Indianapolis doomers Apostle of Solitude are set to hit the road at the end of this month to support their 2014 release, Of Woe and Wounds (review here). That record, released as their first on Cruz del Sur and their third overall full-length, is available on CD or on vinyl with bonus tracks, and among the shows the four-piece will play on this run is the Brooklyn release party for the just-reviewed Kings Destroy album, at which Elder and Clamfight will also take part, Clamfight also playing the Philly gig the following evening. Come to think of it, just about everywhere Apostle of Solitude are headed, they’re finding welcome among the badass local contingent, whether that’s Foehammer in D.C., Argus in Pittsburgh, or Eldemur Krimm in Maine.
Should be some good shows. I’ll be at the Vitus Bar one and am looking forward to seeing the band again. I still have the two shirts I bought last time they came through NYC and played Ace of Clubs. Could use an update to the wardrobe I guess, if they’ve got stuff for the new album.
Dates and info off the PR wire:
APOSTLE OF SOLITUDE Announce U.S. Spring Tour Dates
U.S. Doomsters APOSTLE OF SOLITUDE have announced U.S. Spring Tour 2015 dates. The upcoming gigs are as follows.
04/30 @ The Foundary in Lakewood (Cleveland), OH with Dead East Garden, and Thunderchief, and Sweaty Mammoth, and Sleeplord 05/01 @ TBA in Rochester, NY with Orodruin 05/02 @ Jabber Jaws in Allentown, PA with Krosis, Buried at Dawn, Father of Sin, Cryptid, and P.O.W.W.O.W. 05/03 @ Geno’s in Portland, ME with Eldemur Krimm 05/04 @ O’Brien’s in Allston, MA with The Modern Voice and Cemetery Dave 05/05 @ St. Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, NY with Elder, Kings Destroy, and Clamfight 05/06 @ Legendary Dobbs in Philadelphia, PA with Clamfight and Prehistoric War 05/07 @ The Pinch in Washington, D.C. with Fortress and Foehammer 05/08 @ The Smiling Moose in Pittsburgh, PA with Argus and Brimstone Coven 05/09 @ Goodfellas in McMechen, WV with Doctor Smoke and Null Result
The band is touring in support of Cruz Del Sur Music release Of Woe and Wounds, which is streaming in its entirety and available for digital and vinyl purchase here.
Of Woe and Wounds can also be purchased on CD and vinyl formats here.
APOSTLE OF SOLITUDE’s Of Woe and Wounds will rank among the heaviest album of 2014. From the 7-minute opener “Blackest of Times” to the ending “Luna,” APOSTLE OF SOLITUDE deliver an incredible performance that gives full sense to the sometimes-abused term “DOOM”. Mastered by Tony Reed (producer of last SAINT VITUS’ album “Lillie: F-65”), this album confirms APOSTLE OF SOLITUDE as a versatile, multi-dimensional doom band that offers the most Sabbath-inspired sound around these days, blended with personal, oppressive yet dynamic atmospheres such as those found in “Push Mortal Coil” or “Whore’s Wings” (re-recorded hits from their 2012’s demo), or the long and haunting “Die Vicar Die”.
The album also features the extraordinary work of talented Artist David Csicsely known for his illustrations of Mournful Congregation, Solitude Aeternus, Wheel, Flight of Sleipnir releases. The album was recorded by Mike Bridavsky at Russian) in Bloomington, IN and later mastered by Tony Reed (SAINT VITUS’ “Lillie: F-65). DOOM has never been so HEAVY! The vinyl version will contain two bonus live tracks.
Distance and the Cold Heart Blackest of Times Whore’s Wings Lamentations of a Broken Man Die Vicar Die Push Mortal Coil This Mania Siren Luna Distance and the Cold Heart (reprise) The Messenger – Live (VINYL BONUS TRACK) Sincerest Misery – Live (VINYL BONUS TRACK)
Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by JJ Koczan
Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.
I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.
Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.
The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.
A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.
Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.
His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”
An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.
I initially made this list without Alunah‘s excellent third album and Napalm Records, but when it came down to it, not having the UK four-piece on here haunted me to the point where I had to come back in and swap them out with somebody else. Just couldn’t live with myself for not giving this record its due, which, to be frank, I’m still not since it should be higher on the list than it is. At least it’s here though, so the mistake is somewhat corrected.
The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.
Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.
Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.
Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.
Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.
Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.
For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.
You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.
Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.
Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.
14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower
Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.
An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.
What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.
My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which Graham, Alley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow Season, The Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.
10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute
Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.
Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew Giacumakis — Fu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”
Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.
Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.
A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.
What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.
A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angelsthat brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.
In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis‘ Skyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.
Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.
Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.
Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend — YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.
First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.
A few other honorable mentions:
Mothership, Mothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.
Sólstafir, Ótta — They were originally on the list proper but had to be moved to make room for Alunah. I didn’t really get to know this record in 2014 anyway.
Ice Dragon, Seeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.
Truckfighters, Universe — I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.
Steak, Slab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.
Godflesh, A World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.
Thou, Heathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.
Corrosion of Conformity, IX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.
Spidergawd, Spidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.
Slomatics, Estron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.
Electric Wizard, Time to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.
Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.
The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.
Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.
More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.
And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.
Posted in Reviews on August 27th, 2013 by JJ Koczan
It’s hard to discern just what Pennsylvania traditional doom metallers Argus intend with the title of their third album, Beyond the Martyrs. On a superficial level, one doesn’t think of a martyr as a place or a level of development to move past, but more than that, what’s supposed to be beyond them? What comes after that? Death? Devastation? Peace? Paradise? Which martyrs are the five-piece talking about? Is it a Christ figure? The al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades? The closing title-track — which arrives eighth on the 42-minute Cruz del Sur LP with cover art by Brad Moore — is instrumental, so that’s not much help in terms of answering the questions of theme. Tracks prior like “No Peace Beyond the Line” and “Trinity,” “Cast out all Raging Spirits” and opener “By Endurance We Conquer” could be read to have elements of religious conflict to them — certainly conflict, anyway — but if there’s a narrative to Beyond the Martyrs, it’s not one as stated by the band so much as one that relies on the listener to plot its course. Maybe that’s on purpose. As a band, Argus seem much more interested in making solid and conscious use of the dual guitars of Jason Mucio and Erik Johnson and one of traditional metal’s most powerful belt-it-out voices in former Penance vocalist Brian “Butch” Balich, who delivers a standout performance here no less righteous than that on 2011’s Boldly Stride the Doomed(discussed here) and 2009’s self-titled debut (review here). Balich is a big part of carrying across the dramas of Beyond the Martyrs— as a standalone frontman should be — and the songs he’s working on top of set a memorable foundation from which to soar as he and a bevvy of guitar solos please, bassist Andy Ramage and drummer Kevin Latchaw hammering out straightforward structures to make “No Peace Beyond the Line,” “Trinity” and “Cast out all Raging Spirits” among the album’s several highlights. That is to say, Argus isn’t just about its singer, despite his considerable presence within these tracks, and Beyond the Martyrsfinds a progressive balance between metal and doom that moves fluidly to cast its own personality somewhere between the two.
That process begins immediately with the deceptively catchy chorus of “By Endurance We Conquer.” Latchaw double-times it on his hi-hat to build up tension during the verse before the hook opens up. I don’t know whether it’s because of the arching militaristic bombast of the song or if it’s just the way the epic feel is crafted, but on first impression, “By Endurance We Conquer” stands out more for its voracious chestbeating and listing of virtues than for the delivery of the title line, but after a couple times through, the opener more than justifies its presence at the fore of Beyond the Martyrs, acting as something of a vanguard for the rest of the album to come. Already much of the record’s ethic is established: Balich carries a verse into a memorable refrain and the guitars answer back with accomplished solos and driving riffs underscored by strong, powerful heavy metal rhythms. As far as songwriting methodologies go, you could do a lot worse. “No Peace Beyond the Line” takes more time to unfold, but winds up in a fist-pump chug for its verse as the vocals tease the song’s greater hook still to come in a sort of bridge part that early on substitutes for an actual chorus. They cycle through twice before the guitar solo takes hold, and though it’s not until the last minute that they arrive, it’s the repetitions of “There is no/There is no/There is no peace beyond the line” that ultimately give the song one of Beyond theMartyrs‘ most lasting impressions, the vocals doing a layered call and response to deliver the title and finish with a nailed-it adrenaline-push yell. I don’t know where the line is, but there’s no peace beyond it. The issue is settled. After such a strong opening duo, some comedown is inevitable, but “The Hands of Time are Bleeding” fights redundancy by upping the doom in its slower early going and picking up to an effective linear buildin both pace and overall rush. A stop at 3:09 is a startling transition, but I’d guess that was probably the idea, and the solo that continues after stands out all the more for it. Vocals return toward the end, and though the results aren’t quite as instantly engaging as with “No Peace Beyond the Line,” the change in mood is effective leading to “Trinity” which is arguably the darkest moment on the album.
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 15th, 2013 by JJ Koczan
I’m not sure what exactly lies “beyond the martyrs,” but I look forward to finding out when the third album from Pennsylvania doom merchants Argus drops. Cruz del Sur will release Beyond the Martyrson Oct. 1 in North America, and as their last outing, 2011’s Boldly Stride the Doomed(discussed here) was such a classic-tinged thriller, it’s a date you might want to write down. Get a pencil. I’ll wait.
ARGUS: Beyond the Martyrs Coming This October on Cruz Del Sur Music
Cruz Del Sur Music will release Beyond the Martyrs, from US doom metal outfit ARGUS, on October 1st in North America and October 7th release in the UK.
Beyond the Martyrs starts where their 2011’s release Boldly Stride the Doomed had left us…at the Ruins of Ouroboros. In between these two releases ARGUS has tested its strength and valor in several live shows both in their homeland and in Europe, receiving high praises from fans and from the record industry. Although a sense of impending fate marks again their compositions, the characteristic doom metal elements which were a distinguished trademark of ARGUS’ past releases have now given way to what is primarily to a genuine heavy metal approach, its nature rooted in the most classic environment of Heavy Metal tradition.
1. By Endurance We Conquer 2. No Peace Beyond The Line 3. The Hands of Time Are Bleeding 4. Trinity 5. Four Candles Burning 6. The Coward’s Path 7. Cast Out All Raging Spirits 8. Beyond The Martyrs
ARGUS’ third album is sure to force metal heads everywhere to raise horn-crested fists to the sky. Beyond the Martyrs contains the hallmarks of their previous works – twin guitars, soaring vocals, and a driving rhythm section; it is heavy, melodic, epic, and brooding all at once. After their successful shows at festivals such as Hammer of Doom in 2011 and Dublin Doom Days in 2012, the band will hit again the European soil with a proper tour in October 2013 in order to promote Beyond the Martyrs.
Butch Balich – vocals
Jason Mucio – guitar
Erik Johnson – guitar
Andy Ramage – bass
Kevin Latchaw – drums
Having done work for the likes of Penance, Place of Skulls, Sixty Watt Shaman, Züül and a host of others over the last 20-plus years, artist Brad Moore is known for a signature, definitively-metal style that nonetheless largely defies the black and white and mostly black convention of metal in favor of rich colors and textures. His work on Pennsylvania classic doomers Argus‘ two albums to date — 2009’s Argus and 2011’s Boldly Stride the Doomed — has proven particularly distinct.
As such, when Argus unveiled the art yesterday for the forthcoming third full-length, Beyond the Martyrs, I hit up Moore on the quick to see if he could give some insight on what went into painting it and what inspired the tone and complexity of the piece, which you can see below.
Click the image to enlarge, and special thanks to Moore for his input:
Argus, Beyond the Martyrs front cover
When Argus approached me about painting the artwork for their debut LP, we all agreed we wanted to sidestep the “warriors with swords” thing, and that gory art wouldn’t adequately complement the style of music and subject matter the band were striving to create. We all felt a “Lovecraftian” approach was best, to framework doomy metal that has a mystery to its feel. I created the creature that adorns the Argus covers (at least, the ones I had a hand in) to be the mascot, and though you’ll see it does not utilize any of Lovecraft‘s personal motifs (tentacles, amorphous blob-like gods, etc.), the whole effect is like those Lovecraft paperbacks. I deliberately use unusual color schemes for Argus, as I feel that way too many doom/death metal bands use a grey/black monotone approach that gives the scene, as a whole, a generic feel. I did paint their second LP, Boldly Stride the Doomed, in a very monochromatic style, to completely separate the two recordings, as Boldly is a much darker album than the self titled debut.
Getting to the newest Argus effort, Beyond the Martyrs, the cover painting is titled “Alien Gateway to the Gallery of the Martyrs” precisely because the band wanted to have an “otherworldly” atmosphere to the proceedings, and to have the artwork reflect a dark-but-with-colors feel. In essence; not the near over-the-top colors of the first one, but having toned-down colors to maintain the doom, but suggest a correlation of the two albums that signifies the forward growth of the band. This Argus outing will be their most aggressive! I, for one, am happiest with this new artwork the most, both in mood, and technical achievement.
Argus will release Beyond the Martyrson Oct. 1 in the US and Oct. 4 in Europe on Cruz Del Sur. More on the album to come.
At the end of last year, when I made my Top Five Records I Didn’t Hear in 2011 list, I said that hopefully I’d run into Pittsburgh trad doom merchants Argus at a show and be able to buy their second full-length, Boldly Stride the Doomed, from them directly. That very thing happened at Days of the Doomed II in Wisconsin, and I suddenly felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. Until I actually put the record on. Then the weight — the formidable tonnage of Argus‘ hyper-refined doomly classicism — was right back where it started and then some.
Every time I hit the short bass solo from Andy Ramage in “Wolves of Dusk,” I get a chill up my spine, and Boldly Stride the Doomed is filled with those little moments, flourishes here and there that stand out from the already strong performances. John Mucio and Erik Johnson‘s guitars are full of them, and Butch Balich proves on “The Ladder” alone why he’s one of the most underrated vocalists in doom, American or otherwise. The former Penance singer is a focal point throughout the 10 tracks, and rightly so, but the band behind him (and as regards the mix, the vocals are very much at the fore) more than stands up, whether its the guitar solos (who’s playing what is in the liner notes) or drummer Kevin Latchaw‘s footwork driving the rhythm of “Fading Silver Light.”
Piano adds grandeur to “42-7-29” and the recent podcast inclusion “Pieces of Your Smile,” at well over 11 minutes, is epic metal without the pomposity. Trouble and Candlemass influences persist, but Argus is very quickly becoming their own band sonically, and it’s not just Balich, who proved his mettle long ago. It’s the whole band, working as a band, that makes Boldly Stride the Doomed land with such heavy feet. As madly catchy as cuts like “Devils, Devils” were from the first record, I wouldn’t trade “A Curse on the World” or “Durendal” for anything.
So yeah, lesson learned. Don’t let another Argus album slip when it comes down the line for review. Hopefully I get the chance to put that wisdom to good use before too long. Until then, if you haven’t heard the album yet, here’s “Durendal,” just because it happens to be the song I have on at the moment:
Primo makers of Midwestern mischief, it’s nonetheless been nearly four-friggin’ years since the last Bible of the Devil album came out, so the arrival of For the Love of Thugs and Fools is well received. The Chicago four-piece’s last album, 2008’s Freedom Metal, was a highlight of that year, crisply produced by Sanford Parker and maybe not capturing the band’s live sound — driven ever forward by their dual (also “duel” in the sense that they seem to be in an eternal battle against that which is neither awesome nor about the night) proto-NWOBHM guitars — but still presenting their best collection of songs to date. With For the Love of Thugs and Fools, though, the date just changed.
The album — which, much to my shame, hasn’t been reviewed yet (I said I was deprioritizing digital promos and I meant it); though I did premiere a track — is rawer than was its predecessor, but even so, it’s immediately clear that the foursome of guitarist/vocalists Mark Hoffmann and Nate Perry, bassist Darren Amaya and drummer Greg Spalding put whatever time they actually had apart between touring and releasing splits with Züül, Blade of the Ripper and Winterhawk to good use. For the Love of Thugs and Fools not only matches Freedom Metal punch for punch in having two songs with the word “night” in the title, but it surpasses that album in its more natural feel, the band returning to producer Mike Lust, who helmed some of their earliest recordings.
What’s more, Bible of the Devil hold a special place in Obelisk lore and personally for me for being the first interview I ever posted on this site, so it was an extra pleasure to speak to Hoffmann again about For the Love of Thugs and Fools and what he and the rest of the band has done in the years since issuing Freedom Metal. Same as last time, he wasn’t as much of a talker as some others, but nonetheless friendly and especially open when it came to discussing the band’s ongoing friendship with San Francisco’s Slough Feg, with whom they’ve toured several times over and are planning to release a split 10″. The ongoing theme of the night in Bible of the Devil song titles — as witnessed on “I Know What is Right (In the Night)” and “Night Street” on this album and “Hijack the Night” and “Night Oath” on the last — comes from a running gag between the two acts, and when I brought it up, I could almost hear the smile through the phone along with the prevailing laughter.
So while the following discussion is relatively short, take that as an extension of Bible of the Devil‘s penchant for rock classicism mixed with their no-bullshit ethic — both equally admirable traits. We still found room to talk about the correlation between “Ol’ Girl” from Freedom Metal and “Yer Boy” from For the Love of Thugs and Fools, the band’s changing tour ethic, songwriting methods and ongoing affection for all things Thin and Lizzy.
Full Q&A can be found after the jump. Please enjoy.
Splits with Blade of the Ripper and Züül have somewhat filled the void since 2008’s Freedom Metal was unleashed on an unsuspecting underground, but what the world needs now is some new Bible of the Devil. The hard-rocking Chicago foursome further their love of all things Thin Lizzy and NWOBHM on their sixth album, For the Love of Thugs and Fools, which reunites them with producer Mike Lust (Tight Phantomz), who previously helmed 2003’s Tight Empire.
The record, out via Cruz Del Sur on May 8, roughens up some of the melodic grace of Freedom Metal, but as songs like “Out for Blood” and “Yer Boy” (“When did yer boy come back into town” being the opening line) prove, For the Love of Thugs and Fools continues Bible of the Devil‘s streak of exceptionally well-composed, memorable songs, two of which go so far feature the word “night” in the title. “I Know What is Right (In the Night)” and the closer, “Night Street.” “I Know What is Right (In the Night)” even has a sax solo. Awesome.
Their moments of twin-axe glory are manifold, as are stretches of somehow particularly Chicagoan grit, and as they were the first interview that ever went up on this site, they’ll always be a sentimental favorite. As such, I was thrilled when permission came through for me to host the killer side-B tune, “Anytime” for streaming. You’ll hear the lineup of vocalist/guitarist Mark Hoffman, guitarist/vocalist Nate Perry, bassist Darren Amaya and drummer Greg Spalding proffering their Phil Lynott worship during the verse but coming around to an infectious chorus that couldn’t possibly come from anyone other than Bible of the Devil. Naturally, badass guitar antics abound.
Stream “Anytime” on the player below, and check out the band’s latest tour dates following, courtesy of the PR wire:
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
Veteran Chicago rock ‘n’ roll band Bible of the Devil are set to strike out on the 14-date “In Raw We Trust” tour in support of their forthcoming release, For the Love of Thugs and Fools, due out on May 8 via Cruz Del Sur Music. Tour dates are as follows:
05/04 Madison, WI The Frequency 05/05 Minneapolis, MN Hexagon Bar 05/06 Rapid City, SD Budd Ugly’s 05/08 Omaha, NE The Waiting Room 05/09 Kansas City, MO The Riot Room 05/10 Wichita, KS Barleycorn’s 05/11 Denver, CO 3 Kings Tavern 05/12 Albuquerque, NM Burt’s Tiki Lounge 05/13 Las Cruces, NM The Train Yard (house party) 05/15 San Antonio, TX Nightrocker Live 05/16 Austin, TX Red 7 05/17 New Orleans, LA Siberia 05/18 Memphis, TN Hi-Tone Cafe 05/19 Carbondale, IL PK’s