Roadburn 2018 Day Two: Sessions of Light

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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04.20.18 – 11:25PM CET – Friday night – Hotel Mercure Rm. 224

You know what I did this afternoon before the show started? I slept. For about an hour. It was fucking crazy. A post-‘zine, pre-Roadburn-day-two nap. I’m not sure I can convey to you the novelty of such a thing. With a 3:10PM start to the day, it never would’ve been possible before, as I’d be folding copies of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch. Yesterday, today and tomorrow that task is outsourced. Sunday will be folding penance. But damn I enjoyed that nap.

I also enjoyed an inhuman(e) amount of espresso today. You might say I’m sipping one right now. By the time Motorpsycho took to the Main Stage for their two-hour early-headlining set, I’d certainly had a few, and they came in handy in keeping up with the Norwegians’ semi-psychedlic heavy progressive rock. I will not at all pretend to motorpsycho (Photo by JJ Koczan)be an expert on the band — I saw the a few years ago in Eindhoven and they were doing a concept show or something and it didn’t really hit a nerve — but what may or may not still be their latest LP, 2017’s The Tower (review here), was a thrill, so to hear cuts from that like “In Every Dream Home (There’s a Dream of Something Else)” was likewise and as they settled in for the longest haul to feature today on the Main Stage, the crowd seemed to do much the same.

For anyone in the US who might be reading this, Motorpsycho are a huge deal over here. They are legends, legitimately. They’ve been at it for nearly 30 years, and they have a discography that at this point is nigh on insurmountable to which they continuously add releases. They’re relatively obscure in America compared to some other progressive rock-type outfits, but they’re the kind of band who can get on stage, play a song called “Starhammer” from an album called Heavy Metal Fruit and have a couple thousand people absolutely wrapped around their collective finger. Their material is enticingly complex, with ebbs and flows in energy and volume, and when they want to, they can be quite heavy, but while their delivery is technically precise, they’re not overly showy, and the sense of class with which they play holds firm throughout. They, and the response they got, were both a joy to watch.

There was, however, a reason I only stayed for an hour and 45 minutes of their full two-hour set, and that was because over at Cul de Sac, Toronto’s Comet Control were on next, and I was taking zero chances when it came to the potential of missing them. I showed up too late for Insect Ark yesterday and missed my shot. Getting to see Comet Control meant showing up as Ulsect were finishing and waiting the 40comet control 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan) minutes for them to load their gear in, set up, soundcheck, etc. Time well spent as far as I’m concerned, because as I think I’ve said several times by now, there was simply no way I wasn’t going to see them.

My vigilance in doing so was rewarded with a shit-eating-grin-on-my-face life-affirming set the likes of which I’ve only ever experienced at Roadburn. I stayed down the front of the Cul de Sac and stood in front of the stage the entire time. They were my first complete set of the weekend (and only one to this point) and were so good that I wanted to sit it down and explain it to them. Or write a letter. “Dear Comet Control: You guys and gal are fucking awesome. When you played ‘Blast Magic’ I thought my heart was going to explode.” They did that track and “Dig out Your Head” from their excellent 2016 sophomore full-length, Center of the Maze (review here), and were joined on stage by Mario Rubalcaba from Earthless who took over on guitar from Chad Ross for a song — holding the instrument upside down to play left-handed — before they dug back into Ross‘ and fellow guitarist Andrew Moszynski‘s former outfit, Quest for Fire, to play “Greatest Hits by God” and “Sessions of Light,” the opening and closing cuts from 2010’s Lights from Paradise (review here; discussed here).

That. Well. That. That kind of felt like a birthday present to the universe. Quest for Fire played Roadburn in 2011 in what was then called the Bat Cave. I remember standing there in the hallway of the pre-redo 013 and watching them through the door in the smallest of the then-three rooms in the buildingcomet control (Photo by JJ Koczan). Cul de Sac isn’t the smallest venue at Roadburn 2018 — that honor goes to Hall of Fame, up by the Kopelhal and the merch area — but it was an intimate, packed show all the same, and it was the only time so far this weekend that I pulled my earplugs even part of the way out of my ears during a set to let the loudness in. Ross‘ and Moszynski‘s guitars were a wash across two channels, and even though the skin on the kick drum broke, the band made it work. They were my one “must” of the day, and completely justified my anticipation. I sincerely hope this isn’t the only time I get to see them.

When they were done, I lumbered clumsily back to the 013 proper to check out Crowbar on the Main Stage playing Odd Fellows Rest in full as part of Jacob Bannon from Converge‘s curated day. They very much sounded like Crowbar, and that’s not a complaint. The New Orleans sludge purveyors are pro-shop the whole way through and their set was likewise. It’s always interesting to see who gets into the spirit of Roadburn and who plays it like another gig. Again, nothing against Crowbar, who’ve no doubt played European fests in front of tens of thousands of people, and it being a full-album performance, it was still something special to see, founding guitarist/vocalist Kirk Windstein thanking the crowd profusely as well as Jacob Bannon and Walter for having them back.

I dipped out to grab a quick bite for dinner — there’s this fish in like a lemoncrowbar (Photo by JJ Koczan) cream sauce kind of thing this year in the catering room backstage; I felt like I didn’t want to stop — and made it back in time to catch Crowbar play their cover of “No Quarter” and close out their set with a couple other tunes before Windstein said they were gonna “do that gay thing everyone does” and take a picture on stage with the crowd behind them. Pulled the wind right out of my enjoyment of seeing them. Like a balloon making a fart noise as the air escapes. Bummer. You can call me PC or whatever. I don’t give a fuck. Crowbar has ruled for a long-ass time, but that shit is lame. Moving on.

The delightfully punctuated Seinäjoki, Finland, progressive psych outfit Kairon; IRSE! were wrapping up in the Green Room around the same time, so I waddled in there and caught the end of their set from the balcony. The assembled masses before them were clearly loyal to the cause and it was easy to see why. Heady stuff. They’re on Svart, which is all the endorsement they need as far as I’m concerned, and I may yet pick up their albums in the merch area, where the label has a table all set up that I’ve now visited twice, but I was really in the Green Room to catch Minami Deutsch.

My thinking was that I owed it to myself to catch at least some of the Japanese Psych Experience while I was here — set up by Walter with the minami deutsch (Photo by JJ Koczan)label Guru Guru Brain in a similar kind of thing to the San Diego Takeover, only, you know, from Japan, with acts like Kikagaku Moyo, Dhidalah and Minami Deutsch playing — and I’d heard all along that Minami Deutsch were the mellowest of the bunch. That suited me just fine. I waited for them to go on and when they did, it was easy-groove spacial drift the whole way through and it turned out to be just the vibe I was looking for. I was not the only one, as the room was loaded with people all the way out the door. How many times in my life will I get to see them? I don’t know. Maybe twice if I’m lucky. Point is they were right on and especially as a part of the J-psych theme, a band I felt extra fortunate to be able to catch.

Speaking of possibly-once-in-a-lifetime experiences, up at the Koepelhal — which is on the other side of the train tracks from the 013 in what, with the weather so nice and all the people laying in the grass outside smoking, drinking, whatever, looked like the Roadburn Annex — it was nearly time for Earthless and Damo Suzuki to fuse their mind energies for a set of what I believe was fully improvised psychedelic wandering. There was a little time, so I hobbled next door to the Hall of Fame to watch Petyr play heavy ’70s covers for a minute or two, and perused the merch again, only making myself sad in the process on any number of levels. These are interesting days. Did I mention I ate dinner?

Anyhow, when it was time for Earthless and Damo Suzuki to play their set — which, once more, is the kind of thing that may or may not ever, ever happen again — the Koepelhal was absolutely rammed with bodies looking for a bit of psychedelic communion. As it happens, damo suzuki earthless (Photo by JJ Koczan)that is precisely what they got. The mood started out quiet and built up and came down, with Suzuki on mic, someone else playing another stringed instrument, and EarthlessIsaiah Mitchell, Mike Eginton and Mario Rubalcaba not quite playing the role of the backing band, but definitely giving Suzuki respect on stage and the space to do what he does in terms of proclamations largely indecipherable but completely in the moment. The whole thing, really. Completely in the moment. That seemed to be the entire point.

And maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was the humidity, or maybe it was just me being a sucker and remembering how good they were last time I saw them here in 2013, but something drove me back toward the 013 Main Hall in order to catch the start of Godflesh performing 1994’s Selfless in its entirety. I knew I wasn’t going to see the whole thing — writing to do — but I also knew there was no way I’d be able to consider the night complete without watching them at least for a while. So I did. I peeled myself out of Koepelhal and floundered back to the 013, wheregodflesh (Photo by JJ Koczan) Justin K. Broadrick — with hair, no less — and G.C. Green went on about 10 minutes past their allotted start time and only built on the tension that late start created with their dissonant, crushing industrial aggression.

Like few bands I’ve ever seen, Godflesh seem to have the power to just reach into your lungs and squeeze them until they’re all the way empty. It’s something to behold. Selfless had them beginning to experiment with melody, but the electronic beats and the intensity were (and still are) there to be sure, and Broadrick and Green captivated a full Main Stage area, spaced out across the stage just as they were when I saw them play their 1989 debut, Streetcleaner here in 2011. That was also an adventure in sonic brutalism.

After a while, the get-to-work itch started to become unbearable and I blundered my way back through Weirdo Canyon to the hotel where so-much-and-yet-not-enough coffee awaited. It had been another excellent day — it was hard to believe it was only the second one of the fest itself — but Roadburn 2018 picks up early tomorrow with Bell Witch playing Mirror Reaper in its entirety, and well, if I’m going to have my head cleaved open with doom, the very least I can do is be well rested in advance for it.

Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump and more to come tomorrow.

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Roadburn 2018 Announces Cul de Sac Lineup with Bison, Comet Control, Mirror Queen, Hair of the Dog and More

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 15th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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And so we see Roadburn 2018 once again open its gaping maw of righteousness to hurl forth another barrage of acts to its long-since-completely-overwhelming lineup. You know how many distinct acts are discussed in the press release below? 32 by my count. And granted, I’ve never been much for counting, and a couple of them were previously announced and are playing additional sets, etc., but do you see my point?

My point is this: Roadburn 2018 makes an announcement for its smallest venue — the get-there-super-early-no-earlier-than-that Cul de Sac — and tightens up a few other odds and ends, and all of a sudden you’ve basically got an entire other festival being announced. 30 bands? That’s a fest. Roadburn throws it all out there like, “Oh it’s nothing. We do this every year.” And they do.

So who’s my absolute gotta-see on this list? If you read the names below and have been hanging around here for a bit, you can probably already guess it’s Comet Control. I was hoping they’d be added since they’re touring with Earthless and still supporting 2016’s much-loved Center of the Maze (review here). I’ll be there for them for sure — scheduling conflicts be damned. If it means there’s a chance I might get to watch that band play “Artificial Light,” I don’t care if I have to set up a tent in the middle of the Cul de Sac floor. I’m not missing it.

Here’s the update from the PR wire:

Roadburn 2018: Cul de Sac bands, pre-show party & more!

Roadburn’s artistic director, Walter Hoeijmakers comments:
“The sales of day tickets alongside weekend passes have surpassed our expectations and we’re on course for another sell out year at Roadburn. We couldn’t be happier as we dive headlong into putting the finishing touches to the 2018 edition.

“We still have the side programme to announce, and of course, the all important schedules, but for now, we think there’s plenty for you to sink your teeth into with this announcement. The depth and variety of talent on show here is truly stunning.”

CUL DE SAC
The Cul de Sac may be Roadburn’s smallest venue, but each year a hell of a lot of talent is packed into it’s confines. 2018 is no different with a stellar line up of bands both big and small who will be squeezing into the diminutive space and packing an enormous punch.

THURSDAY will see Une Misère reprise their performance with a second set. They’ll be joined by instrumental duo Insect Ark, hard rockin’ New Yorkers Mirror Queen, Dutch force of nature – Black Decades, the droning riffs of Galg, plus your personal soundtrack to the end of times courtesy of Sum of R.

FRIDAY has Earthless’ tour mates, Comet Control preparing for lift off, extreme metallers Départe from Down Under, Danish export Hexis, Dutch death metal darlings, Ulsect and a second set from Worship that promises some special surprises.

SATURDAY will see Planning for Burial perform again, mining his back catalogue for gems. Hair of the Dog will return to Roadburn, and be joined by fellow 2016 alumni Concatenatus, plus Mania’s mix of doom and black metal, and Phantom Winter’s suffocating sludge.

SUNDAY sees tour mates Bison and LLNN roll into Tilburg in an uncompromising fashion. They will be joined by the progressive sounds of Hidden Trails, a dual pronged Dutch attack in the form of Dystopia and Nefast, and visceral Italians, Syk.

SAN DIEGO TAKE OVER
Good news for fans of psychedelic riffs! There are new additions to the San Diego Take Over, and they’re sure to bend your mind further into previously unknown directions. Unraveling the threads that run between the family of bands that make up the SDTO would require a headspace much clearer than anyone involved is quite capable of, but suffice to say that the pedigree running through the bands is of the standard you have come to expect.

RED OCTOPUS mix influences such as early Sabbath, Hawkwind and Can into a psychedelic wonderland.

ARCTIC is a California power trio steeped in the roots of early 70’s blues/psych, á la Blue Cheer and Band of Gypsies, while drawing elements of modern heavy, reminiscent of early Sleep. Heavy, sludgy, stoner psych played with a slow, driving energy. The band features three pro skaters, Figgy on guitar, Frecks on drums and Nuge on bass.

VOLCANO is a soundtrack for an ancient apocalypse. Primordial rhythm and afro-inspired melodies fill their grooves. The rumble in the distance grows, the forest falls silent. Let their trance fuel the dance, while theres still time. Let the lava flow…

PHARLEE was forged in the middle of the white-hot psychedelic jam scene in San Diego, California from members of Harsh Toke, Sacri Monti and Joy. But don’t let their geographical origin and associated acts mislead you. Pharlee walks their own path on scorched-earth. Forgoing the weed-fuelled jams of their counterparts for full-on the speed-ruled riffage. Partying off the sounds of Priest, Motorhead, Betty Davis and ACID, Pharlee create a new shrilling sound.

The San Diego Takeover is supported by the Performing Arts Fund NL.

TOBY DRIVER & ZVI
These two component parts of Kayo Dot will be making their presence felt at Roadburn 2018 as they perform (separately) on Thursday, 19 April.

As a solo performer, on guitar, keyboard, and voice, Toby Driver has been exploring dark, austere neofolk akin to Grouper, Talk Talk, Current 93, and others, with a subtle progressive and unsettling edge, featured in his recent release, Madonnawhore (The Flenser, 2017). Along with songs from Madonnawhore, he will also be performing pieces from his forthcoming solo album, They Are The Shield, and additionally, a few left turns are of course to be expected.

Zvi is guitarist / vocalist Ron Varod (Kayo Dot, Sabbath Assembly, Psalm Zero, Myrkur) performing and recording solo since 2004. During the 40 minute run time of Zvi’s 2016’s Death Stops Us All, Varod gently wakes us up with a whispered vocal over nylon string guitar, pummels us with throbbing noise and lulls us back to sleep with droned out suspended clusters and Talk Talk-esque clean guitars.

RRRAGS
Formed by singer / drummer Rob Martin (formerly of Bliksem), guitarist Ron Van Herpen (Astrosoniq, ex-The Devil’s Blood) and Rob Zim (bass, Lords of Altamont), RRRags emulates the sounds and styles of power trio’s such as Grand Funk, Blue Cheer and James Gang. But in addition to their fuzzed-out and soulful approach, there are also touches of psychedelica and psyfunk, which sets the band apart from the current crop of Sabbath worshipers, or old school hardrock devotees.

HARD ROCK HIDEOUT
Roadburn’s annual pre-party returns! For those in Tilburg on Wednesday evening, before the festival kicks off “proper”, we welcome Roadburners to the city in style! This year we have teamed up with Babylon Doom Cult Records in Belgium to present speed metallers Bütcher, and Speed Queen, plus genre-crossing Witch Trail.

The Hard Rock Hideout is FREE and will take place at the Cul de Sac.

As with last year, the festival’s wristband exchange will be open on Wednesday, April 18 between 18.30-23.00 for early arrivals to pick up their passes in advance of Roadburn kicking off on Thursday.

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http://www.roadburn.com

Roadburn 2018 Cul-de-Sac Announcement Video

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Earthless Announce US and European 2018 Touring

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

earthless ed dominick

Pretty rad to find out that Earthlessrecently announced position as artists-in-residence for Roadburn 2018 will come at the end of a full round of European touring alongside Comet Control — fingers crossed they get added to the bill of the Tilburg, Netherlands-based fest as well — and that indeed that run itself will follow a cross-country US tour in the company of Kikagaku Moyo and JJUUJUU as the San Diego trio begin to support their impending Nuclear Blast label debut, which they recently finished tracking with Dave Catching at the helm and is due out March 16. And yes, I mean all of that is pretty rad. That whole frickin’ run-on sentence. If you’re not into longform righteousness, then this probably isn’t the band for you anyway.

Up there with 2018’s most anticipated among the most anticipated? Yeah. From where I stand, 2018 is Earthless‘ for the taking.

From the PR wire:

EARTHLESS announce North American and European tour dates

Seminal psychedelic rock trio, EARTHLESS, have announced world-wide tour dates in support of their upcoming Nuclear Blast Entertainment debut.

Commented drummer Mario Rubalcaba:

“We are beyond chuffed to finally have a new album to go out and support and we can’t wait to play the new tunes for everyone- they are blastin’! We are also excited to have some killer support bands going out with us when we tour the US and Canada and when we head out to Europe/UK in April. On our North American run, KIKAGAKU MOYO from Japan and JJUUJUU will swirl minds, add diversity and still keep things “heady” for all. In April, we’ll be hitting Europe and the UK with our buds in COMET CONTROL. They will keep you all warm and fuzzy on the inside while shakin yr brains from the outside. That tour also ends up at the mighty Roadburn Festival, where we are honored to be the official Artist In Residence over all 3 nights- each different and special. We look forward to seeing you all out there. Cheers!”

EARTHLESS–Isaiah Mitchell (vocals/guitar), Mike Eginton (bass) and Mario Rubalcaba (drums)–recently finished recording their new album with Dave Catching (EAGLES OF DEATH METAL) at Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree, CA, The band will release the 4th full-length record on March 16th. More details to be announced shortly. Confirmed tour dates are as follows:

EARTHLESS, KIKAGAKU MOYO, JJUUJUU
Feb 28 – San Rafael @ Terrapin Crossroads
Mar 1 – San Francisco @ Great American Music Hall
Mar 2 – San Diego @ Casbah
Mar 3 – San Diego @ Casbah
Mar 4 – Los Angeles @ Teragram Ballroom
Mar 5 – Santa Cruz @ The Atrium
Mar 7 – Las Vegas @ Beauty Bar
Mar 8 – Pioneertown CA @ Pappy & Harriet’s
Mar 13 – Cleveland @ Grog Shop
Mar 14 – Toronto @ Lee’s Palace
Mar 15 – Montreal @ L’Astral
Mar 16 – Brooklyn @ Market Hotel
Mar 17 – Boston @ The Sinclair
Mar 18 – Philadelphia @ Underground Arts
Mar 20 – Washington DC @ Rock N Roll Hotel
Mar 21 – Richmond @ The Broadberry
Mar 22 – Nashville @ Mercy Lounge
Mar 23 – St. Louis @ Blueberry Hill
Mar 24 – Chicago @ Empty Bottle
Mar 25 – Chicago @ Empty Bottle

EARTHLESS, COMET CONTROL
Apr 3 – Kortrijk, BE @ De Kreun
Apr 4 – Bristol, UK @ The Fleece
Apr 5 – Manchester, UK @ The Deaf Institute
Apr 6 – London, UK @ Islington Assembly Hall
Apr 7 – Paris, FR @ Petit Bain
Apr 8 – Frankfurt, DE @ Zoom
Apr 10 – Munich, DE @ Feierwerk
Apr 11 – Berlin, DE @ Bi Nuu
Apr 12 – Copenhagen, DK @ Pumpehuset
Apr 13 – Oslo, NO @ BLA
Apr 14 – Gothenberg, SE @ Truckstop Alaska
Apr 16 – Hamburg, DE @ Molotow
Apr 19 – Tilburg, NE @ ROADBURN 2018
Apr 20 – Tilburg, NE @ ROADBURN 2018
Apr 21 – Tilburg, NE @ ROADBURN 2018

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Earthless, From the Ages (2013)

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Comet Control Post “Dig out Your Head” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 30th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

comet-control-Photo-by-Melissa-Boraski-and-Jennifer-Keith

Hell yes. That’s about the level of insight I’ve got when it comes to there being a new video from Toronto’s Comet Control. Suffice it to say, I’m on board with whatever the heavy psych rocking four-piece want to do to promote last year’s excellent Center of the Maze (review here), which was and remains a joyful and resounding wash of melody, fuzz and breadth. If that happens to be a tour where they come play my basement, well that would be awesome. If it’s a new video for album opener “Dig out Your Head,” that’s cool too. I won’t complain about that. I can always watch it in my basement, I guess, if I’m so committed to the locale.

Nothing personal, but if you can’t get behind this kind of stuff, I’m not sure I have much for you. The depths and reaches that Comet Control explore throughout Center of the Maze are not only gorgeous, but free. I’m not saying they don’t have a handle on their songcraft — they prove just the opposite across the record’s entire span, beginning with “Dig out Your Head” and ending with the 10-minute “Artificial Light,” which was my 2016 Song of the Year — just that in the process of guiding their material, they’re willing to go just about anywhere, and whether that becomes the bright-hued strum and march of “Silver Spade” or the trad-psych turns of “Golden Rule,” the results become a spectrum all their own, encompassing and welcoming in kind.

So yeah, new video? Great. Whatever y’all want to do. If it gives me another excuse to put on Center of the Maze again — as this post has — then I already consider it a win.

Credits follow the clip below. Please enjoy:

Comet Control, “Dig out Your Head” official video

Artist: Comet Control
Track: “Dig Out Your Head”
Album: Centre of the Maze (6/24)
Label: Tee Pee Records

Directed by Mashie Alam
Shot by Thomas Van Der Zaag
Edited by Jared MacIntyre
Art Curated by Kevin Vansteenkiste
Coloured by Sandy Rossignol

Comet Control on Thee Facebooks

Comet Control at Tee Pee Records

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audiObelisk Transmission 060

Posted in Podcasts on December 22nd, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk podcast 60

Click Here to Download

 

Consider this your usual disclaimer that, like any of this site’s coverage of year-end whatnottery, this podcast is by no means attempting to capture all of 2016’s best tracks. It is, however, over four hours long, and frankly that seems like enough to ask. If you decide to take it on and sample what I found to be some of the best material to come down the line over the last 12 months, please know you have my thanks in advance. For what it’s worth, it was a lot of fun to put together, and that’s not always the case with these.

But about the length. I’ve done double-sized year-end specials for a while now. It’s always just seemed a fair way to go. And the last few at least have been posted the week of the Xmas holiday as well, which for me is of dual significance since it just so happens four hours is right about what it takes to drive from where I live to where my family lives, so when I look at this massive slew of 34 acts, from the riff-led righteousness of Wo Fat and Curse the Son to the crush of Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and SubRosa to the psychedelic reaches of Zun and Øresund Space Collective (who probably show up in podcasts more than anyone, oddly enough), I also think of going to see my family, which has become my favorite part of the holidays.

Whatever associations you might draw with it, I very much hope you enjoy listening. Thanks for taking the time.

Track details follow:

First Hour:

0:00:00 Wo Fat, “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind” from Midnight Cometh
0:09:35 Greenleaf, “Howl” from Rise Above the Meadow
0:14:57 Elephant Tree, “Aphotic Blues” from Elephant Tree
0:20:49 Brant Bjork, “The Gree Heen” from Tao of the Devil
0:26:27 Sergio Ch., “El Herrero” from Aurora
0:29:44 Child, “Blue Side of the Collar” from Blueside
0:35:31 Geezer, “Bi-Polar Vortex” from Geezer
0:43:59 Zun, “Come Through the Water” from Burial Sunrise
0:49:27 Baby Woodrose, “Mind Control Machine” from Freedom
0:54:11 Curse the Son, “Hull Crush Depth” from Isolator
0:59:31 Borracho, “Shot down, Banged up, Fade Away” from Atacama

Second Hour:

1:05:50 Scissorfight, “Nature’s Cruelest Mistake” from Chaos County
1:09:19 Truckfighters, “The Contract” from V
1:16:30 Spidergawd, “El Corazon del Sol” from III
1:21:24 Fatso Jetson, “Royal Family” from Idle Hands
1:26:13 Worshipper, “Step Behind” from Shadow Hymns
1:30:57 Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, “Y Proffwyd Dwyll” from Y Proffwyd Dwyll
1:39:42 Druglord, “Regret to Dismember” from Deepest Regrets
1:46:34 Moon Coven, “New Season” from Moon Coven
1:52:03 Gozu, “Tin Chicken” from Revival
1:59:49 Year of the Cobra, “Vision of Three” from …In the Shadows Below

Third Hour:

2:06:53 The Munsens, “Abbey Rose” from Abbey Rose
2:14:56 Lamp of the Universe, “Mu” from Hidden Knowledge
2:21:26 1000mods, “On a Stone” from Repeated Exposure To…
2:26:45 Church of the Cosmic Skull, “Watch it Grow” from Is Satan Real?
2:30:43 Vokonis, “Acid Pilgrim” from Olde One Ascending
2:37:35 Slomatics, “Electric Breath” from Future Echo Returns
2:43:02 Droids Attack, “Sci-Fi or Die” from Sci-Fi or Die
2:47:20 King Buffalo, “Drinking from the River Rising” from Orion
2:56:51 Comet Control, “Artificial Light” from Center of the Maze

Fourth Hour:

3:06:37 Øresund Space Collective, “Above the Corner” from Visions Of…
3:22:51 Naxatras, “Garden of the Senses” from II
3:33:14 SubRosa, “Black Majesty” from For this We Fought the Battle of Ages
3:48:23 Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, “Escape Through the Rift” from Tranquonauts

Total running time: 4:07:32

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 060

 

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2016

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

the obelisk top 30

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.

I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.

Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.

The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.

This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.

Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.

I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:

30. Talmud Beach, Chief

talmud beach chief

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.

29. Comet Control, Center of the Maze

comet control center of the maze

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 22.

Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.

28. Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids attack sci-fi or die

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 17.

There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.

27. Beelzefuzz, The Righteous Bloom

beelzefuzz the righteous bloom

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

A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.

26. Foghound, The World Unseen

foghound the world unseen

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed July 6.

Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.

25a. Egypt, Endless Flight

egypt endless flight

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

Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.

25. 1000mods, Repeated Exposure To…

1000mods repeated exposure to

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

There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.

24. Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy

black rainbows stellar prophecy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 11.

Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.

23. Borracho, Atacama

borracho atacama

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Nov. 14.

Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.

22. The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again

the golden grass coming back again

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed April 26.

Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.

21. Curse the Son, Isolator

curse the son isolator

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

For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.

20. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires

neurosis fires within fires

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 21.

I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, NeurosisFires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.

19. Conan, Revengeance

conan revengeance

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 19.

Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.

18. Baby Woodrose, Freedom

baby woodrose freedom

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Aug. 18.

Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.

17. Geezer, Geezer

geezer geezer

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

I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.

16. EYE, Vision and the Ageless Light

eye vision and the ageless light

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

Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.

15. Fatso Jetson, Idle Hands

fatso jetson idle hands

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.

14. Hexvessel, When We are Death

hexvessel when we are death

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Feb. 5.

Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.

13. Zun, Burial Sunrise

zun burial sunrise

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Feb. 16.

Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.

12. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree

elephant tree elephant tree

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Jan. 29.

One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.

11. Mos Generator, Abyssinia

mos generator abyssinia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed July 12.

If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.

10. Slomatics, Future Echo Returns

slomatics future echo returns

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed June 29.

In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.

9. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh

wo fat midnight cometh

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 21.

After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.

8. King Buffalo, Orion

king buffalo orion

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed July 29.

Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.

7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know

wight love is not only what you know

Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.

German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.

6. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 18.

A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.

5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil

brant bjork tao of the devil

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 15.

Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in KyussFu ManchuCheVista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.

4. Asteroid, III

asteroid iii

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed Oct. 21.

What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.

3. Gozu, Revival

gozu revival

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 19.

Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.

2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)

mars red sky apex iii praise for the burning soul

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.

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

subrosa for this we fought the battle of ages

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Aug. 26.

Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.

The Next 20

Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:

31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll

From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.

Honorable Mentions

Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:

Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
Spidergawd, III
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment

And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:

Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.

Thank You

In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.

If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.

One more time: Thank you.

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2016 Song of the Year: Comet Control, “Artificial Light”

Posted in Features on December 8th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

comet-control

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.

More than any other of the various kinds of year-end posts, lists, and hyperbole, picking a favorite song of the year — a single track — is a deeply personal experience. What was your favorite song of 2016? What’s your favorite song ever? These things define us. They help us define ourselves to ourselves. After a point, it stops being music and it starts being a part of who you are — your own canon. It’s not just about what’s in constant rotation either on the mental jukebox, the physical turntable or any of the various other sound-producing devices in our daily lives. That can certainly be a part of it, but the question becomes about something more fundamental. What speaks to you in a language that you feel like no one else knows? Six months from now you might not remember what was number 19 on your top 20, but you can be damn sure you’re going to remember your Song of the Year.

Mine is “Artificial Light” by Comet Control.

Now, I guess what I’m saying is that if you have a different pick, I’m not inclined to argue with you, but when it comes to meeting my bizarre version of the criteria above, the closing track from the Toronto heavy psych/space rockers’ second album, Center of the Maze (review here), was second to nothing. After a tumultuous, spacious, sprawling seven songs before it, the five-piece outfit, who made their self-titled debut (review here) on Tee Pee Records in 2013, nestled themselves into unparalleled sonic warmth — an aural kindness to their listeners that shimmered and glowed for its duration, from the opening unfolding of its drifting organ and central guitar line to the outgoing resonance that hummed quietly to its fading finish. For what Comet Control were expressing in the track, their execution simply could not have been more perfect.

It was by no means the sum total of what Center of the Maze had to offer. Expanding on the breadth of their first outing, Comet Control seemed to revel in straddling the line between space rock and heavy psych. Earlier cuts like opener “Dig out Your Head” and the following “Darkness Moves” pulsated with cosmic push, and “The Hive” and “Criminal comet-control-center-of-the-mazeMystic” seemed to have an easy time finding room for themselves between the styles, the latter track making a foundation for itself in acoustic guitar before bursting in with thicker tones. The band — guitarist/vocalist Chad Ross, guitarist Andrew Moszynski, bassist Nicole Howell, drummer Jay Anderson and keyboardist Christopher Sandes — lived up to and beyond the potential of the debut, and as a culmination of that, “Artificial Light” was the album’s greatest achievement.

They seemed to know it. One gets that sense both because they made it the closer and because of the was side B as a whole was arranged, with the ’60s organ bounce of “Golden Rule” leading into the more languid “Sick in Space,” which itself was something of an arrival in its languid flow and delivery of the title-line at the very end, setting the stage for “Artificial Light” to take hold and push further, which it did gorgeously. Recalling some of the high points of Ross and Moszynski‘s prior band, the woefully underrated Quest for Fire — who also released two full-lengths through Tee Pee before breaking up in 2013 — “Artificial Light” coated itself in a wash of lush dream-folk keys and guitar and Ross‘ sleepy vocal melody, but was no less defined by that than it was by the engaging hook of its two-stage chorus, beginning with the lines:

I’ll be your eyes
I’ll be your heart and your breath
Spread your wings
Or fall to your death

These lyrics balanced a very real human emotionality with the peaceful fluidity surrounding, a meeting of the worldly and otherworldly that, rather than establishing a contrast between them, seemed to pull them together and remind the listener how much the one needs the other. At 10 minutes long, “Artificial Light,” when you really got into it, still felt short, but I honestly think that would be the case even if the track topped half an hour or more. It could just go on perpetually, like space or the horizon. Comet Control captured a little piece of the infinite, made it their own and molded it into a gift they then presented to their audience. In its gentle presence and subdued melodic welcoming, I’m not sure how it could’ve been taken any other way than that.

I heard a lot of really great individual tracks this year. I did. See below. But the more I heard, the more special “Artificial Light” became. It was a song to which I almost constantly returned — defined my summer, hands down — and I know that as we move into 2017 and beyond it will continue to be one I’ll go back to and that I’ll continue to see my affection for it grow with time. In other words: a favorite.

Yeah, I know last year I did this as a list. The year before I had it this way. I reserve the right to change it up. Either way, as noted there were a lot of pretty special tracks I encountered this year, and I’d love to hear from you on what your favorites were as well. Here are some more of mine in no particular order:

Mars Red Sky, “Under the Hood”
Slomatics, “Supernothing”
Elephant Tree, “Aphotic Blues”
Asteroid, “Them Calling”
Hexvessel, “When I am Dead”
King Buffalo, “Drinking from the River Rising”
SubRosa, “Troubled Cells”
Heavy Temple, “Pink Glass”
Worshipper, “Step Behind”
Greenleaf, “A Million Fireflies”

The list goes on. Like I said at the outset, I really do believe a favorite song is a deeply personal choice, so if you agree, disagree, whatever, please let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading. More to come as we start to wrap up 2016.

 

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audiObelisk Transmission 058

Posted in Podcasts on July 21st, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Click Here to Download

 

In my defense, I’ll say it’s been a really hectic couple months. Truth be told, even I think it’s been a really long time since the last podcast, so if you do too, at very least we agree on it. If the tradeoff for that is getting to use a bunch of new tracks, some of which have been featured around here for streaming — like Foghound, Monkey3, Slomatics, Comet Control, Mindkult, New Planet Trampoline, etc. — and some of which haven’t shown up around this site yet — Besvärjelsen, Monolord, King Buffalo, Fungal Abyss, Landing, etc. — then I think it’s a decent tradeoff to make. Listening back to it now that it’s finished, as is my tradition, I dig it.

And of course I hope you dig it as well. We start at full run with Foghound and add some boogie to the mix with Långfinger before crashing into the wall of riffs that is Monolord and digging into the garage swing of Mindkult, so right off the bat there’s a decent amount of ground covered, and it only gets weirder as it moves forward, but hopefully even more immersive as well. The second hour, and really from New Planet Trampoline on, keep an open mind and try to just go where the sounds go. It should be a satisfying trip either way.

Track details follow:

First Hour:

0:00:00 Foghound, “Message in the Sky” from The World Unseen
0:03:58 Långfinger, “Feather Beader” from Crossyears
0:08:20 Monolord, “Lord of Suffering” from Lord of Suffering/Die in a Haze
0:14:44 Mindkult, “Witch’s Oath” from Witch’s Oath
0:20:34 Besvärjelsen, “Havets Sista Vals” from Exil
0:27:48 King Buffalo, “Kerosene” from Orion
0:33:46 Slomatics, “Super Nothing” from Future Echo Returns
0:37:36 Monkey3, “Dead Planet’s Eyes” from Astra Symmetry
0:42:06 New Planet Trampoline, “Acts of Mania” from Dark Rides and Grim Visions
0:51:03 Comet Control, “Artificial Light” from Center of the Maze

Second Hour:

1:00:52 Landing, “Morning Sun” from Third Light
1:15:10 Fungal Abyss, “Perfumed Garden” from Karma Suture
1:37:20 Atomikylä, “Katkos” from Keräily

Total running time: 1:55:09

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 058

 

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