impression, but a mistaken one. There are so many things that can go wrong or go right with any LP, but with debuts, the stakes are that much higher because it’s the only time you’ll get the chance to engage your audience for the first time. That matters.
And when it comes to putting together a list of the best debuts of the year, how does one begin to judge? True, some of these acts have done EPs and singles and splits and things like that before, and that’s at least something to go on, but can one really be expected to measure an act’s potential based on a single collection of songs? Is that fair to anyone involved? Or on the other side, is it even possible to take a debut entirely on its own merits, without any consideration for where it might lead the band in question going forward? I know that’s not something I’ve ever been able to do, certainly. Or particularly interested in doing. I like context.
Still, one presses on. I guess the point is that, like picking any kind of prospects, some will pan out and some won’t. I’ve done this for enough years now that I’ve seen groups flame or fade out while others have risen to new heights with each subsequent release. It’s always a mix. But at the same time, it’s important to step back and say that, as of today, this is where it’s at.
And so it is:
The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016
1. King Buffalo, Orion
2. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree
3. Heavy Temple, Chassit
4. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
5. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
6. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
7. Wretch, Wretch
8. Year of the Cobra, In the Shadows Below
9. BigPig, Grande Puerco
10. Fuzz Evil, Fuzz Evil
11. Bright Curse, Before the Shore
12. Conclave, Sins of the Elders
13. Pale Grey Lore, Pale Grey Lore
14. High Fighter, Scars and Crosses
15. Spirit Adrift, Chained to Oblivion
16. Bellringer, Jettison
17. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Is Satan Real?
18. Merchant, Suzerain
19. Beastmaker, Lusus Naturae
20. King Dead, Woe and Judgment
There are many. First, the self-titled from Pooty Owldom, which had so much weirdo charm it made my head want to explode. And Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun‘s acoustic solo record was technically a debut. And Atala‘s record. And Horehound. And Mother Mooch. And Domkraft. And Spaceslug. And Graves at Sea? Shit. More than a decade after their demo, they finally put out a debut album. And Second Grave‘s full-length would turn out to be their swansong, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the thing. There were a lot of records to consider in putting this list together. As always, it could’ve been a much longer list.
For example, here are 20 more: Swan Valley Heights, Arctic, Blues Funeral, Teacher, Psychedelic Witchcraft, Nonsun, Duel, Banquet, Floodlore, Mindkult‘s EP, Mountain Dust, Red Lama, Red Wizard, Limestone Whale, Dunbarrow, Comacozer, Sinister Haze, Pants Exploder, Akasava, Katla and No Man’s Valley. That’s not even the end of it. I could go on.
It was a fight to the finish. There’s always one, and as late as yesterday I could be found kicking back and forth between King Buffalo and Elephant Tree in the top spot. What was it that finally put King Buffalo‘s Orion over Elephant Tree‘s self-titled? I don’t know. Ask me tomorrow and the answer might be completely different.
They had a lot in common. Not necessarily in terms of style — King Buffalo basked in spacious Americana-infused heavy psych jams while Elephant Tree proffered more earthbound riffing and melodies — but each executed memorable songs across its span in a way that would be unfair to ask of a debut. The potential for what both bands can turn into down the line played a part in the picks, but something else they share between them is that the quality of the work they’re doing now warrants the top spots. Orion and Elephant Tree were great albums, not just great first albums.
From there, we see a wide swath of next-generation encouragement for the future of heavy rock, whether it’s coming from Sweden’s Vokonis or Philadelphia’s Heavy Temple, or London’s Bright Curse, or Los Angeles duo BigPig. The latter act’s punkish fuzz definitely benefited from guitarist/vocalist Dino von Lalli‘s experience playing in Fatso Jetson, but one hopes that as the years go on his own multifaceted songwriting style will continue to grow as well.
A few offerings weren’t necessarily unexpected but still lived up to the anticipation. High Fighter‘s EP prefaced their aggro sludgecore well. Ditto that for the grueling death-sludge of Massachusetts natives Conclave. The aforementioned Bright Curse, Merchant, Fuzz Evil, Atala, Bellringer, Holy Grove, Wretch and Worshipper all had offerings of one sort or another prior to their full-length debuts — in the case of Bellringer, it was just a series of videos, while Wretch had the entire The Gates of Slumber catalog to fall back on — but each of those albums offered surprises nonetheless.
It would’ve been hard not to be taken by the songwriting on display from the likes of Holy Grove, Year of the Cobra, Pale Grey Lore and Beastmaker, who between them covered a pretty broad variety of atmosphere but found ways to deliver high-quality crafted material in that. Those albums were a pleasure to hear. Put Boston’s Worshipper in that category as well, though they were just as much a standout from the pack in terms of their performance as what they were performing. Speaking of performance, the lush melodies from Church of the Cosmic Skull and classic progressive flourish were enough to make me a believer. Simply gorgeous. And one-man outfit Spirit Adrift shined, if in that matte-black doom kind of way, on an encouraging collection of modern melancholic heavy that seemed to hint at sprawl to come.
As we get down to the bottom of the list we find Pennsylvania ambient heavy post-rockers King Dead. Their Woe and Judgment was released digitally last year (2015) but the LP came out earlier this year, so I wasn’t quite sure where to place them ultimately. I know they got some mention on the 2015 lists somewhere, but while they’re an act who’ve flown under a lot of people’s radar as yet, I have good feelings about how they might continue to dig into their sound and the balance of bleakness and psychedelic color they bring to their material. They’re slated for a follow-up in 2017, so this won’t be the last list on which they appear in the next few weeks.
Like I said at the outset, putting out a debut album is a special moment for any band. Not everyone gets to that point and not everyone gets beyond it, so while a list like this is inherently bound to have some element of speculation, it’s still a worthy endeavor to celebrate the accomplishments of those who hit that crucial moment in their creative development. Hopefully these acts continue to grow, flourish, and build on what they’ve thus far been able to realize sonically. That’s the ideal.
And before I go, once again, let me reinforce the notion that I recognize this is just a fraction of the whole. I’d like it to be the start of a conversation. If there was a debut album that kicked your ass this year and you don’t see it here, please drop a note in the comments below. I’m sure I’ll be adding more honorable mentions and whatnot over the next couple days, so if you see glaring omissions, let’s have ’em.
It was a hell of a ride, and by that I mean I sat in traffic from about 8:30 in the morning until I walked into Cafe 611 in Frederick, Maryland, just in time for the start of the first band at 5:15PM. I soon found that my plan to not wear the supportive boot for my continuing ankle pain was, let’s say, ambitious. Basically I couldn’t stand up for more than like five minutes at a time. Fortunately the boot was in the car. Then my camera broke.
This is the part where normally I’d say “some you win, some you lose,” but the quality of the first night of Maryland Doom Fest 2016 — the second edition of the festival put on by JB Matson and Mark Cruikshank; still kicking myself for missing it last year — was such that I couldn’t really feel too down about any of the above, except perhaps the camera, which served me well for half a decade and hopefully I’ll be able to have fixed in the near term, no doubt at significant cost. Not for this weekend, though. Bummer.
Well. Now that I think I’ve gotten all or at least most of the bitching out of the way, we can get down to business. Like I said, I watched from the first band on, as much as I was able, and got pictures on my phone after the camera went down. I did the best I could.
Alright, here goes:
Clearly a trial by fire for the room. Some fests might try to ease the audience into the event; Maryland Doom Fest 2016 not so much. Philadelphia’s Black Urn would wind up being the most extreme band of the night, digging their way into vicious sludge metal topped by growls and screams exclusively, proffered through two guitars finding balance in the mix with bass that seemed utterly dominant at first but soon enough evened out. That kind of stuff runs the risk of coming across as samey when you don’t know the songs — they have a 2015 demo and a 2016 EP, The Pangs of Our Covenant, out, but this was my first exposure to them — but Black Urn knew when to change the pace up, and their faster parts had a heavy rock edge to them that set well alongside the grueling brutalities they fostered otherwise. Plus vocalist John Jones wore an Iron Monkey t-shirt, and that’s just about always going to earn some extra points in my book.
The Californian heavy atmospheric doom rockers were a treat for anyone who showed up early, playing through a considerable investment portfolio of amplification, fresh-looking Oranges and Sunn for the guitar of Kyle Stratton and the bass of John Chavarria, while drummer Jeff Tedtaotao punctuated the massive rolling grooves elicited from them. They’d been on tour for about a week supporting the recently-released, Billy Anderson-produced Shaman’s Path of the Serpent (stream here; review here), and “Gravity” was a highlight of the set, which rightly focused on the new album and its ambient largesse, in which one can hear shades of anything from YOB to Neurosis to Deftones in Stratton‘s vocals to Tool in some of their quiet, winding parts. It’s a varied blend, and they can make it move as well when they want, but they were impressively fluid front to back, and seemed most at home with the three of them locked into any number of lumbering progressions, of which they offered plenty.
I’ve been watching Admiral Browning play shows for more than a decade. I say this not to brag about having seen the band a bunch of times, but to emphasize the point that when they take a given stage, I still don’t know what to expect. Oh, you can be sure that guitarist Matt LeGrow, bassist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis and drummer Tim Otis will offer dizzying technicality and frenetic groove, but just where they might take that is perpetually up in the air. Their 2015 tape EP, Corvette Summer (review here), found them experimenting further with incorporating vocals into their long-instrumentally-focused sound, and it worked. At Maryland Doom Fest 2016, it wasn’t a question. Both LeGrow and McGinnis had mics and used them liberally. I’ll admit it was a somewhat jarring sight — as I said, they were strictly instrumental for a long time — but they’ve developed relentlessly over their years together, and that process obviously continues unabated. Nothing new to say I’m looking forward to what they do next, but it’s true all the same. Way underappreciated band.
Probably should’ve seen these cats by now. Led by guitarist/vocalist Erik Sugg, North Carolina’s Demon Eye have been tearing it up on the Eastern Seaboard for the last couple years, also journeying west this past April to tour alongside Disenchanter in support of their second record, 2015’s Tempora Infernalia (review here), and after hearing such encouraging things about their stage presence, yeah, it felt overdue. Sugg was indeed very much in the lead position, bantering with the crowd between songs, headbanging and stomping in classic rock style, backed by drummer Bill Egan on vocals and lead guitarist Larry Burlison while Paul Walz‘s Rickenbacker tied it all together in the low end. They opened with “End of Days” and closed with “Sons of Man,” both from the new record, but “From Beyond” from 2014’s Leave the Light (review here) was a highlight as well, their songs upbeat. In my notes, it just says “ace songwriting,” so we’ll leave it at that, and while I’ll admit some of their cult themes leave me a little cold, both their craft and the energy of their performance are absolutely undeniable.
With guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey both now in Beelzefuzz and bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis sharing his time with Admiral Browning and several other projects, Pale Divine has kind of become a part-time institution, but in all the years I’ve seen them — I think the first time was in Philly with The Hidden Hand, circa ’04 — they’ve never failed to deliver on their particular kind of woeful traditional doom. Though they’re not actually from the state, they were a perfect centerpiece for Maryland Doom Fest 2016’s first night, and the assembled crowd, younger and older, showed their appreciation duly. As I was dealing with my just-busted camera, I’ll admit my attention was somewhat divided, but Pale Divine don’t screw around on stage, and they closed their set playing something they’ve never played before. Diener gave the title but of course I missed it, in the back fumbling with the camera battery and lens as I was, sadly to no avail. The doom felt perhaps even more appropriate in such a context.
Ruby the Hatchet
Philly-region five-piece Ruby the Hatchet are on something of a mini-tour this week, up the Northeast in the formidable company of Black Mountain. Not at all their first run in support of last year’s way-right-on Valley of the Snake (review here), but they’ve also reissued their first record, Ouroboros, on vinyl through Tee Pee Records, and I’d imagine when the chance to do shows with a group like Black Mountain crops up, or to, say, play Maryland Doom Fest 2016 on the night The Obsessed are headlining, it’s a thing you do your best to make happen. Starting off their set with the memorable “Heavy Blanket” from Valley of the Snake, they jammed profusely and featured what I think might be the weekend’s only on-stage organ, so bonus points there. Vocalist Jillian Taylor was in firm command on stage, her vocals run through a close delay for a live-doubletracking effect that only made their cultistry seem more resonant. Taylor, together with bassist Lake Muir, guitarist John Scarperia, drummer Owen Stewart and organist Sean Hur, have pretty clearly mastered the post-Uncle Acid blend of hooks and bounce, and set about reshaping them to suit their own melodic purposes. One expects that will be a process that plays out over the next several years/albums, but they were impressively tight and for my first time seeing them, I was glad I finally did.
Speaking of bands I should’ve seen before — as I realize I have a couple times at this point — fucking Castle. The hard-touring San Francisco outfit sounded so much like a group used to being on the road. Some bands just develop that thing. They show up in a room, assess the place, the people, the sound, say, “Okay, we can kick ass here,” and then do. That’s exactly what Castle did. They’re the kind of band who could make you believe in heavy metal. A lot of what they played was new — they’re touring to herald the arrival of their new album, Welcome to the Graveyard, which is out July 12 on Ván Records — and their righteously individualized blend of thrash, traditional metal, doom, heavy rock and roll, etc., speaks to some mystical bygone era when metal was about not compromising, putting a fist in the air against expectation and going on tour forever. Castle were so deep into what they were doing that I think they could’ve been anywhere and it would’ve been the same, that trance taking hold early on as they locked in and holding sway for the duration of their set, which seemed short when it was over. They’ve made themselves pretty available for in-person experience over the years, and now I understand why. I don’t think it’s really possible to get them until you see them live. I’m late to the party on that one, I know, but they didn’t seem to care if it was somebody’s first time, fifth time, or however-manyeth time seeing them. Everyone got their ass handed to them equally.
Not to toot my own horn, but I said not too long ago that if you get the chance to see Internal Void, you should do it, and their hour-long set at Cafe 611 only affirmed the truth of that. The four-piece of vocalist J.D. Williams, guitarist Kelly Carmichael, bassist Adam Heinzmann and drummer Brian Goad packed out the room shoulder to shoulder and were clearly as glad to see the hometown crowd as the hometown crowd was to see them, even before Carmichael started shredding out solos, before Williams widened his eyes and loosed his gravely sneer, and before they brought out original drummer Eric Little to play a couple cuts from 1993’s Standing on the Sun, marking the first time that album’s full lineup had shared the stage in 23 years. With their own banner behind them, Internal Void epitomized Maryland doom. Their workingman’s grooves, classic edge and sans-bullshit delivery spoke to everything that has allowed the scene in and around Frederick to flourish for the last three decades to where it is now and where it’s headed in the future. Last time I saw Internal Void was at the Afterburner for Roadburn 2012, and several others remarked that it had been several years since they last played, so that might well have been their most recent show. Either way, they brought it hard for the Maryland Doom Fest 2016 crowd and were a joy to watch. If you get the chance to see them, do it. Don’t hesitate.
I’m not sure anyone would’ve been a better fit to headline Maryland Doom Fest than The Obsessed. I mean that wholeheartedly. Their legacy as a band — only more so now that guitarist/vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich has brought in his Spirit Caravan bandmate Dave Sherman (recent interview here) on bass/backing vocals, alongside new drummer Brian Costantino — is so tied to that of Maryland doom that you just don’t have the one without the other. Their set might be considered a victory lap for the month-long tour they just did with Karma to Burn (who also play this weekend) as much as a precursor to their hitting the studio with Frank “The Punisher” Marchand in a couple weeks to record their first album since 1994. In addition to The Obsessed staples “Neatz Brigade,” “Streamlined,” “Protect and Serve” and “Blind Lightning,” they worked in a couple Spirit Caravan cuts, among them “Retroman” and the ultra-rolling “Sea Legs.” It was late, and the room began to thin out some as they made their way toward the close of the evening with “Freedom,” but in giving a look at some newer material with the speedy “Be the Night” and the more expansive “Sacred” (which has been kicking around Spirit Caravan sets for a few years now and has older roots), The Obsessed looked ahead in addition to celebrating their legacy, and that seemed no less appropriate. Even after Internal Void, they held the room wrapt, and there was zero doubt to whom the night ultimately belonged.
Next show starts in a little over an hour, so I gotta get moving. No extra pics on account of the broken camera, but thanks for reading anyway.
California’s Atala release their second album, Shaman’s Path of the Serpent, this Friday, May 20. If the cover art looks familiar, it might be because the Billy Anderson-produced record has already been reviewed in this space, but the story basically goes that I got asked if I wanted to do the full-album stream as well, and the truth is there’s more to say about the progressive and atmospheric leap the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton (also a tattoo artist), bassist John Chavarria and drummer Jeff Tedtaotao make with these four songs, so yeah, I’m down.
As previously noted, it’s been just about a year since Atala made their self-titled debut (review here), and Shaman’s Path of the Serpent works not only as a forward step, but on a completely different scale, borrowing echoing atmospheric largesse from the likes of Deftones and driving it out to the desert with aggression in mind. Even upbeat stretches like the shuffle of second cut “Levity” retain an overarching air of threat, and from the beginning of 10-minute opener and longest cut (immediate points) “Gravity,” its beginning guitar reminiscent of Tool, there’s a rolling doom lumber that feels tonally kin to Pallbearer but made much more Atala‘s own through Stratton‘s vocals and the interplay of varied atmospheres as the blown-out thrust of “King Solomon” and churning crush of “Shapeshifter” continue to build on what the band accomplishes with the first two tracks until all that’s left is noise.
Like I said, Shaman’s Path of the Serpent has already been reviewed, so I don’t want to retread, but consider this post an emphasis on how pivotal and how blazingly quick their growth has been. The first record operated in a straightforward heavy rock style, more barroom than darkened parking lot, and while tracks were constructed on a solid foundation of songwriting, there was little of the kind of scope that even “Gravity” brings at the open, let alone anything that follows. Its airier patience is something that comes with little foreshadow, and as “Shapeshifter” pulls itself apart at the end, there is nothing about that moment that isn’t Atala‘s own, and it puts one final exclamation point on how far the band has come with what’s still just their sophomore full-length.
Atala are on tour next month, headed east to play Maryland Doom Fest 2016 among other live dates. I was dying to know more about what was driving the progression on Shaman’s Path of the Serpent, so reached out to Stratton to get the scoop. You’ll find his comments, the tour dates and the album preorder link under the player below, on which you can stream the album in its entirety.
Kyle Stratton on working with Billy Anderson:
On this album, Shaman’s Path of the Serpent, we wanted to do something heavy in a spiritual sense. Lyrically, I was writing about transcending life through death to a spiritual rebirth. With the subject matter I wanted to express, we knew the vocals would be soft in order to evoke a trance-like state, so we wanted the music to come across as very dark and heavy to give the feeling of crossing over to the other side of existence. We choose Billy Anderson because he is an expert at capturing very heavy tones. After speaking with him through emails and getting his feedback on the demos, we knew he was the dude.
The recording process was amazing. Billy really came in with a good idea of what he wanted to do and we came in prepared. It was a mold. We recorded the whole album in four very long days. We worked 16 to 18 hour days, went to sleep then woke up and did it again. Billy even had ideas for vocal melodies and would play them on guitar so I could sing to them. He also laid some extra guitar tracks, and he did the monk chants on the end of the album. I feel he really brought a lot to the plate and we are very grateful to have such a great album because of it. Hopefully he will be on board for the next one.
Atala on tour: 06.18 Scottsdale AZ The Rogue Bar 06.19 Lubbock TX Depot Obar 06.21 St. Louis MO Fubar 06.22 Lakewood OH The Foundry 06.24 Frederick MD Maryland Doom Fest 06.27 Spartanburg SC Ground Zero 06.28 Birmingham AL The Nick 06.29 Fayetteville AR Nomad’s 06.30 Dallas TX Reno’s Chop Shop 07.01 El Paso TX Mesa Music Hall 07.02 Bisbee AZ The Quarry 07.03 Riverside CA PBW