The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2019

Posted in Features on December 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk best of 2019

[PLEASE NOTE: These are not the results of the year-end poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t contributed your list to the cause yet, please do so here.]

Make no mistake, my friends. 2019 was the year it went off the rails.

Every 12-month period brings a lot of records, and they all seem overwhelming, but this was the first year I’ve ever felt quite so helpless when it came time to sit down and actually make my list. Of course, I keep running notes all year long, but even so, ordering everything, bringing it all together? What a mess.

I almost thought of breaking it down into smaller lists in addition to the big one, subgrouped by style. But then, where does doom end and sludge begin? What about psych and heavy rock? Should prog get its own list? And what the hell counts as prog?

In the end, that didn’t seem like it would be doing me any favors, so we’ll stick with the one big list and then others for debut releases and another for EPs, splits, demos and so on. You know, the usual.

Pretty sure I say this every year too, but it bears repeating: if you read any of the below — and thanks if you do — and have a response, be nice. If I’ve forgotten something — and yes, I have; I’m sure of it — that you think needs to be included, and you want to leave a comment that says so, please, by all means. But keep it civil. I know people are passionate about this stuff and so am I, but consider there are probably over 200 offerings covered here by the time you get through all the lists and honorable mentions, and I’m one person. I’m doing my best, and though I try not to, I tend to take being called a dumbass personally. So yeah, chill out and please be constructive in calling me a dumbass. Words matter.

A few hard choices here, most especially for album of the year. I was back and forth with each of the top three in the top spot for a good long while, and it might change again between now and when this post goes up. But it’s been that kind of year. In 2018, there was no question. It was Sleep all the way. The question was what came after that. This year has been different without that kind of duh, punch-in-the-face obvious pick. Relative parity isn’t a bad thing though.

Enough delay. The usual parameters apply. These are a combo of my personal listening habits and what I think are the most important records/achievements of the year, critical importance, etc.

Here we go:

The Top 50 Albums of 2019

#50-31

50. Hazemaze, Hymns of the Damned
49. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
48. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Grandmother
47. PH, Osiris Hayden
46. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
45. Abrahma, In Time for the Last Rays of Light
44. Uffe Lorenzen, Triprapport
43. Swallow the Sun, When a Shadow is Forced into the Light
42. Caustic Casanova, God How I Envy the Deaf
41. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Tre
40. SÂVER, They Came With Sunlight
39. Ogre, Thrice as Strong
38. Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension
37. Vokonis, Grasping Time
36. Sacri Monti, Waiting Room for the Magic Hour
35. Across Tundras, The Rugged Ranges of Curbs and Broken Minds
34. Duel, Valley of Shadows
33. Orodruin, Ruins of Eternity
32. Zaum, Divination
31. Inter Arma, Sulphur English

Notes: Honestly, if this had been the top 20 of the year, I’d still call 2019 a win. Aside from the fact that I somehow thought Caustic Casanova would enjoy coming in a number 42, the sheer quality of this stuff should tell you what kind of year 2019 was. Inter Arma’s Sulphur English was a significant achievement in genre melding, and Orodruin’s return after more than a decade since their last LP was a masterclass in doom worship. Debut albums from SÂVER and Thunderbird Divine and Lightning Born showed marked promise of things to come — and there’s more on them below as well — while Zaum’s, Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree’s and Lamp of the Universe’s meditations, Vokonis’ noise, Abrahma’s emotive progressivisim, Swallow the Sun’s melodic melancholy, Sacri Monti’s boogie, and whatever the hell PH were doing on Osiris Hayden remind just how much the word “heavy” can encompass. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Duel and Uffe Lorenzen and Hazemaze were musts here, and Ogre are perennial favorites whose work always brings a doomly grin. Don’t sleep on any of it.

30. Sun Blood Stories, Haunt Yourself

sun blood stories haunt yourself

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 6.

Until they put out a complementary follow-up record of such fare, one might’ve accused Idaho three-piece Sun Blood Stories of becoming less experimentalist/droned-out/noisy on Haunt Yourself, but they seem to have met their quota one way or the other with the Oct. 2019 advent of Static Sessions Vol. 1. Still, it’s melody, heavy post-rock/psychedelic drift and emotive soul that rule the day on the crushing and enriching Haunt Yourself, and no complaints from me on that.

29. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Everybody’s Going to Die

Church of the Cosmic Skull Everybodys Going to Die

Released by Septaphonic Records. Reviewed Dec. 10.

I don’t have to do anything more than read the name of the album to have the chorus of the title-track stuck in my head, and it’s a reminder that although the Nottingham troupe put so much into their progressive style and vocal harmonies and arrangements, and a more conceptual theme in the case of Everybody’s Going to Die — their answer to 2018’s excellent Science Fiction (review here) — their roots are in songcraft, and it’s the foundation of songcraft that lets them soar. Would be higher on the list if it weren’t so new.

28. Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

devil to pay forever never or whenever

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 4.

With their sixth album, Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay collect 10 tracks of unpretentious-almost-to-a-fault of straightforward heavy rock songwriting that continues to be woefully underappreciated. They have become utterly reliable in that regard — you know, to a certain extent, what’s coming — but the vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (also Apostle of Solitude) and some more metallic turns to the riffing give Forever, Never or Whenever a subtlety that holds up all the more on repeat visits. I don’t know if Devil to Pay will ever get their due, but suffice it to say, they’re due.

27. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds

howling giant the space between worlds

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Oct. 11.

If you’re of a certain age, you remember when the first Playstation came out and everyone looked around at their Nintendos and Segas like, “What the hell am I messing around with Mario Golf for? I could be playing Resident Evil!” That’s kind of what Howling Giant are as compared to “regular” rock bands. They’re the Playstation of heavy: that next progressive step forward carrying an inhuman amount of swagger and personality while still delivering a stepped-up product from their would-be peers. The scariest thing about The Space Between Worlds is it’s their first LP. One looks forward to the next generation.

26. Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

saint vitus saint vitus

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 19.

I know for a fact that bassist Pat Bruders and drummer Henry Vasquez had a hand in writing some of the material on Saint Vitus’ second self-titled LP, and yet the album so much bears the indelible mark of guitarist Dave Chandler that it’s hard not to think of it all as his. The album marked their first release with original singer Scott Reagers since 1995’s Die Healing (discussed here) and featured among their trademark low-tuned slog, an actual punk song, which showed the grinning glee that underlies all they do. Four decades on, Saint Vitus sound like they’re having fun. How is that not a win?

25. Ealdor Bealu, Spirit of the Lonely Places

ealdor bealu spirit of the lonely places

Self-released. Reviewed July 10.

Woodsy Rocky Mountain psychedelia abounded on Boise foursome Ealdor Bealu’s second full-length, and their blend of landscape meditations and grounded heavy progressive melodicism made Spirit of the Lonely Places as much about impact as about space, though of course the real joy was the experience of the entirety. Very much a sophomore album, it learned lessons from 2017’s Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain (review here) that one only hopes the band will continue to push forward in scope as they so gracefully did here.

24. Yatra, Death Ritual

yatra death ritual

Released through Grimoire Records. Discussed Nov. 13, 2018..

Though hard- and to-date quick-working Maryland trio Yatra have already moved on and are looking ahead to releasing their second album, Blood of the Night (review here), their Grimoire-delivered debut, Death Ritual, is impossible to ignore for the impact it had on reminding listeners of the impact that primeval extreme sludge can have. Another couple tours and some bigger label — Relapse, Prosthetic, eOne, Season of Mist, whoever — will decide they’re “ready,” whatever that means, and then sign them and I won’t be cool enough to do track premieres for them anymore, but as far as accolades go, Yatra earn whatever they get and Death Ritual stands among 2019’s most landmark debuts. They’ve already outdone it, but it’s a stunner just the same.

23. Ecstatic Vision, For the Masses

ecstatic vision for the masses

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 17.

Ecstatic Vision frontman Doug Sabolik has cast himself in the mold of Arthur Brown or Dave Wyndorf or probably seven or eight dudes who were in Hawkwind at some point as a manic-but-stoned space rock preacher with as he and his band behind him plunge headfirst-or-feetfirst-it-doesn’t-matter-because-your-body-is-an-illusion-man into the molten multicolor void. For the Masses. The ‘masses,’ such as they are, should be so lucky, but the double-meaning is the real tell for where the Philly unit are coming from. Their shows are the masses — gatherings of spirit and song to give praise to the willful expansion of mind. If you can’t get behind that, you might as well go get a job or something. This ain’t no lightweight party for squares and dabblers. This is a high-potency happening for werewolves on motorcycles and freaks of all stripes. Get weird stay weird. Ecstatic Vision are one mostly-mellow 15-minute “Spine of God”-style psych-epic away from perfection.

22. Beastwars, IV

beastwars iv

Released by Destroy Records. Reviewed June 27.

But for the circumstances that brought it about — i.e. Beastwars vocalist Matt Hyde’s cancer — the unexpected fourth installment in the Beastwars trilogy was nothing if not welcome. An grand-feeling sense of largesse was nothing new to the New Zealand four-piece, but after breaking up and getting back together to make the album, the grim sincerity with which they presented this exploration of mortality and betrayal by one’s own body was no less palpable than the undulating riffs that threatened, as ever, to consume all in their path. I don’t know their future plans in terms of continuing to write and/or record, but there are reports of touring beyond Aus/NZ for 2020, so one way or another, stay tuned for more from them. Whether or not they do anything else, IV was a triumph in spirit and execution.

21. Eternal Black, Slow Burn Suicide

eternal black slow burn suicide

Self-released. Reviewed June 7.

With the nine songs of Slow Burn Suicide, Brooklyn’s Eternal Black began to unveil the true depth of their project. Their 2017 debut, Bleed the Days (review here), was well received, and rightly so, but operated more in a straight-ahead doom sphere. The second outing, by contrast, delved into a particular vision of the style informed by the crunch of peak-era New York noise and crossover hardcore, and it succeeded not just because it did this, but because it did so around a conjuration of memorable riffs and tracks building on accomplishments carried over from its predecessor. Is this an awaited arrival of next-generation ‘New York doom’? Will theirs be a blueprint others will follow? It’s impossible to know now, and their next album will be telling either way, but the course they’ve set is significant.

20. Candlemass, The Door to Doom

candlemass the door to doom

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 22.

It may have been the Tony Iommi guest appearance that got Swedish doom legends Candlemass — the world’s earliest and foremost purveyors of doom both classic and epic — their recent Grammy nomination, but it was the long-overdue reunion with original vocalist Johan Längquist that made the album as a whole as powerful as it was. Pairing Längquist’s theatrical and vital approach with founding bassist Leif Edling’s second-to-none doomcraft, The Door to Doom was a catapult not to the bygone days of the band’s landmark debut, 1986’s Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, but an inspired look at not just what might’ve been had Längquist remained with the band longer, but what might still be if he does this time around. Candlemass have been through their share of singers, but as fresh as The Door to Doom sounded, it’s hard not to hope for something more than a one-off with he who got there first. The songs, the spirit, the sheer heart poured into Candlemass’ doom some 35 years past the band’s start only emphasizes how special they have always been.

19. Nebula, Holy Shit

nebula holy shit

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed June 13.

Anyone who might’ve predicted Nebula getting into the studio and making a new album was either in the room when it happened or talking out their ass. And speaking of, was Nebula’s Holy Shit named for the shock one might’ve felt at its existence, or the surprise at how good it actually sounded when you put it on? I don’t know. I probably won’t ever know. It was the best title I saw all year, but more than that, it was a Nebula record, fueled by the classic riffing and unmitigated desert punk soul of founding/guitarist Eddie Glass, whose absence from the heavy underground for the last decade left a void only too many others whiffed on filling. Holy Shit showed just how singular a player Glass was and is, and how much character there is in his style, particularly in solos, but also in rhythmic changes, and so on. I won’t discount the work of bassist Tom Davies and drummer Mike Amster in making Nebula what they are in this incarnation — they’re essential, obviously — but there’s simply no denying that presence at the band’s core.

18. Valley of the Sun, Old Gods

valley of the sun old gods

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed May 21.

This was a heavy rock record that had everything. Everything. It had songs, style, ups, down, purples, greens, ins, outs, all kinds of whathaveyou. Riffs forever. Valley of the Sun should keep their eyes on Sasquatch, because if they want it, that path is theirs. I know the Cincinnati outfit have had trouble keeping lineups together, but if they can hold onto one, and maybe after their next record start touring more, domestically and abroad — not at all a minor ask, I know — then people will catch on. Old Gods is evidence of the fact that they genuinely have something to offer, and frankly, it’s not at all the first such effective case they’ve made in their career. But they’ve never put anything out that wasn’t a step forward, and yet they’ve never lost sight of the roots of their initial inspiration. And they’ve never sacrificed the song for the riff, which so many do. They’ve only ever gotten better. Let Old Gods be a step toward them getting attention they’ve long since deserved.

17. Kadavar, For the Dead Travel Fast

Kadavar For the Dead Travel Fast

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 28.

In style and production, For the Dead Travel Fast is the most vintage-sounding offering Berlin trio Kadavar have made in over a half decade, yet neither is it looking backward wistfully toward 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) or giving up the modern clarity of 2017’s Rough Times (review here) or 2015’s Berlin (review here). Instead, it strikes a balance with a more sinister edge à la Uncle Acid in songs like “Children of the Night” and “Demons in My Mind” — both singles — and makes a home for itself between proto-metal and garage doom. Whatever genre tag you want to give it — and that might vary from track to track, mind you — it’s unmistakably Kadavar, with the signature hooks and memorable craftsmanship that have made them one of the decade’s most pivotal heavy bands. The real challenge at this point in their career is not to take for granted that Kadavar will produce material of such quality, because, frankly, that’s all they’ve ever done.

16. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Yn Ol I Annwn

mammoth weed wizard bastard yn ol i annwn

Released by New Heavy Sounds. Reviewed Feb. 7.

Welsh sci-fi cosmic doomers Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard billed Yn Ol I Annwn as the final installment of a trilogy that includes their two prior LPs, 2015’s Noeth Ac Anoeth (review here) and 2016’s Y Proffwyd Dwyll (review here), and while that may be true thematically, there’s also no question the third is a marked step forward from anything they’ve done before. They’re one foot out of the airlock and into space as their synth-laden longform riffing and melodies take them to places they’ve not yet gone, explorations of sight as much as sound, aural translation of colors humans aren’t gifted to see. Their songs across the 65-minute span unfold with the grace of a gravity spiral, pulling the listener deeper into the proceedings with each new phase that emerges until, what, obliteration? Stellar genesis? I’m not sure. They’ve reportedly got one more record to make and then they’re done. If that’s true, they’ll be missed then they’re gone.

15. Magic Circle, Departed Souls

magic circle departed souls

Released by 20 Buck Spin. Reviewed April 3.

They’ve found their way to die, and it’s upon an altar of classic metal and doom. And honestly, they make a pretty good case for it. Departed Souls is the third full-length from the Boston unit and their most stylistically realized work yet, with vocalist Brendan Radigan giving a standout performance alongside the guitars of Chris Corry and Renato Montenegro, the bass of Justin DeTore and Michael “Q” Quartulli’s drums, as the entire band taps into vibes from mid-’70s Black Sabbath and brings them to bear with an energy that is unlike anything in Magic Circle’s history. 2015’s Journey Blind (review here) brought in NWOBHM flash in the guitar work, sure enough, but Departed Souls doesn’t so much carry the torch of classic metal as it does use it to burn down the whole village and rebuild it in the five-piece’s image. From their doomed beginnings on their 2013 self-titled debut (review here) to now, they’re an act who’ve genuinely earned cult status. If you can find a backpatch, buy it.

14. Spaceslug, Reign of the Orion

Spaceslug Reign of the Orion cover

Released by BSFD Records. Reviewed Nov. 22.

Controversy! Drama! Well, probably not, but at very least some respectful disagreement on my part. You see, Poland’s Spaceslug have stated publicly that their latest release, the late-2019 surprise Reign of the Orion is an EP. Their albums regularly top 50 minutes, and at 36 minutes, I guess relative to that, you can see where they’re coming from. However, with the flow of these five songs and the ease with which they carry the listener from front-to-back through the listening experience, I’m sticking to my guns and calling Reign of the Orion an album. Sorry guys. True, it’s shorter than the other full-lengths, but it’s got everything you could ask an album to have in terms of how tracks like “Spacerunner” and the shouty “Half-Moon Burns” play into each other, and the fluidity of the outing on the whole is inarguable. An LP by any other name? Whatever you or they want to call it, there’s no question in my mind Reign of the Orion is one of 2019’s best records. If they insist on it being an EP, then it’s the best one of the year, but I still say it belongs in another category altogether, so here it is.

13. Green Lung, Woodland Rites

green lung woodland rites

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Jan. 28.

As hyper-crowded as London is with bands at this moment in history, there continue to be acts who sneak through with an individualized and intriguing perspective on doom and heavy rock, and Green Lung are a perfect example, learning from fellow Brits like Alunah and Elephant Tree and incorporating folk and forest goth vibes to their debut album, Woodland Rites. Laced with organ and stuck-in-the-head choruses like “Let the Devil In” and the creeper “Templar Dawn,” the record also pushed into drifting verses on “Into the Wild,” setting up future experimentation with atmospheric variety and genre manipulation. If part of any first album’s appeal is the potential it represents, Green Lung’s offers plenty, but wherever their subsequent course may or may not take them, their accomplishments here shouldn’t be overlooked. Woodland Rites is nothing less than the heavy rock debut album of the year, and though they emerge from a packed field, the work they do to stand themselves out already carries their mark and an apparent will toward progression. They’re on their way.

12. Lo-Pan, Subtle

lo-pan subtle

Released by Aqualamb Records. Reviewed May 9.

My head immediately goes to the hooks of “Ten Days” and “Ascension Day” and “Savage Heart,” but the up-down surges of guitar in “Old News/New Fire” and the midtempo soulfulness in “A Thousand Miles” are no less resonant when it comes to the actual listening experience of the fifth Lo-Pan LP. Subtle, when it came to living up to its name, as much wasn’t as it was. Flourishes of harmony in the vocals of Jeff Martin, the pops in Jesse Bartz’s snare punctuating and propelling in kind, turns in Scott Thompson’s bass work twisting around the guitar of Chris Thompson, a relative newcomer to the fold making his debut with the band and showing no apparent trouble fitting in. I don’t imagine Lo-Pan is an easy band to join, especially at this point. They thrive on personality clash and, through years of touring, have a chemistry they’ve built between them that comes through even on their recordings. Nonetheless, Subtle is their clearest, sharpest-edged work yet, and as tight as their songwriting has become, they still groove and groove mightily. They are a treasure of American heavy rock and roll. Believe it.

11. Roadsaw, Tinnitus the Night

roadsaw tinnitus the night

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 12.

While members of Roadsaw have spent the intervening years in projects like Kind, White Dynomite, Sasquatch and Murcielago, the Boston heavy rock kingpins have indeed been missed, and Tinnitus the Night works quickly to show why. It’s been well over 20 years since their first LP — hell, it’s been eight since they put out their 2011 self-titled (review here) — but their craft is at its own level, and Tinnitus the Night comes barreling through with “Shake” and “Along for the Ride” and “Final Phase” before opening up to broader fare on side B with “Find What You Need,” “Under the Devil’s Thumb” and “Midazolam” ahead of the subdued finale “Silence,” and the result is nothing less than a classic heavy rock LP structure as befitting what is itself a classic heavy rock LP. What’s Roadsaw’s future? I don’t know. It took them the better part of a decade to make this one happen, so take from that what you will, but to me, all it says is there’s even more reason to be grateful they got it done and out. To say the songs deserve that is putting it mildly.

10. Worshipper, Light in the Wire

worshipper light in the wire

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 24.

I’m not doing a ‘song of the year’ post, but if I was, Worshipper’s “Coming Through” might be it. The opening track from the Boston four-piece’s second album, Light in the Wire, marries classic pop drama in its melody with careening progressive riffing, and sets the tone for a record that is of both future and past, twistingly complex and yet immediately accessible, immersive as an entirety and still comprised of standout moments. These aren’t contradictions in Worshipper’s skillful hands, but the stuff of what’s already becoming their own take on rock. Tied together through melody, skillful rhythmic intricacy and solid structural foundations, “Light in the Wires,” “Visions from Beyond,” “Wither on the Vine” and others throughout post their own triumphs en route to enhancing the album as a whole, while “Nobody Else” and closer “Arise” underscore the emotive basis from which the perspective of the whole LP emanates. There are a lot of “next-gen” heavy rock bands out there weaving prog elements and traditional riffing together to some degree or other. Few, if any, can write a song like Worshipper can. I mean it. This band is something special.

9. Solace, The Brink

solace the brink

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Nov. 21.

What is there to say about Solace? A band who, nine years after revealing the expectation-slaughtering masterpiece A.D. (review here), return with three-fifths of a swapped-out lineup and simply do it again? This band is explosive. Really. Like, they might explode at any minute. It’s a miracle The Brink ever happened. I’ll be honest, I had my doubts. But Solace are a force like nothing else I’ve ever encountered in music. They take metallic aggression, hardcore’s sense of self-righteousness and heavy rock’s groove, set it all to a doomly swing and they play it in such a way as to leave you utterly dumbfounded by what you just experienced. Here’s a challenge though, for the band personally. From me to them. Do another one. Go ahead. Put out another album. You don’t even have to do it in 2020. Do it 2021. Write the songs and give me a no-holds-barred 45-minute LP of the tightest, meanest shit you’ve ever written. Because massive as the accomplishments are on The Brink, it’s the potential to build from them that resonates most here. So do it, guys. Step up and take advantage of the moment. Call me greedy if you want, I don’t care. Give me another Solace record. I dare you.

8. Brume, Rabbits

brume rabbits

Released by Doom Stew Records & DHU Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

Simply a case of a band wildly outdoing themselves. Easy story, yeah? In some ways, maybe, but the truth of what Brume achieve on Rabbits. Their second long-player behind 2017’s Rooster (review here), the five-track offering sees the San Francisco three-piece of vocalist/bassist Susie McMullan, guitarist/vocalist Jamie McCathie and drummer Jordan Perkins-Lewis working with producer Billy Anderson to bring theatricality and emotionalism together in a flowing post-heavy context that’s neither derivative nor working at cross purposes. Instead, it is a gorgeous and blooming undertaking across its 43-minute span, working in its own light/dark spectrum and bringing not just the sense of trapped fragility evoked by the cover art, but a corresponding sureness of intent to its ascendant heavy surges. Like Rooster before it, it is loaded with potential, but in “Scurry” and “Lament” and “Despondence” and “Blue Jay and “Autocrat’s Fool,” there’s a patience and command that absolutely does not waver. So yes, a band outdoing themselves. But so much more too.

7. Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal

mars red sky the task eternal

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Sept. 20.

This may forever be known as the Mars Red Sky album they wrote in a cave, but the Bordeaux three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matieu “Matgaz” Gazeau nonetheless plunged forward along the progressive course they charted back on 2014’s sophomore outing, Stranded in Arcadia (review here), and continued to manifest in 2016’s Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here). Their blend of melody and tonal heft has become a hallmark of their work to this stage in their career, but The Task Eternal continues to add a sense of breadth to the proceedings, giving their sound a full three-dimensional pull that feels tailor-made for headphones and is consuming in its entirety. With experiments in structure like the pairing of “Recast” and “Reacts,” and the rushing sweep of melody in “Hollow King,” Mars Red Sky’s latest is, as ever, their finest. Outdoing themselves would seem to be the task from which the record derives its title. Fine. Just keep going. Please.

6. Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 15.

Every time I think I understand where Kings Destroy want to go as a band, they pull the rug out. That’s what Fantasma Nera is. After their 2015 self-titled (review here) third LP seemed to declare them once and for all in a space between doom and noise rooted in their respective hardcore pasts, the Brooklynite five-piece hooked up with producer David Bottrill (Tool, etc.) and composed a rock album. A real live rock album! With progressive undertones in the guitar work and the most accomplished melodicism of their career, Kings Destroy put everything they had into making Fantasma Nera and one need look no further than the title-track to hear the result of that monumental effort. It is the realization of a band challenging themselves to go so far out of their comfort zone as to be only recognizable in the most rudimentary of ways, and to say it as plainly as I can, “Dead Before” on its own is enough of an accomplishment — and enough of a full-length, at all of 4:25 — to make this list on its own, whatever surrounds it. Song of the year. I’ll say every time I’m a Kings Destroy fan, but I’ve never been gladder to say it than I am in talking about Fantasma Nera.

5. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Dec. 3.

If you’re saying to yourself, “Ah come on, Colour Haze are always on the list when they put out records,” I have two answers. One, you’re right, and two, if you have a problem with that, blow it out your ass. The Munich forefathers of the European heavy psychedelic underground — yup — marked their 25th anniversary this year, and did so not just by putting out an album, but by putting out We Are, which introduces a full-fledged fourth member to what’s been a three-piece since 1998. Granted, it’s not the first time guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald have worked with organist/keyboardist/synthesist Jan Faszbender, but never has the presence of keys been so integral to their work, and never has the dynamic between players shifted in the way it does on tracks like “The Real” and “Life” and “I’m With You,” with keys fleshing out melodies and enriching the bass and guitar. Add to that the Spanish-style guitar on centerpiece “Material Drive” or the operatic flash in the penultimate “Be With Me,” and it’s one more example of one of the best bands on earth refusing to rest on their laurels. Which, as it happens, is why they’re one of the best bands on earth. So hell yes, they’re on all my lists. Fact is my lists are lucky to have them.

4. Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter

blackwater holylight veils of winter

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Sept. 26.

Like nothing else I heard in 2019, Veils of Winter had repeat listenability. It was the album that, most often, when I was choosing something I actually wanted to hear, I went back to time and again. Its dark, moody psychedelic and heavy vibe stands alone among the year’s releases, and is a stylistic milestone that one only hopes other artists will pick up on. Toying with pop melodies on tracks like “Death Realms” and bringing hypnosis and clarity in kind to the subtly traditionalist winding riff of “Moonlit” — would it have been out of place on the first Witchcraft LP? — the Portland, Oregon, five-piece worked on a speedy turnaround and squashed even the significant expectations I had after their self-titled debut (review here) last year. They’ve begun to tour, so I don’t know if another full-length is in the works for 2020, but their craft is enviable in its flow and their songs are shimmering in tone and cohesion alike. Given how bold a step forward Veils of Winter is, I hear nothing in their material to this point to make me think their momentum won’t continue to carry them forward. But, you know, if not, I’d also take about six or seven records just like this one. That’d be fine too. Whatever they want, really.

3. Slomatics, Canyons

Slomatics Canyons

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed May 15.

Belfast, Northern Ireland, three-piece Slomatics — guitarists David Marjury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/synthesist Marty Harvey — finished a narrative trilogy with 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here), and though the storyline was always vague throughout that and the preceding two offerings, the question of how they would proceed nonetheless hung over Canyons prior to its release. The answer is in the songs themselves. From the sci-fi majesty of lumbering, rolling groove in opener and longest track “Gears of Despair” — oh, they grind — through the mega-stomp of “Telemachus, My Son” and the righteously synth-laden wash that consumes “Mind Fortresses on Theia,” Slomatics bring together concept and execution with a readiness that highlights the fact of their 15th anniversary. They are mature in their approach, yes, but the fact is their approach is so much their own and so given to their particular mode of progression that it almost can’t help but feel fresh. How could something so utterly crushing also feel rejuvenating? As they plod through finale “Organic Caverns II” ending with more waves of synth and tectonic guitar — no bass, remember — they are as restorative as they are punishing, and they stand astride that duality with neither mercy nor pretense. Canyons, whether it’s setting up a new story, building from the old, or doing something completely different, stands on its own.

2. Year of the Cobra, Ash and Dust

year of the cobra ash and dust

Released by Prophecy Productions. Reviewed Oct. 24.

My anticipation for and expectations of Year of the Cobra’s second long-player were high most especially after 2017’s Burn Your Dead EP (review here), which along with the dead, set alight the notion that the Seattle duo of bassist/vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith and drummer Jon Barrysmith were simply a heavy/doom band. With elements of post-punk, psych wash, minimalist stretches and propulsive gallop, Ash and Dust cast itself out over an aesthetic range that set a new standard not just for Year of the Cobra, but for anyone who’d dare match them at their own game — and that list will grow with time, absolutely. As their first outing through Prophecy Productions, Ash and Dust threw itself into the very melting pot of its own ambition and emerged with songs that didn’t just bring together disparate ideas, but made them flourish and engage and challenge the listener while still proving consistent in tone and underlying groove. For a two-person, two-instrument outfit (not counting voice, though I should), they proved more malleable than many with more than twice the number of hands on deck, and pushed the notion of what heavy rock is and does forward without stopping to look back or ask for permission. They just did it, and maybe Ash and Dust is the aftermath of all that burning.

2019 Album of the Year

1. Monolord, No Comfort

monolord no comfort

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Look back over the course of this list, and you will find no shortage of bands and releases that surpassed the group in question’s past work. With Gothenburg, Sweden’s Monolord, it wasn’t just about No Comfort — their debut on Relapse, fourth full-length overall — being better than 2017’s Rust (review here), because that was pretty jolly gosh darn enjoyable, but about the band reaching a moment of transcendence to which Rust and all their prior work across 2015’s Vænir (review here) and 2014’s Empress Rising has been leading. With the six tracks of No Comfort, guitarist/vocalist Thomas Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and drummer Esben Willems not only overcome the influences that launched them — taking full ownership of their sound and defending that claim with the sheer quality of their songwriting — and they not only become as identifiable as those influences themselves, but they overcome themselves. No Comfort means no comfort. Monolord take the simplicity that once fueled their riffing, the willful primitivism of their earliest work, and with songs like “Larvae” and “The Bastard Son” and the closing title-track use it as the foundation it was apparently always intended to be. Monolord have toured plenty and certainly their studio output has shown an increasing complexity from one LP to the next, so progression isn’t unexpected, but the manner in which Monolord have executed that progression has been. Even on “The Last Leaf,” which is arguably the most straightforward fare on the album, one hears it as them rather than the manifestation of the acts that inspired them. The same holds for “Skywards” later on, and for the immersion that takes hold as the mournful “Alone Together” plays into “No Comfort” itself. Monolord take their place among the best bands on the planet, and deliver an Album of the Year for 2019 that, like the absolute best, will have an impact lasting much longer than any period of 12 months might convey.

The Top 50 Albums of 2019: Honorable Mention

You didn’t think we’d stop at 50, did you? Come on. You know me better than that. The fact is that the list itself, humongous as it is, is just the start of the tip of an iceberg attached to a glacier that’s somewhere on an entire planet constructed of ice.

Honorable mentions, you say? Yeah, a few. Here they are in no order whatsoever:

Lord Vicar, Goatess, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, Zone Six, Lykantropi, Earth, White Manna, Atala, Tia Carrera, Merlin, WEEED, Híbrido, Cities of Mars, Stone Machine Electric, Bretus, Blackwolfgoat, The Black Wizards, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Alunah, V, Pale Grey Lore, Leeds Point, Sons of Alpha Centauri, Spidergawd, Bus, Death Hawks, BBF, Vessel of Light, Crypt Trip, The Pilgrim, Uffe Lorenzen, Brant Bjork, Doomstress, Black Lung, Kandodo3, Monkey3, Bask, Horseburner, Zed, Bright Curse, Spillage, Sigils, Papir, Dune Sea, Destroyer of Light, Mastiff, Warp, Centrum, Varego, Lord Dying, Volcano, Saint Karloff, Firebreather, High Reeper, Bible of the Devil, Obsidian Sea, Torche, Motorpsycho, Sunn O))), Deadbird, Russian Circles, El Supremo, Pyramidal, Holy Serpent, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Demon Head, Red Beard Wall, Onhou, Kamchatka, Iguana, Arrowhead, The Whims of the Great Magnet, Serial Hawk, Scissorfight, Monte Luna, Lingua Ignota, Valborg, Sageness, Ruff Majik, The Giraffes, High Fighter, Comacozer, Burning Gloom, Swan Valley Heights, Mark Deutrom, Cable, AVER, Superlynx, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Old Mexico, Skraeckoedlan, Godsleep, Øresund Space Collective Meets Black Moon Circle.

Seems cruel to leave it to you to sort through those, but I’m tempted to do just that. You might notice some bigger names there in bands like Earth, Russian Circles, Torche and Sunn O))). Nothing against those bands, but I think we’re seeing a moment where a different group of artists are taking point in terms of innovating heavy styles across an entire swath of microgenres. Either way it’s not a slight that something is here instead of above. And of course, there are plenty of up and coming groups here as well, with Ruff Majik, Elizabeth Colour Wheel — who I’m sure would be a top 30 if I knew the record better than I do — Pale Grey Lore, Monte Luna, Papir, Destroyer of Light, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Skraeckoedlan, and so on, but hell’s bells, there’s already a list of 50 and I’m only one man. How high is the list supposed to go and still be a list?

Bottom line: Music is as endless as space and has as much beauty in it for those willing to hear. Do more digging.

The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2019

green lung woodland rites

1. Green Lung, Woodland Rites
2. Yatra, Death Ritual
3. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds
4. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
5. SÂVER, They Came with Sunlight
6. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
7. Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Nocebo
8. The Pilgrim, Walking into the Forest
9. Sigils, You Build the Altar You Lit the Leaves
10. E-L-R, Maenad
11. Hey Zeus, X
12. Bellrope, You Must Relax
13. Asthma Castle, Mount Crushmore
14. Thronehammer, Usurper of Oaken Throne
15. Inner Altar, Vol. III
16. Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember
17. Hippie Death Cult, 111
18. Faerie Ring, The Clearing
19. Gone Cosmic, Sideways in Time
20. Haze Mage, Chronicles

Honorable Mention: Warp, Pelegrin, Lucy in Blue, Volcano, The Sabbathian, Red Eye Tales, Dune Sea, Dury Dava, Pharlee, Giant Dwarf, Ghost:Hello, Surya, Workshed, Children of the Sün, Burning Gloom, Temple of the Fuzz Witch.

Notes: As ever, I consider a band’s debut album something unique and separate from everything else they’ll ever do, and so worthy of highlighting in its own category. It’s a different standard in my mind, one that takes into account what a group might accomplish going forward as well as what they do on the record itself. Plus, putting out an album is hard. Getting two, three, four, five or more people to agree on anything is an accomplishment. Making a cohesive album? Come on. So yes. We see some crossover from the main list above, but I want to draw attention to Howling Giant, Thunderbird Divine and SÂVER particularly here. There’s a swath of genres represented and I feel like a couple of these releases — Sigils, Bellrope, Thronehammer, Inner Altar, Faerie Ring, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember — didn’t get their due attention. It’s a busy year, I get it. But if you’re skimming through looking for stuff to check out, DON’T IGNORE THIS LIST. Aside from whatever line about the best of tomorrow you want to trot out, there’s important work being done by these acts today. As somebody who’s constantly behind the times, I urge you not to

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2019

geezer spiral fires

1. Geezer, Spiral Fires
2. Ufomammut, XX
3. All Them Witches, 1×1
4. Mount Saturn, Mount Saturn
5. Dopelord, Weedpecker, Major Kong & Spaceslug, 4-Way Split
6. Horehound, Weight
7. Molasses, Mourning Haze
8. Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Split
9. Here Lies Man, No Ground to Walk Upon
10. The Golden Grass, 100 Arrows
11. Mount Atlas, Mistress
12. Midas, Solid Gold Heavy Metal
13. Glory in the Shadows, Glory in the Shadows
14. Hot Breath, Hot Breath
15. Crystal Spiders, Demo
16. Red Wizard, Ogami
17. Thermic Boogie, Fracture
18. Pinto Graham, Dos
19. High Priest, Sanctum
20. Set Fire, Traya
21. Seedium, Awake

Honorable Mention: Love Gang & Smokey Mirror Split, Forebode, Land Mammal, Very Paranoia, Plague of Carcosa, Daal Dazed, Komodor, Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge Split, High on Fire, Mount Soma.

Notes: This is probably the least complete of the lists, because it’s the hardest category for me to keep up with. EPs, singles, demos, splits and basically anything else that isn’t an album, all lumped together. Still, I stand by the picks here, and I don’t think anyone who takes on any of them will regret doing so, whether it’s All Them Witches’ surprisingly weighted first single as a trio, Mount Saturn’s debut release, or Geezer’s cosmic jams. Felt a little like cheating putting Ufomammut on there, since technically XX wasn’t new material so much as reworked stuff captured live, but if you want to call me out on it, my own listening habits also factor in, and I’ve spent plenty of time with those reimagined tracks. But anyway, I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff that hasn’t been included here, so please feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll work accordingly.

Postwax

I haven’t felt comfortable with the idea of writing about it editorially, since I’ve been involved in discussions about it since before it came together and since I did the liner notes for each of the six releases (plus one to come), but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible work done on the Postwax vinyl subscription series by Blues Funeral Recordings. Label head Jadd Shickler and design specialist Peder Bergstrand (also of Lowrider) put together six offerings that came out in the span of this year and when you hold the LPs in your hand, you can feel the passion that went into making them, from the artists in question to those curating the series in the first place. I hear tell there’s going to be a Postwax Year Two, and I don’t know if I’ll be involved or not, but I’m proud of my miniscule part in the work that went into making these and wanted to bring them to your particular attention. They are something special for those who got to partake:

  • Elder, The Gold and Silver Sessions
  • Daxma, Ruins Upon Ruins
  • Besvärjelsen, Frost
  • Big Scenic Nowhere, Dying on the Mountain
  • Domkraft, Slow Fidelity
  • Lowrider, Refractions

And while we’re talking about projects I was proud to be involved with, I also did liner notes for Acrimony’s The Chronicles of Wode box set from Burning World Records and was honored to do so. Thanks to any and everyone in question for having me involved and dealing with me blowing past deadlines one after the next. It is humbling.

Looking Ahead to 2020

A few names and nothing more about what definitely is and/or might be in the works for next year. Woefully incomplete, so feel free to add to it:

1000mods, Wolves in the Throne Room, Deathwhite, Mondo Drag, Drug Cult, Ocean Chief, Soldati, Sergio Ch., Mitochondrial Sun, Geezer, Mirror Queen, Mondo Generator, The Otolith, Asteroid, Yatra, Vestal Claret, Farer, Ryte, Shadow Witch, Six Organs of Admittance, Naxatras, Wolftooth, Snail, Elder, Pale Divine, Grey Skies Fallen, Ruby the Hatchet, Yuri Gagarin, Sasquatch, Godthrymm, Wo Fat, Red Mesa, CB3, Onsegen Ensemble, Insect Ark, Acid Mammoth, Ritual King, Ulls, Om.

Thank You

Thank you for reading, and please, if you have a thought or something you want to share in the comments, please remember to be kind to each other. We are all human beings behind our phones and keyboards, and while we’ll disagree, often in some ways and some cases, a basic level of respect is always appreciated. At least by me.

I am not so deluded as to think anyone might still be reading, but I want it on record how much I appreciate you being a part of this site and a part of my experience in making it. I’ve been ruminating all year since marking the 10th anniversary back in January about how much The Obelisk has become a part of who I am, and it’s utterly essential to my every day. The way I continue to think about it — and myself, as it happens — is a work in progress, and that would not be possible without you. One more time. Thank you. Always. Always thank you. Thank you.

More to come.

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Bright Curse Stream New Album Time of the Healer in its Entirety; Out Tomorrow on Ripple Music

Posted in audiObelisk on May 9th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

bright curse

Bright Curse make their return with Time of the Healer tomorrow, May 10, through Ripple Music — almost three years to the day after their 2016 debut, Before the Shore (review here) was released. The time between has been eventful for the band to say the least. The label that put out the first outing, which was preceded by their 2013 self-titled EP (review here), was HeviSike Records, which unceremoniously folded thereafter amidst all kinds of shadiness accusations on the part of multiple parties. Also certainly relevant, Bright Curse are essentially a different band now than they were three years ago, with founding guitarist/vocalist Romain Daut revamping the lineup and moving from a trio to a four-piece now comprised of himself along with guitarist Tommy Foster, bassist Sammy Deveille and drummer Mark Buckwell. Unsurprisingly, there’s been an according shift in sound that’s evident throughout Time of the Healer as relates to Before the Shore, taking on a more weighted tonality — two guitars’ll do that — while exploring progressive textures of funk and jazz early on opener “Smoke of the Past” with start-stops and Peruvian flute.

Across that 11-minute leadoff and two other extended pieces in “Shadows” and the title-track paired as the closing duo with the shorter “Laura” (5:36) and “Une Virée” (3:03) between, Bright Curse find a method of delivery that is at once heavy and spacious without relying too much on effects or echo to make it happen. The mix is natural even as lead guitar emerges at the fore, and they’re able to shift tempo and volume naturally as “Smoke of the Past” progresses, leading to a closing funk jam that moves directly into the blues guitar intro to “Laura,” which works on a linear build toward a trumpet-topped rolling payoff — life is full of surprises; sometimes that surprise is a trumpet — and gives way to its own transitional stretch at the end, letting the French-language (Daut is a France-to-London-to-France transplant) spoken word and quiet guitar and percussion add a jazzy feel that builds off that of “Smoke of the Past” without echoing it directly. A hazy groove ensues until what might be abright curse time of the healer manipulated sample of dogs barking leads the way into “Shadows” and the accordingly bluesy pulse that thrives at its outset.

That transition, which is also presumably where side A ends and side B begins, is particularly interesting since it speaks to Time of the Healer working on more of a linear pattern, intended to be taken as an unbroken entirety. The extended runtimes of some of its tracks speak to a change in mindset as well — Bright Curse have written their share of longer songs, but never before hit the 10-minute mark — and if the intention is that Time of the Healer‘s tracks should be read as pieces of a whole work, movements within something larger, then that sensibility is duly accomplished in the finished product of the album itself. The flow of “Shadows” with its bluesy and grungy nod and brighter lead coming forward like that of “Smoke of the Past” before it doesn’t hurt either in that regard, as Daut‘s vocals lead a transition into more bottom-heavy nod at about seven minutes in. They finish “Shadows” with a slow march and an obscured sludgy clip that’s not really identifiable. When the closer ensues a few seconds later, it’s with a funky rhythm and a full sense of summary for what the album that shares its name has had on offer. There are two departure jams — one with trumpet (hello again) and one more spacious of quiet guitar ambience and percussion and between and after them, Bright Curse get as heavy as they’ve ever gotten, winding up at the finish for one last hit answered by string sounds also of unknown origin.

The message there could hardly be clearer in that Bright Curse, as they’ve done all along here, provide the next song’s intro, only there’s no next song to follow. Bright Curse are saying they’re not done, and frankly, I believe it. If having their label pulled out from under them and completely remaking the band didn’t kill them, I’m not sure anything other than a self-imposed “okay that’s it” can do so. All the better they never got to that point, though, as Time of the Healer shows the ongoing will toward creative growth in its arrangements and general reach that has been a defining factor in the band’s expressive searching, and one hopes that, with such turbulence behind them and this record as the result, they’re able to move forward from here and continue that sonic expansion into parts yet unknown. Time of the Healer does this boldly.

I’m thrilled today to host the premiere of the full album ahead of its proper release tomorrow on Ripple. Please find it below and enjoy:

Romain Daut on Time of the Healer:

It has been an adventure to record and release Time of The Healer. A lot has changed since our last album Before The Shore.

With the departure of Zach and Max, former drummer and bass player, and the whole mess with HeviSike, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to carry on, then I realised that not playing music was not working for me, so I started writing new material, not really knowing if it would get released or not…

Then Sammy offered to come back in the band (He is one of the first 3) and Mark from Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters was up for it too. So we started working, and then recorded the whole thing. I had a daughter, moved back to France.

Everything Bright Curse related takes more time and money, but when you are motivated, it doesn’t matter…

Ripple offered to release the album and I am really happy to work with them now.

Bright Curse is:
Romain Daut: Guitar, Flute, Vocals 
Sammy Deveille: Bass, Double Bass 
Mark Buckwell: Drums, Percussions 
Tommy Foster: Additional guitarsDylan Jones: Trumpet on “Laura” and “Time of The Healer”
Produced By Romain Daut and JB Pilon 
Recorded and Mixed at Buffalo Studio (London UK) 
Mastered at Audiosiege Portland. 

Bright Curse on Thee Facebooks

Bright Curse website

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Bright Curse Set May 10 Release for Time of the Healer; New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 28th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

bright curse

Bright Curse aren’t screwing around. They could do the teaser thing, and I think there is one out there, but the first track they’re unveiling from their upcoming second album is 10 minutes long, and that’s gotta be a substantial portion of the five-track LP from whence it comes. Now signed to Ripple after the clusterfuckness that befell them as regards their former outlet HeviSike Records, they’ll follow-up 2016’s Before the Shore (review here) and their 2013 self-titled debut EP (review here) with Time of the Healer on May 10, and “Shadows” demonstrates a scope that goes well beyond its extended runtime. I doubt it’s speaking to the entirety of what the record has to offer, but it certainly represents how far Bright Curse have come well and makes for an immersive listen. I look forward to hearing how it ties in with the rest of the release.

Art and info from the PR wire:

bright curse time of the healer

BRIGHT CURSE: Heavy Psych Rockers Return with New Album on RIPPLE MUSIC | Stream and share new song ‘SHADOWS’

Time of the Healer by Bright Curse is officially released 10th May 2019 on Ripple Music

Formed in London in 2012 out of the expatriated ashes of French psychedelic rock band Soul Manifest, heavy psych trio Bright Curse is a band that requires no introduction for anyone that has kept a close ear to the underground in recent years.

Following the release of their self-titled EP in 2013, their debut album Before the Shore (2016) not only showcased the band’s remarkable song writing talents, it proved itself be a hard rock sleeper hit you simply couldn’t ignore. Well known for riffing epic spectrums of dark/light through extended jams and out-and-out doom, the band established themselves on the road, hitting festival stages at Hellfest, DesertFest Berlin and Keep it Low, and touring across Europe with fellow Londoner doom merchants, Elephant Tree.

With the dissolution of their former label, HeviSike Records, last year, the band has since teamed up with chief purveyors of riff-driven heaviness, US label Ripple Music, to ready the release of new album, Time of the Healer this May.

“Working with Ripple is just gonna be rad. Having a label that really cares for its bands, that motivation will make the difference,” explains frontman/guitarist Romain Daut.

Of the upcoming album, he adds, “It’s a come-back to a doomier version of Bright Curse, more like the first EP. The songs are a bit longer and more developed, each relates a story, and all of them work together to create some kind of tale. I didn’t want to just have another heavy album, so we added some exotic instruments and I think it serves the story really well.”

Time of the Healer by Bright Curse is officially released on 10th May 2019 on Ripple Music and can be pre-ordered here at www.ripple-music.com.

BRIGHT CURSE:
Romain Daut – Guitar, Peruvian Flute, Vocals
Sammy Deveille – Bass, Double bass
Tommy Foster – Guitar, Guitar and more Guitar.
Mark Buckwell – Drums, Percussions

TRACKLISTING:
1. Smoke of The Past
2. Laura
3. Une Virêe
4. Shadows
5. Time of The Healer

https://www.facebook.com/BrightCurse/
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http://brightcurse.bandcamp.com/
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Bright Curse Post “Lady Freedom” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 19th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

bright curse

“Lady Freedom” is the leadoff track from London trio Bright Curse‘s 2016 HeviSike Records debut album, Before the Shore (review here). It was premiered here just before the record cam out in May, and even these months later its chorus still resonates with the driving heavy rock that became the central feature of the record as a whole, the band taking a more terrestrial approach following their 2013 self-titled EP (review here). It took me a while to get my head around that change — sometimes one sets up these expectations for where a given outfit might go — but once I did, it was easy to appreciate the straightforward songwriting they had on offer. Dudes weren’t asking for much; they just wanted to rock out and have a good time.

The vibe of their new video for “Lady Freedom” seems pretty similar. Directed by James Cox, it goes room-by-room through frontman Romain Daut‘s flat — they rock in the kitchen, living room, bedroom, and so on — as a rehearsal for a gig, pack everything up and head out. Along the way, sure enough, are some ladies on motorcycles who it seems pretty safe to assume are pretty free, at least for the afternoon of filming. The clip winds up at The Black Heart in Camden Town — on a personal note, it was a joy to recognize the upstairs space before getting confirmation from the PR wire info below that’s where it was filmed — where Bright Curse get booed off the stage only to have the same ladies step up and kick ass in their place as the song comes to an end.

What’s the lesson? Uh, ladies kick ass? Thought it was kind of a given, but nothing wrong with a bit of reinforcement for the idea, I guess.

Bright Curse are set to play Hellfest next year — nice work, gentlemen — and will have more touring besides, so don’t expect it to be too long before we hear from them again. In the meantime, enjoy the video, followed by copious background from Daut via the PR wire.

Dig:

Bright Curse, “Lady Freedom” official video

London power trio Bright Curse, who are set to play France’s Hellfest in 2017 headlined by rock superstars Deep Purple and Aerosmith, are currently celebrating a successful year; 2016 has seen their debut full-length released to critical acclaim and a relentless touring schedule has allowed them to perform for audiences in the UK and Europe. To top it off, the band has just unveiled a video for album-opener ‘Lady Freedom’.

Regarding the video’s biker theme, guitarist and singer Romain Daut explains “I started riding and following the custom motorcycle scene a couple of years ago and discovered some of the best people in the world; some of the most badass women – and that’s what I wanted in this short film; amazing ladies saving our asses! With the help of Kingdom of Kicks in Hackney and Our Black Heart in Camden, we found those girls!”

Discussing the track Daut states “Lady Freedom was one of the first songs I wrote for the album, a song about how we should respect the opposite sex, how we should embrace the fact that men would not exist without women, how we owe them our freedom…”

“We shot everything in London. It took us three days,” explains the frontman. “That was the first time Bright Curse had to act! You’ll probably notice that it was easier for some of us than others… The video was directed by James Cox without whom nothing would have been possible; the most talented director we know, he made everything so easy and smooth!”

“It was a lot of fun and I think we have a taste for it now, freezing our balls early morning, drink nothing but coffee all day, having the neighbours ringing our bell in the afternoon because they ‘would like us to find an other place to do that’ and telling them they’ll have to live with it… I mean, I’ll play music in my fucking kitchen if I want to, right?!”

Bright Curse on Thee Facebooks

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016

Posted in Features on December 15th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 20 debut albums of 2016

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.

Of all the lists I do to wrap up or start any given year, this is the hardest. As someone obviously more concerned with first impressions than I am and thus probably better-dressed once said, you only get one chance at them. For bands, that can be a vicious bite in the ass on multiple levels.

To wit, you put out a great debut, fine, but there’s a whole segment of your listeners who’re bound to think you’ll never live up to it again. You put out a meh debut, you sell yourself short. Or maybe your debut is awesome but doesn’t really represent where you want to be as a band, so it’s a really good first impression, but a mistaken one. There are so many things that can go wrong or go right with any LP, but with debuts, the stakes are that much higher because it’s the only time you’ll get the chance to engage your audience for the first time. That matters.

And when it comes to putting together a list of the best debuts of the year, how does one begin to judge? True, some of these acts have done EPs and singles and splits and things like that before, and that’s at least something to go on, but can one really be expected to measure an act’s potential based on a single collection of songs? Is that fair to anyone involved? Or on the other side, is it even possible to take a debut entirely on its own merits, without any consideration for where it might lead the band in question going forward? I know that’s not something I’ve ever been able to do, certainly. Or particularly interested in doing. I like context.

Still, one presses on. I guess the point is that, like picking any kind of prospects, some will pan out and some won’t. I’ve done this for enough years now that I’ve seen groups flame or fade out while others have risen to new heights with each subsequent release. It’s always a mix. But at the same time, it’s important to step back and say that, as of today, this is where it’s at.

And so it is:

KING BUFFALO ORION

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016

1. King Buffalo, Orion
2. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree
3. Heavy Temple, Chassit
4. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
5. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
6. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
7. Wretch, Wretch
8. Year of the Cobra, In the Shadows Below
9. BigPig, Grande Puerco
10. Fuzz Evil, Fuzz Evil
11. Bright Curse, Before the Shore
12. Conclave, Sins of the Elders
13. Pale Grey Lore, Pale Grey Lore
14. High Fighter, Scars and Crosses
15. Spirit Adrift, Chained to Oblivion
16. Bellringer, Jettison
17. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Is Satan Real?
18. Merchant, Suzerain
19. Beastmaker, Lusus Naturae
20. King Dead, Woe and Judgment

Honorable Mention

There are many. First, the self-titled from Pooty Owldom, which had so much weirdo charm it made my head want to explode. And Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun‘s acoustic solo record was technically a debut. And Atala‘s record. And Horehound. And Mother Mooch. And Domkraft. And Spaceslug. And Graves at Sea? Shit. More than a decade after their demo, they finally put out a debut album. And Second Grave‘s full-length would turn out to be their swansong, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the thing. There were a lot of records to consider in putting this list together. As always, it could’ve been a much longer list.

For example, here are 20 more: Swan Valley Heights, Arctic, Blues Funeral, Teacher, Psychedelic Witchcraft, Nonsun, Duel, Banquet, Floodlore, Mindkult‘s EP, Mountain Dust, Red LamaRed Wizard, Limestone Whale, Dunbarrow, Comacozer, Sinister Haze, Pants Exploder, Akasava, Katla and No Man’s Valley. That’s not even the end of it. I could go on.

Notes

It was a fight to the finish. There’s always one, and as late as yesterday I could be found kicking back and forth between King Buffalo and Elephant Tree in the top spot. What was it that finally put King Buffalo‘s Orion over Elephant Tree‘s self-titled? I don’t know. Ask me tomorrow and the answer might be completely different.

They had a lot in common. Not necessarily in terms of style — King Buffalo basked in spacious Americana-infused heavy psych jams while Elephant Tree proffered more earthbound riffing and melodies — but each executed memorable songs across its span in a way that would be unfair to ask of a debut. The potential for what both bands can turn into down the line played a part in the picks, but something else they share between them is that the quality of the work they’re doing now warrants the top spots. Orion and Elephant Tree were great albums, not just great first albums.

From there, we see a wide swath of next-generation encouragement for the future of heavy rock, whether it’s coming from Sweden’s Vokonis or Philadelphia’s Heavy Temple, or London’s Bright Curse, or Los Angeles duo BigPig. The latter act’s punkish fuzz definitely benefited from guitarist/vocalist Dino von Lalli‘s experience playing in Fatso Jetson, but one hopes that as the years go on his own multifaceted songwriting style will continue to grow as well.

A few offerings weren’t necessarily unexpected but still lived up to the anticipation. High Fighter‘s EP prefaced their aggro sludgecore well. Ditto that for the grueling death-sludge of Massachusetts natives Conclave. The aforementioned Bright Curse, Merchant, Fuzz Evil, Atala, Bellringer, Holy Grove, Wretch and Worshipper all had offerings of one sort or another prior to their full-length debuts — in the case of Bellringer, it was just a series of videos, while Wretch had the entire The Gates of Slumber catalog to fall back on — but each of those albums offered surprises nonetheless.

It would’ve been hard not to be taken by the songwriting on display from the likes of Holy Grove, Year of the Cobra, Pale Grey Lore and Beastmaker, who between them covered a pretty broad variety of atmosphere but found ways to deliver high-quality crafted material in that. Those albums were a pleasure to hear. Put Boston’s Worshipper in that category as well, though they were just as much a standout from the pack in terms of their performance as what they were performing. Speaking of performance, the lush melodies from Church of the Cosmic Skull and classic progressive flourish were enough to make me a believer. Simply gorgeous. And one-man outfit Spirit Adrift shined, if in that matte-black doom kind of way, on an encouraging collection of modern melancholic heavy that seemed to hint at sprawl to come.

As we get down to the bottom of the list we find Pennsylvania ambient heavy post-rockers King Dead. Their Woe and Judgment was released digitally last year (2015) but the LP came out earlier this year, so I wasn’t quite sure where to place them ultimately. I know they got some mention on the 2015 lists somewhere, but while they’re an act who’ve flown under a lot of people’s radar as yet, I have good feelings about how they might continue to dig into their sound and the balance of bleakness and psychedelic color they bring to their material. They’re slated for a follow-up in 2017, so this won’t be the last list on which they appear in the next few weeks.

Like I said at the outset, putting out a debut album is a special moment for any band. Not everyone gets to that point and not everyone gets beyond it, so while a list like this is inherently bound to have some element of speculation, it’s still a worthy endeavor to celebrate the accomplishments of those who hit that crucial moment in their creative development. Hopefully these acts continue to grow, flourish, and build on what they’ve thus far been able to realize sonically. That’s the ideal.

And before I go, once again, let me reinforce the notion that I recognize this is just a fraction of the whole. I’d like it to be the start of a conversation. If there was a debut album that kicked your ass this year and you don’t see it here, please drop a note in the comments below. I’m sure I’ll be adding more honorable mentions and whatnot over the next couple days, so if you see glaring omissions, let’s have ’em.

Thanks for reading.

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Keep it Low 2016: John Garcia, The Atomic Bitchwax, Fatso Jetson & Bright Curse Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

keep it low 2016 header

Man, I saw Fatso Jetson earlier this year, and let me tell you, wherever they are is where you want to be. They’re one of four bands to join the ranks of Keep it Low 2016 today, along with John Garcia, NJ’s venerable The Atomic Bitchwax and London trio Bright Curse, which only makes an already strong lineup stronger. Interesting that the news from Sound of Liberation mentions a new Garcia full-length. The former Kyuss/Vista Chino singer (along with UnidaHermano, etc.) has made some mention of a new full-band outing to be issued under his name and an acoustic solo record as well, but I haven’t seen concrete word of a release date yet for either. “By the time October gets here” makes for a decent ballpark figure though, so I guess I’ll run with that.

Details from the PR wire:

KEEP IT LOW 2016! Oct. 21st & 22nd… John Garcia, The Atomic Bitchwax, Fatso Jetson & Bright Curse Confirmed!

4 new bands joined the KEEP IT LOW FESTIVAL 2016 line-up this afternoon, bringing the total of bands to 13 so far!

Alongside Colour Haze, Elder, Greenleaf, Monkey3, Toner Low, 1000Mods, Black Rainbows, Duel and Kind, we are stoked to welcome to our 4th edition the almighty John Garcia (coming with his full band, a new album, and surely some Kyuss classics in the set!), legendary US Fuzz Rock Riffmasters The Atomic Bitchwax (still promoting their terrific 2015’s album “Gravitron”), Fatso Jetson (Desert rock godfather Mario Lalli is always welcome at our festival) and Bright Curse (which released their excellent debut album “Before The Shore” last week).

KEEP IT LOW 2016 will happen on October 21st and 22nd in FEIERWERK (Munich) and will greet with 3 stages and around 20 bands, outside beergarden & skatepark. On this upcoming edition we are setting up a cozy and rain protected outside area with food and drink station. We also decided to play already on 2 stages on the Friday night and ending both KIL nights with aftershow parties and Dj Sets (Friday until 3 am and Saturday until 5 am).

Hard Tickets (2-day passes) are available on Woolheads for 65 €! Online tickets are also available on Eventim!

You can purchase tickets on http://woolheads.com/ but be quick! E-Tickets are also available on http://www.eventim.de/

https://www.facebook.com/Keep-It-Low-Festival-486297638124519
http://www.keepitlow.de/

Fatso Jetson, “Swollen Offering” Live, April 2, 2016

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Bright Curse Premiere “Lady Freedom” from New LP Before the Shore

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 2nd, 2016 by JJ Koczan

bright curse

London trio Bright Curse release their debut album, Before the Shore, May 13 on HeviSike Records. It’s among the most awaited debuts of the last couple years, the band having made a striking impression with their 2013 self-titled EP (review here) and subsequent Shaman single (review here) while cycling through a couple shifts in lineup that have brought guitarist/vocalist Romain Daut and drummer Zacharie Mizzi together with bassist Max Ternebring for the seven-track/43-minute LP, which was produced by the band and J.B. Pilon at Rock of London Studios with mastering by Jaime Gomez Arellano at Orgone Studios.

Topped off with striking artwork by Adam Burke, it’s also a release that dramatically repositions the group from where they were three years ago stylistically, swapping out the heavy psychedelia of their EP for a more clear-headed approach driven particularly by Daut‘s vocals and a spirit of modernized-sounding classic heavy rock that recalls the clarity in the production of the latest Kadavar without aping that band’s methods otherwise. Bright Curse‘s material is more flowing, more gradual, less directly playing to pop traditions, but a focus remains on songcraft, the bulk of the tracks running in the five-to-six-minute range, with brooding closer “Earth’s Last Song” longer at 8:29.

A rampant emotionalism ties the songs together, from opener “Lady Freedom” to the Graveyardian melancholia of “Candles and Flowers,” but moods nonetheless vary between them, and from front to back, Before the Shore moves smoothly through its course, flourishes like the spoken sample in “Cheating Pain” and the organ in the penultimate highlight “Northern Sky” adding to the context overall. And though they’ve grown into abright curse before the shore more straightforward-sounding act overall, Bright Curse still find room to offer a jammy sensibility in the swinging solo section of “The Shore” and in the bluesy leads of semi-cultish centerpiece “Walking in a Graveyard (Bloody Witch),” which are offset by the album’s most fervent stomp, Mizzi‘s snare punctuating the natural but not vintage tones of Daut and Ternebring as Daut pushes his voice toward and past the breaking point for not the first time.

His stepping forward as a frontman becomes a defining characteristic of Before the Shore, and the command shown in either the quiet stretches of “Cheating Pain” and “Earth’s Last Song” or the more brash thrust of “Lady Freedom” and cowbell-inclusive swing of “Candles and Flowers” is not to be discounted in terms of the overarching impression the record makes. Listening back to the EP, Daut gave a strong vocal performance there as well, but the context was different, the tones surrounding thicker and more encompassing, whereas the crispness in the presentation of Before the Shore really gives him the space to shine in his delivery, somewhat indebted to Magnus Pelander in cadence but continuing to develop in identity as well.

That’s not to take anything away from the chemistry of Bright Curse as a whole, who’ve clearly spent the time since their first outing refining their approach. That shows itself throughout Before the Shore, whether it’s the catchy hooks of “Lady Freedom” and “Cheating Pain” or the more patient builds of “Northern Sky” and “Earth’s Last Day,” which takes a more linear turn where earlier cuts like “Walking in a Graveyard (Bloody Witch)” ebbed and flowed.

The plays in structure and what DautTernebring and Mizzi are able to execute within them, particularly when taking into account that this is their first full-length, remain impressive, and while I’ll allow that part of me misses the psychedelic vibe of the EP — part of me always misses the psychedelic vibe — the flow they conjure here is palpable between tracks and goes a long way toward showing where their progression is headed. It’s a positive direction, and in the interim, Before the Shore marks the arrival of a band clearly ready to stand themselves out from a crowded London heavy rock scene, which, though it’s been a while in the making, means it got here right on time.

I have the pleasure today of hosting the premiere of “Lady Freedom,” which you’ll find below, followed by Bright Curse‘s latest European tour announcement.

Please enjoy:

Stoked to finally unveil our whole upcoming European Tour, in support of our debut album “Before The Shore”, out on May 13th on HeviSike Records! It kicks-off in less than a month! Who’s coming!?

20.05 (F) Lille | El Diablo (w. Space Fisters)
21.05 (F) Caen | Le Bocal
22.05 (F) Bordeaux | Void – Make It Sabbathy (w. Space Fisters)
23.05 (F) Tours | Puzzle Pub – CRYPTE (w. Space Fisters)
24.05 (F) Nantes | Scène Michelet – CRUMBLE FIGHT (w. Space Fisters)
25.05 (F) Paris | L’Espace B (w. Space Fisters)
26.05 (NL) Amsterdam | The Cave
27.05 (D) Cologne | The Odonien
28.05 (B) Arlon | L’Entrepôt
31.05 (F) Strasbourg | Mudd Club (NEW SHOW)
01.06 (F) Dijon | Deep Inside
02.06 (F) Lyon | Les Capucins
03.06 (D) Karlsruhe | Bistro KA
07.06 (CH) Geneva | L’Usine – Kalvingrad
08.06 (F) Reims | L’Appart Café

Events & more info right here: https://www.facebook.com/BrightCurse/events

Bright Curse on Thee Facebooks

Bright Curse website

HeviSike Records website

HeviSike Records on Thee Facebooks

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Bright Curse Release Before the Shore May 13; Euro Tour Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 17th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

London-based heavy rockers Bright Curse unfold a patient heavy psychedelia as they give the first sample of their forthcoming Before the Shore LP, but “The Shore” isn’t without a corresponding sense of build. Been looking forward to new Bright Curse basically since their 2013 self-titled (review here), and though they offered up the single Shaman (review here) last year, they’ve had a bit of tumult to get them on the path to signing to HeviSike Records for Before the Shore, lineup changes and so on, but whatever got them there, I’ll be excited to hear more when/if should the opportunity arise.

The PR wire brings EU tour dates, album details — no art yet; also interested to see what they have in store for that — and the stream of “The Shore” for instant-gratification-type enjoyment:

bright curse

BRIGHT CURSE sign to HeviSike for release of Before The Shore album | Announce EU tour and stream/share new song

New album Before The Shore by Bright Curse is released on 13th May via HeviSike Records

Formed in London in 2012 out of the expatriated ashes of French psychedelic rock band Soul Manifest, Bright Curse is a band that requires little introduction to anyone that has kept a close ear to the underground in recent years.

This May, the trio – featuring guitar player and vocalist Romain Daut, drummer Zacharie Mizzi and newest member Max Ternebring on bass – will follow up on their 2013 self-titled EP with the release of their full-length debut, Before The Shore, on HeviSike Records. Another rising star and staple of the subterranean/heavy-psychedelic set that has been making a noteworthy name for itself of late with releases from Dead Feathers, Prophets Of Saturn and Elevators To The Grateful Sky.

Recorded and produced by the band with J.B Pilon at Rock Of London Studios and mastered by Jaime Gomez Arellano at Orgone Studios, Before The Shore dives headfirst into the deep and darkened sea of brooding rock ‘n’ roll. Still riffing epic spectrums of dark and light but trading in the extended jams and out-and-out sounds of space rock, doom and metal found on their Bright Curse EP, for a more measured, and ultimately stunning approach. An approach that brings with it the hypnotic soul of David Gilmour-esque guitar solos, blustering Iommi riffs and stirringly effective Deep Purple key sections. All of which pull Bright Curse up through the surface at a rate of knots and out into the open waters of contemporary rock ‘n’ roll greats such as Graveyard, Kadavar and Colour Haze.

Having played live with the likes of Earthless, Naam, Mars Red Sky and Pentagram at festivals such Glad Stone Fest (France), Up In Smoke Fest (Switzerland) and more recently Desertfest (London), Bright Curse hit the road next month as part of a co-op tour with France’s Space Fisters (see dates below) ahead of the release of Before The Shore on 13th May 2016 through HeviSike.

Bright Curse:
Romain Daut – Guitars, Vocals
Zacharie Mizzi – Drums
Max Ternebring – Bass

Live Dates:
20 May – El Diablo (w. Space Fisters) – Lille, France
21 May – Le Bocal – Caen, France
23 May – Make It Sabbathy (w. Space Fisters) – Bordeaux, France
24 May – Venue TBA (w. Space Fisters) – Nantes, France
26 May – The Cave – Amsterdam, Netherlands
2 June – Les Capucins – Lyon, France
3 June – Bistro KA – Karlsruhe, Germany
4 June – Venue TBA – Cologne, Germany
7 June – Kalvingrad, L’Usine – Geneva, Switzerland

https://www.facebook.com/BrightCurse/
https://twitter.com/Brightcurseband
http://brightcurse.com/
http://brightcurse.bandcamp.com/
hevisike.bigcartel.com
https://www.facebook.com/hevisike/

Bright Curse, “The Shore”

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