The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2013

Posted in Features on December 16th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

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

It’s always strange to think of something so utterly arbitrary as also being really, really difficult, but I think 2013 posed the biggest challenge yet in terms of getting together a final list of my favorite records. As ever, I had a post-it note on my office wall (when I moved, it moved with me) and I did my best to keep track of everything that resonated throughout the year. I wound up with over 40 picks and had to start putting them in order to whittle the list down.

I wound up with a top 20 that, even though it feels somewhat incomplete, I’ve found that I can at very least live with. That’s what I’ve done for the last week: Just lived with it. Even up to this morning, I was making changes, but in general, I think this gives some scope about what hit me hard in 2013. Of course, these are just my picks, and while things like my own critical appreciation factor in because that affects how I ultimately listen to a record, sometimes it just comes down to what was stuck in my head most often or what I kept putting on over and over.

That’s a simple formula to apply, but still, 2013 didn’t make it easy. Please note as you go through that there are some real gems in the honorable mentions. I thought about expanding the list to 30 this year, but the thought made my skull start to cave in, so I reconsidered.

Anyway, it only comes around once a year, so let’s do this thing. Thanks in advance for reading:

 

20. All Them Witches, Lightning at the Door

Self-released.

Traditionally, I’ve reserved #20 for a sentimental pick. An album that’s hard to place numerically because of some personal or emotional connection. This year wasn’t short on those, but when it came to it, I knew I couldn’t make this list without Lightning at the Door included, and since it was released just last month as the follow-up to the earlier-2013 Elektrohasch reissue of the Nashville, Tennessee, outfit’s 2012 debut, Our Mother Electricity (review here), I didn’t feel like I’ve had enough time with it to really put it anywhere else. It needed to be here, and so it is, and though I’ve listened to it plenty in the month since its release, I still feel like I’m getting to know Lightning at the Door, and exploring its open-spaced blues rocking grooves. All Them Witches are hands down one of the best bands I heard for the first time this year, and I’m looking forward to following their work as they continue to progress.

19. Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork

Released by Matador Records. Reviewed June 4.

For a while after I first heard …Like Clockwork and around the time I reviewed it, I sweated it pretty hard. By mid-June, I had it as one of the year’s best without a doubt in my mind. Then I put it away. I don’t know if I burnt myself out on it or what, but I still haven’t really gone back to it, and while the brilliance of cuts like “Kalopsia” and “Fairweather Friends” and “I Appear Missing” still stands out and puts Josh Homme‘s songwriting as some of the most accomplished I encountered in 2013, that hasn’t been enough to make me take it off the shelf. I doubt Queens of the Stone Age will cry about it as they tour arenas and get nominated for Grammy awards, but there it is. I wouldn’t have expected …Like Clockwork to be so low on the list, certainly not when I was listening to “My God is the Sun” six times in a row just to try and get my head around the chorus.

18. I are Droid, The Winter Ward

Released by Razzia Records. Reviewed Sept. 19.

Gorgeously produced and impeccably textured, The Winter Ward by Stockholm-based I are Droid aren’t generally the kind of thing I’d reach for, but the quality of the craft in songs like “Constrict Contract” and “Feathers and Dust” made it essential. Bits and pieces within harkened back to frontman Peder Bergstrand‘s tenure in Lowrider, but ultimately The Winter Ward emerged with a varied and rich personality all its own, and that became the basis for the appeal. As the weather has gotten colder and it’s gotten dark earlier, I’ve returned to The Winter Ward for repeat visits, and as much as I’ve got my fingers crossed for another Lowrider album in 2014, I hope I are Droid continue to run parallel, since the progressive take on alternative influences they managed to concoct was carried across with proportionate accessibility. It was as audience friendly and satisfying a listen as it was complex and ripe for active engagement.

17. Magic Circle, Magic Circle


Released by Armageddon Shop. Reviewed Feb. 18.

There was just nothing to argue about when it came to the self-titled debut from Massachusetts-based doomers Magic Circle, but what worked best about the album was that although the songs were strong on their own and seemed to have lurching hooks to spare, everything throughout fed into an overarching atmosphere that was denser than the straightforwardness of the structures might lead the listener to initially believe. It was a record worth going back to, worth getting lost in the nod of, and as the members are experienced players in a variety of New England acts from The Rival Mob to Doomriders, it should be interesting to find out what demons they may conjure in following-up Magic Circle, if they’ll continue down the path of deceptively subversive “traditionalism” or expand their sound into more progressive reaches. Either way they may choose, the material on their first outing showed an ability to craft an enigmatic, individualized sonic persona that never veered into cultish caricature.

16. Iron Man, South of the Earth

Released by Rise Above/Metal Blade Records. Reviewed Oct. 14.

If you’re into doom and you have a soul, I don’t know how you could not be rooting for Iron Man in 2013. Produced by Frank Marchand and the first full-length from the long-running Maryland doomers to feature vocalist Dee Calhoun and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann alongside guitarist/founder “Iron” Al Morris III (interview here) and longtime bassist Louis Strachan. The difference in South of the Earth was palpable even in comparison to 2009’s I Have Returned (review here). With more professional production, excellent performances all around in the lineup, memorable songs like “Hail to the Haze” and “The Worst and Longest Day,” and the considerable endorsement of a release through Rise Above/Metal Blade behind them, the four-piece sounded like the statesmen they are in the Maryland scene and showed themselves every bit worthy of inclusion in the discussion of America’s finest in traditional, Sabbathian doom. May they continue to get their due.

15. Sasquatch, IV


Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Sept. 16.

Whether it was what the lyrics were talking about or not, the message of “The Message” was clear: Never count out a catchy chorus. Now in operation for a decade, Sasquatch practice an arcane artistry with their songwriting. Void of pretense, heavy on boogie, they are as genuine a modern extension of classic heavy rock as you’re likely to find. The Los Angeles power trio outdid themselves with IV, veering boldly into psychedelia on “Smoke Signal” and honing their craft over various moods and themes on “Sweet Lady,” “Me and You” and “Eye of the Storm.” They remain one of American heavy rock’s key and consistently underestimated components, and the three years since the release of their third album, III (review here), seemed like an eternity once the quality grooves of “Money” and “Drawing Flies” got moving, the former an insistent rush and the latter open, dreamy and atmospheric, but both executed with precision and confidence born of Sasquatch‘s familiarity with the methods and means of kicking ass.

14. Black Pyramid, Adversarial

Released by Hydro-Phonic Records. Reviewed April 12.

It was hard to know what to expect from Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial, their first release with guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard at the fore with bassist Dave Gein and drummer/engineer Clay Neely, but the Massachusetts outfit flourished on tracks like “Swing the Scimitar,” incorporating a heavy jamming sensibility with marauding riffs and grooves carried over from the style of their first two albums. Adversarial took the band to Hellfest in France this past summer, where they shared a stage with Neurosis and Sleep, and whether it was the raging chorus of “Bleed Out” or the clarion guitar line of “Aphelion,” the band showed their war ensemble could not be stopped. Their future is uncertain with Neely having relocated and Gein having an impending move of his own, but if Adversarial is to stand as the final Black Pyramid outing, they will at very least have claimed enough heads in their time to line fence-posts for miles. Still, hopefully they can find some way to continue to make it work.

13. Across Tundras, Electric Relics

Released by Electric Relics Records. Reviewed July 11.

Even the interlude “Seasick Serenade,” just over a minute and a half long, was haunting. Electric Relics marked the first full-length from Nashville’s Across Tundras to be released on their own label and the first since they issued Sage through Neurot in 2011 (review here), and as rolling and exploratory as its vibe was, songs like “Solar Ark,” “Pining for the Gravel Roads” and “Den of Poison Snakes” also represented a solidification of Across Tundras‘ sound, another step in their development that refined their blend of rural landscapes and heavy tones. Issued in April, it’s been an album that throughout the course of the year I’ve returned to time and again, and the more I’ve sat with it and the more comfortable it’s become, the more its songs have come to feel like home, which it’s easy to read as being their intent all along. Guitarist/vocalist Tanner Olson (read his questionnaire answers here), bassist/vocalist Mikey Allred and drummer Casey Perry hit on something special in these tracks, and one gets the sense their influence is just beginning to be felt.

12. Borracho, Oculus

Released by Strange Magic/No Balls/AM Records. Reviewed July 26.

Initially a digital self-release by the Washington, D.C. riff purveyors, Oculus just this month got a tri-color, tri-label and tri-continental vinyl issue, and the fanfare with which it arrived was well earned by the five songs contained on the two sides. Borracho‘s second album behind 2011’s Splitting Sky (review here) also marked a lineup shift in the band that saw them go from a four-piece to a trio, with guitarist Steve Fisher (interview here) stepping to the fore as vocalist in the new incarnation with Tim Martin on bass and Mario Trubiano on drums. The results in songs like “Know the Score” and closer “I’ve Come for it All” were in line stylistically with the straightforward approach they showed on their first offering, but tighter overall in their presentation, and Fisher‘s voice was a natural fit with the band’s stated ethic of “repetitive heavy grooves” — a neat summary, if perhaps underselling their appeal somewhat. Oculus showed both that the appeal of Splitting Sky was no fluke and that Borracho with four members or three was not a band to be taken lightly.

11. Ice Dragon, Born a Heavy Morning

Released by Navalorama Records. Reviewed Aug. 14.

Like the bulk of Ice Dragon‘s work to date, Born a Heavy Morning was put out first digitally, for free or pay-what-you-want download. A CD version would follow soon enough on Navalorama, with intricate packaging to match the album’s understated achievements, taking the Boston genre-crossers into and through heavy psychedelic atmospheres added to and played off in longer pieces like “The Past Plus the Future is Present” and the gorgeously ethereal “Square Triangle” by thematic slice-of-life set-pieces like “In Which a Man Daydreams about a Girl from His Youth” and “In Which a Man Ends His Workweek with a Great Carouse” that only enriched the listening experience and furthered Ice Dragon‘s experimental appeal. Ever-prolific, Born a Heavy Morning wasn’t the only Ice Dragon outing this year, physical or digital, but it stood in a place of its own within their constantly-expanding catalog and showcased a stylistic fearlessness that can only be an asset in their favor as they continue to chase down whatever the hell it is they’re after in their songs and make genuine originality sound so natural.

10. Devil to Pay, Fate is Your Muse

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed March 19.

It seemed like no matter where I turned in 2013, Devil to Pay‘s Fate is Your Muse was there. Not that it was the highest-profile release of the year or bolstered by some consciousness-invading viral campaign or anything, just that once the songs locked into my head, there was no removing them, and whether it was straightforward rockers like “This Train Won’t Stop,” “Savonarola” and “Tie One On,” the moodier “Black Black Heart” or the charm-soaked “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife” — which might also be the best song title I came across this year — it was a pretty safe bet that something from the Indianapolis four-piece was going to make a showing on the mental jukebox if not in the actual player (it showed up plenty there as well). Devil to Pay‘s first album since 2009, first for Ripple and fourth overall, Fate is Your Muse was a grower listen whose appeal only deepened over the months after its release, the layered vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (interview here) adaptable to the varying vibes of “Wearin’ You Down” and “Already Dead” and soulful in classic fashion. They’ve been underrated as a live act for some time, and Fate is Your Muse translated well their light-on-frills, heavy-on-riffs appeal to a studio setting.

9. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below

Released by Saw Her Ghost Records. Reviewed May 30.

Such devastation. Even now, every time I put on Beast in the Field‘s The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below, it makes me want to hang my head and wonder at the horror of it all like Marlon Brando hiding out in a cave. If anything at all, there wasn’t much I heard in 2013 that hit harder than the Michigan duo’s fifth long-player, released on CD in March through Saw Her Ghost with vinyl reportedly on the way now. Toward the middle of the year, it got to the point where I wanted to go door to door and say to people, “Uh excuse me, but this is absurdly heavy and you should check it out.” I settled for streaming the album in full and it still feels like a compromise. I tried to interview the band, to no avail — sometimes instrumental acts just don’t want to talk about it — but what guitarist Jordan Pries and drummer Jamie Jahr were able to accomplish tonally, atmospherically and bombastically in expansive and overwhelmingly heavy cuts like the 22-minute “Oncoming Avalanche” or the noise-soaked riffing of “Hollow Horn” put The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below into a weight class that it had pretty much to itself this year. It’s a good thing they had no trouble filling that space. I still feel like I haven’t recommended the album enough and that more people need to be made aware of its existence.

8. Beelzefuzz, Beelzefuzz

Released by The Church Within Records. Reviewed Aug. 30.

When I finally listened to Beelzefuzz‘s self-titled debut, I was really, really glad I had seen the three-piece — its members based in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania — play some of the material live. I don’t know if otherwise I’d have been able to distinguish between the progress elements of effects and looping and the live creation of layers and organ sounds through the guitar of Dana Ortt (interview here) and the simple humdrum of studio layering one finds all the time. I almost think for their next record they should track it live, just the three of them, and heavily advertise that fact to help get the point across that it’s actually just three players — Ortt, bassist Pug Kirby and drummer Darin McCloskey (also of Pale Divine) — creating the richness of sound on “All the Feeling Returns” and the eerie, gleefully weird progressive stomp on “Lonely Creatures.” The album became a morning go-to for me, and I don’t know how many times I’ve been through it at this point, but “Reborn” and “Hypnotize” and “Lotus Jam” continue to echo in my head even when it’s been a few days. That said, it’s rarely been a few days, because while I appreciate what the trio accomplish on their first record on an analytical level, the reason it is where it is on this list is because I can’t stop listening to the damn thing. Another one that more people should hear than have heard.

7. Samsara Blues Experiment, Waiting for the Flood

Released by World in Sound/Electric Magic Records. Reviewed Oct. 22.

One of the aspects of Samsara Blues Experiment‘s third offering that I most enjoyed was that it wasn’t the album I expected German four-piece to make. After their 2011 sophomore album, Revelation and Mystery (review here), shifted its focus away from the jam-minded heavy psychedelia of their 2009 debut, Long Distance Trip (review here), my thinking was that they would continue down that path and coalesce into a more straightforward brand of heavy rock. Instead, when the four extended tracks of Waiting for the Flood showed up with no shortage of swirl or sitar or open-ended expansion in their midst, it was a legitimate surprise. Repeat visits to “Shringara” and “Don’t Belong” show that actually it’s not so much that Samsara Blues Experiment turned around and were hell-bent on jamming out all the time, but that rather for their third, they took elements of what worked on their first two LPs and built lush movements on top of those ideas. As a happy bonus, this having grown more and more into their sound has helped push the band — guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, guitarist Hans Eiselt, bassist Richard Behrens and drummer Thomas Vedder — into their own niche within the wider European heavy psych scene, and they’ve begun to emerge as one of its most enjoyable and consistent acts.

6. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Mind Control

Released by Rise Above/Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 8.

Kind of inevitable that there would be a lot of comparisons made between Mind Control and the preceding Uncle Acid album, Blood Lust. Certainly the newer outing — their third and first for Rise Above/Metal Blade — is more psychedelic, more tripped out and less obscure feeling than its predecessor. It didn’t have the same kind of crunch to the guitar tone, or the same kind of horror-film atmosphere or psychosexual foreboding, but the thing was, it wasn’t supposed to. The UK outfit continue to prod cult mentality even as their own cult grows, and as I see it, Mind Control made a lot of sense coming off Blood Lust in terms of the band not wanting to repeat the same ideas over again, but grow from them and expand their sound. Of course, with the strut at the end of opener “Mt. Abraxas,” they’ve set a high standard on their albums for leadoff tracks, but where Mind Control really made its impression was in the hypnosis of cuts like the Beatlesian “Follow the Leader,” the lysergic “Valley of the Dolls” or the maddening “Devil’s Work.” The deeper you went into side B, the more the band had you in their grasp. It was a different kind of accomplishment than the preceding effort — though “Mind Crawler” kept a lot of that vibe alive — and it showed Uncle Acid had more in their arsenal than VHS ambience and garage doom malevolence while keeping the infectiousness that helped Blood Lust make such an impression.

5. Lumbar, The First and Last Days of Unwelcome

Released by Southern Lord. Reviewed Dec. 3.

Of the ones reviewed, Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcome was the most recent inclusion on this list. Having worked with Lumbar multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Aaron Edge (interview here) in the past with his band Roareth releasing what would be their only album on The Maple Forum, this was a project to which I felt an immediate connection given the circumstances of its creation: Being written almost in its entirety and recorded in everything but vocals during a bedridden period following Edge‘s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The contributions of YOB/Vhöl frontman Mike Scheidt and Tad Doyle of TAD and Brothers of the Sonic Cloth were what got a lot of people’s attention for Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcome, but with the situation are the core of the seven tracks named “Day One” through “Day Seven,” what stood out to me even more than those performances was the utter lack of distance and the level of rawness in the album’s presentation. It puts you there. What you get with Lumbar is the direct translation of a range of emotions from hopeful to hopeless, angry, sad, beaten down and wanting answers, wanting more. There’s no shield from it, and as much in concept as in its execution, there’s no other word for it than “heavy.” The intensity Edge packed into just 24 minutes — and not all of it loud or over the top doomed or anything more than atmospherics — was unmatched by anything else I heard this year.

4. Vista Chino, Peace

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed July 30.

From just about any angle you want to view it, the situation that turned Kyuss Lives! into Vista Chino was unfortunate. However — and I know I’ve said this before — I really do believe that becoming Vista Chino, that furthering the distance from the Kyuss moniker, brand, legacy, and so on, was for the better of the band creatively. And not because the songs don’t stand up. I doubt it helped their draw much, but for vocalist John Garcia and drummer Brant Bjork (interview here), working as Vista Chino for the creation of Peace, and especially or Bjork working with guitarist Bruno Fevery for the first time in the writing process, it allowed them to step outside of what would’ve been insurmountable expectations for a “fifth Kyuss album” and create something honest, new, and ultimately, more true to the spirit of that now-legendary band. Let’s face it, you hear John Garcia, Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri are working on a project together, you’re immediately comparing it to Kyuss anyway. At least with Vista Chino, they’ve given themselves the potential for growth beyond a preconceived idea of what Kyuss should sound like. Well what does Vista Chino sound like? It sounds like whatever the hell they want. On Peace, though many of the lyrics dealt with their legal battles over the Kyuss name, the vibe stayed true to a desert rock ethic of laid back heavy, and the round-out jam in “Acidize/The Gambling Moose” left Peace with the feeling that maybe that’s where they’ve ended up after all. Fingers crossed Mike Dean (of C.O.C. and the latest live incarnation of Vista Chino) winds up playing bass on the record, but other than that, wherever they want to go with it, as a fan, I’m happy to follow along.

3. Gozu, The Fury of a Patient Man

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Jan. 24.

The second outing from Gozu on Small Stone, The Fury of a Patient Man tapped into so much of what made the Boston band’s 2010 Locust Season label debut (review here) work so right on and just did it better. Don’t get me wrong, I still dig on “Meat Charger,” but with tracks like “Snake Plissken,” “Bald Bull,” “Signed, Epstein’s Mom” (note: it was “signed, Epstein’s mother” on Welcome Back Kotter) and the thrashing “Charles Bronson Pinchot,” Gozu put forth a collection of some of 2013’s finest heavy rock and did so with not only their own soulful spin on the tropes of the genre, but a mature and varied approach that was no less comfortable giving High on Fire a run for their money than reveling in the grandiose chorus of “Ghost Wipe,” which was also one of the best hooks of the year, guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney (interview here) delivering lines in crisp, confident layers, perfectly mixed by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios and cutting through the fray of his own and Doug Sherman‘s guitars, the bass of Paul Dallaire (who split duties with J. Canava; Joe Grotto has since taken over the position) and Barry Spillberg‘s drumming. What the future might hold for Gozu with the recent shift in lineup that replaced Spillberg with drummer Mike Hubbard (ex-Warhorse) and added third guitarist Jeff Fultz (Mellow Bravo) remains to be seen, but with European touring on the horizon for 2014 and appearances slated for Roadburn and Desertfest, the band seem to be looking only to expand their reach, and with the material from The Fury of a Patient Man as a foundation, they’ve got some major considerations acting in their favor. Another album from which I simply could not escape this year, and from which I didn’t want to.

2. Monster Magnet, Last Patrol

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Billed largely and at least in-part accurately as a return to the group’s psychedelic roots, Last Patrol was Monster Magnet‘s ninth full-length, their first in three years and their second for Napalm. The New Jersey outfit led by guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, founder and, in this case, co-producer Dave Wyndorf (interview here) did indeed delve into the space rock side of their sound more than they have in over a decade, and the effect that doing so had was like a great shaking-off of dust, as though the Bullgod in the John Sumrow cover art just woke up after a long slumber. Perhaps even more than tripping on the Donovan cover “Three Kingfishers” or on the more extended freakouts “Last Patrol” and “End of Time,” what really made Last Patrol such a complete experience was the depth of emotion. Wyndorf wasn’t just standing above an overproduced wall of distortion talking about how he’s the best lay in the galaxy or whatever — fun though that kind of stuff is and has been in the past — but songs like “I Live behind the Clouds,” “The Duke (of Supernature),” “Paradise” and “Stay Tuned” offered a humbler take, a spirit of melancholy that rested well alongside the unmitigated stomp of “Hallelujah” or the driving heavy rock of “Mindless Ones.” Even in its most riotous stretches, Last Patrol was a humbler affair, with a more honest vibe than their last four, maybe five albums. A Monster Magnet release would’ve been noteworthy no matter what it actually sounded like, because that’s the level of impact they’ve had on heavy psych and underground rock over the last two decades-plus. The difference with Last Patrol was that it was a refreshing change from what had started to sound like a formula going stale, and it was  just so damn good to have them be weird again.

1. Clutch, Earth Rocker

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Feb. 28.

Finally, an album that asked the question, “What it was I’m going to do I haven’t done?” I knew at the year’s halfway point that Clutch‘s Earth Rocker was going to be the one to beat, and that it wasn’t going to be easy for anyone else to top the Maryland kings of groove, who sounded so reinvigorated on songs like “Crucial Velocity,” “Book, Saddle and Go,” “Unto the Breach,” and “Cyborg Bette,” and on funkfied pushers like “D.C. Sound Attack!,” “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…” and “The Face.” They’d hardly been in hibernation since 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West, but four years was the longest they’d ever gone between albums, and it was past time for a new one. To have it arrive as such a boot to the ass just made it that much better, the band shifting away from some of the blues/jam influences that emerged over the course of 2005’s Robot Hive/Exodus and 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion — though those certainly showed up as well in the subdued “Gone Cold” and elsewhere — but thanks in no small part to the production of Machine, with whom the band last worked for 2004’s Blast Tyrant, Earth Rocker was huge where it wanted to be and that gave Clutch‘s faster, more active material all the more urgency, where although the songwriting was quality as always, Strange Cousins from the West languished a bit at a more relaxed pace. The difference made all the difference. Whether it was the hellhounds on your trail (what a pity!) in “D.C. Sound Attack!” or the Jazzmasters erupting from the bottom of the sea to take flight, Clutch‘s 10th album was brimming with live, vibrant, heavy on action and heavy on groove, and on a sheer song-by-song level, a classic in the making from a band who’ve already had a few. At very least, it’s a landmark in their discography, and though vocalist Neil Fallon (interview here), guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster always change from record, but it’s the unmistakable stamp they put on all their outings that have earned them such a loyal following, and that stamp is all over Earth Rocker. Front to back, it is a pure Clutch record, and while I’ll happily acknowledge that it’s an obvious pick for album of the year, I don’t see how I possibly could’ve chosen anything else. Like the best of the best, Earth Rocker will deliver for years to come.

The Next 10 and Honorable Mentions

I said at the outset I had 40 picks. The reality was more than that, but here’s the next 10 anyway:

21. Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era
22. The Freeks, Full On
23. Luder, Adelphophagia
24. The Flying Eyes, Lowlands
25. Black Skies, Circadian Meditations
26. At Devil Dirt, Plan B: Sin Revolucion No Hay Evolucion
27. Kadavar, Abra Kadavar
28. Naam, Vow
29. Mühr, Messiah
30. Uzala, Tales of Blood and Fire

Further honorable mention has to go to Pelican, Endless Boogie, Earthless, Phantom Glue, Goatess, Windhand, GongaToner Low, Jesu and Sandrider.

Two More Special Records

I’d be unforgivably remiss if I didn’t note the release in 2013 of two albums that wound up being incredibly special to me personally: I vs. the Glacier by Clamfight and A Time of Hunting by Kings Destroy. Since it came out on this site’s in-house label, I didn’t consider the Clamfight eligible for list consideration and while I didn’t help put it out, the Kings Destroy I also felt very, very close to — probably as close as I’ve felt to a record I didn’t actually perform on — so it didn’t seem fair on a critical level, but I consider both of these to be records that in a large part helped define my year, as well as being exceptional in and of themselves, and they needed very much to be singled out as such. These are people whom I feel whatever-the-godless-heathen-equivalent-of-blessed-is to know.

Before I end this post, I want to say thank you for reading, this, anything else you may have caught this year, whatever it might be. To say it means a lot to me personally is understating it, but it’s true all the same. I’m not quite done wrapping up the year — I’ll have a list of the best album covers, another for EPs and singles and demos, and of course the albums I didn’t hear — so please stay tuned over the next couple weeks, but it seemed only fair to show my appreciation now as well. Thank you.

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10 Days of SHoD XIII, Pt. 10: Beelzefuzz Interview with Dana Ortt

Posted in Features on November 6th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

“…Between conviction and creation…”

Don’t be surprised when year-end-list time rolls around next month and Beelzefuzz‘s self-titled The Church Within Records debut is in my top 10. The eight-song collection has become a near constant in both my mental jukebox and actual listening rotation. Most mornings since the album’s August release, I’ve woken up with the chorus to “All the Feeling Returns” stuck in my head, and putting the track on only seems to exacerbate it. If the song wasn’t so good, I might seek some kind of professional help.

Beelzefuzz are a relatively recent advent. Their first demo began to circulate in 2011 and I was tipped off to check them out by Clamfight guitarist Sean McKee. Car troubles stunted a nonetheless engaging performance at Days of the Doomed II in Wisconsin last year, and after their sets at Stoner Hands of Doom XII a year ago in Connecticut, The Eye of the Stoned Goat 2 in Delaware earlier in 2013 and again in Wisconsin at Days of the Doomed III, it slowly (always slowly) started to dawn on me just how individualized their brand of progressive doom is. The trio of guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt, bassist Pug Kirby and drummer Darin McCloskey (also of Pale Divine) recorded Beelzefuzz (review here) with the venerable Chris Kozlowski — noted for his work with Blue Cheer, Pentagram, and many, many others — and the result could easily prove over time to be a classic of Maryland-style doom.

That sounds like hyperbole, and of course what catches on that level depends on more than just the quality of the songs themselves, but that quality is there, and in a scene that prides itself on traditionalism, Beelzefuzz have been able to not only convey sonic loyalism, but to gracefully expand the breadth of the doom they’re creating, whether it’s the harmonies Ortt brings vocally to the space thematic of “Lunar Blanco,” the general smoothness of the production — it remains both deep and weighted tonally — or the flow honed over the course of the album’s 37 minutes, Beelzefuzz not only show potential for where future progression might lead them, but as songs like “Hypnotize,” the aforementioned “All the Feeling Returns,” “Reborn” and the stomping “Lonely Creatures” demonstrate, there’s already significant capacity for accomplishment in the band’s aesthetic and songwriting method. They are sonically adventurous — as the guitar-as-organ effects and live vocal multitracking will attest — patient when they need to be, and only in danger of getting stronger over time.

Keeping good company with Pale Divine, Admiral Browning, Backwoods Payback, Valkyrie, Wasted Theory and others, Beelzefuzz will play Stoner Hands of Doom XIII this coming Saturday, Nov. 9, at Strange Matter in Richmond, Virginia. Ortt took some time out to discuss this fest, the situation with Brendan Burns of The Eye of the Stoned Goat stepping in in place of promoters Rob and Cheryl Levey, as well as their pending appearance next week in Germany at the Hammer of Doom festival on Nov. 16, playing alongside While Heaven Wept, Orchid, Jex Thoth, and writing and recording the album itself.

The complete Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.

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Beelzefuzz Go Full Color in “Lotus Jam” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 26th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

“Lotus Jam” is the second official video from Beelzefuzz‘s self-titled The Church Within Records debut album (review here), which was released last month, and if they continue to make clips for each track in this fashion, you can pretty much rest assured that I’ll post all of them. This one follows “Reborn” (posted here), and keeps a similar blend of performance footage, psychedelic lighting and spliced in still photos, fitting the trio’s progressive, individualized style of doom.

If I haven’t said so in five minutes, the record is stellar and you should hear it. “Lotus Jam” is among the more upbeat cuts on offer, but represents that side of Beelzefuzz‘s sound well and finds guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt recounting a suitably epic narrative over the steady groove of his riffs, Pug Kirby‘s bass and Darin McCloskey‘s drums, and the three coming together to enact a high-quality hook that stands with the record’s best.

I’m hoping to get an interview with these guys together over the next couple weeks, so stay tuned for that, but in the meantime, here’s “Lotus Jam,” directed by Pat W. Dougherty of CineMavericks Media and ready for the digging:

Beelzefuzz on Thee Facebooks

The Church Within Records

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Beelzefuzz, Beelzefuzz: All the Feeling Returns

Posted in Reviews on August 30th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

There’s really no getting around it: Beelzefuzz have a silly name. It’s a silly name that’s been kicking around the heart of the Maryland doom scene for the last couple years, and across two demos and appearances at fests like Stoner Hands of Doom, Eye of the Stoned Goat and Days of the Doomed, as well a regular host of other gigs in and around the Frederick, MD, sphere, it’s a silly name that has come with an increasingly potent reputation. The trio of guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt, bassist Pug Kirby and drummer Darin McCloskey (the latter also of Pale Divine) have quickly hit on an individual approach, rooted in a deeply melodic, progressive wizard doom that’s brought to life on stage through live double-tracking of Ortt‘s vocals and a range of effects that show up on the album as well, from the dense classic-heavy fuzz of Kirby‘s bass to compression on the singing and some manner of alchemy in the guitar that turns it into a Hammond organ. All of this enriches and deepens the atmosphere live as well as on Beelzefuzz‘s self-titled debut full-length, released by The Church Within Records, and quickly into the album, it becomes clear that Beelzefuzz are offering something different from the standard post-The Obsessed/Pentagram riff-and-chug of Maryland doom. Certainly those elements are there, but whether it’s the gallop that begins the album with opener and highlight “Reborn” or the more stoner shuffle that drives “Sirens Song,” Beelzefuzz present their material in such a way as to create an aesthetic of their own from these familiar parts — as much as one could reasonably hope for from a single record and more than one could generally ask of a debut. Across a relatively brief eight-track/36-minute span, the band casts a richly melodic ambience that’s somewhat thicker tonally than they have been live in my experience, but recorded largely by the venerable Chris Koslowski, it still represents the quirk in their turns and the breadth of their influence well, Ortt emerging as a frontman presence even without the benefit of the widened eyes with which he often regards his audience from the stage. There are flashes of complex brilliance, as “Hypnotize” and “Lonely Creatures” can attest, and even in the shorter, more straightforward pieces like “Lotus Jam” and “Sirens Song,” Beelzefuzz don’t sound quite like anyone or anything else out there. Silly name or not, they’re something special.

While that’s true, there’s also very little about them that’s flashy, or that seems intent on reinventing the genre from whence they come. Because of the deeply developed aesthetic and because of how strong their grip on it is as they play through what it’s somewhat shocking to think of as their first album, I’m inclined not to think they’re not aware of what they’re doing musically, but perhaps Beelzefuzz‘s goal isn’t innovation so much as having a good time and this is simply how they do it. If that’s the case, it bodes doubly well going forward, but in the meantime, with their self-titled the three-piece keeps to a consistent atmosphere that’s both dense and doomly but still somewhat hopeful, a dark, dank room that lets light in when the sun hits just the right position. Ortt can’t resist a medieval-drinking-song rhythm for the verses of “All the Feeling Returns” and I hear nothing in the track that would make me want him to, and by the time they get around to the penultimate “Lunar Blanco,” the brooding transitions and tension-release chorus seem to be a methodology they’ve long since mastered. Several of these songs appeared on their demos — “Reborn,” “Lotus Jam,” “All the Feeling Returns,” “Lunar Blanco” and closer “Light that Blinds” — but the professional production adds heft and the band’s subsequent gigging experience shows itself in an overarching confidence audible from the earliest thrust of “Reborn,” which gets underway started by McCloskey as the guitar and bass feedback and soon opens to an immediate mover of a verse. An otherworldly feel — not psychedelic, but far from terrestrial — pervades immediately and is maintained over the course of the record, but what really stands “Reborn” out from its surroundings and makes is such an effective opener is the strength and resonance of its hooks, which arrive in both verse and chorus resulting in a whole that, with lyrics nodding at Spirit Caravan (“I wanted to experience the elusive truth…”), immerses the listener in the environment that Beelzefuzz have crafted: A dewy pre-dawn set in shades of blue and grey and green. The album isn’t short on memorable stretches, but they picked the right one to put first, and “Lotus Jam” follows well with interwoven layers of guitar and bass over a steady beat, Ortt‘s vocals taking a commanding tone for the chorus, “Your wicked warriors turn to dust/The sands of time would never wait/The metal legions lie in rust/Mortality accept your fate.”

Best of all on Beelzefuzz, “Lotus Jam” emphasizes the band’s ability to turn a straightforward verse/chorus structure into something that’s both classic sounding and fresh. They show a weirder side in “All the Feeling Returns,” foreshadowing some of the shifts they’ll make soon enough on “Hypnotize” and “Lonely Creatures,” and had I not seen them live, I’d probably credit the depth of tone and layering in Ortt‘s vocals to studio flash, but it’s not. With Kirby and McCloskey holding together a build in the chorus, the music suddenly cuts out mid-“yeah,” which Ortt cuts sharply to allow for instrumental resurgence. It’s one of those moments on the record — and there are a few — that’s a small thing that goes a long way in cluing the listener in to how developed Beelzefuzz already are; no doubt so many vocalists would’ve held that “yeah” till their voices gave out. Ortt serves the song better by cutting it, allowing for a full pause before the next verse starts. In its midsection, “All the Feeling Returns” transitions to a dreamier break, the title-line delivered along the way, and though it doesn’t return to the verse and chorus it came from, the turn is still flowing enough to make sense. The line “Softly we fell through the sky” ends with an effect that seems to make the final word shine, and a section of chugging guitar and more subdued vocals ensues, McCloskey opening up on his crash as Kirby keeps his bass in lockstep march with the guitar until the ending cymbal wash and rumble carries into the slide that starts the quiet intro to “Sirens Song.” Kirby feels more present in the mix initially because the guitar is softer and the vocals, when they come in, match, but as the track approaches the minute mark and its shuffle takes hold, a balance is struck. Vocally, Ortt puts off some of the soulful belting-it-out he’s shown thus far in favor of a quieter take that lends depth to the band’s aesthetic overall — neither he nor they need to do the same thing all the time. Once the groove arrives, Beelzefuzz stick to it in both verses and choruses for most of the remainder, but some choice prog soloing late into the track adds flair and, again, depth as they wind down to the final crashes, a full stop giving “Hypnotize” a bed of silence on which to unwind its creepy introduction.

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audiObelisk Transmission 029

Posted in Podcasts on August 27th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Click Here to Download

 

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

Been a while, right? Tell me about it. Although I love, love having The Obelisk Radio streaming 24 hours a day, seven days a week, I’ve been wanting to bring back podcasting for a while now. I always thought it was fun, it just got to be time consuming and to be perfectly honest, the response over time took something of a shit.

Well, the idea here is to start with a clean slate. Anyone who’s listened to audiObelisk podcasts before will notice this one doesn’t have a title. There’s no theme running throughout — though I wanted to keep it focused on new stuff as much as possible — and though others ranged upwards of four hours long, this one clocks in at just under two. I gave myself some pretty specific limits and wanted to start off as basic and foundational as possible. I haven’t done this in a long time, and it seemed only appropriate to treat it like a new beginning.

Something else I’m keeping simple is the intro, so with that said, I hope like hell you download at the link above or stream it on the player and enjoy the selections. Here’s the rundown of what’s included:

First Hour:

Mystery Ship, “Paleodaze” from EP II (2013)
Carousel, “On My Way” from Jeweler’s Daughter (2013)
Ice Dragon, “The Deeper You Go” from Born a Heavy Morning (2013)
Black Mare, “Tearer” from Field of the Host (2013)
Beast in the Field, “Hollow Horn” from The Sacred Above, The Sacred Below (2013)
11 Paranoias, “Reaper’s Ruin” from Superunnatural (2013)
Vàli, “Gjemt Under Grener” from Skoglandskap (2013)
Beelzefuzz, “Lonely Creatures” from Beelzefuzz (2013)
Dozer, “The Blood is Cold” fromVultures (2013)
Toby Wrecker, “Belle” from Sounds of Jura (2013)
Shroud Eater, “Sudden Plague” from Dead Ends (2013)
Luder, “Ask the Sky” from Adelphophagia (2013)
Eggnogg, “The Once-ler” from Louis (2012)

Second Hour:

Colour Haze, “Grace” from She Said (2012)
Borracho, “Know the Score” from Oculus (2013)
The Flying Eyes, “Raise Hell” from Split with Golden Animals (2013)
Demon Lung, “Heathen Child” from The Hundredth Name (2013)
Vista Chino, “As You Wish” from Peace (2013)
Across Tundras, “Pining for the Gravel Roads” from Electric Relics (2013)
Black Pyramid, “Aphelion” from Adversarial (2013)
Church of Misery, “Cranley Gardens (Dennis Andrew Nilsen)” from Thy Kingdom Scum (2013)

Total running time: 1:57:54

Thanks for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 029

 

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Beelzefuzz Post New Video for “Reborn”; Album out Tomorrow

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 8th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Less than 24 hours from now, Maryland progressive doomers Beelzefuzz will unfurl their self-titled full-length debut through The Church Within Records. To advance its arrival, the three-piece of Dana Ortt (guitar/vocals), Pug Kirby (bass) and Darin McCloskey (drums) have just posted a new video for the song “Reborn” from the album that channels early ’70s blue-screen backdrop psychedelia even as it coalesces the band’s creep-ya-out doomed vibes.

One thing that bodes very well for the album is that the tones on the recording of the song, while thick, don’t betray the classic edge and intricacies Beelzefuzz showcase live.

Groove on:

Beelzefuzz on Thee Facebooks

The Church Within

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Beelzefuzz Tease Aug. 9 Debut Album Release in New Trailer

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 8th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

I spend a lot of time looking forward to new albums. Probably more than an adult should. But it’s been a while since the last time there was a band’s debut I’ve anticipated as much as I’m anticipating the Aug. 9 release of Beelzefuzz‘s probably-self-titled first album on The Church Within Records. I’ve been revisiting their 2012 demo since the Maryland trio were so impressive at Days of the Doomed III in Wisconsin and continue to be eager to hear how they might translate their dynamically doomed tones to a studio long-player.

Beelzefuzz are guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt, bassist Pug Kirby and drummer Darin McCloskey, and their debut is due out Aug. 9. Get a taste here:

Beelzefuzz, Debut Album Teaser

Beelzefuzz on Thee Facebooks

The Church Within Records

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