Across five records and nine fuzz-laden years, Dallas trio Wo Fat have become an institution in Texas heavy rock. Their latest album and second for Small Stone, The Conjuring (review here), is in many ways their strongest release to date, benefiting from the naturally-developed chemistry between guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter, as well as from the self-sufficiency of the band recording at their own studio, Crystal Clear Sound, in Dallas. While their reputation has built steadily since the release of their 2006 debut, The Gathering Dark, and its ’08 follow-up, Psychedelonaut (review here), 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here), on Nasoni, proved a particular breakthrough point, leading to the band’s signing to Small Stone for the next year’s The Black Code (review here), for which they toured in Europe for the first time, making their continental debut at the 2013 Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, the Netherlands (review here) and setting the stage for the triumph to come with The Conjuring and a return trip across the Atlantic, this one marked out by an appearance at last year’s Freak Valley in Germany.
Wo Fat‘s latest release is a document of their set there: Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley will hit the public on March 17. Later this year, the band will also take part in Magnetic Eye Records‘ tribute to Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland [Redux], covering “Gypsy Eyes.”
The Obelisk Questionnaire: Kent Stump
How did you come to do what you do?
Well, what I do is play music and I record music, which is how I make my living – recording music, that is. Music has always been a huge part of my life. Both of my parents are musicians, so it was something that was just ubiquitous and inescapable in our house when I was growing up. Never once in my life did I consider doing anything with my life other than becoming a musician and doing something relating to music, although the place I’m at now is not where I would have thought I would be when I was a teenager, or even when I was in college. My journey to the heavy and the riff is a bit of a circuitous one.
I went to college to study jazz and fully planned on getting out of college and going on to be a jazz musician. While at college, I got turned on to a much wider world of music by so many great people with widely varying tastes. I discovered punk rock and ‘70s funk and African music and all the great ‘70s rock and the ‘80s NY noise scene, and on and on. And most importantly, I really discovered the blues. I had always known a bit about the blues since I was heavily into jazz, but I became much more hip to a lot of blues musicians that I hadn’t previously checked out, and that eventually led me to realize that my whole life I’ve been drawn to music that comes from the blues – rock, funk, etc. That, along with a friend I had that was into all things heavy who got me listening to Sabbath as well as a lot of ‘80s hardcore and metal, led to my desire to make heavy blues music.
When I was in college in Denton, Texas, the music scene at that time was absolutely electric, and the vibe was very open and experimental. Punk rock and funk and metal with a jazz edge were all kind of mixing together and it was a really artistically open-minded vibe at the time, which I think shaped my thinking about music a lot. So eventually in the late ‘90s I discovered bands like Sleep, Fu Manchu, Nebula, Kyuss and all the Man’s Ruin bands and I came to the realization that this is the music, along with the blues, that speaks to me on the most primal level and this is what I want to play.
Describe your first musical memory.
My first musical memory is laying on our living room floor when I was very young, maybe four or five years old, and my dad putting on a record of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. It’s an amazing piece of music and it definitely left an impression on me. I think, if I’m not mistaken, when that piece was premiered in Paris it caused a riot. Stravinsky is pretty hardcore.
Describe your best musical memory to date.
I don’t know if I have just one best musical memory. I’ve got a lot of things that were landmark musical moments in my life though. Getting to play at Roadburn is without a doubt one of the best musical memories for me. Roadburn is such an iconic thing and it was the first show that we played on our first European tour, which was also the first time I had ever been to Europe and it was just kind of a surreal, epiphenal and mindblowing experience. It was amazing to walk into the scene there and see a whole bunch of people that are hardcore fans of the same music I dig. I had never seen that, at least not on that level, before.
You don’t see that kind of thing when it comes to this kind of music in the US. And to be performing at this amazing festival was just awesome, and also a bit nerve-racking at the same time. I remember going to see High on Fire’s set after we played and it was packed and the crowd was just electric and High on Fire sounded better than I’ve ever heard them before. I think they were just vibing on the amazing vibe of the fans. Same with Elder’s set, who I got to see a little later that night. The vibe from the crowd was so intense and Elder kicked ass riding that wave, I think. Amazing day.
I have memories of a lot of transcendental shows that I would put in the great musical memory category. Getting to see Sleep a couple years ago was bad ass. Sometime around 1997 or 1998 I went to SXSW in Austin, before SXSW totally turned into utter crap, and I got to see Fatso Jetson just destroy as well as an amazing showcase that had Fu Manchu and Queens of the Stone Age right before they hit big. There was a whole Man’s Ruin showcase that was killer.
When I was in college I got to see free jazz great Cecil Taylor. That was an absolutely kick ass show. He was just pounding the piano and pieces of the pads inside the piano were flying out as he was playing. And there were maybe 10 people there to see this free jazz icon. So many great shows that have shaped my thinking.
I also have a lot of memories of late nights fueled with alcohol, and other things, and hanging with friends who turned me onto heavy, heavy tunes that I wasn’t previously hip to. Some of these rank up there with the great musical moments to me – sitting on the couch and tripping out to amazing, life-changing jams… These things all are part of my story as a musician and music lover that has brought me to where I am now.
When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?
That’s a tough question. I kinda feel like most my life, my beliefs and likes/interests have been juxtaposed between two opposing worlds. For example, my heavily schooled musical upbringing versus a more primal, less technical, organic approach to playing. Or, being a recording engineer like I am, most of my peers are gearheads focused on the technical aspects of engineering, which I am to a certain extent, but I am far more focused on the musicality of recording and finding ways to make a recording reach you on an emotional level, so I’m not über-obsessed with technical- and gear-related things about recording.
Also in this particular time, my political versus spiritual beliefs, that to me, are completely simpatico, are to most, seemingly at odds with one another.
Where do you feel artistic progression leads?
Ideally artistic progression leads to more artistic progression. Art and music is a neverending journey. I don’t think I’ll ever have arrived at a stopping place artistically because every move forward reveals more things to reach for and directions to consider. That’s the beauty of it. You’re never finished. You can just abandon the quest if you want, but there is always further to go.
How do you define success?
I think it’s being happy and doing what you makes you happy. Despite the fact that financially, life is a struggle for me, I feel like I’ve achieved a good amount of success in the sense that I’m playing music I love and people are digging it, we own a killer studio and my day job involves doing things that are artistic and deal with music and, on top of it all, I’ve got the most amazing wife who I’ve been married to for 18 years.
What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?
On the one hand there’s probably a lot I wish I hadn’t seen, but at the same time, all those experiences contribute to making me who I am, although there are some things that I could probably do without ever seeing that wouldn’t change me too much. One thing that I wish I hadn’t seen is this: The studio that we run is in an industrial area of Dallas and there are a lot of stray dogs that run around in packs in that area. Seeing a stray dog is something I don’t like seeing to begin with because I love dogs and I want to help them all, but we’re full up at my house with dogs. My wife and I already have five dogs so there’s no more room at the inn.
Anyway, one day I saw a little Chihuahua-mix stray being harassed by a couple of big dogs. At first I thought they were playing, but then I realized that that was not the case and I wasn’t able to get to them to break it up before the larger dogs had inflicted a mortal wound on the little guy. It just breaks my heart that I couldn’t help him and it still pains me to this day to think about it. I hate to see the helpless get brutalized by the powerful, which, sadly, happens all around us every day.
Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.
I really wish that I could draw and paint. I would love to be able to create art like Frank Frazetta or Boris Vallejo. I don’t think that will ever happen for me, though, because I don’t have any of those skills. There is, of course, much more music I’d like to create. I’m always wanting to incorporate disparate musical styles and influences together in our music, like Afro-Cuban music, blues, jazz and metal.
Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 2nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
As announced here back in December, Dallas trio Wo Fat will release their new live album, Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley, on March 17. The three-piece, who stood tall in 2014 both on that festival’s stage (and elsewhere) and with their fifth full-length, The Conjuring (review here) on Small Stone, have the vinyl up for preorder now through their Bandcamp, and have announced a host of appearances for the coming months. They’ll play with Elder and Mos Generator for a handful of shows as the two bands make their was through Texas ahead of a slot at the Borderlands Fuzz Fiesta, and in May they’ll take part in the Psycho California festival with Sleep, Pentagram and tons of others. All this ahead of a slot at the Sylak Open Air fest in France, which would seem to hint at more European plans to be announced for the summer.
They sent the following update down the PR wire:
Live Wo Fat record and upcoming spring shows
Upcoming album release and shows in the coming months with Elder, Mos Generator, Sleep, Fireball Ministry, Pentagram and more!
Exciting things are afoot in the Wo Fat world. First of all, we will be releasing Live Juju:Wo Fat at Freak Valley on vinyl on March 17th. This was recorded live at, you guessed it, Freak Valley Festival last May 30th in Germany. It will be black vinyl, which we decided to do exclusively because of the superior sonic quality, and it will include a download card that will have a bonus, previously unreleased jam called Dark Snow. Pre-ordering is open now on our bandcamp page:https://wofat.bandcamp.com/
We’ve also got some exciting gigs coming up this spring including an appearance at Psycho California, which has arguably the best lineup of bands of any festival in the USA this year. Check out the poster. Get more info here:http://www.psychoca.com/
We’ll also be playing the Borderland Fuzz Fiesta in Tucson in February with Fireball Ministry and Mos Generator, among others, as well as doing some shows on the road with Mos Generator on the way to Arizona. Get your tickets for Borderland Fuzz Fiesta here:http://therocktucson.ticketleap.com/borderland-fuzz-fiesta-2015/
And that’s not all! We’ll be playing the 3rd annual Fuzzed Out! Fest in Fort Worth.
Upcoming Shows: 2-18 The Grotto, Fort Worth, TX with Mos Generator, Mothership, Cosmic Trigger’ 2-19 The Lost Well, Austin TX with Mos Generator, Mothership and Duel 2-20 The Low Brow Palace, El Paso, TX with Mos Generator 2-21 Borderland Fuzz Fiesta, The Rock, Tucson, AZ with Fireball Ministry, Mos Generator, and more… 3-13 Silver Dollar, Texarkana, AK with Elder and Mos Generator 3-14 Double Wide, Dallas, TX with Elder, Mos Generator and Blood of the Sun 3-21 Fuzzed Out!, Lola’s, Fort Worth, TX lineup tba 4-25 Club Dada, Dallas, TX with Mothership, Switchblade Jesus and Fuzz Evil 5-17 Psycho California, The Observatory, Costa Mesa, CA headliners: Sleep, Pentagram, Cult of Luna and many more. 8-8 Sylak Open Air Festival, France
Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.
I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.
Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.
The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.
A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.
Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.
His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”
An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.
I initially made this list without Alunah‘s excellent third album and Napalm Records, but when it came down to it, not having the UK four-piece on here haunted me to the point where I had to come back in and swap them out with somebody else. Just couldn’t live with myself for not giving this record its due, which, to be frank, I’m still not since it should be higher on the list than it is. At least it’s here though, so the mistake is somewhat corrected.
The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.
Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.
Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.
Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.
Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.
Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.
For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.
You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.
Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.
Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.
14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower
Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.
An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.
What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.
My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which Graham, Alley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow Season, The Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.
10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute
Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.
Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew Giacumakis — Fu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”
Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.
Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.
A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.
What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.
A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angelsthat brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.
In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis‘ Skyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.
Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.
Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.
Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend – YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.
First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.
A few other honorable mentions:
Mothership, Mothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.
Sólstafir, Ótta — They were originally on the list proper but had to be moved to make room for Alunah. I didn’t really get to know this record in 2014 anyway.
Ice Dragon, Seeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.
Truckfighters, Universe – I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.
Steak, Slab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.
Godflesh, A World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.
Thou, Heathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.
Corrosion of Conformity, IX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.
Spidergawd, Spidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.
Slomatics, Estron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.
Electric Wizard, Time to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.
Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.
The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.
Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.
More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.
And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 4th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
On March 17, Texas riffers Wo Fat will release Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley. Their first official live album, it was recorded earlier this year as the name implies at Germany’s Freak Valley festival, which was part of Wo Fat‘s “Texas Takeover” European tour with Mothership, and is available to preorder now through the Dallas trio’s own Fuzz Lab Records in a limited vinyl pressing of 500 copies.
Guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump of Wo Fat – who’ve already put out one of 2014’s best records in the form of The Conjuring (review here) on Small Stone – offered this comment on the new release and what was clearly a special performance for the band:
“Freak Valley was one of the highlights of what was a pretty smokin’ European tour that we did last spring. It was a transcendent experience for us to be a part of this amazing event with such a killer lineup of bands and the support of so many great fans. We decided to call the album Live Juju partly to try and convey some of the magic that was in the air that day that started out cold and wet and turned into a beautiful sunny spring day not long before our set.”
Preorders for Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley come with an immediate download of “Read the Omens,” which featured in their 40-minute Freak Valley set from The Conjuring. More info on the release follows here, courtesy of the band:
Recorded Live at Freak Valley, Netphen, Germany, May 30, 2014 by Jens Hunecke of Heinen Studios Mixed By Kent Stump at Crystal Clear Sound Mastered by Nolan Brett at Crystal Clear Sound Released by Fuzz Lab Records
The vinyl will include a download immediately of one song and a download of the entire album on the release date.
Track List: 1. The Black Code 2. Read the Omens 3. Bayou Juju 4. Enter the Riffian 5. Sleep of the Black Lotus
Recorded Live at Freak Valley, Netphen, Germany, May 30, 2014 by Jens Hunecke of Heinen Studios Mixed By Kent Stump at Crystal Clear Sound Mastered by Nolan Brett at Crystal Clear Sound Released by Fuzz Lab Records
Posted in audiObelisk on November 11th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Mothership II, the aptly-titled second full-length and Ripple Music debut from Dallas heavy rocking trio Mothership, is available today. You can hear the complete thing on Ripple‘s Bandcamp if you’re so inclined, but given the opportunity to do so, I also wanted to feature a track from the record since it demonstrates so clearly how guitarist/vocalist Kelley Juett, bassist/vocalist Kyle Juett and drummer Judge Smith have progressed since their 2012 self-titled debut (review here), which Ripple also released last year.
If the power trio have moved forward from their first record — and I’ll point to the Floydisms of opener “Celestial Prophet” and later instrumental “Tami Massif” and the masterful use of tempo shifts on “Priestess of the Moon,” the progressive edge of “Holy Massacre” and the grand stoner epic closer “Serpents Throne” (not to be confused with Philadelphia-based instrumental outfit Serpent Throne) as evidence that they have — then it’s evolution hard won. The Juetts and Smith have spent a goodly portion of the last two years road-dogging back and forth across the country, even venturing to Europe for the first time this past summer to play the Freak Valley festival and elsewhere. Their time on tour has fed into their confidence in their performance and their command of songwriting, so that “Astromancer” seems to offer payoff where The Sword never quite did and “Centauromachy” touches on classic metal chugging with the smoothness of tone and atmosphere — Wo Fat guitarist/vocalist KentStump, who also helmed the debut,recorded Mothership II at his band’s Crystal Clear Studios in Dallas — that only heavy rock swagger can provide. And Mothership II is not short on swagger. Whether it’s the swing in Smith‘s crash or the interplay of Kelley‘s shred-ready guitar and Kyle‘s bass, Mothership are locked in and they sound like they know it.
The album is also two-sided both in the vinyl A/B sense and in terms of the songwriting. While “Priestess of the Moon,” “Astromancer” and “Centauromachy” tell stonerly tales of monsters and outer space, Mothership also get down with a fair bit of classic rock sleaze to break things up. Side A’s “Shanghai Surprise” and side B’s “Hot Smoke and Heavy Blues” — not to mention the borderline-creepy CD bonus track “Good Morning Little School Girl” — feed into a dudely heavy rock trope of long-standing. Though “Holy Massacre” doesn’t necessarily represent this lyrical aspect of Mothership II – something I’ll argue works in its favor — the song’s fluidity, natural tonality, live feel and high-octane delivery speak to many of the strengths at work across the album, and that’s not to mention the strength of the hook at play in its chorus. A bluesy chug emerges as it builds to its stomping apex, and Mothership shift tempo so smoothly that before you know it, you’re being carried off to the next movement.
If you haven’t heard it yet, take a listen to “Holy Massacre” below to get a taste for some of Mothership II‘s finest heavy. Hope you enjoy:
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Mothership‘s Mothership II is out now on Ripple Music in Europe and North America. They’ll play their official release show Nov. 21 at Lola‘s Saloon in Ft. Worth, TX. More info at the links.
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 2nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Mothership‘s new album is a scorcher, plain and simple. The Texas natives made waves with their self-titled debut, which got picked up by Ripple for a re-release, but Mothership II is a different beast altogether, and one that trounces its predecessor easily. I’ll have more on the record as we get closer to its newly-announced November release, again through Ripple Music, but for now, take this as notice that the album is one worth looking forward to, and particularly if you dug the first one, something that’s going to make a late addition to your best of the year list.
Details and tracks and art, just off the PR wire:
MOTHERSHIP Reveal Details of Sophomore Album, Mothership II
Ripple Music and Dallas, Texas-based riffers Mothership are excited to finally reveal the details of Mothership’s highly anticipated second release, Mothership II. After months of playing their new tunes to sweaty, ecstatic masses both in Europe and on across the United States, the trio is excited for fans to finally hear the album in its entirety. For the album art, the band chose good friend and incredibly talented artist Zach “EZ” Nelson (Instagram – @ezwheelin) to hand draw his version of the galactic Valkyrie who also appeared in another form on the cover of the band’s debut album. For the album’s engineering, Mothership returned to Kent Stump of Wo Fat, who also lent his magic to the group’s eponymous debut album, at Dallas’ Crystal Clear Studios. Mothership II will be released on single LP gatefold vinyl and on digipack CD.
US: November 11th Europe/UK: November 10th
1. Celestial Prophet 2. Priestess of the Moon 3. Shanghai Surprise 4. Holy Massacre 5. Centauromachy 6. Hot Smoke & Heavy Blues 7. Tamu Massif 8. Astromancer 9. Serpents Throne
The CD will have two bonus songs:
1. Eye of Sphinx 2. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
Posted in audiObelisk on June 30th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’m not sure what prompted Dallas trio Wo Fat to produce an instrumental version of their latest and fifth album, The Conjuring(review here), taking away the vocal work of Kent Stump and Michael Walter to leave just their guitar and drums, respectively, and the bass work of Tim Wilson, but if you want to apply the old stoner rock cliché, it definitely fits: “It’s all about the riffs, man”
That’s been the case, more or less, all along for the heavy fuzz-rocking three-piece, but this instrumental take on The Conjuringbrings into focus more than ever before just how righteous Wo Fat‘s nod is, how fluidly they roll from groove to groove. Even a shorter song like the just-under-seven-minute “Read the Omens” — which in its vocalized incarnation is among the record’s catchiest pieces — works smoothly as an instrumental moving between its riffs. Wo Fat have developed their jammy side particularly over the course of their last two albums, 2012’s The Black Code(review here), which was also their debut on Small Stone, 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra(review here), but whether it’s an airy Stump lead, smooth fill from Wilson or perfectly placed crash from Walter, the instrumental The Conjuringhighlights just how dynamic and powerful a trio they’ve become.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the 17-minute closing title-track, “Dreamwalker,” which feels all the more open without the verses or chorus to ground it, but of particular note as well is the centerpiece “Pale Rider from the Ice,” which, without its bluesy intro, launches with a solid 90 seconds of right-on tone, an utter wash of fuzz courtesy of Stump, before moving into a heavy psychedelic flow that, while satisfying on the regular edition, is an utter highlight here, and all the more so moving into the swaggering “Beggar’s Bargain.”
It’s not an official title or anything, but I’ve been referring to it as The Voiceless Conjuring. So, if you’ve ever wanted to do Wo Fat karaoke — I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t — The Voiceless Conjuring is your chance. Fuzz on:
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Wo Fat‘s The Conjuringwas recorded at the band’s own Crystal Clear Sound in Dallas and is available now on Small Stone Records. The band recently returned from a European tour alongside Mothership that included a stop at Freak Valley. More info and updates at the links.
Posted in Reviews on June 18th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
To those already familiar with Dallas riff forerunners Wo Fat, their fifth album, The Conjuring, will likely hold few surprises. It is foremost the next stage in the Texas heavy rock trio’s ongoing progression, captured at the band’s own Crystal Clear Sound studio by guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, it runs a sonically consistent thread forward from their last several records even unto its Alexander von Wieding artwork, the German artist having contributed the last two covers as well, to 2012’s The Black Code (vinyl review here, CD review here), which was their debut on Small Stone, as well as 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here), released by Nasoni. But as that collaboration has yet to yield a piece of such impact as that which adorns The Conjuring, so too do the album’s five songs/47 minutes find Wo Fat at their most developed yet, be it the smooth tempo shifts in “Read the Omens,” the hooks in the opening title-track or the boogie-strong “Beggar’s Bargain,” the bluesy humor of “Pale Rider from the Ice,” or the extended jam in the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” which looms large over the rest of the tracklisting. Wo Fat have only become more spacious and jammed-out over time, so these things are natural progressions, and they very much remain a heavy rock band, but to trace their development since their 2006 debut, The Gathering Dark, and its follow-up, 2008’s Psychedelonaut(review here), is to understand the roots of the utter mastery of their sound they show in these tracks, the power trio dynamic between Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer/backing vocalist Michael Walter shining through the dense wall of fuzz and riffed excellence they’ve crafted. I consider myself a fan, but I think even the most impartial of ears would have to admit they’ve outdone themselves again.
Listening to “Dreamwalker,” one can only wonder how long it will be before Wo Fat jam out a single-track LP, one vital piece that brings their voodoo tales and rolling grooves to bear across a massive, 40-minute exploration, but as much as that cut is bound to be a focal point for anyone who takes on The Conjuring, that’s not to underplay the quality of songwriting that precedes (or, really, that contained within it; as stretched out as that song is, it’s also got a hook). The album opens with a sample culled from 1957’s Curse of the Demon, the quote, “I know the value of the cold light of reason, but I also know the deep shadows that light can cast,” topping a mounting swell of feedback that least to the first riffs of “The Conjuring,” which unfolds patiently but clearly announces its verse riff upon arrival. Immediately Wo Fat are in their element: Vital, natural-sounding, not forcing the song but enjoying the trip they’re taking with it. Between songs like “Shard of Leng” and “Lost Highway” from The Black Code, “Bayou Juju” and “Descent into the Maelstrom” from Noche del Chupacabraand “El Culto de la Avaricia” and “Analog Man” from Psychedelonaut, there’s no question Wo Fat have a history of mixing a few choice hooks into each record, the kinds of choruses you hear immediately in your head upon seeing the name of the song, but The Conjuringbalances this impulse best of all with their predilection for jamming, extended tracks bookending the album while “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” hold true and further the methods they’ve established as their own over the course of their decade-plus tenure. I don’t know how many layers of guitar there are by the time “The Conjuring” wraps its near-10-minute run, but I know they’re all put to good use, and I know “Read the Omens,” which follows, continues the momentum with no letup and a raucous wash of cymbals to accompany.