The Top 20 of 2017 Year-End Poll — RESULTS!

Posted in Features on January 1st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

top-20-of-2017-year-end-poll-results

Happy New Year 2018! If you’re reading this, welcome to the future. Enjoy your flying car, free healthcare, universal income, matter replicators and life on that moon colony you moved to a couple years back — New Berlin, wasn’t it? Well, either way, I’m sure it’s lovely this season.

Way back in the Dark Ages, on Dec. 1, 2017, I put up The Obelisk’s annual Year-End Poll, looking for submissions from as many people as possible with their picks for what were the year’s best albums. The response was once again staggering. Over 400 lists came in — including my own, which I submitted yesterday — for a final tally of 419, and the amount of consensus that emerged from them was no less impressive.

We’ll get there in a second. First, a reminder about the point system. As ever, a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. So it doesn’t only matter that you included a record on your list — the raw votes are also tallied — but where it was included. That only seems fair in acknowledging how passionate people were about a given release.

You know the drill by now I’m sure, but it pays to be thorough. Below you’ll find both the weighted point tally and the raw votes results, followed by some quick honorable mentions, comment, etc. After the jump, you’ll find the complete list of everyone who submitted. If you’d like to check my math on anything, feel free. I’m by no means perfect when it comes to statistics or counting or any of that stuff involving those things that aren’t letters. Whatever they’re called.

Thanks to everyone who took part this year. Here are the lists:

Top 20 of 2017 — Weighted Results

elder reflections of a floating world adrian dexter

1. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World (888 points)
2. Monolord, Rust (397)
3. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War (346)
4. Pallbearer, Heartless (327)
5. Colour Haze, In Her Garden (284)
6. Mastodon, Emperor of Sand (256)
7. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper (250)
8. The Obsessed, Sacred (248)
9. Sasquatch, Maneuvers (242)
10. Electric Wizard, Wizard Bloody Wizard (237)
11. Kadavar, Rough Times (236)
12. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe (225)
13. Ufomammut, 8 (205)
14. DVNE, Asheran (198)
15. Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child (189)
16. Woodhawk, Beyond the Sun (163)
17. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma (158)
18. Causa Sui, Vibraciones Doradas (155)
19. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable (150)
20. Motorpsycho, The Tower (149)

Honorable Mention:
Youngblood Supercult, The Great American Death Rattle (144)
Radio Moscow, New Beginnings (134)
Dopelord, Children of the Haze (132)
Chelsea Wolfe, Hiss Spun (129)
Mutoid Man, War Moans (123)

No real surprise here, but with the fact that Elder’s Reflections of a Floating World topped 880 points and got more than twice as much as the next closest record, it’s hard to begrudge 2017 some measure of predictability. For what it’s worth, that’s an even stronger showing than their Lore LP got in 2015, and they took the lead on day one and did not relinquish it for the duration. Outside of them and Monolord, who held command of the number two spot for the entire month, there was some measure of parity, but it was clear where hearts and minds were situated in 2017, and certainly difficult to argue with the picks on the whole, regardless of where a given individual ranked one album or the other. Looking at that list of 20-plus, especially with the honorable mentions, I’d sign up for that year every time. It was a good one. Now then…

Top 20 of 2017 — Raw Votes

elder reflections of a floating world adrian dexter

1. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World (207 votes)
2. Monolord, Rust (110)
3. Pallbearer, Heartless (94)
4. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War (88)
5. Kadavar, Rough Times (77)
6. Electric Wizard, Wizard Bloody Wizard (75)
7. Colour Haze, In Her Garden (74)
8. Mastodon, Emperor of Sand (72)
9. The Obsessed, Sacred (71)
10 Sasquatch, Maneuvers (70)
11. Ufomammut, 8 (67)
12. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper (64)
13. Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child (60)
14. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe (59)
15. Woodhawk, Beyond the Sun (54)
16. DVNE, Asheran (53)
17. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable (48)
18. Causa Sui, Vibraciones Doradas (47)
19. Radio Moscow, New Beginnings (45)
19. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma (45)
20. Dopelord, Children of the Haze (43)
20. Mothership, High Strangeness (43)

Honorable Mention:
Youngblood Supercult, The Great American Death Rattle (40)
Chelsea Wolfe, Hiss Spun (37)
The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field (34)
Beastmaker, Inside the Skull (34)
Motorpsycho, The Tower (33)
Mutoid Man, War Moans (32)

Even less surprising given the above. 207 people of the 419 who submitted lists included Elder somewhere on theirs. It’s pretty hard to get about 50 percent of anyone to agree on anything these days, so I consider that no minor feat. Again, Reflections of a Floating World earned its place, and it was a pretty astounding achievement for the band and the genre they’re working to remake in their own image. A couple minor shifts between the raw tallies and the weighted results as there always are, but again, the underlying point here is that 2017 was a pretty killer year all the way around and across a deep variety of styles, the quality of work being put forth by veterans and newcomers alike was nothing short of excellent.

Before I turn you over to the massive swath of everybody’s lists, I just want to say thanks again to Slevin for being so instrumental in setting up the technical end of this poll. It’s amazing year after year to be able to basically at this point flip a switch and have it all set to go and there’s no way that would happen without Slevin working so hard behind the scenes to put the structure in place that holds this project, the entire site, together. Thanks dude.

And thank you for reading and contributing your favorites of 2017! This is the last of the 2017 Year-End coverage for The Obelisk. If you missed any of it, go here:

The Top 30 Albums of 2017

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2017

The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2017

2017 Song of the Year

12 of 2017’s Best Album Covers

One more time, thank you for reading. After the jump, please find the raw lists of everyone who took the time to turn one in. Enjoy:

Read more »

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2017

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

top-30-of-2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here goes:

30. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
geezer psychoriffadelia

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

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

29. Orango, The Mules of Nana

orango the mules of nana

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed March 27.

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

28. Radio Moscow, New Beginnings

radio moscow new beginnings

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Oct. 6.

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

27. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma

spaceslug time travel dilemma

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

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

26. Mothership, High Strangeness

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

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

25. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days

eternal black bleed the days

Released by Obsidian Sky Records. Reviewed Aug. 1.

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

24. Kadavar, Rough Times

kadavar rough times

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Sept. 6.

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

23. Shroud Eater, Strike the Sun

shroud eater strike the sun

Released by STB Records. Reviewed June 28.

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

22. Enslaved, E

enslaved e

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 4.

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

21. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical

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

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

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

20. Causa Sui, Vibraciones Doradas

causa sui vibraciones doradas

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

19. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable

telekinetic yeti abominable

Released by Sump Pump Records. Reviewed April 10.

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

18. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust

cloud catcher trails of kozmic dust

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

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

17. Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child

ruby the hatchet planetary space child

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 29.

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

16. Alunah, Solennial

alunah solennial

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 1.

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

15. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream

mindkult-lucifers-dream

Released by Transcending Obscurity Records and Caligari Records.

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

14. Argus, From Fields of Fire

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

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

13. Uffe Lorenzen, Galmandsværk

Uffe-Lorenzen-Galmandsvaerk

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

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

12. The Flying Eyes, Burning of the Season

the flying eyes burning of the season

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 11.

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

11. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper

bell witch mirror reaper

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Dec. 27.

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

10. Monolord, Rust

monolord rust

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Oct. 26.

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

9. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn

vokonis-the-sunken-djinn

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 5.

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

8. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals

electric moon stardust rituals

Released by Sulatron Records. Reviewed April 7.

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

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

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

Self-released. Reviewed May 1.

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

6. The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field

the-atomic-bitchwax-force-field

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Dec. 7.

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

5. Atavismo, Inerte

atavismo inerte

Released by Temple of Torturous. Reviewed Feb. 21.

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

4. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe

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

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

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

3. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World

Elder-Reflections-of-a-Floating-World

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

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

2. Colour Haze, In Her Garden

colour haze in her garden

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed March 9.

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

1. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War

all them witches sleeping through the war

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Jan. 27.

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

The Next 20

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

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

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

What’s that? More records? Okay…

Honorable Mentions

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

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

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

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

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

Thank You

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

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

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

And one more time, thank you for reading.

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audiObelisk Transmission 064

Posted in Podcasts on December 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

audiobelisk transmission 064

So this is something I’ve never done before. I’m not exactly what you’d call an early adopter when it comes to new technology, but this weekend I finally signed up for Spotify and decided to give a shot at putting together a year-end playlist through that rather than doing the standard podcast. Aside from a kind of ongoing latent concern about essentially giving away downloads of music that doesn’t belong to me via the old mp3 files — no one’s ever said anything and I always figured it was okay since songs were bundled together as one file — this just seemed more useful in allowing people to explore different artists, albums, etc. If you disagree, I’m sorry.

I can’t say I won’t ever go back to the other way, or that I’ll actively enjoy having a Spotify account enough to keep it, and so on, but it’s something new to try, so I’m giving it a shot. The playlist turned out to be nine hours and 12 minutes long, and once I got going, I couldn’t really resist making it 65 tracks, what with it being the 64th podcast and all. One to grow on.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for listening:

Track details:

• Artist, Track, Album, Runtime
• Elder, Sanctuary, Reflections of a Floating World, 00:11:13
• All Them Witches, Am I Going Up?, Sleeping Through the War, 00:05:33
• Lo-Pan, Pathfinder, In Tensions, 00:06:22
• MOON RATS, Heroic Dose, Highway Lord, 00:04:27
• Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Medicine, Medicine, 00:06:38
• Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream, Lucifer’s Dream, 00:09:06
• Brume, Reckon, Rooster, 00:09:12
• Riff Fist, King Tide, King Tide, 00:11:20
• Monolord, Dear Lucifer, Rust, 00:08:41
• Hymn, Serpent, Perish, 00:07:32
• Vinnum Sabbathi, Gravity Waves, Gravity Works, 00:08:26
• Electric Wizard, Wicked Caresses, Wizard Bloody Wizard, 00:06:43
• Ruby the Hatchet, Symphony of the Night, Planetary Space Child, 00:07:08
• Telekinetic Yeti, Colossus, Abominable, 00:08:56
• Bong Wish, My Luv, Bong Wish, 00:02:31
• Radio Moscow, New Skin, New Beginnings, 00:03:02
• Cloud Catcher, Celestial Empress, Trails of Kozmic Dust, 00:05:41
• The Atomic Bitchwax, Humble Brag, Force Field, 00:02:52
• Sasquatch, Just Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Maneuvers, 00:06:27
• Kadavar, Die Baby Die, Rough Times, 00:04:18
• Cities of Mars, Children of the Red Sea, Temporal Rifts, 00:08:27
• Argus, You Are the Curse, From Fields of Fire, 00:06:23
• Comacozer, Hylonomus, Kalos Eidos Skopeo, 00:13:43
• Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe, One with the Universe, 00:15:02
• Orango, Heirs, The Mules of Nana, 00:04:46
• Siena Root, Tales of Independence, A Dream of Lasting Peace, 00:03:39
• Demon Head, Older Now, Thunder on the Fields, 00:04:17
• Sun Blood Stories, Great Destroyer, It Runs Around the Room with Us, 00:06:11
• Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma, Time Travel Dilemma, 00:10:07
• Arc of Ascent, Hexagram, Realms of the Metaphysical, 00:07:34
• Causa Sui, Seven Hills, Vibraciones Doradas, 00:07:24
• Alunah, Fire of Thornborough Henge, Solennial, 00:05:32
• Vokonis, Calling From The Core, The Sunken Djinn, 00:06:03
• Enslaved, Sacred Horse, E, 00:08:12
• Dvne, Edenfall, Asheran, 00:07:04
• The Midnight Ghost Train, Break My Love, Cypress Ave., 00:03:33
• The Obsessed, It’s Only Money, Sacred, 00:02:35
• Mothership, Crown of Lies, High Strangeness, 00:05:41
• Geezer, Red Hook, Psychoriffadelia, 00:06:02
• Uffe Lorenzen, Flippertøs, Galmandsværk, 00:02:46
• Youngblood Supercult, Master of None, The Great American Death Rattle, 00:04:01
• Beastmaker, Nature of the Damned, Inside the Skull, 00:03:26
• Pallbearer, I Saw the End, Heartless, 00:06:21
• Paradise Lost, Blood and Chaos, Medusa, 00:03:51
• Rozamov, Wind Scorpion, This Mortal Road, 00:08:49
• Eternal Black, Sea of Graves, Bleed the Days, 00:06:33
• Demon Eye, Politic Divine, Prophecies and Lies, 00:03:40
• Snowy Dunes, Ritual of Voices, Atlantis, 00:07:17
• The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Low, II, 00:08:49
• Abronia, Glass Butte Retribution, Obsidian Visions / Shadowed Lands, 00:06:09
• John Garcia, Kylie, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, 00:04:58
• Tuna de Tierra, Raise of the Lights, Tuna de Tierra, 00:07:09
• Colour Haze, Lotus, In Her Garden, 00:07:05
• IAH, Stolas, IAH, 00:08:39
• Fungus Hill, Are You Dead, Creatures, 00:08:54
• Atavismo, El Sueño, Inerte, 00:11:18
• Tuber, Noman, Out of the Blue, 00:08:14
• Spidergawd, What You Have Become, Spidergawd IV, 00:03:44
• Puta Volcano, Bird, Harmony of Spheres, 00:05:07
• Ufomammut, Core, 8, 00:05:15
• Kings Destroy, None More, None More, 00:14:03
• PH, Looking Back at Mr. Peter Hayden, Eternal Hayden, 00:16:44
• Mt. Mountain, Dust, Dust, 00:17:15
• Electric Moon, Live Forever Now (You Will), Stardust Rituals, 00:22:41
• Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper, Mirror Reaper, 01:23:15

If you want to follow me on Spotify, apparently that’s something you can do here.

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Beastmaker Release Coven Born Digital EP to Fund European Touring

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 31st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

beastmaker

Pretty killer European tour that Fresno, California’s Beastmaker will join Ukrainian heavyweights Stoned Jesus for this October, what with the stops being made at Up in Smoke, Desertfest Belgium, Keep it Low and other key positions in London, Paris, Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna and so on. But being awesome don’t pay the bills, and the dollar’s down against the Euro because fuck everything, so the trio — still just months out from the release of their second album, Inside the Skull (review here), through Rise Above — have released a new digital EP culled from material written around the time of their 2016 debut, Lusus Naturae (review here), that never came out.

Worth noting they say in the announcement below snagged from the social medias that they probably won’t keep the thing up for too long, so if you want it, might be the right idea to get it while the getting’s good. Behold:

beastmaker coven born

Beastmaker – Coven Born EP

Digital EP up on Beastmaker.bandcamp.com. Heading to Europe and blood is expensive over there.

Be on the lookout we will be doing a 4 song digital ep of songs that are from the Lusus Naturae era that didn’t get recorded. This will be exclusive to digital and is going up to help support the upcoming European tour. After the tour the tracks are more than likely to disappear possibly forever. Art will be done by Branca Studio Rise Above Records was kind of enough to let us do this for the world to hear. So we’d like to give them a huge shout out for their support.

Coven Born tracklisting:
1. Coven Born 04:24
2. Killing Spree 03:16
3. Amongst The Buried 04:42
4. Whitewood 03:16

BEASTMAKER w/ Stoned Jesus European tour:
Oct 02 Stengade København N, Denmark
Oct 03 Hafenklang Hamburg, Germany
Oct 04 Underground Koln, Germany
Oct 05 Lido Berlin, Germany
Oct 07 Up In Smoke Pratteln, Switzerland
Oct 08 Le Ferrailleur Nantes, France
Oct 09 Petit Bain Paris, France
Oct 11 The Exchange St Philips, United Kingdom
Oct 12 Clwb Ifor Bach Cardiff, United Kingdom
Oct 13 Underworld London, United Kingdom
Oct 14 Desertfest Antwerp, Belgium
Oct 15 Burger Weeshuis Deventer, Netherlands
Oct 16 Westwerk Osnabrück, Germany
Oct 17 Faust Hannover, Germany
Oct 19 ShowBarlang Budapest, Hungary
Oct 20 Arena Vienna, Austria
Oct 21 Keep It Low Munich, Germany
Oct 22 PMK Innsbruck, Austria
Oct 23 Ostpol Dresden, Germany
Oct 24 Schlachtof Wiesbaden, Germany
Oct 25 Werk 2 Leipzig, Germany
Oct 26 007 Praha, Czech Republic

https://www.facebook.com/Beastmaker
https://beastmaker.bandcamp.com/
http://www.riseaboverecords.com/

Beastmaker, Coven Born EP (2017)

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Six Dumb Questions with Beastmaker

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on August 2nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

beastmaker-photo-ken-trousdell

Since the release in May of Fresno, California-based three-piece Beastmaker‘s second album, Inside the Skull (review here), the dark-rocking classic metal/heavy rock outfit has embarked on a cross-country tour with Zakk Sabbath and announced a return trip to Europe for this Fall alongside Ukrainian heavyweights Stoned Jesus. This more or less continues a campaign with a mind toward sonic dominance that began when Rise Above issued their 2016 debut, Lusus Naturae (review here), and helped to set forth a momentum that seems to still be building in force.

With the stated intention of an overall increase in tonal heft and percussive impact, Inside the Skull finds the self-recording trio led by guitarist/vocalist Trevor William Church (also of Haunt) straddling several genre lines atop a solidified core of aesthetic and songcraft. Cuts like opener “Evil One,” the doomly “Of God’s Creation,” the swinging “Psychic Visions” and the bruisingly distorted “Night Bird” excel in bringing forth structural and stylistic nuance while remaining memorable. Are they cult rock? Garage doom? Classic metal? Bleak heavy rock? Beastmaker — Church, bassist John Tucker and drummer Andres Alejandro Saldate — pull elements from all of the above and set them to work in a context of crisp, efficient execution. Inside the Skull has its twists and turns, but what it doesn’t have is a wasted moment.

In light of where they’ve been, what they’ve been able to accomplish in a relatively short three-year tenure, the fact that they built their own studio to record Inside the Skull and have already started work on their next full-length, it seemed a perfect time to hit up Church to talk about where Beastmaker are headed and what the future might bring. The run with Zakk Sabbath had brought them to the biggest stages of their career so far, so that future, despite their overarching darkness, never seemed so bright.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

beastmaker inside the skull

Six Dumb Questions with Beastmaker

Tell me about writing Inside the Skull. When did the songs start to come together? Was there anything in particular you wanted to accomplish in songwriting? Anything you wanted to change or do differently from the first album?

I started writing Inside the Skull during the recording of our debut album, Lusus Naturae. I was really inspired at the time and songs and lyrical ideas were flowing. I had the idea of in order to live forever you had to live it alone and we just thought that would be a fitting title for the new album. We wanted to accomplish a heavier sound for Skull. When I’m writing songs I just let them happen. It has to be very organic for me, meaning I sit in my studio and roll up a joint and just start playing. I don’t know any other way at this point. Once Andy and John come in and play the song we know if it’s a keeper or not. We tested the songs on our tour with Blood Ceremony in Europe. As far as changes from Lusus Naturae, we just wanted a heavier production. We did Lusus Naturae with a minimal production approach. We wanted to keep it rough. This time around we wanted to do the same approach but give it a much heavier mastering treatment.

What was it like to build your own studio? Tell me about the recording process. What were the lessons you were able to take from Lusus Naturae and how do you feel about the results? Are you someone who can listen to his own record?

Well in building a studio it’s more about acquiring the equipment. With Lusus, we didn’t have as much gear. Our microphone collection wasn’t what it is now. Oddly we settled on using a Gretsch Jazz kit for the recording of Lusus, which in turn we decided never to do that again. It really amazes me we achieved the sounds we got with an 18” kick drum. But with how people reacted to the You Must Sin EP, we just wanted to keep moving with that sound at the time. So first thing we did for Inside the Skull was we bought a different drum set for the recording. We are pleased with how much heavier the drums came out. I love recording – it’s my favorite part of being a musician. The creation. So yeah I listen to my own music constantly. It’s the only way to improve on your songs and find little discoveries on how to improve the song you are working on. In retrospect now after its release we’ve already mapped out all the changes for album three.

You did plenty of time on the road for Lusus Naturae and your schedule has already been and looks packed in the months to come for Inside the Skull. How important was it for you to road-test your material before the album came out? Is how a song will translate live a factor when you’re writing?

We try and throw new material in the mix as soon as we can. We just got off the road with Zakk Sabbath and there where songs we had never played live before on that tour. So we always have to see what songs the crowed responds to the most and play it by ear. Again, we like a natural approach to things. Whatever is feeling right at the moment.

What was it like being on tour with Zakk Sabbath? How was that experience for you as a band? What were the shows like, how was the audience response, and how did that compare to some of the other touring you’ve done so far?

Going on tour with Zakk was like going to college. I think I can speak for the whole band when I say we learned a lot on where our weaknesses were and how to improve. The venues were the largest we had ever played and on a bigger stage you have to relearn how you play live. Being an opener is always a challenge. Most of the people there had never heard us before so we had to give them a good first impression. But when you look out in the crowd and you are wondering, “are people into this?” and by the end of the set they are screaming for you, I think we did our job. In comparison to other tours this was a very organized tour. We went on stage at 9PM sharp, set was over 9:40 sharp every night. It actually was really nice because on some other tours some of the shows have little to no organization and you can get in to your hotel or floor space quite late. We got into our hotels no later than 1AM every night. That was nice because generally it’s more like 2:30 or 3AM.

You’ve done videos already for “Evil One” and “Nature of the Damned.” How did you select those songs? How important do you feel it is to convey a visual representation of the band? Will you do more clips for Inside the Skull going forward?

This was actually Andy’s department. I had a really hard time communicating with what my own vision was. So, it was the first time I really let something leave my hands. Andy chose the tracks we would use and he oversaw it and got the job done. I think on the video side of things we have a lot of work to get what we really want and it’s very important to try and connect the dots. You might see some more videos for Skull. You might not. Hard to say at this point, really.

You head to Europe this Fall with Stoned Jesus. What are you most looking forward to about touring abroad again? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

I’m looking forward to seeing all the people we met last year and to show them Inside the Skull in its live format. Also, just like our last European tour they will be hearing brand new songs for album three. So that is exciting for us. It may only be one song but maybe that one song will rotate with the 20 we’ve been learning at the moment. We want to thank all of our fans and people that have bought our records posted pictures on Instagram, etc. Also we want to thank Rise Above Records for putting out our music. Cheers.

Beastmaker, “Evil One” official video

Beastmaker, “Nature of the Damned” official video

Beastmaker on Thee Facebooks

Beastmaker on Bandcamp

Rise Above Records website

Rise Above Records on Thee Facebooks

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Quarterly Review: Harvestman, Beastmaker, Endless Boogie, Troubled Horse, Come to Grief, Holy Rivals, Mountain God, Dr. Space, Dirty Grave, Summoned by Giants

Posted in Reviews on July 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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Bonus round! I don’t know if you’re stoked on having a sixth Quarterly Review day, but I sure am. Basically this is me doing myself favors. In terms of what’s being covered and how I’m covering it, today might be the high point for me personally of the entire Summer 2017 Quarterly Review. Some of this stuff I’m more behind on than others, but it’s all releases that I’ve wanted desperately to write about that I haven’t been able to make happen so far and I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to be able to do so at last. It’s a load off my mind in the best way possible, and as this is the final day of the Quarterly Review, before I dig in I’ll just say one more time thank you for reading and I hope you found something in the past week that really speaks to you, because that’s what makes it all worthwhile in the first place. One more go.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Harvestman, Music for Megaliths

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A new Harvestman album, like a harvest itself, is an occasion. Distinct entirely from the solo output released by Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till under his own name, Harvestman’s guitar-led experimentalism and ritualized psychedelia don’t happen every day – the last album was 2009’s In a Dark Tongue (review here) – and with the resonance of “Oak Drone” and the layered, drummed and vocalized textures of “Levitation,” the new collection, Music for Megaliths (on Neurot, of course), lives up to the project’s high standards of the unexpected. Pulsations beneath opener and longest track (immediate points) “The Forest is Our Temple” offer some initial threat, but the electronic beat behind the howling notes of “Ring of Sentinels” and the Vangelis-esque centerpiece “Cromlech” find more soothing ground, and though “Sundown” seems to be speaking to Neurosis “Bleeding the Pigs” from 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) in its atmosphere, the spoken word that tops closer “White Horse” provides a last-minute human connection before all is brought to a quick fadeout. If you told me Music for Megaliths was assembled over a period of years, I’d believe you given its breadth, but whether it was or not, Harvestman’s latest should provide a worthy feast for a long time to come.

Harvestman on Thee Facebooks

Neurot Recordings webstore

 

Beastmaker, Inside the Skull

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Los Angeles three-piece Beastmaker continue their ascent with their second album for Rise Above Records, the unflinchingly cohesive Inside the Skull. Like its predecessor, 2016’s Lusus Naturae (review here), the quick-turnaround sophomore outing executes a modern garage doom aesthetic and unfuckwithably tight songwriting, this time bringing 10 new tracks that reimagine classic vibes – witness the Witchcraft “No Angel or Demon”-style riff of opener “Evil One” (video posted here) – and touch on some of the same ground pioneered by Uncle Acid without actually sounding like that UK band or sounding like anyone for that matter so much as themselves. They make darkened highlights of “Now Howls the Beast,” “Of Gods Creation,” the crashing “Psychic Visions,” closer “Sick Sick Demon” and the preceding “Night Bird,” which offers some welcome departure into drift prior to the solo in its final minute – all impeccably crisp in structure despite a dirt-caked production – but resonant, memorable hooks abound, and the trio affirm the potential their debut showed and offer a quick step forward that one can only imagine will find them turning more heads toward their growing cult following. They’re still growing, but Inside the Skull is confirmation Beastmaker on a path to becoming something really special.

Beastmaker on Thee Facebooks

Beastmaker at Rise Above Records

 

Endless Boogie, Vibe Killer

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One can’t help but think there’s a bit of tongue-in-cheekery at play in the inaccuracy of Endless Boogie titling their latest album Vibe Killer. The seven-track/51-minute No Quarter release follows 2013’s Long Island (review here) and is, of course, doing everything but killing the vibe, as the New York-based outfit proffer their nestled-in raw songs crafted out of and on top of improvised jams, the semi-spoken gutturalisms of guitarist Paul “Top Dollar” Major a defining element from the laid back opening title-track onward. Moody rock classicism persists through “High Drag, Hard Doin’” and the more active “Back in ’74,” but the true peak of Vibe Killer comes in the 11-minute “Jefferson Country,” which unfolds hypnotic drone experimentation that’s as willfully ungraceful as it winds up being flowing. Bottom line: dudes know what’s up. Endless Boogie’s languid roll is second to nobody and Vibe Killer is a vision of cool jazz reinvented to feel as much at home in rock clubs of the basement and of the chic see-and-be-seen variety. Very New York, in that, but not at all given to elitism. Everyone’s invited to dig, and dig they should.

Endless Boogie on Thee Facebooks

No Quarter Records webstore

 

Troubled Horse, Revolution on Repeat

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There were a few minutes there where one probably wouldn’t have been wrong to wonder if Örebro, Sweden’s Troubled Horse would have a follow-up at all to back 2012’s Step Inside (review here), but with Revolution on Repeat (out via Rise Above), the four-piece led by dynamic vocalist Martin Heppich prove among the most vital of the many heavy rock acts to emerge from their hometown, known for the likes of Witchcraft, Graveyard, Truckfighters and countless others. Heppich, lead guitarist Mikael Linder (also bass on the recording), guitarist Tom and drummer Jonas start with the boogie-fied opening salvo “Hurricane” (video premiere here) and “The Filthy Ones,” and run madcap through the memorable hooks of “Which Way to the Mob” and “Peasants” en route to the mid-paced “The Haunted” and into a second half marked by the semi-balladry of “Desperation” and “My Shit’s Fucked Up.” Soon, the standout chorus of “Track 7” (yup, that’s the title) and the penultimate funk of “Let Bastards Know” lead to a nine-minute epic finish in “Bleeding” – and all the while Troubled Horse hold firm to groove, momentum, poise, crisp production and songwriting as they tie varied landmarks together with an overarching sense of motion, Heppich’s charismatic soulfulness and deceptively subtle flourishes of arrangement to make an absolutely welcome return.

Troubled Horse on Thee Facebooks

Rise Above Records website

 

Come to Grief, The Worst of Times

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Sometimes you just have to toss up your hands and say, “Well, that’s some of the nastiest shit I’ve ever heard.” To step back and consider them at some distance, Come to Grief aren’t near the most abrasive band on the planet, but when you’re actually listening to their debut EP, The Worst of Times, that’s much harder to believe. Launching with “Killed by Life,” the four-tracker finds the Boston outfit led by former Grief guitarist Terry Savastano – here joined by drummer Chuck Conlon, bassist Justin Christian and vocalist/guitarist Jonathan Hebert – plodding out scream-topped filth that’s actually fuller-sounding than anything Grief did back in their day and all the more devastating for its thickness. The seven-minute “No Savior” is excruciating, and though shorter, “Futility of Humanity” and even the slightly-faster closer “Junklove” bring no letup whatsoever from the onslaught. Think accessible, then go the complete other way, then bludgeon yourself. It’s kind of like that. Absolute brutality delivered by expert and unkind hands.

Come to Grief on Thee Facebooks

Come to Grief on Bandcamp

 

Holy Rivals, Holy Rivals

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The question of whether noise rock and sludge can coexist is largely one of tempo and tone, and recently-signed-to-BlackseedRecords Pittsburgh trio Holy Rivals’ self-titled debut answers in forceful fashion. Amid more aggro punch of opener “Locked Inn” comes the crust-laden grunge of “Voices,” and whether they’re rolling out the more spacious “Sleep” or sprinting through the post-Bleach raw punkery of “Dead Ender” on their way to the more ambient and patient seven-minute finale “Into Dust,” guitarist/vocalist Jason Orr (also T-Tops), bassist Aaron Orr (whose tone features well on the closer) and drummer Matt Langille – whose adaptability is essential to the Helmet-style starts and stops of “Loathe” that emerge from the preceding roll of “Sleep” – Holy Rivals put a superficial harshness to use as a cover for what’s actually a diverse songwriting process. They’ll reportedly have a new record out in Fall 2017, so this 2016 self-release may soon be in hindsight, but in setting the foundation for growth, it offers exciting prospects caked in an abidingly raw presentation.

Holy Rivals on Thee Facebooks

Holy Rivals on Bandcamp

 

Mountain God, Bread Solstice

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Around what would seem to be the core duo of guitarist/vocalist Ben Ianuzzi and bassist/keyboardist Nikhil Kamineni, Brooklyn psychedelic post-sludgers Mountain God have undergone numerous lineup shifts en route to and through the release of their debut album, Bread Solstice (on Artificial Head Records). To wit, drummer/vocalist Ryan Smith (also Thera Roya), who appears on the dark, unrelenting and abyss-crafting 40-minute six-tracker, has already been replaced by Gabriel Cruz, and there have been other changes in vocalist, keyboardist and drummer positions even since they offered their 2015 EP, Forest of the Lost (review here) to set the stage for this deeply-atmospheric, it’s-acid-rock-but-with-sulfuric-acid first long-player. In light of that tumult and the overarching commitment to abrasive noise Mountain God make in pieces like the 11-minute “Nazca Lines,” “Junglenaut” or even the brooding tension of airy instrumental “Unknown Ascent,” it’s all the more impressive that Bread Solstice is as cohesive in its cerebral horror as it is, constructing a harsh and churning vision of doom as something worthy of post-apocalyptic revelry. Far from easy listening, but of marked purpose. They should play exclusively in art galleries, no matter who winds up in the band.

Mountain God on Thee Facebooks

Artificial Head Records on Bandcamp

 

Dr. Space, Dr. Space’s Alien Planet Trip Vol. 1

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Perhaps best known for his work in spearheading the improvisational Denmark-based Øresund Space Collective, modular synth wizard Scott “Dr. Space” Heller weirds out across four cuts on the solo release Dr. Space’s Alien Planet Trip Vol. 1, which both underscores in its scope how essential he is to the aforementioned outfit and oozes beyond that group’s parameters into electronic beatmaking and waves of synthesizer drone. Pulling influence from classic progadelia, Heller unfurls longform tripping on 24-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “5 Dimensions of the Universe” and veers into and out of somewhat abrasive swirl on “Rising Sun on Mars” before landing in the more steady atmosphere of “In Search of Life on Io” and launching once more outward with the five-minute finale “Alien Improv 2.” Just how many alien planet trips the good doctor will be undertaking remains as yet a mystery, but the breadth of this first one makes it plain to the listener that Heller’s sonic universe is wide open and, seemingly, ever-expanding.

Øresund Space Collective on Thee Facebooks

Space Rock Productions website

 

Dirty Grave, So Fall and Crawl Away

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Brazilian doomers Dirty Grave issue the three-song single/EP So Fall and Crawl Away (bonus points for the Alice in Chains reference) ahead of making their full-length debut reportedly any minute now with an album called Evil Desire. Comprised of two studio tracks in the eight-minute “The Black Cloud Comes” and the four-minute Howlin’ Wolf cover “Evil (Is Going On)” and with the live cut “Unholy Son – Live” as a kind of bonus track, it’s a sampling behind two similar short releases, 2014’s Vol. II and 2013’s Dirty Grave (which featured a studio version of “Unholy Son”), that sleeks through eerie doom loosely tinged with psychedelia and smoked-out vibing. “Evil (Is Going On)” is more uptempo, perhaps unsurprisingly, but is giving a likewise treatment all the same, its final solo shredding into oblivion with stoned abandon. “Unholy Son – Live” is rawer but still carries through its melody in the vocals amid a prevalent crash, and if it’s a portend of things to come on Evil Desire, then So Fall and Crawl Away serves as a warning worth heeding.

Dirty Grave on Thee Facebooks

Dirty Grave on Bandcamp

 

Summoned by Giants, Stone Wind

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If you have a convenient narrative for what West Coast heavy rock has become over the last decade, Summoned by Giants’ debut album, Stone Wind, is probably too aggressive on the whole to fit it neatly. Their cleaner parts, the rolling second cut “Diamond Head” and samples throughout have aspects of that post-Red Fang party vibe, but to listen to the rawness of the bass tone that starts “Return” or closer “I Hate it When You Breathe,” or even the slurring “come at me, bro”-style rant sampled at the seven-track/27-minute album’s launch, a will toward violence is never far off. Couple that with the thickened noise punk of “Saturn” and the Weedeater sludge of the penultimate “Dying Wish,” and Summoned by Giants – guitarist/vocalist Sean Delaney, guitarist Jordan Sattelmair, bassist/vocalist Patrick Moening and drummer Mel Burris – seem more interested in doling out punishment than kicking back, making a silly video and having a good time. Well, maybe they’re having a good time, but they’re doing so while kicking your ass.

Summoned by Giants on Thee Facebooks

Summoned by Giants on Bandcamp

 

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Keep it Low 2017: Colour Haze, Belzebong, The Necromancers and A Great River in the Sky Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

keep it low 2017 banner

I was kind of wondering if the Munich-based Keep it Low festival would add Colour Haze for Keep it Low 2017. The long-running German heavy psych progenitors have played multiple editions of the event and have kind of become a staple of the lineup, so to see them added as they support their new album, In Her Garden (review here), is definitely cool. Joining them in this round of adds are BelzebongThe Necromancers and A Great River in the Sky, and on a bill with Saint VitusBrant BjorkRadio MoscowMars Red SkyConanUfomammutStoned JesusMonolordMos Generator and so on — the list is fucking wild — they only make it stronger and richer.

Of all the Fall fests in Europe — there are many and I won’t take away from what any of them are doing — Keep it Low has been the one I’ve most wanted to see over the past few years. It’s grown into what really seems like a unique vibe between its stages, skatepark, biergarten, and so on, and though they’re promising heavier acts this year and delivering that already with the likes of Ufomammut and Vitus and Conan, etc. — see also Belzebong here — there’s still plenty of heavy psych and rock and roll to be had, and that blend, as we all know, is what it’s all about. Anyway, it looks awesome. It won’t be this year, but I’ll get there one of these days.

It’s presented, of course, by Sound of Liberation, who updated the lineup thusly:

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Keepers,
Today we have 4 new band announcements for Keep It Low Festival 2017! We’re happy to present you:

Colour Haze
BelzebonG
The Necromancers
A Great River In The Sky

It has become a kind of tradition that mighty Colour Haze headline Keep It Low’s Friday, so never change a winning team!

Get your 3-day tickets here: http://bit.ly/2lr4hzH and….keep it low!

Line Up:
BRANT BJORK (with Special Guest Sean Wheeler) | SAINT VITUS | RADIO MOSCOW | MARS RED SKY | UFOMAMMUT | STONED JESUS | CONAN | MONOLORD | NAXATRAS | HOUSE OF BROKEN PROMISES | BEASTMAKER | MOS GENERATOR | USNEA | ELEPHANT TREE | KALEIDOBOLT | MOUNT HUSH | GODSGROUND
+ many more TBA

Limited 3-day tickets available!

October 20 | 21 | 22 2017
Feierwerk München

After an amazing and once again sold out edition in 2016 you can expect 3 days, 27-30 bands, amazing people and good vibes at Keep It Low 2017! For the very first time we will have the “Doom-Frühschoppen” with some HEAVY bands on the last day of the Festival.

https://www.facebook.com/events/201489380309269/
https://www.facebook.com/keepitlowfestival/

Colour Haze, In Her Garden (2017)

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Desertfest Belgium 2017: The Melvins, Gozu, Beastmaker and Big Fat Lukum Join Lineup

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Okay, yeah, so the Melvins will be one of the headliners for Desertfest Belgium 2017 this October. Fair enough. That seems appropriate. They’ll have a new record out and will be touring like they do and, yeah, the stop makes sense. You’ll pardon me though if I think the real news here is a return trip to Europe for Gozu this fall. One has to wonder which of the other autumnal fests the Boston four-piece will be added as they go, but they’re certainly keeping good company with this first announcement. When and if I see the rest of the dates, I’ll let you know.

Beastmaker, who’ll be on the road with Stoned Jesus, and Belgium’s own Big Fat Lukum have also joined the Desertfest bill, as the PR wire confirms:

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THE MELVINS WILL PLAY DF ANTWERP 2017, HELL YES – Gozu, Beastmaker & others

Remember last week, when we were promising “very exciting headliners”?

We tend to keep our promise, and so it has begun.

We’re delirious with excitement to announce that THE MELVINS – yes, that’s THE. FUCKing. MELvins – will headline Desertfest Antwerp this year. We had ’em once, then we lost ’em, and now we’ve got them good. It’s on!

But let’s not forget you want to have a bloody hell of a good time the rest of the time as well, and for this we have added some more class acts to the line-up: we bring you GOZU for some good time stoner rock’n’roll. BEASTMAKER is touring with Stoned Jesus, so they’ll bring them along to the Fest. And finally, BIG FAT LUKUM will provide the obligatory touch of local Belgian stoner.

How do you like that! And remember: we are still not done. Join us soon for another round of awesome news!

THE MELVINS

It seems like nothing we can say about The Melvins will properly convey the profundity of their legend. For over 30 years now, King Buzzo and his cohorts have ruled the planet with a sound that has been all over the place and back, all the while remaining unmistakably and utterly Melvins. They’re releasing a new double album in July, so who knows what unholy sound will pummel your brain come October!

GOZU

Gozu’s sound is tailor-made for blasting out the car speakers via international radio airwaves. Over 3 albums, they’ve condensed their Bostonian no-bullshit stoner rock into something that feels like bigger than the sum of its parts. Live they’re no slouch either – in 2016 they managed to hit seven countries for 20 shows in 20 days. Now that’s the kind of attitude we love to welcome to the DF stage!

BEASTMAKER

Bands Beastmaker likes: Black Sabbath, Danzig. You like them too? Then you’ll love Beastmaker! But make no mistake: their brand new album ‘Inside The Skull’ expands beyond the riff worship to offer a venomous slab of wildly creative but spiritually pure doom devastation. Beastmaker is a band that proudly wears its bloody heart for the tradition on its sleeve, and it shows.

BIG FAT LUKUM

Big Fat Lukum hails from Namur, Belgium. The band has a history of playing extreme and loud from punk to metal in the past, but nowadays they’re on a steady diet of desert and stoner rock.

http://www.desertfest.be/tickets
https://www.facebook.com/desertfestbelgium/
https://www.facebook.com/events/264364590656095/
https://twitter.com/DesertfestBE

Gozu, “Lorenzo Llamas” Live in Seattle, April 2017

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