Quarterly Review: Eagle Twin, Wight, Sundrifter, Holy Mushroom, Iron and Stone, Black Capricorn, Owl Maker, Troll, Malditos, The Freak Folk of Mangrovia

Posted in Reviews on April 5th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Quarterly-Review-Spring-2018

I’m pretty sure this Quarterly Review — life eater that it is — is going to wind up being six days long. That means next Monday look for sixth installment, another batch of 10 records, which were not hard to come by among everything that’s come in lately for review. I do my best to keep up, often to little avail — some random act’s Bandcamp page starts trending and all of a sudden they’re the best band ever, which hey, they’re probably not and that’s okay too. Anyhowzer, I’m trying is the point. Hopefully another 10 records added into this Quarterly Review underscores that notion.

More coffee. More albums. Let’s rock.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard (Songs of Hoof and Horn)

eagle twin the thundering heard songs of hoof and horn

Consuming tones, throat-sung blues, a wash of lumbering doom – yes, it’s quite a first three minutes on Eagle Twin’s The Thundering Heard (Songs of Hoof and Horn). Released by Southern Lord, it’s the Salt Lake City duo’s first outing since 2012’s The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale (discussed here), which arrived three years after their 2009 debut, The Unkindness of Crows (review here). Once again, the four-song outing finds guitarist/vocalist Gentry Densley and drummer Tyler Smith exploring the natural order and the natural world the 11-minute “Quanah un Rama” and the 14-minute “Antlers of Lightning” bookend “Elk Wolfv Hymn” (8:22) and album highlight “Heavy Hood” (7:21), creating an ever-more immersive and grit-laden flow across the album’s span. It’s hard to know if Densley and Smith are the hunters or the hunted here, but the tones are massive enough to make YOB blush, the rhythms are hypnotic and the use they’re both put to is still unlike anything else out there, ending after the chaos and assault of low end on “Antlers of Lightning” with a moment of contemplative guitar lead, as if to remind us of our solitary place in imagining ourselves at the top of the food chain.

Eagle Twin on Thee Facebooks

Southern Lord Recordings website

 

Wight, Fusion Rock Invasion

wight fusion rock invasion

One wonders what it might’ve been like to see Wight on the 2015 tour on which the Bilocation Records-issued vinyl-only Fusion Rock Invasion: Live Over Europe was captured. Still a year out from releasing their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know (review here), the former trio had already become a four-piece with guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist René Hofmann, bassist Peter-Philipp Schierhorn and drummer Thomas Kurek bringing in percussionist Steffen Kirchpfening and already undertaken the funkier aesthetic turn that LP would represent coming off of 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here). At least I’d think it would be something of a surprise as the band hit into “Helicopter Mama” and “The Muse & the Mule” and “Kelele,” which comprise side A of Fusion Rock Invasion, but by all appearances listening to the crowd response between songs, they seem into it. Who could argue? Wight’s groove in those songs as well as the older “Master of Nuggets” and Love is Not Only What You Know finale “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation” on side B, are infectious in their grooves and the soul put into them is genuine and unmistakable. One more reason I wouldn’t have minded being there, I suppose.

Wight on Thee Facebooks

Wight at Bilocation Records

 

Sundrifer, Visitations

sundrifter visitations

Name your bet someone picks up Sundrifter’s Visitations for a proper release. The Boston three-piece of vocalist/guitarist Craig Peura, bassist Paul Gaughran and drummer Patrick Queenan impress in performance, aesthetic and craft across the nine songs and 48 minute of their for-now-self-released debut long-player, and whether it’s Queenan dipping into blastbeats on “Targeted” or Gaughran’s rumble on the Soundgarden-gone-doom “Fire in the Sky” or the fuzz that leads the charge on the Queens of the Stone Age-style “Hammerburn,” Peura doing a decent Josh Homme along the way, each member proves to add something to a whole greater than the sum of its parts and that is able to take familiar elements and use them to hone an individualized atmosphere. In the wake of melodically engaged Boston acts like Gozu, Sundrifter would seem to be a focused newcomer with a solidified mindset of who they are as a group. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised either if they kept growing their sound. Something about the psychedelic distance in “Fire in the Sky” and “I Want to Leave,” says there’s forward movement yet to be had.

Sundrifter on Thee Facebooks

Sundrifter on Bandcamp

 

Holy Mushroom, Moon

holy mushroom moon

Serenity and presence. There’s no shortage of either on the second Holy Mushroom full-length, Moon. Incorporating the prior-issued digital single “Éufrates,” the five-track/43-minute excursion is rife with natural-toned psychedelic resonance, marked out by organ/piano working alongside the guitar (see “Birdwax Blues”), as well as guest contributions of double bass and saxophone, and other sundry moments of depth-creating flourish. Their trance-effect is palpable, and Moon is an easy album to get lost in, especially as the Spanish three-piece make their way through 12:35 centerpiece “The Preacher,” moving from a dreamy opening line of guitar into funk-laden heft that only pushes forward with Hendrixian abandon through a massive jam before rounding out sweetly with vocals over background organ and sweetly-strummed guitar. “Éufrates” would seem to start the same way, but varies the structure in more of a back and forth format before closer “Grand Finale in the Blind Desert” brings both Holy Mushroom’s most patient execution and their most vibrant jam (sax included), essentially building from the one into the other to end the album in energetic fashion. To say it works for them would be underselling it.

Holy Mushroom on Thee Facebooks

Holy Mushroom on Bandcamp

 

Iron and Stone, Petrichor

iron and stone petrichor

A debut long-player of no-pretense, no-nonsense sludge-infused doom, Petrichor (on Backbite Records) shows German five-piece Iron and Stone as ready to follow where the riff will lead them. The late 2017 album is a solidly-delivered 10 tracks and 43 minutes that strikes mostly in monochrome intent, save perhaps for the acoustic “Interlude” near the midpoint. Their 2015 EP, Old Man’s Doom (review here), was similarly upfront in its purposes, but carrying across a full-length – especially a debut – is a different beast from a shorter outing. Their heavier push on “Monolith” is welcome and the break-then-chug of “Deserts” does plenty to satisfy, but Petrichor might require a couple concerted listens to really sink in on its audience, though as I’ve said time and again, if you can’t handle repetition, you can’t handle doom. Iron and Stone effectively balance traditional doom and rawer sludge groove, playing fluidly to whichever suits their purposes at a given moment.

Iron and Stone on Thee Facebooks

Backbite Records webstore

 

Black Capricorn, Omega

black capricorn omega

Sardinian doom cult Black Capricorn push well beyond the limits of the manageable with their 95-minute fourth album, Omega (released Nov. 2017 on Stone Stallion Rex), and that’s clearly the idea. The three-piece of bassist Virginia, drummer Rakela and guitarist/vocalist Kjxu offer grim ambience and tempos that sound slow regardless of their actual speed. That said, the 17-minute “Antartide” is an accomplishment as regards crawl. After a sweetly melancholic opening of guitar, it lurches and lumbers out its miserable heft until a return to that intro bookends. Even shorter tracks like “Flower of Revelation” or “Stars of Orion” hold firm to the tenet of plod, and though the results are obviously a lot to take in, the idea that it should be a slog seems all the more appropriate to Black Capricorn’s style. The band, which hits the decade mark in 2018, churn out one last bit of wretchedness in the nine-minute closing title-track before giving way to an acoustic finish, as if to remind that Omega’s sorrows are conveyed as much through atmosphere as actual sonic heft.

Black Capricorn on Thee Facebooks

Stone Stallion Rex website

 

Owl Maker, Paths of the Slain

owl maker paths of the slain

Guitarist/vocalist Simon Tuozzoli, also of malevolent doomers Vestal Claret, leads the new trio Owl Maker, and in the company of bassist Jessie May and drummer Chris Anderson, he embarks on a heavy rock push of six tracks with the debut EP, Paths of the Slain, still holding to some elements of metal, whether it’s the double-kick in opener “Ride with Aileen” or the backing vocals and guitar solo of the subsequent “99.” Songwriting is clearheaded across the EP’s 23 minutes, and in terms of first impressions, “Mashiara” shows a focus on melody that retains a metallic poise without losing its riff-driven edge. The balance shifts throughout “Freya’s Chariot” and the all-go “Witches,” the latter of which touches on black metal in its first half before turning on a dime to mid-paced heavy rock, and closer “Lady Stoneheart” nods in its back end to NWOBHM gallop, as Owl Maker seem to tip their audience to the fact that they’re just getting started on their exploration of the many interpretations of heavy.

Owl Maker on Thee Facebooks

Owl Maker on Bandcamp

 

Troll, Troll

troll troll

When one considers the multiple connotations of the word, Portland’s Troll are definitely going more for “lives under a bridge” than “meddling in elections” when it comes to their sound. Their self-titled debut EP, issued in 2017 before being picked up by respected purveyor Shadow Kingdom Records for a 2018 CD/tape release, is a highlight offering of classic-style doom worthy of Orodruin and Pilgrim comparisons and headlined by the vocal performance of John, who carries songs like opener “The Summoning” and the later, more swinging “Infinite Death” in a manner impressive in both frontman presence and melodic range. His work is only bolstered by the riffs of guitarist Lou and the consistent groove held together by bassist Wayne and drummer Ryan, whose drive in centerpiece “An Eternal Haunting” is neither overdone nor incongruous with the wall its tempo hits, and who meld shuffle and plod on closer “Savage Thunder” with naturalist ease. Potential abounds, and they reportedly already have new material in the works, so all the better.

Troll on Thee Facebooks

Shadow Kingdom Records website

 

Malditos, II

malditos ii
Some bands, you just have to accept the fact that they’re on a different wavelength and that’s all there is to it. Magma. Master Musicians of Bukkake. Circle. Enter Oakland, California’s Malditos, whose sophomore outing, II: La Réve, arrives via Svart Records. From bizarre psychedelic chants to ritualized repetitions that seems to be daring you to play them backwards on your turntable, the spiritual freakout to songs like “Azadeh” and the penultimate “Momen” is palpable. Reach out and touch it and it will ripple like water in front of you. A sense of space is filled with elements alternatingly horrifying and engrossing, and after they make their way through “Le Passage” and centerpiece “Disparu” and wind up in the title-track to close out, the journey to the final wash of noise gives the distinct impression that for neither the listener nor the band is there any coming back. High order head trippery. Will simply be too much for some, will gloriously expand the minds of others.

Malditos on Thee Facebooks

Svart Records webstore

 

The Freak Folk of Mangrovia, Sonic Meditations: Live @ Palach

the freak folk of mangrovia sonic meditations live at palach

I don’t know how much improvisation is a factor in the sound of The Freak Folk of Mangrovia, but the Croation collective bring an ultra-organic presence to their perhaps-debut release, Sonic Meditations: Live @ Palach. The group, which seems also to have gone under the names Marko Mushan & the Mangrovian Orchestra and The Free Folk of Mangrovia, was opening for Acid Mothers Temple that night, and Sonic Meditations mostly breaks down into parts – “Sonic Meditation I,” “II,” “III” and “IV” – before the band closes out with “’Mangrovian Summer,” all the while with The Freak Folk of Mangrovia making their way through progressive dreamscapes, dripping with effects and spacious enough to house an entire Mangrovian village, however big that might be. It is otherworldly and jazzy and moves with such fluidity that the entire “Sonic Meditation” becomes one overarching piece, complemented by the closing “Mangrovian Summer,” which ebbs and flows through louder, more active jamming before capping in a wash of noise.

The Freak Folk of Mangrovia on Thee Facebooks

The Freak Folk of Mangrovia on Bandcamp

 

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Quarterly Review: The Sword, Mountain Tamer, Demon Head, Bushfire, Motherslug, Dove, Treedeon, Falun Gong, Spider Kitten, Greynbownes

Posted in Reviews on April 3rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Quarterly-Review-Spring-2018

Okay then. We got past the first day and I thought it went reasonably well. No casualties. Nobody’s brain melted from trying to find another word for “riffs” for the 19th time, so yeah, mark it a win. There’s a good spread of stuff in today’s batch — a little of this, a little of that — so hopefully somewhere in the mix you’re able to run into something you dig. Hell, I’ll say the same for myself as well. Come on, let’s go.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

The Sword, Used Future

the sword used future

Now-veteran Austin heavy rockers The Sword have gotten a mixed response to the more progressive approach their recent work has taken, and I doubt Used Future (on Razor & Tie) is going to be any less polarizing, but its crisp 13 tracks/43 minutes are pulled off with professionalism. Yes, it has its self-indulgent aspects in “Sea of Green” or the earlier instrumental “The Wild Sky,” but The Sword have never done anything other than deliver accessible heavy rock and tour like hell, so while I get the mixed response, at this point I think the band has at very least earned a measure of respect for what they’ve accomplished as ambassadors of underground heavy. They wanna throw a little John Carpenter influence into “Nocturne?” Fine. They’re not hurting anybody. The unfortunate truth about The Sword is that neither polarized side is right. They’re not the end of heavy metal as we know it; some crude ironic take on what metal should be. And they’re not the greatest band of their generation. They have a good record deal. They write decent songs. Where’s the problem with that? I don’t hear it on Used Future.

The Sword on Thee Facebooks

Razor & Tie website

 

Mountain Tamer, Living in Vain Demo

mountain tamer Demo 2017

If it was Mountain Tamer’s intention to get listeners excited about the prospect of a second full-length from the Santa Cruz, CA three-piece, then the Living in Vain demo serves this purpose well. Their 2016 Argonauta Records self-titled debut (review here) expounded on the potential they originally showed with 2015’s Mtn Tmr demo (review here), and though it’s only two songs, Living in Vain would seem to do the same in building on the accomplishments of the album before it. The opening title-track is labeled “Living in Vain Pt. 1” and nestles easily into a mid-paced shuffle before shifting into psychedelic lead layering and a more jammed-out spirit, from which it returns in the last 30 seconds to hit into a more solidified ending riff, leading to the immediately slower “Wretched.” More spacious, more of a march, it plays into an instrumental hook and holds to its structure for its entire 5:40, ending with guitar on a quick fade. Obviously the intention with a release like this is to entice the listener with the prospect of the band’s next album. Living in Vain does that and more.

Mountain Tamer on Thee Facebooks

Mountain Tamer on Bandcamp

 

Demon Head, The Resistance

demon head the resistance

Returning just about a year after issuing their second album, Thunder on the Fields (review here), Copenhagen-based proto-metallers Demon Head offer a new two-songer single titled The Resistance that at least to my ears speaks to the current political moment of populism opposing liberalism – as much at play in Europe as in the US, if not more so – and the fight for an open society. They present it as a six-plus-minute languid groove with flashes of militaristic snare; something of a turn from the cult rock of their two-to-date long-players. One could say the same of the sci-fi themed “Rivers of Mars,” though like its predecessor, it remains sonically on-point with the band’s vintage aesthetic, fostered through naturalist guitar and bass tones, bluesy, commanding vocals and classy, creative drumming. Actually, apply that “classy” all around. As Demon Head continue to come into their own sound, they do so with poise that’s all the more striking for how raw their presentation remains.

Demon Head on Thee Facebooks

The Sign Records

 

Bushfire, When Darkness Comes

bushfire when darkness comes

When Darkness Comes is German heavy rocking five-piece Bushfire’s follow-up to late-2013’s Heal Thy Self (review here), and it retains the Darmstadt-based outfit’s penchant for quality riffcraft and a showcase for the vocals of frontman Bill Brown, which hit in bottom-of-the-mouth melodies and gruff shouts fitting to cuts like “The Conflict” and the swinging “Shelter.” Bushfire are no strangers to a semi-Southern element in their sound, and that remains true on When Darkness Comes from the opening title-track through the later “Another Man Down” and closer “Liberation.” Somewhat curiously, that closer is instrumental, and where the vocals play such a role in the overarching impression the record makes, it’s an interesting twist to have them absent from the final statement, leaving guitarists Marcus Bischoff and Miguel Pereira, bassist Vince and drummer Sascha to finish out on their own. If groove is the measure, they’re certainly up to the task, but then, that was never really in doubt.

Bushfire on Thee Facebooks

Bushfire on Bandcamp

 

Motherslug, The Electric Dunes of Titan

motherslug the electric dunes of titan

I’m sorry. I don’t see how you could dig anything calling itself “stoner” and not be down with what Motherslug are doing with their second long-player, The Electric Dunes of Titan. Plus-sized riffing all over the place, languid rollouts, excursions into psychedelic splendor (see “Followers of the Sun,” etc.), explosions into massive groove (see “Staring at the Sun”), a nod to High on Fire in “Tied to the Mast” and a Sleep-style march on closer “Cave of the Last God” that’s probably the best I’ve heard since the Creedsmen Arise demo in 2015. Really, if Motherslug doesn’t do it for you, nothing will. Five years after they initially released their self-titled EP (review here), which was later expanded into their debut album for NoSlip Records (review here), the Melbourne outfit charge back with what should be a litmus test for riff-heads. In all seriousness, from tone to structure to songwriting to production to the cover art, there’s just nothing here that doesn’t deliver the message. Should’ve been on my best of 2017 list.

Motherslug on Thee Facebooks

Motherslug on Bandcamp

 

Dove, Dove Discography

dove discography

In the wake of Floor’s disbanding, drummer Henry Wilson formed Dove. They were around for about five years, did some touring (one remembers picking up their self-titled in a Manhattan basement with $2 Rolling Rocks calling itself The Pyramid), and disbanded to a cult status not so different from that which Floor enjoyed prior to their own reunion, if to something of a lesser degree. As the title indicates, Dove Discography compiles “every listenable track” the band ever put out, including their self-titled, Wilson’s original demo for the project, compilation and 7” material. All told, it’s 20 tracks and just under an hour of documentation for who Dove were and the kind of punk metal they were about, never quite stoner, but heavy rock to be sure, and definitely of the Floridian ilk that produced both Floor and Cavity and a style Wilson has progressed with House of Lightning. Dove could be blazingly intense or they could plod out a huge riff, holding a deceptively wide purview that was only part of the reason they were so underrated at the time.

Dove on Bandcamp

House of Lightning on Thee Facebooks

 

Treedeon, Under the Manchineel

treedeon under the manchineel

To anyone who might complain that all sludge sounds the same, I humbly submit Treedeon, whose second album for Exile on Mainstream, Under the Manchineel, is a work both noise-laden and righteously avant garde. Perhaps even more ferocious than its 2015 predecessor, Lowest Level Reincarnation (review here), the seven-track/44-minute outing offers a touch of melody in “Breathing a Vein” and buried deep in the midsection of 16-minute closer “Wasicu,” and arguably in guitarist Arne Heesch’s delivery in opener “Cheetoh” as well, but he and bassist Yvonne Ducksworth mostly keep to harsh shouts as they create consuming washes of noise over the madcap drumwork of newcomer Andy Schuenemann, who punctuates every punch of Ducksworth’s gotta-hear-it bass tone on album centerpiece “No Hell” as Heesch goes lands the chorus with the line “No hell can hold me” as its standout line. Bringing a sense of themselves to an established style to a degree that’s rare, rarer, rarest, Treedeon are no less aggressively weird than they are aggressive, period.

Treedeon on Thee Facebooks

Exile on Mainstream website

 

Falun Gong, Figure 1

Falun Gong Figure 1

There are some post-Electric Wizard shades that emerge in the debut single from London’s Falun Gong by the time it reaches its feedback-soaked finale, but really, “Figure 1” is much more about digging into its own cultistry than that of the Obornian sort. Still, the overarching impression is somewhat familiar, and will be particularly to those who were fans of The Wounded Kings, but the duo who remain anonymous present themselves with a clearheaded intent toward maximum sonic murk, and with the lumbering misery they trod out in “Figure 1,” they seem to achieve what they’re going for. I don’t know who they are, but I’d guess this isn’t their first band, and as crowded as London’s heavy underground has become over the course of this decade, acts like Falun Gong are fewer and farther between than some others, and during these 10 minutes, they make a striking first impression. One hopes for “Figure 2” sooner rather than later.

Falun Gong on Bandcamp

 

Spider Kitten, Concise and Sinister

http://theobelisk.net/obelisk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/spider-kitten-concise-and-sinister.jpg

Intended as a thematic continuation to some degree of 2016’s Ark of Oktofelis, the four-song Concise and Sinister finds long-running multi-genre UK outfit Spider Kitten bookending two extended crushers around two shorter pieces, one of which is a cover of Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken” (also memorably done by 16 Horsepower) and the other of which is a noise-punk assault that lasts 46 seconds and is called “I’m Feeling So Much Better.” Whether fast or slow, loud or quiet, the intention of Spider Kitten doesn’t seem even at its most abrasive to be to punish so much as to challenge, and whether it’s the cinematic elements dug into the march of opener and longest track (immediate points) “A Glorious Retreat” (11:33) or the harmonies that accompany especially-doomed 10-minute closer “Martyr’s Breath,” Spider Kitten and founder Chi Lameo demonstrate a creativity acknowledging that bounds exist and then simply refusing to accept them, making even the familiar seem unfamiliar in the process.

Spider Kitten on Thee Facebooks

Spider Kitten on Bandcamp

 

Greynbownes, Grey Rainbow from Bones

greynbownes grey rainbow from bones

Comprised of guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Lukas, bassist Martin and drummer Jakub, Greynbownes hail from Moravia in the Czech Republic and the moniker-explaining Grey Rainbow from Bones is their self-issued debut full-length. It is comprised of nine tracks of inventive heavy rock, pulling elements from grunge and ‘90s-era stoner noise on cuts like “Across the Bones” while veering into fare more aggressive, or psychedelic or jammy in the trio of six-minute tracks “Seasons,” “Death of Autumn Leaves” and “B 612” that precedes the closing duo of the funky “Sitting at the Top” and the mellow-but-still-heavy finisher “Weight of Sky,” which feels far removed from the opening salvo of “Boat of Fools,” the fuzz-punker “Madness” and the fuckall-chug of “What is at Stake.” Yes, it’s all over the place, and one might expect Greynbownes’ sound to solidify over time, but to the trio’s credit, Grey Rainbow from Bones never flies apart in the way that it seems at multiple points it might, and that’s an encouraging sign.

Greynbownes on Thee Facebooks

Greynbownes on Bandcamp

 

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Wight to Release Fusion Rock Invasion: Live Over Europe Tomorrow

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Well, if I hadn’t already put Wight on my favorite covers list for their earlier-2017 single Atlas (review here), for sure they’d earn a spot with the piece by Ingo Kimalkin Lohse that adorns their new live album, Fusion Rock Invasion: Live Over Europe. The LP/DVD offering is out tomorrow, Dec. 15, and available through Bilocation Records, but there won’t be a digital edition at all, so if you want it, you gotta get the vinyl. Blamo. Decisive.

Seems a worthy endeavor, though — certainly owning that art would be no big sacrifice — since the pro-recorded outing captures Wight as they were out in Europe in 2015 heralding the funk-infused progression they’d undertaken with their then-not-yet-released third album, Love is Not Only What You Know (review here), which would surface the next year. The chance to hear Wight, only recently become a four-piece, exploring those textures on stage in front of audiences for what might’ve been the first time? Sounds pretty badass. I’d put that record on.

Info from the band and the label’s preorder page, also linked below:

wight fusion rock invasion

Sadly too late after our tour, but finally finished and a perfect christmas gift: The first Wight Live Album „Fusion Rock Invasion – Live Over Europe“.

YES there will be a live DVD together with the LP.

NO there will be no digital version available for this release! This is going to be a collectors item only. Pre-order your copy here: http://shop.bilocationrecords.com/index.php?a=58461

300 copies on white/blue/green marbled vinyl. High quality vinyl pressed by Pallas Group in Germany. Package includes LIVE DVD (FSK 0)!

In August 2015, Wight set out for another tour to present new material to European audiences. Albeit not released until almost exactly a year later, the album “Love Is Not Only What You Know” had already been recorded at this point, and Steffen Kirchpfening on percussion and keys had established himself as a permanent addition to the former power trio. Nevertheless, Wight were still treading new ground at this point, emancipating themselves from their blues and stoner rock roots while not completely discarding them.

Enriching their psychedelic sound with new found funk, jazz, prog and world music influences, the band aptly named their tour “Fusion Rock Invasion.” Carrying a full recording rig across Germany, the Netherlands, England and Switzerland in a small touring van, tour sound engineer Josko Joketovic and Wight mastermind Rene Hofmann pushed themselves to the limit to professionally record every show. The result now sees the light more than two years later in the form of the “Fusion Rock Invasion – Live Over Europe” LP.

The live album shows the band during a truly transitional period, presenting at the time unreleased tracks from “Love Is Not Only What You Know” in a four piece constellation for the first time. “Fusion Rock Invasion – Live Over Europe” includes five grooving, moving and hard rocking tracks, recorded in an intimate atmosphere in small, hot and sweaty clubs in Cologne, Munich, London, Hamburg and Tilburg.

The LP is available as a limited bundle with a bonus DVD, containing five live videos recorded during the tour as well as around the release of “Love Is Not Only What You Know.”

VINYL TRACKLIST

1. Helicopter Mama
2. The Muse & The Mule
3. Kelele
4. Master Of Nuggets
5. The Love For Life Leads To Reincarnation

DVD TRACKLIST (42 mins total):

1. The Muse & The Mule (8:48)
2. Kelele (8:56)
3. The Love For Life Leads To Reincarnation (11:02)
4. Cosmic Rhythm #2 (3:34)
5. Master Of Nuggets (9:20)

https://www.facebook.com/wightism
https://twitter.com/wightism
https://instagram.com/wightism/
https://wight.bandcamp.com/
http://shop.bilocationrecords.com/index.php?a=58461

Wight, “Atlas” official video

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Bushfire Post Video for “Die Trying”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 18th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

bushfire

Apparently if you want to get into a headquarters building for EUMETSAT, it’s all about who you know. Having a killer van like the one from Dumb and Dumber probably helps too — one imagines that helps everything — and it would seem Darmstadt, Germany-based heavy rockers Bushfire have both working in their favor in their new video for “Die Trying.” The clip is the second to be unveiled from their forthcoming third full-length, When Darkness Comes, behind one for “Zombi” posted in August, and where that had kind of a creeper lyric video vibe going, the metaphor of zombies being put to use as a descriptor for our relationship to technology — think dead-eyed people staring at their phones, etc. — “Die Trying” plays up a little bit more of the fun side that Bushfire bring to their personality.

To wit, that Dumb and Dumber van. And if you’re not familiar — I certainly wasn’t — the EUMETSAT stands for “Europäische Organisation für meteorologische Satelliten” and is essentially a network of weather satellites used across the European Union to share meteorological data between member states. There are headquarters throughout the EU, and oneBushfire-When-Darkness-Comes is in Bushfire‘s native Darmstadt, so yeah, they clearly found some way to get in and have a good time in the process, so kudos all around. One assumes they didn’t knock any orbital apparatus out of alignment in the process, and the lighter-hearted spirit of the video does well to represent When Darkness Comes, which, while severe in its title, cover art and in the themes of cuts like the aforementioned “Zombi” and the later “Fallen from Grace,” does have some letup in brooding in this track as well as the fuzz-rolling march of closer “Liberation” amid the moodiness of songs like “Shelter,” “Another Man Down” and “Wild Eyes,” all of which seem to bring together elements from the sonic personae of bands like Borracho, Clutch and Down to follow Bushfire‘s 2013 outing, Heal Thy Self (review here), with their most cohesive sonic vision to-date.

You can check out the burl and the groove of “Die Trying” on the player below, followed by more info about When Darkness Comes, for which Bushfire have a hometown CD release show booked for Oct. 27. Last I heard the record was due in December, but I guess if you can get it while the getting’s good, then yeah, get it while the getting’s good. Maybe vinyl later? I don’t know anything anymore.

Enjoy the video:

Bushfire, “Die Trying” official video

BAND – BUSHFIRE
SONG – DIE TRYING
ALBUM – WHEN DARKNESS COMES (2017)

This video would not have been possible without the following persons and their contributions: EUMETSAT, Phil Harvey, Ry Evill, James Snook, Patrick Boyny, Beate Springer, and Jonas Roem — BUSHFIRE, THANKS YOU ALL!!!

This video was filmed and edited by Schnittsache.
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Bushfire Post “Zombi” Video; When Darkness Comes out in December

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

bushfire

Set for release in December, When Darkness Comes will serve as the third full-length from DIY Darmstadt, Germany, earth rockers Bushfire. The double-guitar five-piece were last heard from with Dec. 2013’s Heal Thy Self (review here), which was a formidable slab of wax in following their 2010 debut, Black Ash Sunday (review here), affirming the focus on songwriting and the dudely approach of frontman Bill Brown, which seems to be intact as well as Bushfire push forward, guitarists Marcus Bischoff and Miguel Pereira joined by the newcomer rhythm section of bassist Vince and drummer Sascha.

Heavy Southern groove is the thing, make no mistake, and at this point Bushfire have been doing it long enough that they’ve got the process down. The new video — animated, of the lyric-video type — for “Zombi” brings the first audio to be unveiled ahead of the release of When Darkness Comes, and not that there was any doubt about Bushfire‘s delivery, but it’s good to know that the last four years hasn’t dulled their affinity for what’s at root beneath their processes. One finds a Clutch-style blues bounce put to righteous use via a clear and full production, and some measure of social commentary in the words as belted out by Brown.

You know how Dawn of the Dead saw the zombies all go to the mall because blind consumerism was what they knew in life? Well, “Zombi” kind of makes a similar point, but about our current inability to disconnect from our mobile devices, cellphones and the like. The clip sees skulking figures in a dark world lit mostly by tiny screens and highlights lines like, “I see zombies transmitting with no communication/I see zombies restless when no connection is there.” The ups and downs of a connected culture are still very much a matter of some philosophical debate and likely will be until we’ve all uploaded our brains to the digitally-immortal singularity (which of course the last human being alive will trip over the plug for and wipe us all out; whoops), but Bushfire make their argument clear and back it with some pointedly heavy riffing, and as a first glimpse of When Darkness Comes, it bodes well in style and sound alike.

Looking forward to hearing more of the record as we get closer to the end of the year. Until then, dig this:

Bushfire, “Zombi” official video

Video: DADIVE STUDIO
Band: BUSHFIRE
Song: ZOMBI
Album: When Darkness Comes (unreleased, est.12/17)
Recorded: 05/17 Lofthaus studios Darmstadt, Germany
Mastering: Tony Reed, Heavy Head Recording Studios, Seattle, WA, USA

By now, Bushfire‘s bio reads like that of one of the really big bands: three demo EPs and two albums, shows and tours through half of Europe, TV airplay on DMAX, a loyal fanbase – all of that WITHOUT any label or management. Because Bushfire means self-determination, passion, freedom, just DIY in its purest form. There‘s the band doing handicraft, drawing, designing, thinking, sawing, even signing in blood.

Bushfire is:
Bill (vocals)
Marcus (guitar)
Miguel (guitar)
Sascha (drums)
Vince (bass)

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Wight Premiere “Atlas” Video; New Single out Tomorrow

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

wight-Photo-by-Christian-Heyse

As announced earlier this week, tomorrow is the digital release date of Atlas, the new single from German four-piece Wight. With vinyl forthcoming through H42 Records (presale starts tomorrow for that as well) sometime over the summer, the band begins quickly to move forward from their 2016 third album, Love is Not Only What You Know (review here), while keeping some of the same principals intact. You might recall that Love is Not Only What You Know was the latest in a series of three departures for Wight; each of their full-lengths to-date has marked a significant shift in sound from the one before it.

In the case of Love is Not Only What You Know, it was funk and soul elements incorporated with a classic rock feel building on the heavy psych of 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here), which likewise was a marked shift from the straightforward nod-riffing of 2011’s Wight Weedy Wight (review here) debut. Out and out they go. Where they’ll stop, nobody knows.

With Atlas, though, Wight maintain some of the flavor of their third outing while also moving it forward. The single features two versions of the song “Atlas,” one performed by the band and the other an extra-funkified redux called “Atlas (Flashbaxx Remix),” which you know is trouble from the sheer number of ‘x’s the title contains. It lives up to that standard. Even the core “Atlas” is plenty dangerous, though, with the organ and Rhodes lines of Steffen Kirchpfening intertwining with René Hofmann‘s guitar early only to step back and allow his increasingly soulful vocal delivery — coated in far-off echo here that seems to answer him back when heard through headphones — to feature even more than on the last record en route to a quick but telling bridge jam held together atop the rhythm from bassist Peter-Philipp Schierhorn and drummer Thomas Kurek and a last run through the somewhat restrained hook.

It’s a quick listen, under five minutes, but it sees Wight bring further cohesion to the impulses that drove the material their last time out, and when the “Atlas (Flashbaxx Remix)” starts in with its Curtis Mayfield-style groove, yeah, the band lets you know they have a few more tricks up their collective sleeve yet. I’d love to hear these dudes with a full-on funky string section. It could happen. Don’t think it couldn’t.

Wight have a history of performing live in videos. They did it to lead the way into the last album with a clip for “The Love of Life Leads to Reincarnation” (posted here), and they represented Through the Woods into Deep Water by actually going to the woods and playing the title-track (posted here), so to find them digging into “Atlas” leading into the single fits their character well enough, and it’s to their credit that as they keep pushing their sound to these new places, they refuse to not draw that line of vitality in their approach. There’s some surprisingly melancholy imagery included here — for a track so colorful, the clip is awfully black and white — but Wight have very clearly come to dwell on their own wavelength, so I’m not inclined to ask questions.

Please find the video premiere for “Atlas” below, followed by the credits and the band’s upcoming live dates. My thanks to Wight and H42 Records for letting me host it.

Enjoy:

Wight, “Atlas” official video

Recorded live at Orange Box Studio, Darmstadt, January 2017

Produced by René Hofmann, Fat&Holy Records 2017

– Video Credits –
Camera & post-production: Gabriel Sahm, Johanna Amberg
Additonal Camera: Martin Kadel, Jonas Eichhorn, Fabian Weber

– Audio Credits –
Recording: Hüseyin Köroglu, Josko Koketovic
Mixing: Maurice Young
Mastering: René Hofmann

– Wight is –
Rene Hofmann: Vocals, Guitar
Peter-Philipp Schierhorn: Bass
Thomas Kurek: Drums
Steffen Kirchpfening: Organ, Rhodes

Wight live:
Mar 24 Centralstation Darmstadt, Germany w/ Colour Haze & My Sleeping Karma
Apr 01 Sputnikhalle Münster, Germany
May 05 DasBach Vienna, Austria
May 06 Zukunft Chemnitz, Germany
May 24 Schraub-BAR Bückeburg, Germany
May 26 Limes Cologne, Germany
May 26 O:M:A Karlstadt am Main, Germany

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Wight to Release New Single Atlas on March 17

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

On March 24, in their hometown of Darmstadt, Germany, four-piece psych-fusion rockers Wight will play one of the shows I’d most like to see in 2017. They’ll be supporting the ongoing, Obelisk-presented European tour of My Sleeping Karma and Colour Haze (dates posted here), and golly, that’s a good bill. Talk about front-to-back. Wight of course round out that stupidly-awesome trio of acts as they continue to support last year’s likewise excellent Love is Not Only What You Know (review here), but before they take the Centralstation stage, they’ll also be posting a new single called “Atlas” that finds them further digging into the funky, soul-laden sound they proffered on that 2016 album. Vinyl is due this summer on H42 Records, but one can definitely understand why they’d want the track out earlier as well. It’s quite an occasion.

Keep an eye out to0, because later this week I’ll be premiering a video for “Atlas.” Should be on Thursday if all goes according to my (not really all that evil) evil plans. The track and its remix both rules, so please, yeah, watch for it.

H42 has the WHY-IS-THIS-NOT-A-POSTER-ON-MY-WALL cover art and release details below:

wight atlas

ATLAS new Single from Wight out March 17, 2017

Wight announces new Single
Digital out on march 17th
Vinyl presale starts march 17th (release in June/July)

New year, new music. Wight give us new tunes in form of ATLAS!

The song is supposed to reflect the grey winter in Germany, as well as the topic of the titan “Atlas” our typically German mentality. Foreign people come and we are afraid of change and get angry with oracles / media, which is why we like to react very reserved. We whine a lot although 80% of our problems are complete luxury problems. We do not know hunger!

In september 2016 “Love Is Not Only What You Know”, the third album by the German band Wight, was released. The band was founded in 2008, in 2011 they released the self-produced debut “Wight Weedy Wight”. 2012 followed the second LP “Through The Woods Into Deep Water”, as well as concerts and festival performances, among others at the Stoned From The Underground and the Desertfest in Berlin.

Limited Edition up to 200 copies out on H42 Records (H42-044)
50 on GLOW IN THE DARK vinyl
50 on CLEAR vinyl
50 on PINK vinyl
100 on BLACK vinyl
+ 20x TESTPRESS Edition with different Artwork (Only from H42 Records)

Tracklist:
A1 Atlas
B1 Atlas (Flashbaxx Remix)

Wight live:
Mar 24 Centralstation Darmstadt, Germany w/ Colour Haze & My Sleeping Karma
Apr 01 Sputnikhalle Münster, Germany
May 05 DasBach Vienna, Austria
May 06 Zukunft Chemnitz, Germany
May 24 Schraub-BAR Bückeburg, Germany
May 26 Limes Cologne, Germany
May 26 O:M:A Karlstadt am Main, Germany

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Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know (2016)

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2016

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

the obelisk top 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30. Talmud Beach, Chief

talmud beach chief

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

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

29. Comet Control, Center of the Maze

comet control center of the maze

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 22.

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

28. Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids attack sci-fi or die

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 17.

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

27. Beelzefuzz, The Righteous Bloom

beelzefuzz the righteous bloom

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

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

26. Foghound, The World Unseen

foghound the world unseen

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed July 6.

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

25a. Egypt, Endless Flight

egypt endless flight

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

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

25. 1000mods, Repeated Exposure To…

1000mods repeated exposure to

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

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

24. Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy

black rainbows stellar prophecy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 11.

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

23. Borracho, Atacama

borracho atacama

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Nov. 14.

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

22. The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again

the golden grass coming back again

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed April 26.

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

21. Curse the Son, Isolator

curse the son isolator

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

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

20. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires

neurosis fires within fires

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

19. Conan, Revengeance

conan revengeance

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 19.

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

18. Baby Woodrose, Freedom

baby woodrose freedom

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Aug. 18.

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

17. Geezer, Geezer

geezer geezer

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

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

16. EYE, Vision and the Ageless Light

eye vision and the ageless light

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

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

15. Fatso Jetson, Idle Hands

fatso jetson idle hands

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Oct. 3.

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

14. Hexvessel, When We are Death

hexvessel when we are death

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Feb. 5.

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

13. Zun, Burial Sunrise

zun burial sunrise

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Feb. 16.

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

12. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree

elephant tree elephant tree

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

11. Mos Generator, Abyssinia

mos generator abyssinia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed July 12.

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

10. Slomatics, Future Echo Returns

slomatics future echo returns

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed June 29.

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

9. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh

wo fat midnight cometh

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 21.

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

8. King Buffalo, Orion

king buffalo orion

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed July 29.

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

7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know

wight love is not only what you know

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

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

6. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil

brant bjork tao of the devil

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 15.

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

4. Asteroid, III

asteroid iii

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

3. Gozu, Revival

gozu revival

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 19.

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

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

mars red sky apex iii praise for the burning soul

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

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

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

subrosa for this we fought the battle of ages

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

The Next 20

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions

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

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

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

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

Thank You

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

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

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

One more time: Thank you.

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