Live Review: Black Sabbath in Massachusetts, 08.12.13

Posted in Reviews on August 13th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Houses on the way into the Comcast Center had signs on their lawns advertising $30 parking. I guess earning a buck or two on the side is probably a good way to offset some of the annoyance that must be inevitable when you live next door to an amphitheater. People were taking advantage, too. By the time I pulled into the parking lot, there were pedestrians walking up alongside the car, eyes forward in pilgrimage concentration. It was Black Sabbath. Getting there was as top as priorities come.

I always forget the scale of these kinds of shows. The parking lot looked like a camp of heavy metal refugees. Ozzy and old Metallica blasted out of outside-of-this-parking-lot-I-drive-this-because-I’m-a-dad tailgating SUVs, lawn chairs were set up; grills ablaze, beers chugged, footballs thrown. For many, it looked like the only show they’d see this summer; and I don’t say that to condescend. Their appreciation was clear to discern through the ritual, and though it’s never been my thing, I find that admirable at least in concept. It was hard from the start not to view the night as a kind of religious experience.

The sun was setting over the hill and the sky turning pinkish-purple, and at the reasonable hour of 8:30PM, my planet and the planet on which reside the gods of doom themselves would align as Black Sabbath rolled through supporting their first number-one album and first Ozzy Osbourne-fronted outing since 1978’s Never Say Die, the Rick Rubin-produced 13.

Invariably, 13 (review here) has been the subject of much debate since its release, with points ranging from “No Bill Ward, no Sabbath” to “What the hell did you expect?” finding ground and various levels of validity along the way. It’s an album I found underwhelming at best — overproduced as it was almost certain to be and doing little to capture the spirit it purported and attempted to of the band’s earliest works, with uninteresting drumming to back the otherwise stellar leads of Tony Iommi and always pivotal bass of Geezer Butler. It was never going to be a Sabbath landmark in any other than the commercial sense, and it wasn’t. Songs were catchy but largely undercut by a self-awareness that sapped them of the vitality they were shooting to hone, as heard on the single, “God is Dead?,” and the reinvention of one of their most essential works — the song “Black Sabbath” — that showed itself on album opener “End of the Beginning.”

Nonetheless, the record exists and it’s been talked about since the original lineup first reunited in 1997, so for that alone if not the actual songs, it’s an event. And if it gives me an excuse to go and watch Tony Iommi play guitar and Geezer Butler play bass for about two hours solid, I don’t care if it’s 45 minutes of Osbourne practicing making armpit farts, I’m going to see the band live. I went into it knowing what to expect and that it could be pretty rough depending on the night — they were still relatively lethal when I first saw them in 1998, but showed wear and tear over the years such that, when I last caught a show in 2005, I assumed it would be the final time — but honestly, I got what I came for by the time they were through “Into the Void,” which was the second song in the setlist. Everything else was gravy.

Perhaps less so opener Andrew W.K., who contrary to what I expected didn’t actually play a set so much as stand in a booth, toss out t-shirts and hit a couple quintessential rock tracks from AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, presumably off his iPod. The UK gets Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats and the major-market US tour gets… Andrew W.K. as a half-assed fluffer/DJ? Really? Sleep and YOB popped into my head immediately as the first two on a list of acts worthy of opening the show. I don’t know if Sabbath‘s management were worried about being upstaged or if perhaps Andrew W.K. is just the best guy in the universe to tour with and he couldn’t get a band together in time, but it was worthy of a raised eyebrow and it got one. Hell, even give me Down as an opener and I’d understand where you’re coming from. It was puzzling.

But also short-lived. Andrew W.K. was gone as soon as he’d arrived, taking his raised podium with a hologram of his face on it with him, and a curtain was lowered as the stage was set for Black Sabbath. The place was filling up quickly as the already-stumbling crowd made its way to their seats or to the general-admission lawn behind, and they came on more or less right on time. The curtain lifted and there they were: Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne down at the front of the stage, with drummer Tommy Clufetos on a high riser behind, backed by a trio of screens that showed shots of the band playing and sundry clips throughout of varying relation to what the songs were actually talking about — a stripper in a bejeweled gas mask during “Fairies Wear Boots” providing the night’s largest disconnect about halfway through.

Along with a trio of new songs spread throughout — “Age of Reason,” “End of the Beginning” and “God is Dead?” — the setlist was entirely comprised of material from the holy quadrilogy of Sabbath‘s first four albums, 1970’s Black Sabbath and Paranoid, 1971’s Master of Reality and 1972’s Vol. 4, save for a late inclusion of “Dirty Women” from 1976’s lackluster seventh album, Technical Ecstasy, which I found inexplicable until I realized as they started playing it that it was just an excuse to put vintage boobage on the screens behind, maybe in an effort to lull the largely-male audience into a trance and then snap them out of it with “Children of the Grave,” which closed the set proper, or maybe just to say, “thanks for showing up, enjoy some Bettie Page.” Whatever.

Osbourne and Iommi seemed at various points to have some issues with their monitors, but it didn’t have an effect on the sound in the front of the house, which was as huge and loud as I’m sure the neighbors could’ve possibly asked for, and by the time “Under the Sun” rolled into “Snowblind” and the ending section of “Age of Reason” reminded of one of 13‘s merits, the band was long since up to full speed. My seats were toward the left side of the stage, which put me in front of Butler, who held down that entire side of the stage with his usual subdued grace and sonic mastery. At the end of the show? Tony Iommi was smiling but tired in front of his Laney stacks, Clufetos looked like he had just run a marathon in jean shorts, Osbourne visibly reflected every second of the formidable calisthenic effort he put into the gig, and Geezer Butler came off like he could’ve played another two hours. And it’s not like he wasn’t going for it. He’s just that fucking good.

Of course I’m biased, but I don’t know how you could ever watch him play the “Bassically” intro to “N.I.B.” and not be. His foot on the wah, he set the tone for one of Sabbath‘s most quintessential riffs, and while Ozzy would later find his moment in “Iron Man” and Iommi seemed to relish and smile through every quiet measure of “Black Sabbath,” “N.I.B.” clearly belonged to the bassist and came off “Behind the Wall of Sleep” as naturally as one could hope. As regards Osbourne‘s performance, he rightly stuck to his comfort zone throughout the night and the set seemed to be constructed around that as well — nothing from the more vocally adventurous Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973) or Sabotage (1975), though the intro to “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” was tacked on as a precursor to the encore “Paranoid.” Neither he nor the years have been kind to his voice, but he did well to stay away from the highs in the “I don’t want to see you” lines toward the finish of “End of the Beginning” — opting not to sing those lines at all — and in cuts like “Black Sabbath” and the opener “War Pigs,” he delivered the notes with a charisma usually reserved for kings and the odd pope. Whatever else has come between them over the years, during “Into the Void” the frontman had his guitarist cracking up and he and Iommi walked off stage with their arms around each other at the finish of the set, the second half of which had taken a strange turn.

I guess it’s fair to expect Clufetos would have a drum solo. Gives the band time to rest and take a break, and as much as he’s not Bill Ward and by virtue of being a subsequent generation of heavy metal drummer can never bring to these songs the kind of swing that the man who wrote those parts could, Clufetos showed off a bit of groove and some considerable chops. But wow, it went on a long time. If you want to break the show into two 50-minute sets, fine, but to leave the guy out there for 10-plus minutes to carry an amphitheater crowd on the virtue of tom runs seemed like asking an awful lot. As with the rest of the show, he did his job well, but I was glad when he started the kick-drum thuds that announced “Iron Man” that he was soon rejoined by Butler, Osbourne and Iommi.

And whatever else one might say about the songs from 13, they are catchy — more infectious than good, particularly when paired with classics like “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Snowblind.” “God is Dead?” was followed by “Dirty Women,” and that was a bit of a lull, especially since I’d only just recovered from that drum solo, but “Children of the Grave” has the heaviest riff ever written and “Paranoid” was a necessary encore but also a welcome one, so Black Sabbath finished strong one way or another.

Maybe that’s what this tour is all about. It’s hard to imagine that since it took more than a decade for 13 to surface, the sexagenarian metal forefathers will be in a hurry to get another one out — at least not before the requisite live album and DVD from this round of touring have surfaced — and once this album cycle is over, who knows? I would expect they’d make a return next summer or fall still in support of 13, but maybe this will have been my last time seeing Sabbath, and if that’s the case, again, I got what I went for by the second song, which makes it hard to complain about the rest.

Thanks for reading.

Black Sabbath, “Iron Man” Live at Comcast Center, Mansfield, MA, Aug. 12, 2013

Note: If you’re wondering at the lack of photos, I was asked by the band’s PR to restrict myself to one for the blog and did so out of respect to that request.

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Here’s the One Question I Got to Ask Ozzy Osbourne about Black Sabbath’s 13

Posted in Features on July 18th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Prepare to be underwhelmed…

About two weeks ago, I took part with a slew of other alt-weekly journo types in a conference call with Ozzy Osbourne about the new Black Sabbath album, 13 (review here). It was an hour long and there were I think 20 or so writers involved. Everyone, I was told, would get to ask at least one question.

I had never done a conference call before, and the idea seemed lame, but it was my only chance to get even a smattering of phone time with Ozzy and not-at-all-blown-away-by-13 though I was, I wasn’t going to miss probably the only chance I’d ever have to ask him anything, let alone something about the process of making this album after talking about it for so long.

Before calling in to the weird phone chat thing — like a partyline of people who’ve made terrible life choices — I made a list of questions to pick from should I be lucky enough to actually get a word in. All my questions were among the first asked, and not by me. By the time it was finally my turn to ask something, I had nothing left and had to come up with one on the fly.

So, after being a Sabbath fan for more than half my life and finally getting an opportunity to speak to Ozzy Osbourne himself (a man who has clearly had no shortage of media training), here’s how it went down — my question and a follow-up:

I just wanted to ask you a little bit about the sort of reception to the new material live. Obviously, there’s Sabbath’s catalog of classics, but in terms of mixing new songs in and the shows you’ve already done…

Ozzy Osbourne: So we recently went to New Zealand, Australia, and Japan, and we did a couple of the new songs. We said they’re all new. God, you’d think it had been released as a single or a first track off album, and so that – I remember when we played two shows in Auckland, New Zealand.

The first night they didn’t really respond much to it. The second night they’re all singing the lyrics with me. I’m going, I can’t even remember them that good. I mean, it’s good for us as well to do new stuff, because you know, we’re all tuned into “Iron Man,” “War Pigs,” “Paranoid,” and all of the old classics, but instead, it gives us as a band something refreshing to put into the show, and so I’m just glad that people have bought into the new songs.

You mentioned before the songs being in sort of a middle range you could bring live. How much of a consideration when you guys were writing the album was doing the songs live?

Ozzy Osbourne: Well, after keeping the people waiting for as long as we did, I certainly — I can still get the range, but I can’t do it onstage. Maybe one gig I can do it onstage, but then it’d be every other night, I mean, my voice gets tired you know? And so I personally specifically went in the studio and kept it a little comfortable range that I could do onstage, you know.

On the other end of the line from one of heavy metal’s true gods and I’m left asking about… playing the new songs live. As if he doesn’t shout, “Here’s one off the new album!” and everyone goes to get a beer in time to be back for “Into the Void.” I’d call it a bummer if it wasn’t so much better than nothing.

I didn’t attempt to dial in for another round, but didn’t hang up either, and just listened to the rest of the hour as other writers from around the country took turns flattering and lobbing softballs. The first question had been about Bill Ward and that got shut down pretty quickly to more or less set the tone. By the end of it, charismatic though Osbourne is and though — as with the record — I’d expected no more than I got, I had gone back to checking my email.

And there you have it.

Black Sabbath, “Naïveté in Black” (2013)

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Black Sabbath, 13: At the End of the Storm

Posted in Reviews on June 17th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

I can no more pretend to be impartial about a new Black Sabbath album than I can about a member of my own family. Further, I don’t think any critic who can claim otherwise has any business reviewing 13, the first studio full-length by Black Sabbath proper since 1995’s Forbidden ended a lackluster streak with vocalist Tony Martin prior to a 1997 reunion with Ozzy Osbourne, the successor in many ways to guitarist Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler’s 2007 reunion with Ronnie James Dio that resulted in Heaven and Hell’s 2009 outing, The Devil You Know (review here), and an album which – had Dio survived his bout with stomach cancer – probably wouldn’t exist. Prior to Dio’s passing, Iommi – whose band Sabbath has always been – showed roughly no interest in getting back together with Osbourne at the fore and seemed content to let Black Sabbath’s original frontman languish on his path of a declining solo career. Sabbath had done live stints between 1997 and 2006, and in 1998 released the “Psycho Man” single to promote their aptly-titled Reunion double-live album, but another studio full-length with Iommi, Osbourne, Butler and drummer Bill Ward seemed like a daydream. Of course, it still is. In 2011, when the band announced they were together with the completion of an album in sight, the shockwave resonated far and wide, but a contract dispute with Ward resulted in Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk joining in his place for the recording of the Rick Rubin-produced 13. This would be narrative context enough were it not for 13’s being touted as an attempt to recapture the feel of the original Sabbath – untouchable records like 1970’s self-titled debut, the same year’s follow-up, Paranoid, the stonerly perfection of 1971’s Master of Reality and 1972’s Vol. 4 – and were it not for Iommi’s own cancer battle, which it’s easy to read 13 tracks like “End of the Beginning,” “Live Forever,” “God is Dead?” and “Damaged Soul” as reaction toward, regardless of whether or not they actually are.

First, whoever decided to bill 13 as a return to Sabbath’s heyday was a fool. 13 neither picks up where the band’s last Osbourne-fronted outing, 1978’s Never Say Die, left off, nor harkens back to the band’s earliest glories in any way other than periodically recycling a riff. As regards the production, it is stale in the modern commercial metal sense, and if Rubin’s stamp is anywhere on it, it holds about as much meaning in terms of authenticity as the “organic” produce at WalMart. Drums are triggered – for the most part, Wilk is a nonentity here, personality-wise, injecting simple fills and keeping a beat when called upon to do so (good work if you can get it) – guitars and bass are “corrected” and if there was any thought that Osbourne’s vocals were going to be presented in anything close to their natural state, let it be corrected by the ending apex of 13 opener “End of the Beginning,” on which he goes from his half-spoken drawl suddenly to suddenly pitch-perfect high notes for the line, “I don’t want to see you, yeah, yeah,” and then does it again – the irony being that in the prior verse come the lyrics, “You don’t want to be a robot ghost/Occupied inside a human host.” Granted, Dio’s vocals on The Devil You Know had pitch correction as well, and he sang to backup tracks on Heaven and Hell’s final tours, but he could sing! Osbourne could never hit the kinds of notes in “End of the Beginning.” In Sabbath, he had maybe three years where one would be right on a technical level to call him a singer and not only a frontman – 1974-1976 – and even then he knew better than to attempt such theatrics. It’s the first of many instances throughout of Black Sabbath playing it safe on 13, creating a sterile and in some cases cynical collection of self-aware heavy metal that only in the work of Iommi and Butler does any justice whatsoever to the band’s legacy. It’s an album they’ll be able to go out and tour on, but for fans of Sabbath who had some hope that 13 might come along and revitalize the career of one of the acts singularly responsible for the creation of heavy metal and its many subgenres – most particularly doom – all these eight tracks do is realize how foolish and unrealistic those hopes were in the first place.

All this I know, and then that utter lack of impartiality kicks in and I think of 13 as being Black Sabbath’s final album. I think of how closer “Dear Father” ends with the same sampled thunderstorm that starts their eponymous song at the beginning of Black Sabbath, the sheer foreboding meaning of that bookend in light of Iommi’s cancer – that this is it, that he’s dying – and even the lame, watered-down revisit of that atmosphere on “End of the Beginning” and the hackneyed lyrics of the following “God is Dead?” and “Loner” seem excusable as pathways to one last collection of Iommi riffs and solos, best accompanied as they’ve always been by Butler’s trailblazing bass work (the easy argument is that he’s the most vital member of the band, and 13 bears that out), and though it’s a shame Ward isn’t a part of it, shouldn’t I just take what I can get and as someone who’s had his life changed by Sabbath’s work be happy? Isn’t it enough that Sabbath have another record? Does it really need to be good, too?

Yes and no. As I said, 13 is an album that Black Sabbath Iommi, Butler, Osbourne and Wilk or whoever they get – will be able to go out and tour arenas. They’ll put a couple new songs in the set along with the hits they’ve played on and off for over a decade, and if it’s to be Iommi’s last hurrah, no one will ever be able to say he didn’t earn it. Fans who saw them in their first run will go, younger fans will go, headbangers of all kinds of all generations, everywhere they go, the venues will be full. It will be successful. Even being panned by critics won’t matter – Sabbath have the armor of never having been a “critic’s band,” so  that even though the critics now may be two generations’ worth of Sabbath fans critiquing a hollow representation of what made them legends, they’re protected by the number of people who show up, the sheer scale of their profile. Fine. Records like Master of Reality, Black Sabbath and 1973’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath will belong to the underground no matter how many copies they sell, and for every one oldschool Sabbath fan who refuses to see what he or she alleges is a false version of the original band, two more are willing to buy that ticket. Neither side of the argument needs the other at this point, and history is on the band’s side – with over 20 people in and out of the lineup over the years, who’s to say what’s genuine? Sabbath will do what they will do to reach as broad an audience as possible – reuniting with Osbourne instead of, say, Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, with whom Iommi recently collaborated for the Whocares benefit single, speaks to wanting to gather maximum interest – and those unable to reconcile themselves to what the band has become don’t need to have a part in it if they choose to not. If Sabbath know the difference at this point, I certainly can’t imagine they give a rat’s ass. Ward was their tie to the authenticity they purported to be tapping into for the recording of 13, and they were quick enough to let him go. Does the album need to be good? Well, it needs a logo.

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Looking for Today: 20 Albums to Watch for in 2013

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.

Ararat, III


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.

Bezoar, TBA


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 Era could 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, 13 is 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.

Lo-Pan, TBA


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.

Truckfighters, TBA


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.

Vhöl, TBA


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 GarciaNick 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 You release (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, EggnoggWhen the Deadbolt Breaks, Mars Red SkyAsteroid, Apostle of Solitude, WindhandPhantom 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.

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