Beastwars Post “Some Sell Their Souls” Video; Albums Available as Name-Your-Price Download

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 6th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

beastwars

So is this it? Is this the last we’ll hear from New Zealand crushers Beastwars? Is this their goodbye? As they and their group-therapy audience seem to get raptured at the end of this clip for “Some Sell Their Souls” — I’d have said “spoiler alert,” but we all know the joy is in the journey, not the destination — should we also consider that the actual process of the four-piece being absorbed into oblivion?

If so, they die as they lived — viciously underrated.

Beastwars released their final album, The Death of all Things (review here), last year. At the time, they called it the third in a trilogy behind 2013’s Blood Becomes Fire (review here) and their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but the bottom line was the band was basically announcing they were done, one way or the other. Their tenure ended with their never having gotten their due internationally for the quality of their output across those three records, and though they drew well in their native New Zealand and Australia, to my knowledge they never made it to Europe for a tour, let alone North America, much to the loss of both continents.

I’ve learned the hard way — also the easy way — over time that you never say never in rock and roll. That is, because Beastwars are done today doesn’t necessarily mean that will be the case in a year, three years, five. It might be wishful thinking on my part, but though we see in the clip for “Some Sell Their Souls” the lineup of vocalist Matt Hyde, guitarist Clayton Anderson, bassist James Woods and drummer Nathan Hickey be taken from this earthly plane as the PR wire seems to confirm that, indeed, that’s a wrap for them, it just seems like this band had something special to them, and they knew it. That can’t be easy to walk away from, say it’s permanent, and have it stick.

But I’ve also learned the hard way to never assume one way or the other. What we have to go on right now, in April 2017, is that after three stellar, grueling, grinding, and at times genuinely uncomfortable albums, Beastwars have called it a day. Whether or not that lasts, it should go without saying they’ll be missed, and should they ever decide to embark on a fourth installment of their “trilogy,” its arrival will be welcome.

To mark their passing, Beastwars have made their three full-lengths available as a name-your-price download via their Bandcamp page from now until April 20. If there’s one of those records you don’t have, you might want to get on that.

Enjoy “Some Sell Their Souls” below:

Beastwars, “Some Sell Their Souls” official video

Having returned in 2016 with one of the year’s most revelatory releases in The Death Of All Things, Beastwars are back one final time with a new video directed by Alistair MacDonald for ‘Some Sell Their Souls’.

The song, sung from the perspective of a troubled singer at a small suburban church who is trapped by his demons and plagued by memories proved to be one of the most talked about songs on last year’s album. Attributed in no small part to singer Matt Hyde’s weathered and worn viewpoint on morality and redemption.

“Like ‘Witches’, the first video off our last album, it was inspired by experiences of the band,” explains drummer Nathan Hickey. “In the case of ‘Witches’ it was in response to a record label exec shrieking, ‘They’re so old!’ when he saw a video of us. So we decided to replace ourselves with a coven of female musicians. The video for ‘Some Sell Their Souls’ was inspired by a set of studio videos we did called The Sundae Sessions, where the audience was sitting around us on chairs. Some of the YouTube comments are hilarious with complaints about how sedate the crowd look, why isn’t there a mosh pit etc. With this video we took the audience response to a Beastwars experience to its extreme.”

The album, produced by the band and James Goldsmith in their hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, mixed by Andrew Schneider (Unsane, Big Business) and mastered by Brad Boatright (Sleep, Windhand) brought with it the closing chapter in the band’s post-apocalyptic trilogy of albums.

As a thank you for the continued support Beastwars received in 2016, their unremitting triptych of sludge – their 2011 debut Beastwars, 2013’s Blood Becomes Fire and last year’s The Death Of All Things – are being offered on Bandcamp as ‘Name Your Price’ up until 20th April 2017 – www.beastwars.bandcamp.com.

Beastwars:
Clayton Anderson – Guitar
Nathan Hickey – Drums
Matt Hyde – Vocals
James Woods – Bass

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2016

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 30

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.

I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.

Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.

The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.

This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.

Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.

I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:

30. Talmud Beach, Chief

talmud beach chief

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.

29. Comet Control, Center of the Maze

comet control center of the maze

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 22.

Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.

28. Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids attack sci-fi or die

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 17.

There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.

27. Beelzefuzz, The Righteous Bloom

beelzefuzz the righteous bloom

Released by Restricted Release and The Church Within. Reviewed Aug. 2.

A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.

26. Foghound, The World Unseen

foghound the world unseen

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed July 6.

Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.

25a. Egypt, Endless Flight

egypt endless flight

Released by Doomentia Records. Reviewed Dec. 11, 2015.

Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.

25. 1000mods, Repeated Exposure To…

1000mods repeated exposure to

Released by Ouga Booga and the Mighty Oug Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 20.

There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.

24. Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy

black rainbows stellar prophecy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 11.

Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.

23. Borracho, Atacama

borracho atacama

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Nov. 14.

Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.

22. The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again

the golden grass coming back again

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed April 26.

Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.

21. Curse the Son, Isolator

curse the son isolator

Released by Snake Charmer Coalition and The Company Records. Reviewed March 1.

For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.

20. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires

neurosis fires within fires

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 21.

I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, NeurosisFires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.

19. Conan, Revengeance

conan revengeance

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 19.

Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.

18. Baby Woodrose, Freedom

baby woodrose freedom

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Aug. 18.

Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.

17. Geezer, Geezer

geezer geezer

Released by Ripple Music and STB Records. Reviewed Nov. 10.

I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.

16. EYE, Vision and the Ageless Light

eye vision and the ageless light

Released by The Laser’s Edge. Reviewed Nov. 17.

Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.

15. Fatso Jetson, Idle Hands

fatso jetson idle hands

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.

14. Hexvessel, When We are Death

hexvessel when we are death

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Feb. 5.

Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.

13. Zun, Burial Sunrise

zun burial sunrise

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Feb. 16.

Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.

12. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree

elephant tree elephant tree

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Jan. 29.

One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.

11. Mos Generator, Abyssinia

mos generator abyssinia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed July 12.

If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.

10. Slomatics, Future Echo Returns

slomatics future echo returns

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed June 29.

In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.

9. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh

wo fat midnight cometh

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 21.

After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.

8. King Buffalo, Orion

king buffalo orion

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed July 29.

Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.

7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know

wight love is not only what you know

Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.

German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.

6. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 18.

A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.

5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil

brant bjork tao of the devil

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 15.

Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in KyussFu ManchuCheVista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.

4. Asteroid, III

asteroid iii

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed Oct. 21.

What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.

3. Gozu, Revival

gozu revival

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 19.

Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.

2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)

mars red sky apex iii praise for the burning soul

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.

1. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages

subrosa for this we fought the battle of ages

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Aug. 26.

Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.

The Next 20

Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:

31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll

From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.

Honorable Mentions

Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:

Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
Spidergawd, III
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment

And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:

Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.

Thank You

In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.

If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.

One more time: Thank you.

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The Obelisk Presents: 12 of 2016’s Best Album Covers

Posted in Features, Visual Evidence on December 12th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

This list could easily go to 20. Or 30. Or 50. The democratization of media and the flourishing of aesthetic thanks to wide-open digital interaction across national and cultural borders has meant that bands in Texas can get artwork from Spain easily — something we’ve come to take for granted in this age of messages flying through space in indeterminate instants. There’s a lot of art out there. A lot of it is very, very good. Not all, but a lot.

In the particular realm of heavy rock and doom, I’ve spent a lot of time this year being discouraged at the continued and apparently flourishing objectification of women. Cartoon tits. Get out of here with that shit. You’ll notice none of the covers on this list go that route. It’s boring, it’s easy and it’s sexist. If you want to establish your masculine dominance, go pull your dick out at the mall and see how that does for you. Putting other people down to make yourself feel bigger is for kindergarten. As human beings, we should be past it.

Nonetheless — and I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t also note the lack of women on this list — there is a ton of interesting and forward-moving work being done around the world and I think that’s worth taking a couple minutes to celebrate even just a fraction of it. Hopefully you agree, and if you have some favorite art you’d like to add to the list, please hit up the comments.

Ordered alphabetically by artist

Sourvein, Aquatic Occult

sourvein aquatic occult

Cover by Jordan Barlow. Artist website.

Sourvein‘s Aquatic Occult (review here) was a dense, multi-faceted work, and one imagines that for Jordan Barlow of New Orleans’ Abracadabra Tattoo, part of the challenge was in either finding or creating a design that coincided with that without coming across as confused or off-theme. This bevvy of undersea elements gives us a central figure in a frustrated Neptune with a shark-teeth crown, a human presence in the two diver helmets (is anyone in there?) and highlights the dangers of the ocean with its hammerheads and threatening-looking seahorse, as well as what seems to be a whirlpool and another swirl in opposite top corners. All told, the deep blue and green tones complement the morass of Sourvein‘s sound, raw and natural as it is, and provide moody intrigue to coincide with the wide variety of songwriting on display. Like the album, it is defined in no small part by its haze.

Holy Grove, Holy Grove

holy grove holy grove

Cover by Adam Burke. Artist website.

Portland-based Adam Burke is something of a repeat offender when it comes to badass artwork. He regularly posts works in progress on social media and the lushness of his technique astounds me nearly every time out. Holy Grove‘s self-titled debut (review here) was far from the only piece of his a band used this year, but what stood it out most was the balance between nighttime — as seen in the stars and the darkness of the sky and trees — and the aurora borealis that offered such a rich, otherworldly feel. Beautiful, immediately recognizable as Burke‘s, and it pays subtle homage to his and the band’s Cascadian home region with the shapes of the tall evergreens in the foreground, speaking all the more to the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and the classic soul fused into the record itself.

Duel, Fears of the Dead

duel fears of the dead

Cover by Pol Abran Cantador. Artist website.

How could one not look at the cover of Duel‘s debut album, Fears of the Dead (review here), and not immediately think of the Misfits? And yet, Barcelona-based Pol Abran Cantador, operating under the banner of Branca Studio, brings a freshness to the striking, landmark skull design. The face is off-center, the eyes looking outward. While there’s little doubt as to the visual reference being made, it’s just that — a reference, not an emulation. Treading that balance would be admirable enough for inclusion here, but impact of the piece becomes greater with the distressed look and the deep blood red surrounding, giving dimension as a backdrop, reinforcing the perspective of the figure, and providing Duel with a horror-cinema vibe that begs the question of just what those eyes are staring at.

Brutus, Wandering Blind

brutus wandering blind

Cover by Maarten Donders. Artist website.

Sometimes something just stays with you. On the surface, Dutch artist Maarten Donders brings forward a pretty simple idea for Norwegian boogie rockers Brutus‘ third album, Wandering Blind (review here). Images from ’60s-style psychedelic pulp horror come to mind — the bat, the spiderwebs, the blank stare on the face, the flowing hair through the open mouth of the skull, the monster eyeballs, the purposefully hand-drawn logo — but at the same time, the execution of these things is so intricate. Look at the bags under those eyes, the black holes where the teeth of that skull should be, the weird bubbles by the eyeballs, and the comic-style lettering of the album title itself, which switches back and forth between capitalized and lowercase letters. Look at the shadowed impression of a vinyl record that encircles the design but lets the chin of the skull and the band’s logo protrude. It’s so immediate but so deceptive, hiding its devils in its details.

Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts

tranquonauts seedy jeezus isaiah mitchell
Cover by Mr. Frumpy. Artist website.

While it’s true that for this collaboration between Earthless guitarist Isaiah Mitchell and Melbourne heavy psych rockers Seedy Jeezus, the front cover only tells half the story of the full Tranquonauts (review here) gatefold, even 50 percent is enough to justify inclusion here. Put together by Mr. Frumpy Frumpedia, aka Seedy Jeezus guitarist Lex Waterreus, it was one of several artworks this year to feature smaller figures against a grand backdrop — Geezer‘s self-titled and Sunnata‘s Zorya, featured below, come to mind immediately, as well as the last Fu Manchu — but it was the openness of the space itself that Waterreus captured, both on the ground and in the sky, and the atmosphere that brought to the instrumental, jammed-put proceedings on the LP’s two sides, that made it work so well. The humanoid figures — maybe the total four-piece of the lineup? — are so utterly overwhelmed by their surroundings, and yet they seem more than ready to make their journey through them, finding life along what seems to be a barren path.

Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Cover by Sebastian Jerke. Artist website.

Sebastian Jerke has kind of become Napalm Records‘ go-to artist over the last couple years, as his past and upcoming work for the likes of My Sleeping Karma, monkey3, Ahab, The Answer and others can attest, but the strangeness of the natural world, the three-dimensional protrusion of the trees, the layered depths, and the commanding presence of the bear, owl, snake and winged insects standing above it all made his work for Greenleaf‘s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) my favorite album cover of the year. It’s very much in his painterly, somewhat classical style, but the way the light seems to come from the band’s logo and behind the planet, the use of shadow and shading on the trees, and the monstrously blank eyes of the bear and owl give it a depth and narrative that remains nothing short of breathtaking. Clearly a labor of love.

Beastwars, The Death of all Things

beastwars the death of all things

Cover by Nick Keller. Artist website.

My only question was whether it was the cover for The Death of all Things (review here) I’d include or Keller‘s piece that was used for Child‘s new album, Blueside (review here), but with the context of this very likely being the final offering from New Zealand sludgecrushers Beastwars, the answer was plain. Either way, Keller‘s sense of scale and scope remains immense and he continues to bring a feel of the epic to his work here as he did to his two prior covers for Beastwars, on 2013’s Blood Becomes Fire (review here) and the band’s 2011 self-titled debut (review here), resulting in a more than suitable pairing of visual representation and impact of sound. Rarely does one find an artist and a band so much on the same page.

Goatess, II: Purgatory Under New Management

goatess ii purgatory under new management

Cover by Göran Nilsson. Artist website.

Charm goes a long way in my book, always, and Göran Nilsson‘s cover for the second outing by Swedish doomers GoatessII: Purgatory Under New Management (review here), has it in bulk supply. The underlying mischief of depicting the four-piece as medieval-esque saints painted on wood like something out of the Middle Ages — their faces grim with a seriousness of purpose not at all letting on to the tongue-in-cheek nature of the record’s title — with halos behind their heads and scripture in tow, well, it’s got a humor that most doom wouldn’t dare go near for fear of losing the edge of its miseries. For Goatess, however, it works perfectly in conveying an essential piece of where the band is coming from, in that their output in the first place seems to be as much about getting together and celebrating the act of writing songs as a unit as it is worshiping the traditions of the style.

Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids

Cover by Eli Quinn. Artist website.

While a jpeg of the cover alone doesn’t quite do justice to the full presentation of Eli Quinn‘s artwork for Droids Attacks‘ Sci-Fi or Die (review here), which went so far as to print the title of the record in gold ink on the CD case, feature even more detailed work inside and even go so far as to create an entirely separate artwork scheme for a bonus track hidden on a mini-CD under the back tray under the disc for the album (detailed here), I still find the image of the launching South American-style pyramid as a full diamond taking off — especially with the lights beaming out the bottom — among the most striking of 2016. Reminiscent of Arik Roper‘s detailed style, Quinn‘s cover added depth and purpose to the band’s never-tighter songcraft while also speaking to the love of science-fiction storytelling that drove them to use the title in the first place. Hard not to win with ancient aliens.

Sunnata, Zorya

sunnata zorya

Cover by Jeffrey Smith. Artist website.

Derived it would seem at least in part from a piece called “Erosion of Self,” or at very least of a kin to it, like a lot of Smith‘s work, his art for Zorya (review here) by Polish heavy rockers Sunnata treats light with a religious reverence. Like a Kubrick shot, the sun is dead-center of the painting itself, framed and encircled by gaseous-looking clouds, and as the dawn seems to break over this landscape (or is it sunset?), it becomes difficult to tell where the robed monks end and the rocky protrusions begin. Our eyes are drawn immediately toward the light, and it’s the light that ultimately defines the story here, the way the beams of light shoot outward and turn the desert floor white so that it almost reminds of a body of water as much as a place where nothing seems to grow. Stark but consuming.

High Fighter, Scars and Crosses

high fighter scars and crosses

Cover by Dominic Sohor. Artist website.

This one was so dark, so malevolent, with such a violent bend in its prominent central figure, that it seemed to encapsulate the underlying threat that always seemed to loom over High Fighter‘s Svart Records debut album, Scars and Crosses (review here). Because the faceless blue skin and hanging, stringy hair are so reminiscent of Japanese horror films, and because the heart  in the right hand stands out so much in its silvery tone and because the pattern on the dress/cowl is so intricate, you almost don’t notice at first that it’s blood shooting out of that figure’s left wrist filled with upside-down and rightside-up crosses or that it seems to be veins in the top left corner acting as puppet strings, propping up the entire play. But it definitely is, and that only furthers the horrific, nightmarish imagery surrounding, where even the shaded background seems to want to lure you in with no hope of escape.

Bridesmaid, International House of Mancakes

bridesmaid international house of mancakes

Cover by W. Ralph Walters. Artist website.

Come on. So you mean to tell me you went ahead an reinvented KISS‘ cover for Destroyer with Ohio heavy rockers Bridesmaid dressed as the Village People? Be still my beating heart. The art for International House of Mancakes (review here) offers subversive humor without judgment, winking at the homoeroticism that has always been and likely will always be a part of rock and roll, and ultimately mocks the ridiculousness of the denial of that same homoeroticism. From the hands raised in triumph on either side (an element pulled right from the original KISS cover) to the stacks of pancakes the instrumental outfit is standing on, it functioned as artwork to say so much about the band and was perhaps all the more effective in conveying its message and their message since there were no lyrics to pull in other directions. It’s all right there in your face; bright and brilliant.

Because I can’t seem to get out of one of these lists without a series of honorable mentions, I’ll say too that 2016 offerings from Borracho, SubRosa, Inter Arma, Mars Red Sky, Vokonis, Elephant Tree, EYE, Slomatics, Gozu and Black Moon Circle managed to strike on one level or another.

Thanks for reading. Like I said at the outset, this is barely a fraction of the amazing art that came down the line this year. If you’ve got something to add, please hit up the comments.

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Beastwars, The Death of all Things: Totality

Posted in Reviews on May 5th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

beastwars the death of all things

Much has been made the last several weeks about the possibility that Beastwars‘ third full-length, the recently-issued The Death of all Things, will be their last. Fair enough. The Wellington four-piece have referred to it as the final installment of a trilogy that also includes 2013’s Blood Becomes Fire (review here) and their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), and if the nine tracks/40 minutes included on The Death of all Things are really the end of the band, I don’t think anyone could argue with the quality of their output during their tenure, the impact they had or the progression they demonstrated from one album to the next. If this is it, in other words, they’ve been a success. All three of their records, further united by stellar oil painting artwork by Nick Keller, have worked in a blend of grand-scale heavy, derived from sludge and ’90s-style noise rock dissonance, but indebted to neither and growing only more individual in presentation as songwriting takes root in brooding atmospheres.

The Death of all Things might be their best work yet in terms of how the material itself stands out. An opening salvo of “Call to the Mountain” and “Devils of Last Night” — also the album’s two longest tracks at 5:36 and 5:31, respectively (immediate, double points) — leads to the likewise fortified “Some Sell Their Souls,” giving a kinetic beginning to what unfolds from there as a record that owes no more of its overarching affect to impact than to mood. Underlying complexity has long been a factor for Beastwars, glossed over in part because they’re so outwardly heavy, so if The Death of all Things is to be their last outing, it’s all the more appropriate that should be the case here too.

Frontman Matt Hyde (not to be confused with the L.A.-based producer) leads the returning lineup of guitarist Clayton Anderson, bassist James Woods and drummer Nathan Hickey, and his snarling, rasping, growling, howling, grunting approach continues to be a defining factor no less than Anderson‘s rolling riffs, the heft in Woods‘ low end or Hickey‘s snare cutting through to punctuate the morass. Andrew Schneider, who mixed, makes his impact felt there, while James Goldsmith, who produced, keeps the focus rightly on the largesse in the band’s sound.

beastwars (photo by Damian McDonnell)

“Call to the Mountain” and “Devils of Last Night,” both seething with intensity, gripping in their catchiness and marked in their cloud-cover bleak vibe, set the tone for what’s to come, the latter capping with a move into an all-out payoff that seems to answer some of the tension created, but the chorus of “Some Sell Their Souls” becomes even more of a landmark for the early going of The Death of all Things, shorter but also more patient than “Devils of Last Night” and setting up a transition into the more subdued, melodic beginning of “Witches.” That initial impact — starting with “Call to the Mountain,” a condensed-epic very much in Beastwars‘ stylistic wheelhouse — is no coincidence, but neither is the shift that “Some Sell Their Souls” begins into the broader territory that “Witches” continues to cover. Even as “Witches” hits its apex, Hyde and Anderson pushing a surge of energy forward in the song’s second half, the dynamic has changed from the first several tracks, and centerpiece/side B opener “Black Days” moves further out with an upbeat rhythm, scorching guitar and a lyrical reference to pyramids in the sky, which of course graced the cover of the first album half a decade ago.

A temporary slowdown leads to a raucous finish, and “Holy Man,” rages and sways in its beginning and finds solid ground in a second-half bridge of winding noise rock riffs, moving toward a drum-thudding finish that finds Hyde pushing his voice well past the breaking point before the rest of the song deconstructs, giving way to “Disappear,” which starts out like it’s going to work in loud/quiet verse tradeoffs but actually just gets loud and stays that way, building through its first verse to a weighted groove that it doesn’t again relinquish, lead guitar adding melodic counterpoint to the vocal howls in its ending, following another solid hook, maybe not accomplishing anything “Devils of Last Night” didn’t do on side A, but regrounding The Death of all Things in the core of Beastwars‘ songwriting prior to the brief acoustic sojourn of the penultimate “The Devil Took Her,” which brings in strings, keys/flute, quiet guitar and softer vocals for a genuine departure in modus if not mood from everything else on the LP.

To the best of my knowledge, an acoustic Beastwars track is a first, but the resonant strings work well as a precursor to the rumbling beginning of the closing title-track, “The Death of all Things” finishing — how could it not? — as the album’s ultimate resolution, building in aggression through its first verse and into an echoing chorus that, once it starts, doesn’t seem to stop, just moves through different stages for the remainder of the song. “I’ll tell you something/It’s a brand new world,” Hyde intones amid repeated finishing lines, and for Beastwars, if they’re actually looking beyond the existence of the band itself, it may well feel that way. What they leave behind, however, is a three-album legacy of destructive and stylistically ambitious noise/doom/heavy rock that stood out early and became even more their own as they moved forward. One never wants to say never in rock and roll, but if Beastwars are done, then The Death of all Things is the epitaph that a group of their scope and of their sheer gravitational force deserves.

Beastwars, “Witches” official video

Beastwars on Thee Facebooks

Beastwars on Twitter

Beastwars on Bandcamp

Beastwars website

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Beastwars Release The Death of all Things April 22

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 5th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Lurching New Zealand sludge-doomers Beastwars will release their third album, The Death of all Things, on April 22 through Destroy Records. What do you say to new Beastwars other than “fuck yes?” Probably not much if you’ve heard the band, whose two outings to-date — 2013’s Blood Becomes Fire (review here) and 2011’s Beastwars (review here) — are so righteously pummeling as to make decriptors like “Crowbarian” seem insufficiently weighted. Preorders go live on March 11 for the vinyl, and to herald the album’s coming, the band has made the new track “Call to the Mountain” available for streaming.

You can hear that under the PR wire info below, and there’s a very good chance it will be the heaviest thing you put on today, so be ready before you dig in. Also looking forward to seeing the final artwork for the album by Nick Keller, who’s done their past records as well and never disappoints in scale or design. Until then, info and audio:

beastwars

BEASTWARS to release new album The Death Of All Things this April | Stream and share the new song ‘Call To The Mountain’

The Death Of All Things by Beastwars will be released worldwide through Destroy Records on 22nd April 2016

Obey The Riff… As far as aphorisms go few hit harder than Beastwars’ heavy metal mantra.

Returning in 2016 with what will undoubtedly become one of this year’s most revelatory releases, Beastwars are a band so heavy, and heavily admired by fans in the Southern Hemisphere, they practically weigh the world in place and stop it spinning wildly off its axis.

The Death Of All Things was produced by the band and James Goldsmith in their hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, mixed by Andrew Schneider (Unsane, Big Business) and mastered by Brad Boatright (Sleep, Windhand). and is the third and final full-length in a post-apocalyptic trilogy. An album that signals the arrival of one of metal’s best-kept secrets out from under; primed to take on the world full tilt.

In 2011, Beastwars released their self-titled debut to critical acclaim and in doing so transformed New Zealand’s metal landscape. Reviewers celebrated the album’s, “slow- burning furnace of bass-trawling riffage,” (The Sleeping Shaman) as well as its distinctive blend of lysergic and premonitory metal that compared the band to Kyuss, Neurosis and Godflesh, while hinting at influences as distinctive as The Jesus Lizard, Black Sabbath, and in Hyde’s ‘avant-grunt’, Celtic Frost. Music that at its very core channels a colossal mood filtered to a point where, “every wail, every riff, every bass thump and every cymbal crash serves to remind you that this is enigmatic and darkened metal, straight from the murky heart of the Antipodes.” (Sixnoises)

Two years on from their internationally acclaimed debut, Beastwars returned in 2013 with Blood Becomes Fire which landed at #2 in the nations music charts. The album delivered ten songs retaining all the strength and psychedelic fire of their first while presenting a powerful evolution in vision.

The Death Of All Things is released worldwide through Destroy Records on 22nd April 2016. On 11th March a pre-order for limited edition vinyl will be available from www.obeytheriff.com but in the meantime, you can stream and share their brand new song for ‘Call To The Mountain’ here.

Live:
20th February – Frankie’s Pizza, Sydney
21st February – Coburg Hall w. THE SWORD, Melbourne
27th February – The Studio w. THE SWORD, Auckland

Beastwars:
Clayton Anderson – Guitar
Nathan Hickey – Drums
Matt Hyde – Vocals
James Woods – Bass

Artwork by Nick Keller – www.nickkellerart.com

https://www.facebook.com/beastwars666/
https://beastwars.bandcamp.com/
https://twitter.com/beastwarsband
https://www.instagram.com/beastwarsband/
http://www.obeytheriff.com

Beastwars, “Call to the Mountain”

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Beastwars Post New Video for “Rivermen”; Vinyl Released Today

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 9th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Today is the release date for the Destroy Records/Granite House Records vinyl reissues for Beastwars‘ two albums to date, Beastwars (review here) and Blood Becomes Fire (review here), and to mark the occasion, the New Zealand riff crushers have just unveiled a new video for the song “Rivermen” from their second outing. A slow-burner that showcases some of Blood Becomes Fire‘s more brooding sensibilities, the clip was filmed earlier this year at Camp A Low Hum in Wainuomata, NZ, and if the audience response depicted here is anything to go by, “Rivermen” was greeted with due appreciation. I wouldn’t argue.

Beastwars have made both the self-titled and Blood Becomes Fire available as name-your-price downloads through Bandcamp until June 15, and you’re just going to have to take my word for it when I tell you that for the investment in effort it takes to acquire them — i.e., none — it’s about as solid a payout as you’re going to find. The four-piece have a propensity for capturing the epic in their work, their songwriting, their artwork, their videos, and this time around they do it in the scale of the releases themselves, and in the case of the video, through the sheer act of performing their material live. They remain a band I’d very, very much like to see one of these days.

Reissue info follows the video below:

Beastwars, “Rivermen” official video

BEASTWARS: Vinyl reissues of Beastwars and Blood Becomes Fire out now on Granite House Records

Download both albums for free until 15th June via http://beastwars.bandcamp.com

Having always been appreciative of the support given to them by their diehard fans, New Zealand’s loudest sons have today rereleased their 2011 debut Beastwars, and last year’s acclaimed follow up Blood Becomes Fire via Granite House Records.

With original pressings already commanding high figures among collectors of rare heavy metal vinyl, not only are these reissues welcomed news for anyone who missed out first time around, they will gives new fans a chance to discover the band’s one and only maxim: Obey The Riff.

Thanks to a new partnership with the Denver, Colorado-based label Granite House Records (United States) and Rocket (Australia) both Beastwars and Blood Becomes Fire are now available worldwide through Destroy Records/Granite House Records. More info of which can be found here – http://granitehouserecords.bigcartel.com.

Beastwars on Thee Facebooks

Granite House Records

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Beastwars to Reissue Beastwars and Blood Becomes Fire on June 9

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 1st, 2014 by JJ Koczan

I’m glad New Zealand earth-movers Beastwars will have a worldwide release for their two albums, 2011’s self-titled debut (review here) and 2013’s follow-up, Blood Becomes Fire (review here). The truth is that the Wellington-based four-piece are heavy enough and have a sound individual enough that they’ve been ready for wider appreciation basically since the first record hit. Granite House Records in the US has stepped up to make it happen, and yeah, Beastwars‘ records have been available to stream and stuff all along, but the fact is the more people who hear these songs the better, since they’re worth hearing.

The PR wire has preorder info and more besides:

BEASTWARS >>> Beastwars + Blood Becomes Fire (Granite House Records) Released 9th June

Having always been appreciative of the support given to them by their diehard fans, New Zealand’s loudest sons have announced that this June they are teaming up with Granite House Records to reissue their 2011 debut Beastwars, and last year’s acclaimed follow up Blood Becomes Fire worldwide.

With original pressings already commanding high figures among collectors of rare heavy metal vinyl, not only are these reissues welcomed news for anyone who missed out first time around, they will gives new fans a chance to discover the band’s one and only maxim: Obey The Riff.?

In 2011, Beastwars released their self-titled debut to critical acclaim and in doing so transformed New Zealand’s music scene. Landing at #15 on the national charts, the band found themselves shortlisted for the Taite Music Prize and were twice nominated at the 2011 New Zealand Music Awards, winning Best Album Artwork via Nick Keller’s otherworldly landscapes. Reviewers celebrated the album’s, “slow-burning furnace of bass-trawling riffage” (The Sleeping Shaman) as well as its distinctive blend of lysergic and premonitory metal that compared the band to Kyuss, Neurosis and Godflesh, while hinting at influences as distinctive as The Jesus Lizard, Black Sabbath, and in Hyde’s ‘avant-grunt’, Celtic Frost.

Two years on from their internationally acclaimed debut, Beastwars returned in 2013 with Blood Becomes Fire. The album charted at #2 on the NZ charts (held off the top spot by Michel Bublé) and delivered ten songs retaining all the strength and psychedelic fire of their first while presenting a powerful evolution in vision. Where Beastwars’ first album conjured tales of the end of days, it’s successor served as witness to the ensuing carnage, viewed through the eyes of a traveller from another time, as he faced his own demise. Blood Becomes Fire is a work of epic imagination that explores eternal themes and hammers each home with concussive force.

Thanks to a new partnership with the Denver, Colorado-based label Granite House Records (United States) and Rocket (Australia) both Beastwars and Blood Becomes Fire will once again be available. A pre-order of unique/limited edition vinyl pressings are currently available from the band’s website obeytheriff.com.

Beastwars and Blood Becomes Fire will get an official worldwide rerelease on 9th June 2014 via Destroy Records/Granite House Records.

http://heavygranitehouse.com/
https://www.facebook.com/beastwars666
http://beastwars.bandcamp.com/

Beastwars, Blood Becomes Fire (2013)

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Visual Evidence: 10 Album Covers that Kicked Ass in 2013

Posted in Visual Evidence on December 31st, 2013 by JJ Koczan

First thing, let me give the immediate and familiar disclaimer: This isn’t everything. If I wanted to call this list “The ONLY 10 Album Covers that Kicked Ass in 2013,” I would. I didn’t do that, because there were way more than 10 covers that resonated when I saw them this year. The idea here is just to check out a few artists’ work that really stuck out as memorable throughout the year and really fit with the music it was complementing and representing.

As always, you can click the images below to enlarge them for a more detailed look.

The list runs alphabetically by band. Thanks in advance for reading:

Beastwars, Blood Becomes Fire


Cover by Nick Keller. Artist website here.

Like Nick Keller‘s cover for New Zealand heavy plunderers Beastwars‘ 2011 self-titled debut (review here), the darker, moodier oil and canvas piece that became the front of Blood Becomes Fire (review here) created a sense of something truly massive and otherworldly. A huge skull with sci-fi themes and barren landscape brought to it foreboding memento mori that seemed to suggest even land can die. It was an excellent match for the brooding tension in the album itself.

Blaak Heat Shujaa,The Edge of an Era


Cover by Arrache-toi un oeil. Artist website here.

The level of detail in Arrache-toi un oeil‘s cover for Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s full-length Tee Pee Records debut, The Edge of an Era (review here), would probably be enough for it to make this list anyway, but the Belgium-based art duo seemed thematically to bring out the swirl, chaos and underlying order within the Los Angeles trio’s desert psychedelia. Blue was for the vinyl edition, brown for the CD digipak (both were revealed here), but in either format it was a reminder of how much visual art can add to a musical medium.

Black Pyramid, Adversarial


Cover by Eli Wood.

I look at the Eli Wood cover for Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial (review here) as representing the task before the band in putting out their third LP. Released by Hydro-Phonic, the album found Black Pyramid coming head to head with both their audience’s expectations of what they were in their original lineup and their own will to move past that and become something else. If there was a second panel to the cover, it would show the arrow-shot warrior standing next to the severed head of the demon he slayed. Easily one of my favorite covers of the year. The scale of it begged for a larger format even than vinyl could provide.

Ice Dragon, Born a Heavy Morning


Cover by Samantha Allen. Artist website here.

It was such a weird record, with the interludes and the bizarre twists, that Samantha Allen‘s cover piece for Ice Dragon‘s Born a Heavy Morning (review here) almost couldn’t help but encompass it. The direct, but slightly off-center stare of the owl immediately catches the eye, but we see the titular morning sunshine as well, the human hand with distinct palm lines, illuminati eye and other symbols — are the planets? Bubbles? I don’t know, but since Born a Heavy Morning was such an engrossing listening experience, to have the visual side follow suit made it all the richer.

Kings Destroy, A Time of Hunting


Cover by Aidrian O’Connor.

In Magyar mythology, the bird-god Turul is perched atop the tree of life and is a symbol of power. With its theme in geometry, Aidrian O’Connor‘s cover piece for Kings Destroy‘s A Time of Hunting — which was originally titled Turul — gave a glimpse at some of that strength, positioning the viewer as prey below a creature and sky that seem almost impossible to parse. I felt the same way the first time I put on the finished version of the Brooklyn outfit’s second offering, unspeakably complex and brazenly genre-defiant as it was.

Larman Clamor, Alligator Heart


Cover by Alexander von Wieding. Artist website here.

Alexander von Wieding deserves multiple mentions for his 2013 covers for Black Thai and Small Stone labelmates Supermachine, but he always seems to save the best for his own project, Larman Clamor. The one-man-band’s third LP, Alligator Heart (review here), was a stomper for sure, but in his visual art for it, von Wieding brilliantly encapsulated the terrestrial elements (the human and reptile) as well as the unknowable spheres (rippling water, sun-baked sky) that the songs portrayed in their swampadelic blues fashion. It was one to stare at.

Monster Magnet, Last Patrol


Cover by John Sumrow. Artist website here.

Similar I guess to the Beastwars cover in its looming feel and to the Black Pyramid for its scale, John Sumrow‘s art for Monster Magnet‘s Last Patrol (review here) mirrored the space-rocking stylistic turn the legendary New Jersey band made in their sound, taking their iconic Bullgod mascot and giving it a cosmic presence, put to scale with the rocketship on the right side. It stares out mean from the swirl and regards the ship with no less a watchful eye than Dave Wyndorf‘s lyrics seem to have on society as a whole.

Red Fang, Whales and Leeches


Cover by Orion Landau. Artist website here.

There’s a mania to Orion Landau’s cover for Red Fang‘s third album, Whales and Leeches, and while the songs that comprise the record are more clearly structured, the collage itself, the face it makes when viewed from a distance, and the (from what I’m told is brilliant) cut-out work in the physical pressing of the album, all conspired to make one of 2013’s most striking visuals. As the in-house artist for RelapseLandau is no stranger to landmark pieces, but this was a different level of accomplishment entirely.

Sandrider, Godhead


Cover by Jesse Roberts. Band Facebook here.

Fuck. Look at this fucking thing! Galaxy spiral, vagina-dentata, creepy multi-pupil eyes and a background that seems to push the eye to the middle with no hope of escape even as blues and oranges collide. Wow. Sandrider bassist Jesse Roberts (see also The Ruby Doe) artwork for Godhead (review here) is the only cover on this list done by a member of the band in question, and though I’m sure there are many awesome examples out there, I don’t know if any can top this kind of nightmarishness. Unreal. The sheer imagination of it.

Summoner, Atlantian


Cover by Alyssa Maucere. Artist website here.

When I put together a similar list last year, it had Summoner‘s first album under the moniker, Phoenix, on it, and with their second, they went more melodic, more progressive, and showed that heaviness was about atmosphere as much as tone, and that it was a thing to be moved around rather than leaned on. The Alyssa Maucere art, dark but deceptively colorful, rested comfortably alongside the songs, with a deeply personal feel and unflinchingly forward gaze, somewhat understated on the black background, but justifying the portrayal of depth.

As I said above, there’s a lot of stuff I could’ve easily included on this list, from The Flying Eyes to Sasquatch to Black Thai to Lumbar, Samsara Blues Experiment, Goatess, At Devil Dirt and others. Hopefully though, this gives a sampling of some people who are doing cool work in an under-represented aspect of underground creativity.

If I left anything out or there was a cover that really stuck with you that I didn’t mention, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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