Rozamov, This Mortal Road: Beating a Path

Posted in Reviews on March 2nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

rozamov this mortal road

Consuming in its atmospheric darkness and vicious in intent, the debut album from Boston trio Rozamov arrives not without the ground suitably prepared. Actually, it’s been something of a wait. Founded in 2011 by the trio appearing here of guitarist/vocalist Matt Iacovelli (also piano), bassist/vocalist/noisemaker Tom Corino (also of Kind) and drummer Will Hendrix (since replaced by Jeff Landry), as well as guitarist Liz Walshak, they would quickly turn around two EPs, a self-titled and Of Gods and Flesh, in 2012 and 2013, offering heavy-toned crusher riffs with a thrashy edge and a nascent undertone of doom.

It didn’t seem unreasonable to think a full-length would follow soon after, but Rozamov took something of a turn at that point. They parted ways with Walshak (now in Sea) and undertook their first real stretch of touring. I don’t know what other work they were doing, but by the time 2015 came around and they released their cross-coastal split 7″ with L.A.’s Deathkings (review here), they were a different band. Still heavy, still nasty, but driven in a post-sludge direction in a new way and one that, excitingly, was more their own than what they’d shown on their earliest work. As their first long-player, This Mortal Road lands via Battleground Records and Dullest Records with five tracks/40 minutes that draw that line further out to a new point in their longer-term progression. It has been a while in the making, but it’s a pivotal declaration from Rozamov of who they are as a band, and it comes through loud and clear in these songs. Emphasis on loud.

With a recording and mix by Jon Taft at New Alliance Audio and mastering by Nick Z. at New Alliance East Mastering, This Mortal Road seethes with a particularly New England-style anger and intensity. It is bookended by its two longest pieces in the opening title-track (10:49) and closer “Inhumation” (11:29), and finds a sense of variety in switching between Iacovelli‘s shouts and cleaner, post-Oborn howls, and Corino‘s shouts, which particularly on the rolling second cut “Wind Scorpion” remind of Rwake‘s poetic extremity. There is precious little letup, as “This Mortal Road” makes plain at the outset, beginning almost like the listener got there late with an unfolding mid-paced intro that leads the way into the first verse, cleaner-sung than much of what will follow and thoroughly doomed.

At about three minutes in, the roll-and-rumble comes to a halt and they turn to a quieter but still tense stretch of guitar and either keys or guitar effects leading to an instrumental midsection that gradually, patiently, brings them around to the opener’s grueling, shouted apex, in which the full impact of their churn really begins to show itself, perhaps as a precursor to “Wind Scorpion,” which is marked out by Hendrix‘s tortured thud and the play between the bass — which, on a tonal level, feels like it might just bury us all — and the airier impulses of the guitar.

rozamov-photo-by_Reid_Haithcock

When they hit into a stop, as they do several times in the verse, I don’t care what speaker you’re listening on, it sounds like it’s about to blow. Vocals are shouted with a sense of the space in the room in which they were recorded, but not necessarily buried in the mix for effect, and as “Wind Scorpion” passes its midpoint, Corino and Iacovelli seem to come together on vocals in a moment of extra-righteous malevolence, transitioning into a slow-motion nod drawn to more resonant thudding and a plotted but effective layered-in lead that rounds out. They cap side A with a final chug that, in the context of the lurch and push before it, feels almost humorous in its understatement.

It’s important to note that while This Mortal Road is unquestionably structured to break into two sides, as mentioned above, the flow front-to-back is linear and the resulting full-album feel palpable. Listening digitally or on CD, there’s a quick stop between “Wind Scorpion” and the subsequent “Serpent Cult,” which brings back the clean vocals, but in their order as much as in how “Serpent Cult” feeds into the two-minute interlude “Swallowed and Lost” and that feeds into the finale, Rozamov do well in creating an immersive experience — think Steve Buscemi in a woodchipper, you children of the ’90s — across the presentation of the record as a whole, which is something that, as a newer and less mature outfit, they probably wouldn’t have been able to do.

“Serpent Cult” proves a worthy centerpiece of the tracklist as it oozes forth to execute its seven minutes of hellscaping, and though its instrumental aspects are thoroughly, persistently sludged, the shifts in vocal approach offer diversity both on their own and in relation to “Wind Scorpion” before it. Vague speech, either sampled or spoken, accompanies the piano of “Swallowed and Lost,” and the movement into “Inhumation” — a title that brings to mind some lost death metal band from either Florida or New York — comes via a brief foreboding drone. Fittingly enough, “Inhumation” is the darkest, most outwardly brutal inclusion on This Mortal Road, making its way toward a crawl in its second half that seems bent on tearing itself apart from about its seventh minute onward.

Noble, and I’m not sure how else Rozamov might’ve ended the album other than with the noise and feedback they do, but it follows a churning roll into the bleakest sphere the band has yet to occupy, as though they were forcibly willing themselves to be heavier, meaner, rawer. That impression, savage as it turns out to be in the actual listening experience, is another sign of how much they’ve grown, and while This Mortal Road was recorded over a span of months, the obvious efforts Rozamov have put into crafting their aesthetic with it can be heard in the overarching cohesiveness of purpose in the songs. In other words, it took a while for the band to realize This Mortal Road, but This Mortal Road seems to be all the more realized for that, and as their debut, it strikes with deceptive efficiency and poise. Is it possible for something so harsh to be progressive? One gets the sense that as Rozamov continue forward, they’re setting themselves up to pursue an answer.

Rozamov, This Mortal Road (2017)

Rozamov on Thee Facebooks

Rozamov on Bandcamp

Battleground Records website

Battleground Records on Thee Facebooks

Battleground Records webstore

Dullest Records on Bandcamp

Dullest Records on Thee Facebooks

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Gozu Announce West Coast Tour with Ape Machine

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

gozu photo tim bugbee

Turns out Gozu‘s upcoming Northeastern run is only half the story. There’s a whole other coast to cover! My understanding is the Boston four-piece are hard at work putting together riffs and structures for a quick-turnaround follow-up for 2016’s Revival (review here) and have plans to hit the studio this summer, but before they get there, they’ll head West in April to join Ape Machine for 11 dates heralding the worthy cause of the latest full-length.

Revival was, as you’ll recall, issued by Ripple Music, and after playing Psycho Las Vegas and touring Europe with Holy Grove in the months following its release Gozu signed a deal to release their next album through Metal Blade imprint Blacklight Media. Momentum is obviously on their side as they get ready to record again, and I’m intrigued to find out whether that push plays into the intensity of the new material itself — Revival wasn’t short on drive. I’ve already nagged them about letting me do an in-studio feature when they go in, so I’ll keep you posted on what I know when I know it.

Here’s the tour announcement for the West Coast run, courtesy of the PR wire:

Gozu announces northeast and west coast USA tour dates

Massachusetts-based rock/metal outfit Gozu has announced a short run of tour dates next week, which will see the band perform in Philadelphia (PA), Brooklyn (NY), Dover (NH), and Portland (ME). Following this northeast trek, Gozu will appear on the west coast in April alongside Ape Machine. See below for all dates!

Gozu tour dates
Feb. 22 – Philadelphia, PA – Kung Fu Necktie w/ The Age of Truth, Kingsnake
Feb. 23 – Brooklyn, NY – Lucky 13 Saloon w/ Pants Exploder, Eyes of the Sun, Eat
Feb. 24 – Dover, NH – The Dover Brickhouse w/ KYOTY, Tar
Feb. 25 – Portland, ME – Geno’s Rock Club w/ Sylvia, All Night, Lousy

Gozu tour dates
w/ Ape Machine
Apr. 12 – Los Angeles, CA – Viper Room
Apr. 13 – San Diego, CA – Soda Bar
Apr. 14 – Santa Cruz, CA – Blue Lagoon
Apr. 15 – Sacramento, CA – Starlite Lounge
Apr. 16 – San Francisco, CA – Elbo Room
Apr. 17 – Fresno, CA – TBA
Apr. 18 – Bend, OR – Volcanic Theater
Apr. 19 – Eugene, OR – Old Nicks
Apr. 20 – Portland, OR – Kenton Club
Apr. 21 – Seattle, WA – Funhouse
Apr. 22 – Bremerton, WA – Manette Saloon

Formed in 2010, Gozu have released one EP and three full-lengths to-date, and are currently writing their fourth studio album, set for a 2017 release via Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Fronted by Marc Gaffney on vocals and guitar, Doug Sherman on guitar, Joe Grotto on bass, and Mike Hubbard on drums, the band’s sound is tailor-made for blasting out the car speakers via international radio airwaves. Having already been aired on national television (USA) via MTV (‘Road Rules’, ‘Dudesons’, ‘Real World’), NBC, and NASCAR, Gozu aims to take their critical and commercial success to new heights on their upcoming debut for Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records, with worldwide touring to follow. Previously, the group shared the stage with the likes of St. Vitus, Pallbearer, Lo Pan, Storm of Light, Helmet, Elder, Mos Generator, and Fu Manchu in the States, as well as Yob, Church of Misery and Kvelertak in Europe at Roadburn (Netherlands) and DesertFest Berlin (Germany). 2017 will surely see Gozu back on the road again, and at the forefront of the heavy rock and metal world.

Gozu line-up:
Marc Gaffney – guitar and vocals
Joe Grotto – bass and low end
Mike Hubbard – drums and percussion
Doug Sherman – lead guitar and sounds

https://www.facebook.com/GOZU666/
https://twitter.com/gozu666
https://www.instagram.com/gozu666/
http://gozu.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/BlacklightMediaOfficial/
metalblade.com

Gozu, Revival (2016)

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Gozu Announce Northeastern Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 6th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

gozu (ph by james jay fortin)

It’s been kind of quiet from the camp of Boston heavy rockers Gozu since the announcement late last year that they’d signed to Metal Blade Records imprint Blacklight Media for the release of their next album. They shared the stage with Truckfighters last month in Somerville, MA, and I’ve heard rumblings about a return to Europe sometime in 2017, but my sense is they’ve been taking advantage of the winter season to hunker down, stay inside and set to work on the follow-up to 2016’s excellent Revival (review here), the charge of which was delivered via Ripple Music.

A release in 2017 would be Gozu‘s fastest turnaround, and of course there are contingencies like label scheduling, pressing, distribution, etc., to consider — let alone the recording process itself — so I don’t know if we’ll see it this year or in 2018. They were in the ‘Definitely Could Happen’ section of my most anticipated albums list, and particularly with the momentum they have on their side after the new signing, touring Europe with Holy Grove, and so on, yeah, it’s possible, but we’ll have to wait and see what materializes. While the energy of Revival was a big part of what made it work so well, I’d rather they didn’t actually rush the writing process, especially since their next outing has the potential to expand their reach so greatly with Metal Blade‘s promo/distro machine behind it. So yeah, off to the rehearsal space with you guys.

Nonetheless, one gets restless, right? And a couple days out are good for the soul, so Gozu will head south from MA later this month and make their way back to New England, playing Philly, Brooklyn, New Hampshire and Portland, Maine, along the way on a kind of during-the-week winter getaway tour. Shaking off the rust? Maybe testing out a new song or two? You’ll have to go to a show to find out, I suppose.

They’re keeping some cool company as well on the run. Dates/particulars follow:

gozu winter getaway

Gozu – Winter Run 2017

Looking forward to seeing y’all!! Some upcoming shows with lots of friends!

Gozu live:
02/22 Philadelphia PA Kung Fu Necktie w/ The Age of Truth, Kingsnake
02/23 Brooklyn NY Lucky 13 Saloon w/ Pants Exploder, Eyes of the Sun, Eat
02/24 Dover NH The Dover Brickhouse w/ KYOTY, Tar
02/25 Portland ME Geno’s Rock Club w/ Sylvia, All Night, Lousy

https://www.facebook.com/GOZU666/
https://twitter.com/gozu666
https://www.instagram.com/gozu666/
http://gozu.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/BlacklightMediaOfficial/
metalblade.com

Gozu, “Disco Related Injury” Live at Desertfest Berlin 2014

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Rozamov Announce Coast-to-Coast US Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Not to say I called it or anything — though I most definitely, definitely called it — but Boston three-piece Rozamov have announced a considerable round of tour dates in support of their forthcoming debut album, This Mortal Road. It’s a run that will take them from one coast to the other as they herald the March 3 release on Battleground Records and Dullest Records, and includes a certainly noteworthy appearance at the Austin Terror Fest, put on by the same crew as the South West Terror Fest.

There are a few open days around that appearance that I assume will be filled by gigs at SXSW or on their way to or from Austin, but either way, it’s a substantial amount of travel and an awesome barrage of shows, so all the best to Rozamov on hitting the road hard and getting out to deliver their onslaught in-person. I haven’t heard the record yet, but I’m rooting for these guys already to make a significant impression this year. A tour like this won’t hurt.

From the PR wire:

rozamov us tour

ROZAMOV Announces US March Tour Supporting This Mortal Road Full-Length

Boston’s ROZAMOV will tour across the US in support of their upcoming debut full-length, This Mortal Road, beginning directly in conjunction with the album’s release through Battleground Records and Dullest Records.

The new ROZAMOV tour will begin with a record release show the day This Mortal Road is issued, Friday, March 3rd, in Allston, Massachusetts. From there, the band will venture in a clockwise path around the country through the entire month. At press time, nineteen shows have been confirmed, with several additional performances yet to be announced. Hush will join ROZAMOV on first three shows in Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Richmond, and the tour also includes a set at Austin Terror Fest. The remaining dates will be issued in the coming days, as the band issues further information and audio to the anxiously anticipated This Mortal Road.

This Mortal Road will see release March 3rd on vinyl through Battleground Records, on CD and cassette through Dullest Records, and digitally through ROZAMOV. Digital preorders are posted HERE, and physical preorders at Battleground HERE and Dullest HERE.

ROZAMOV Tour Dates:
3/03/2017 O’Briens – Allston, MA *record release show
3/08/2017 The Well – Brooklyn, NY w/ Hush
3/09/2017 The Depot – Baltimore, MD w/ Hush
3/10/2017 25 Watt – Richmond, VA w/ Hush
3/11/2017 Star Bar – Atlanta, GA
3/12/2017 The Nick – Birmingham, AL
3/13/2017 Shantytown Pub – Jacksonville, FL
3/18/2017 The Lost Well – Austin, TX @ Austin Terror Fest
3/19/2017 Zombies – Amarillo, TX
3/20/2017 Moonlight Lounge – Albuquerque, NM
3/21/2017 Yucca Taproom – Tempe, AZ
3/22/2017 Complex – Los Angeles, CA
3/24/2017 High Water Mark – Portland, OR
3/25/2017 Funhouse – Seattle, WA
3/26/2017 Club X – Salt Lake City, UT
3/27/2017 Bar Bar – Denver, CO
3/28/2017 Riot Room – Kansas City, MO
3/29/2017 Livewire Lounge – Chicago, IL
3/30/2017 Buzzbin – Canton, OH

With five monolithic passages consuming over forty minutes of textured, melody-laced doom metal, This Mortal Road presents a sonic catharsis featuring the longest, heaviest, and most progressive tracks ROZAMOV has ever created. The crushing production was recorded and mixed by Jon Taft at New Alliance Audio, and mastered by Nick Z at New Alliance East Mastering, the album finalized with photography by Andrew Weiss and layout by Matt Martinez.

https://www.facebook.com/Rozamov
http://battlegroundrnr.com/
http://www.facebook.com/battlegroundrecords
http://battlegroundrecords.bigcartel.com
https://dullestrecords.bandcamp.com
https://www.facebook.com/DullestRecords

Rozamov, This Mortal Road album trailer

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Worshipper Post “Darkness” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

worshipper

Boston’s Worshipper offer a suitably crisp reminder of the quality of hooks proffered on their debut album last year with their new video. The clip, for the cut “Darkness,” is somewhat obscure visually, but the message could hardly come through clearer. Shadow Hymns (review here) was released by Tee Pee Records and found a place for itself on the fine line between heavy rock and classic metal, managing to harness an atmospheric presence amid what was otherwise unabashed structural traditionalism.

I called it one of 2016’s best debuts, and it easily was that, but it was also one of the most individualized, refusing to bow to aesthetic when it might cost Worhispper some detriment to songwriting.

Maybe that doesn’t make sense until you actually hear what guitarist/vocalist John Brookhouse, guitarist Alejandro Necochea, bassist/backing vocalist Bob Maloney and drummer Dave Jarvis proffer on a song like “Darkness,” but the niche they craft between familiarity and nuance of style and performance is something special and something particularly rare for bands making their debut. The interplay of acoustic and electric guitar on “Darkness,” for example, could otherwise consume the work of groups looking to indulge some progressive vision, but Worshipper back away from this impulse and instead let the track’s chorus do the talking for them.

With Brookhouse‘s vocals out front, the scorch-prone leads of Necochea peppered with class throughout, and the dead-ahead drive from Jarvis and Maloney, the execution of “Darkness” happens smoothly and efficiently, and the song is lean without giving up a natural feel. They probably could’ve picked any number of tracks from Shadow Hymns and made a video for it and I’d say the same thing, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It just makes it a really good album.

Credits follow the clip below. Please enjoy:

Worshipper, “Darkness” official video

WORSHIPPER – “Darkness” from the album ‘Shadow Hymns’
Music by Worshipper
Lyrics by John Brookhouse

Directed by Duncan Wilder Johnson
http://www.dwjcreative.com

Art Direction by Bob Maloney

Available now on CD & LP via Tee Pee Records.

Purchase from Tee Pee Records here: http://bit.ly/2e2SBA5
Purchase on iTunes: http://apple.co/2eAA5ei

Worshipper on Thee Facebooks

Worshipper on Instagram

Worshipper on Twitter

Worshipper on Bandcamp

Tee Pee Records website

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Rozamov Unveil This Mortal Road Cover Art; Album Trailer Posted

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Whathaveyou on January 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

rozamov

Sometime in between now and its March 3 release, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect Boston atmospheric doomers Rozamov to announce the tour currently being booked with which they’ll support This Mortal Road, their debut full-length. The only question is how long and how far it and they will go. Set for issue through Battleground Records and Dullest Records, Rozamov‘s first outing requires emphasis as such — that is, I have to remind myself they don’t already have an LP out — because of all the three-piece have accomplished over the last couple years, establishing their dominance in their local scene and branching out to tour, play Psycho California, release two EPs and other shorter offerings besides, open for Slayer, on and on. Dudes have done a lot to lead into this record. Can’t imagine they’ll start half-assing now, in the crucial moment of bringing it to bear. Keep an eye out for tour news, and likely more besides.

For example, today I have the particular pleasure of unveiling the cover art — photography by Andrew Weiss, layout by Matt Martinez — for This Mortal Road, as well as the tracklisting for the five-song offering and a brand new teaser featuring a quick snippet of their bleak wares. I could ramble on about how much I’m looking forward to this record, but you don’t care, and the really important stuff — the art, tracks, and video — is below. So let’s do that.

It comes, of course, from the PR wire:

rozamov this mortal road

Boston-based ROZAMOV has issued the details and a brief trailer for their upcoming debut full-length, This Mortal Road, which is set for co-release through Battleground Records and Dullest Records in March.

With five monolithic passages consuming over forty minutes of textured, melody-laced doom metal, This Mortal Road presents a sonic catharsis featuring the longest, heaviest, and most progressive tracks ROZAMOV has ever created. The crushing production was recorded and mixed by Jon Taft at New Alliance Audio, and mastered by Nick Z at New Alliance East Mastering, the album finalized with photography by Andrew Weiss and layout by Matt Martinez. The cover art, track listing, and a brief trailer for This Mortal Road, featuring a clip of audio, have been issued.

This Mortal Road will see release March 3rd on vinyl through Battleground Records, on CD and cassette through Dullest Records, and digitally through the band. Stand by for additional audio samples, an official video, and more to be released in the coming weeks. A North American tour is currently being booked in support of This Mortal Road.

This Mortal Road Track Listing:
1. This Mortal Road
2. Wind Scorpion
3. Serpent Cult
4. Swallowed And Lost
5. Inhumation

Preorders live at: http://battlegroundrnr.com and https://rozamov.bandcamp.com/album/this-mortal-road

https://www.facebook.com/Rozamov
http://battlegroundrnr.com/
http://www.facebook.com/battlegroundrecords
http://battlegroundrecords.bigcartel.com
https://dullestrecords.bandcamp.com
https://www.facebook.com/DullestRecords

Rozamov, This Mortal Road album trailer

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The Top 20 of 2016 Year-End Poll — RESULTS!

Posted in Features on January 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

top 20 year end poll results

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.

Let’s go:

Top 20 of 2016 — Weighted Results

wo fat midnight cometh

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

wo fat midnight cometh

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.

Thanks.

Read more »

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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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