Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Early-Bird Tickets Limited; Day Lineups Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2019 poster square

The actual schedules aren’t out yet for the four days of Maryland Doom Fest 2019, but even the day-splits for the massive lineup are good to know since this will be the first one with two venues and, thus, the first one with schedule conflicts (assuming the rooms run at the same time). That will invariably lead to some difficult choices, but so it goes in the land of doom — aka Frederick, MD. One way or another, the lineup is maddeningly good from its headliners in Pentagram, Conan, Earthride and Mothership right on down through the likes of Seasick Gladiator and Greenbeard, playing earlier in the day. But it’s good to get some basic idea of who will be where, when, because given the swath of bands, it’s going to be one to schedule where your feet are at any moment in order to miss as little as humanly possible.

By the way, how fucking awesome is the idea of Maryland Doom Fest paying homage to the 20th anniversary of the long-running/now-defunct Stoner Hands of Doom festival? That lineup could hardly be more perfect if they got Eternal Elysium over for it as SHoD once did. Especially the top three there. Unstoppable.

Here’s the info. There’s a lot of it:

Early Bird Discount Ends 12/31! THE MARYLAND DOOM FEST 2019 – 5th Anniversary – June 20th-23rd with PENTAGRAM, CONAN, EARTHRIDE, MOTHERSHIP, WARHORSE, 40+ More!

The Maryland Doom Fest celebrates its 5th anniversary this upcoming June and has confirmed FIFTY of today’s heaviest bands to grace the stages of two venues in 2019. For the first time in its history, MD Doom Fest brings international artists, the mighty CONAN from the United Kingdom and INTERITUM from Tasmania, with 48 hallowed USA acts coming from coast to coast!

In a dual-ceremonial event, the MD Doom Fest Pre-Party on Thursday, June 20th is a 20th Anniversary celebration of the Stoner Hands of Doom Festival (ShoD), with a spectacular lineup. All bands have performed at fantastic SHoD fests of years past! The Pre-Fest / SHoD 20th Anniversary Celebration will be monumental. We invite everyone to become part of the family at The Maryland Doom Fest 2019 events for #4daysofdoom!!

THE MARYLAND DOOM FEST 2019
June 20th – 23rd, 2019 + Frederick, MD

PENTAGRAM + CONAN + EARTHRIDE + MOTHERSHIP

Year Of The Cobra + Lo Pan + Freedom Hawk + Warhorse + Pale Divine + Apostle Of Solitude + Kings Destroy + Solace + Foghound + Beelzefuzz + ZED + Wasted Theory + The Age Of Truth + Atala + Toke + Backwoods Payback + Weed Is Weed + Forming The Void + Sixes + After The Sun + Shadow Witch + Faith In Jane + Clouds Taste Satanic + Pale Grey Lore + Knoxxville + Devil To Pay + Eternal Black + Thonian Horde + Kingsnake + Greenbeard + Interitum + Benthic Realm + Horehound + Funeral Horse + Thousand Vision Mist + Deer Creek + Crooked Hills + Stone Dust Riders + Thunderchief + Wolf Blood + The Druids + Atomic 26 + Dead Sisters + Seasick Gladiator + Electric Age + Temptations Wings

+++ Early Bird Discount Weekend Passes available until December 31st +++

https://www.marylanddoomfest.com/tickets/

MD Doom Fest Pre-Party
SHoD 20th Anniversary Celebration
Thursday, June 20th

+ Cafe 611 +
Earthride
Warhorse
Solace
Wasted Theory
Devil to Pay
Deer Creek
Weed is Weed
Freedom Hawk
After the Sun

DAY ONE
Friday, June 21st

+CAFE 611+
Mothership
Pale Divine
Lo Pan
Year of the Cobra
The Age of Truth
Backwoods Payback
Kingsnake
Interitum
The Druids

+GUIDO’S SPEAKEASY+
Clouds Taste Satanic
Benthic Realm
Dead Sisters
Funeral Horse

DAY TWO
Saturday, June 22nd

+CAFE 611+
Pentagram
Apostle of Solitude
Foghound
Beelzefuzz
Atala
Sixes
Forming the Void
Knoxxville
Atomic 26
Eternal Black
Greenbeard

+GUIDO’S SPEAKEASY+
Electric Age
Pale Grey Lore
Thunderchief
Seasick Gladiator
Crooked Hills

DAY THREE
Sunday, June 23rd

+CAFE 611+
Conan
ZED
Kings Destroy
Toke
Thousand Vision Mist
Horehound
Thonian Horde
Shadow Witch
Faith in Jane

+GUIDO’S SPEAKEASY+
Temptations Wings
Wolf Blood
Stone Dust Riders

Early Bird Discount Weekend Passes are available until December 31st, 2018!
(Early Bird Discount is only for Weekend Passes- $74.)

On January 1, 2019, all regular price ticket options will be available.
Weekend Passes $89. Single Night: Fri. $35 / Sat. $40 / Sun. $35
Weekend Pass holders can attend Pre-Fest/SHoD for $15 at the door, all others: $30.

https://www.facebook.com/events/371836710006412/
https://www.facebook.com/MdDoomFest/
https://www.themarylanddoomfest.com/

Apostle of Solitude, “Keeping the Lighthouse” official video

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Announces Lineup: Pentagram, Conan, Earthride, Mothership, Lo-Pan and More to Play

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 31st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2019 announcement

Holy fucking shit. It’s a good thing Maryland Doom Fest 2019 isn’t until next June, because it’s going to take me that long to process how badass this lineup is. It’s like JB decided this was the year everybody plays. A fourth day has been added. A second venue has been added — it’s Cafe 611 and Guido’s Speakeasy now — and wow. Just, fucking, wow. The headliners: PentagramConanEarthride and Mothership. And the list of bands that follows is absolutely staggering. Of course some things are bound to change between now and then, and there are announcements yet to be made about the pre-show, but really. They’ve absolutely, positively gone to a completely new level of festival here.

It’s gonna be crowded.

And it’s gonna be a blast. If you need me, I’ll be booking my room at the Motel 6 in Frederick.

The announcement was simple and came just in the form of the poster — art is by Kyle Stratton, whose band Atala also make a return to the bill — and from near and far, far and wide, acts are coming in to make what looks like it’ll be an absolutely unforgettable weekend (-plus) of heavy.

Here’s the lineup:

maryland doom fest 2019 poster

MARYLAND DOOM FEST 2019 – JUNE 20-23

DOOMSTERS, GRUNGERS, SLUDGERS, STONERS, & PAGANS —

We are extremely pleased to present to you……The Maryland Doom Fest 2019 lineup!!!

50 of the heaviest, most talented bands to grace the stage.

We bring you INTERITUM from Tasmania, CONAN from England, PENTAGRAM from our soil, and an additional 47 top performing USA acts traveling from all across the continent!!

As if that’s not enough, the MDDF Pre-Fest Party will be celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the SHoD (Stoner Hands of Doom) Festival with a spectacular lineup of bands who have performed at the great SHoD fests in years past!! The Pre-Fest / SHoD 20th Anniversary Celebration will be monumental in countless ways!!!!

Please support the Doom scene and share this epic event with your comrades and we will see you at #4daysofdoom !!!!

EARLY BIRD Discounted ticket sales start Dec. 17th, 2018 – for two weeks only.

This astronomical lineup and the 2019 festivities are dedicated to my very good friend and prior MDDF partner from 2015 – 2018, Mark Cruikshank!!

DooM !!! ~JB

Lineup:
Earthride
Warhorse
Solace
Wasted Theory
Devil to Pay
Deer Creek
Weed is Weed
Freedom Hawk
After the Sun
Mothership
Pale Divine
Lo Pan
Year of the Cobra
The Age of Truth
Backwoods Payback
Kingsnake
Interitum
The Druids
Clouds Taste Satanic
Benthic Realm
Dead Sisters
Funeral Horse
Pentagram
Apostle of Solitude
Foghound
Beelzefuzz
Atala
Sixes
Forming the Void
Knoxxville
Atomic 26
Eternal Black
Greenbeard
Electric Age
Pale Grey Lore
Thunderchief
Seasick Gladiator
Crooked Hills
Conan
ZED
Kings Destroy
Toke
Thousand Vision Mist
Horehound
Thonian Horde
Shadow Witch
Faith in Jane
Temptations Wings
Wolf Blood
Stone Dust Riders

https://www.facebook.com/events/371836710006412/
https://www.facebook.com/MdDoomFest/
https://www.themarylanddoomfest.com/

Earthride, Live at Maryland Doom Fest 2018

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Atala Announce November Southwestern Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

atala

With three shows in Arizona, one in New Mexico, one in L.A., and a last one in Mexico, I think it’s fair to call Atala‘s upcoming November tour one of the Southwest, but there are also dates in Salt Lake City, Denver and Wichita, Kansas, so there’s some geographical reach there as well. It’s a nine-date trek, all told, for the desert-dwelling atmosludge three-piece, who go supporting early 2018’s Labyrinth of Ashmedai (review here), released by Salt of the Earth Records, and the tour is presented by the label and Dropout Media. I haven’t heard much about Atala‘s plans for 2019 either way, whether they’ll do shows, write, or record, or lay low and/or continue to herald Labyrinth of Ashmedai, but if they’ve got new material, they’re not shy about showing it off, so there’s always the chance, and either way, I can tell you from experience at both Maryland Doom Fest and Roadburn that they deliver live. The first time Jeff Tedtaotao blows out your eardrums with his crash, you’ll be happy you showed up. I wouldn’t try to steer you wrong.

The PR wire brings the dates and the whathaveyous. Goes like this:

atala tour

CA Desert Doom masters, ATALA, announce West Coast tour

After a short hibernation, ATALA is ready to devastate the west coast when they embark on their upcoming “Destroy Yourself” tour. This string of dates in support of their recent release “Labyrinth Of Ashmedai”(Salt Of The Earth Records) will see the California Hi-Desert natives bringing their brand of dark and heavily emotional doom metal to new areas and regions in an effort to spread the gospel of heavy… in other words, they are firing up the van and bringing the music directly to the people.

No strangers to roadwork ATALA have been featured performers at festivals far and wide such as The Maryland Doomfest, The New England Stoner and Doom Fest, SX Stoner Jam, and the true Mecca of riff worship: ROADBURN (Tilburg, Netherlands)!

ATALA has shared the stage with acts such as The Obsessed, EARTHRIDE, Baroness, Pallbearer, Coven, Buzzard Canyon, Chelsea Wolfe, to name just a few… the time is coming, you have been warned… Do not miss ATALA when they hit a city near you!

November 1st – Los Angeles CA – The Blvd
November 2nd – Salt Lake City UT – TBA
November 3rd – Denver CO – The Bar Bar
November 4th – Wichita KS – TBA
November 5th – Santa Fe NM – Boxcar
November 6th – Flagstaff AZ – The Green Room
November 7th – Tuscon AZ – Hotel Congress
November 8th – Tempe AZ – Yucca Tap Room
November 9th – Nogales Mexico – Roots Bar

ATALA is:
Kyle Stratton (Guitar and Vocals)
Jeff Tedtaotao (Drums)
Dave Horn (Bass)

https://www.facebook.com/ataladesertrock/
https://atalarock.bandcamp.com/
https://www.atalarock.com/
https://www.facebook.com/SaltOfTheEarthRec/
https://www.saltoftheearthrecords.com/

Atala, “Wilted Leaf” fficial video

Tags: , , , , ,

Atala Post “Tabernacle Of” Video; Labyrinth of Ashmedai out Now

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 2nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

atala jenifer stratton

Atala kicking ass in the desert. Very much an imaginable scenario, as far as scenarios go, and it’s how it goes in the post-sludgers’ new video for ‘Tabernacle Of’ from their just-issued new long-player, Labyrinth of Ashmedai (review here), which came out last week on Salt of the Earth Records. At this point I’ve been through the album I don’t know how many times and between that and the recent interview posted with Atala guitarist/vocalist/spearhead Kyle Stratton, it doesn’t take me much more than seeing the title “Tabernacle Of” to have the opening lines of the song stuck in my head, let alone the shoutier hook of its chorus.

That’s not me trying to be like “I’m Mr. Dude-Really-Knows-this-Album” or anything or be like I have some special fucking connection with how Atala work. If anything, I think the clumsiness of my Six Dumb Questions in the above-linked interview proves very much the opposite, but just serves to show how god-damn catchy “Tabernacle Of” actually is. Very much part of the full-LP flow of Labyrinth of Ashmedai, it nonetheless stands out from its surroundings, and in so doing represents the record well as a whole, as one could easily say the same of accompanying cuts like “Death’s Dark Tomb” or “Grains of Sand.” Whole damn thing is full of highlights, I guess is what I’m saying.

Video is loaded with a sense of disaffection, and the groove is undeniable. If you need to know anything else about it — oh wait, you don’t.

PR wire info follows. Enjoy:

Atala, “Tabernacle Of” official video

Twentynine Palms, CA-based sludge/doom metal group ATALA just released their upcoming full-length concept album, Labyrinth of Ashmedai, via Salt of the Earth Records. Labyrinth of Ashmedai can be ordered now via https://saltoftheearthrecords.com/salt-of-the-earth-records-store.

As a follow up to their most recent music video for the sludge metal anthem “Wilted Leaf”, ATALA has just revealed another sweltering desert-based music video for the track “Tabernacle Of”.

The “Tabernacle Of” music video was filmed by Brooke Valls, edited by Konrad Pagdilao, and produced by Brooke Valls, Konrad Pagdilao and Kyle Stratton.

Atala on Thee Facebooks

Atala on Bandcamp

Atala website

Salt of the Earth Records on Thee Facebooks

Salt of the Earth Records website

Tags: , , , , , ,

Six Dumb Questions with Atala

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on January 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

atala photo jenifer stratton

One needs only to examine the purposeful creative growth undertaken over the last couple years by Atala to get a sense of the focus and intensity that drives guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton. The Twentynine Palms, California-based trio have, in the course of three full-lengths and as many years, developed and begun to refine an aesthetic as much dedicated to the individualism heralded by the Southern CA desert’s stand-apart-ness as it is distinct from the genre fare commonly associated with the region. Moving from their 2015 self-titled debut (review here) through 2016’s Shaman’s Path of the Serpent (review here) and the forthcoming Labyrinth of Ashmedai (review here) — which releases Jan. 26 via Salt of the Earth Records — Atala have worked diligently to find a sonic place of their own, and never has that been more manifest than in the crisp, mindful execution of post-sludge they proffer in the latest collection.

Produced like its predecessor by Billy Anderson (as in, yes, that Billy Anderson; he of manning the board for Sleep, the MelvinsNeurosisAcid King, so many more), Labyrinth of Ashmedai showcases its progression in the melody of “Infernal” and “I am Legion” as well as in the raw scathe of songs like “Death’s Dark Tomb” and “Wilted Leaf,” and through both, Atala have only become more recognizable as a unit. With Stratton at the forward position backed by bassist John Chavarria — since replaced by Dave Horn — and secret-weapon-until-you-actually-hear-him-play-then-way-too-loud-to-be-a-secret-anymore-weapon drummer Jeff Tedtaotao, the band present an atmospheric and conceptual reach that’s mirrored in the leanness of the songwriting and how little there actually seems to be to spare in their material. Labyrinth of Ashmedai is just under 36 minutes long. Not one minute of that time is wasted.

Likewise, Stratton does not mince his words in the interview that follows here, and I very much consider that another example of the forward-directed impulse that fuels his work with his band. Life is too short for bullshit. And it’s a fair enough argument. In talking about the album, Stratton — also a noted tattoo artist responsible for the cover art designs on Atala‘s records — relays his thoughts on the conditions of the world around him, his personal relationships, the status of the group moving into the New Year (and beyond), and more.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

atala labyrinth of ashmedai

Six Dumb Questions with Kyle Stratton of Atala

Tell me about choosing the title Labyrinth of Ashmedai. What’s the significance for you of Asmodeus and what does the use of that figure represent? Are you working with any kind of mysticism themes in the lyrics? How does the album art tie in, or does it?

The meaning behind the title Labyrinth of Ashmedai was quite simple: I wanted to use this fictional character as a way to conceal my truths in a metaphor. I wanted to vent my frustration towards the ludicrousy of anglo Saxon culture. I find it hilarious that our society is 70 percent people who believe in fairytales.

They use these fairytales to condemn others with different cultures, beliefs or even disbeliefs. At the same time using their religious beliefs, condoning their own horrible behaviors. I thought it would be interesting to wrap my frustrations up on a metaphor about raising the 72 legions of Hell and using the occult to damn souls for eternity. It was fun.

As far as the artwork, it is based off the three-headed demon Ashmedai; it is definitely meant to tie in. I prefer to use the original Hebrew name Ashmedai over the Roman copy Asmodeous. The religious texts were originally written in the Middle East not Europe.

In terms of following up Shaman’s Path of the Serpent, was there anything you knew you specifically wanted to do differently this time around? What lessons were you able to take from making that album and bring into the writing and recording processes for this one?

Truth is I wanted to drive more and be more aggressive both musically and vocally. I held back a lot on Shaman’s Path. I get bored with that stuff. It’s to blah… I want to be more honest in my art and I felt like we did that. I am not always sad or soft spoken. I can be. But, I am also at times aggressive and very vocal. Well, let’s face it: I am super bipolar.

Tell me about recording with Billy Anderson. This was your second time with him. What was the vibe in the studio like and what did he end up contributing to the record in terms of noise? How big a role has he played in how your sound has developed so far?

Most of the vibe and feedback is my guitar sounds, he contributed to the noise at the end of “Death’s Dark Tomb,” which was genius. As far as vibe in the studio. There was a whole lot of tension between John, the former bass player, and I. Our lifestyles were beginning to clash. Lots of tensions. I am a family man; he is something else.

That was something everyone in the studio had to deal with. I thought Billy was really good at channeling it, using the tension for the good of the record. He has helped mold us in as far as ironing out a few wrinkles but ultimately it is our songwriting. He is great at capturing it.

I was fortunate enough to see Atala play at Roadburn in 2017. How was that experience for you guys as a band? Will you look to get back to Europe in support of Labyrinth of Ashmedai?

It was a lot of fun. Especially with my hand-picked lineup. Playing with Jeff and Dave is my ideal lineup, I loved when Dave was in Rise of the Willing. We had a killer connection. Jeff, he is a rock, such a solid drummer and stable person. Holland was smooth and we were treated very well by the Roadburn crew.

I was proud of what we presented. Especially getting Dave prepared to play an hour set of material in just seven weeks. He and Jeff both did great. I am not sure if we are getting back to Europe this year but I am told it is in the works.

What’s the status of Atala overall going into the album release? You had put up a pretty frustrated-seeming post about dealing with making music and preferring graphic art and tattoo culture specifically. Will the band continue? What is the relationship for you between working in design and writing songs?

The band will definitely continue, with a team who wants to push forward in a more professional manner. I like the tattoo industry because I am responsible for my own art. Most artist in the community grind to pay bills and work as a means to earn a living with hard work and focus. My frustration, it was personal. I am tired of the elitism and the whole party scene, I don’t party anymore, so I don’t fit in well.

I am at point where I want to show my family and children you can play music as a career. Not just surround yourself with shitbags who will never amount to anything. I love Pentagram musically but I think characters like Bobby Liebling being marketed as “rock and roll” is embarrassing. I don’t want to be part of that. I would not be able to handle a person like that around me. I would be like, dude, get your shit together. I mean this is what we are told rockers are. Yuck. I don’t want to be that at all.

I just watched a good friend, a brother throw his fucking life away to drugs. That is some hard shit to see. I personally had to step away. In design I don’t focus too heavily on my own head – I draw what others want — whereas in songwriting it is very internal. Getting that far in my own mind is very dangerous.

Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

You can be cool without being a junkie. We all make mistakes and fall short at times. Just try and live the best way you can.

Atala, “Grains of Sand” official video

Atala on Thee Facebooks

Atala on Bandcamp

Atala website

Salt of the Earth Records on Thee Facebooks

Salt of the Earth Records website

Tags: , , , , , ,

Atala, Labyrinth of Ashmedai: Building a Tabernacle

Posted in Reviews on December 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

atala labyrinth of ashmedai

To say an album gets better with volume is one of rock’s all-time clichés. It’s also usually bullshit. In the case of Labyrinth of Ashmedai, the third full-length from desert-dwelling post-sludge trio Atala, I’ll say it doesn’t hurt. The Twentynine Palms, California, three-piece make their debut on Salt of the Earth Records with their latest collection, with an early 2018 release following up on 2016’s Shaman’s Path of the Serpent (review here) and their 2015 self-titled debut (review here), and like its predecessor, the tight, six-song/35-minute outing was produced and engineered by Billy Anderson (MelvinsNeurosisSleepAcid King, etc.) and demonstrates considerable growth from the release before it. One could argue Shaman’s Path of the Serpent was a moment in which Atala — now the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton, bassist Dave Horn (who replaces John Chavarria) and drummer Jeff Tedtaotao — discovered the atmospheric reaches they wanted to cover with their sound, following the initial exploration of their Scott Reeder-helmed first offering.

Even so, Labyrinth of Ashmedai, with its cover art by Stratton, flowing presentation of one piece into the next, more accomplished use of vocal melodies (and harmonies) and offsetting of patient ambience with crushing tonality and crash, stands as a remarkable forward manifestation of the next step in the direction that Shaman’s Path of the Serpent laid out. Arranged across two three-song sides, each capping with a track longer than eight minutes — those being “Death’s Dark Tomb” (8:35) and the triumphant finale “Infernal” (8:19) — Labyrinth of Ashmedai immerses the listener its in nodding groove and fluidly executes a deceptive precision in building an arc of momentum that carries across the entire span. And though relatively short with its noted, manageable, vinyl-ready runtime, that span remains significant.

A resounding spaciousness is perhaps what Atala take most from the Californian desert, but they have little in common ultimately with “desert rock” as a genre outside of geography (and it’s certainly arguable geography is irrelevant in the aesthetic concern), and instead meld influences from Neurosis and YOB together with the rawer impulses of sludge. After an initial sample and a measure-long intro to initiate the stomp, “Grains of Sand” finds Stratton guttural in his railing against mediocrity and contemplating universal mortality atop a chugging riff fervently pushed ahead by Tedtaotao‘s creative drumming.

They are not a minute into the song before the lumbering hook churns out its furies and takes a twisting route back to the verse, chugging and vaguely hinting at melody to come along the way. The subsequent “Tabernacle of” revives the heavier ’90s-derived alt. metal melodicism one heard on cuts like “Gravity” from the last record, but in so doing, shifts with a newfound subtlety from the more scathing “Grains of Sand” via an emerging call and response Stratton sets up between cleaner and harsh vocals. With a more lumbering groove at its foundation, “Tabernacle Of” nonetheless retains the momentum of the opener before it, and feeds directly into “Death’s Dark Tomb,” which begins with a few seconds of droning noise — which Anderson may or may not have provided — before the guitar, bass and drums kick in to unveil the greatest sense of weight Atala have yet to bring to Labyrinth of Ashmedai, the vocals recalling Crowbar in the first verse as they set up a more spacious chorus that proves to be arguably the most landmark hook the album has to its credit.

atala photo jenifer stratton

Tedtaotao works in some notable double-kick moving back into the second verse and is head-spinning on tom runs throughout, while the low end density provides the foundation from which the band’s atmosphere spreads outward in a manner one might call psychedelic were it not so much imbued with the taste of dry dirt. Maybe psych, but for sure bound to the earth as well as its Mike Scheidt-style squibbly guitar lead gives way to a huge slowdown and the song devolves in its last minute-plus into feedback and noise, ending side A with particular and pointed viciousness.

While progressive in how it sees the band willfully pushing themselves stylistically, Labyrinth of Ashmedai is noteworthy as well for what StrattonHorn and Tedtaotao bring to it in terms of songwriting, and the linear pairing of “Death’s Dark Tomb” and side B opener “I am Legion” emphasizes the range they’ve developed in what seems like just a few short years of working as a group. Heard without the split of sides — that is, on a CD or digital format, rather than flipping a record — “I am Legion” picks up with drums from the silence left behind after “Death’s Dark Tomb” and centers almost entirely around its chorus, but in that, the two pieces end up complementing each other with a fluidity that even with the stark divide between them is undeniable.

Further, “I am Legion” works to reestablish and expound on the melodic basis of “Tabernacle Of,” and does so effectively, so that immediately Atala seem to be reaching even further out with the second half of the album. Time, then, for a radical redirect away from the expected, and that’s just what “Wilted Leaf” brings. At 3:59, it’s the shortest inclusion on Labyrinth of Ashmedai, and though awash in echo, it’s also the rawest since “Grains of Sand” at the outset, with shouts crawling upward from the depths of the mix barely decipherable in the riff-led torrent surrounding, and even a more fuzz-toned solo in the back half does little to take away from the sense of assault. This also is part of a larger plan, however, and closer “Infernal” — which is neither the catchiest nor the heaviest song here but might be the record’s greatest aesthetic accomplishment all the same; also bearing some of the hallmarks of a YOB influence in its initial rollout — takes hold with an immediate shift toward melody. Stratton seems to loosely touch on Electric Wizard in the verse’s bounce, but is ultimately headed elsewhere, toward more individualized fare that represents one last considered shove into new territory for Atala.

A final chorus underscores the point as they pass the halfway mark and turn to an instrumental finish that, rather than give itself to an overblown payoff, slows down, gets quieter and eases the listener’s way out with a stretch of bass and drone and residual effects, and though they’ve managed to stave off pretense for the duration, Atala have all the same given their audience a glimpse of the realization of the potential they’ve shown all along. Does that mean they’re finished growing? I don’t think so and I hope not, but it does mean that the expansion of their approach pays significant dividends in these tracks already. And yeah, volume doesn’t hurt when it comes to the overall listening experience, but at whatever level one might take it on, Labyrinth of Ashmedai successfully leads through the maze it creates.

Atala, “Grains of Sand” official video

Atala on Thee Facebooks

Atala on Bandcamp

Atala website

Salt of the Earth Records on Thee Facebooks

Salt of the Earth Records website

Tags: , , , , , ,

Atala Set Jan. 26 Release for Labyrinth of Ashmedai

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

atala photo jenifer stratton

Among my regular supply of stock phrases I might employ on a given day, I feel like ‘in the hopper’ isn’t one I go to all that often. Nonetheless, that’s where Atala‘s third album, Labyrinth of Ashmedai, has been for at least the better part of a year if not actually a full year’s time. Recorded by Billy Anderson, it was originally set to see release in Spring 2017 via Salt of the Earth Records, but has now been given an official Jan. 26, 2018, issue date.

Makes life a little easier for me, since as I compile my year-end list for 2017 and the most anticipated list for 2018 one is finite and the other can pretty much just keep going at this point, but I honestly doubt the Twentynine Palms, California-based three-piece had that in mind throughout what’s almost certainly been a frustrating delay in bringing the record to public ears. Almost there, dudes.

The PR wire has the latest:

atala labyrinth of ashmedai

ATALA to Release New Album, “Labyrinth of Ashmedai”, on January 26, 2018

After years of turning heads in the subterranean metal scene, Twentynine Palms, CA-based sludge/doom metal group ATALA are rising above with the release of their most confident album yet – the full-length crusher Labyrinth of Ashmedai – out January 26, 2018 via Salt of the Earth Records. Pre-orders for Labyrinth of Ashmedai are available now via https://saltoftheearthrecords.com/salt-of-the-earth-records-store.

Conjuring grit-laced sludge inspired by their barren and often oppressive desert backdrop, ATALA grips the listener with reflective, crushing doom atmospheres dripping with stoner rock and experimental influences to boot. As with their last record, Shaman’s Path of the Serpent, Labyrinth of Ashmedai was produced by Billy Anderson, recognized for his work with colossal bands such as Sleep, Melvins and Acid King.

ATALA draws inspiration from their local environment, but not in the way other bands from the area do. “Contrary to popular belief, we aren’t from Joshua Tree, the tourist-trap,” starts guitarist/frontman Kyle Stratton. “Unlike our silver spoon-fed, trust-funded neighbors, we’re from the blue collar side of town. Twentynine Palms is a military base area – our surroundings inspire our music in a way that is pretty different from the way other local bands describe their own inspirations. It’s not all meditation and serenity out here.”

Stratton continues, “We feel more sullen in our outlook. Not only do we deal with weather reaching nearly 130 degrees, we see and experience the effects of true struggles – war, poverty, death, drugs, gang violence, prostitution and murder – quite often. Gun stores, casinos, churches, liquor stores, bars, wild animals and greed-based-politics just touch the surface of what our town offers. Without going into too much detail… it’s no easy life for us out here. Our music is a mirror that reflects the truth of our personal life experiences.”

Stratton says working with producer Billy Anderson gives ATALA a great advantage, because not only does he bring out their best, he understands their background on a personal level. “Billy was born and raised in Twentynine Palms, so not only does he understand our feelings of despair, he understands the heaviness we are trying to express musically. He helped mold us; he knows how to package heavy in a palatable way. You can hear his industrial stylings and noise contributions adding to the experimental vibe we have on this record. Because we are so comfortable with him, he is able to push us and bring us to a higher level.”

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)
Dave Horn (Bass)

https://www.facebook.com/ataladesertrock/
https://atalarock.bandcamp.com/
https://www.atalarock.com/
https://www.facebook.com/SaltOfTheEarthRec/
https://www.saltoftheearthrecords.com/

Atala, “Grains of Sand” official video

Tags: , , , , , ,