The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the-top-30-of-2018

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 2018 to that, please do.

It just wouldn’t be a year if it wasn’t completely overwhelming, right?

2018 has certainly met that standard and then some. The swath of output, whether it’s a new generation adopting and adapting established methods or out and out reinventing the stylistic wheel and then pushing it uphill on a seemingly endless barrage of tours, has been staggering, and it’s still happening. There’s a little more than a week to go in the year. You think a band isn’t putting something out today? Of course they are. It’s every day. It’s all the time.

But this year wasn’t just about quantity either. I think one of my biggest struggles in writing about albums in 2018 — and with the last Quarterly Review and various premieres and video posts that were basically album reviews in disguise, let’s estimate we’re somewhere past 300 records reviewed one way or another — was in conveying just how killer so much of the stuff coming through was. How many times can you say the word “awesome?” Well, I’m sure we’ll see it a few more times before this list is over, so there you go.

I say something like this every time I do a list, but please keep in mind these are my picks and I’m one person. But I am a person. I know there’s the whole internet-anonymity thing, but I assure you, I’m a human being (more of a cave troll, really) typing these words. I’m all for everyone sharing their own picks in the comments, and all for passionate advocating, but please, let’s keep it civil and respectful. These things can spiral out of control quickly, but let’s remember that we’re all human beings and worth of basic courtesy, even if some of us are dead wrong about a good many things. You should definitely punch nazis, though.

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

[UPDATE: You’ll notice the inclusion of an ’18a.’ I had Stoned Jesus in my notes as number 18 initially and they got dropped as I was adjusting things along the way. I’ve added them back in, but it didn’t seem fair to bump everyone else down after the post had already been published. That was the best I could come up with for a solution. If you’re pissed about one more killer record being added, please feel free to email me and tell me all about it.]

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Chicago’s The Skull had no small task before them in following up their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) — let alone living up to their pedigree — but their second album demonstrated a creative growth that sacrificed nothing of memorability when it came to songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “All that Remains (Is True).” They got down to work and got the job done, which is what a working band does. 2018 was by any measure a fantastic year for doom, and The Skull were a big part of why.

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

The Dec. 2017 murder of Rev. Jim Forrester was tragic. No other way to say it. Foghound, who were in the midst of making Awaken to Destroy at the time, put together an album that not only features Forrester‘s last recorded performance, but pays respect to his memory while the wound is still raw and manages to kick ass all the while. It’s a record that can’t ever be divorced from its circumstances — just can’t — and so it can be a heavy listen in more than just its tones, but it’s basically Foghound proving they’re unstoppable. And so they are.

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

Who among us here today is not a sucker for Orange Goblin? Come forward an be judged. I mean, really. Nine records deep, the London sceneforgers are nothing less than an institution, beloved by boozehounds, riffhounds, doomhounds, and really, a wide variety of hounds the world over. Also dudes. With its essential title-track hook and highlight cuts in “Ghosts of the Primitives” and “Burn the Ships” — or, you know, any of them — they added to one of heavy’s most unshakable legacies with an album as furious as it is welcoming to its generations-spanning fanbase.

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

fu manchu clone of the universe
Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed Feb. 15.

There are two kinds of people in this world, and they’re both Fu Manchu fans. Clone of the Universe turned heads with a guest appearance from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson on the 18-minute side-B-consuming “Il Mostro Atomico,” but really to focus on that instead of “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” etc., is only seeing half the point of the album in the first place. The long-running lords of fuzz hit a new stride with 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), and Clone of the Universe was in every way a worthy successor.

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain
Released by Svart Records. Reviewed May 16.

It was an unenviable task before Witch Mountain in replacing vocalist Uta Plotkin, but founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson found the right voice in Kayla Dixon and solidified the lineup with her and bassist Justin Brown enough to make a declarative statement in Witch Mountain‘s self-titled LP. That’s the story of it. They pulled it off. Met with what was unquestionably a bummer circumstance, they pushed through and moved their sound forward through a new beginning — and not their first one. Watch out when their next record hits.

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Richmond, Virginia, doomers Windhand‘s second collaboration with producer Jack Endino produced a marked and purposeful expansion of their sound, encompassing classic grunge influences and a heavy psychedelic swirl that added color their previously-greyscale sonic haze. Resonant in tone and emotionalism, Eternal Return readjusted Windhand‘s trajectory in such a manner that, where one might’ve thought they knew where the band were headed in terms of their progression, they’ve made themselves a less predictable outfit on the whole. For that alone, it’s a triumph. Then you have the songs.

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

I don’t even want to admit how long I was waiting for Sun Voyager‘s first long-player to show up, but when it finally did, the New York trio did not disappoint. Catchy, energetic, fuzzed-out tunes with driving rhythms and a heavy psych flourish, they tapped into shoegaze and desert vibes without losing any sense of themselves in the process, and if the extra wait was so they could be so remarkably coherent in their expression on their full-length, then I wouldn’t want it to have shown up any sooner. An easy pick to stand among 2018’s best debut albums. Now to wait for the next one.

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

It should tell you something that after working quickly to produce three albums, Louisiana’s Forming the Void are still defined by their potential. If I had my druthers, I’d put the recent Ripple signees on tour for the bulk of 2019, across the US and in Europe for festivals and support-slot club shows, really give them an opportunity to hammer out who they are as a band and then hit the studio for LP four. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but they’d only be doing the universe a favor by kicking into that gear. As it stands, their progression is palpable in their material and they stand absolutely ready for whatever the next level might be for them.

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

Released by BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed June 29.

Aside from the speed at which Spaceslug have turned around offerings — with Eye the Tide following 2017’s Mountains and Reminiscence EP (review here) and Time Travel Dilemma (review here) full-length and their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here) — the Polish outfit have undertaken significant progression in their sound, moving from pure heavy psychedelic warmth to incorporating elements out of extreme metal as they did on Eye the Tide. Adding to the latest record’s accomplishment is the smoothness with which they brought seemingly opposing sides together, only adding depth to an approach already worthy of oceanic comparison.

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

Conan Existential Void Guardian
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Conan‘s reign of terror has been unfolding for more than a decade now, and each of their albums has become a kind of step along a path of incremental growth. Consider the melody creeping into the shouts of founding guitarist Jon Davis, or the emergence of bassist Chris Fielding as a vocal presence alongside, the two sharing a frontman role more than ever before while welcoming drummer Johnny King to the fold of destructive tonality and doomly extremism. Existential Void Guardian may end up just being another stomp-print on their way to the next thing, but it affirmed the fact that as much as Conan grow each time out, their central violence continues to hold sway.

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

PALE DIVINE S/T
Released by Shadow Kingdom Records. Reviewed Nov. 21.

Look. A new Pale Divine record doesn’t come along every day, so yeah, their self-titled was probably going to be on my list one way or the other, but it definitely helps that not only was it their first outing in six years since 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here), but it had the songs to live up to a half-decade-plus of anticipation. It marked the first studio appearance from bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis alongside guitarist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey — now both of Beelzefuzz as well — and made a strong argument for how much Pale Divine deserve more than 20 years on from their initial demo to be considered classic American doom.

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands
Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed May 11.

The return and rise to prominence of Washington pure heavy rockers Mos Generator might be the underground’s feelgood story of the decade, but it hasn’t by any means been easily won. In addition to rebuilding the band however many albums ago, guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed has put in innumerable hours on tour and worked to actually develop the group creatively in addition to in terms of stage presence. This is shown throughout some of the classic prog elements making their way onto Shadowlands, and perhaps some of the collection’s moodier aspects are born of the aforementioned road time as well. Hard for that kind of thing not to be a slog after a while, but at least they have killer tunes to play.

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

The only safe bet about Stoned Jesus‘ fourth long-player, Pilgrims, was that it was going to sound different than the third. That 2015 outing, The Harvest (review here), preceded the band touring to celebrate the fifth anniversary and after-the-fact success of 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but Pilgrims defied narrative in that instead of incorporating elements from the second record in more of a heavy psych or jam sound, Stoned Jesus instead showcased a tighter, more sureheaded sense of craft than they’ve ever displayed before, and arrived on Napalm Records with a collection of songs that demonstrated the growth and sense of creative will that drives them. While one can take a look at their moniker and think immediately they know what’s coming, Stoned Jesus have made themselves one of the least predictable bands in heavy rock.

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

“Pirate Smile.” “Lines.” “Whatever.” “It Ain’t Right.” “Threes.” “Cinderella.” “Generals.” “Big Enough.” “Alone.” “Lucky. Mike Cummings, Jessica Baker, Erik Larson. Every player, every song, every minute. If you want to know what heart-on-sleeve sounds like, it fucking sounds like Backwoods Payback. In their line from hardcore punk to grunge to heavy rock, they encompass experiences and emotionalism that are both shown in raw form throughout Future Slum, and build all the while on the chemistry they set out in developing with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), when they welcomed Larson to the lineup on drums and revitalized their mission. Also worth noting, they were the best live band I saw this year. Anywhere.

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

No question the excitement of C.O.C. putting out their first record with frontman Pepper Keenan involved since 2005’s In the Arms of God was one of this year’s top stories in heavy. And No Cross No Crown tapped directly into the spirit of 1994’s Deliverance (discussed here) and 1996’s Wiseblood (discussed here) in terms of direction, while updating the band’s style with a four-part 2LP in mind. In some ways, it’ll be their next album that really gives listeners a sense of where they’re at and where they might be headed, but as welcome returns go, having Keenan alongside Mike DeanWoody Weatherman and Reed Mullin is in no way to be understated, and neither is the quality of their output together, then and now.

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It is no simple feat to hypnotize an audience and convey serenity while at the same time holding attention with songcraft, so that the listener isn’t actually so much unconscious as malleable of mood and spirit in such a direction as the band suggests. Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to become experts at this, and their third full-length fosters tonal warmth and jammy progressions with an overarching naturalism that finds them so committed to analog recording that one can buy direct transfers of the tape master of III. Some acts take classic-style practices as an aesthetic choice. With Naxatras, it seems to be the stuff of life, yet their sound is only vibrant and human in a way that, at least one hopes, is even more representative of the future than the past.

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

It was time for Clutch to make a change in producers, and the Maryland overlords of groove seemed to know it. Known as a live band, they went with Vance Powell, who’s known a live band producer. The results on Book of Bad Decisions might not have been so earth-shatteringly different from 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here), which was the too-soon follow-up to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — both helmed by Machine — but the inimitable four-piece indeed succeeded in capturing the electricity of their stage performance and, as ever, treated fans to a collection of songs bearing Clutch‘s unmistakable hallmarks of quirky lyrics, funky rhythms and heavy roll. They may always be a live band, but Clutch‘s studio work is in no way to be discounted, ever, as this record reaffirmed. Plus, crab cakes.

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

After 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), I wasn’t sure Ancestors were going to put out another record. They kicked around word of one for a while, but it wasn’t until the end of last year that it really seemed to congeal into a possibility. And by then, who the hell knew what they might get up to on a full-length? With Suspended in Reflections, in some says, they picked up where they left off in terms of finding a niche for themselves in progressive and melodic heavy, but I think the time showed in the poise of their execution and the control of the material. Suspended in Reflections can’t help but be six years more mature than its predecessor, and that suits its contemplative feel. In tracks like “Gone,” and “The Warm Glow,” they tempered their expansive sound with an efficiency that can only be had with time.

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

The narrative here was hard to beat. Matt Pike spending an album cycle talking about Lemmy Kilmister and paying homage to his dirt-rock forebear and the gods of old? It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Electric Messiah was the third collaboration between High on Fire and producer Kurt Ballou behind 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), and while it seemed after the last record that the formula might be getting stale, the band only sounded more and more lethal throughout the latest offering. Even putting aside their contributions to underground heavy, they’ve become one of the most essential metal bands of their generation. Metal, period. Doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re talking about it. If you’re listening to High on Fire, you know it. Usually because you’ve just been decapitated.

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

You know, if you take the time to separate Yawning Man from their 30-plus-year history and their legacy as one of the foundational acts of what later became desert rock, and you listen to The Revolt Against Tired Noises, you’re still left with basically a dream of an album. Mostly instrumental, as is their wont, they nonetheless had bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) sing this time around on a version of the previously-unreleased “Catamaran,” which Kyuss covered once upon a whenever although Yawning Man had never officially put it to tape. But really, that and all other novelty aside, guitarist Gary Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are a chemistry unto themselves. I don’t know if they’ll ever be as huge as they should be, but every bit of acclaim they get, they’ve earned, and if The Revolt Against Tired Noises helps them get it, all the more so.

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

Swedish heavy rock mavens Greenleaf have become an entirely different band than they once were. No longer a Dozer side-project from guitarist Tommi Holappa with a rotating cast of players, they’re a solidified, road-tested, powerhouse unit, and Hear the Rivers bleeds soul as a result. Holappa, frontman Arvid Hällagård, bassist Hans Fröhlich and drummer Sebastian Olsson sound like they’re absolutely on fire in the album’s tracks, and far from being staid or formulaic as one might expect a sixth long-player to be, Hear the Rivers built on what the band accomplished with 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) and came across as all the more vital and nearly frenetic in their energy. I won’t say Greenleaf has seen their last lineup change, because one never knows, but the band as they are today is the realization of potential I don’t think even Greenleaf knew was there.

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 4.

Five records deep into a career into its second decade, Gozu haven’t had a miss yet. Admittedly, some of their early work can seem formative considering where they are now, but still. And after the 2016 rager, Revival (review here), to have the band return to the same studio — Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where strides producer Dean Baltulonis — for the follow-up allows for the four-piece to directly show how their sound has grown more encompassing in the last couple years. And it has. Equilibrium is a rich and varied listen that holds true to Gozu‘s well-established penchant for soulful vibes and crunching, hard-hitting riffs and groove, but while it shares the directness of approach with Revival, it makes moves that a band could only make moving from one record to the next. I expect nothing less their next time out as well, because a decade later, that’s Gozu‘s proven track record.

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

monster magnet mindfucker
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 23.

The battle for the best album title of 2018 ended early when New Jersey everything-rockers Monster Magnet announced the release of Mindfucker. And what else to call a Monster Magnet LP at this point? They’ve stopped writing to genre. They’re driven by the creative mania of frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf, and they’ve seen psychedelic expanses and commercial success the likes of which would serve the tenure of four lesser bands. What’s left to do but whatever the hell you want? So that’s what Monster Magnet are doing. It just so happens that while they’re doing it, they’re still basically outclassing the entirety of the former planet earth as songwriters. As Monster Magnet fan in 2018, there was nothing more I could’ve asked than what Mindfucker delivered. And if you’re still trying to get your brain around it however many months later, you’re not alone. I think that’s the idea.

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Best doom album of 2018. The combination of craft and passion behind the delivery. The way the dark tones fed into the emotions so clearly on display and sheer presence of it in listening to songs like “Keeping the Lighthouse,” “Ruination by Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here.” Apostle of Solitude never seem to be the highest profile band out there, but their work seems never to be anything less than outstanding, and I refuse to accept them as anything less than among the most pivotal American acts out there making traditional doom. And not just making it, but making it their own, with a sense of new pursuits and individualism that extends to playing style as well as atmosphere. I know doom isn’t exactly in short supply these days — figuratively or literally — but if you miss out on what Apostle of Solitude are doing with it, you’ll only regret it later. I’ll say it one more time: Best doom album of 2018.

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

holy grove ii
Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 31.

Every now and again, anticipating the crap of an album really pays off, and such was the case with Holy Grove II, the Ripple Music debut from the Portland outfit whose 2016 self-titled (review here) seemed like such a herald of excellence to come while also, you know, being killer. Holy Grove II brought the four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis to entirely new levels of composition and execution. In songs like “Blade Born,” the shorter, sharper “Aurora,” the patiently rolling “Valley of the Mystics,” “Solaris” and closer “Cosmos,” which boasted a not-really-necessary-but-definitely-welcome guest vocal appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt, — and oh wait, that’s all of the tracks — Holy Grove entered a different echelon. Anticipation will likewise be high for Holy Grove III, but it’ll be hard to complain with this record to keep company in the meantime.

6. All Them Witches, ATW

all them witches atw
Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Over five All Them Witches albums, the Nashville four-piece have gone from a nascent heavy Americana jam band to one of the most distinct acts in the US underground. Their development in sound is chemistry-driven, so it was a risk when the founding trio of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) and drummer Robby Staebler welcomed new keyboardist Jonathan Draper into the lineup to take the place of Allan van Cleave. Amid a more naturalist production than that of 2017’s Sleeping Through the War (review here), the revamped four-piece flourished in terms of songwriting and conveying their stage-born sonic personae. From the gleeful fuckery of opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” to the memorable moodiness of “Diamond” and the back-end jam “Harvest Feast” en route to the stretched-out end of “Rob’s Dream,” All Them Witches essentially confirmed they could do whatever they wanted and make it work.

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

yob our raw heart
Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed June 7.

Actually, if you want a sample of YOB‘s raw heart, the place to go is probably 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), but whatever the Eugene, Oregon, shapers of cosmic doom might’ve lacked in titular accuracy on their eighth long-player, they made up for in a new, statesman-like posture. Their approach was mature, hammered out to a professionalism working completely on its own terms, and they never sounded so sure of who they are as a band or as confident of their direction. In extended cuts “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and “Our Raw Heart,” they explored new and progressive textures and melodies, and managed to reaffirm their core aspects while finding room for conveying emotion that came across as nothing but ultimately sincere. They have been and still are one of a kind, and as they continue to move forward, they remain a band that makes one feel lucky to be alive to witness their work. Our Raw Heart was perhaps more refined than it let on, but the heart was there for sure, as always.

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t a fan of the (relatively) harder-hitting approach Brant Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band took on 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), but Mankind Woman brought in some more of his soul influences, and whether it was the subtly subversive funk of “Chocolatize” and “Brand New Old Times” or the callout “1968” and laid back vibes of the title-track and “Swagger and Sway,” Bjork — working with guitarist Bubba DuPree on songwriting and production — offered a definitive look at what has made his 20-year solo career so special and demonstrates not only his longevity and his legacy, but his will to continue to progress as an artist honing his craft. His discography is well populated by now to be sure, but Mankind Woman represents a turn from the last couple records, and if it’s in any way portentous of things to come, it bodes well. Bjork is right at home nestled into classic-style grooves, and his legacy as one of the principal architects of desert rock is continually reaffirmed.

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

They’ve been great, not just good, for a long time now, and as forerunners of the San Diego heavy scene, they’re godfathers to an up and coming generation of bands taking their influence — let alone acts from the rest of the world — but Black Heaven is a special moment for them because of its departure. No, it wasn’t not the first time guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sang on an Earthless recording, but it did represent a tip of the balance in that direction for the band on a studio full-length, and that resulted in a special moment. Album opener “Gifted by the Wind” was one of the best songs I heard this year, and while “End to End” and the all-thrust “Volt Rush” affirmed that more traditional songwriting was well within the grasp of Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, they still found space for a sprawling jam or two, keeping their claim on the instrumentalism that’s (largely) fueled their tenure to date. Earthless don’t want for acclaim, but every bit of it is earned, and while their primary impact has always been live, Black Heaven saw them construct a traditional-style LP that still bore the hallmarks of their collective personality. It was the best of all worlds.

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

king buffalo longing to be the mountain
Self-released/released by Stickman Records. Reviewed Sept. 27.

In the dark early hours of 2018, the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson issued the Repeater EP (review here) as a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), so Longing to Be the Mountain didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but even with Repeater preceding its arrival, I don’t think anyone necessary expected King Buffalo‘s second album to have such a scope or to be so engrossing with it. In its melody, patience, atmosphere and heft, it was an absolute joy to behold. Its songs were memorable at the same time they were far-reaching, and while Orion was already my pick for the best debut of 2016, Longing to Be the Mountain realized even more potential than that record had hinted toward. It could be intimate or majestic at its whim, and its dynamic set an individual characterization of heavy psychedelia and blues-style sprawl that the band wholly owned. With production by Ben McLeod of All Them Witches behind them, they worked to serve notice of a progression undertaken the results of which are already staggering and still seem to be looking ahead to the next stage, literally and figuratively. One of the principal standards I use in constructing this list every year is what I listen to most. That’s this record.

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

Obviously, right? To some extent, when Sleep surprise-announced on April 19 they’d release their first album in 15 years the next day, and then did, they took ownership of 2018. Even with records still to come at that point from YOB and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike‘s own High on Fire, there was no way that when the end of the year came around, it wasn’t going to be defined by the advent of a new Sleep record. And even if it sucked, it would probably still be Album of the Year, but fortunately, as Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om) and drummer Jason Roeder (also Neurosis) took their long-running stage reunion to the studio, they brought material that highlighted the best elements from all players. Pike‘s wild soloing, Cisneros‘ meditative vocals and Roeder‘s intricate but smooth style of roll all came together in older pieces like “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Sonic Titan” and newer highlights “Giza Butler” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” and aside from the excitement at their existence, they showed the mastery of form that Sleep had been demonstrating live since 2009 and which they hinted toward in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here). A new Sleep full-length was something long-discussed, long-rumored and long-considered, but when it finally happened, I think the results vaporized expectation in a way no one could’ve anticipated. There’s a reason Sleep are Sleep. Having The Sciences as a reminder of that brought about the defining moment of 2018.

The Next 20

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a Top 30 at all if it didn’t go to 50. Don’t try to make sense of it, just look at the records.

31. Atavismo, Valdeinfierno
32. Grayceon, IV
33. Clamfight, III
34. Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique
35. Megaton Leviathan, Mage
36. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland
37. Arcadian Child, Superfonica
38. Freedom Hawk, Beast Remains
39. The Machine, Faceshift
40. Messa, Feast for Water
41. Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium
42. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Science Fiction
43. Domkraft, Flood
44. Träden, Träden
45. Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
46. Samavayo, Vatan
47. Foehammer, Second Sight
48. Bongripper, Terminal
49. Mansion, First Death of the Lutheran
50. Sunnata, Outlands
51. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Come and Chutney

Believe me when I tell you, I sweated over this section more than I did the actual top 30. Mansion should be higher. So should Chubby Thunderous, though something in me thought they might like being #50 on a list of 30. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Clamfight, Black Rainbows, Foehammer, Seedy Jeezus, Messa, Domkraft. All of these were fucking awesome. And there are more (we’ll get there). Eventually numbers add up. I won’t say a bad word about any of these. That’s it.

Honorable Mention

This section always winds up expanded as other people point out things I missed and so on, but here’s what I’ve got in the immediate, alphabetically:

  • Alms, Act One
  • Ape Machine, Darker Seas
  • Belzebong, Light the Dankness
  • Black Moon Circle, Psychedelic Spacelord
  • Blackwater Holylight, Blackwater Holylight
  • Bong, Thought and Existence
  • Carpet, About Rooms and Elephants
  • Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery
  • Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree
  • Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need
  • Death Alley, Superbia
  • Drug Cult, Drug Cult
  • Dunbarrow, II
  • Electric Citizen, Helltown
  • Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn
  • Evoken, Hypnagogia
  • Funeral Horse, Psalms for the Mourning
  • Fuzz Evil, High on You
  • Graven, Heirs of Discord
  • Graveyard, Peace
  • Green Dragon, Green Dragon
  • Green Druid, Ashen Blood
  • Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing
  • High Priestess, High Priestess
  • Horehound, Holocene
  • IAH, II
  • JIRM, Surge ex Monumentis
  • Killer Boogie, Acid Cream
  • Lonely Kamel, Death’s Head Hawkmoth
  • MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure
  • Moab, Trough
  • Mountain Dust, Seven Storms
  • Mouth, Floating
  • Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence
  • T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid
  • Onségen Ensemble, Duel
  • Orango, Evergreen
  • Owl, Nights in Distortion
  • Pushy, Hard Wish
  • Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground/Meditation
  • River Cult, Halcyon Daze
  • Rotor, Sechs
  • Somali Yacht Club, The Sea
  • Sumac, Love in Shadow
  • Sundrifter, Visitations
  • Svvamp, Svvamp II
  • Thou, Magus
  • Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse
  • Weedpecker, III

Special Note

Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to include these in the list proper because they’re not really underground releases, but there were two more records I especially wanted to highlight for their quality:

  • Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
  • Judas Priest, Firepower

Best Short Release of the Year

Normally I’d do this as a separate post, but as a result of being robbed earlier this year, I feel like my list is woefully incomplete. If you have any demos, EPs, splits, singles, etc., to add to it, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Still, the top pick was clear:

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Rarely do two bands work in such coherent tandem to their mutual benefit. Here are a few other essential short releases for 2018, alphabetically:

  • All Them Witches, Lost and Found
  • Alunah, Amber & Gold
  • Canyon, Mk II
  • Demon Head, The Resistence
  • Destroyer of Light, Hopeless
  • Ecstatic Vision, Under the Influence
  • Godmaker & Somnuri, Split
  • Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul
  • King Buffalo, Repeater
  • Minsk & Zatokrev, Split
  • Sleep, Leagues Beneath
  • Stonus, Lunar Eclipse
  • Sundecay, Gale

Looking Forward

A good many albums have already been announced or hinted at for 2019. I in no way claim this to be a complete roundup of what’s coming, but here’s what I have in my notes so far, in absolutely no order:

Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Cities of Mars, Heavy Temple, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan (LP), Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Om.

Okay, That’s It

Yeah, no, I’m serious. List is done. Everybody go back to your lives. Your families miss you.

Really though, while this is by no means my last post of 2018, I can’t let it pass without saying thank you so much to everyone for checking out the site this year, or for just digging into this, or for sending me music, or hitting me up on social media, sharing a link, anything. Thank you. Thank you. I could never have imagined when it started out where it would be now. Or that I’d still be doing it. Your support means more to me than I can say, and I thank you so much for being a part of this with me.

So thanks.

If you have something to add to the list, please do so by leaving a comment below, but keep in mind as well the above note requesting civility. Please don’t make me feel stupid because I forgot your favorite record. I forgot a lot of people’s favorite records. I’m one dude. I’m doing my best.

And please keep in mind if you’ve got a list together that the Year-End Poll is open and results will be out Jan. 1.

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Six Dumb Questions with Bong

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on July 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

bong

The extensive back catalog of UK drone ritualists Bong can be as foggy as the band’s sound itself. Between studio full-lengths, they have a history of EPs, splits, periodic compilations of EPs and splits, and no fewer than 23 live albums that goes back over a decade. Still, they’ve been pretty quiet since issuing We Are, We Were and We Will Have Been in 2015, with just two live recordings that followed. All the more reason to approach their 2018 long-player, Thought and Existence (previously discussed here), with a marked curiosity. What have the trio been up in what one assumes is a bunker deep below the surface of their hometown in Newcastle? From whence does the new album, delivered appropriately through Ritual Productions — with whom the band has worked since 2011’s Beyond Ancient Space (review here) — arrive?

As ever, Bong present more questions than answers. With the lineup of guitarist Mike Vest, bassist/vocalist David Terry and drummer Mike Smith explore a textural range that spreads out across two massive, immersive, compulsive tracks in “The Golden Fields” (17:31) and “Tlön Uqbar Orbis Tertius” (19:01), emitting a slow moving swirl that draws the listener in with its well-honed patience and fluidity. You’re hypnotized. They’re hypnotized. That’s kind of the whole point. Not to say it isn’t expressing a sonic idea, but that idea is to get lost in it. That’s the interaction Bong are seeking with Thought and Existence. It’s a communion between performers, audience and sound. Take that how you will — and some simply won’t — but it’s a journey one refuses to their own detriment.

Having been fortunate enough to see Bong perform most recently at Oslo’s Høstsabbat in 2016 (review here), I can recall vividly (or, you know, vaguely) the fog-drenched drone they brought to life on that stage, with Terry gurgling out his vocal parts as Vest and fill-in drummer Rich Lewis went exploring by oozing forth in any number of directions at once, taking the room through a massive, voluminous plunge into brain-melting tonal resonance. It was astounding to watch, and in the chants of “The Golden Fields” and the far, far-gone “Tlön Uqbar Orbis Tertius,” Thought and Existence captures the same sensibility and feeling of journey. It’s not just a willful slog in the front-to-back listen — actually, at 36 minutes, it’s a quite-manageable single LP, as was their last one; 2014’s Stoner Rock was their last 2LP, sort of — turn it up and it’s a physical manifestation of a near-opaque ethereality. Their methods well set at this stage in their career, Bong continue to explore places that most bands dare not tread and atmospheres from whence many a lesser act simply would not return.

In the relatively brief interview that follows, the band talks about some of the makings, processes and concepts behind Thought and Existence. Since rhythm and flow play so much of a role in what Bong does, I’ve left the Q&A largely untouched, and you’ll find it below only really changed from how it came in in terms of format, putting titles in italics and that kind of thing. The rest is as it showed up to preserve the integrity of it, and I sincerely hope it does just that.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

bong thought and existence

Six Dumb Questions with Bong

What is the interaction between volume and ritual for Bong at this point? Where does one end and the other begin?

Playing live. To create the great sustain live, everything must be cranked. Everything! This is a major part of the ritual. A forced meditation for the audience. Even when we are in the studio, this rule need to be enforced. Textures and tones are really important and can only be achieved through high volume. Capturing that in the studio is a challenge but can be ultimately rewarding.

Why Thought and Existence? What is the album exploring and what do you feel it says about the title ultimately? Is there a conclusion reached through the material?

Exploring metaphysical inner space, the past is a present memory and the possibility that all time has expired. The inward expansive nature of the mind and our senses. The brain is actually part of the external world, it is only through our senses that we can truly see or feel the mind. The title itself is expansive and cannot be summed up, but can be perceived in many different ways.

Tell me about writing “The Golden Fields” and “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” When did you start putting them together and how did they begin to take shape?

“Tlön” was written over time, we played various different versions of this track over the shows we were at early last year. It formed over time, the main riff was then extended and tightened up at practice sessions before we went into the studio. “Golden Fields” was roughly planned, with certain stages. Lining up the vocals with the tempo, gaps in the percussion. All our tracks are formed over time, the more we play, the clearer the arrangement seems to be.

How malleable are Bong songs over time? If I went to a Bong show three years from now and heard “The Golden Fields,” would it be the same as on the album? How set are the movements of a given piece? How do you know when writing a song that it’s done?

The arrangements, if any, will stay the same.

When changes or intensities begin, they are totally improvised.

Lead or layered octave guitar harmonies will drift in and out of any track live. Wenever play the same track exact, however you can still distinguish between which track is actually being played.

Our songs are never finished, as long as we keep playing the song live it will always change. Tracks on our albums are recorded moments, they have no real set parameters.

Take me through the recording process for Thought and Existence. Of course you know what you want out a studio experience at this point, but how did these tracks come together during the recording? What’s most important for you to capture in a studio recording process?

It’s all about the initial live takes in the studio.

We play all together to set the right tempo, we try to use the second or third take of a track as a final version to keep the feel, playing a track over and over in the studio can bleed it dry. However, using the first take as a reference point it can make it easier to create dynamics, place vocals and possible arrangements. We spent a lot of time playing these tracks, so we knew the arrangements. So we allocated a lot of time for experimentation adding bowed cymbals, more stereo guitars and Harmonium/Melodeon drones.

Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

Thought and Existence is out on May 4th on Ritual Productions We are currently booking shows for Europe and UK right now, so get in touch with us, we want play more shows this year. We [played] London at the end of June. More are being confirmed.
Also thanks to everyone who has picked up an LP/Tape/CD/t-shirt or just came to one of our shows. Means a lot to us. We never thought we would get this far.

Bong, Thought and Existence (2018)

Bong on Thee Facebooks

Ritual Productions website

Tags: , , , , ,

Bong Debut Album Trailer for Thought and Existence

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 1st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

bong (photo Tom Newell)

When it comes to Newcastle-based psychedelic drone lords Bong, the very, very least you can say about the band is they don’t do anything half-assed when it comes to approaching cosmic sonorities. The often-experimental trio led by guitarist Mike Vest are set to issue their latest full-length, Thought and Existence — not exactly tackling the small issues, philosophically speaking — on May 4 via Ritual Productions, and like its 2015 predecessor, We Are, We Were and We Will Have Been, it’s made up of two expanded-mind drone drifters, unfolding a cosmos in slow motion across its two sides, which seem as ever to work on a wavelength of their won when it comes to tonal and atmospheric proliferation.

That not-doing-anything-half-assed extends to the new trailer premiering today for Thought and Existence, which — where most tease about a vague minute or 50 seconds of bong thought and existencenew material from a band’s record, follows suit with Bong‘s overall methodology and tops five minutes, giving a substantial glimpse at both of the tracks on Thought and Existence, “The Golden Fields” (17:31) and “Tlön Uqbar Orbis Tertius” (19:01). The thing of it? It’s immersive. I mean, you get lost in it. The album, the full thing, is 36 minutes long between the two cuts, but I’ve yet to make it through the trailer that you can see below without feeling totally hypnotized. Even right now as I type this I’ve got the thing on and I feel like I’m clinging to consciousness with all I’ve got.

And there it goes…

Maybe I shouldn’t be so shocked at that — trance-inducing repetition is as much a key component of Bong‘s approach as volume or a darkened, ritualized atmosphere. They use it well throughout Thought and Existence, to be sure, and it’s perhaps in conveying that that the trailer is most effective, though that’s not to mention the visuals themselves included which are slowly manipulated and awesome in their own right. Still, while one so often thinks of Bong working in longer-form contexts as they generally do, it’s telling that they don’t actually need much more than five minutes to melt your brain down and drink it as it pours from your ears.

Behold:

Bong, Thought and Existence album trailer premiere

Bong ‘Thought and Existence’ album trailer edited by Sergio Angot and directed by Cristiane Richardson, featuring ‘The Golden Fields’ and ‘Tlön Uqbar Orbis Tertius’. Out Spring 2018 on Ritual Productions.

The cosmos has now aligned, and with great honour Ritual Productions announce BONG’s return after three years with a new and momentous rite. ‘Thought and Existence’ is their sixth album for Ritual Productions and will be unveiled in its entirety this May 4th.

A continuation of Bong’s metaphysical sounds, ‘Thought and Existence’ will take the listener on a spacious voyage that resonates with the works of the band’s past, yet this offering is especially striking and stunning. A resplendent and imposing craft, comprised of two tracks spanning just under 40 minutes, ‘Thought and Existence’ is remarkable in its ability to move the listener and transcend them to imaginative planes anew.

Bong feel ever so omnipresent on ‘Thought and Existence’, continuing their revered ability to transform time through their sublime sonic textures. As all listeners of this rite will attest, the band’s stellar meditative and mystical drone, amplified by the essential and ritualistic hue of the drums, permits our imagination to be heightened. New realms of perception and existence open up, even if only for the duration of the rite; the power of this listening experience subverting the laws of time and space itself.

BONG is:
Mike Vest – guitars
Mike Smith – drums
David Terry – bass & vocals

Bong’s ‘Thought and Existence’ was recorded and engineered by Mark Wood at The Soundroom, Gateshead during September 2017. The rite was mixed and mastered at XL Recordings Studio, London during December 2017, courtesy of John Foyle (Bobby Womack, Sampha, Damon Albarn) and Adam Richardson (11PARANOIAS, Ramesses, Ancient Lights).

Bong on Thee Facebooks

Ritual Productions website

Tags: , , , , ,

Live Review: Høstsabbat 2016 Night One in Oslo, Norway, 09.16.16

Posted in Features, Reviews on September 17th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

hostsabbat-2016-poster

As much as that kind of thing can be, the flight over had been a joy. By that I mean I slept. Driving past awesome trees and Euro-looking buildings en route, I got into Oslo and to the hotel in time to crash for a couple more hours before the first night of Høstsabbat kicked off at the Arena Vulkan. My first time here, my first time there, but the impression was immediately positive.

Høstsabbat is held across two stages in the Arena Vulkan, which is the Norwegian word for “volcano.” The Vulkan itself is upstairs. A sizable spot. High-ceiling, well lit (when Bong weren’t playing), great sound, bar off to the side. Downstairs is the Pokalen; a smaller performance space but with bar seating, tvs playing the fest schedule on a loop and a mellow vibe. Also great sound. The whole venue is tucked away on a side-street with an international market across the way filled with fish, meat, cheeses, bread, beer, coffee, tea, restaurants, and there are tables outside for smokers or those who might just want to catch a breath. All is immaculately clean — until beer is spilled on it, of course — and welcoming.

The first of the two nights comprised a seemingly manageable six acts, each with an hour set allotted, alternating between the stages downstairs and upstairs, playing one at a time. I won’t lie: by the time Conan were going on to headline, I was falling asleep sitting on the barricade in the photo pit, but for seeing them and Bong, as well as bands I’ve never caught before in Day of the Jackalope, MaidaVale, Cult of Occult and Wobbler, the evening was a joy for its variety and for the level of performance each band brought to the stage, whichever stage they happened to be on.

I’m thankful to be here. Here’s how it went down:

Day of the Jackalope

day-of-the-jackalope-1-photo-by-jj-koczan

Earlier this year, Oslo natives Day of the Jackalope released their self-titled debut EP on 12″ vinyl. To open Høstsabbat on the Pokalen stage, they would play all five songs from it — “Waste,” “PTSD,” “Profiteer,” “Take it Back” and “New Lies” — as well as a cover of Jimi Hendrix‘s “Manic Depression” and several others that I’ll assume were new. Their sound was a heavy boogie blues rock, and depending on the moment one could hear a strong influence from self-titled-era Clutch with some of Orange Goblin‘s gruffness thrown in, particularly in the vocals of Anders Hellestveit, joined in the band by guitarist Jens Andreas Storaker (also one of the organizers of the fest), bassist Lars Brodal and drummer Bård Sigurdson. They made a highlight of “The Salvager,” broke out a shaker for “PTSD” — had to wonder if there was a comment there — and some cowbell for “Agitate (Vaskebrett)” and pulled in a solid early crowd to start the day off with a raucous and weighted groove.

Wobbler

wobbler-1-photo-by-jj-koczan

My first encounter with Wobbler came just last month when they were announced as the final addition to the lineup for the fest. However, upon checking them out, they were immediately one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing. The Hønefoss five-piece dug immediately into lush classic-style prog, marked out by the keyboards and synth work of Lars Fredrik Frøislie. The risk with a style like theirs presented in a live setting is it can feel staid if the band doesn’t keep a focus on delivery — all of a sudden, you’re just watching dudes noodle — but Wobbler avoided the issue entirely and had a vibrant performance, with vocalist/guitarist Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo providing a frontman presence backed by the lead work of guitarist Geir Marius Bergom Halleland and given a dynamic foundation from bassist Kristian Karl Hultgren and drummer Martin Nordrum Kneppen. Their material — still largely unknown to me, though they made a compelling argument for purchasing both their albums downstairs in the merch section; if I had any krone, I would have — was fluid and at times gorgeous, but didn’t necessarily give up thrust for indulgence, thereby striking a rare balance between progressive and heavy rock.

Cult of Occult

cult-of-occult-1-photo-by-jj-koczan

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, French foursome Cult of Occult made ready to unleash a vision of sludge so extreme it bordered on the grotesque. Primal. Brutal. All that fun stuff. They’d have the biggest crowd of the night for the Pokalen stage, and they treated it to nothing less than a bludgeoning, like Bongripper taken to a place of vicious misanthropy. Yup, and they were heavy too. Deadlight Entertainment put out their third album, Five Degrees of Insanity, in 2015, and from it, “Alcoholic” was recognizable for its resounding “fuck you all” chorus during which the crowd did indeed get flipped off from the stage. They played pretty much in the dark, at least at the beginning, and that felt about right for the hate-laced filth on offer in their sound, the sole communication with the audience coming in raised beer cups and near the end when drummer Rudy was the only one left on stage — they deteriorated their set-finale, departing the stage one at a time, vocals, guitar, then bass, to leave the drums as last to go — and he waved the cheering crowd on, fists pumping in the air in slow motion to his crashes. There’s an element of spectacle there, even if they’d never admit it, but in their tones, screams, lumber and push, they were righteous and unrepentant in their delivery. Not really where my head is at, but hard not to respect what they were doing and the grueling intensity with which they were doing it.

Bong

bong-1-photo-by-jj-koczan

I know I’ve seen UK dronelords Bong before at Roadburn 2010, but that was six years and probably that many lineups ago for the band, whose prolific ritualizing continues to yield immersive fruit and whose live incarnation as a trio on the Vulkan stage at Høstsabbat had to be one of the most tonally claustrophobic performances I’ve ever witnessed. And that’s not a small room to make it feel like the walls are closing in. After trying to take pictures of them in the dark, I went and poured myself a cup of much-appreciated free water at the bar and watched as the ripples created by their sheer volume and low-end frequencies danced in a circle of geometric patterning that looked like the alien communication it truly was. With guitarist Mike Vest starting out the show by taking a violin bow to his guitar, bassist David Terry dramatically quoting Lovecraft or something like it and adding throat-singing chants and Conan drummer Rich Lewis filling in on drums, Bong were a litmus test for how much assault earplugs could actually take. Downstairs, between bands at the Pokalen, they played Parliament, which was an enjoyable irony, but after catching my breath and making sure my head wasn’t going to explode, I was back up to watch Bong again, their slogging sound just too much the soundtrack for my jetlag to be missed any more than medically necessary.

MaidaVale

maidavale-1-photo-by-jj-koczan

As time has gone on and the heavy rock underground has kind of moved past the hey-let’s-pretend-it’s-1972 ethic of vintage worship — at least for the most part — the impetus has been toward blending the classic and the modern, so that clarity of sound and tone don’t need to be sacrificed to tap into an essential swing. Swedish four-piece MaidaVale arrive at this moment and make themselves right at home. Their debut album, Tales of the Wicked West, came out last month on The Sign Records, and from it they plucked the tracks “(If You Want the Smoke) Be the Fire,” “Dirty War” and “Standby Swing,” among others. The swing, by the way, was not at all on standby. It was front and center and thrust forward by the bass and drums as vocalist Matilda Roth met it head-on, dancing and soulfully pushing her voice to its limits as the lineup of Linn Johannesson, Sofia Ström and Johanna Hansson behind her left no question as to how a group who just released their first album might come to headline the night on the Pokalen stage. The songs were fluid, the bounce in the drums refreshing, and the tones warm and classic-feeling, again, without tapping directly into retroism. As they belted out “Dirty War” late in the set, they sounded very much like a group at the beginning of a growth process, but their stage presence was formidable all the same and the sense one got was that their progression will only make it more so as time goes on. Need to check out that album, is the bottom line.

Conan

conan-2-photo-by-jj-koczan

Five bands and five distinct looks at different kinds of heavy at Høstsabbat, and then suddenly it was time for Conan to come on and — as they will — destroy everything in their path. By the time they went on at midnight, I was hours past dead on my feet, but to see “Thunderhoof” into “Battle in the Swamp?” Oh yes, easily worth it. You can sleep anytime. Conan don’t just happen every day — or at least not in the same city. That was actually the most striking impression. It’s been a little more than a year since I last saw them, they’ve gotten even tighter with the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis, bassist/vocalist Chris Fielding and the aforementioned Rich Lewis on drums. The stage dynamic between the three has been (war)hammered out and they were absolutely on fire, Lewis adding some of his own flourish to the gallop of “Gravity Chasm.” As a unit, all pro. I was also struck by what seemed to be an emergent YOB influence from Davis in his vocals. As Fielding has come to handle lower-register growling parts, Davis‘ exploration of cleaner singing has a tinge of Mike Scheidt to it that’s somewhat unexpected, but fits well repurposed into the shouting context of “Hawk as Weapon.” They were locked in in such a way as to make me think that their next album will be something really special. I won’t say a bad word about early 2016’s Revengeance (review here), but Conan made it plain to see they’re more than ready to move forward to their next vista of smoldering landscapes during this earned-through-devastation headlining set, and I’ll look forward to when they get there. Until then, “Total Conquest” never sounded more apt a title.

Night Two kicks off in a couple hours, so I gotta get ready. Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

Read more »

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Snuff’est 2016 Announces Final Lineup… Mostly

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 1st, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Snuff’est 2016 is keeping secrets. As in, the Bristol-based all-dayer festival has finalized its lineup, adding Belzebong, Asteroid and Radar Men from the Moon alongside the formidable likes of Gnod, Hang the Bastard, Bong, Sigiriya, Beehoover and others. However, there’s one band who has yet to be announced and Snuff Lane, which is putting on the show Sept. 17 as well as the newly-announced pre-party the night before with Deville, Gurt, Trippy Wicked and Wiht, aren’t telling.

Sometimes in cases like that, it happens that the band is contractually obligated because of a show elsewhere not to announce other gigs, so if you happen to be familiar with who will be around Bristol or elsewhere in the UK on the nights before or after, you could maybe make a guess, but for me, I haven’t a damn clue. Will be fun to find out though.

Final posters and (announced) lineup came down the PR wire:

Snuff’est – Doom/Stoner/Psych

Snuff Lane loudly brings you Snuff’est; Bristol’s newest intimate Doom, Stoner, Psych sonic-sounding rifforgy, due next month.

All Tier-1 and Tier-2 tickets already Sold-Out and we still have another act to announce, alongside a surprise performance from some extraordinary Special Guests.

Boasting a beautiful blend of national and international artists, with some unmissable special performances; starting with stage headliners:
Belzebong – UK EXCLUSIVE
Asteroid – 1 0f 2 UK appearances for 2016
Radar Men From The Moon
Also confirmed are:
Hang The Bastard (last South-West show ever) / Gnod / Sigirya / Bong / Enos / Beehover / ANTA / Hogslayer / Oak / Sugar Horse, as well as hidden ‘Surprise Special Guests’.

Both Tier-1 and Tier-2 Early-Bird tickets have completely SOLD-OUT, with a limited number of remaining tickets on sale now.

Snuff’est All-Dayer
1 Day / 2 Venues / 3 Headliners
Saturday 17th September
Exchange and The Stag and Hounds, Bristol
Doom/Stoner/Psych
RSVP/FB Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/265112073822604/
Ticket Link: Big Cartel / Bristol Ticket Shop

There is also a special Snuff’est Pre-Party taking place the day before, which also boasts a special UK Headline Debut performance from Deville, who have only ever grace the UK at Desertfest London 2014. They’ll be joined by Gurt, Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight and Wiht.

Snuff’est Pre-Party
Friday 16th September
The Stag & Hounds, Bristol
Deville (SWE) / Gurt / Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight / Wiht
RSVP/FB Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/601810993310243/
Ticket Link: Big Cartel

http://snufflane.bigcartel.com/
https://www.facebook.com/snuffylane
https://twitter.com/snuffylane

Belzebong, “Bong Thrower” live at Keep it Low 2015

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Høstsabbat 2016: Bong, Jeremy Irons & the Ratgang Malibus, Cult of Occult and Day of the Jackalope Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 11th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Høstsabbat 2016 is set for Sept. 16 and 17 at Vulkan Arena in Oslo, Norway. Already confirmed at the top of the current bill are Conan and Truckfighters, and newly announced as joining are UK drone improvisationalists Bong, Swedish heavy psych rockers Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus, French blackened metallers Cult of Occult and native Norwegian heavy rockers Day of the Jackalope. That’s a pretty wide spectrum for a single round of fest additions to cover, but as Høstsabbat has grown over the past couple years, it’s only broadened its stylistic reach, though it seems fair to use “heavy” as a kind of universally applicable umbrella for what’s on offer.

To wit, the full lineup and new band announcements below:

Høstsabbat 2016

September 16 – September 17
Vulkan Arena
Vulkan 26, 0175 Oslo, Norway

Conan
Truckfighters
BONG
Siena Root
Cult of Occult
Jeremy Irons & the Ratgang Malibus
Kollwitz
Mammoth Storm
Slomatics
Reptile Master
WILD ROCKET
MaidaVale
Day of the Jackalope

It’s been a long time coming, but we’re finally set to announce four new acts for this years edition of Høstsabbat.

BONG

First out, and for the first time in Norway, the British masters of droning doom; BONG. They’re back after a brief hiatus and returning in their original state as a power trio.

Solemn in its delivery and frightening in its implications, as masters of mesmeric drone, freeing listeners from the increasingly unfamiliar material world and mercifully trapping them in the weightlessness of Bong’s sonic void.

Expect the same Amon Duul, Ash Ra Temple Improvisational basslines, glacial tempo and crushing guitar fuzz drone tones.

Cult of Occult

Concealed from the view of the moribund mass of humanity, hidden in the darkness of the gates of Hell, waiting to spread the evil sound of the extermination of life is the most powerful and misanthropic force; Cult of Occult.

Fed by hatred, loudness and alcohol, the four headed monster of Apocalypse will destroy everything on its way with its unwavering wall of sound. Like the scream of Satan himself, the rising trio Cult of Occult, will make another first time appearance in the North.

Jeremy Irons & the Ratgang Malibus

From our beloved neighbor in the East, another Ratgang has emerged from its extremely vibrant scene. Jeremy Irons & the Ratgang Malibus rides the astral wave of psychedelic-progressive-desert rock, firmly rooted in the 70’s.

This band is the musical, northwest passage between classic rock and the unholy spirit of Pink Floyd.

They have been around, brimming in the underground for quite some time. Releasing albums on Transubstans and Small Stone Records, playing festivals such as Freak Valley and Desertfest, we’re surely in for a treat at Høstsabbat.

Day of the Jackalope

The last year, Day of the Jackalope has become a name on everyone’s lips, who’s following the underground scene in Norway. Filled with energy and groove, fusing old school 70’s bluesy rock ‘n’ roll with modern stoner rock, Day of the Jackalope are ready to get it on. Having existed for years with changing lineups in various rehearsal spaces, the band is now finally complete, the debut EP is out to rave reviews, and Day of the Jackalope is hitting the stage. Taking inspiration from bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Clutch, Church of Misery and the ever imminent collapse of human civilization, Day of the Jackalope invites you into their universe. It is a fuzzy and warm place of dark and confusing lyrical landscapes, screaming guitars and thumping rhythms.

Catch them live at Høstsabbat!

See you in September!

http://www.ticketmaster.no/event/festivalpass-hstsabbat-2016-billetter/489339
https://www.facebook.com/events/685619441581239/
https://www.facebook.com/hostsabbat/

Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus, Live in Brazil 2015

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bong Announce New Album We Are, We Were and We Will Have Been

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 26th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

bong (Photo by Mark Savage)

UK drone-trippers Bong seem to be so perennially lost in the cosmic fog that it’s a wonder their material can even be recorded. Like you’d try to put it on tape and the tape would melt. Their discography is a largely-impossible-to-track current of EPs, splits and limited releases, but damn it, Bong just keep going. It’s like they’re mining an asteroid to find a path to the Great Zoneout so we don’t have to. They’re not always heavy in the sense of tonal overload, but their explorations carry weight beyond common measurement, and they’re immersive past the point of no return. If a Bong record is on repeat, you might not escape.

If the hyperbole hasn’t made it plain, I find these to be admirable qualities, even if it means Bong aren’t everyday listening. After releasing their 2014 don’t-call-us-this Stoner Rock full-length, they’ll return with two more side-consuming extended slabs on May 25. Dubbed We Are, We Were and We Will Have Been, it will be released by Ritual Productions, and the PR wire brings album art and details:

bong we are we were we will have been

BONG REVEAL DETAILS OF A BRAND NEW ALBUM, WE ARE, WE WERE AND WE WILL HAVE BEEN

UPCOMING ON RITUAL PRODUCTIONS, 25TH MAY

The fifth album from Bong has been declared and is upcoming on Ritual Productions on 25th May.

We are, we were and we will have been continues the band’s unregulated experiments on tonal prolonging. Solemn in its delivery and frightening in its implications, this latest LP signifies a point of no return from the Pied Pipers of mesmeric drone, its two near twenty minute tracks will surely loop and envelop indefinitely, freeing the listener from this increasingly unfamiliar material world and mercifully trapping them in the weightlessness of Bong’s sonic void.

Microtonal adjustments and invading frequencies are pleated into a tapestry of gooey guitar and midnight-ritual percussion, melting at a glacial pace across ‘Time Regained’ and ‘Find Your Own Gods’. The first of the two tracks creaks under the weight of residual distortion and unfathomable density, while the second opens with the powerful command of the track title, evoking a deity-defying thought process that unravels through the duration of the song, providing the synth-mist and distant rumbles with an origin so ancient it predates comprehension.

We are, we were and we will have been is Bong’s report from their explorations past the point where others fear. Dangerous and sublime, you can sample their findings when the album is released on LP/CD and DL on 25th May via Ritual Productions. The album was captured and mixed in November 2014 by Mark Wood at the Soundroom in Gateshead, and the cover art is from ‘Thomson’s Aeolian Harp’, by famed pre-impressionist painter JMW Turner, picturing an infant London in the background.

We are, we were and we will have been
1. Time Regained
2. Find Your Own Gods

www.ritualproductions.net
ritualproductions.bandcamp.com
www.facebook.com/BONG-DOOM
bong.bandcamp.com

Bong, Stoner Rock (2014)

Tags: , , , ,

The Obelisk Radio Adds: Bong, Space Mushroom Fuzz, Desert Lord, Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds, and Plunger

Posted in Radio on September 12th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk radio

It’s been a couple weeks since the last time I was able to get together a proper round of adds to The Obelisk Radio, and the list as a result is accordingly huge. I’d have to go back and compare the last 18-plus months to be sure, but I think 40 albums is up there with what I might have uploaded during the initial buildup of the playlist, just basically getting everything I could think of and a bunch of stuff I couldn’t to expand on what was on the hard drive when I got it. We’ll be at two years since the Radio stream went live before I know it. Time goes quick, and seems to all the more when each post has a timestamp.

I say this every time, but there’s a lot of killer stuff included this week, so I hope you find something you enjoy.

The Obelisk Radio Adds for Sept. 13, 2014:

Bong, Bong Presents Haikai No Ku Ultra High Dimensionality LP

bong haikai no ku

I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to try to ascertain what plane of being Bong are residing on these days, but suffice it to say, they’ve evolved beyond corporeal form and merged with the all-consuming distortion of the universe. At least that’s how it sounds. The maddeningly prolific UK drone-doomers present this release but aren’t actually on it, save for guitarist Mike Vest, who leads the side-project Haikai No Ku through five tracks of blissful psychout on Ultra High Dimensionality. If you’re looking for differences between the two outfits, Haikai No Ku lean less toward grim droning than Bong, and songs like “Dead in the Temple” and “Blue at Noon” roll out huge psychedelic grooves — the band is completed by bassist Jerome Smith and drummer Sam Booth — but there’s consistency to be found in the wash of noise and the complete hypnosis of their repetitions anyway, and as high as the dimensionality might be, the volume should be higher. One to get lost in for sure, and there’s enough space for everyone. Bong on Twitter, on Bandcamp.

Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds, The Shining One

lucifer in the sky with diamonds the shining one

The pun in the moniker of Moscow double-guitar four-piece Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds probably doesn’t need to be pointed out. Featuring The Grand Astoria collaborator Igor SuvorovLucifer in the Sky with Diamonds pull together touches of psychedelic impulsiveness and classic heavy rock structures with the production clarity and catchy songwriting of mid-era Queens of the Stone Age. There’s a danger underscoring the boogie of “How to Fix Things” from the band’s self-released debut LP, The Shining One, that seems to find payoff later in the big-groove hook of “Highlow World,” which provides one of the album’s most satisfying listens before shifting into an airier dreamspace and fading into the noisier “Lords of the Damned,” reviving the largesse of riff prior to the closing title-track. An intriguing debut for an outfit loaded with potential, the fullness of their sound boding particularly well for their confidence in their sound and the precision of their execution. One not to be missed. Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.

Desert Lord, To the Unknown

desert lord to the unknown

Finnish stoner-doom foursome Desert Lord get into some Sabbath-worship on their debut long-player, To the Unknown, but manage to avoid both the trap of retro ’70s-ism that has much of Europe so firmly in its grasp and the trap of sounding like Reverend Bizarre, whose legacy in their native land isn’t to be understated. Of particular note is that Desert Lord cite The Cult as an influence. One can hear shades of that in the guitars on opener “Forlorn Caravan,” but Desert Lord quickly move into doomier fare on the subsequent nine-minute “Wonderland,” which distinguished by weeded-out wah on Roni‘s bass. Middle-ground is sought and found on “New Dimensions,” with vocalist Sampo Riihimäki reminding of Earthride‘s Dave Sherman in his movement between rougher delivery, spoken word, and accentuated screaming, also hinting at roots in more traditional metal, though “Manic Survivor’s Song” gives way to more stoner territory in the guitar, reminding of some of Eggnogg‘s stylistic turns, though with less of a mind toward tonal thickness. They’re still figuring out where they want to be, but Desert Lord‘s To the Unknown has more than a few moments worth the effort of a listen. Desert Lord on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.

Space Mushroom Fuzz, Onward, to the Future

space mushroom fuzz onward to the future

Perpetually progressive and perpetually prolific bizarro psych rockers Space Mushroom Fuzz return with another new release, dubbed Onward, to the Future. The Boston outfit, led by Adam Abrams of Blue Aside, include two tracks this time out, “Onward, to the Future,” a laid back space rocker made strange in its midsection with some theremin-style keys, and the waltzing “Half the Way Down,” which shows off some classical guitar work over a subtly oompah backing rhythm with soft, brooding vocals. Is it possible to have a shoegazing waltz? Space Mushroom Fuzz never lack character in they do, Abrams periodically leading the way through jams that could and sometimes do run into indulgent (if satisfying) noodlefests, but particularly with “Half the Way Down,” there’s something more grounded and sadder at the root. “Onward, to the Future” tells a tale of alien invasion — short version: they win — and showcases the band’s exploratory side, but even that ends contemplative and relatively minimal, sort of dropping instruments one at a time by its finish on a long fade. A lesson in taming expectation, perhaps, and a fascinating, quick journey from this inventive outfit. Space Mushroom Fuzz on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.

Plunger, Space Plumber

plunger space plumber

All seems to be on a course for weirdo noise punk as Los Angeles bass/drum duo Plunger get underway on their debut Space Plumber EP, some Melvins influence making itself felt on “Toxic Wrap,” and then they rumble and thump their way into the eight-minute centerpiece title-track, and it becomes apparent that there’s much more going on with twin brothers Mark (bass/vocals) and Kris Calabio (drums/vocals, also of Old Man Wizard) than it might at first seem. They quickly put their own minimalism to work for them on the faster opener “Blerg Rush,” but “Space Plumber” moves far off into sparseness, the drums barely there when they are and then gone ahead of the transition into “Sleep,” on which both Mark and Kris contribute vocals over a fuller rumble and steady roll, clearly enjoying the contrast. “Plunger” rounds out the release with a fuller take on some of the faster movement of the opener, starts and stops in the unpretentious 1;53 finale. One gets the feeling the (Super) Calabio Bros. are only going to get stranger from here, and that suits them well. Plunger on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.

Once again, these are five cool releases, but there were 35 other records that join the playlist today, including full-lengths from Orange Goblin, Electric Wizard, Apostle of Solitude and on and on. A couple of these will be on the year-end list, so if you get the chance to check out The Obelisk Radio playlist and updates page, I think it’s worth a look.

Thank you for reading and listening.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,