Quarterly Review: The Atlas Moth, Across Tundras, The Wizards of Delight, Against the Grain, Our Solar System, Dommengang, Boss Keloid, Holy Smoke, Sabel, Blackwater Prophet

Posted in Reviews on April 4th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Quarterly-Review-Spring-2018

This is a crucial moment in any Quarterly Review. Today we hit the halfway point one way or the other. I still haven’t decided if this will be a 50- or 60-album edition; kind of playing it by ear, but either way, today’s a landmark in my mind in terms of how far to go vs. how far we’ve come. Uphill vs. downhill to some extent, but I don’t want to give the impression that I’m either half-assing it from here on out or that I don’t enjoy the challenge of reviewing 10 records in a day, one after the next, for (at least) five days in a row. I’ve always been a glutton for a bit of self-flagellation. Ha.

Alright, let’s dive in.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

The Atlas Moth, Coma Noir

the atlas moth coma noir

If one still wants to consider Chicago’s The Atlas Moth post-metal after hearing Coma Noir, at least do them the courtesy of emphasizing the “metal” part of that equation. For their debut on Prosthetic Records and fourth full-length overall, the five-piece worked with producer Sanford Parker to solidify a progressive metal sound that, whether in the harsh and weighted impact of the opening title-track or the later interplay between guitarists Stavros Giannopoulos and David Kush on screams and cleaner vocals in “Furious Gold,” seems to take cues from groups like a less manic Strapping Young Lad and a less watered-down Mastodon more than Isis or Neurosis. With prominent synth from Andrew Ragin (also guitar), and the solid roll from the rhythm section of bassist Alex Klein and drummer Mike Miczek, the band brings revitalized edge to “The Streets of Bombay,” and even on the slower, more atmospheric closer “Chloroform,” they’ve never sounded more lethal. It suits them.

The Atlas Moth on Thee Facebooks

Prosthetic Records webstore

 

Across Tundras, Tumbleweeds III

across tundras tumbleweeds iii

A collection of odds and ends from Across Tundras, the 10-track/52-minute Tumbleweeds III may or may not sate anyone hoping for a follow-up to 2013’s Electric Relics (review here), but it provides some curio fodder along the way to be sure, from raw opener “Final Breath over Venom Falls” to the acoustic-percussion jam “Bullet in the Butt” to the fuller roll of “Cold Ride” and later demos for “Spinning Through the Cosmic Dust,” “Hijo del Desierto,” “Stone Crazy Horse” and “The Stacked Plain,” which later became “Seasick Serenade” on Electric Relics, it’s at very least something for fans to dig into and a fascinating listen, as Across Tundras’ rambling sound is almost eerily suited to a home-recording vibe, as the “Stone Crazy Horse” demo, featuring vocalist Shannon Allie-Murphy along with frontman Tanner Olson, sounds all the more folksome as a result of its lack of production polish. Closing with Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” then, could hardly be more appropriate. Still waiting for a proper long-player to surface, but happy at this point to take what comes.

Across Tundras on Thee Facebooks

Across Tundras on Bandcamp

 

The Wizards of Delight, The Wizards of Delight

the wizards of delight the wizards of delight

Like a chicanery-laced dusty vinyl with a naked lady on the cover, The Wizards of Delight emerge from the London underground to solidly declare “We’ve got the rock ‘n’ rollz.” And yes, they spell it with a ‘z.’ The presence of frontman Andreas “Mazzereth” Maslen will be familiar to anyone who ever even briefly encountered Groan – dude makes an impression, to be sure – and the four tracks he and the surrounding five-piece of guitarists/backing vocalists Dan Green’s Myth and Lenny Ray, bassist/backing vocalist Eponymous, organist/backing vocalist Henry and drummer Reece bring is both funky and classically heavy, “Gypsy” referencing Dio Sabbath in the first line while “Mountain Woman” brings a heavy ‘70s shuffle to answer the way-un-P.C. “Shogun Messiah,” which seems to be working under the thesis that because it sounds like it’s from 40 years ago, they can get away with it. I’ll give them that the track is, to an unfortunate degree, catchy. As to the rest, give me the groove of “We Got the Rock ‘n’ Rollz” any day. It’s been a while since anyone so brazenly interpreted Mk. II Deep Purple and actually pulled it off.

The Wizards of Delight on Thee Facebooks

APF Records website

 

Against the Grain, Cheated Death

against the grain cheated death

Hard-touring Detroit heavy rockers Against the Grain are known for speed, and rightly so. When they burst into high gear, as on “Sacrifice,” “No Sleep,” “Last Chance,” “Rolling Stone,” “Enough’s Not Enough,” and “Jaded and Faded” from their latest offering and Ripple Music debut, Cheated Death. The follow-up to 2015’s Road Warriors (review here) sees them no less infectious in their live energy, but it’s hard to ignore the more versatile approach that seems to be growing in their sound, from the classic rocking “Smoke” to the near-centerpiece “Devils and Angels” which ballads-out its boozy regrets before entering into an effective mid-paced build that rounds out in choice dual-soloing. Likewise, though they open at a good clip with the title-track, closer “Into the Light” finds a middle ground between thrust and groove. The truth is Against the Grain have never been just about speed, but they’ve never so directly benefited from a dynamic approach as they do on Cheated Death either.

Against the Grain on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Our Solar System, Origins

our solar system origins

Immediate kudos to Stockholm-based psychedelic progressive explorers Our Solar System – aka Vårt Solsystem – for opening their third full-length for Beyond Beyond is Beyond, the five-track/41-minute Origins, with the side-consuming 21-minute “Vulkanen.” One could hardly ask for more effective immersion in the band’s world of patiently unfurled, languid psychedelia, and with the accompaniment of “Babalon Rising,” the jazz-prog tracklist centerpiece “En Bit Av Det Tredje Klotet,” the birdsong-laced “Naturligt Samspel” and the semi-freaked-out melodic wash of “Monte Verita” on side B, a full, rich, and mind-expanding cosmos is engaged, free of restriction even as it remains thoroughly lysergic, and adherent to no structural will so much as the will to adventure into the unknown, to find out where one progression leads. As regards the long- and short-form material on Origins, it leads far, far out, and if you don’t come out the other side wanting to own everything the band has ever released, you’re decidedly in the wrong.

Our Solar System on Thee Facebooks

Beyond Beyond is Beyond website

 

Dommengang, Love Jail

dommengang love jail

Once calling Brooklyn Home, Los Angeles trio Dommengang waste no time in getting down to the business of boogie on their second album for Thrill Jockey, Love Jail. Produced by Tim Green (The Fucking Champs), the 10-track/50-minute long-player has all the room for organ/guitar mashups, righteous West Coast vibes and easy-flowing classic heavy rock one could hope for, and in the opening salvo of “Pastel City,” “Lovely Place” and “Lone Pine,” the three-piece of guitarist Dan “Sig” Wilson, bassist Brian Markham, and drummer Adam Bulgasem reaffirm mellow bluesiness as well on the title-track and dig into ‘90s-style alt bliss on the penultimate “Color out of Space.” There’s a welcoming air throughout that holds steady regardless of tempo, and in heavier moments like the second half of “I’m out Mine,” the band resonates with fuzz and noisy elements that bring just enough danger to the proceedings to keep the listener riveted. Classy, but not too classy, in other words.

Dommengang on Thee Facebooks

Thrill Jockey Records website

 

Boss Keloid, Melted on the Inch

boss keloid melted on the inch

It would seem that Wigan, UK, outfit Boss Keloid — newly signed to Holy Roar Records for the release of their third LP, Melted on the Inch – internalized a few crucial lessons from their sophomore outing, 2016’s Herb Your Enthusiasm (review here). At six tracks and 40 minutes, Melted on the Inch is about 20 minutes shorter than its predecessor. Its title isn’t a weed pun. Its cover art conveys a work of dimensionality, and most importantly, the album itself turns to be precisely that. Taking a significant step toward a more progressive sound, Boss Keloid maintain the heft of their prior outing but base it around material that, frankly, is more complex and dynamic. I won’t say that “Tarku Shavel” and “Lokannok” are without their elements of self-indulgence, but neither should they be for the five-piece to do justice to the multifaceted nature of their purpose. They still roar when they want to, but Boss Keloid strike with breadth on Melted on the Inch as well as sheer impact.

Boss Keloid on Thee Facebooks

Holy Roar Records website

 

Holy Smoke, Pipe Dream

holy smoke pipe dream

After forming in 2015, Philadelphia’s exclamatory Holy Smoke! issued their first three-track release, It’s a Demo! (review here) the next year and showed marked stylistic promise in cuts like “Rinse and Repeat” and “Blue Dreams.” Both of those tracks, as it happens, stand at the opening of the band’s latest EP, the five-song Pipe Dream, and reaffirm the potential in the group. The opener (also the longest track once again; immediate points) is a tale of workaday redundancy, the very sort of monotony that the rest of the offering seems to leave behind in favor of post-grunge heavy rock, marked by the wah-bass on finale “Asch Backwards” and the brooding sensibility of the prior “Golden Retriever,” which surges in its midsection like a lost Alice in Chains demo only to end quiet once again, a departure from the linearity of centerpiece “Missing the Mark” just before. Less psychedelic than their initial impression conveyed, they seem to have undertaken the work of crafting their own sonic niche in Philly’s increasingly crowded scene, and there’s nothing on Pipe Dream to make one think it’s not a realistic possibility they’ll get there.

Holy Smoke on Thee Facebooks

Holy Smoke on Bandcamp

 

Sabel, Re-Generation

sabel re-generation

Sabel know what they want to be and then are that thing. Their third album, Re-Generation, arrives via Oak Island Records as six tracks of to-the-converted stonerism, and from opener/longest track (immediate points) “In the Walls of Eryx,” the Swedish trio do little more than ask their listeners to smell the smoke emanating from their speaker cabinets (oddly sweet), and hone walls of fuzz that each seem to be bigger than the last. There are some elements of earliest Electric Wizard at play in “Atlantean” or the sneering “Voodoo Woman,” but belters like “Interstellar Minddweller” and “Green Priestess” stave off their sounding overly derivative, and though at the end of Re-Generation’s 42-minute run, one might feel as though they need a shower, the record itself proves well worth the dive into the muck. The band would seem to have carved their own descriptor with the title of their self-released 2015 LP, Hard Doom, and that’s as good as anything I could come up with, so let’s roll with it. They seem to.

Sabel on Thee Facebooks

Oak Island Records on Thee Facebooks

 

Blackwater Prophet, As I Watch it Freeze

blackwater prophet as i watch it freeze

Cheers to Christian Peters of Samsara Blues Experiment for putting me onto Spokane, Washington’s Blackwater Prophet, who with the seven-track As I Watch it Freeze collect various tracks recorded between 2015 and 2017. Thus something of a compilation, the 40-minute outing wants nothing for overarching flow, “In My Passing Time” leading off with a mellow psych-blues spirit that only grows more classic-feeling through “House of Stone” and the gorgeously pastoral “The Swamp.” The band have two proper full-lengths out, and if they wanted to count As I Watch it Freeze as their third, I don’t think they’d find much argument, as centerpiece “Gold in the Palm” opens like a gateway leading to the increasingly resonant “Careworn Crow,” the fuzzy swing of “Eating the Sun” and finally, the title-track itself, which answers the acoustics of “The Swamp” earlier while adding flourish of volume-swelling and swirling electric guitar and late choral vocals that only make the proceedings seem all the more complete in their engagement.

Blackwater Prophet on Thee Facebooks

Blackwater Prophet on Bandcamp

 

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Bong Wish to Release Self-Titled EP Oct. 27; New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 18th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Oh my, yes. That’ll do nicely. High-order freak folk would seem to be the course set by Massachusetts-based weirdo troupe Bong Wish, who, led by vocalist/guitarist Mariam Saleh, will release their self-titled debut EP Oct. 27 via Brooklyn imprint Beyond Beyond is Beyond. Much to my chagrin, I haven’t heard it in its entirety as yet, but I’ve been through the two-and-a-half-minute leadoff cut “My Luv” about six times, and with its classic-sounding flourish of strings, lightly-strummed liquefied guitar work, molten flow and forward voice from Saleh and whoever among the EP’s numerous other contributors that might be backing her, I’m definitely looking forward to doing so. Seriously. The track is at the bottom of this post. It’s gorgeous and bizarre and it flat-out rules. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Beyond Beyond is Beyond is pressing up 100 copies on tape, which are up for preorder now, as the PR wire informs:

bong wish bong wish

Introducing Mariam Saleh’s BONG WISH

Mariam Saleh began performing under the heady moniker of BONG WISH in the Massachusetts of yesteryear. Drawing from British folk, Ween, and fantasy, Bong Wish skews to the far out lyrically, encouraging universal love and inner peace. The debut EP presents a patchouli-scented fantasia of pure, unsolicited rage. Mostly home-recorded, the eponymous EP sees Mariam and her mystical cohorts explore different moods, styles and vibes across four tracks, ranging from lush string arrangements and exotic flutes to shimmering guitars and earthy percussion. And Beyond Beyond is Beyond is quite overjoyed to share the Bong Wish majesty with you. Come along…

**releases October 27, 2017**
**check out “My Luv” now and pre-order on cassette or digi**

Tracklisting:
1. My Luv
2. Saturn Spells
3. Conversation With Business People
4. In The Sun

Tour dates:
10/6 Jamaica Plain, MA Jeanie Johnston
10/7 Northampton, MA The Basement
10/8 Portland, ME Apohadion Theater
10/10 Burlington, VT Monkeyhouse
10/11 Providence, RI TBD
10/12 Hamden, CT Best Video
10/13 Baltimore, MD Wind-Up Space
10/14 Washington, DC Safari
10/15 Brooklyn, NY The Gateway

https://www.facebook.com/BONGWISH/
https://bongwishbbib.bandcamp.com/album/bong-wish-ep-pre-order
https://www.facebook.com/beyondbeyondisbeyond
https://twitter.com/BBiB
https://www.instagram.com/bbib/
http://beyondbeyondisbeyond.com/

Bong Wish, “My Luv”

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 30 of 2014

Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by JJ Koczan

the-obelisk-top-30-of-2014

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

This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.

I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.

Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.

Okay. Here we go:

30. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss

orange-goblin-back-from-the-abyss

Released by Candlelight Records. Reviewed on Nov. 17.

The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.

 

29. Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty

mos-generator-electric-mountain-majesty

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed on March 14.

A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos GeneratorElectric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.

 

28. Pilgrim, II: Void Worship

pilgrim-ii-void-worship

Released by Metal Blade Records. Reviewed on April 15.

Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.

 

27. John Garcia, John Garcia

john-garcia-john-garcia

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed on July 7.

His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”

 

26. Swans, To be Kind

swans-to-be-kind

Released by Mute/Young God Records. Reviewed on May 9.

An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.

 

25. Alunah, Awakening the Forest

alunah awakening the forest

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Oct. 14.

I initially made this list without Alunah‘s excellent third album and Napalm Records, but when it came down to it, not having the UK four-piece on here haunted me to the point where I had to come back in and swap them out with somebody else. Just couldn’t live with myself for not giving this record its due, which, to be frank, I’m still not since it should be higher on the list than it is. At least it’s here though, so the mistake is somewhat corrected.

 

24. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes

greenleaf-trails-and-passes

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed on April 25.

The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.

 

23. Earth, Primitive and Deadly

earth-primitive-and-deadly

Released by Southern Lord Recordings. Reviewed on Sept. 9.

Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.

 

22. Ogre, The Last Neanderthal

ogre-the-last-neanderthal

Released by Minotauro Records. Reviewed on March 10.

Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.

 

21. The Wounded Kings, Consolamentum

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Released by Candlelight Records. Reviewed on Jan. 30.

Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.

 

20. Floor, Oblation

floor-oblation

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed on April 22.

Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.

 

19. Druglord, Enter Venus

druglord-enter-venus

Released by STB Records. Reviewed on Feb. 14.

Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.

 

18. Ararat, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz

ararat-cabalgata-hacia-la-luz

Released by Oui Oui Records. Reviewed on April 4.

For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.

 

17. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt

radio-moscow-magical-dirt

Released by Alive Naturalsound. Reviewed on May 29.

You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.

 

16. Apostle of Solitude, Of Woe and Wounds

apostle-of-solitude-of-woe-and-wounds

Released by Cruz del Sur. Reviewed on Nov. 6.

Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.

 

15. Stubb, Cry of the Ocean

stubb-cry-of-the-ocean

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed on Nov. 24.

Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.

 

14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower

brant-bjork-and-the-low-desert-punk-band-black-power-flower

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed on Nov. 10.

Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.

 

13. Dwellers, Pagan Fruit

dwellers-pagan-fruit

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed on May 22.

An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.

 

12. The Golden Grass, The Golden Grass

the-golden-grass-the-golden-grass

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed on March 25.

What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.

 

11. The Well, Samsara

the-well-samsara

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed on Sept. 22.

My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which GrahamAlley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow SeasonThe Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.

 

10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute

montibus-communitas-the-pilgrim-to-the-absolute

Released by Beyond Beyond is Beyond. Reviewed on Dec. 4.

Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.

 

9. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid

fu-manchu-gigantoid

Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed on May 14.

Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew GiacumakisFu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”

 

8. The Skull, For Those Which are Asleep

the-skull-for-those-which-are-asleep

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed on Nov. 5.

Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.

 

7. Blood Farmers, Headless Eyes

blood-farmers-headless-eyes

Self-released on CD, LP on PATAC Records. Reviewed on March 24.

Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.

 

6. Lo-Pan, Colossus

lo-pan-colossus

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed on Oct. 7.

A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.

 

5a. All Them Witches, Lightning at the Door

all-them-witches-lightning-at-the-door

Self-released. Reviewed on Sept. 25.

What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.

 

5. Witch Mountain, Mobile of Angels

witch-mountain-mobile-of-angels

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed on Aug. 20.

A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angels that brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.

 

4. Conan, Blood Eagle

conan-blood-eagle

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed on Jan. 22.

In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon DavisSkyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.

 

3. Wo Fat, The Conjuring

wo-fat-the-conjuring

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed on June 18.

Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.

 

2. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia

mars-red-sky-stranded-in-arcadia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed on March 11.

Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.

 

1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend

yob-clearing-the-path-to-ascend

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed on Sept. 3.

“It’s time to wake up.”

Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend — YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.

 

 

Honorable Mention

First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.

A few other honorable mentions:

MothershipMothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.

Sólstafir, Ótta — They were originally on the list proper but had to be moved to make room for Alunah. I didn’t really get to know this record in 2014 anyway.

Ice DragonSeeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.

TruckfightersUniverse — I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.

SteakSlab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.

GodfleshA World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.

ThouHeathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.

Corrosion of ConformityIX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.

SpidergawdSpidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!

Monster MagnetMilking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.

SlomaticsEstron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.

Electric WizardTime to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.

PallbearerFoundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.

The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.

Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.

Thank you.

More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.

And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.

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