Friday Full-Length: Greenleaf, Secret Alphabets

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

As we approach 15 years since its 2003 release, there’s something ironic about listening to Greenleaf‘s second full-length and Small Stone Records debut, Secret Alphabets, and it very much has to do with their relationship to Dozer. After the band, founded by Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa, Demon Cleaner drummer Daniel Lidén and producer Bengt Bäcke who had worked with both outfits on their early material and came aboard to play bass, released their oh-someday-it-will-be-mine self-titled EP in 2000 with Lowrider‘s Peder Bergstrand on vocals, the first of many lineup changes found them bringing in Dozer‘s Fredrik Nordin to front the band for their first LP, 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), which of course he did handily. The second album, like any decent record, marked both the beginning and the end of an era. It was the start of Greenleaf‘s collaboration with Small Stone, which would see the band release not only Secret Alphabets, but the subsequent 2007 outing, Agents of Ahriman (vinyl reissue review here), 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) and 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) under the imprint’s banner before signing to Napalm for 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here), and it was also the last time Nordin would be in the lead-singer role full-time, though he’d show up for guest appearances as Bergstrand does for the moody “One More Year” here.

More than that, and even more than bringing in Demon Cleaner guitarist Daniel Jansson to play alongside HolappaSecret Alphabets represents an important step in Greenleaf‘s progression in defining its personality apart from DozerHolappa‘s songwriting has borne certain markers throughout his now-lengthy career in both bands (though it’s been more than a decade since the last time Dozer put out a record), among them a penchant for riffs and a tendency to make memorable tracks by updating classic-influenced methods with a modern production and energy. Secret Alphabets does this through and through, whether it’s “Black Black Magic” and “Never Right” bringing to mind KISS via the performance of guest singer Singe, the outright thrust of post-intro opener “10,000 Years of Revolution,” or the let’s-go-a-wanderin’ Monster Magnetic psychedelia of side A finale “The Combination.” The material has character and a welcome sense of push behind its delivery, a crisper production than one found on Revolution Rock (though Bäcke helmed both recordings) and a pervasive sense of craft that gives little idea just how much of a transition point it actually was for the band.

In 2003, Dozer put out Call it Conspiracy (discussed here), and in so doing, brazenly moved beyond the post-Kyuss desert rock impulses of their first two long-players and early singles. That this happened roughly concurrent to Greenleaf issuing Secret Alphabets represents something of a crossing point between the two bands, who would both head ultimately in different directions. Dozer became more aggressive with 2005’s Through the Eyes of Heathens and 2008’s to-date swansong (one can always hope) Beyond Colossal (discussed here), and ultimately fell by the wayside as Greenleaf was joined by Truckfighters‘ Oskar Cedermalm for Agents of Ahriman and Nest of Vipers, becoming more or less a full-time touring band after the latter, as current frontman Arvid Johnsson grabbed hold of the singer role and worked quickly to make it his own despite the considerable shoes to be filled. One might then think of Secret Alphabets and Call it Conspiracy as the intersection point between the two bands on their respective paths. One doubts that Holappa, who’s the key figure in all of this riffy intertwining, thought of it on that level at the time, but a decade and a half later, it’s perhaps a bit easier to have that perspective on what was going on creatively with Holappa as a songwriter and the direction of both his groups. In fact, if anyone out there can honestly say as regards where Dozer and Greenleaf each wound up, “Yeah I called that shit in 2003,” including any of the band members, I’ll gladly tip my hat in their direction.

So there’s no question that Secret Alphabets was a pivotal moment for Greenleaf as a band, but that leaves out one essential detail of the record itself: it frickin’ rocks. From the funk in “Witchcraft Tonight,” to the raw Fu Manchu fuzz of the instrumental “The Spectre,” to the sleek groove in “Masterplan” and the two-parter finale in “No Time Like Right Now!,” it’s a brook-no-argument roller that does “classic” right. I know for a fact that many Greenleaf fans argue in its favor as the band’s best album to-date, and while I’m not sure anything can take the special place Agents of Ahriman holds in my heart, the stomp of “Never Right,” the spaciousness in “One More Year” and the underline-the-point vibing of “Masterplan” make a more than solid case.

Wherever you land in that debate, as always, I hope you enjoy.

I was in New Jersey all week. We were supposed to go down last Sunday but we left a day early because the power had gone out owing to I don’t know wind of more than 20mph and lack of infrastructure spending? Blah blah blah, more government subsidy, less corporate dominance. Lot of family time. I had been anxious about it but it worked out really well and I was glad we went. They had cleared out the house formerly occupied by my grandmother and done it up nice to give us a place to stay, bought a pack-and-play for the baby and a bed for the dog — really went all out. It was appreciated and a nice reminder of what life can be like when you have any kind of support system whatsoever. You know, feeling supported and all that.

So of course about two feet of snow fell on Wednesday and the power — because infrastructure! — went out down there as well. We stayed Wednesday night because trees were coming down almost as hard as the snow itself, and took off back to Massachusetts yesterday morning. In August it will be five years that we’ve lived up here. All this trip south really did for me was emphasize how at home I continue not to feel here. Don’t get me wrong, I know good people here and I’ve had some good times in the last half-decade, but it ain’t home. Everything’s an hour away from where I live except The Patient Mrs.’ job, and when I think about what’s keeping us here, that’s pretty much it. She likes her job. I’m glad. And I’m glad I don’t have a job and can take care of the house and the baby and write and all that, but when I think about vacuuming this kitchen floor vs. the several righteous shag rugs down in Parsippany, well, it ain’t even really a contest. There’s a reason I keep calling it “my beloved Garden State,” and it’s not just because they put in a Wegman’s close by.

Though that’s nice too.

That it was The Patient Mrs.’ spring break made the trip south feasible — The Pecan did pretty well in the car, if you were wondering — and we had to be back for this morning because I have yet another appointment with yet another doctor. This one is in Brookline which is — you guessed it — a fucking hour’s trip each way from where I live. It’s cool though, I’m sure it won’t just be a they-take-blood-and-totally-waste-my-time kind of deal or anything. This is the doctor I’m going to because my nutritionist thinks my PCP doesn’t take my eating disorder seriously enough. He doesn’t, but who cares? So it’s “drive two hours to go to this doctor who’s going to take your blood then make you come back again to hear all the same shit I’ve been telling you for the last two months.” Won’t that be fun? Like I said, no way it’s a total waste of my fucking time or anything. Pas de chance.

Oh and though they gave me pills to mitigate, I’m still bloated as fuckall, though I’ll say that after upping my antidepressant dose on my own this week because I decided I was too lazy to cut pills — seriously? cutting pills? what is this, fucking 1930? — my general mood has improved, though this too could just as easily be a reaction to seeing my four-month-old son held in the arms of his laughing, Zelda-obsessed, about-to-be-awkward-as-hell cousin, which is, frankly, among the rawer examples of joy that I’ve experienced.

So yes, I’d like to move back to New Jersey. I also need a haircut. And to lose 50 pounds that kind of showed up out of nowhere. Ha.

Plan for next week, subject to change:

Mon.: Sammal album stream; Dollar Llama video.
Tue.: Et Moriemur track stream.
Wed. Merlin review; Black Salvation video premiere.
Thu.: Choral Hearse video premiere, maybe an Earthless review. That’d be fun.
Fri.: Desertfest Split 12″ stream and review.

Might head to Connecticut with The Patient Mrs. and The Pecan tomorrow, might take advantage of a day on my own to write like a bastard and get a jump on next week. We’ll see. In any case, whatever you’re up to, I hope it’s a good time. Stay safe, be well, and please check out the forum and the radio stream.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

 

 

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Greenleaf Recording New Album Hear the Rivers; Touring Australia in March

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 29th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Back in December, Swedish heavy rock mainstays Greenleaf wrapped up a European tour alongside New Jersey exports The Atomic Bitchwax and London desert anthropologists Steak that would seem to have been the final installment of their Euro touring cycle for 2016’s triumphant Rise Above the Meadow (review here) on Napalm. That album, their sixth overall and first for Napalm Records, was an unmistakable forward step from 2014’s preceding Trails and Passes (review here), which introduced the next phase of the band as founding guitarist/songwriter/spearhead Tommi Holappa (see also: Dozer) brought in vocalist Arvid Jonsson and seemed to be a moment whereby the group got its collective feet under them as a result of that shift.

In March, Greenleaf — HolappaJonsson, drummer Sebastian Olsson and bassist Hans Fröhlich — will head to Australia for the first time in their almost-20-year history, but before they go, the band has revealed that they’ve begun work on their seventh studio album, tentatively-titled Hear the Rivers, with longtime producer (and former drummer) Karl Daniel Lidén for a release through Napalm later this year. Over the course of Greenleaf‘s history, each record has built off its predecessor in one way or another, and I’d expect no less from Hear the Rivers, the making of which Jonsson is documenting in a series of vlog updates, because it’s the future and apparently that’s how we do things now. Wish I knew that earlier. Probably could’ve saved me a lot of time typing. Alas.

One more to look forward to as we move deeper into this still-relatively-New-Year. With Holappa‘s long-established approach at its core, Greenleaf‘s songwriting tack is essentially flawless, and if they can capture a fraction of the energy they brought to Rise Above the Meadow — mind you, there’s zero reason to think they won’t given all the momentum they’ve built on tour since that record came out — Hear the Rivers has the potential to stand among 2018’s finest offerings. Can’t wait to hear it.

Find Greenleaf‘s Aussie dates and one of Jonsson‘s studio vlogs below. They’ve been appearing regularly on Greenleaf‘s Thee Facebooks page, if you’d like to keep up.

greenleaf

Greenleaf Australia tour:
03/02 The Bendigo Hotel Collingwood
03/03 Singing Bird Studios Frankston
03/04 Barwon Club Geelong
03/06 Rad Bar Wollongong
03/08 The Chippo Sydney
03/09 Crowbar Brisbane
03/10 Jive Adelaide

http://www.napalmrecordsamerica.com/store/greenleaf
http://shop.napalmrecords.com/greenleaf
www.facebook.com/greenleafrocks
www.napalmrecords.com
www.facebook.com/napalmrecords

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Greenleaf Announce March 2018 Australian Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

greenleaf

Ostensibly, when Greenleaf go to Australia for the first time in their 18-year history next March, it will be supporting their 2016 Napalm Records long-player, Rise Above the Meadow (review here). It might even be the final leg of their touring cycle for that album, which has been considerable. But here’s what I’m thinking: That’s an awfully long way to go behind a record that by then will be coming up on two years old. I think of bands touring Australia — especially never having done so before — as a major event. Maybe it’s not as long a trip from Sweden, from whence Greenleaf hail, as from Massachusetts, from whence I hail, but still. It’s significant.

So couldn’t it just be possible that the Tommi Holappa-led four-piece will announce a new full-length sometime between now and then? I’m not saying I know that’s going to happen — let me be clear: I do not. at all. in any way. have that info. — but golly, it sure would be awfully nice. Rise Above the Meadow was triumph enough that I’m not sure they necessarily need a follow-up as an excuse to get on that plane. They’d be fine just going as they are. But to go heralding a brand new record? To me, that just seems like a cake and its icing coming together perfectly.

Again, I’ve got no inside track or anything, I’m just thinking it would be awesome if it happened. Greenleaf have some December shows as well with Steak and The Atomic Bitchwax. Those dates and the Australian dates follow here, the latter presented by Your Mate Bookings and Get on the Stage:

greenleaf aus tour

Greenleaf – Australia Tour

The legendary Stoner Rockers from Sweden ‘Greenleaf’ are set to embark on their first ever Australian tour in March 2018. Brought to you by Get On The Stage and Your Mate Bookings!

From what started out as a side project for Tommi Holappa from the prestigious stoner rock band ‘Dozer’, GREENLEAF has now seen six albums, three record labels (Molten Universe, Small Stone Recordings and currently Napalm Records) and a revolving door of band members since inception in 2000.

The much anticipated australian tour is set to begin in Melbourne and will take the Swedes through Frankston, Geelong, Wollongong, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide.

Keep your eyes and ears peeled for local shows and tickets and get ready for a Stoner Rock gig you’ve never seen before!

Greenleaf Dec. shows:
DEC 1 Greenleaf, The Atomic Bitchwax, Steak, The Underworld Camden London, United Kingdom
DEC 3 Greenleaf at Markthalle, Hamburg, Germany
DEC 4 Greenleaf at Luxor, Macul
DEC 5 Greenleaf / the Atomic Bitchwax / Steak Schlachthof, Wiesbaden, Germany
DEC 6 Greenleaf, The Atomic Bitchwax, Steak, WERK2-Kulturfabrik, Leipzig-Connewitz, Germany
DEC 12 Greenleaf at Kleiner Klub, Saarbrücken, Germany
DEC 13 Greenleaf, The Atomic Bitchwax, Steak in Doornroosje, Nijmegen, Netherlands
DEC 16 Greenleaf • The Atomic Bitchwax • Steak, Bi Nuu, Berlin, Germany
DEC 27 Sankt Hell på Loppen

Greenleaf Australia tour:
03/02 The Bendigo Hotel Collingwood
03/03 Singing Bird Studios Frankston
03/04 Barwon Club Geelong
03/06 Rad Bar Wollongong
03/08 The Chippo Sydney
03/09 Crowbar Brisbane
03/10 Jive Adelaide

http://www.napalmrecordsamerica.com/store/greenleaf
http://shop.napalmrecords.com/greenleaf
www.facebook.com/greenleafrocks
www.napalmrecords.com
www.facebook.com/napalmrecords

Greenleaf, “Tyrants Tongue” official video

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Skraeckoedlan Sign to Fuzzorama Records; Premiere Live Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Whathaveyou on June 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

skraeckoedlan

It’s rare you’ll find a band and a label as made for each other as Skraeckoedlan and Fuzzorama Records. Even putting aside the fact that since their Transubstans-released first album, 2011’s Äppelträdet (review here), the Norrköping-based outfit have had a strong influence from the methods of Truckfighters — who, if it needs to be said, are at the helm of Fuzzorama, and whose bassist/vocalist, Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm, recorded that debut — with their ongoing commitment to progressive songcraft, richness of tone, crisp presentation and energetic live performance kind of makes this the match that one has been waiting for. It just makes sense all the way around. They’ve been a Fuzzorama band all along, one way or the other.

Their second album, 2015’s Sagor (review here), was released via Razzia Records, which is an imprint overseen by Anders Fridén, vocalist of In Flames. That record found their processes even weightier and more refined than one found on Äppelträdet, and set a high standard that an impending third full-length and Fuzzorama debut will seek to surpass. As part of celebrating their signing, the four-piece of vocalist/guitarist Robert Lamu, guitarist/vocalist Henrik Grüttner, bassist/backing vocalist Tim Ångström and drummer Martin Larsson have posted a new video filmed live at Studio Underjord in their hometown that very cleverly captures material both new and old. One track from Äppelträdet, one from Sagor, and a sneak peak of a new song from the third long-player, the title and release date for which remain to be announced at this time.

Underneath the clip, which premieres today and which you can see below, you’ll find the announcement from Fuzzorama welcoming the band to the label, as well as their upcoming live dates for the next few months. Kudos to Skraeckoedlan and to Fuzzorama on getting together, and here’s looking forward to what materializes when the album arrives.

Please enjoy:

Skraeckoedlan, Live at Studio Underjord

Skraeckoedlan came to life in 2009 in Norrköping Sweden. The ambition was to create heavy psychedelic music with lyrics in Swedish and to explore themes connected to nordic folklore, sci-fi and to create a mysterious world with their songs. The name translates to what you could call Godzilla in Swedish.

The band recorded and released their two first EPs during 2009 and 2010. They got a lot of attention and toured a lot. In the summer of 2011 they released their first album called Äppelträdet (the apple tree), recorded and produced in Studio Bombshelter by Oskar Ozo Cedermalm of Truckfighters.

Äppelträdet got to a lot of “best of lists” that year and quickly sold out. The band did over 300 live shows the coming years and shared stage with bands like Orange Goblin, Kylesa, Truckfighters, Greenleaf and other giants of the genre.

In 2015 the album Sagor (Tales) was released. This time Skraeckoedlan worked with a few producers, like Niklas Berglöf (Ghost, Den Svenska björnstammen) and Daniel Bergstrand (Meshuggah, In flames, El caco) but it was when they met producer and technician Erik Berglund that they really found what was missing. The album really took the band to a new level musically and they really explored the world that they have created over the years. It reached number two on the Swedish vinyl sales the month it was released.

Now the quest for the next album has started. And what could be better than to work with the guys that got them in to this genre to start with.

“Signing with Fuzzorama records really connects the dots and is the missing link that Skraeckoedlan has been searching for all these years. We really feel like we have found our home.” –Skraeckoedlan.

To celebrate this, the band has recorded a live video that features a little bit of everything from their world of music. In “Skraeckoedlan Levande at Studio Underjord” you get to experience one song from their first album, one from their second album, the latest song they worked with Erik Berglund on and bit of a song that will be featured on their upcoming third album. The live video was recorded and produced by Joona Hassinen in Studio Underjord, mixed and mastered by Erik Berglund and filmed by Marcus Jehrlander.

Skraeckoedlan:
Robert Lamu – Vocals/Guitar
Henrik Grüttner – Guitar
Tim Ångström – Bass
Martin Larsson – Drums

Tour Dates:
Jul 08 Midnight Light Festival, Vilhelmina, Sweden
Jul 22 Noisenäsfestivalen, Nusnäs, Sweden
July 27 Copenhagen, Lygtens Kro, Denmark
Jul 29 Rock Im Wald, Michelau, Germany
Aug 10 Krökbacken Festival, Leksand, Sweden
Aug 26 Eksjö Stadsfest, Eksjö, Sweden
Oct 27 En lokal, Avesta, Sweden
Oct 28 Broken dreams, Borlänge, Sweden

Skraeckoedlan website

Skraeckoedlan on Instagram

Skraeckoedlan on Thee Facebooks

Skraeckoedlan on Twitter

Fuzzorama Records website

Fuzzorama Records on Thee Facebooks

Fuzzorama Records on Twitter

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Skraeckoedlan Announce May UK Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Prog-tinged Swedish heavy rockers Skraeckoedlan — whose moniker I as an ignorant American continue to be proud of myself for spelling correctly — are making a back-by-popular-demand-type return trip to the United Kingdom next month. The yet-underrated riffers have been keeping track of their doings on the social medias via a new series of self-shot DIY videos — vlogs — and have included some new material snippets as a part of that, but I’ve yet to see concrete word of a forthcoming release to follow up on their latest single, Pärlor (discussed here), which they released in January in order to keep momentum rolling from their 2015 sophomore full-length,  Sagor (review here).

As they do, they’ll be keeping good company on this trip, including Prosperina from Wales and Netherlands-based instrumentalists Tank86, the latter of whom will join Skraeckoedlan as support for a couple shows with Monolord as well. The gigs are presented by Snuff Lane, and if you want to keep up with Skraeckoedlan‘s doings as they go, I can’t imagine they won’t have cameras rolling while they’re on the road as well. That’s where the good stuff happens.

Must-see tv follows:

skraeckoedlan uk tour

Swedish Fuzz-Forgers Skraeckoedlan Return to the UK Next Month w/ Prosperina & Tank86

Less than a month to go until Swedish fuzzience fiction rockers Skraeckoedlan return to the UK for 10 special headline events.

Heavyweight tag-team support from Welsh prog-pop, post-rockers Prosperina and Dutch high-density, instrumental heaviness TANK86.

Skraeckoedlan and Tank86 are also set to support Monolord for 2 events, as part of Monolords UK tour.

SKRAECKOEDLAN May UK Tour
w/ Prosperina

12/05 – The Wheatsheaf, Banbury
13/05 – The Pit, Swansea
14/05 – Retro Bar, Manchester
15/05 – Mulberry Tavern, Sheffield
16/05 – The Iron Road, Evesham
17/05 – The Arches, Coventry

w/ Tank86
18/05 – Underworld, London (supporting Monolord)
19/05 – Sanctuary, Basingstoke
20/05 – The Junction, Plymouth
21/05 – Exchange, Bristol (supporting Monolord)

Come feel the fuzz!

Flawless artwork, crafted by the exceptionally talented JaneyMonster.

Skraeckoedlan is:
Henrik Grüttner (Guitaring, backup singing)
Martin Larsson (Drumming)
Robert Lamu (Singing/guitaring)
Tim Ångström (Bassing/backup singing)

https://facebook.com/SKRAECKOEDLAN
http://www.skraeckoedlan.com/
http://instagram.com/skraeckoedlan
http://twitter.com/skraeckoedlan
http://www.razziarecords.se/

Skraeckoedlan, “Pärlor” official video

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Greenleaf & Steak Desertfest Split 7″ Available to Preorder

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 4th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

This year will be the third that H42 Records has offered up an exclusive single to mark the arrival of Desertfest. The first featured Sons of Alpha Centauri and Karma to Burn, and the second was Monster Magnet and Ramming Speed. This year, it’s quintessential Swedes Greenleaf with a classic track and London heavy underground ambassadors Steak with brand new material. Seeming to represent both Desertfest London and Berlin 2017, this year’s single is limited to 400 copies, and the green vinyl is already gone on preorders, so if you want one at all, you probably don’t want to sleep on it.

I also don’t know how many of these will actually make it to Desertfest, versus how many have been preordered and just sold through that way, so yeah, much to consider here. Not trying to sell you on anything, I’m just saying these are factors to consider when acquiring heavy rock and roll. You know how it is.

Release details from the PR wire:

desertfest-split-steak-greenleaf

GREENLEAF & STEAK will take part on this years DESERTFEST Split-7″

GREENLEAF is a righteous kick in the ass and a testament to the almighty riff! On Side A they presents you their alltime classic “Sold My Old Lady (Out of the back of an Oldsmobile)”. The song was originally released on their long sold out debut EP from 2000. If you don’t own this EP this is your chance the get this song on vinyl. That’s the first time in 17 years.

Side B is reserved for a brand new song from STEAK: “Overthrow” is the first living sign of the four Londoners since ‘Slab City’ from 2014. And what is closer to the fact that Steak is represented with a new song on the new DesertFest Split cause they will also rock the stage of the DesertFest London this year.

Limited Edition up to 400 copies out on H42 Records (H42-040)
200 on DARK GREEN vinyl
200 on BROWN vinyl

Tracklist:
A1 // Greenleaf Side: Sold My Old Lady (Out of the back of an Oldsmobile)
B1 // Steak Side: Overthrow

http://www.h42records.8merch.com/presale
https://h42records.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/H42Records
https://twitter.com/H42Records
https://www.h42records.com/

Greenleaf, “Sold My Lady (Out the back of an Oldsmobile)”

Steak, “Pisser” Live in London, 2016

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Greenleaf Cancel North American Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Bummer news out of Sweden today in that Greenleaf have been forced to cancel their planned US tour. The run, which was slated to begin March 5 at Brooklyn’s Saint Vitus Bar, would’ve been the first for the band, and was to take place over two legs, with desert legends Yawning Man and fellow Swedes Truckfighters keeping company as Greenleaf supported their 2016 Napalm Records release, Rise Above the Meadow (review here), which was without question one of the best albums of last year.

On a purely selfish level, I’m sorry to see this news come out because it means I won’t get to see the band, but they leave open the possibility of making another attempt to get over later in 2017 or next year, and so at least the idea isn’t completely off the table as of now. Visa issues. As ever.

I haven’t seen word of whether Yawning Man will press forward with their intention to play the East Coast for the first time, or who will fill in on the Truckfighters run, if anybody, but when and if I hear, I’ll do my best to post accordingly.

Greenleaf‘s announcement and the list of canceled dates follows:

greenleaf tour off

GREENLEAF – North American Tour CANCELLED

We regret to inform everyone who was so excited to see us on our upcoming dates with Yawning Man and Truckfighters that due to complications with our visas we are very sad to say that we must cancel our appearances on this tour. We’ll do our best to solve this issue and appear on your shores later this year or in worst case in 2018.
And yes we know… this really sucks DONKEY BALLS.

All the best
Tommi Holappa, Sebastian Olsson, Arvid Jonsson and Hans Fröhlich

Affected dates:
03/05 Brooklyn NY Saint Vitus Bar
03/06 Richmond VA Strange Matter
03/07 Chapel Hill NC Local 506
03/08 Pittsburgh PA Smiling Moose
03/09 Chicago IL Reggies
03/10 Kansas City MO Riot Room
03/11 Saint Louis MO Fubar
03/12 Oklahoma City OK TBA
03/13 El Paso TX TBA
03/15 San Diego CA Brick by Brick
03/16 Los Angeles CA Complex
03/17 San Francisco CA Bottom of the Hill
03/18 Sacramento CA Starlite
03/19 Portland OR Ash St. Saloon
03/20 Seattle WA El Corazon
03/21 Vancouver BC Rickshaw
03/23 Calgary AB Distortion
03/24 Edmonton AB Starlite
03/25 Saskatoon SK Amigos
03/26 Regina SK Exchange
03/28 Denver CO Moon Room
03/29 Albuquerque NM Launchpad
03/30 Tucson AZ Flycatcher
03/31 Mesa AZ Club Red

http://www.napalmrecordsamerica.com/store/greenleaf
http://shop.napalmrecords.com/greenleaf
www.facebook.com/greenleafrocks
www.napalmrecords.com
www.facebook.com/napalmrecords

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2016

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 30

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:

30. Talmud Beach, Chief

talmud beach chief

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

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.

29. Comet Control, Center of the Maze

comet control center of the maze

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 22.

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.

28. Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids attack sci-fi or die

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 17.

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.

27. Beelzefuzz, The Righteous Bloom

beelzefuzz the righteous bloom

Released by Restricted Release and The Church Within. Reviewed Aug. 2.

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.

26. Foghound, The World Unseen

foghound the world unseen

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed July 6.

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.

25a. Egypt, Endless Flight

egypt endless flight

Released by Doomentia Records. Reviewed Dec. 11, 2015.

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.

25. 1000mods, Repeated Exposure To…

1000mods repeated exposure to

Released by Ouga Booga and the Mighty Oug Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 20.

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.

24. Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy

black rainbows stellar prophecy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 11.

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.

23. Borracho, Atacama

borracho atacama

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Nov. 14.

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.

22. The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again

the golden grass coming back again

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed April 26.

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.

21. Curse the Son, Isolator

curse the son isolator

Released by Snake Charmer Coalition and The Company Records. Reviewed March 1.

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.

20. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires

neurosis fires within fires

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 21.

I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, NeurosisFires 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.

19. Conan, Revengeance

conan revengeance

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 19.

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.

18. Baby Woodrose, Freedom

baby woodrose freedom

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Aug. 18.

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.

17. Geezer, Geezer

geezer geezer

Released by Ripple Music and STB Records. Reviewed Nov. 10.

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.

16. EYE, Vision and the Ageless Light

eye vision and the ageless light

Released by The Laser’s Edge. Reviewed Nov. 17.

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.

15. Fatso Jetson, Idle Hands

fatso jetson idle hands

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Oct. 3.

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.

14. Hexvessel, When We are Death

hexvessel when we are death

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Feb. 5.

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.

13. Zun, Burial Sunrise

zun burial sunrise

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Feb. 16.

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.

12. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree

elephant tree elephant tree

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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.

11. Mos Generator, Abyssinia

mos generator abyssinia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed July 12.

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.

10. Slomatics, Future Echo Returns

slomatics future echo returns

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed June 29.

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.

9. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh

wo fat midnight cometh

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 21.

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.

8. King Buffalo, Orion

king buffalo orion

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed July 29.

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

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.

6. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 18.

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.

5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil

brant bjork tao of the devil

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 15.

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 KyussFu ManchuCheVista 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.

4. Asteroid, III

asteroid iii

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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.

3. Gozu, Revival

gozu revival

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 19.

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)

mars red sky apex iii praise for the burning soul

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

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.

1. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages

subrosa for this we fought the battle of ages

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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.

Honorable Mentions

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
Spidergawd, III
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.

Thank You

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.

One more time: Thank you.

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