Everyone’s favorite plunderers-of-riff, Conan, are coming back to North American shores this May for a coast-to-coast run that includes stops at Maryland Death Fest 2017 in Baltimore and 71 Grind in Colorado Springs. The UK trio will of course be over supporting their battle-axe-to-the-side-of-the-head third album, Revengeance (review here), on Napalm Records, who present the tour alongside respected booker Nanotear.
Yours truly also has a logo on the poster, though I can’t actually take credit in terms of making any of it happen. Still, humbling to be involved at all in something that will be so god damned heavy. I feel compelled to note in the interest of full disclosure that no money exchanged hands as a part of this process — Conan frontman Jon Davis asked me if I wanted the logo on there and because I highly support the cause and because I’m no dope I said a quick hell yes. This content isn’t sponsored in any way. It just kind of came together, and again, I’m humbled and appreciative that it did.
The run begins on the West Coast this May 10 and goes through June 4, ending in Tucson. They’ll hit Canada for shows in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, and cover both sides of the US and in between, hitting major markets and suitably killer venues in the company of North.
Full list of dates follows the poster below. Check the bottom right corner. Dig it:
Conan Revengeance Tour 2017
05.10 Glendale CA Complex 05.11 Oakland CA Metro 05.12 Portland OR Dante’s 05.13 Vancouver BC Astoria 05.14 Seattle WA Highline 05.16 Minneapolis MN The Triple Rock 05.17 Chicago IL Beat Kitchen 05.18 Indianapolis IN 5th Quarter 05.19 Cleveland OH Now That’s Class 05.20 Pittsburgh PA Smiling Moose 05.21 Toronto ON Garrison 05.22 Montreal QC TBA 05.23 Boston MA TBA 05.24 Brooklyn NY Knitting Factory 05.25 Baltimore MD Ram’s Head – Maryland Deathfest* 05.26 Raleigh NC Kings 05.27 Atlanta GA 529 05.28 New Orleans LA Siberia 05.29 Houston TX White Oak 05.30 Austin TX Sidewinder 06.01 Denver CO Hi-Dive 06.02 Colorado Springs CO 71 Grind 06.03 Albuquerque NM Sister 06.04 Tucson AZ Club Congress * = no North
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 6th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
One of 2017’s great mysteries as I see it is whether or not Conan will have a new album. They’ve given hints toward a next batch of material, but it would be quick since their Revengeance (review here) came out last year, and they seem to have an awful lot of touring in the works, so I don’t know how that balance will shake out over the next 12 months. Earth-destroying riffs aren’t built in a day, you know. They are, however, going to grace the stage at Freak Valley 2017 this June in Germany. The fest has announced that Conan have signed on to play alongside Elephant Tree, Maserati and Wand as the first lineup additions of the New Year.
If you missed it — and I know you didn’t — Elephant Tree‘s 2016 self-titled debut (review here) was among last year’s finest first albums. They’ve made a few 2017 announcements, including Desertfest London and Psycho Las Vegas, and it’s hard to imagine more won’t follow before the year is out. To wit, they’ll have a tour update on Monday, so keep an eye out for that.
As for L.A.’s Wand, they released their 1,000 Days album in 2015, and Georgia’s Maserati offered up Rehumanizer that same year. They join and add to an increasingly ridiculous lineup, the entirety of which you can see below.
Freak Valley put it like this:
Welcome to 2017 Freaks!!
It’s the first freaky friday this year and we have 4 new bandnames for you!!
Conan [UK] – Doom/Sludge Metal MASERATI [US] – Postrock WAND [US] – Psychedelic Rock Elephant Tree [UK] – Rock/Blues/Doom/Stoner
CONAN are as heavy as interplanetary thunder amplified through the roaring black hole anus of Azathoth. A three piece, in the grand tradition of many amazing fabulous three pieces that hold a tight line and an iron-grip command over the uber-synchronised chord changes and tempo-shifts of the holy trio of bass, drums and guitar. Hear the roar of battle. Smell the stench of split blood. A thousand heads piled high like a grim mound of suffering- a blasphemy to nature. Hail Conan!
Formed at the edge of the new millennium, MASERATI is as sleek, sexy and sophisticated as the legendary Italian sports car it takes its name from. It is fitting, then, that the band has dragged the glory years of psychedelic arena rock kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, with the pomposity (and vocals) carefully removed. In its place are white hot flashes of light pulsing to an unstoppable rhythm that makes us want to punch air and drive really fast in a car with wings instead of doors.
California psych band WAND will make us slaves to the rhythm!! “Pitchfork” favorably compares them to The Zombies and the krautrock of Neu!. They will satisfy fans’ appetite for heavy, psych-inspired landscapes with thick, garage guitars and an energetic, melodic core.
Wand combines elements of shoegaze, psych rock, desert rock, and sludge metal. Equally reminiscent of icons like Kyuss and contemporaries like Ty Segall (Fuzz), Wand’s sound is a fresh take on psychedelia; it avoids the dated nostalgia that has plagued some of the recent psych-rock acts. The band names a variety of influences, including Melvins, Crass, Talking Heads, and Pink Floyd.
ELEPHANT TREE are a relatively new band who, after cutting their teeth in the London metal scene, have established a place within the current growing Stoner Metal genre. Having moved down and taken in many many gigs and shows the guys have been influenced to start making their own music.
While the style is difficult to class under any one particular sub-genre of Metal it has been most likened to Doom Metal and Stoner Rock however many people have their own classifications ranging from Blues to Prog.
Posted in Features on January 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan
The poll is closed, the results are counted and the top 20 albums of 2016 have been chosen. Hard to argue with the list as it’s shown up over the course of the past month, so I won’t try. Instead, let me just say thanks to incredible amount of participants who contributed this year.
All told, between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31, 612 people added their picks to the proceedings, compared to 388 in last year’s poll. Considering how much that number blew my mind on Jan. 1, 2016, I’m sure you can imagine how I feel about adding another 200-plus lists to the pot. In short, I’m astounded, deeply humbled and so, so, so grateful. I feel like we got enough of a sampling this year to give a genuinely representative showing for where people’s heads have been at, so thank you if you were a part of it.
Thank you as well as always to Slevin for running the poll’s back end and tabulating the results. As ever, the weighting system is one in which a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. You’ll find that list (plus some honorable mentions) below, followed by the raw-vote tally.
And after the jump, as has become the tradition, are the full lists of everyone who submitted, alphabetized by name. I’m in there too. It’s a huge amount to wade through, and even if you thought you heard everything in 2016, it should be more than enough to keep you busy for the next year.
One last note: I’m no statistician. Please allow for these numbers to change over the next couple days on some small level.
Top 20 of 2016 — Weighted Results
1. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh (375 points)
2. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow (368)
3. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree (324)
4. Asteroid, III (302)
5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil (295)
6. Gozu, Revival (274)
7. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires (253)
8. King Buffalo, Orion (244)
9. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (238)
10. Conan, Revengeance (232)
11. Cough, Still They Pray (228)
12. Holy Grove, Holy Grove (218)
13. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (213)
14. Truckfighters, V (206)
15. Blood Ceremony, Lord of Misrule (200)
16. Khemmis, Hunted (192)
16. Red Fang, Only Ghosts (192)
17. Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows (181)
18. Witchcraft, Nucleus (174)
19. Opeth, Sorceress (173)
20. Church of Misery, And then there Were None (159)
Honorable mention to:
Causa Sui, Return to Sky (157)
Goatess, II: Purgatory Under New Management (157)
Black Mountain, IV (148)
Mos Generator, Abyssinia (144)
Wretch, Wretch (140)
Look at those tallies for number one and two. That race was close all month. Wo Fat kept out front for the most part, but Greenleaf kept it interesting and Elephant Tree’s debut snuck in there at third, which I love to see, both because it’s their first album and because that record was indeed so great. King Buffalo, another debut, also made the top 10, underscoring those two as bands to watch, and though Brant Bjork, Conan, Asteroid, Neurosis, Gozu and Mars Red Sky might be more expected names, they still certainly delivered excellent records, so again, nothing to fight with here. Things flesh out a bit in the 10-20 range, but I don’t think there’s one album on this list you could call is “miss.”
Top 20 of 2016 — Raw Votes
1. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh (109)
2. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow (92)
3. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil (87)
4. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree (82)
5. Asteroid, III (80)
6. Gozu, Revival (76)
7. Conan, Revengeance (73)
8. Cough, Still They Pray (70)
9. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (68)
10. King Buffalo, Orion (67)
11. Truckfighters, V (62)
12. Red Fang, Only Ghosts (61)
13. Khemmis, Hunted (60)
14. Blood Ceremony, Lord of Misrule (59)
14. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (59)
15. Holy Grove, Holy Grove (58)
16. Church of Misery, And then there Were None (53)
17. Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows (49)
17. Witchcraft, Nucleus (49)
18. Opeth, Sorceress (47)
19. Mos Generator, Abyssinia (45)
20. Black Mountain, IV (44)
20. Causa Sui, Return to Sky (44)
20. Wretch, Wretch (44)
Honorable mention to:
Goatess, II: Purgatory Under New Management (43)
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light (43)
Geezer, Geezer (41)
Crowbar, The Serpent Only Lies (41)
Gojira, Magma (37)
Slomatics, Future Echo Returns (36)
Graves at Sea, The Curse that Is… (35)
Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy (33)
Beastmaker, Lusus Naturae (32)
Vokonis, Olde One Ascending (31)
Left a few more honorable mentions in the raw-vote count, just for fun and so you could get more of a feel beyond the top 20 itself, which you’ll notice has a couple ties in it as the raw votes usually do and reorganizes a bit from the weighted results. One and two remain the same, however, and in the same order, and you’ll see Wo Fat was the only album that scored more than 100 votes on its own. As a whole, there were over 2,400 separate entries for albums this year, which is by far the most spread out that the voting has ever been. Frankly, with so many people involved and such a variety of stuff being voted on, I’m amazed anyone managed to agree on anything at all, but of course they did and once again a stellar list is the result.
Well, Happy New Year.
Before I go, thanks again to Slevin for the work put into running the back end of this site and this poll particularly. I show up with the finish lists, but it’s his code that makes it happen, and his efforts are appreciated more than I can say. Dude has never asked me for anything in the nearly eight years I’ve been a constant pain in his ass.
After the jump, you’ll find everybody’s list, alphabetized by name. Please enjoy browsing. I hope you find something awesome, because there’s certainly plenty in there that qualifies, and if you see something that looks like it appears often enough that it should be included in one or both of the counts above, let me know in the comments.
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, Neurosis‘ Fires 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Che, Vista 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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 28th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Conan‘s third album has taken them around the world. They’ve done Europe, North America, Australia. Have they been to Japan yet? If not, they’re sure to go at some point, and early 2016’s Revengeance (review here) is a powerful vehicle to propel them, showcasing the raw assault that’s always been and one suspects will always be at the core of their sound while also emphasizing growth within their aesthetic that’s an underrated but ever-present facet of what they do. They’ve got a good track record by now of releases in even years, so I wouldn’t necessarily expect to hear something new from them in 2017 at least in terms of a complete LP — though one never knows — but when they get around to their fourth outing, look out.
They’ll continue to support Revengeance into the New Year, as the PR wire brings word of another European run, this one headlining alongside Downfall of Gaia, Hark and High Fighter. Dig it:
CONAN – To Tour Europe In March 2017!
England’s heaviest and finest doom export CONAN never stands still. After their 3rd successful studio release ‘Revengeance’ (2016, Napalm Records), it seems the 3-piece band is constantly touring the world, and for a good reason, already left their stamp in nowadays doom and metal scene. Now CONAN have announced an extensive European headlining tour for March 2017! They will be joined by special guests DOWNFALL OF GAIA, Welsh progressive-power-sludge band HARK as well as Hamburg’s finest sludge, heavy stoner and doom outfit HIGH FIGHTER!
“We are looking forward to getting on the road again to cast forth a swarm of riffs at mainland Europe! Allied with our friends in Hark, Downfall of Gaia and High Fighter we will defeat all of your end of level bosses.“ CONAN comments about the upcoming tour.
A tour steamroller which will indeed make every doom heart and beyond its genre beat faster. Make sure to catch this exciting and heavy band package live and on the following dates!
CONAN, DOWNFALL OF GAIA, HARK & HIGH FIGHTER LIVE: 08.03.2017 DE, Wiesbaden – Schlachthof 09.03.2017 DE, Weinheim – Café Central 10.03.2017 CZ, Prague – 007 11.03.2017 PL, Warsaw – Poglos 12.03.2017 DE, Dresden – Puschkin 13.03.2017 DE, München – Feierwerk 14.03.2017 HU, Budapest – Durer Kert 15.03.2017 AT, Vienna – Arena 16.03.2017 CH, Olten – Coq D’Or 17.03.2017 FR, Lyon – TBA 18.03.2017 ESP, Barcelona – TBA 19.03.2017 ESP, Madrid – Caracol 20.03.2017 FR, Toulouse – Rex 21.03.2017 FR, Nantes – Le Ferrailleur 22.03.2017 FR, Paris – Boule Noire 23.03.2017 NL, Rotterdam – Baroeg 24.03.2017 DE, Köln – MTC 25.03.2017 BE, Brussel – Magasin 4 26.03.2017 NL, Arnhem – Willemeen
As much as that kind of thing can be, the flight over had been a joy. By that I mean I slept. Driving past awesome trees and Euro-looking buildings en route, I got into Oslo and to the hotel in time to crash for a couple more hours before the first night of Høstsabbat kicked off at the Arena Vulkan. My first time here, my first time there, but the impression was immediately positive.
Høstsabbat is held across two stages in the Arena Vulkan, which is the Norwegian word for “volcano.” The Vulkan itself is upstairs. A sizable spot. High-ceiling, well lit (when Bong weren’t playing), great sound, bar off to the side. Downstairs is the Pokalen; a smaller performance space but with bar seating, tvs playing the fest schedule on a loop and a mellow vibe. Also great sound. The whole venue is tucked away on a side-street with an international market across the way filled with fish, meat, cheeses, bread, beer, coffee, tea, restaurants, and there are tables outside for smokers or those who might just want to catch a breath. All is immaculately clean — until beer is spilled on it, of course — and welcoming.
The first of the two nights comprised a seemingly manageable six acts, each with an hour set allotted, alternating between the stages downstairs and upstairs, playing one at a time. I won’t lie: by the time Conan were going on to headline, I was falling asleep sitting on the barricade in the photo pit, but for seeing them and Bong, as well as bands I’ve never caught before in Day of the Jackalope, MaidaVale, Cult of Occult and Wobbler, the evening was a joy for its variety and for the level of performance each band brought to the stage, whichever stage they happened to be on.
I’m thankful to be here. Here’s how it went down:
Day of the Jackalope
Earlier this year, Oslo natives Day of the Jackalope released their self-titled debut EP on 12″ vinyl. To open Høstsabbat on the Pokalen stage, they would play all five songs from it — “Waste,” “PTSD,” “Profiteer,” “Take it Back” and “New Lies” — as well as a cover of Jimi Hendrix‘s “Manic Depression” and several others that I’ll assume were new. Their sound was a heavy boogie blues rock, and depending on the moment one could hear a strong influence from self-titled-era Clutch with some of Orange Goblin‘s gruffness thrown in, particularly in the vocals of Anders Hellestveit, joined in the band by guitarist Jens Andreas Storaker (also one of the organizers of the fest), bassist Lars Brodal and drummer Bård Sigurdson. They made a highlight of “The Salvager,” broke out a shaker for “PTSD” — had to wonder if there was a comment there — and some cowbell for “Agitate (Vaskebrett)” and pulled in a solid early crowd to start the day off with a raucous and weighted groove.
My first encounter with Wobbler came just last month when they were announced as the final addition to the lineup for the fest. However, upon checking them out, they were immediately one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing. The Hønefoss five-piece dug immediately into lush classic-style prog, marked out by the keyboards and synth work of Lars Fredrik Frøislie. The risk with a style like theirs presented in a live setting is it can feel staid if the band doesn’t keep a focus on delivery — all of a sudden, you’re just watching dudes noodle — but Wobbler avoided the issue entirely and had a vibrant performance, with vocalist/guitarist Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo providing a frontman presence backed by the lead work of guitarist Geir Marius Bergom Halleland and given a dynamic foundation from bassist Kristian Karl Hultgren and drummer Martin Nordrum Kneppen. Their material — still largely unknown to me, though they made a compelling argument for purchasing both their albums downstairs in the merch section; if I had any krone, I would have — was fluid and at times gorgeous, but didn’t necessarily give up thrust for indulgence, thereby striking a rare balance between progressive and heavy rock.
Cult of Occult
Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, French foursome Cult of Occult made ready to unleash a vision of sludge so extreme it bordered on the grotesque. Primal. Brutal. All that fun stuff. They’d have the biggest crowd of the night for the Pokalen stage, and they treated it to nothing less than a bludgeoning, like Bongripper taken to a place of vicious misanthropy. Yup, and they were heavy too. Deadlight Entertainment put out their third album, Five Degrees of Insanity, in 2015, and from it, “Alcoholic” was recognizable for its resounding “fuck you all” chorus during which the crowd did indeed get flipped off from the stage. They played pretty much in the dark, at least at the beginning, and that felt about right for the hate-laced filth on offer in their sound, the sole communication with the audience coming in raised beer cups and near the end when drummer Rudy was the only one left on stage — they deteriorated their set-finale, departing the stage one at a time, vocals, guitar, then bass, to leave the drums as last to go — and he waved the cheering crowd on, fists pumping in the air in slow motion to his crashes. There’s an element of spectacle there, even if they’d never admit it, but in their tones, screams, lumber and push, they were righteous and unrepentant in their delivery. Not really where my head is at, but hard not to respect what they were doing and the grueling intensity with which they were doing it.
I know I’ve seen UK dronelords Bong before at Roadburn 2010, but that was six years and probably that many lineups ago for the band, whose prolific ritualizing continues to yield immersive fruit and whose live incarnation as a trio on the Vulkan stage at Høstsabbat had to be one of the most tonally claustrophobic performances I’ve ever witnessed. And that’s not a small room to make it feel like the walls are closing in. After trying to take pictures of them in the dark, I went and poured myself a cup of much-appreciated free water at the bar and watched as the ripples created by their sheer volume and low-end frequencies danced in a circle of geometric patterning that looked like the alien communication it truly was. With guitarist Mike Vest starting out the show by taking a violin bow to his guitar, bassist David Terry dramatically quoting Lovecraft or something like it and adding throat-singing chants and Conan drummer Rich Lewis filling in on drums, Bong were a litmus test for how much assault earplugs could actually take. Downstairs, between bands at the Pokalen, they played Parliament, which was an enjoyable irony, but after catching my breath and making sure my head wasn’t going to explode, I was back up to watch Bong again, their slogging sound just too much the soundtrack for my jetlag to be missed any more than medically necessary.
As time has gone on and the heavy rock underground has kind of moved past the hey-let’s-pretend-it’s-1972 ethic of vintage worship — at least for the most part — the impetus has been toward blending the classic and the modern, so that clarity of sound and tone don’t need to be sacrificed to tap into an essential swing. Swedish four-piece MaidaVale arrive at this moment and make themselves right at home. Their debut album, Tales of the Wicked West, came out last month on The Sign Records, and from it they plucked the tracks “(If You Want the Smoke) Be the Fire,” “Dirty War” and “Standby Swing,” among others. The swing, by the way, was not at all on standby. It was front and center and thrust forward by the bass and drums as vocalist Matilda Roth met it head-on, dancing and soulfully pushing her voice to its limits as the lineup of Linn Johannesson, Sofia Ström and Johanna Hansson behind her left no question as to how a group who just released their first album might come to headline the night on the Pokalen stage. The songs were fluid, the bounce in the drums refreshing, and the tones warm and classic-feeling, again, without tapping directly into retroism. As they belted out “Dirty War” late in the set, they sounded very much like a group at the beginning of a growth process, but their stage presence was formidable all the same and the sense one got was that their progression will only make it more so as time goes on. Need to check out that album, is the bottom line.
Five bands and five distinct looks at different kinds of heavy at Høstsabbat, and then suddenly it was time for Conan to come on and — as they will — destroy everything in their path. By the time they went on at midnight, I was hours past dead on my feet, but to see “Thunderhoof” into “Battle in the Swamp?” Oh yes, easily worth it. You can sleep anytime. Conan don’t just happen every day — or at least not in the same city. That was actually the most striking impression. It’s been a little more than a year since I last saw them, they’ve gotten even tighter with the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis, bassist/vocalist Chris Fielding and the aforementioned Rich Lewis on drums. The stage dynamic between the three has been (war)hammered out and they were absolutely on fire, Lewis adding some of his own flourish to the gallop of “Gravity Chasm.” As a unit, all pro. I was also struck by what seemed to be an emergent YOB influence from Davis in his vocals. As Fielding has come to handle lower-register growling parts, Davis‘ exploration of cleaner singing has a tinge of Mike Scheidt to it that’s somewhat unexpected, but fits well repurposed into the shouting context of “Hawk as Weapon.” They were locked in in such a way as to make me think that their next album will be something really special. I won’t say a bad word about early 2016’s Revengeance (review here), but Conan made it plain to see they’re more than ready to move forward to their next vista of smoldering landscapes during this earned-through-devastation headlining set, and I’ll look forward to when they get there. Until then, “Total Conquest” never sounded more apt a title.
Night Two kicks off in a couple hours, so I gotta get ready. Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 24th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
In October, just as an ultra-busy Fall festival season begins to wind down so everyone can go back and record new albums, Helsinki venue Korjaamo will play host to Blowup Vol. 2. With the likes of Conan, Monolord, Lucifer and native Finnish acts like Skepticism, Oranssi Pazuzu, Lord Vicar, Atomikylä, Albinö Rhino and Morbid Evils, the broad and often bizarre spectrum of the country’s heavy scene is well represented, and those selected from outside Finland’s borders show a keen curation process at work.
The fest is set for Oct. 14 and 15, and will also feature a live-scored cinematic showing of 1967’s banned documentary, Titicut Follies, about a patient in a mental hospital in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, which by amazing coincidence is the next town over from where I live. Go figure.
The final lineup and show info came down the PR wire:
Blowup Vol. 2
October 14-15 Korjaamo Töölönkatu 51 a-b, 00250 Helsinki
BlowUp Vol. 2 is taking place 14 -15 October 2016 in Helsinki, Finland. The venue is Korjaamo Culture Factory, one of the largest independent art centres in the Nordic countries. Korjaamo was founded in an old tram depot in Töölö in 2004, and now hosts a concert venue as well as six smaller creative spaces for meetings and seminars plus movie theatre. The Vaunuhalli building is also home to Helsinki City Museum’s Tram Museum.
Blowup Vol. 2 also offers the cinematic art. Titicut Follies is directed by Frederick Wiseman documentary in 1967, which follows the lives of Massachusetts Bridgewater inmate in a mental hospital. Although the movie was awarded with freshly festivals in Germany and Italy, the United States, it crashed into censorship. Titicut Follies was shown to the public for the first time only in 1992. At Blowup Vol 2 it is presented in the early evening on Friday, 14 October.
Titicut Follies screen will be accompanied by Veli-Matti O. “Heap” Äijälän and Markku Leinonen, duo that made new music for the movie, which will necessarily be heard a second time.
Høstsabbat 2016 is set for Sept. 16 and 17 at Vulkan Arena in Oslo, Norway. Already confirmed at the top of the current bill are Conan and Truckfighters, and newly announced as joining are UK drone improvisationalists Bong, Swedish heavy psych rockers Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus, French blackened metallers Cult of Occult and native Norwegian heavy rockers Day of the Jackalope. That’s a pretty wide spectrum for a single round of fest additions to cover, but as Høstsabbat has grown over the past couple years, it’s only broadened its stylistic reach, though it seems fair to use “heavy” as a kind of universally applicable umbrella for what’s on offer.
To wit, the full lineup and new band announcements below:
September 16 – September 17 Vulkan Arena Vulkan 26, 0175 Oslo, Norway
Conan Truckfighters BONG Siena Root Cult of Occult Jeremy Irons & the Ratgang Malibus Kollwitz Mammoth Storm Slomatics Reptile Master WILD ROCKET MaidaVale Day of the Jackalope
It’s been a long time coming, but we’re finally set to announce four new acts for this years edition of Høstsabbat.
First out, and for the first time in Norway, the British masters of droning doom; BONG. They’re back after a brief hiatus and returning in their original state as a power trio.
Solemn in its delivery and frightening in its implications, as masters of mesmeric drone, freeing listeners from the increasingly unfamiliar material world and mercifully trapping them in the weightlessness of Bong’s sonic void.
Expect the same Amon Duul, Ash Ra Temple Improvisational basslines, glacial tempo and crushing guitar fuzz drone tones.
Cult of Occult
Concealed from the view of the moribund mass of humanity, hidden in the darkness of the gates of Hell, waiting to spread the evil sound of the extermination of life is the most powerful and misanthropic force; Cult of Occult.
Fed by hatred, loudness and alcohol, the four headed monster of Apocalypse will destroy everything on its way with its unwavering wall of sound. Like the scream of Satan himself, the rising trio Cult of Occult, will make another first time appearance in the North.
Jeremy Irons & the Ratgang Malibus
From our beloved neighbor in the East, another Ratgang has emerged from its extremely vibrant scene. Jeremy Irons & the Ratgang Malibus rides the astral wave of psychedelic-progressive-desert rock, firmly rooted in the 70’s.
This band is the musical, northwest passage between classic rock and the unholy spirit of Pink Floyd.
They have been around, brimming in the underground for quite some time. Releasing albums on Transubstans and Small Stone Records, playing festivals such as Freak Valley and Desertfest, we’re surely in for a treat at Høstsabbat.
Day of the Jackalope
The last year, Day of the Jackalope has become a name on everyone’s lips, who’s following the underground scene in Norway. Filled with energy and groove, fusing old school 70’s bluesy rock ‘n’ roll with modern stoner rock, Day of the Jackalope are ready to get it on. Having existed for years with changing lineups in various rehearsal spaces, the band is now finally complete, the debut EP is out to rave reviews, and Day of the Jackalope is hitting the stage. Taking inspiration from bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Clutch, Church of Misery and the ever imminent collapse of human civilization, Day of the Jackalope invites you into their universe. It is a fuzzy and warm place of dark and confusing lyrical landscapes, screaming guitars and thumping rhythms.