The label compilation is kind of a lost art in this age of digital whathaveyou. Used to be imprints put together comps on the regular. Some had rough mixes, some had exclusive tracks or things that wound up getting dropped off albums, and they kind of became a place where you might find something special once and then not run into it again. Italy’s Heavy Psych Sounds, with an ever-expanding roster and an already-full slate of releases as a result, seems intent on reviving the tradition. In addition to the label, booking agency, four-way split series and now two organized festivals under its belt, last year saw the release of Heavy Psych Sounds Volume I, and it seems that, indeed, it was the beginning of a series.
Heavy Psych Sounds Volume II will feature exclusive tracks from Black Rainbows and Killer Boogie and will be released on March 24. The same day, Black Rainbows will release their “The Red Sky Above” as a digital single following-up on last year’s Stellar Prophecy (review here) and leading to speculation of a sixth long-player in the works from them.
From the PR wire:
Heavy Psych Sounds Records presents: HPS CD SAMPLER VOL II (2017)
HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS Records & Booking is stoked to announce: The HPS Records Sampler Vol 2
Europe’s ever-growing riff powerhouse HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS is set to release the second chapter of its “Heavy Psych Sounds Sampler”, featuring 15 bands of the roster among which two exclusive new songs!
This new compilation features 15 tracks taken off the label’s most recent releases (Fatso Jetson, Nick Oliveri, The Freeks…) as well as a nice preview of some upcoming gems from The Sonic Dawn, Farflung, Duel or Cachemira. As an icing on this rifftastic cake, “Heavy Psych Sounds Sampler Vol. 2” offers two exclusive new singles from the mighty Black Rainbows and Killer Boogie.
HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS VOLUME II TRACK LISTING: Black Rainbows “The Red Sky Above” (exclusive track!) Cachemira “Overpopulation” Doctor Cyclops “Lonely Devil” Duel “Witchbanger” Farflung “You Will Kill For Me” Fatso Jetson “Wire Wheels And Robots” Giöbia “This World Was Being Watched Closely” Glitter Wizard-Mycelia Killer Boogie “Eight Ball” (exclusive track!) Mothership “Crown Of Lies” Nick Oliveri “Anything And Everything” The Clamps “Must Destroy” The Golden Grass “Flashing Out Of Sight” The Freeks “Uncle Jack’s Truck” The Sonic Dawn “Summer Voyage”
Heavy Psych Sounds Sampler Vol. 2 Out March 24th on Heavy Psych Sounds
Black Rainbows, “The Red Sky Above”
Unreleased dope track for the Italian fuzzsters, 6 minutes of Doomy, Stoner, Sabbathty groove stuff, recorded specifically for the new HPS Sampler. Recorded during their last tour in a cool studio surrounded by white snow mountains in the north of Italy last January 2017. You can taste the change of direction for the band with a monolithic style, more dark, more heavy, more straight in your face!
HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS is an ever-growing European record label and booking agency specialized in stoner, hard, psychedelic, fuzzy, doomy rock and more largely, all kinds of blazing retro riffage. Since its creation in Roma in 2007, HPS has released projects for Black Rainbows, Nick Oliveri, Karma To Burn, Naam, White Hills, Farflung, Fatso Jetson, Deville, Hot Lunch, Killer Boogie, Mos Generator, Isaak, The Sonic Dawn, Mothership and many more.
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 6th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
I don’t know how else to say it other than to say that the lineup for Desert Generator 2017 is fucking sick. The Pioneertown, CA-based fest made its debut last year with none other than Brant Bjork at the organizational helm, and the return installment builds on the first one unquestionably, importing Italian heavy psych forerunners Black Rainbows to play the fest proper at Pappy & Harriet’s and partnering with esteemed Euro booker Sound of Liberation on a pre-party the night before out in the desert with Yawning Man, Fu Manchu and Brant Bjork doing a set with Sean Wheeler. Like I said, it’s fucking sick.
Really, the only two words you’d need to sell the thing are “Earthless headline,” but the that’s just the start of what’s going on here. Orchid and The Shrine will be an absolute party, and the vibe Desert Generator 2017 is shooting for is so apparent I can feel it even from being situated on the other side of the continent. I wish to hell I could be there for this one, because it looks like it’s going to be something special.
Check it out:
DESERT GENERATOR 2017
A heavy, psychedelic, rock & roll happening.
Rolling Heavy Magazine; Allnight, Allnight; and Brant Bjork present:
DESERT GENERATOR and THE ROLLING HEAVY VAN SHOW Saturday, April 8th, 2017 Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Saloon, The Pioneertown Corrals
Custom vans, killer bands, hanging and camping out all weekend with new and old buddies, cheersing and generally getting rad in the Southern California desert. Concert Tickets are on sale. If you were there in 2016, you know you gotta be there. If you missed it, well, you know you can’t make that mistake again. We are so stoked about this band lineup!
EARTHLESS BRANT BJORK ORCHID THE SHRINE BLACK RAINBOWS
— Yeah, buddy, that’s right. Let that soak in for a minute, then read on…
!!! SOMETHING EXTRA RAD AND NEW FOR 2017 !!!
>>> \\\\ * STONED & DUSTED * //// <<< Presented by Sound of Liberation Friday April 7th, 2017
A concert that can happen only with these desert rock legends and only in this desert. We’re throwing a generator party in the middle of nowhere and you’re invited. The location sits on nearly 700 acres of undisturbed desert. No telephone poles, no roads, no people, nothing but rocks and rockers, stones and stoners.
Mario Lalli is bringing the gas-powered electricity and his band Yawning Man are bringing the loudest amps they can find. Brant Bjork is swooping up the Low Desert Punks in his badass Dodge Challenger and special guest Sean Wheeler is riding in on the hood. Fu Manchu finally found the party they were in search of this whole time! And you can find it too if you have a ticket. Meet the bands, break bread, and see them rock out in this super secret desert location.
FU MANCHU BRANT BJORK w/ SPECIAL GUEST SEAN WHEELER YAWNING MAN
* Hang with the bands before the show * Enjoy Hot Tacos & Cold Drinks * VERY LIMITED number of tickets * Super rad desert location * Loud as fuck
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.
Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.
The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.
This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.
Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.
I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:
Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.
Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.
There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.
A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.
Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.
Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.
There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.
Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.
Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.
Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.
For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.
I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, Neurosis‘ Fires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.
Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.
Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.
I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.
Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.
Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.
Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.
Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.
One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.
If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.
In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.
After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.
Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.
7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know
Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.
German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.
A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.
Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Che, Vista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.
What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.
Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.
2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)
It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.
Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.
The Next 20
Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:
31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll
From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.
Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:
Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment
And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:
Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.
In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.
If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.
And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 14th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Italian trio Black Rainbows really began to show they were on a trajectory for more than just sand-stylized fuzz with their second record, Carmina Diabolo. Originally issued in 2010 on Longfellow Deeds Records, it hit some three years after their Twilight in the Desert debut in 2007, and found the band immediately pushing the boundaries they had set for themselves on the first record. That progression would continue unabated right up to this year’s Stellar Prophecy (review here), and as they’ve become forerunners of Italy’s fertile and varied heavy rock/psych scene, it seems only fair for them to look back at Carmina Diabolo, which they’ll do with a new reissue of the album next Friday, Oct. 21, via Heavy Psych Sounds.
The following came from the label via the PR wire:
HPS002 BLACK RAINBOWS-“Carmina Diabolo” (reissue)
RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 21st
LIMITED 12″ WHITE SINGLE VINYL
BLACK 12″ SINGLE VINYL
‘Carmina Diabolo’ starts off with the neatly carved ‘Himalaya’ who brings you the finest in fuzz rock and just like the title says, this is a giant! Good vocals and great riffs, everything you could want is on the list. This smooth running ‘motor’ is fuelled with gallons of first class rocket fuel more than enough to hurl anyone into orbit. The following gem ‘Babylon’ together with the fourth act ‘What’s In Your Head’ run in the same vein and are just as dusty as desert rock should be. Other tracks worth mentioning are ‘Bulls & Bones’ and the outstanding ‘Return To Volturn’. They grab you by the balls just like most of the songs on the album.
TRACKLIST: A1 Himalaya A2 Babylon A3 Under The Sun A4 What’s In Your Head A5 Bulls & Bones A6 Carmina Diabolo B1 In The City B2 Return To Volturn B3 The Witch B4 Space Kingdom
BLACK RAINBOWS IS Gabriele Fiori – Guitar & Vocals Alberto Croce – Drums Giuseppe Guglielmino – Bass
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 22nd, 2016 by JJ Koczan
This is one of those instances where a band works really hard and is awesome and cool things happen. Roman trio Black Rainbows will join none other than Brant Bjork on his upcoming European tour this November. The band will already spend a decent portion of October on the road, playing festivals like Desertfest Athens, Desertfest Belgium, Keep it Low and Into the Void, but tacking another 16 dates on top of that, particularly considering who they’ll be out with, only makes their fall look more excellent.
Between the two runs, it will be the second round of touring that Black Rainbows have done to support this year’s Stellar Prophecy (review here), which was released in Spring with another European tour concurrent to that. Seems like at some point these guys are going to have to get over to the States for a few shows. Where’s that Psycho Las Vegas request form?
From the PR wire:
BLACK RAINBOWS on tour with Brant Bjork! More shows and festivals announced!
Italian heavy psych rockers BLACK RAINBOWS are once again about to take over Europe, with a full set of shows including the best festivals of this season. The fuzztastic trio was also chosen by almighty desert rock icon BRANT BJORK as main support act on his fall tour. Get in!
BLACK RAINBOWS have been relentlessly supporting their fifth outing “Stellar Prophecy”, released last spring on Heavy Psych Sounds. With a full headline tour (which includes appearances at Desertfest Athens and Belgium, Into The Void and Keep It Low Fest), and an extensive tour alongside all-time desert rock legend BRANT BJORK, the trio is slowly but surely expanding their fuzzy grip on the continent.
Another special guest to join Brant Bjork and Black Rainbows on their European tour is Sean Wheeler from desert punk band Throw Bag, who was recently featured in the “Lo Sound Desert” movie.
BLACK RAINBOWS comment: “We’re very very excited, we didn’t expect to receive this call! Our goal was set for Desertfest Athens, Belgium, Keep It Low and Into The Void fest! This is insane for us, an occasion we’ve looking for a long time.”
BLACK RAINBOWS FALL TOUR 2016: 07.10 – Athens (GR) Desertfest Athens 10.10 – Zurich (CH) TBC 14.10 – Antwerp (BE) Desertfest Belgium 15.10 – Monthbeliard (FR) Atelier des Moles 17.10 – Lichtenfeld (DE) Paunchy Cats 18.10 – St Gallen (CH) Rumpeltum 19.10 – Wien (AT) Das Bach 20.10 – Salzburg (AT) Rockhaus 21.10 – Leeuwarden (NL) Into The Void Fest 22.10 – Munich (DE) Keep It Low Fest
ON TOUR WITH BRANT BJORK: 03.11 – Osnabrück (DE) Bastard Club 04.11 – Deventer (NL) Burger Weeshuis 05.11 – Erfurt (DE) Stadtgarten 06.11 – Hasselt (BE) Mod 07.11 – London (UK) The Garage 08.11 – Paris (FR) Divan Du Monde 09.11 – Wiesbaden (DE) Schlachthof 10.11 – München (DE) Backstage 11.11 – Graz (AT) PPC 14.11 – Vienna (AT) Arena 15.11 – Zürich (CH) Rote Fabrik 16.11 – Karlsruhe (DE) Substage 17.11 – Köln (DE) Live Music Hall 18.11 – Dresden (DE) Beatpol 19.11 – Berlin (DE) Columbia Theater 20.11 – Hamburg (DE) Logo
BLACK RAINBOWS IS Gabriele Fiori – Guitar & Vocals Alberto Croce – Drums Giuseppe Guglielmino – Bass
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 12th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
With the final addition of Cough, the lineup for Desertfest Athens 2016 is complete. The fest is set for Oct. 7 and 8 — less than a month from now — and Cough join the bill as they’ll be on tour at the time with Elder (dates here) supporting their new album, Still They Pray (review here), which was released by Relapse.
The roster of bands they join, including Red Fang and Greek forerunners 1000mods, whose new song “The Son” you can hear below (more to come on that album), is ridiculously strong, and seems to draw from the history of Desertfest itself in various ways, Steak representing London’s incarnation, Colour Haze that of Berlin (though they’re from Munich), and really any number of these acts the Belgian edition. It’s a great mix that does well to represent its home country as well in Automaton (who’ll be joined by Dr. Space himself), Sadhus, and the aforementioned 1000mods.
Looks like a great show, and particularly as it’s the first one, I wish them all the best of luck with it.
Final announcement and lineup follow:
Doom/Sludge masters COUGH joining the bill for Desertfest Athens 2016 1st edition!
This is the full line up for the 1st ever Desertfest Athens!
Red Fang 1000mods Pentagram Torche Colour Haze Truckfighters My Sleeping Karma Karma to Burn Elder Cough Black Rainbows House of Broken Promises Steak Beggars Sadhus Black Hat Bones Automaton with Dr. Space We Own the Sky
Enjoy desert army!
After London, Berlin and Antwerp, the Desertfest franchise is keeping up its conquest of Europe by launching the very first Greek edition of the famous stoner, doom and psych festival. DESERTFEST ATHENS will take place over the second weekend of October, as a sister event of the autumnal Belgium edition.
Over the years, DESERTFEST has become one of the most popular events in Europe for everything heavy, stoner, doom and psyche. “Made by fans for the fans”, the festival gathers thousands of people from across the globe each year by hosting the finest headliners, while also constantly stretching the limits of its own niche with dozens of quality live acts throughout a weekend. Nurturing a friendly atmosphere since the very beginning, DESERTFEST is a urban festival that has won the loyalty of heavy music lovers, so expect your Greek holiday to be a unique and memorable music and human experience!
One could hardly accuse Desertfest Belgium 2016 of playing it subtle. The Antwerp-based festival has upped its stakes considerably this year, bringing in Goat as its first-announced headliner and now adding Red Fang to the bill as the second of three with the third still TBA. Perhaps even more of a consideration are the acts built around these major-force names: Uncle Acid, YOB, Pentagram, Weedeater, Elder and so on, that really demonstrate just how far the festival has come, adding its name to the elite class in a crowded European fall fest sphere.
Red Fang will have their new album out by the time they head over to play. Weedeater, SubRosa, Duel, Black Rainbows and Giobia have also signed on. The PR wire brings details:
RED FANG COMES TO DESERTFEST BELGIUM! Weedeater and others also confirmed
We promised you whopping big news, so whopping big news is what you get!
It is a true pleasure and honour to announce the stoner rock phenomenon RED FANG will be headlining Desertfest Belgium for 2016. As one of the most exciting bands to break out of the scene and into the collective rock community, this is truly a dream come true for us.
Allow us to further blow your excitement level through the roof with another great addition to the line-up: Southern moguls WEEDEATER will be playing the festival as well, along with the oldschool-not-retro heavy heavy psych of DUEL and BLACK RAINBOWS. And with SUBROSA and GIOBIA, we add some truly progressive stoner sounds to the Desertfest mix.
And we’re still not done! We’ll return to you in August with the reveal of our last headliner… we promise it’ll be another mindblower.
How about this for a good omen: Red Fang’s new album ‘Only Ghosts’ drops on the first day of our festival… so what else could we do but try and do our stinking best to get them on board!
And so here they are – the Portlandian stonerockers who have been on the rise since 2005, earning their respect and fame the good old fashioned way: by consistently blowing the mind of whoever witnessed their rifftastic songs, their scorching liveshows, their hilarious videos. Headlining this year’s Desertfest Belgium – you bet your ass we’re psyched!
Another scene mainstay that needs no introduction. You know Weedeater’s got the heaviest tone in the business, you know last year’s album ‘Goliathan’ delivered another slab of grooves thick as molasses. You know Dixie Dave will toast us with whiskey and throw up halfway the set from sheer excitement, you know drummer Travis will juggle his sticks a lot. But most of all: you know the gums will be fuzzed straight off your teeth when Weedeater hits the stage.
Duel from Austin, Texas bring a brand of stoner doom that is utterly menacing and brutally old school. Hugely influenced by the pure darker sounds of early 70’s Proto-metal, their tunes cut right to the bone with heavy deep groove and a blistering tone. Tough and Loud, Hard rock as it should be!
The Italian Black Rainbows have established themselves as one of the most active fuzz-fueled rock acts in Europe. Blending the drive and swagger of 70’s hard rock with the sun-baked thickness of 90’s stoner rock, their sound could be described as “Hawkwind, MC-5 and Nebula crashing cars in the middle of the Mojave desert”. For proof, look no further than this year’s killer album ‘Stellar Prophecy’.
Subrosa brings you Ancient Magickal Doom from the bowels of Salt Lake City. Balancing a sludgy low-end and high volume with ultra-melodic folk and experimental elements, the haunting ambience of two electric violins makes this a singular trip that feels emotional, eerie, bleak, and beautiful.
Hailing from Milan, Giöbia is a celebration of the authentic sixties psychedelic underground, brought to taste with strong shoegaze influences. and sitars, old organs and synthesizers as well as a shitload of effects. A real treat for true lovers of psychedelic music!
Six months in, 2016 has been interesting to say the least. Every year provides its share of highlights — we’re fortunate enough to live in a crowded age when it comes to people doing quality work — but there have been a few unexpected offerings that have grabbed attention and held it well, and as we progress into the second half of the year, it seems entirely likely the pattern will continue.
All the better. As styles and scenes continue to develop, from Swedish boogie to West Coast psych to the party vibes out of the Pacific Northwest, bands are growing and changing. Everything is in motion, personalities are taking shape, and crucially, the new generation of groups is finding its footing building on the traditions of the past. Some of it is definitely formative, but individualism is rarely immediate, and I think we are at an interesting point as a crop of acts is figuring out where they want to be in terms of sound and what are their aspirations musically and practically. The question of the day might be, “How far can we push this?”
And of questions, that’s a good one to be working from. I’ve been asking it myself, but as the social media landscape continues to grow and integrate into the lives of a listenership that’s become accustomed to that kind of immediate access as well as the convenience of streaming outlets like Bandcamp, Spotify, Pandora and Soundcloud, the answer seems to be that the expansion will keep up, at least for a while yet. Frankly, it’s already gone on longer than I would’ve expected for how fickle trends are and the short attention span of the general public, but ‘heavy,’ as a worldwide concept, has continued to flourish.
Part of that stems from the excellent and progressive work being done by current bands — part of it is marketing — and at least for my own taste, those acts pushing the lines of genre seem to be doing so with a brazen confidence that they’ll be able to bring their audience along with them. So far in 2016, that’s pretty much how it’s worked out.
At the end of the year I’ll be doing a Top 30 list, and I expect many of these records will feature there as well, so I’ll try to keep this relatively brief in light of that, but here’s where my head has been at:
The Top 15 Albums of 2016 so Far
1. Mars Red Sky, Apex III: Praise for the Burning Soul
2. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow
3. Gozu, Revival
4. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree
5. The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again
6. Zun, Burial Sunrise
7. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
8. Comet Control, Center of the Maze
9. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh
10. Conan, Revengeance
11. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
12. Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy
13. Goatess, Purgatory Under New Management
14. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
15. Lord, Awake
Honorable mention (in no order): Curse the Son, Holy Grove, Mondo Drag, Joy, Black Black Black, Spidergawd, Beastmaker, High Fighter, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Droids Attack, Cough, Beastwars, New Keepers of the Water Towers, Conclave, Valley of the Sun, Throttlerod, It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Ancient Warlocks, Bright Curse, Naxatras, Kaleidobolt, Atomikylä, Black Lung, Lord Vicar, Pooty Owldom, Vokonis, Electric Citizen, Stone Machine Electric, Graves at Sea, and Merchant.
Some quick notes on the list. First, it’s pretty fluid. On any given day, records from the honorable mentions list could be in there with the numbered stuff, and between the two, I find it striking and encouraging how many of these releases are full-length debuts. Just two in the top 10 with Elephant Tree and Zun — another will be added when King Buffalo‘s album is out in August; we’ll get there — but more in the honorable mentions between Holy Grove, High Fighter, Vokonis, Merchant, Graves at Sea and Bright Curse.
To go with that, there are some standbys. I’ve made no secret of my enduring affection for what France’s Mars Red Sky are bringing to the sphere of heavy psychedelia, so to have their Apex III: Praise for the Burning Soul as my album of 2016 so far doesn’t seem out of line. It’s why I booked them to headline the All-Dayer in August (tickets here), and I don’t see that appreciation diminishing anytime soon. The path they’re on seems to me to be one of the most crucial going worldwide, and in a group like Elephant Tree, we can already see the influence they’re having.
No surprise that Gozu would end up near the top — their 2013 album, The Fury of a Patient Man, featured highly on that year’s list as well — and Revival is an even more dynamic outing. It’s pretty much even with Greenleaf in my mind at this point, but I gave the Swedes the edge for the bold forward stride that Rise Above the Meadow represents in its sound and scope. Both of those records will be top-tenners at the end of the year as well, if not top five.
Speaking of bold strides, The Golden Grass‘ more progressive take on Coming Back Again and their melodic charm continue to resonate, and between the expansive desert soundscaping of Zun‘s Burial Sunrise bringing together Gary Arce (Yawning Man), Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, etc.), and the brooding darker heavy rock of Young Hunter‘s self-titled, it’s been a half-year covering a wide sonic range for sure. Comet Control‘s second album is still pretty fresh in my mind, having just reviewed it last week, but its quality is damn near undeniable and I can’t stop listening to it, so it goes in the top 10.
And rounding out to first 10 are two more mainstays in Wo Fat and Conan, who’ve had releases featured in lists around these parts for a while now but who still offer thrills in their newest collections, Wo Fat‘s Midnight Cometh bringing their jazz-jam-fuzz to new levels of exploration and Conan‘s Revengeance building on the aural crush of their prior work and finding founder Jon Davis with a hand-sculpted rhythm section (including producer Chris Fielding) very much suited to the band’s purposes. Their shifting instrumental dynamic made Revengeance almost like a second debut, but it was an album that couldn’t have been born except out of their experience and knowing what works in their aesthetic. Davis once told me he would never try to fix what wasn’t broken in Conan. As he’s lived up to that, they’ve become one of the most recognizable heavy bands in the world.
In the 11-15 range, a pretty broad cross-section between the flowing instrumental experiments of Causa Sui, the motor-ready space-psych of Black Rainbows — whose accomplishments seem to almost be coming too fast for the audience to catch up — the traditional-minded stoner-doom of Goatess, Blaak Heat‘s frenetic desert prog and reign-in-chaos sludge of Lord‘s Awake, but sonic diversity is a strength in the current and the upcoming generations of bands, and though some remain underappreciated as yet — Black Rainbows, Blaak Heat, Lord particularly so — it’s tough to ignore the sonic expansion underway in the US, Europe and beyond.
I’m not going to do a separate list for EPs, demos and splits before December, but thought there were more than a few non-full-length releases that warranted attention. From my notes: Mars Red Sky‘s EP, Dos Malés, Bison Machine/SLO/Wild Savages split, The Skull EP, Iron Jawed Guru, LSD and the Search for God, Cultist, River Cult, Karma to Burn, Wren‘s Host EP, Gorilla vs. Grifter, Goya, Brume‘s Donkey, Shallows‘ The Moon Rises, Sun Voyager/The Mad Doctors split, Earthless/Harsh Toke split, and the Ragged Barracudas/Pushy split. And many others, no doubt.
Still to Come
I alluded earlier to the King Buffalo album, Orion, which has significant top 10 potential for December. It’s officially out in August, or it would’ve been counted here. Some of these I’ve heard and some I haven’t, but also be on the lookout for: Foghound (out this week), Neurosis (album of the year potential), Worshipper, Monolord‘s new EP, Wight, Slomatics, The Wounded Kings, Electric Wizard, Geezer, Devil to Pay, Blues Pills, Baby Woodrose, Backwoods Payback, Beelzefuzz, Them Bulls, Cloud Catcher, Captain Crimson, and of course, Mos Generator.
If I’ve forgotten anyone in any part of this list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments. Otherwise, thanks for reading and here’s to a great rest of 2016!