Posted in Whathaveyou on January 29th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’m not sure where I got the idea, but for some reason I was thinking that Blackout‘s forthcoming debut on RidingEasy Records was a reissue of their 2013 EP, We are Here (review here). It’s not. It’s a new album, a full-length. I’ll be damned. Had I been correct to start with, there’s no way I wouldn’t have included Blackout‘s first LP in my 2015 most anticipated list, having so thoroughly dug that EP and the Converse-sponsored EP (review here) that followed it in 2014. Sometimes it takes me a minute to catch up on stuff, though, so better late than never.
Following the album’s release on March 31, Blackout will head west in May for a slot as part of the Psycho California fest’s dream-team lineup (info here). They’ll be in good company.
The PR wire makes sure we’re all on the same page:
Blackout announce release of new album via RidingEasy Records in March
This March Brooklyn’s self-proclaimed “pillars of rock and roll righteousness” will release their new, self-titled album through Los Angeles’ equally badass record label RidingEasy Records.
Blackout was initially formed by guitar player/vocalist Christian Gordy and drummer Taryn Waldman at Gordy’s July 4th cookout in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York back in 2011. Waldman, a former Hooter’s waitress turned big time commercial film editor and Gordy; a one-legged bartender/artist/BBQ enthusiast were (by their own admission) something of an oddball couple for NY’s rigid metal scene. Yet with no direction and zero discussion both connected instantly and instinctively began banging out massive caveman jams against a patriotic backdrop of food, alcohol and the stars and stripes.
In fact as far as names go, choosing Blackout – suggesting a power crash, sudden and temporary loss of consciousness or a mob hit on an entire family – was a total no brainer.
In the months that followed the pair recruited close friend Justin Sherrell on bass duties, and as things began to get louder and considerably heavier in November 2012 the trio entered Vacation Island Studio with engineer and producer Rob Laakso (Diamond Nights, Swirlies, Kurt Vile) to record their debut release We Are Here. Choosing to self-release the album on vinyl in early 2013 it garnered plenty of acclaim from some of the hottest blogs du jour and was praised for its Melvins-esque ferocity and pounding Sleep-like groves.
Following an extensive gigging regime in, around and way beyond New York’s city limits with acts like Acid King, Weedeater and Trouble the band took to the studio once again in the summer of 2013 to record a body of new songs. Songs that strictly worked off the riffs spontaneously summoned during practice sessions where old material was revived, ideas hashed out and sounds reworked into the record you will soon hear in full. Songs that make up Blackout, the band’s eagerly awaited follow up and soon to be released revelation on RidingEasy Records.
Blackout by Blackout will be released worldwide on RidingEasy Records on 31st March 2015.
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 16th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Though they’ll end their career as a four-piece with the lineup of Nicholas Palmirotto, Seanbryant Dunn, Carmine Laietta and Jeff Stieber, when it came time to find a picture of the band to go with this post, I had to roll with the fivesome that included Drew Mack. Not that Brooklyn’s Hull couldn’t knock you on your ass with four members on stage, but it was the five-piece who in 2011 released the should-have-been-a-landmark full-length Beyond the Lightless Sky (review here), their second album for The End Records following their 2009 debut, Sole Lord, and 2007’s Viking Funeral demo, which the band later self-released on vinyl.
That album solidified what seemed a nebulous debut into one of the most innovative takes on post-metal to come from the East Coast — and yes, that counts Isis as a Boston band. Beyond the Lightless Sky was dynamic, ambitious and gorgeous even at its most brutal moments. Hull were in utter command of their sound and their songwriting. Peaks rose out of deep valleys, ambient stretches led to wave after crushing wave of furious riffing. They crossed genres the way most people step on slabs of sidewalk, and were perhaps underappreciated in a native borough drawn to sonically friendlier forms of psychedelia, heavy rock and doom, but when they got on stage and launched into “False Priest” or “Fire Vein,” there was no fucking with the world they created in their volume. They’re the kind of band who, people who saw them, will talk about having seen them.
Hull‘s final release was last year’s Legend of the Swamp Goat 7″ (review here), a reworked and expanded early recording issued to coincide with a European tour alongside Elder that included a stop at Roadburn in Tilburg, the Netherlands. I did not imagine last April as I showed up early to watch them soundcheck that would be the last time I’d get to see them play, but the earplug-melting heaviness they brought to bear was only further evidence of their broad reach, and it was no less lethal coming from Stage01 than it might’ve been at the Saint Vitus Bar. I always kind of felt like I took Hull for granted when I lived in the New York area. Beyond the Lightless Sky showed me the jackassery of that position, and at least I can say that the last time I watched them, I appreciated the hell out of being able to do so.
A follow-up to that record had been discussed for some time, and it’s unfortunate we won’t get to hear the next stage of Hull‘s development. On Saturday, Feb. 21, theywill play their last show — never say never, of course, but one approaches a disbanding with some finality — with Wizard Rifle, their former tourmates in Elder and Cleanteeth, in whose lineup Mack currently resides, at CoCo 66.
Palmirotto announced the gig and thanked those who’ve supported the band over the years:
So, after 11 years with my brothers, Seanbryant, Carmine, Jeff, and Drew, It is with bittersweet sentiment to announce the “final” (what does final mean anyway?) HULL show on February, 21 at Coco SixtySix. This is the longest relationship I’ve ever been in, and although we all love each other like family, there are so many other things going on in our lives now that we decided it was best to throw a rager in celebration of the blood, sweat, tears, hardships, good times, etc. spent over the last decade, and go out with dignity.
A huge shout out to The Acheron and Bill, Denis, Carmen, Adrienne and Saint Vitus Bar and David, George, Arthur and Justin for the constant support and inimitable dedication to the scene. We figured that there was no way to choose between the two venues, so we decided to have the show elsewhere. Immense love to our manager, Luis with Necromono Mgmt for dealing with our bullshit over the years, our label, The End Records and Andreas Katsambas for putting up with our demands. Never ending love to Liz Ciavarella-Brenner and Dave from Earsplit Compound for the great PR, Kim Kelly for being the fucking awesome human she is, Atsuhiro Saisho for our logo and dear friendship, Jorden Haley, Tamara Waite-Santibanez, Nathan Overstrom, Josh Graham, Seldon Hunt, John Cook and David Cook for believing in us enough to grace us with your superb artwork, Brett Romnes for being our first drummer and brother in arms from the beginning and the I Am the Avalanche crew, Vinnie Carijuana, Mike Ireland, Kellen Thomas, Brandon Swanson for always being bros. caltrop and Sam, Adam, Murat and John for being the best tour buddies a band could ever ask for.
Mike , Travis, and Aaron from Yob for always being awesome to us. Billy Anderson for the skillz and the good times. Walter and Jurgen from Roadburn Festival for believing in us. Cameron Whitman for the amazing photographs and shoulder to lean on. David Jacobs for his lawful consulting and smiles and Ben Ritter for your images and laughs. Jason Flanell for the stupid tattoos and weird conversations. Tuck Pendelton for shredding the bass in the beginning. Markus Shaffer from Old Scratch Fabrications for his unbelievable craftsmanship and friendship. Joshua Lozano for always being there. Fade Kainer for always helping out. Of course my family, Gary, Carla, Lindsay and Stuart for always loving and never giving up on me. This list could go on forever. If I forgot anyone, I’m truly sorry. Please join us. XO
February 21st HULL (The final show) Elder Wizard Rifle Cleanteeth
Posted in Reviews on December 31st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Yesterday was kind of crazy, but I don’t mind telling you I think today might be the most all-over-the-place of the week each of the five piles on my desk — now three, soon two — offers something different from the others, but it’s a wide spectrum being covered here, and there’s a couple abrupt turns from one to the next that I didn’t really do on purpose but I think will make for an interesting challenge anyway. In case you’ve been wondering, that’s what kind of nerd I am. Also the Star Trek kind.
I’m feeling really good about this series so far. Really good. I reserve the right to, by Friday, be so completely done with it that I never want to even think of the idea again, but I can only begin to tell you how satisfying it is to me to be able to write about some of these records after staring at them for so long sitting on my desk. Today’s batch is reviews 21-30 of the total 50, so we’ll pass the halfway point in this pile. If you’ve been keeping count since Monday or checking in, thanks, and if not, thanks anyway. Ha.
It’s about that time:
Brain Pyramid, Chasma Hideout
Although it was streamed here in full in September, the persistent stoner charm of French trio Brain Pyramid’s debut album, Chasma Hideout (released by Acid Cosmonaut Records), seemed to warrant further highlight. Whether it’s small touches like the organ underscoring centerpiece “Lucifer” or the wah-ready bass of Ronan Grall – joined in the band by guitarist/vocalist Gaston Lainé and drummer Baptiste Gautier-Lorenzo – or the memorable if genre-familiar turns of “Into the Lightspeed,” the band’s first LP impresses with unpretentious heavy rock front to back. It’s not perfect. Lainé’s vocals come across high in the mix on opener “Living in the Outer Space” and there are points where the “familiar” runs stronger than others, but especially as their initial full-length offering, Chasma Hideout is one that one seems to continue to grow on the listener as time goes on, and one hopes that the heavy psych chicanery from which they launch the 11-minute closing title-track becomes the foundation from which they build going forward. Potential worth reiterating.
With the backing of venerable Swedish imprint I Hate Records, Canadian two-piece Zaum release their first LP in the four-song Oracles, a 48-minute work taking its central musical and atmospheric themes from Middle Eastern cues. Melodically and atmospherically, it relies on chants, slow, deep low end and minor key riffs to convey a dense ambience, reminding some of Om’s Mideast fixation on “Peasant of Parthia” – third and shortest here at 8:13 – but otherwise on a much heavier, darker trip entirely. Opener “Zealot” (12:55) and closer “Omen” (14:08) both offer plodding pace and a methodology not unlike Nile played at quarter-speed, but it would be a mistake to call the hand with which Kyle Alexander McDonald (vocals, bass, synth, sitar) and Christopher Lewis (drums) approach their aesthetic anything but commanding, and when McDonald switches to a semi-blackened rasp in the second half of “Omen,” Zaum demonstrate a desire to push even further into extremity’s reaches. I can’t help but wonder how far they’ll go.
Some of the organ sounds on “Eye Opener,” the aptly-titled leadoff from Virginia four-piece Fire Faithful’s second LP, Organized Occult Love, remind of what Beelzefuzz conjured atmospherically, but an even more primary impression is the uptick in production value from Fire Faithful’s 2012 outing, Please Accept this Invocation (review here). Recorded by Windhand’s Garrett Morris, songs like “Last Fool on Earth” and “Organized Occult Love” brim with tonal resonance and a perfect balance the mix. Guitarist Shane Rippey handled the latter with Morris, and throughout, his tones and that of bassist Jon Bone shine, but whether it’s a more straightforward, Earthride-style groover like the title-track, or a more ranging doomer like “Combat,” vocalist Brandon Malone is well balanced to cut through the morass and drummer Joss Sallade’s crash resides comfortably behind the thick chugging. Melissa Malone and Gabrielle Bishop contribute backing vocals to “Last Fool on Earth” and only affirm how much Organized Occult Love brings Fire Faithful’s Southern doom to another level of presentation. An important forward step.
Five years after debuting with 2009’s Cantos a Ma Vida, Amsterdam-based Pendejo return on Chancho Records with Atacames, a 10-track/44-minute wallop of classic heavy rock riffing and Latin American influence via the Spanish lyrics of vocalist El Pastuso and his readily-wielded-but-not-overused trumpet, which makes a surprising complement to Jaap “Monchito” Melman’s fuzz-heavy guitar, Stef “El Rojo” Gubbels’ bass and Jos “Pepellín” Roosen’s drums, but in context works well to bring personality and an individualized sensibility to a sound otherwise heavily indebted to the likes of Kyuss and Fu Manchu. Quality songwriting and variety in songs like the slower “Amiyano” and the building “Hermelinda” ensures Atacames offers more than novelty to those who’d gape at its other-ness, and when that trumpet does hit, it never falls flat. Closing out with a pair of big-riffers in “El Jardinero” and “La Chica del Super No Se Puede Callar,” Pendejo’s sophomore effort produces results as substantial as they are fun, and serve to remind that’s why we’re here in the first place.
Cali trio Heavy Glow – guitarist/vocalist Jared Mullins, bassist Joe Brooks and drummer St. Judas – have spent a decent portion of the year on tour in support of their full-length, Pearls and Swine and Everything Fine. Understandable, and all the better to pick up your girlfriend in-person. Smooth, well-baked grooves permeate cuts like “Mine all Mine,” which also appeared on their prior 7” (review here), and the later “Nerve Endings,” a Queens of the Stone Age-style production giving about as much of a commercial vibe as a record can have and still be heavy rock, but the songwriting is paramount and definitely an element working in Heavy Glow’s favor, whether it’s the takeoff chorus of “Domino” or near-lounge vibe of “Fat Cat.” There’s an aspirational sensibility at the album’s core that’s going to make for an odd fit for some riff-heads who might be puzzled how something so nearly desert rock can still sound not at all like Brant Bjork, but hooks is hooks, and Heavy Glow use them well.
Bibilic Blood released three albums between 2009 and 2011, but the Eastlake, Ohio, duo haven’t been heard from since – their nightmarish, depraved psychedelic sludge vanishing in a smoky, somehow hateful wisp. Snakeweed marks their fourth album, and with it bassist/vocalist Suzy Psycho and drummer/guitarist Scott “Wizard” Stearns unfurl another demented collection of chaos snippets from an alternate, terrifying universe, the 11 songs totaling just 27 minutes with enough lumber and obscure freakout on two-minute mainliners like “Severed” and “Bloodnomicon” in the middle of the record to be a genre on itself — like a grainy horror flick made scarier by its rawness. Closer and longest cut at 4:10 “Bloody Rabbit” starts with Boris, Flood-style noodling from Stearns on guitar, but samples transition into Snakeweed’s most gruesome chapter, Suzy Psycho’s voice echoing, twisted, from out of an abyss that might as well be your own subconscious, referencing Jefferson Airplane along the way. Their particular brand of malevolence has been missed, and hopefully Snakeweed starts a new bout of activity.
Thera Roya & Hercyn, All this Suffering is Not Enough
Gloom prevails and takes multiple shapes on All this Suffering is Not Enough, the new jewel-case split between Brooklyn post-metallers Thera Roya and progressive New Jersey black metallers Hercyn. Each band includes one song, and for the trio Thera Roya, that’s “Gluttony,” which builds its churn from the ground up and intersperses spacious guitar and almost punkish clean singing en route to a wash of scream-topped distortion, trading off volume and ambience and ultimately delivering a lot of both in a densely-packed eight minutes. Hercyn, a four-piece, counter with the 14-minute “Dusk and Dawn,” which follows their also-longform Magda EP (review here) in grand and squibbly form, a gallop taking hold early topped with throaty screams and shifting between melodic and dissonant impulses, a midsection solo offering a standout moment before the bludgeoning resumes. Each act offers a quotient of noise not to be understated, and despite working in different styles, that’s enough to let them complement each other well on the searing 23-minute Ouro Preto Productions release.
Synapse, the third full-length from German trio The Spacelords, arrives like a gift from the bliss-jam gods. Four extended mostly-instrumental cuts arranged two per side on a Sulatron Records LP, crafting memorable impressions with washes of synth and guitar, intelligent jams that feel partially plotted and intelligent but still exploratory and natural in how they flesh out. Guitarist Matthias Wettstein is out front in the mix, but bassist Akee Kazmaier and drummer Marcus Schnitzler (also of Electric Moon) aren’t far behind, as much as a title like “Starguitar” might make you think otherwise. The chemistry between the three-piece remains tight across the album’s 41 minutes, and from the rich bass and chugging guitar of the opening title-track to the more laid-back groove of “No. 5” and voicebox strangeness of “Pyroclastic Master,” which has the record’s only vocals in robotically spoken lines, Synapse seems to make all of its connections along the way. Heavy psych heads previously unfamiliar will want to take note. The vinyl, of course, is limited.
A progressive heavy rock trio from the Netherlands, The Good Hand present Atman, their second album, on Minstrel Music, with an adventurous semi-desert sensibility given crisp production and a somewhat wistful feel in songs like “Greenwich Mean Time” and “Unity.” For a record that starts out with lead guitarist/vocalist Arjan Hoekstra (also tuba, trombone, bugle, keys, percussion) declaring “I am god,” Atman is surprisingly not-arrogant, owing probably as much to Radiohead as Kyuss and keeping an experimental feel to the stops and arrangement of “The Opposite,” bassist/vocalist Dennis Edelenbosch and drummer/vocalist Ingmar Regeling (both also Monotron) swinging out classic style but holding firm to a modern edge. Out of nowhere is the 19-minute closing title-track (nothing else hits six), on which The Good Hand unfold varied movements that push beyond the charm of “The Death of the Real”’s ‘60s affiliations and into spaces jazz-funky, or droning, or doomy, or all of them. No easy accomplishment, but The Good Hand manage to hold it all together fluidly.
Byzanthian Neckbeard, From the Clutches of Oblivion
Okay, seriously. What the hell do you think a band who live on an island in the English Channel and call themselves Byzanthian Neckbeard sound like? Burly as hell? Well you’re right. The Guernsey foursome of guitarist/vocalist Phil Skyrme, guitarist Jon Langlois, bassist Dano Robilliard and drummer Paul Etasse get down on some dudely, dudely grooves on their 2014 debut, From the Clutches of Oblivion. “Doppelganger” nestles somewhere between death rock, stoner and sludge, and there’s a heaping crash of doom on “Plant of Doom” (duh) and “To Seek the Cyberdwarf” to go with the more swaggering take of “Hive Mind Overlord” as well. But primarily, you don’t put the word “Neckbeard” in your band’s name unless you’re on a pretty masculine trip, and Byzanthian Neckbeard do not fuck around in that regard or in the aggro boogie of “The Ganch.” CD is limited to 200 copies in a four-panel digipak to house the growl-laden, riff-led plunder that ensues across its brief but bloody 32-minute span.
Seems only fair to close out another year of Wino Wednesdays with the most recent clip possible. I guess it’s not really such a novelty anymore that a show can happen and video from it can surface almost immediately — instant gratification isn’t really anything new at this point, at least as regards digital media — but I still get a kick out of it when something like this clip of Wino at the St. Vitus bar in Brooklyn this past weekend comes up. Because, hey, this pretty much just happened. And I’m old. The latter probably has something to do with it as well.
The occasion was a two-night fest called Feast of Krampus held in Philly at Underground Arts and the aforementioned St. Vitus bar. Also on the bill with Wino were Sixty Watt Shaman, Godmaker, Moon Tooth, Birch Hill Dam, Wizard Eye and Buzzard Canyon. A stacked lineup, to say the least, and plenty of volume to precede an acoustic set that probably would be a mystery to all but the converted who knew what and whom they were watching. Anyone else might wonder why six loud-as-hell bands might precede a guy playing (mostly) unplugged solo singer-songwriter material.
But you get it, so it doesn’t really need explaining. I’m happy to be able to round out 2014’s many Wino Wednesdays with this latest show from the man himself, and all the better that it was filmed by ubiquitous Brooklyn cameraman Frank Huang, whose work is as admirable as the ethic that so steadily produces it. Seems like it was a pretty cool show, and of course no matter the context, Wino always manages to pull off unmatched heavy vibes.
Hope you enjoy and hope you have a great New Year’s:
Wino, Live at Feast of Krampus, St. Vitus bar, Brooklyn, 12.28.14
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 30th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Brooklyn four-piece Mountain God are getting ready to release their Forest of the Lost EP in Feb. on Archaic Revival Records, and they’ve announced the release show Feb. 20 at The Acheron. Joining them on the bill for the night will be Imperial Triumphant, Hercyn and Dreadlords, so it should prove an evening of varied extremities, but some pretty steady pummel throughout. I’ll be interested to hear how Mountain God‘s lineup shifts since the release of their 2013 demo, Experimentation on the Unwilling (review here), and if you make your way through the info below, you’ll notice I’ll be streaming the EP a week before it’s officially out, so we’ll get an advance answer on that question when the time comes.
Mountain God: “Forest of the Lost” Record Release Show Announced
Mountain God, in conjunction with the acclaimed booking/promotion agency Signature Riff (New Jersey), is proud to announce the “Forest of the Lost” record release show, to be held at the Acheron (Brooklyn, NY) on February 20th, 2015. “Forest of the Lost” will be available to download through Mountain God’s bandcamp page, as well as physically through a limited run of 50 cassettes. Additionally, the band is proud to announce that the Obelisk, noted blog for all things heavy, will stream the record beginning the week before the release date.
Mountain God arrived on the scene back in 2013 with their first record, “Experimentation on the Unwilling”. Since that time, the band has continued to explore and develop their own musical identity, melding guitars, bass, and various types of keyboards and synths to create what some concert attendees have described as a “wall of sound, emotion, and texture”. Live, Mountain God works toward making each individual show an experience unto itself, a non-stop, unrelenting barrage of riffing, melody, and noise.
The band is proud to share the stage with black metal juggernauts Imperial Triumphant, who have been hard at work on their sophomore release “Abyssal Gods”, and are no strangers to the Brooklyn scene. Also on the bill are New Jersey’s own Hercyn, who recently put out a split with Brooklyn act Thera Roya. They are known for their own trailblazing style of experimental, atmospheric black metal, complete with plenty of tremolo picked, intense passages. Rounding out the bill is Pennsylvania’s Dreadlords, who recently made CVLT’s Top 6 Avante Garde releases for their first full length, “Death Angel”.
Huge thanks to New Jersey’s Signature Riff, well known in the metal community for their work on such festivals as Martyrdoom, as well as countless other shows supporting bands from all over the world.
When: Feb 20th, 2015 Where: The Acheron, 57 Waterbury Street in Brooklyn Cost: $5 advance/$8 day of Doors: 8pm
Posted in Reviews on December 30th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Happy to report that I survived the first day of this project. Spirits are good and I look at the stack of discs (plus one book; we’ll get there) in front of me and feel relatively confident that by the time I’m through it, my cerebral cortex will still manage to function in the limited way it usually does. If yesterday’s installment is anything to go by, however, I’ll be well out of adjectives by then. What’s another word for “heavy?”
There’s only one way to find out. These will be reviews 11-20 of the total 50. I don’t know if they say the first 10 are the hardest or the last, but I’ll be in the thick of it when this is posted and while I’m sure I probably could turn back and catch minimal if any flack for it — one “Hey wha happen?” on Thee Facebooks seems likely penance — better to just keep going. Another stack awaits tomorrow, after all.
Thanks in advance to anyone reading:
Nate Hall, Electric Vacuum Roar
Electric Vacuum Roar is one of two Nate Hall physical releases from this fall. The U.S. Christmas frontman and solo performer also has a few digital odds and ends and Fear of Falling, on which he partners with a rhythm section. Released by Heart and Crossbone Records and Domestic Genocide, Electric Vacuum Roar is closer to a solo affair. Hall is joined by Caustic Resin’s Brett Netson on guitar/bass on two extended tracks: “Dance of the Prophet” (16:46) and “Long Howling Decline/People Fall Down” (11:57). The second part of the latter is a reinterpretation of a Caustic Resin song, though here it is droned out and put through a portal of drumless and inward-looking psychedelia, turned into the finale of a communicative and intimate affair. Amp noise and effects swirl around “Dance of the Prophet,” and it’s easy to get lost in it, but Hall maintains a steady presence of obscure vocals and the result is what tribal might be if tribes were comprised of one person.
I’ve never tried to break up a one-man band, but I can’t imagine Scott Conner – who helped pave the way for US black metal under the moniker Malefic in Xasthur – has had an easy time of it since he put that band to bed in 2010. Nocturnal Poisoning, whose Doomgass arrives via The End Records, is an entirely different beast. Centered around layers folkish acoustic guitar, cleanly produced backed by occasional bass and tambourine, Doomgrass is still depressive at its core – Robert N. contributes guest vocals, almost gothic in style, to songs like “Starstruck by Garbage” and “Illusion of Worth” – but if the name is a portmanteau of doom and bluegrass, it fits the style. If anything ties Nocturnal Poisoning to Xasthur aside from Conner’s involvement, it’s a focus on atmosphere, but the two ultimately have little in common otherwise, and Nocturnal Poisoning’s exploratory feel is refreshingly individualized and leaves one wondering if Conner will be able to resist the full-band-sound impulse going forward.
Though they’re decidedly post-metal in their influences – Neurosis, YOB, obviously Ufomammut for whose record they are named – Sweden’s Snailking keep to heavy rock tones on their Consouling Sounds debut full-length, Storm, and that greatly bolsters the album’s personality. Even as they lumber, the riffs of 11-minute opener “To Wander” are fuzzed-out, and that remains true throughout the five mostly-extended cuts the trio of drummer Olle Svahn, bassist Frans Levin and guitarist/vocalist Pontus Ottosson present on their first record, which follows the 2012 demo, Samsara (review here). Centerpiece “Slithering” is the shortest and most churning of the bunch at 6:32, but the particularly YOBian “Requiem” underscores another value greatly working in Storm’s favor – the patience with which Snailking present the ambience of their pieces. That will serve them well as they continue to distinguish themselves from their forebears, but for now, Storm makes a welcome opening salvo from the three-piece highlighting both their potential and how far they’ve come already since the release of their demo.
The self-titled debut from thoroughly-bearded Brooklynite four-piece Godmaker arrives via Aqualamb as an art-book and download, a full 96 pages of designs, lyrics to the four included tracks of the vinyl-ready 32-minute long-player, live shots from a variety of sources, bizarre geometry and odd etchings feeding the atmosphere of the songs themselves, somewhere between sludge, thrash and aggressive noise with scream-topped moments of doom like “Shallow Points.” Comprised of guitarist/vocalists Pete Ross and Chris Strait, bassist Andrew Archey and drummer Jon Lane, Godmaker fluidly shifts between the various styles at work in their sound, whether it’s the explosion at the end of “Shallow Points” or that beginning the rush of opener “Megalith,” and while their self-titled is a dense listen, with the surprising post-hardcore take of “Desk Murder” and the check-out-this-badass-riff-now-we’re-going-to-smash-your-face-with-it 11-minute metallic closer “Faded Glory,” it efficiently satisfies. More so after a couple listens front to back. If Godmaker were breaking your bones, it would be a clean break, and yes, that’s a compliment to their attack.
Supersound is the first full-length from Italian heavy psych rockers Void Generator since 2010’s Phantom Hell and Soar Angelic (review here), and where that album held three extended pieces, the latest and third overall breaks into smaller pieces. Some of those are extended – opener “Behind My Door” is 8:09 and “Master of the Skies” tops nine minutes – but the bulk of Supersound’s seven tracks is shorter works somewhere between desert rock and classic psych, guitarist Gianmarco Iantaffi leading the four-piece with a more subdued vocal approach than last time out, compressed even in the rowdier verses of “What are You Doin’” (written by Sandro Chiesa), on which the keys of Enrico Cosimi feature heavily and add to the sound too crisp to be totally retro but still vehemently organic. Bassist Sonia Caporossi (also acoustic guitar on penultimate interlude “Universal Winter”) and drummer Marco Cenci hold together the fluid grooves as Void Generator follows these varied impulses, and Supersound proves cohesive and no less broadly scoped than its predecessor.
There’s a version of The Mound Builders’ 17-minute Wabash War Machine EP from Failure Records and Tapes that includes a comic book, but even the regular sleeve CD edition gives a glimpse at the Lafayette, Indiana, five-piece’s heavy Southern metal push. The middle two of the four inclusions, “Sport of Crows” and “Bar Room Queen,” surfaced earlier this year on a split tape with Bo Jackson 5 (review here), but opener “Wabash War Machine” and the sludged-up closer “The Mound” on which the guitars of Brian Boszor and “Ninja” Nate Malher phase between channels and vocalist Jim Voelz delivers his harshest performance to date, are brand new, albeit recorded at the same sessions in July 2013. “Wabash War Machine” highlights the band’s blend of southern metal and heavy groove, guitar intricacy and a gang-shout chorus meeting thick rollout from bassist Robert Ryan Strawsma and drummer Jason “Dinger” Brookhart, but it’s the finale that’s the EP’s most lasting impression, as pummeling as The Mound Builders have gotten to date.
In Olof’s buzzsaw guitar tone, the thud of Karl’s drums and Gidon’s abiding vocal menace, “Strike of the Emperor” gives notice of some Celtic Frost influence, but that’s hardly the whole tale when it comes Stockholm trio Mother Kasabian’s self-titled, self-released debut EP, as “The Black Satanic Witch of Saturn” immediately calls to mind The Doors in its minimal, spacious verse and offsets this with a soulful classic heavy rock chorus en route to the seven-minute “Close of Kaddish,” which works in a similar pattern – hitting notes of Trouble-style doom in its crescendos – and offers Mother Kasabian’s widest ranging moment ahead of the swaggering closer “The Return of the Mighty King and His Cosmic Elephants.” Swinging drums and variety in Gidon’s The Crazy World of Arthur Brown-style approach give the EP a distinguished feel despite raw production and it being Mother Kasabian’s first outing, and with the psych touches in the finale and a generally unhinged vibe throughout, the trio showcase considerable potential at work.
Active since 2011 and with two prior full-lengths – 2012’s I (review here) and 2013’s II (review here) – under their belt, Oulu, Finland, heavy psych trio Deep Space Destructors offer their definitive stylistic statement in the wash of III, a five-song/45-minute cosmic excursion with progressive krautrock edge (see “Spaceship Earth”) driven into heavier territory through dense fuzz in guitarist Petri Lassila’s tone and the chemistry between he, vocalist/bassist Jani Pitkänen and drummer Markus Pitkänen. Their extended but plotted jammy course finds culmination in the 15-minute penultimate cut “An Ode to Indifferent Universe,” – King Crimson and Floyd laced together by synth sounds – but the space-rock thrust of closer “Ikuinen Alku” highlights the multifaceted approach Deep Space Destructors have developed since their inception, consistently psychedelic but expansive. The sides gel effectively on “Cosmic Burial,” lending modern crash and tonal heft to classic ideals to craft something new from them in admirable form. As far out as they’ve gone, Deep Space Destructors still seem to be exploring new ground.
Released as a cooperative production between Garage Records and Go Down Records, Italian trio Underdogs’ second, self-titled LP pushes further along the straight-lined course of heavy rock their 2007 debut, Ready to Burn, and 2011’s Revolution Love (review here) charted. Songs like “Nothing but the Best” strip away the Queens of the Stone Age-style fuzz of past outings in favor of a cleaner tone and overall feel, and while that spirit shows up later on side B’s “Called Play” and the rumbling grunge of “My Favourite Game” (a cover of The Cardigans), the prevailing vibe speaks to European commercial viability with clear hooks and straightforward structures. Acoustic finale “The Closing Song” offers a last-minute shift in style, calling to mind Underdogs’ Dogs without Plugs digital release, but even in more barebones form, the songwriting remains the focus on this mature third offering from a three-piece who’ve clearly figured out the direction in which they want to head and have set about developing an audience-friendly sound.
Since they issued their self-titled debut (review here) in 2012, Virginia’s Human Services have brought aboard Steve Kerchner of Lord, and he brings as much a sense of chaos to Animal Fires as one might expect in teaming with Jeff Liscombe, Sean Sanford, Don Piffalo and Billy Kurilko, though the 59-minute full-length isn’t without its structure. Longer songs pair with concise noise experiments throughout the first 10 of the total 13 tracks, and each is different, so that even as the gap between songs is bridged, the stylistic basis for Animal Fires is branched out. The result is that by the time “Onyedinci Yil Sürüsü” closes out the album proper before the 17-minute live inclusion “No Structures in the Eye of the Jungle” hits, Human Services have reimagined the modus of Godflesh as an extremity of organic noisemaking, Southern heavy and eerie progressivism. Shades of Neurosis show up in centerpiece “Rats of a Feather,” but they too are twisted to suit the band’s creative purposes, threatening and engagingly bleak.
Posted in Features on December 26th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll. That’s still going on. Please feel free to submit your list.
Making and releasing a first full-length album is a special moment in the life of any band, and that’s why I wanted to single out some of the best debuts of the year. I’ve never done this before, and so maybe with a top 10 I’m testing the waters a bit, but it seemed a worthwhile project anyway. It was a long (inner) debate about whether or not to include EPs and singles here too, but in the end, it just seemed to work better with albums.
Not to take anything away from shorter releases, but putting out a debut EP is much different than a debut LP. First of all, a debut LP can come after several EPs or singles or demos or whatever and still be considered first. What a first album says to the listener is, “Okay, we’ve come this far and we’re ready to take this step.” Some bands, once they start putting out albums, never go back to EPs. Others who’ve been around for 30 years still release demos every now and then, but even so, a group only ever gets one crack at their first album, and it can be one of the most important things we ever do.
Compared to how many come out any given month, year, century, etc., very few debut long-players ever wind up being classics, and who knows what the future might hold for any of these acts on this list, but that not knowing and that excitement are part of the fun.
Let’s get to it:
The Top 10 Debut Albums of 2014
1. The Well, Samsara
2. The Golden Grass, The Golden Grass
3. Spidergawd, Spidergawd
4. Atavismo, Desintegración
5. Blues Pills, Blues Pills
6. Steak, Slab City
7. Comet Control, Comet Control
8. Elephant Tree, Theia
9. Black Moon Circle, Black Moon Circle
10. Temple of Void, Of Terror and the Supernatural
A couple honorable mentions. First to Valley of the Sun‘s Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk, which I still didn’t know what to do with the release date for. Officially 2014, but kinda released in 2013 too. I was back and forth on it. Also Wasted Theory‘s burly debut, Monolord‘s Empress Rising, Child‘s Child, the Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart sprawling one-song LP from Sylvaine.
Some notes: Actual time spent listening played a big role in the structuring of this list. More so than the Top 30 of 2014, I would say. The Well‘s Samsara and the self-titled debut from The Golden Grass featured pretty high on that list as well, and that’s because both of them were records that I continually went back to and found satisfying after they came out. In both bands I think there’s significant stylistic potential, but more importantly, they both came out of the gate with their mission solidified and ready to roll.
With Spidergawd‘s Spidergawd, the progressive take on classic heavy rock boogie was blinding, but righteous. Their second album is due early next year on Stickman and I’ll have more on it to come in the weeks ahead. Atavismo‘s Desintegraciónhit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. Just four songs, but the atmosphere was gorgeous enough that after listening I went back and asked the band if I could host a stream in hopes that more people would hear it. Fortunately for anyone who listened, they were kind enough to comply.
On sheer impact alone, I think Blues Pills‘ Blues Pills warrants inclusion on this list, but in my own listening, I put on the top four so much more often that I couldn’t really justify placing it any higher. But in terms of a first album coming out and really propelling a band to the next level, I think for a lot of people it’s probably the debut of the year. Fair enough. Steak‘s Slab City found the London four-piece physically and stylistically right in the heart of the California desert and their passion for that place and its sound came across heartfelt on the recording, which only heightened the appeal.
And while I’m still sorry to see Quest for Fire go, the debut from offshoot Comet Control helped ease that sorrow neatly with a blend of driving heavier space rock and psychedelic vibing. Cool album, bodes well. You could say the same for Elephant Tree‘s Theia, I suppose. Their take on psychedelia melded with screamy sludge successfully where I think a lot of bands would’ve fallen flat trying the same thing, and that’s definitely something noteworthy in an initial offering, particularly one not preceded by an EP or other kind of release.
To round things out, two very different records. Black Moon Circle‘s self-titled took a popular stylistic course — melding heavy rock and psychedelic jamming — and showed the trio beginning to make it their own. That’s something I hope will continue on their second outing, which, like that of Spidergawd, is coming on quick early in 2015. And finally, Temple of Void‘s extreme, deathly take on doom courted genres smoothly and delivered its punishment with efficiency while holding together a coherent atmosphere of darkness and aggression. It was a sadistic joy to behold.
If you missed it, there were a couple debuts included on the Top 20 Short Releases of 2014 list as well — Gold & Silver, Wren, Death Alley, and so on — so if you’re looking for more of that kind of thing, you don’t have to look too far. I hope if there was a debut album this year that particularly caught your attention, you’ll let me know in the comments.
Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.
I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.
Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.
The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.
A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.
Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.
His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”
An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.
I initially made this list without Alunah‘s excellent third album and Napalm Records, but when it came down to it, not having the UK four-piece on here haunted me to the point where I had to come back in and swap them out with somebody else. Just couldn’t live with myself for not giving this record its due, which, to be frank, I’m still not since it should be higher on the list than it is. At least it’s here though, so the mistake is somewhat corrected.
The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.
Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.
Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.
Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.
Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.
Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.
For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.
You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.
Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.
Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.
14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower
Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.
An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.
What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.
My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which Graham, Alley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow Season, The Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.
10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute
Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.
Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew Giacumakis — Fu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”
Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.
Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.
A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.
What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.
A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angelsthat brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.
In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis‘ Skyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.
Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.
Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.
Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend – YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.
First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.
A few other honorable mentions:
Mothership, Mothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.
Sólstafir, Ótta — They were originally on the list proper but had to be moved to make room for Alunah. I didn’t really get to know this record in 2014 anyway.
Ice Dragon, Seeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.
Truckfighters, Universe – I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.
Steak, Slab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.
Godflesh, A World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.
Thou, Heathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.
Corrosion of Conformity, IX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.
Spidergawd, Spidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.
Slomatics, Estron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.
Electric Wizard, Time to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.
Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.
The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.
Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.
More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.
And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.