It took me a while — I’m talking a couple of months of steady listening — but I was eventually able to make it through the ending of this track without tearing up. “Under the Hood” comes from Mars Red Sky‘s 2016 full-length, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here). The progression of the Bordeaux trio’s third outing nestles it between the crushing roll of “Mindreader” and the free-swinging “Friendly Fire,” but it’s an unmistakable highlight and emotional apex for the record — a wounded love song executed in a heavy psychedelic context. Amid one of the most gorgeous melodies the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/backing vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau have to-date conjured, the impression “Under the Hood” makes is nothing short of stunning and, at least for me, it’s moving enough to get choked up by listening.
I’ve covered these guys a lot in the six years since they released their self-titled debut (review here), and it’s been a thrill to watch them take shape as the progressive, far-reaching outfit they’ve become in that time, but you’ll have to take my word for it when I say I’m singly honored to premiere this video. I genuinely love this song.
Mars Red Sky aren’t wasting any time moving forward from Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul). Though they’ve toured steadily since it came out — including a stop last year in Brooklyn to headline The Obelisk All-Dayer (video here) — and have more dates lined up this Spring and Summer highlighted by Desertfest Berlin and Hellfest, etc., they also announced last month that work has begun on a new experimental single-song EP that will hopefully be ready for issue as we move into the warmer months. The plan as I understand it is a limited, physical-only release, and though it remains to be seen whether or not it will tie into their next long-player the way 2016’s Providence (review here) set the stage for Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul), as a fan of the band, I can’t wait to hear what immersive weirdness they come up with this time around.
More on that when I hear it, and in the meantime, here’s the clip for “Under the Hood,” which adopts footage from 1983’s Chronopolis, followed by Mars Red Sky‘s upcoming live dates and more info off the PR wire.
I hope you enjoy:
Mars Red Sky, “Under the Hood” official video
“Under The Hood” is taken off MARS RED SKY’s third album “APEX III (Praise For The Burning Soul)”, released in February 2016 on Listenable Records. The video was put together and edited by Geoffrey Torres, Jimmy Kinast and Colin Manierka, and features mages from 1983 sci-fi movie “Chronopolis” by Piotr Kamler.
The band also announced the release of a brand new track, coming out in June as a very limited 12’’EP only available through the band’s store. This 19-minute exclusive song was recorded live on analog tape at La Nef in Angoulême.
MARS RED SKY will take the road this spring for an extensive tour across Europe, taking them on the stages of major festivals such as Hellfest and Download Festival France.
MARS RED SKY ON TOUR 08/04 LIEGE (BE) Insert Name Festival 29/04 BERLIN (D) DesertFest Berlin 05/05 CREIL (FR) La Grange à Musique 10/05 DONOSTIA (SP) Dabadaba 11/05 PORTO (PT) Cave 45 12/05 LISBOA (PT) Sabotage Club 13/05 MALAGA (ES) Sala Eventual Music 14/05 MADRID (SP) Wurlitzer Ballroom 03/06 SIZUN (FR) La Bergerie Rock (w/ James Leg) 09/06 PARIS (FR) Download Festival France 15/06 NEUDEGG ALM (AT) Funkenflug Society 17/06 CLISSON (FR) Hellfest Open Air 24/06 BOURLON (FR) Rock In Bourlon 21/07 RIEGSEE (D) Raut Oak Fest 30/07 ALBI (FR) Xtreme Fest 05/08 SAINT-MAURICE-DE-GOURDANS (01) Sylak Open Air
Posted in Reviews on March 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Feeling groovy heading into Day Two of the Spring 2017 Quarterly Review, and I hope you are as well. Today we dig into a pretty wide variety of whatnots, so make sure you’ve got your head with you as we go, because there are some twists and turns along the way. I mean it. Of all five days in this round, this one might be the most wild, so keep your wits intact. I’m doing my best to do the same, of course, but make no promises in that regard.
Quarterly Review #11-20:
Ulver, The Assassination of Julius Caesar
Norwegian post-everything specialists Ulver have reportedly called The Assassination of Julius Caesar (on House of Mythology) “their pop album,” and while the Nik Turner-inclusive freakout in second cut “Rolling Stone” (that may or may not be him on closer “Comign Home” as well) doesn’t quite fit that mold, the beats underscoring the earlier portion of that track, opener “Nemoralia” and the melodrama of “Southern Gothic” certainly qualify. Frontman/conceptual mastermind Kristoffer Rygg’s voice is oddly suited to this form – he carries emotionally weighted hooks like a melancholy George Michael on the electronically pulsating “Transverberation” and, like most works of pop, shows an obsession with the ephemeral in a slew of cultural references in “1969,” which in no way is likely to be mistaken for the Stooges song of the same name. While “So Falls the World” proves ridiculously catchy, “Coming Home” is about as close as Ulver actually come here to modern pop progression, and the Badalamenti-style low-end and key flourish in “1969” is a smooth touch, much of what’s happening in these eight tracks is still probably too complex to qualify as pop, but The Assassination of Julius Caesar is further proof that Ulver’s scope only grows more boundless as the years pass. The only limits they ever seem to know are the ones they leave behind.
Last year, Louisiana four-piece Forming the Void had the element of surprise working to their advantage when it came to the surprising progressive edge of their debut album, Skyward (review here). Now signed to Argonauta, the eight-song/55-minute follow-up, Relic, doesn’t need it. It finds Forming the Void once again working proggy nuance into big-riffed, spaciously vocalized fare on early cuts “After Earth” and “Endless Road,” but as the massive hook of “Biolazar” demonstrates, the process by which guitarist/vocalist James Marshall, guitarist Shadi Omar Al-Khansa, bassist Luke Baker and drummer Jordan Boyd meld their influences has become more cohesive and more their own. Accordingly, I’m not sure they need the 11-minute closing take on Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” since by then the point is made in the lumber/plunder of “Plumes” and in the more tripped-out “Unto the Smoke” just before, but as indulgences go, it’s a relatively easy one to make. They’re still growing, but doing so quickly, and already they’ve begun to find a niche for themselves between styles that one hopes they’ll continue to explore.
Though it keeps a wash of melodic keys in the background and its approach is resolutely laid back on the whole, “Beautiful Void” is nonetheless a major factor in the overall impression of Hidden Trails’ self-titled debut (on Elektrohasch), as its indie vibe and departure from the psychedelic prog of the first two cuts, “Lancelot” and “Mutations,” marks a major distinguishing factor between this outfit and Hypnos 69, in which the rhythm section of the Belgian trio played previously. “Ricky” goes on to meld acoustic singer-songwriterism and drones together, and “Hands Unfold” has a kind of jazzy bounce, the bassline of Dave Houtmeyers and drumming of Tom Vanlaer providing upbeat groove under Jo Neyskens’ bright guitar lead, but the anticipation of heavy psych/prog never quite leaves after the opening, and that doesn’t seem to be what the band wants to deliver. The sweetly harmonized acid folk of “Leaving Like That” is on a different wavelength, and likewise the alt-rock vibes of “Space Shuffle” and “Come and Play” and the grunge-chilled-out closer “Denser Diamond.” If there’s an issue with Hidden Trails, it’s one of the expectations I’m bringing to it as a listener and a fan of Houtmeyers’ and Vanlaer’s past work, but clearly it’s going to take me a little longer to get over the loss of their prior outfit. Maybe I’m just not ready to move on.
Naturalist vibes pervade immediately from this late-2016 self-titled Svvamp debut (on RidingEasy Records) in the bassline to “Serpent in the Sky,” and in some of the post-Blue Cheer heavy blues sensibility, the Swedish trio bring to mind some of what made early Dirty Streets so glorious. Part of the appeal of Svvamp’s Svvamp, however, is that among the lessons it’s learned from heavy ‘70s rock and from Kadavar‘s own self-titled is to keep it simple. “Fresh Cream” is a resonant blues jam… that lasts two and a half minutes. The bouncing, turning “Oh Girl?” Three. Even the longest of its cuts, the slide-infused “Time,” the subdued roller “Big Rest” and the Marshall Tucker-esque finale “Down by the River,” are under five. This allows the three-piece of Adam Johansson, Henrik Bjorklund and Erik Stahlgren to build significant momentum over the course of their 35-minute run, casting aside pretense in favor of aesthetic cohesion and an organic sensibility all the more impressive for it being their first record. Sweden has not lacked for boogie rock, but even the most relatively raucous moments here, as in the winding “Blue in the Face,” don’t seem overly concerned with what anyone else is up to, and that bodes remarkably well for Svvamp’s future output.
There are few songs ever written that require whoever’s playing them to “bring it” more than MC5’s “Kick out the Jams.” True, it’s been covered many, many times over, but few have done it well. Belgium’s Black Mirrors signal riotous intent by including it as one of the four tracks of their Napalm Records debut EP, Funky Queen, along with the originals “Funky Queen,” “The Mess” and “Canard Vengeur Masqué,” and amid the post-Blues Pills stomp of “The Mess,” the mega-hook of the opening title-track and the more spacious five-plus-minute closer, which works elements of heavy psych into its bluesy push late to welcome effect, “Kick out the Jams” indeed brings a moment of relative cacophony, even if there’s no actual threat of the band losing control behind the powerful vocals of Marcella di Troia. As a first showing, Funky Queen would seem to be a harbinger, but it’s also a purposeful and somewhat calculated sampling of Black Mirrors’ wares, and I wouldn’t expect it to be long before an album follows behind expanding on the ideas presented in these tracks.
No doubt that for some who’d take it on, any words beyond “members of Monarch!” will be superfluous, but Bordeaux three-piece Endless Floods, who do indeed feature bassist/vocalist Stéphane Miollan and drummer Benjamin Sablon from that band, as well as guitarist Simon Bedy, have more to offer than pedigree on their three-song sophomore full-length, II (on Dry Cough vinyl and Breathe Plastic cassette). To wit, 24-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “Impasse” rumbles out raw but spacious sludge that, though without keys or a glut of effects, and marked by the buried-deep screaming of Miollan, holds a potent sense of atmosphere so that the two-minute interlude “Passage” doesn’t seem out of place leading into the 19-minute lumber of “Procession,” which breaks shortly before its halfway point to bass-led minimalism in setting up the final build of the record. Slow churning intensity and longform sludge working coherently alongside ambient sensibilities and some genuinely disturbing noise? Yeah, that’ll do nicely. Thanks.
Boasting four eight-plus-minute instrumentals, Couldn’t Handle… The Heavy Jam finds New Jersey trio Tarpit Boogie rife with classic style heavy rock chemistry, bassist John Eager running fills around the dense-toned riffing from guitarist George Pierro as drummer Chris Hawkins propels a surprising thrust on opener “FFF Heavy Jam.” I’ve been a fan of Pierro and Eager’s since we were bandmates a decade ago, so to hear them unfold “Chewbacca Jacket” from its tense opening to its righteously crashing finale is definitely welcome, but the 37-minute offering finds its true reasoning in the swing and shuffle of the eponymous “Tarpit Boogie,” which digs into the very challenge posed by the title – whether or not anyone taking on the album can handle its balance of sonic impact and exploratory feel – inclusive, in this case, of a drum solo that sets a foundation for a moment of Cactus-style rush ahead of a return to the song’s central progression to conclude. They round out with “1992 (Thank You Very Little),” Chevy Chase sample and all, bringing more crashing nod to a massive slowdown that makes it feel like the entire back half of the cut is one big rock finish. And so it is. A well-kept secret of Garden State heavy.
The self-released Dead Seeds, Barren Soil is Horseburner’s second full-length, and it arrived in 2016 from the four-piece some seven years after their 2009 debut, Dirt City. They’ve had a few shorter outings in between, demos and 2013’s Strange Giant EP, but the West Virginia four-piece of Adam Nohe, Chad Ridgway, Jack Thomas and Zach Kaufman seem to be shooting for a definitive statement of intent in the blend of heavy rock and modern, Baroness-style prog that emerges on opener “David” and finds its way into the galloping “Into Black Resolution,” the multi-tiered vocals of “A Newfound Purity” and even the more straight-ahead thrust of “The Soil’s Prayer.” Marked out by the quality of its guitar work and its clearly-plotted course, Dead Seeds, Barren Soil caps with “Eleleth,” which at just under eight minutes draws the heft and the complexity together for a gargantuan finish that does justice to the ground Horseburner just flattened as they left it behind.
Lafayette, Louisiana, five-piece Vermilion Whiskey telegraph participation in the New Wave of Dude Rock to the point of addressing their audience as “boy” in second cut “The Past is Dead,” and from the cartoon cleavage on the cover to the lack of irony between naming the record Spirit of Tradition and putting a song called “The Past is Dead” on it, they sell that well. The Kent Stump-mixed/Tony Reed-mastered six-tracker is the band’s second behind 2013’s 10 South, and basks in dudely, dudely dudeliness; Southern metal born more out of the Nola style than what, say, Wasted Theory are getting up to these days, but that would still fit on a bill with that Delaware outfit. If you think you’re dude enough for a song like “One Night,” hell, maybe you are. Saddle up. Listening to that and the chunky-style riff of closer “Loaded Up,” I feel like I might need hormone therapy to hit that level of may-yun, but yeah. Coherent, well written, tightly performed and heavy. Vermilion Whiskey might as well be hand-issuing dudes invitations to come drink with them, but they make a solid case for doing so.
If the cover art and a song title like “I Swear I’m Not My Thoughts” weren’t enough of a tip-off, there’s a strong undercurrent of the unsettled to Hex Inverter’s second long-player, Revision. The Pennsylvania-based experimentalists utilize a heaping dose of drones to fill out arrangements of keys, guitar and noise that would otherwise be pretty minimal, and vocals come and go in pro- and depressive fashion. Texture proves the key as they embark on the linear centerpiece “Something Else,” with a first verse arriving over a sweetened bassline after four minutes into the total 9:58, and the wash of noise in “Daphne” obscures an avant neo-jazz groove late, so while opener “Cannibal Eyes” basks in foreboding ambience prior to an emotionally-driven and explosive crunch-beat payoff, one never quite knows what to expect next on Revision. That, of course, is essential to the appeal. They find an edge of rock in the aforementioned “I Swear I’m Not My Thoughts,” but as the loops and synth angularity of closer “Fled (Deadverse Mix)” make plain, their intentions speak to something wider than even an umbrella genre.
A new Mars Red Sky EP can only be good news. In the past, short releases like the 2016 Providence EP (review here), 2013’s Be My Guide EP (review here) and their 2012 collaboration with Year of No Light, Green Rune White Totem (discussed here) have provided the Bordeaux, France, trio with the opportunity to conduct sonic experiments that have helped fuel the progression seen across their three (to-date) full-lengths. Most of all, the interaction between Providence and last year’s Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here) was direct and loaded with purpose. Does that mean the same thing will happen this time around? Not necessarily, but if they’re putting together the release as a 15- or 20-minute single-song outing, that means they’re still feeling out new territory, and that’s an excellent sign.
As that comes together, Mars Red Sky continue to support last year’s long-player as well. They’ve got copious festival dates coming up this Spring and Summer, including Desertfest Berlin 2017, Hellfest and Download, and they’ve newly announced shows in Portugal and Spain for May that you can see below.
If that’s not enough, I also hear there’s a video in the works for “Under the Hood” from Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul), so keep an eye out. I’ll be posting that sooner or later once it’s out.
Here’s their update:
Mars Red Sky – New EP is coming with summer – Spain & Portugal Tour
The band is happy to announce they’ve been working well on putting bits and pieces together for what looks to be an epic, spacy 15/20-minute instrumental featuring alien textures, the usual pounding of heavy drums over psych/doomy riffs and most likely complete with the cameo appearance from their loyal Ghost Choir. All that will be committed to tape and pressed on 12” picture disc vinyl, due next summer.
We’ll have a couple of concerts in Spain & Portugal in May ! Take a look at this poster, we will soon have t-shirts with this artwork.
Mar 17 La Ferronnerie Jurançon, France Mar 18 Cosmic Fest Vitoria, Spain Mar 21 Le Bikini Ramonville-St-Agne, France Apr 07 Cluricaume Café Poitiers, France Apr 08 Insert Name Festival Liège, Belgium Apr 29 Desertfest Berlin Berlin, Germany May 05 La Grange à Musique Creil, France Jun 03 Bergerie Rock Sizun, France Jun 09 Download Festival Brétigny-Sur-Orge, France Jun 15 House Of The Holy Lichtenau, Austria Jun 17 Hellfest Clisson, France Jun 24 Rock In Bourlon Bourlon, France Jul 21 Raut-Oak Festival Riegsee, Germany Jul 30 Xtreme Fest Albi, France Aug 05 Sylak Open Air Saint-Maurice-De-Gourdans, France
[Click play above to hear the premiere of ‘At the Beginning’ from Libido Fuzz’s A Guide into Synesthesia. Album is out next month on Pink Tank Records.]
Bordeaux-based three-piece Libido Fuzz return on Pink Tank Records with A Guide into Synesthesia, their second full-length, and with it set up a linear course running from blazed-out boogie rock to hard-impact psychedelic blues jams. A 41-minute/six-song outing, it follows 2015’s Kaleido Lumo Age (review here) and is no doubt intended to work across a vinyl LP, which is appropriate given the trio of drummer Thibault Guezennec, vocalist/guitarist Pierre-Alexis Mengual and bassist Rory O’Callaghan‘s penchant for classic forms. But even keeping the inevitable split between sides A and B in mind, Libido Fuzz enact a front-to-back flow that seems to push further outward as it goes, until finally it reaches the 12-minute semi-title-track “Guide Me into Synesthesia” at the end and decides there’s no return.
Up to — and really through — that point, Libido Fuzz keep a steady blend of the retro and modern, the terrestrial and the ethereal, the frenetic and the drifting, and what results in the span of the tracks, which were recorded by Marco Lima with a mix and master by Franck Roder, is an organic-feeling and nuanced heavy rock that draws power from its moments of thrust and uses that momentum wisely to carry through its slower parts. It is dynamic in the sense of where Mengual, Guezennec and O’Callaghan take it, from the Radio Moscow-style manias of opener “Sparks” and the intro to “Clouds and Birds,” all blinding turns and risk-laden rhythms, to the smooth-grooving B-side occupants “The Last Psychedelic Blues” and of course, “Guide Me into Synesthesia” itself.
Foremost, it is tied together through the overarching naturalism in the performances. Guezennec‘s bass drum, prominent in the mix, is sometimes responsible for holding an entire song together, as it seems to be doing as “Clouds and Birds” drifts farther from its raging start, but fortunately it proves more than up to the task, and while O’Callaghan‘s warm basslines add a jazzy flair to coincide with all the swing of “At the Beginning,” Mengual takes advantage of the space created to pull out heavy blues-style solos that, regardless of tempo, have a kind of hypnotic effect on the listener. At no point are they technically showy, and the production of A Guide into Synesthesia is clearly geared toward a live feel, but they execute their material with confidence from “Sparks” onward, and indeed they seem well aware of the fires they’re setting, the thrust of that opener creating a sense of movement that is translated into everything that follows, regardless of the actual direction a track like the subsequent “Violence of the Sea” actually follows.
Which obviously is something to mention only for the drastic and immediate turn it represents from A Guide into Synesthesia‘s beginning, the second cut’s bookending progression seeming to nod directly at Trouble‘s “The Tempter” in its structure and layers of harmonized guitar while backing off in a middle third that finds the band stomping through more boogie à la “Sparks,” if perhaps even catchier in the hook. Those twists may well be intended to throw the listener off course, but Libido Fuzz are fluid enough in their transitions that as the drums finish “Violence of the Sea” and “At the Beginning” picks up with a more straightforward heavy rock shuffle, there’s nothing to call incongruous about what they’re doing in terms either of the album’s scope or the jump from one vibe to another.
Synesthesia might be described as a trading of senses. Seeing smells, smelling sounds, touching light, and so on. It’s a rare condition, and the stuff of psychedelic daydreams, and in terms of this album, the keyword in the title would seem to be “guide,” since it gives the impression of Libido Fuzz leading their audience into this place of what might feel like some greater cosmic knowledge. That’s a fair enough explanation for how the second half of the tracklisting plays out, with “Clouds and Birds” (which I actually think is on side A, though I can’t confirm that) marking the point of shift into more ethereal fare that “The Last Psychedelic Blues” — which isn’t — and “Guide Me into Synesthesia” — which is — only continue to expand. Mengual‘s guitar and O’Callaghan‘s bass explore open spaces after settling in post-intro, and samples and cymbal washes from Guezennec lead gradually, fluidly, into a comfortably-paced nod that serves as bed or wah swirl and possibly the album’s best solo, which finishes in time for a big rock ending. Show’s over, everyone go home.
Not nearly. With the finale so expansive afterward, the penultimate “The Last Psychedelic Blues” is tasked somewhat with summarizing A Guide into Synesthesia, and it does so with a play between nigh-on-overwhelming fuzz and airier verse-making. All three players shine. In prime power-trio fashion, Libido Fuzz resonate their chemistry forth until the quiet stretch of guitar sentimentality leads to the beginning of “A Guide into Synesthesia,” the extended instrumental journey that will round out the LP. Its beginning feels suitably like an arrival, and it is, and sure enough, a massive and engaging jam ensues, but the band leave room early on for verses without taking advantage. Maybe live. A scorching midsection solo meets with wah bass and building drums, and from there, Libido Fuzz set the course by which they’ll end, plotted but molten, and cutting just before the 10-minute mark to some far-out guitar noise that may or may not be intended to manifest the synesthetic.
I don’t know how it tastes, but it sounds like a trance, and as an epilogue for A Guide into Synesthesia, it’s the last of several pleasant surprises the album presents while highlighting the overall growth of Libido Fuzz from their debut and giving the impression — on any number of sensory levels — that growth is still in progress and likely to remain that way willfully. One can hear Mengual, O’Callaghan and Guezennec pushing themselves in the realization of these songs, both in the stylistic ground they cover and in the actual performances, and among the many encouraging aspects of A Guide into Synesthesia, it’s that feeling of purpose that most defines it.
Posted in Features on January 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan
The poll is closed, the results are counted and the top 20 albums of 2016 have been chosen. Hard to argue with the list as it’s shown up over the course of the past month, so I won’t try. Instead, let me just say thanks to incredible amount of participants who contributed this year.
All told, between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31, 612 people added their picks to the proceedings, compared to 388 in last year’s poll. Considering how much that number blew my mind on Jan. 1, 2016, I’m sure you can imagine how I feel about adding another 200-plus lists to the pot. In short, I’m astounded, deeply humbled and so, so, so grateful. I feel like we got enough of a sampling this year to give a genuinely representative showing for where people’s heads have been at, so thank you if you were a part of it.
Thank you as well as always to Slevin for running the poll’s back end and tabulating the results. As ever, the weighting system is one in which a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. You’ll find that list (plus some honorable mentions) below, followed by the raw-vote tally.
And after the jump, as has become the tradition, are the full lists of everyone who submitted, alphabetized by name. I’m in there too. It’s a huge amount to wade through, and even if you thought you heard everything in 2016, it should be more than enough to keep you busy for the next year.
One last note: I’m no statistician. Please allow for these numbers to change over the next couple days on some small level.
Top 20 of 2016 — Weighted Results
1. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh (375 points)
2. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow (368)
3. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree (324)
4. Asteroid, III (302)
5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil (295)
6. Gozu, Revival (274)
7. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires (253)
8. King Buffalo, Orion (244)
9. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (238)
10. Conan, Revengeance (232)
11. Cough, Still They Pray (228)
12. Holy Grove, Holy Grove (218)
13. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (213)
14. Truckfighters, V (206)
15. Blood Ceremony, Lord of Misrule (200)
16. Khemmis, Hunted (192)
16. Red Fang, Only Ghosts (192)
17. Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows (181)
18. Witchcraft, Nucleus (174)
19. Opeth, Sorceress (173)
20. Church of Misery, And then there Were None (159)
Honorable mention to:
Causa Sui, Return to Sky (157)
Goatess, II: Purgatory Under New Management (157)
Black Mountain, IV (148)
Mos Generator, Abyssinia (144)
Wretch, Wretch (140)
Look at those tallies for number one and two. That race was close all month. Wo Fat kept out front for the most part, but Greenleaf kept it interesting and Elephant Tree’s debut snuck in there at third, which I love to see, both because it’s their first album and because that record was indeed so great. King Buffalo, another debut, also made the top 10, underscoring those two as bands to watch, and though Brant Bjork, Conan, Asteroid, Neurosis, Gozu and Mars Red Sky might be more expected names, they still certainly delivered excellent records, so again, nothing to fight with here. Things flesh out a bit in the 10-20 range, but I don’t think there’s one album on this list you could call is “miss.”
Top 20 of 2016 — Raw Votes
1. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh (109)
2. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow (92)
3. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil (87)
4. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree (82)
5. Asteroid, III (80)
6. Gozu, Revival (76)
7. Conan, Revengeance (73)
8. Cough, Still They Pray (70)
9. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (68)
10. King Buffalo, Orion (67)
11. Truckfighters, V (62)
12. Red Fang, Only Ghosts (61)
13. Khemmis, Hunted (60)
14. Blood Ceremony, Lord of Misrule (59)
14. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (59)
15. Holy Grove, Holy Grove (58)
16. Church of Misery, And then there Were None (53)
17. Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows (49)
17. Witchcraft, Nucleus (49)
18. Opeth, Sorceress (47)
19. Mos Generator, Abyssinia (45)
20. Black Mountain, IV (44)
20. Causa Sui, Return to Sky (44)
20. Wretch, Wretch (44)
Honorable mention to:
Goatess, II: Purgatory Under New Management (43)
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light (43)
Geezer, Geezer (41)
Crowbar, The Serpent Only Lies (41)
Gojira, Magma (37)
Slomatics, Future Echo Returns (36)
Graves at Sea, The Curse that Is… (35)
Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy (33)
Beastmaker, Lusus Naturae (32)
Vokonis, Olde One Ascending (31)
Left a few more honorable mentions in the raw-vote count, just for fun and so you could get more of a feel beyond the top 20 itself, which you’ll notice has a couple ties in it as the raw votes usually do and reorganizes a bit from the weighted results. One and two remain the same, however, and in the same order, and you’ll see Wo Fat was the only album that scored more than 100 votes on its own. As a whole, there were over 2,400 separate entries for albums this year, which is by far the most spread out that the voting has ever been. Frankly, with so many people involved and such a variety of stuff being voted on, I’m amazed anyone managed to agree on anything at all, but of course they did and once again a stellar list is the result.
Well, Happy New Year.
Before I go, thanks again to Slevin for the work put into running the back end of this site and this poll particularly. I show up with the finish lists, but it’s his code that makes it happen, and his efforts are appreciated more than I can say. Dude has never asked me for anything in the nearly eight years I’ve been a constant pain in his ass.
After the jump, you’ll find everybody’s list, alphabetized by name. Please enjoy browsing. I hope you find something awesome, because there’s certainly plenty in there that qualifies, and if you see something that looks like it appears often enough that it should be included in one or both of the counts above, let me know in the comments.
Posted in Features on December 30th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
Yeah, I know I said as much when the Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016 went up, but I take it back: this is the hardest list to put together. And to be honest, there’s a part of me that’s hesitant even to post it because I know as soon as I do someone’s going to be like, “No way you dick your entire existence is shit because you forgot Release X,” and very likely they’ll be right. Up to the very moment this post is going live, I’ve been making changes, and I expect I’ll continue to do so for a while after it’s out there.
So what’s a “short release?” That’s another issue. Pretty much anything that’s not an album. Singles, digital or physical, as well as EPs, splits, demos, and so on. The category becomes nebulous, but my general rule is if it’s not a full-length, it qualifies as a short release. Sounds simple until you get into things like, “Here’s a track I threw up on Bandcamp,” and “This only came out as a bonus included as a separate LP with the deluxe edition of our album.” I’m telling you, I’ve had a difficult time.
Maybe that’s just me trying to protect myself from impending wrath. This year’s Top 30 albums list provoked some vehement — and, if I may, prickishly-worded — responses, so I might be a bit gunshy here, but on the other hand, I think these outings are worth highlighting, so we’re going forward anyway. If you have something to add, please use the comments below, but remember we’re all friends here and there’s a human being on the other end reading what’s posted. Thanks in advance for that.
And since this is the last list of The Obelisk’s Best-of-2016 coverage, I’ll say thanks for reading as well. More to come in the New Year, of course.
Here we go:
The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Short Releases of 2016
1. Scissorfight, Chaos County EP
2. Earthless / Harsh Toke, Split
3. Mars Red Sky, Providence EP
4. Mos Generator, The Firmament
5. Soldati, Soldati
6. Monolord, Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze EP
7. Wren, Host EP
8. Goya, The Enemy EP
9. The Sweet Heat, Demo
10. River Cult, Demo
11. Stinkeye, Llantera Demos
12. Megaritual, Eclipse EP
13. Ragged Barracudas / Pushy, Split
14. Mindkult, Witchs’ Oath EP
15. Iron Jawed Guru, Mata Hari EP
16. Brume, Donkey
17. Bison Machine / Wild Savages / SLO, Sweet Leaves Vol. 1 Split
18. BoneHawk / Kingnomad, The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter Three Split
19. Wicked Gypsy, EP
20. Love Gang, Love Gang EP
An expansive category as ever. In addition to what’s above, the following stood out and no doubt more will be added over the course of the next few days. If you feel something is missing, please let me know.
Cambrian Explosion, The Moon EP
Candlemass, Death Thy Lover EP
Cultist, Cultist EP
Danava, At Midnight You Die 7″
Dos Malés, Dos Malés EP
Druglord, Deepest Regrets EP
Fu Manchu, Slow Ride 7″
Geezer, A Flagrant Disregard for Happiness 12″
Gorilla vs. Grifter, Split
Holy Smoke, Holy Smoke! It’s a Demo!
Karma to Burn, Mountain Czar
LSD and the Search for God, Heaven is a Place EP
Pallbearer, Fear and Fury
Reign of Zaius, Planet Of…
Sea of Bones / Ramlord, Split
Shallows, The Moon Rises
The Skull, EP
Snowy Dunes, “Atlantis Part I” digital single
Sun Voyager / The Mad Doctors, Split
Valborg, Werwolf 7″
Was it just the raw joy of having Scissorfight back? No, but that was for sure part of it. It was also the brazenness with which the New Hampshire outfit let go of their past, particularly frontman Christopher “Ironlung” Shurtleff, and moved forward unwilling to compromise what they wanted to do that made their Chaos County so respectable in my eyes. Having always flourished in the form, they delivered an EP of classic Scissorfight tunes and issued a stiff middle finger to anyone who would dare call them otherwise. They couldn’t have been more themselves no matter who was in the band.
At the same time, it was a hard choice between that and the Earthless / Harsh Toke split for the top spot. I mean, seriously. It’s Earthless — who at this point are the godfathers of West Coast jamadelica — and Harsh Toke, who are among the style’s most engaging upstart purveyors, each stretching out over a huge and encompassing single track. I couldn’t stop listening to that one if I wanted to, and as the year went on, I found I never wanted to.
I was glad when Mars Red Sky included the title-track of the Providence EP as a bonus cut on their subsequent album, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul), both because it tied the two releases together even further and because it gave me another opportunity to hear it every time I listened to the record. Their short releases have always shown significant character apart from their full-lengths, and this was no exception. I still tear up when I hear “Sapphire Vessel.”
To bounce around a bit: Had to get Mos Generator on the list for the progressive expansion of the live-recorded The Firmament. Stickman was right to put that out on vinyl. Both Monolord and Goya provided quick outings of huge riffs to sate their respective and growing followings, while Megaritual’s Eclipse basked in drone serenity and the debut release from Sergio Ch.’s Soldati provided hard-driving heavy rock with the particular nuance for which the former Los Natas frontman is known. It’s the highest among a slew of first/early outings — see also The Sweet Heat, Wren (Host was their second EP), River Cult’s demo, Stinkeye, Mindkult, Iron Jawed Guru, Brume, Wicked Gypsy and Love Gang.
Ultimately, there were fewer splits on the list this year than last year, but I’ll credit that to happenstance more than any emergent bias against the form or lack of quality in terms of what actually came out. The BoneHawk and Kingnomad release, the Ragged Barracudas and Pushy split, and that heavy rocking onslaught from Bison Machine and company were all certainly welcome by me, and I’ll mention Gorilla vs. Grifter there too again, just because it was awesome.
One more time, thank you for reading, and if you have something to add, please do so in the comments below. Your civility in that regard is appreciated.
This is the last of my lists for 2016, but the Readers Poll results are out Jan. 1 and the New Year hits next week and that brings a whole new round of looking-forward coverage, so stay tuned.
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.
Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.
The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.
This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.
Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.
I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:
Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.
Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.
There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.
A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.
Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.
Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.
There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.
Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.
Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.
Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.
For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.
I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, Neurosis‘ Fires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.
Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.
Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.
I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.
Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.
Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.
Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.
Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.
One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.
If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.
In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.
After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.
Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.
7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know
Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.
German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.
A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.
Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Che, Vista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.
What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.
Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.
2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)
It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.
Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.
The Next 20
Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:
31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll
From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.
Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:
Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment
And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:
Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.
In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.
If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.
And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 23rd, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Preorders start Dec. 5 for the second album from Bordeaux-based doomers Endless Floods. Aptly titled II, the record itself will arrive right after the New Year as a follow-up to the band’s 2015 self-titled debut and a split with the Netherlands’ Uur and finds issue on vinyl through Dry Cough Records and the band’s own Fvtvrecordings, as well as cassette via Breathe Plastic Records. You don’t need me to tell you this, but Dry Cough and Breathe Plastic are two labels who’ve done an excellent job keeping their ears to the ground over the last several years for all things sludgy and extreme, so while there hasn’t been any audio come to the surface from II yet, it might be one to watch out for as we plunge deeper into winter’s biting harshness.
I’ll turn it over to the PR wire for particulars:
French craftsmen of despair ENDLESS FLOODS to release their doom-laden new LP “II” this January 6th.
France’s cathartic doom specialists ENDLESS FLOODS announce the release of their second full-length “II” this January 6th. A realm of darkness awaits.
Following on from their self-titled debut and split EP with Dutch doomsters Uur, ENDLESS FLOODS’ new album “II” will be released this January 6th, 2017 on vinyl format via Dry Cough Records and Fvtvrecordings, and on cassette tape via Breathe Plastic Records.
On this new offering, the French trio digs deeper within the realm of bleakness they established on their debut “Endless Floods”, making the listener enter a trance-like contemplation through the 20+ minute-long monoliths “Impasse” and “Procession”. In the same vein as their previous works, ENDLESS FLOODS blend their doom and sludge origins with noisier tones and crisper drone-sounding parts, following their path in a never-ending land of heavy. Straight from the limbo, crushing, boundary-free doom.
ENDLESS FLOODS – New album “II” Out January 6th on Dry Cough Records / Breathe Plastic Records Vinyl pre-orders from December 5th
The Bordelais trio released their self-titled debut in 2015, which was reissued on cassette tape via Breathe Plastic Records in February 2016. The band subsequently released a split EP with Dutch doomers UUR this May, which artwork was designed by Derek Setzer. The prolific ENDLESS FLOODS have already announced the release of their sophomore full-length “II” this January 6th, 2017 on vinyl via Dry Cough Records and the band’s label Fvtvrecordings, as well as on cassette tape via Breathe Plastic Records.