Posted in Whathaveyou on November 14th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Desertfest London 2015 was due for a big round of adds, and if they had a quota, you can pretty much consider it met. Eight bands were confirmed for the bill of the Camden Town festival today, among them Lo-Pan and Black Pyramid, who’ll also be at Desertfest Berlin together, UK natives The Wounded Kings (who’ll be there with original singer George Birch in the lineup), Desert Storm, Amulet, reunited pummelers Floor, Jersey’s finest power trio The Atomic Bitchwax and instrumentalists Karma to Burn, for whom this will be a return appearance. With Sleep, Red Fang and Orange Goblin already on the bill, at very least we can surmise Desertfest knows what it likes.
I don’t know how much more there is to come from Desertfest London 2015 — April is still months away, so one assumes plenty — but to look at this lineup already, it’s an enviable assemblage and shows in its variety how far the festival has progressed in its few short years. Minsk and Lo-Pan sharing a bill? Noothgrush and My Sleeping Karma? Seems like whatever poison you want to pick, they can accommodate.
From the PR wire:
FLOOR, KARMA TO BURN, BLACK PYRAMID, LO-PAN, THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX and more added to the DESERTFEST LONDON 2015 lineup
Once again, DESERTFEST LONDON fired a crushing salvo of heaviness by adding eight more kickass bands to their 2015 lineup. FLOOR, KARMA TO BURN, BLACK PYRAMID, LO-PAN, THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX, AMULET, DESERT STORM and THE WOUNDED KINGS are consequently joining the party, which will take place on April 24-26th in Camden.
SLEEP RED FANG ORANGE GOBLIN MY SLEEPING KARMA NOOTHGRUSH MINSK BLACK COBRA DOPETHRONE AGRIMONIA WALK THROUGH FIRE FLOOR KARMA TO BURN BLACK PYRAMID LO-PAN THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX AMULET DESERT STORM THE WOUNDED KINGS
DESERTFEST LONDON April 24-26th 2015 in Camden Town Koko – Electric Ballroom – The Underworld – The Black Heart
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 10th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
They call them a Massachusetts band, but the truth of the matter is much more complex than that. Their roots are in the Bay State, and Black Pyramid guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard still resides there, but drummer Clay Neely lives in Georgia and bassist Dave Gein is on the West Coast in Los Angeles, so it’s not exactly like these dudes are just going to call each other up and meet in a basement and jam and then go play Berlin. The mere fact that they’re getting together at all is an event, let alone that their performance at Desertfest 2015 will be part of a European tour with dates still to be announced.
There hasn’t been much word from Black Pyramid since Neely moved following their 2013 release, Adversarial (review here), and performance at Hellfest in France. With Shepard and Gein having subsequently moved forward with the offshoot project The Scimitar, whose debut, Doomsayer (track stream here), came out earlier this year, it was easy to speculate that Black Pyramid‘s day had come and gone. We’ll see if they manage despite the distance to put together any kind of new offering to coincide with the tour, but even the fact that Shepard, Gein and Neely are able to coordinate hitting the road is excellent news as far as I’m concerned, even if I’ve got about a snowball’s chance in hell of being there to see it.
Desertfest Berlin kept the announcement short and sweet, confirming Black Pyramid thusly:
Massachusetts Black Pyramid confirmed to bring their Psychedelic War Metal to DesertFest Berlin 2015! Prepare to be crushed!
First thing, let me give the immediate and familiar disclaimer: This isn’t everything. If I wanted to call this list “The ONLY 10 Album Covers that Kicked Ass in 2013,” I would. I didn’t do that, because there were way more than 10 covers that resonated when I saw them this year. The idea here is just to check out a few artists’ work that really stuck out as memorable throughout the year and really fit with the music it was complementing and representing.
As always, you can click the images below to enlarge them for a more detailed look.
The list runs alphabetically by band. Thanks in advance for reading:
Like Nick Keller‘s cover for New Zealand heavy plunderers Beastwars‘ 2011 self-titled debut (review here), the darker, moodier oil and canvas piece that became the front of Blood Becomes Fire(review here) created a sense of something truly massive and otherworldly. A huge skull with sci-fi themes and barren landscape brought to it foreboding memento mori that seemed to suggest even land can die. It was an excellent match for the brooding tension in the album itself.
The level of detail in Arrache-toi un oeil‘s cover for Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s full-length Tee Pee Records debut, The Edge of an Era(review here), would probably be enough for it to make this list anyway, but the Belgium-based art duo seemed thematically to bring out the swirl, chaos and underlying order within the Los Angeles trio’s desert psychedelia. Blue was for the vinyl edition, brown for the CD digipak (both were revealed here), but in either format it was a reminder of how much visual art can add to a musical medium.
Black Pyramid, Adversarial
Cover by Eli Wood.
I look at the Eli Wood cover for Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial(review here) as representing the task before the band in putting out their third LP. Released by Hydro-Phonic, the album found Black Pyramid coming head to head with both their audience’s expectations of what they were in their original lineup and their own will to move past that and become something else. If there was a second panel to the cover, it would show the arrow-shot warrior standing next to the severed head of the demon he slayed. Easily one of my favorite covers of the year. The scale of it begged for a larger format even than vinyl could provide.
It was such a weird record, with the interludes and the bizarre twists, that Samantha Allen‘s cover piece for Ice Dragon‘s Born a Heavy Morning (review here) almost couldn’t help but encompass it. The direct, but slightly off-center stare of the owl immediately catches the eye, but we see the titular morning sunshine as well, the human hand with distinct palm lines, illuminati eye and other symbols — are the planets? Bubbles? I don’t know, but since Born a Heavy Morningwas such an engrossing listening experience, to have the visual side follow suit made it all the richer.
Kings Destroy, A Time of Hunting
Cover by Aidrian O’Connor.
In Magyar mythology, the bird-god Turul is perched atop the tree of life and is a symbol of power. With its theme in geometry, Aidrian O’Connor‘s cover piece for Kings Destroy‘s ATime of Hunting — which was originally titled Turul– gave a glimpse at some of that strength, positioning the viewer as prey below a creature and sky that seem almost impossible to parse. I felt the same way the first time I put on the finished version of the Brooklyn outfit’s second offering, unspeakably complex and brazenly genre-defiant as it was.
Alexander von Wieding deserves multiple mentions for his 2013 covers for Black Thai and Small Stone labelmates Supermachine, but he always seems to save the best for his own project, Larman Clamor. The one-man-band’s third LP, Alligator Heart(review here), was a stomper for sure, but in his visual art for it, von Wieding brilliantly encapsulated the terrestrial elements (the human and reptile) as well as the unknowable spheres (rippling water, sun-baked sky) that the songs portrayed in their swampadelic blues fashion. It was one to stare at.
Similar I guess to the Beastwars cover in its looming feel and to the Black Pyramid for its scale, John Sumrow‘s art for Monster Magnet‘s Last Patrol(review here) mirrored the space-rocking stylistic turn the legendary New Jersey band made in their sound, taking their iconic Bullgod mascot and giving it a cosmic presence, put to scale with the rocketship on the right side. It stares out mean from the swirl and regards the ship with no less a watchful eye than Dave Wyndorf‘s lyrics seem to have on society as a whole.
There’s a mania to Orion Landau’s cover for Red Fang‘s third album, Whales and Leeches, and while the songs that comprise the record are more clearly structured, the collage itself, the face it makes when viewed from a distance, and the (from what I’m told is brilliant) cut-out work in the physical pressing of the album, all conspired to make one of 2013’s most striking visuals. As the in-house artist for Relapse, Landau is no stranger to landmark pieces, but this was a different level of accomplishment entirely.
Fuck. Look at this fucking thing! Galaxy spiral, vagina-dentata, creepy multi-pupil eyes and a background that seems to push the eye to the middle with no hope of escape even as blues and oranges collide. Wow. Sandrider bassist JesseRoberts‘(see also The Ruby Doe) artwork for Godhead (review here) is the only cover on this list done by a member of the band in question, and though I’m sure there are many awesome examples out there, I don’t know if any can top this kind of nightmarishness. Unreal. The sheer imagination of it.
When I put together a similar list last year, it had Summoner‘s first album under the moniker, Phoenix, on it, and with their second, they went more melodic, more progressive, and showed that heaviness was about atmosphere as much as tone, and that it was a thing to be moved around rather than leaned on. The Alyssa Maucere art, dark but deceptively colorful, rested comfortably alongside the songs, with a deeply personal feel and unflinchingly forward gaze, somewhat understated on the black background, but justifying the portrayal of depth.
As I said above, there’s a lot of stuff I could’ve easily included on this list, from The Flying Eyes to Sasquatch to Black Thai to Lumbar, Samsara Blues Experiment, Goatess, At Devil Dirt and others. Hopefully though, this gives a sampling of some people who are doing cool work in an under-represented aspect of underground creativity.
If I left anything out or there was a cover that really stuck with you that I didn’t mention, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Posted in Questionnaire on December 17th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s a long list of bands that have played host at one point or another to guitarist Darryl Shepard. Having cut his teeth in outfits like Slaughter Shack and Slapshot, Shepard served as guitarist in Milligram and Roadsaw in the late ’90s and early ’00s, eventually emerging with his own (mostly) instrumental outfit, Hackman, releasing two albums on Small Stone. Already working in his own drone project, Blackwolfgoat – the second Blackwolfgoat album, Dronolith, was released on CD through The Maple Forum – he joined Black Pyramid on vocals and guitar after their second album and 2013’s Adversarial(review here) resulted on Hydro-Phonic, a record that took Black Pyramid on a tour of Europe that included a stop at Hellfest in France, where the above photo was taken by Nicolas Dessables. When further lineup issues cropped up with Black Pyramid drummer Clay Neely relocating, Shepard and bassist Dave Gein formed TheScimitar, whose debut LP is due in 2014.
A third Blackwolfgoat is also set for release next year (in-studio here), and The Scimitar are scheduled to play The Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 in May and will reportedly have other sporadic shows supporting the album.
The Obelisk Questionnaire: Darryl Shepard
How did you come to do what you do?
I started playing music at a young age. In fourth grade I joined the school band, just as something to do. I originally wanted to play the saxophone, mainly because it looked cool, but they ran out of those so I picked the trumpet instead. Before that, we used to play the recorder in music class in school, and I always liked music class, so I guess that’s really why I joined the school band. I stayed with it right up until I graduated high school. When I was 14 or 15 I decided I wanted to play drums, but I didn’t have anywhere to put a drumset, so again I went with my second choice, the guitar. I just was drawn to music at an early age. Even though my parents weren’t musical my Dad was always playing music around the house, stuff like Earth, Wind and Fire, and he used to watch the TV show Soul Train all the time, and I loved that. And the Monkees, I watched that show religiously as a little kid. Once I graduated high school I put the trumpet down and focused only on the guitar, for the sole reason that I thought girls liked guitar players more than trumpet players. Not even kidding at all. I don’t think I knew who Chet Baker was at that point. So yeah, it’s all because of the Monkees and Earth, Wind and Fire, I guess.
Describe your first musical memory.
I think the very first musical memory I have involves the Monkees. I remember there was a birthday party at our house for me when I was probably five or six, and I distinctly remember dancing around and singing along to “No Time” by the Monkees off of Headquarters. I loved that song. And I remember all the other kids clapping and yelling when I finished my little act. That’s probably the first time that I did any type of “performing” in public, that I can remember. I couldn’t play an instrument at that point but I gave it my all. I was definitely hooked at that point.
Describe your best musical memory to date.
It would have to be playing with Black Pyramid at Hellfest in 2013. There have been other great shows, Milligram opening for Kyuss Lives! is one, but playing Hellfest was just a great time. We had an amazing slot and a long set, and the crowd was really into it. Soundchecking while Sleep were hanging out and talking to those guys and just feeling like we were part of this really awesome thing was a great feeling. There was a show earlier on that tour where it just sounded like complete crap onstage and I wasn’t happy at all about it, but all I had to do was think about playing Hellfest a couple of days later and it got me through that show. It just felt really good to feel like what we were doing was being appreciated by people who were fans of the music and who really cared about it. For me, it really does make a huge difference to have people enjoy what you’re creating, to GET IT, and Hellfest was a perfect example of that on a large scale.
When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?
I would say just recently, my belief in myself and that I would play music no matter what, that’s been tested. I’ve always believed that no matter my station in life or no matter what my circumstances were, I would always, without a doubt, play music. And recently that’s been tested, because I’m older now, and I have health issues to stay on top of, and I can’t go sinking money into musical endeavors with no financial payback like I used to be able to. I just can’t. I need a steady job, mainly for the health insurance. I can’t survive without insurance, due to my heart problems. I’ll always need to go back to the hospital and have procedures done and have the battery in my defibrillator changed for the rest of my life, things like that. That all costs a lot of money, and I wouldn’t be able to afford any of that without the insurance I get through my job. So I’ve really questioned if I can go on playing music in bands and how much longer this can continue without interfering with my “normal” life outside of music. It’s not even that I don’t want to play music anymore, it’s that I have a regular life and a way of living that I need to maintain, and I cannot have music interfere with that. I used to be very idealistic about that, thinking that music would always be the thing that I would do no matter what, but lately I’ve been questioning that a lot and trying to figure out how to make it all work.
Where do you feel artistic progression leads?
I feel that it leads to places that you’ve wanted to go to but haven’t yet arrived at. When I graduated high school I was thinking about going to Berklee School of Music. I had to go in for an interview, and the person I had to see asked me what I wanted from my guitar playing. I told him I wanted to be able to play whatever I thought of playing right as I was thinking it, that it would just be automatic. I’m not talking about notes per se, but whole ideas, I wanted to think of something musically and then just be able to execute it. He didn’t seem too impressed by that, by the way. And I didn’t go to Berklee, mainly because they wanted me to go as a trumpet major and I only cared about guitar at that point, and there are a 10 million guitar players at Berklee but only a handful of trumpet players, at least back then that’s how it was. All shredders. But I feel that after all these years of playing, after all the experiences I’ve had, I basically do that now in Blackwolfgoat. It’s all been a progression from the time I learned to play the main riff of “Smoke on the Water” on one string to now. I’ve played in hardcore bands, metal bands, total free-form improv noise bands, solo acoustic shows, cover bands, all of this stuff, and picked up something at every stop along the way, and it’s all in there now. And it’s been a progression, for sure. There’s still stuff I want to play that I haven’t quite gotten the hold of yet, but I’m looking forward to getting there.
How do you define success?
Man, that is a question with a lot of answers. For me, success is a few things. Sitting on my couch and coming up with a really cool riff that I dig is total success. There’s actually a feeling I get when I come up with something I really dig where I don’t even care if anyone else hears it, I’m not even thinking about that. I’m just completely into the moment and the sound of it RIGHT THEN, and if I get off on that then it’s a success. Self-satisfaction is the greatest success of all. Of course, getting music out there for people to hear and accomplishing that the way you want in and of itself is success. I’ve had recording sessions where something sounded so fucking awesome or so cool that again, it didn’t even matter if anyone outside the studio heard it, I was hearing it right there and then, and I get that same feeling of self-satisfaction. I’d call that success.
What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?
Probably the attacks on 9/11 in New York. I was in New York then and it was just a horrifying and shocking thing. The main thing I wish I had never seen was all the people going back to work just days after the attacks, and they were going to work in clouds of soot and smoke, and people were wearing masks to cover their mouths and just trudging back to work in all this destruction. It was a heavy thing to see. People just going about their lives and trying to work to make a living, make their rent, being attacked and then going back to work while the dust was still in the air. No rest at all, just back to the grind.
Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.
As far as something musical? I’m still trying to record that perfect album that’s eight songs in 40 minutes. And every song is cool and the whole thing is solid and stands as a whole and also as as individual pieces. A classic album in the sense of what bands used to do in the ’70. I don’t care about a 30-song album in 20 minutes, or a two-song, hour-long album. I really want to create my own version of a classic rock album that fits into traditional musical values, things like 40-minute albums. That, to me, is musical perfection. Again, that’s something that I’m working towards, making progress. Very few bands write classic albums like I’ve described. It can be done, some bands have done it, but yeah, I just want to create a perfect heavy rock album at some point. My own version of Zeppelin IV or Master of Reality.
Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?
At some point I’m going to publish my book, Black Thanksgiving, and I’m really looking forward to that. Even if it’s self-published or if someone else helps publish it, it’s gonna come out at some point. And I’m looking forward to having some time, some free time away from music and everything that entails, all the things that go into being in a band, having that time to really organize and get the stories together in a coherent manner that flows and putting it altogether officially. These stories have nothing to do with music directly or playing in a band, they’re not “band on tour” stories or like a musical diary or whatever, they’re stand alone stories that have nothing to do with music, which is what I set out to do. Believe it or not, there is life outside of music. I have an entirely different life outside of the band and outside the realm of music. And I dig that, a lot.
Posted in Features on December 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
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
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.
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 Clockworkto 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.
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 Wardemerged 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 Wardfor 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.
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.
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 Earthwas 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.
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.
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 Adversarialis 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.
Even the interlude “Seasick Serenade,” just over a minute and a half long, was haunting. Electric Relicsmarked 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.
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. Oculusshowed both that the appeal of Splitting Skywas no fluke and that Borracho with four members or three was not a band to be taken lightly.
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 Morningwasn’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.
It seemed like no matter where I turned in 2013, Devil to Pay‘s Fate is Your Musewas 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 Musewas 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 Musetranslated well their light-on-frills, heavy-on-riffs appeal to a studio setting.
9. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below
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 Belowinto 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.
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 PaleDivine) — 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
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 Floodshowed 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.
Kind of inevitable that there would be a lot of comparisons made between Mind Controland 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 Lustin 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 Controlreally 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 Lustmake such an impression.
Of the ones reviewed, Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcomewas 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.
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 Peacewith 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.
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.
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 Patrolsuch 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 Patrolwas 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 Patrolwas 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.
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 Rockerwas 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/Exodusand 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 Rockerwas 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 Rockerwill 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, Gonga, TonerLow, Jesuand 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 Glacierby 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.
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:
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)
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)
Posted in Features on June 18th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
This is always fun, and because the year’s only (just about) half over, you always know there’s more to come. The last six months have brought a host of really stellar releases, and the whole time, it’s felt like just when you’ve dug your heels into something and really feel content to rest with it for a while, there’s something else to grab your ears. So it’s been for the last six months, bouncing from one record to the next.
Even now, I’ve got a list of albums, singles, EPs, tapes, demos, whatever, waiting for attention — some of which I’m viciously behind on — but it’s time to stop and take a look back at some of what the best of the first half of 2013 has been. Please note, I’m only counting full-lengths here. While I’ve heard a few killer EPs this year — looking at you, Mars Red Sky — it doesn’t seem fair to rate everything all together like that. Maybe a separate list.
If you’ve got a list of your own or some quibbling on the numbers, please leave a comment and be heard. From where I sit, that’s always the best part of this kind of thing.
The third Endless Boogie album on No Quarter was basically the soundtrack to the end of my winter, with smooth grooving cuts like “The Artemus Ward” and the classic rock shake of “On Cryology” providing a soundtrack as cool as the air in my lungs. It was my first experience with the longform-jamming improv-heavy foursome, and a CD I’m still stoked to put on and get lost in, having found that it works just as well in summer’s humidity as winter’s freeze, the off-the-cuff narrations of Paul Major (interview here) carrying a vibe unmistakably belonging to the rock history of the band’s native New York City. Was a sleeper, but not one to miss for its organic and exploratory feel.
Proffering righteous traditional doom and misery-drenched atmospherics, the debut full-length from Massachusetts-based Magic Circle hit hard and showed there’s life yet to the old ways. It never quite veered into the cultish posturing that comprises so much of the trad doom aesthetic these days, and from the grandiose riffing of guitarists Dan Ducas and Chris Corry and the blown-out vocals of frontman Brendan Radigan, it found the band carving a memorable identity for themselves with clear sonic ideas of what they wanted to accomplish. Out of all the bands on this list, I’m most interested to hear what Magic Circle do next to build on their debut.
Berlin trio Kadavar had a tough task ahead of them in releasing a sophomore answer to their self-titled, which I thought was the best first album of 2012, but when Abra Kadavar surfaced as their debut on Nuclear Blast, it was quickly apparent that the retro heavy rockers had put together a worthy follow-up. Cuts like “Come Back Life” and “Doomsday Machine” underscored the straightforward triumphs of the prior outing, while late-album arrivals “Liquid Dream,” “Rhythm for Endless Minds” and “Abra Kadabra” gave a sense that Kadavar were beginning a journey into psychedelia the results of which could be just as rewarding as even the most potent of their choruses. Their potential remains one of their biggest appeals.
It wasn’t without its rough edges, but at the core of Indianapolis heavy rockers Devil to Pay‘s fourth record was an unflinching songwriting quality that quickly established it among my go-to regulars, whether it was the quirky doom hook of “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife,” the darkly progressive riffing of “Black Black Heart” or the suitably propulsive rush of “This Train Won’t Stop.” The double-guitar four-piece didn’t have much time for frills in terms of arrangement or structure, but by building on the developments over the course of their three prior releases, Devil to Pay delivered a slab of deceptively intricate standouts that made hard turns sound easy and demanded the attention it deserved.
6. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below
Unfuckwithable tone set to destructive purpose. Immediately upon hearing the unsung Michigan drum/guitar duo’s fourth album, the impact of The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below — overwhelming though it is at times throughout the album; hello, “Oncoming Avalanche” — refused to be denied. Beast in the Field haven’t gotten anything remotely close to the attention they should for this devastating collection, but it’s one I absolutely can’t put down, cohesive in theme and full of skull-caving riffs as dynamic as they are brutally delivered by the instrumental twosome. If it’s one you missed on CD when Saw Her Ghost put it out in March (as I did), keep your eyes open for a vinyl release coming on Emetic in the next couple months. Really. Do it.
Massachusetts trio Black Pyramid quickly dispatched any doubts of their ability to continue on after the departure of their previous guitarist/vocalist, bassist Dave Gein and drummer Clay Neely joined forces with Darryl Shepard (Hackman, Blackwolfgoat, Roadsaw, etc.) to reinvigorate their battle-ready doom, and whether it was the extended jamming on “Swing the Scimitar” or the surprisingly smooth riffing on “Aphelion,” the results did not disappoint. Regardless of personnel, I’ve yet to hear a Black Pyramid album I didn’t want to hear again, and though I’ll freely admit they’re a sentimental favorite for me at this point, Adversarial is a suitable dawn for their next era. Long may they reign.
True, I will argue tooth and nail that Boston four-piece Gozu should get rid of their goofball, sitcom-referential song titles, but that’s only because I believe the band’s lack of pretense speaks for itself through the music and their tracks are too good to give listeners a chance not to take them seriously. When it comes to The Fury of a Patient Man — their second full-length behind the impressive 2010 debut, Locust Season (review here) — I knew the first time I heard it toward the end of last year that it was going to be one of 2013’s best, and while I’ve heard quibbles in favor of the debut, nothing has dissuaded me from thinking the sophomore installment outclasses it on almost every level. Expect a return appearance when the year-end list hits in December.
There’s a big part of me that feels like a sucker for digging …Like Clockwork, the first Queens of the Stone Age full-length since 2007’s relatively lackluster Era Vulgaris, but when it comes right down to it, I hit the point in listening to the album that I came around to its sheen, its up-and-down moodiness and its unabashed self-importance. I hit the point where I was able to separate …Like Clockwork from its “viral marketing” and just enjoy Josh Homme‘s all-growed-up songwriting for what it is. Would I have loved a second self-titled album? Probably, but it wasn’t realistic to think that’s what …Like Clockwork would be, and as much as I’ve tried out other spots for it, I’d be lying if I put this record anywhere else on this list but here. So there you go. I understand the arguments against it, but reason doesn’t always apply when it comes to what gets repeat spins.
I was late to the party on the second Uncle Acid offering, 2011’s Blood Lust, as I often am on records where the hype gets to din levels, but by the time the subsequent Mind Control was announced, I knew it was going to be one to watch out for. Aligned to Rise Above/Metal Blade, the UK outfit began to unravel till-then mystery of itself, playing live and developing the brazen psychedelic pop influences hinted at in the horrors of Blood Lust so that the swing of “Mt. Abraxas” and the acid-coated psych of “Valley of the Dolls” could exist within the same cohesive sphere. Between the death-boogie of “Mind Crawler” and mid-period Beatlesian exploration of “Follow the Leader,” Mind Control continues to be an album I hear as much on the mental jukebox rotation as one I actually put on to listen to again. Either way, there’s no getting away from it — the eerie melodies of guitarist/vocalists Kevin “Uncle Acid” Starrs and Yotam Rubinger are hauntingly ever-present.
Obvious? Probably, but that doesn’t make it any less genuine. To set the scene, here’s me on the Masspike a couple weeks ago in the Volvo of Doom™ with the little dog Dio, 90 miles an hour shouting along to “Crucial Velocity” at the top of my never-on-key lungs. I couldn’t and wouldn’t endeavor to tell you how many times I’ve listened to Earth Rocker since I first got a taste, but from the title-track on through the surging groove at the end of “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…,” front to back, the 10th Clutch album still does not fail to roil the blood with not a dud in the bunch. The Maryland road dogs of course shine best on a stage, and Earth Rocker‘s polished, layered production is a studio affair in the truest sense, but all that does is make me hopeful they’ll complement it with a live record soon. Clutch could easily have phoned in a follow-up to 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West and their fanbase probably would’ve still salivated over it, myself included, but by boldly pushing themselves to write faster, more concise material, they’ve reenergized one of heavy rock’s best sounds. Whether you’re a longtime fan or a brand new listener, Earth Rocker is utterly essential.
Two more records I have to mention: Kings Destroy‘s A Time of Hunting and Clamfight‘s I vs. the Glacier. I wasn’t involved in releasing the Kings Destroy, but felt close to it nonetheless, and since the Clamfight came out on The Maple Forum, it wouldn’t be appropriate to include it in the list proper, but hands down, these are my two favorite records of the year so far and made by some of the best people I’ve had the pleasure to know over the course of my years nerding out to heavy music.
Some other honorable mentions go to Toner Low, Cathedral, Church of Misery, Serpent Throne, Naam, The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic and All Them Witches. Like I said, it’s been a hell of a year so far.
You may note some glaring absences in the list above — Black Sabbath, ASG, Orchid, Ghost, Kvelertak and Voivod come to mind immediately. Some of that is a result of my disdain for digital promos, and some of that is just a matter of what I listened to most. Please understand that although release profile is not something discounted, at the heart of what’s included here is one individual’s personal preferences and listening habits.
Thanks for reading. Here’s to your own lists and to the next six months to come!
Posted in Features on March 12th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
…Yeah, I know, 24 is a buttload of records to buy in the span of about a month and a half. To do the division, it would mean buying a new album every 2.04 days. Probably not feasible in terms of time, let alone budget, but hell, it’s a nice thought and seeing the onslaught of new stuff coming between now and the end of April, I thought maybe a list would help keep it all straight. Even if I’m only helping myself, I could probably spend my time in worse ways.
Worth noting that even with 24 albums, presented below in order of release, I feel like there’s stuff I’m forgetting. Frankly, it’s an overwhelming amount of material, so if I’ve missed something or there’s something you’d like to see added to the list, as always, that’s why there’s a comments feature.
Okay. These are numbered just for fun, but listed by date:
1. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Fans (March 12)
My understanding is that London’s foremost doom scoundrels, none other than Orange Goblin, have been selling copies of A Eulogy for the Fans since starting their US tour with Clutch on March 8 in Cincinnati, Ohio, but today is the official release date, and I can think of no better place to start than with the four-piece’s ferocious performance at the 2012 Bloodstock festival, captured audio and video in all its bloodsoaked glory. Not to be missed or taken lightly because it’s a live record. Album review here.
2. Borracho, Mob Gathering 7″ (March 13)
Even though it’s comprised of older tracks, the new Mob Gathering 7″ from Borracho is welcome by me for two reasons: I’ve never heard the songs before and Borracho rocks. The Washington D.C.-based riffers recorded “Mob Gathering” and “Short Ride (When it’s Over)” in 2009 and are set to release the cuts on a limited platter in black and orange swirl through Spain’s Ghost Highway Recordings and Germany’s No Balls Records. They’ve been playing live as a mostly-instrumental outfit while guitarist/vocalist Noah is out of the country on what I can only assume is an awesome spy mission, so if you need a Borracho fix — and it’s obvious from the way your hands are shaking that you do — this might be the way to go. More info here.
3. Inter Arma, Sky Burial (March 15)
Like Windhand below, Inter Arma are recent Relapse Records signees from Richmond, Virginia, and Sky Burial will serve as their first release for the label. Literally and figuratively, the album is expansive, topping 69 minutes and pummeling the whole way through with a genre-transcending concoction of bleakness that’s not so much aligned to any particular heavy aesthetic so much as it is set to its own atmospheric purposes. Through this, Inter Arma emerge terrifyingly cohesive where many others would falter, and their second LP behind 2010’s Sundown (review here) leaves a progressive impression despite an almost complete lack of sonic pretense. Mostly, it’s fucking heavy. Track stream and info here.
4. Clutch, Earth Rocker (March 19)
If 2013 ended tomorrow, Clutch‘s Earth Rocker would be my album of the year. That’s not saying the situation will be the same nine months from now when I actually start putting that list together (already dreading it), but as of March 12, it’s the cat’s pajamas and no foolin’. The long-running Marylanders outdid themselves and put together a surprisingly fast, energetic collection of songs that don’t forsake the bluesy tendencies of their last album, 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West, so much as they put some of the jamming on lockdown in favor of all-out pro-grade heavy rock and roll. The velocity is crucial and the wolfman is out, but it feels like the party’s just starting. Look for them on tour sometime between now and forever. Album review here.
5. Black Mare, Field of the Host (March 20)
Black Math Horseman and Ides of Gemini frontwoman Sera Timms (who’s also recently collaborated with Yawning Man‘s Gary Arce in the new outfit Zun) steps further out on her own with the solo-project Black Mare, from whom Field of the Host is the first album. Due March 20 on LP through The Crossing and on cassette through Breathe Plastic, limited in both cases and sure to be gone shortly after release if they’re not already taken through pre-orders. Fans of Timms‘ past works will be glad to hear the misty wash of melody and dreamy, somehow sad, languid roll of “Blind One,” for starters. Audio and info on the forum.
6. Kvelertak, Meir (March 26)
Short of setting themselves on fire, Norwegian triple-guitar six-piece Kvelertak did just about everything they could to get noticed in support of their 2010 self-titled debut LP (review here), and sure enough, their work paid off in getting signed to Roadrunner Records for all territories outside their native Scandinavia (where Indie Recordings holds sway) and trumpeting up a wave of anticipation for their second full-length, Meir. Their energetic, genre-crossing approach might not be for everybody, but the band have turned a lot of heads and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to find them on bigger tours this year with Roadrunner behind them. More info on the forum.
7. Black Pyramid, Adversarial (April 2)
This is actually the first time the Eli Wood cover art for Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial has been seen in full, so you know. The Hydro-Phonic Records release of the third Black Pyramid album and first to be fronted by guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard along with bassist David Gein and drummer Clay Neely punctuates the beginning of a new era for the Massachusetts trio. If the advance listen to closing track “Onyx and Obsidian” is anything to go by, they could very well be at their most potent yet, and though I’d hardly consider myself an impartial observer, as a fan of the band, this is one I’ve been looking forward to for a while now. More to come. Track stream here.
8. Moss, Horrible Night (April 2)
I’ve yet to hear the complete album, but UK trio Moss seem poised to surprise with a cleaner vocal approach on Horrible Night, their first offering since 2008’s impressive Sub Templum LP and two EPs in 2009, so in addition to wondering how they’ll pull it off, the level of the shift remains to be seen. That is, how big a deal is it? Should I call my mom? Is this something grandma needs to know about? Time will tell, but for it having been five years since the last time a Moss record reared its doomly head, it seems only fair to give the band a little breathing room on their evolution. More info and video here.
9. Mars Red Sky, Be My Guide EP (April 8)
How glad am I that French fuzz rockers Mars Red Sky have a new EP coming? Well, I’m not as happy that it’s coming as I am that it’s frickin’ awesome. The trio keep the weighted bass tones that gave so much depth to their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but they’ve also clearly set to work expanding the formula as well, adding stomp to second track “Seen a Ghost” and an eerie repetitive sense to side B closer “Stranger,” while also broadening their melodic reach and taking claim of whichever side of the line they want between fuzz rock and heavy psychedelia while remaining so much more to the ears than either genre descriptor can offer to the eyes. At half an hour, my only complaint with it is it’s not a full-length album. Video trailer and info here.
10. Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era (April 9)
A sample of the poet Ron Whitehead — who also featured on Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s late-2012 debut EP for Tee Pee Records, The Storm Generation (review here) — comes to clarity just in time for the gonzo Boomer poet to let us all know that, “America is an illusion” (that may be, but it’s an illusion with an army of flying killer robots), and from there, the youngin’ desert transplants embark on a low-end-heavy freakout topped with sweet surf rock guitars and set to use in intricate, sometimes surprisingly jagged, rhythmic dances. Mario Lalli of Fatso Jetson guests, Scott Reeder produced. Review is forthcoming, but till then, there’s more info here.
11. Devil to Pay, Fate is Your Muse (April 9)
Fate is Your Muse serves not only as Indianapolis rockers Devil to Pay‘s Ripple Music debut, but also as the double-guitar foursome’s first outing since 2009’s Heavily Ever After. With tales of lizardmen attacks and the alleged end of the world, it’s got its fair share of personality, and set to the chugging riffs, melodic vocals and straightforward heavy grooves, that personality still goes a long way. I’ll have a review up before this week is out (I hope), but still, I wanted to make sure to include Devil to Pay here too, since their songs command both attention and respect. To wit, I just can’t seem to get “This Train Won’t Stop” out of my head. Video and info here.
12. Cough & Windhand, Reflection of the Negative Split (April 15)
Virginian doomers Cough and Windhand share a hometown in Richmond, a love of volume, a bassist in Parker Chandler and now a label in Relapse Records, so yeah, a split makes sense. Reflection of the Negative will be Windhand‘s first release through Relapse ahead of their sophomore full-length, scheduled for later this year (info here). For Cough, this split marks their first outing since 2010’s An Introduction to the Black Arts split with UK masters The Wounded Kings (review here), and they’ll present the 18-minute “Athame,” while Windhand bring forth “Amaranth” and “Shepherd’s Crook.” More info here.
13. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Mind Control (April 15)
What the last Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats album, 2011’s Blood Lust (semi-review here), did so well was capture the atmosphere and the grainy imagery of late ’60s/early ’70s psychedelic horror and put it into audio form. For that, Blood Lust earned massive praise, but I still think that without the central core of songwriting underneath the genre trappings, it would’ve fallen flat. When it comes to Mind Control, the question waiting to be answered is if the band wants to stick to the blueprint they’ve established or go brazenly into uncharted weirdness. I’m not really sure they can lose, either way. Info and music here.
14. Kadavar, Abra Kadavar (April 16)
Their debut on new label Nuclear Blast and the quick-arriving answer to my pick for 2012 debut of the year, Abra Kadavar arrives with plenty of anticipation leading the way. The retro-rocking German trio have their work cut out for them in following that self-titled, but however it turns out in the comparison, it will be fascinating to learn how Kadavar develops the band’s sound and whether or not they prove able to push the boundaries of their aesthetic while simultaneously setting a new standard for promo photos. New video here.
15. Spiritual Beggars, Earth Blues (April 16)
I guess when it comes to these long-running Swedes, everybody’s got their favorite lineup, their favorite tunes, etc., but for me, I’m just impressed that Michael Amott — now more than 20 years on from starting Spiritual Beggars as a side-project while still in grindcore pioneers Carcass — still has any interest in keeping the classic rock Hammond-loving outfit grooving. Their last outing, 2010’s Return to Zero (review here), was the first to feature vocalist Apollo Papathanasio, formerly of Firewind, and though those songs were solid, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re more settled in on Earth Blues when it drops via InsideOut Music on April 16. More info on the forum.
16. Beastwars, Blood Becomes Fire (April 19)
Alternating between periods of brooding intensity and all-out crushing heaviness, the second full-length from New Zealand’s Beastwars, Blood Becomes Fire, is nasty, nasty, nasty. It’s nasty when it’s quiet and it’s nasty when it’s loud. It’s the kind of record you put on and you’re like, “Damn that’s nasty.” And you’re not wrong. The four-piece — touring shortly with Unida — upped their game even from 2011’s self-titled debut (review here), and for anyone who heard that record, you know that’s saying something. I’m still in the “getting to know it” phase, but so far all that nasty feels pretty right on. More info here.
17. Ghost, Infestissumam (April 19)
Man, this one just kind of happened, huh? I suck — and I mean S-U-C-K suck — at keeping up with band hype. I’m the dude who hears the record three months later and goes, “Yeah, I guess that’s cool,” as countless reviews here can attest, including the one for Ghost‘s 2010 debut, Opus Eponymous, but with the Swedish cult heavyweights, all of a sudden I turned around and blamo, major label deal, semi-name change to Ghost B.C., and enough slathering over the impending Infestissumam to make the first album seem like less than the hyperbole it was treated to initially. Funny how that happens. Out in April? I’m sure I’ll review in June and go, “Yeah, I guess that’s cool.” More info on the forum.
18. One Inch Giant, The Great White Beyond (April 19)
Now signed to Soulseller Records, Swedish heavy rockers One Inch Giant will unveil their debut full-length on April 19 and as three of my favorite words in the English language are “Swedish heavy rockers,” I’m excited to find out how this Gothenburg four-piece follow-up their Malva EP, and if they can capture some of the extreme dynamic they brought to their live show when they toured the US last summer — a run of shows that included a stop at SHoD. Hard not to pull for a band after they come over to play club dates. More info and music here.
19. The Heavy Co., Midwest Electric (April 20)
It was actually the other day writing about The Heavy Co.‘s Midwest Electric that I had the idea for this feature, so however high the profile might be for some of these albums — Ghost walks by on their way to cash a check — it was these unpretentious Hoosier rockers and their new outing, Midwest Electric, that started me off. From what I’ve heard so far, the new collection sounds a little more confident in exploring psychedelia than did the trio’s 2011 debut EP, The Heavy (Please Tune In…) (review here), so I’m looking forward to hearing if and how that plays out over the course of the whole thing. Video trailer here.
20. Gozu, The Fury of a Patient Man (April 23)
I have an interview slated for later this week with Gozu guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney, and I’m even more excited for this time than I was when we last spoke, around their 2009 Small Stone debut, Locust Season (review here), since in everything but its goofball song titles, the sophomore outing marks a huge developmental step in the band’s melodic reach and songwriting chemistry. Stay tuned for that interview and check out the Bandcamp stream included with the album review here.
21. Yawning Man & Fatso Jetson, European Tour Split 7″ (April 26)
Note: I don’t actually know that April 26 is the day that what’s sure to be 2013’s most desert-rocking split is due to arrive, I just know that it’s Fatso Jetson and Yawning Man‘s European tour split, and that’s the day the Euro dates start — with performances at Desertfests London and Berlin, to be more specific. Given both the greatness of Fatso Jetson‘s last record, 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here), and of Yawning Man‘s own 2010 outing, Nomadic Pursuits (review here), the bands’ shared lineage and the relative infrequency of their touring, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to hope that, even for a single, they pull out all the stops. And starts. And riffs. More info on the forum.
22. Serpent Throne, Brother Lucifer (April 29)
Philly-based instrumental heavy rockers Serpent Throne will follow-up 2010’s White Summer/Black Winter (review here) with Brother Lucifer, and while no one can ever really know what to expect, it’s a safe bet that the dual-guitar outfit will have the solos front and center once again. Having seen them do a couple new songs back in December, I can’t blame them in the slightest. Looking forward to letting these songs sink in for a while and having those solos stuck in my head. Track stream here.
23. Melvins, Everybody Loves Sausages (April 30)
Hey wow, a Melvins covers album. Finally, an opportunity for the band to let their hair down and go wild a bit, right? I mean, at long last, they can really feel free to indulge a little and explore their musical roots in a free and creative way. Okay, you get the point. In all seriousness, it’s a pretty cool idea and anything that teams the Melvins with Scott Kelly to do a Venom song is probably going to be a worthy cause. The most amazing part of it is they haven’t already done a version of “Black Betty.” More info on the forum.
24. Revelation, Inner Harbor (April 30)
Their most progressive outing yet and their first album since 2009, Revelation‘s Inner Harbor (review here) is bound to surprise some who thought they knew what to expect from the Maryland doom stalwarts who double as the classically rocking Against Nature. Good thing Inner Harbor had a digital release last year through the band’s Bland Hand Records to act as a precursor to this Shadow Kingdom CD issue. Rumor has it vinyl’s on the way as well, so keep an eye out, since John Brenner‘s guitar tone should be heard on as natural-sounding an apparatus as possible. More info here.
Okay, so you’re saying to yourself, “Golly, that’s a lot of stuff.” You’re absolutely right. But even as I was typing up this feature, I got word of a new Queen Elephantine full-length coming in April, so even as much as this is, it’s not everything. And that’s not even to mention May, which will bring a new Shroud Eater EP, a new Kylesa record and a new Mark Lanegan collaboration, among however much else. Tons of stuff to keep your ears out for, and like I said way back at the top of this thing, if you have something to add, a comment’s always appreciated.
You might recall a couple weeks ago when battle-ready Massachusetts riffers Black Pyramid premiered the new track “Onyx and Obsidian” from their forthcoming LP, Adversarial. Well, last night — because all breaking news should hit at midnight — the trio revealed that they had partnered the track with the short video piece “Metachaos” by Italian artist Alessandro Bavari. Since I’ve never been one to let a Black Pyramid video go ignored, here we are.
Adversarialwill be released in April on Hydro-Phonic Records, and even if you’ve heard the song before, I think you’ll agree it’s worth another visit, especially with the Bavari video accompanying. Stick around for more updates on the album, artwork, tracklisting, etc. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. In the meantime, here’s the clip:
Black Pyramid, “Onyx and Obsidian” from Adversarial
Posted in audiObelisk on January 25th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Behold, the first taste of Black Pyramid‘s forthcoming third LP, Adversarial. The Massachusetts marauders of riff have made the track “Onyx and Obsidian” available for streaming, and their battle axes swing as hard as ever. The album was recorded and mixed by drummer Clay Neely at Black Coffee Sound and it’s the first full-length work the band has done since Neely and bassist Dave Gein joined forces with guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard.
That’s not the only change afoot with Black Pyramid, who’ve also realigned label-wise to release Adversarial this spring on Hydro-Phonic Records. The imprint previously issued Black Pyramid‘s Stormbringer8″ vinyl and subsequent CD compilation, and has also worked with Blue Aside, Olde Growth and a slew of kickass bands from the Codfish State and beyond, so at least we know they’re in good hands on that front. I haven’t seen a solid release date yet for Adversarial, but as a preliminary impression, “Onyx and Obsidian” bodes well.
In its finished, mastered by Matt Washburn form, please enjoy “Onyx and Obsidian” on the player below:
Posted in Features on January 15th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Last year was a monster. You might say I’m still catching up on reviews for records that came out in October. Yet here we stand in 2013. It’s a whole new year and that means instead of looking back at some of the best releases, it’s time to look ahead and nerd out at what’s to come. Frankly, either way is a good time, but with some of what’s included on this list, 2013 has the potential to be yet another incredible year for lovers of the heavy.
Across a range of genres and subgenres, there are bands big and small, known and unknown, getting ready to unleash debuts, follow-ups and catalog pieces that by the time December rolls around, will have defined the course of this year. It’s always great to hold an album in your hands, to put it on and listen to it for the first or 19th time, but part of the fun is the excitement beforehand too, and that’s where we’re at now.
Some of these I’ve heard, most I haven’t, and some are only vague announcements, but when I started out putting this list together, my plan was to keep it to 10 and I wound up with twice that many because there was just too much happening to ignore. The list is alphabetical because it doesn’t make any sense to me to rate albums that aren’t out yet, and I hope if you find something you’d like to add, you’ll please feel free to leave a comment below.
Thanks in advance for reading, and enjoy:
Acid King, TBA
We begin with only the basest of speculations. Would you believe me if I told you that 2013 makes it eight years since the heavier-than-your-heavy-pants San Francisco trio Acid King released their last album, III? Of course you wouldn’t believe me. You’d be like, “Dude, no way,” but it’s true. Eight friggin’ years. They’ve hinted all along at new material, toured Europe and played fests in the States like Fall into Darkness, but really, it’s time for something new on record. Even an EP. A single! I’ll take what I can get at this point, so long as it’s Lori S. riffing it.
Chances are, the above isn’t the final art for Argentinian Los Natas-offshoot Ararat‘s forthcoming III, but frontman Sergio Chotsourian has posted a few demos over the last several months and the logo image came from that. Either way, with as far as last year’s II(review here) went in expanding their sound, I can’t wait to hear the final versions of the tracks for the next one. They’re still flying under a lot of people’s radar, it seems, but Ararat are quickly becoming one of South America’s best heavy psych acts. Do yourself a favor and keep an eye out.
Brooklyn trio Bezoar‘s 2012 debut, Wyt Deth, might have been my favorite album that I never reviewed last year, and needless to say, that’s not a mistake I’m going to make twice. The new songs I’ve heard the three-piece play live have ruled and an alliance with engineer Stephen Conover (whose discography includes Rza and Method Man) is intriguing to say the least. I’m sure whatever Bezoar come out with, the performances from bassist/vocalist Sara Villard, guitarist Tyler Villard and drummer Justin Sherrell will be as hard to pin down as the debut was. It’s a record I’m already looking forward to being challenged by.
Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era
Due out April 9, Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s The Edge of an Era will mark the full-length debut for the ambitious trio (now based in L.A.) on Tee Pee Records following on the heels of the impressive The Storm Generation EP (review here). From the Scott Reeder production to the band’s engaging heavy psych/desert rock blend, this one seems bound to win Blaak Heat Shujaa a lot of new friends, and if the advance EP is anything to go by, The Edge of an Eracould prove to be aptly-titled indeed.
Black Pyramid, Adversarial
No release date yet, but so far as I know, Adversarial, which is Massachusetts doom rockers Black Pyramid‘s third album and first to be fronted by guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard, is recorded, mixed and mastered. Song titles include “Swing the Scimitar,” “Onyx and Obsidian,” “Issus,” “Bleed Out” and “Aphelion” (the latter was also released as a limited single in 2012 by Transubstans as a split with Odyssey), and having seen the band live with this lineup, expect no less than a beheading. Also watch for word from the recently announced side-project from Shepard and bassist Dave Gein, The Scimitar.
Black Sabbath, 13
There was a bit of a shitstorm this past weekend when the title of Black Sabbath‘s first Ozzy Osbourne-fronted album since 1978 was revealed in a press release. Nonetheless, 13is set for release in June and will feature Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine on drums in place of Bill Ward, who last year was engaged in a well-publicized contract dispute with the band. Bummer though that is and as crappy and generic a title as 13 makes — especially this year — let’s not forget that Heaven and Hell‘s The Devil You Know also had a crap title and it was awesome. I’m not sure if I’m willing to stake anticipation on the difference between the vocals of Ronnie James Dio circa 2010 and Ozzy Osbourne in 2013, or Rick Rubin‘s production, but hell, is Geezer Butler playing bass on it? Yes? Well, okay then, I’ll listen. The world can do a lot worse than that and another batch of Tony Iommi riffs, whatever else may be in store.
Clutch, Earth Rocker
It’s a ripper. With Earth Rocker, Clutch reunite with Blast Tyrant producer Machine and the results are a record varied enough to keep some of the recent blues elements of the past couple albums (“Gone Cold”) while also showcasing a reinvigorated love of straight-up heavy rock numbers on tracks like “Crucial Velocity,” “Book, Saddle & Go” and “Cyborg Betty.” Longtime Clutch fans can expect a bigger guitar sound from Tim Sult, killer layering and much personality from vocalist Neil Fallon and yet another stellar performance from the best rhythm section in American heavy, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster. No doubt in my mind it’ll prove one of the year’s best when 2013 is done. Once more unto the breach!
Devil to Pay, Fate is Your Muse
Last month, I hosted a Devil to Pay video premiere for the Indianapolis-based rockers’ new track, “This Train Won’t Stop,” from the 7″ single of the same name that precedes the release of their Ripple Music debut full-length (fourth overall), Fate is Your Muse. If the 575-plus Thee Facebook “Likes” are anything to go by, anticipation for the album is pretty high. Reasonably so. When I saw Devil to Pay at last year’s SHoD fest, the new material was killer and the band seemed more confident than ever before. Stoked to hear how that translates to a studio recording and how the band has grown since 2009’s Heavily Ever After.
Egypt, Become the Sun
Technically speaking, Become the Sun is the full-length debut from North Dakota doomers Egypt. The band released their self-titled demo through MeteorCity in 2009 (review here), were broken up at the time, and reassembled with a new guitarist for Become the Sun– which is the only album on this list to have already been reviewed. I don’t know about a physical release date, but it’s available now digitally through iTunes and other outlets, and however you do so, it’s worth tracking down to get the chance to listen to it. Underrated Midwestern riffing, hopefully with a CD/LP issue coming soon.
The Flying Eyes, TBA
Currently holed up in Lord Baltimore Studios with producer Rob Girardi, Baltimore’s The Flying Eyes are reportedly putting the finishing touches on the follow-up to 2011’s immersive Done So Wrong, an album full of young energy and old soul. Along with Blaak Heat Shujaa above, I consider these dudes to be right at the forefront of the next generation of American heavy psych and I’m excited to hear what kind of pastoral blues works its way into their tracks when the album finally gets released. They’re a band you’re probably going to hear a lot about this year, so be forewarned.
Gozu, The Fury of a Patient Man
The melodicism of Boston-based Gozu‘s second Small Stone full-length, The Fury of a Patient Man (I swear I just typed “The Fury of a Patient Mrs.”) is no less striking than its album cover. I’ve had this one for a while, have gotten to know it pretty well and my plan is to review it next week, so keep an eye out for that, but for now, I’ll just say that the sophomore outing is a fitting answer to the potential of Gozu‘s 2010 debut, Locust Season (review here) and marks the beginning of what already looks like another strong year for Small Stone. I never thought I’d be so into a song called “Traci Lords.”
Halfway to Gone, TBA
What I’d really like to see happen is for Halfway to Gone – who are high on my list of New Jersey hometown heroes and who haven’t had a new LP out since their 2004 self-titled — to put out a new record in 2013, for it to lay waste to everyone who hears it, and for the band to finally get the recognition they’ve long since deserved. I’ve been charged up on revisiting their three albums since I saw them at the Brighton Bar this past July and after a long wait, rumors, breakups, makeups, etc., I’ve got my hopes up that this year is when these dudes pull it together and make a new one happen. It’s been too long and this band is too good to just let it go.
Kings Destroy, TBA
Confession time: I have the Kings Destroy record. I’ve had it for a bit now. It rules. I don’t know when you’re gonna hear it, but it’s strange and eerie and kind of off the wall stylistically and it doesn’t really sound like anything else out there. Last I heard they’re looking for a label, and whoever ends up with it is lucky. I use a lot of descriptors for bands and their albums, but rarely will I go so far as to call something unique. This album is. If you’ve had the chance to check out songs like “The Toe” and “Turul” live, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, then stick around because with all the sessions I’ve had with the tracks, I still feel outclassed by what these guys are doing. Shine on, you doomed weirdos.
The Kings of Frog Island, Volume IV
I keep going back to the video for “Long Live the King” that Leicester, UK, fuzz rockers The Kings of Frog Island put up back in October. No, really, I keep going back. It’s a good song and I keep listening to it. Just about any other details regarding their fourth album and first without guitarist/vocalist Mat Bethancourt (Josiah, Cherry Choke), Volume IV, are nil, but periodic updates on the band’s Thee Facebooks have it that progress on the recording is being made, and in the meantime, I don’t seem to have any trouble paying return visits to “Long Live the King.” Hopefully Elektrohasch stays on board for a CD release, and hopefully it happens soon.
Several times over the last couple months I’ve had occasion to say it to people and I’ll say it here as well: I think Lo-Pan are the best American stoner rock band going right now. I was interested to see how they handled the bigger stage for their opening slot for High on Fire and Goatwhore (review here), and as ever, they killed. I haven’t the faintest idea what their recording plans might be, if they’ll even sit still long enough to put an album to tape in time to have it out in 2013 — I suspect it depends on what tour offers come up in the meantime — but new songs “Colossus” and “Eastern Seas” bode well for their being able to continue the course of momentum that the excellence of 2011’s Salvador(review here) and all their hard work before and since has put them on.
Queens of the Stone Age, TBA
It probably wouldn’t be fair to call the upcoming Queens of the Stone Age album a reunion between Josh Homme and Dave Grohl since the two also played together in Them Crooked Vultures and Grohl only drummed on Songs for the Deaf, but it’s exciting news anyway and could mean good things are coming from QOTSA, whose last outing was 2007’s comparatively lackluster Era Vulgaris. The big questions here are how the time apart from the band may or may not have affected Homme‘s songwriting and where he’s decided he wants to take the Queens sound. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Sungrazer & The Machine, Split
With the Strikes and Gutters tour already booked to support it (dates above; or here), Dutch upstart heavy psych jammers The Machine and Sungrazer have teamed up for a split release as well that’s bound to feature some of the year’s best fuzz. The two bands have a lot in common, but they’re pretty distinct from each other sonically too, and with The Machine guitarist/vocalist David Eering helming the recording, you can safely bet it’ll capture the live, jammy feel both groups share. Latest word has it that the mastered tracks are in-house, so watch for more to come as we get closer to the Valentine’s Day launch of the tour.
The Swedish fuzz juggernauts’ fourth album overall, this will be Truckfighters‘ first with new drummer McKenzo alongside the core songwriting duo of Dango and Ozo. They’ve been teasing recording updates and threatening song clips, but as soon as I run into something concrete, I’ll share. I’m especially looking forward to the Truckfighters album since it means they’ll likely come back to the US for another tour, and since 2009’s Mania (review here) was so damned brilliant. Not sure on a release date, but it’s high on the list of necessities anyway, however low it may appear alphabetically.
Valley of the Sun, TBA
All I’m going on in including Ohio-based desert rockers Valley of the Sun on this list is a New Year’s message they put out there that read, “Happy New Year, Brothers and Sisters!!! You can count on a Valley of the Sun full-length in 2013.” Hey, I’ve relied on less before, and even if you want to call it wishful thinking, the Cincinnati trio are due a debut full-length behind 2011’s righteous The Sayings of the Seers EP (review here). Even if it doesn’t show up until November or December, I’ll basically take it whenever the band gets around to releasing. Riffs are welcome year-round.
Well, I mean, yeah. Right? Yeah, well, sure. I mean. Well. Yeah. I mean, sure. Right? It’s a supergroup with YOB‘s Mike Scheidt on vocals, John Cobbett of Hammers of Misfortune on guitar, Sigrid Sheie of Hammers of Misfortune on bass and Aesop Dekker of Agalloch and Worm Ouroboros on drums. Album’s done, set for release on Profound Lore. So, I mean, you know, yeah. Definitely. No music has made its way to the public yet — though that can’t be far off — but either way, sign me the fuck up. Anywhere this one goes, I’m interested to find out how it gets there.
Vista Chino, TBA
After that lawsuit, it’s not like they could go ahead and call the band Kyuss Still Lives!, so the recently-announced Vista Chino makes for a decent alternative and is much less likely to provoke litigation. But still, the Kyuss Lives! outgrowth featuring former Kyuss members John Garcia, Nick Oliveri and Brant Bjork along with guitarist Bruno Fevery is of immediate consequence. I’m not sure what the timing on the release is, but they’ve already been through enough to get to this point that one hopes a new album surfaces before the end of 2013. What I want to know next is who’s recording the damn thing.
Yawning Man, Gravity is Good for You
Not much has been said in the time since I interviewed Gary Arce, guitarist and founder of influential desert rock stalwarts Yawning Man, about the 2LP Gravity is Good for Yourelease (the Raymond Pettibon cover for which you can see above), but the band has been confirmed for Desertfest since then and they’re playing in L.A. on Jan. 25, so they’re active for sure and presumably there’s been some progress on the album itself. It remains to be seen what form it will take when it surfaces, and the lineup of the band seems somewhat nebulous as well, but when there’s a desert, there’s Yawning Man, and there’s always a desert. 2010’s Nomadic Pursuits(review here) was a triumph, and deserves a follow-up.
Anyone else notice that the “20 Albums to Watch for” list has 22 albums on it? Maybe I wanted to see if you were paying attention. Maybe I can’t count. Maybe I just felt like including one more. Maybe I had 21 and then added Vista Chino after someone left a comment about it. The possibilities are endless.
So too is the list of bands I could’ve included here. Even as I was about halfway through, a new Darkthrone track surfaced from an album due Feb. 25 called The Underground Resistance, and news/rumors abound of various substance concerning offerings from YOB, Eggnogg, When the Deadbolt Breaks, Mars Red Sky, Asteroid, Apostle of Solitude, Windhand, Phantom Glue, the supergroup Corrections House, Kingsnake, Sasquatch — I’ve already made my feelings known on the prospect of a new Sleep record — news went up yesterday about Inter Arma‘s new one, and you know Wino‘s gonna have an album or two out before the end of the year, and he’s always up to something good, so 20, 22, 35, it could just as easily go on forever. Or at least very least the whole year.
If there’s anything I forgot, anything you want to include or dispute, comments are welcome and encouraged.
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 7th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Over the weekend, your buddy and mine, Darryl Shepard (also Blackwolfgoat, Milligram, etc.) announced that he and his Black Pyramid bandmate Dave Gein had formed a new band, The Scimitar, with drummer Brian Banfield. The name comes from a song Shepard wrote with Gein and drummer Clay Neely in Black Pyramid, and with a new album from that band expected this year — it’s mixed and last I heard was being mastered — I can’t help but wonder if the difference won’t show itself in terms of the amount of live shows being played by The Scimitar. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Until then, Shepard says they’re working on material and will start playing out in the spring:
I’d like to announce the formation of a new band called The Scimitar. It consists of myself and Gein from Black Pyramid as well as drummer Brian Banfield. Black Pyramid will be playing out much less in 2013, so Gein and I decided to start a new project. It will basically be just an extension of BP, same style of songwriting, same tunings, etc. We have two songs near completion, and we’re working on a cover of Motörhead’s “Metropolis”. Black Pyramid isn’t going anywhere, just think of The Scimitar as an extension of that band. We should be ready to play shows in March or April.
Posted in Reviews on November 12th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
First thing’s first: As one of the two presenting parties for the show — the other being BrooklynVegan, whose promotional assistance was massively appreciated for this weekender tour — I probably shouldn’t even be reviewing it at all. On the other hand, however, Black Pyramid, Kings Destroy and Clamfight rule, and after plugging the living crap out of it beforehand (see here, here and here), it seems like I’d be leaving the story unfinished without some kind of wrap-up. I felt a little bit like I was going to my own birthday party.
It was the first night of a three-gig weekender, at Union Pool in Brooklyn. The other two shows, Saturday and Sunday, were in Rochester and Allston, Mass., but this one had the added bonus of being free, so all the better. Yeah, C.O.C. and Royal Thunder were playing down at the St. Vitus bar the same night, but though that provided a bit of pre-show anxiety, the crowd was by no means lacking for any of the bands. Even as Clamfight got going, the room had plenty of people in it, for which I was thankful.
I’d shown up to the venue early to deliver the NJ/Philly-based outfit their I vs. the Glacier CDs, due out for release on The Maple Forum on Jan 22. It wasn’t long before they were out on the merch table, so hopefully a few people got early copies, which is always awesome. They got going circa 9:30PM and delivered a set of their epic riffy thrash. Their set was almost entirely new songs — that would prove to be a theme throughout the night — with “The Eagle” as a highlight alongside the slower, more languid guitars of “River of Ice,” which guitarists Sean McKee and Joel Harris made all the groovier while drummer/vocalist Andy Martin slammed his drums so hard he collapsed his floor tom and broke every stick he brought with him for the three shows, leaving Louis Koble‘s steady bass to the task of holding the songs together.
Martin, who has been occasionally known to throw up the night’s alcohol on stage but was doubtless pacing himself for the weekend ahead on Friday, has emerged as a solid frontman presence in the band, despite being behind the drums. He plays with charisma and the shouts and screams he lets loose feel like cruelties directed at the microphone. The band would do well to push his kit more to the front of the stage — not necessarily with anyone behind, but playing more on a lateral, à la Weedeater — and give their set even more of an unhinged atmosphere. As it was, they more than gave a favorable impression to the crowd, and capped off with “Stealing the Ghost Horse,” which also closes I vs. the Glacier and is arguably the most expansive Clamfight song yet, with a sense of drama to offset some of the brashness found elsewhere and a one-man clean/harsh call and response from Martin that’s as memorable live as it is on the album.
This was the first time I’d seen them since being delivered the master for I vs. the Glacierand knowing the songs better just made their set more fun to watch. McKee is relatively understated on stage — well-headbanged hair often obscuring his face entirely — but standing alone to Martin‘s left, he tears into a slew of killer solos, while Harris and Koble keep the riffs flowing on the other wise. Their live dynamic is beginning to come into its own. There are kinks to be worked out — more shows will help — but the potential remains strong and they did right by their new songs, as did Brooklyn’s own Kings Destroy, who turned the lights low and played cuts off their new record, the title of which I’m pretty sure I’m not at liberty to reveal.
I’m not aware of any album title, nor would I be at liberty to disclose any such title were I aware of its existence. Turn your head and cough. Ha.
As if the lighting at Union Pool needed to be any more challenging to my novice-ass picture-taking, Kings Destroy basically played in the dark but for a projection of what looked like shards of light that cut through. Their new songs — the likes of “The Toe,” “Decrepit” the more upbeat “Casse-Tête” and “Storm Break” — are a distant cry from where their first album, And the Rest Will Surely Perish (also aMaple Forum release, fancy that), once came. Part of that has to be due to the departure of bassist Ed Bocchino as a songwriting factor, but if it’s guitarists Carl Porcaro and Chris Skowronski coming up with the guitar parts around which this current batch of material is based, the results are intricate, complex and more and more atmospheric. I’m not about to decry the first album — I wouldn’t if I could — they’ve just flipped the formula on its head and as a result are less tied to genre stylistically.
They’ve also become a force on stage. Union Pool isn’t a huge room, but neither is it small, and that’s how the five-piece made it look, bassist Aaron Bumpus, drummer Rob Sefcik and vocalist Steve Murphy delivering a pro-grade run through a well-constructed set of their latest, the chaos all the more palpable for the fact that it was basically happening in the dark. The band all around has grown from their time on stage in Europe and the US, Skowronski and Porcaro keeping individual identities in a wash of tone and feedback, Murphy cutting through the morass, Bumpus touching on creative fills that just hint at the mountain of talent on which he seems to stand, while Sefcik‘s propulsive thunder proved no less weighted fast or slow. Their new stuff runs a risk of throwing some people off who perhaps expect a direct port of the straightforward side of the debut, but they’re on the way to mastering their aesthetic, and the direction they’re headed inis rich and progressive in a way that they’ve barely hinted at being to this point.
So yeah, by the time they finished with the creepy awesomeness of “Turul,” the first two bands of the night had me in a full-on nerdout. I can admit it. I wasn’t exactly going for impartiality here to start with, just trying to let you know how it went down. And if I wasn’t a fan of the bands, I probably wouldn’t have signed on to release their stuff on The Maple Forum, so if you have to take the review with a grain of salt, well, fine.
A note about the hazards of no cover charge: As Kings Destroy were wrapping up, Guy Who Clearly Just Wandered In saw me standing by the side of the stage in front of Black Pyramid drummer Clay Neely‘s kit and asked if I was in a band. It’s not an unreasonable suspicion — black t-shirt, jeans, long hair, beard; I’ve got the uniform. Now, I don’t want to go around making unreasonable assumptions about the behavior of others, but with the stickers on his $500 leather jacket, the crazed look in his eyes, dual-blonde accompaniment and “I’m everybody’s best buddy and the life of the party” demeanor, I had no choice but to presume he was on cocaine.
This is not an unreasonable assumption to make about anyone on a Friday night in either the Manhattan or Brooklyn boroughs of New York City, but I think that given the evidence — circumstantial though it is — I wasn’t necessarily in the wrong for being on my toes. I told him that, no, I wasn’t in the band, and that Neely, standing next to me, was their drummer. Sweat running down from the well-tended crop of spiky hair on his head, he persisted, as though I was simply obscuring the fact that I was in a band, indeed the band that was playing next, and we were just involved in some kind of playful joshing. No sir, I insisted, I’m not in a band, not in that band. Finally, and in a sterner tone that was not quite a yell but nonetheless definitely the “daddy voice” I’ve put on while scolding my dog for chasing a squirrel toward the road, I told him, “Dude, I’m not in that band. I’m just weird looking. I promise you,” and walked away to watch the end of Kings Destroy‘s set. So to the hazards of no cover: You ne’er know who’s gonna walk in.
It turned out — much to his surprise — that I wasn’t in Black Pyramid. Neely, bassist Dave Gein and guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard (who killed it just six days prior performing as Blackwolfgoat at the Small Stone Boston showcase) were in Black Pyramid, and no sooner were they set up and ready to go than were they laying waste to everything in their path, including the room, which by this point was fairly well packed out. Up front were a few headbangers — a rarity for New York anything — and the band’s energy fed off their own as they led off with “Stormbringer” and then went into “Aphelion” from their 2012 split with Odyssey, the first studio cut with Shepard‘s vocals and guitar, its axe-wielding groove making it an immediate highlight.
There were a few new cuts in the set from Black Pyramid‘s next album, which was finished being recorded only hours before the band pulled up to play Day Four of this year’s SHoD, and it’s worth noting how much more at home Shepard seemed on the material he helped compose. He stepped into kind of an awkward situation when he joined the band late last year before the release of their second full-length, II, and though he’s done well to make the prior material his own — as “Stormbringer,” “Visions of Gehenna” and the finale “No Life King” showed — there’s a difference between his performance of the songs he adopted versus the songs he wrote. It’s not an easy thing to make someone else’s work yours — that’s why most covers suck — but what he brings to Black Pyramid is about 20 years of writing killer riffs, plus an ability to toss off embarrass-your-lead-guitarist solos like he was taking off a pair of shoes. He makes some of the older leads look easy to the point of silliness.
His vocals on both new material and old fit the songs excellently, though, and he, Gein and Neely were as tight as I’ve ever seen Black Pyramid, including at Roadburn 2011, which if it wasn’t their prior apex had to be close to it. I’m hardly objective in their case either, even if I haven’t released anything of theirs, but the crispness of their presentation made me look forward all the more to when I might get the chance to hear the studio versions of the new tracks and give them an overly-worded track-by-track review, which no doubt will also carry with it a disclaimer disavowing any and all critical credibility. But it’ll be fun, and that’s what matters.
Ditto that for this gig. It was a great time. All three of these bands are made up of killer dudes, and when I rolled out of Union Pool and headed back to Jersey, I was more than a little wistful at the thought of following the tour up north to Rochester, but it wasn’t to be. Instead, I rolled into my humble river valley at around 1:30AM, found that the internet had finally come back on after Hurricane Sandy, and spent the remainder of the evening — all 25 minutes of it — beginning to chip away at the weeks of neglected emails that I hadn’t had the chance to answer. Some you win, some you lose. I felt lucky to see these three acts on the night I did, and hopefully they get together and do it again.
Once again, I doff my hat to the work of Sean “Skillit” McEleny, who just sent over this poster for the Black Pyramid, Kings Destroy and Clamfight “Annihilate All Weekend Long” weekender tour next month. You may know Skillit‘s stuff from, uh, scroll up, he did the header for this site, as well as from kickass shows and artists too numerous to mention in a post that’s just supposed to be about artwork. His site is here.
I wanna be friends with it:
Friday, 11/9 – Union Pool, Brooklyn, NY **FREE SHOW**
Saturday, 11/10 – Monty’s Krown, Rochester, NY
Sunday, 11/11 – O’Brien’s Pub, Somerville, MA
By way of band updates:
Kings Destroy will also be playing Nov. 2 at the St. Vitus bar in Brooklyn with Witch Mountain. Their new album is being mastered next week by Joe Lambert in Brooklyn, and will be out early 2013.
Clamfight are in Delaware this weekend with Wizard Eye and others. The latest on their new album is here. I can’t fucking wait for it to be released.
Black Pyramid kick ass. That’s not really news, but it’s true all the same.
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 7th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Black Pyramid, Kings Destroy and Clamfight. Well damn.
They should just go ahead and call it the “WEEKENDER TO END ALL WEEKENDERS.” I think maybe I’ll get in my car and follow them around for all three dates, but like, not tell them I’m going to do it and just keep showing up at the shows and being like, “What?”
Black Pyramid, fresh off SHoD XII and the recording of a new album, Kings Destroy, also fresh off recording a new album (and also playing with Pallbearer next week in Brooklyn), and Clamfight, the album art for whose Maple Forum debut is apparently done at last — all three teamed up? That’s worth the price of gas for sure.
Good bands and good people mean good shows. You should go to any and all of the following:
Friday, 11/9 – Union Pool, Brooklyn, NY
Saturday, 11/10 – Monty’s Krown, Rochester, NY
Sunday, 11/11 – Radio, Somerville, MA
Expect more news to come in the next few weeks and months about new records from all three of these bands — and by “news,” I mean fanboy slobbering. Awesome.