Death Hawks, Death & Decay & Death Hawks: Dawning Suns

Posted in Reviews on October 16th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

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Two limited reissues bring out the beginnings of Finnish experimentalists Death Hawks and provide fresh context to the work the Tampere-based band has done since signing to Svart Records for 2015’s Sun Future Moon (review here). The band’s first two albums, Death and Decay and Death Hawks, were originally released in 2012 and 2013 through GAEA Records and have been out of print since, sought after by late-comers like yours truly who didn’t catch them the first time around. With 500 copies of pressed of each, Svart does the universe a solid in this instance and puts Death & Decay on a gold LP and Death Hawks in black and white — suited to their respective artwork — and allows for curious parties to discover more about the band’s roots. As it turns out, there’s plenty to learn.

For example, that the stylistic experimentation of 2019’s Psychic Harmony (review here) were by no means a new impulse, and indeed, central to the ethic of the band. You might say it’s the root of Death & Decay, though it’s manifested not in synth-driven progressive disco, but a psychedelic take on country blues, putting the guitar and vocals of Teemu Markkula front and center like an otherworldly John Lee Hooker on a cut like “Death Hawk on My Trail” or the rockabilly-style “Roamin’ Baby Blues,” taking its structure from the Robert Johnson school of proto-blues and adding a speedy snare for that riding-the-rails vibe — filtered, of course, through Finnish psychedelia. With 11 tracks unfolding from the mellow ramblin’-“Planet Caravan”-style understatement of opener “Blue Void” to the later Tom Waits-of-Alpha-Centauri severity of “Priest’s March,” amid fuzzier tones and subtle backing synth also provided by Markkula, Death & Decay is a formative tour de force.

“The Beast” touches on organ-laced ’70s folk while “Holy Water,” which immediately follows, starts with a wild bark and turns itself into a tent revival of psychedelic wash, while over on side B, “Death Has No Reprieve” weaves hypnotic background vocals into its deceptive depths, and the catchy “Dead Man” (probably a reference to the 1995 Jim Jarmusch film of the same name), foreshadows some of the melodic sweetness Markkula will bring to his vocal style on subsequent outings, letting closer “The Peace Maker” touch on Morricone — among other things — as a direct foreshadow for some of what the self-titled would do the next year. Ultimately, Death & Decay is broader in its sound than just tagging it “psych-blues” could hope to convey, but especially with Markkula‘s performance so much at the root of the material on guitar/vocals/keys/producer/composer/etc., the feeling throughout is less full-band-expanse and more solo-exploration, and that gives the 44-minute 11-tracker even more of a “starting out” vibe, as though the material were experiments that came together as songs as they were fleshed out. As sure as the band has been of what they’ve done since, it’s kind of refreshing to know this sense of adventure was what sparked their origin in the first place. Their will to push beyond and between stylistic confines is readily on display, and the songs are memorable and weird in kind, recognizable in themselves and in the nascent sprawl the band would go on to develop from the foundation they set.

death hawks death hawks

This, of course, was realized in the quick turnaround of Death Hawks, and though it’s a shameful cliché, I’ll note that it does not seem at all a coincidence that the second album is self-titled in terms of their laying claim to who they are as a group and their intentions going forward. Shorter at 35 minutes/seven tracks with a recurring theme in “Cain Go Home (2. Session)” on side A and “Cain Go Home (1. Session)” on side B — the Morricone influence returning in the whistle of both — the self-titled is immediately immersive in its psychedelic reach, with whispers and backing melodies and winding hypnotic guitar on six-minute opener “Night Children,” the title doing little in the end to convey the colorfulness of the tone there or in songs like “Blind Daughter of Death” and the string-and-organ-backed mellow meander of “Quiet Sun,” a not-all-who-wander-are-lost krautrock texture pervading the spirit of what sounds rooted in a live recording.

That, in turn, is answered by the flamenco strum of the “Cain Go Home (1. Session),” which is nothing if not based around conveying a feeling of motion, so a dynamic emerges across the self-titled that is broad while remaining unified not just by Markkula‘s continued melodicism, but through more of a full-band feel around him, with the centerpiece “Grim-Eyed Goat” and sax-inclusive nine-minute closer “Black Acid” ranging into the beyond of subdued-and-not space rock while holding firm to Death Hawks‘ identity as they establish it throughout. Like its predecessor, Death Hawks is very much about its mood and vibe, but it’s an essential step in coming off of the debut and does much to convey what became the overarching intent of the band at the time. True, that intent would shift by the time Sun Future Moon came around and continue to do so for Psychic Harmony earlier this year, but if anything, the first two Death Hawks LPs highlight the purposefulness behind that.

Because it’s not just about how there’s a leap in sound from one record to the next one — which it’s worth reiterating: the sophomore album followed just a year after the first — but about the creative ethic that’s behind making that leap in the first place. Death Hawks‘ open sensibility and forward drive is something that continues to push their material in exciting directions and down paths that others probably wouldn’t dare to tread even if they thought to do so. What Death & Decay and Death Hawks make plain is that this is a founding principle under which Death Hawks have operated for as long as they’ve been a band, and really since before they were a band as they are now. Perhaps more than anything else, these Svart represses make Death Hawks seem like an even less predictable group, with their origins in unexpected climes and an even broader palette than that for which I’d previously given them credit. I wasn’t about to predict what they’d do next anyhow, but I find myself less inclined than ever to speculate.

Death Hawks, “Dead Man” official video

Death Hawks, “Black Acid” official video

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Death Hawks: First Two Albums to See Reissue Oct. 4

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 23rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

death hawks (Photo by Sami Sanpikkila)

I want these. Among the great many unmade Roadburn purchases I regret from over the years, not shelling out for every-frickin’-thing Finland’s Death Hawks were selling when they played there in 2015 has to be somewhere near the top of the list. Hang my head in shame. Svart Records — as it will — offers solace in the form of two LP reissues of the band’s 2012 debut, Death and Decay, and its 2013 self-titled follow-up. The numbers are limited, and while Death Hawks did already release the brilliant synth-o-prog of Psychic Harmony (review here) earlier this year and I still need to pick up that CD, these records have both been on my Amazon wishlist for I guess the last four years, so they’re pretty much necessary grabs as well.

Wonder what my chances are of getting digital versions to review. I’d love to write about anything Death Hawks that cites Wovenhand as an influence, and if the second record was where they went psych, that’s where I want to be.

Here’s the info and preorder links:

SVART RECORDS TO RE-RELEASE EARLY WORK FROM DEATH HAWKS

Death & Decay, the debut album from Death Hawks, will be released as a limited edition golden vinyl on October 4, 2019. The album is a unique mix of Finno-Americana tunes that draws influences from Wovenhand for example and where the voice of singer-songwriter Teemu Markkula carries through this multidimensional journey.

The album is the first knot on the bands own unique string of albums, where every album stand boldly on their own almost as if they were done by a different band every time.

https://svartrecords.com/product/death-hawks-death-decay-lp/

Tracklisting:
Blue Void
How Dark Was The Land
Roamin’ Baby Blues
The Beast
Death Hawk On My Trail
Shining
Holy Water
Death Has No Reprieve
Priests March
Dead Man
The Peace Maker

At the same time Svart Records will also re-release the band’s self-titled sophomore album that opened doors also internationally for Death Hawks. This psychedelic gem brought the band a license deal to Germany and several tours across Europe. This unnamed album packed in mystical dark covers is still the one album from Death Hawks discography that many love the most. The album is available in black & white vinyl reissue limited in 500 pieces.

https://svartrecords.com/product/death-hawks-s-t-lp/

Tracklisting:
1. Night Children
2. Cain Go Home (2. Session)
3. Blind Daughter of Death
4. Grim-eyed Goat
5. Quiet Sun
6. Cain Go Home (1. Session)
7. Black Acid

Death Hawks – Psychic Harmony tour Finland 2019
04.10. Hämeenlinna, Suistoklubi
11.10. Helsinki, G Livelab
12.10. Helsinki, G Livelab
18.10. Tampere, Olympia-kortteli + VIRTA
25.10. Oulu, 45 Special + VIRTA
26.10. Jyväskylä, Tanssisali Lutakko + VIRTA + Kantatie
1.11. Turku, Dynamo

http://www.deathhawks.com/
https://www.facebook.com/deathhawks/
http://svartrecords.com/shoppe/en/
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Death Hawks, Psychic Harmony (2019)

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Review & Full Album Stream: Death Hawks, Psychic Harmony

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on June 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

death hawks psychic harmony

[Click play above to stream Death Hawks’ Psychic Harmony in full. Album is out June 7 on Svart Records.]

Nearly a decade after their inception, Tampere, Finland’s Death Hawks are rewriting the script on where synth-led prog, psychedelia, and pop meet. Psychic Harmony arrives via Svart Records as their fourth album, and it takes the dreamscape aspects that showed themselves throughout the deep-ranging melodies of 2015’s Sun Future Moon (review here) and pushes them into a mega-lush wash of synth, periodic bouts of sax and a glamourized emotionality that comes through in slow-burners like “Re-Run” as well as in the disco-fied “Whisper,” which seems to nod at Blondie‘s flirtations with funk and eminent danceability. The returning four-piece of vocalist/guitarist Teemu Markkula, bassist/vocalist Riku Pirttiniemi, drummer Miikka Heikkinen and keyboardist/saxophonist Tenho Mattila present 10 tracks for a fluid single LP tied together by style amid varying moods driven as much if not more by keys as by guitar, the band showcasing a vision of pop sexuality that’s as much ’70s androgyny as it is krautrock exploration.

These would seem to be contrasts until one actually listens to Psychic Harmony, which lives up to its title in bringing into a single context such a swath of impulses, and making something deeply human at the same time so much of it is based around synthesizer. It is a significant leap or sidestep in sound even from the preceding Sun Future Moon, let alone anything that came before it, but here too, it is the focus on melodicism that makes Psychic Harmony within the band’s sphere even as it seems to expand the radius thereof, and Markkula‘s voice throughout is a uniting factor the contributions of which are not to be understated. Pirttiniemi has his parts as well, and Nicole Willis contributes a guest spot to acoustic-led closer “I am a Tree,” but still, Markkula helps establish the mood in which much of the album is operating, and the vibe set forth in “Secret Isle” at the outset is one that holds firm across nearly everything that follows, wherever else it might go sound-wise.

And that vibe? Well, it starts with the sound of a needle hitting a record. The idea isn’t just that you’re listening to a vinyl album, but what Death Hawks are shooting for immediately is the idea of being transported through the audio that comes — that cinematic otherworldliness of the keys that start the song and the outward voyage that ensues from there. It’s as though they’re signaling to their audience the intention for the music to take them someplace, and the lyrics to song bear that out as well. Psychic Harmony itself becomes that secret isle, and as the opener moves into the multi-color wash of “Like Lovers Do,” with a change in the vocals, sax buried far back in the mix and keys pushed far forward with voice overtop, the feel becomes all the more spacious, the world created in “Secret Isle” seeming to open wide with programmed beats and a second half that seems to purposefully lose itself in the moment.

death hawks (Photo by Sami Sanpikkila)

“Re-Run” follows and seems to work in the same vein initially, but even after the synth handclaps arrive after about a minute in, the feel is more mellow, with the mix completely filled out from top to bottom with rhythm and melody. Piano enters at the two-minute mark and “Re-Run” moves into its jazzier break, with the sax included as well, but the chorus returns with layers of vocals, leading just to Markkula‘s voice echoing through the chorus toward the title line again, ethereal sounds following and echoing away to lead out and toward the all-things fusion of the instrumental “Aleya,” which only furthers the atmosphere built to that point with horn harmonies and keys coinciding and a movement from mellow jazz to a more grandiose wash at the finish, bringing about the presumed side A capper “Synchronicity,” with a more prominent beat and effects-laden vocals, repetitions of the title word that make it seems almost like an advertisement from the future, and that shift into a stretch of dance-drift and end with fading swirl noise.

Bass beat starts “Whisper” at the (again, presumed) launch of side B, with a more direct play on dance pop that ensues, the aforementioned disco flush coming through not with the urgency of cocaine that actually typified so much of the material from the era with with the song is conversing, but a more laid back mindset, third eye open and ready to get funky. Still, the chorus lands with more insistence thanks in no small part to the beat behind it as well as the layers of vocals, so a guitar solo isn’t out of place when Death Hawks come around to the final section of the song. It’s the kind of thing that would have an extended dance mix in another time, another place. The drama continues in “A Room with a View” amid keyboard starts and stops, krautrock nuance and the prominent layers of vocals that emphasize the bright and progressive mood soon taken further with the arrival of the saxophone. I’d say “Play for Rewind” brings the proceedings back to ground, but yeah, that’s clearly not where Death Hawks are interested in going with Psychic Harmony.

Instead, they they move forward in deceptively efficient upbeat prog-pop form with a drum motion that increases subtly in intensity until at about 3:10 into the total 3:32, it moves to a double-kick to finish out, cutting to silence ahead of “Scent of Life,” a penultimate single-worthy piece that does indeed recall some of the album’s earlier moments, feeling familiar not in the sense of repeating anything, but of adding to what’s already there. It is the crescendo for the album as a whole, without question, and the departure of “I am a Tree” — the purposeful connection to earth, to the ground that “Play for Rewind” so readily rejected — is palpable, but through the prominence of voice throughout, maintains a complementary place with the other tracks before it. Like much of the album, it is beautiful and it knows it, but it is not content to let that self-awareness carry it. And as Death Hawks have thrown open the doors of perception here and discovered such shimmer on the other side, I would not expect their journey of discovery to stagnate anytime soon.

Death Hawks, “Re-Run” official video

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Death Hawks Post “Re-Run” Video; Psychic Harmony out June 7

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

death hawks (Photo by Sami Sanpikkila)

Let’s answer the most pressing question immediately: Yes, the new Death Hawks video does feature a saxophone being played on the edge of a cliffside shorline, the ocean roiling below. If you’re not the patient kind, it starts at 2:45, and it’s of course glorious. Other highlights include petting the leaves of a bush and shooting a laser out of a diamond encased in a pineapple. If there’s any mystery left as to why I’m such a proponent of this band, I sincerely ask you to read the last sentence again and find your answer therein.

Death Hawks release their new album, Psychic Harmony on June 7 through Svart, and with it tap into synth-prog and danceable pastoralism the likes of which could only result from a cosmic collision of influences. Don’t ask me what — I’m not that cool — but suffice it to say the Finnish four-piece have their thing set and they’re running with it. Or at least walking. On the side of some rock formations. Also on the beach. Also in a field. They’re pretty much everywhere, and yet not at all touching the ground. Approach with mind and ears open. Do that.

Assuming all goes according to my evil plans — which, now that I’m telling them to you, it most certainly will not — I’m going to have a review and a front-to-back stream of Psychic Harmony on next Monday, so you’ll pardon me if I save some ethereal-type hyperbole for that. In the meantime, to get yourself a little taste of what the record’s all about, “Re-Run” is on the player below, followed by just a quick bit of perspective from the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Death Hawks, “Re-Run” official video

Kaleidoscopic enigmas Death Hawks reveal the new video “Re-Run.” The track hails from highly anticipated fourth album, Psychic Harmony, set for international release on June 7th via Svart Records.

On their continual shift in sound, vocalist/guitarist Teemu Markkula expounds: “We have always been searching new unforeseen ways in music to express ourselves. It is almost like a chemical reaction. Combining pieces of different elements can lead to an explosion or maybe to a state of euphoria. A sense of harmony is usually what does the trick for me.” He adds, “It’s a continuous quest for new. To get stuck, stay put, or stuck in reverse, even, is certain death. That’s why for us it’s better to stay lost, even, and keep flying and searching. Inspiration is a highly addictive feeling.”

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Death Hawks Set June 7 Release for Psychic Harmony; New Song Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

death hawks (Photo by Sami Sanpikkila)

I know damn well you’ve been waiting for news about a new Death Hawks record since they put up the video for the single “Atitlán” (posted here) last summer, so don’t even pretend otherwise. Well, to herald the announcement of their upcoming LP, Psychic Harmony — which, rest assured, will bring long-awaited peace throughout the galaxy — they’re streaming the new track “Scent of Life” now, and if you can’t dig its glam-soaked psychedelic synth push — like what happened if New Wave, but like, New Wave from Saturn? — then it’s your loss. Me, I’m so into it I already sent an email to Svart‘s PR begging for more. June 7 is the release date, so there’s plenty of time to go, but preorders are up, and you should preorder it because god damn it just listen to that fucking song at the bottom of this post. Everybody’s who goes, “it’s all been done” or “it all sounds the same,” is just trying to cover up for the fact that they’re boring. Death Hawks have the proof!

From the PR wire:

death hawks psychic harmony

DEATH HAWKS set release date for new SVART album, reveal first track

Svart Records announces June 7th as the international release date for Death Hawks’ highly anticipated fourth album, Psychic Harmony, on CD and vinyl LP formats.

On the flipside of the days of northern darkness are the endless sub-Arctic summer nights, where the midnight sun never sets and Finnish nightlife is brilliantly illuminated. Here happiness has a deeper meaning. This is where Finland’s Death Hawks have spread their unique wings, phoenix-like, on their fourth album, Psychic Harmony. Stemming from a rich foundation of euphoric stage shows that has seen the band electrify and joyously anaesthetise their audiences at home and abroad over the years since their inception in 2011, with luxurious synths, psych-blues, and climactic jazz sections, this is the quartet’s bravest and most eclectic trip into the unknown so far.

As if Sophia Coppola got high with Wes Anderson on the Finnish archipelago in late summer, with the cerebral futurism of their Nordic disco countryman Jori Hulkkonen remixing Piirpauke or Wigwam as their soundtrack, Psychic Harmony is a journey into the meaning of euphonic connection itself. It’s boldly cinematic, but their soundscape movie is a genre crash of beautiful alienation, stranded on a desert paradise full of surreal life-forms. Featuring guest appearances by Pekko Käppi on bowed lyre and violin, and lush vocals by Nicole Willis on “I Am A Tree,” Psychic Harmony is an opulent vista.

Spinning out under the mirrorball, the album coolly references modern acts like Thundercat, The Seshen, Fever Ray, and Evil Needle mixed with chic French connections from Francoise Hardy to Daft Punk, Serge Gainsbourg and his daughter Charlotte. Sophisticated tranquil pop songs like the single track “Scent Of Life” or the synth swathes of “Synchronicity” bring to mind the timeless dancefloor mastery of Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson, with all the eclectic abandon of ’70s greats like Aphrodite’s Child, Yes, and Funkadelic. Lead singer/guitarist Teemu Markkula calls their influences “soulful connections for a fuller and higher vibration. Different languages, so to speak, but all from the same source connecting in harmony.”

This is personal psychedelia, with lyrics that reference a blissful state of metamorphosis, like “step into a new world,” the enlightenment of “a new beginning,” and “dancing in a spiral of change,” Death Hawks have come into their career stride, finding their own personal groove and sense of rhythm on this re-defining album.

On their continual shift in sound, Teemu Markkula expounds: “We have always been searching new unforeseen ways in music to express ourselves. It is almost like a chemical reaction. Combining pieces of different elements can lead to an explosion or maybe to a state of euphoria. A sense of harmony is usually what does the trick for me.” He adds, “It’s a continuous quest for new. To get stuck, stay put, or stuck in reverse, even, is certain death. That’s why for us it’s better to stay lost, even, and keep flying and searching. Inspiration is a highly addictive feeling.”

Jewels of Finland’s rising music treasures, Death Hawks are soaring with Psychic Harmony, and your sonic flight on their sound waves will connect you to higher vibrations. Death Hawks are out there on their ocean of sound, ready to lift you up when you feel like you’re slipping under. Get lifted with the aforementioned first single “Scent of Life” at Svart’s official YouTube channel. Preorder info can be found HERE. Cover and tracklisting are as follows:

Tracklisting for Death Hawks’ Psychic Harmony
1. Secret Isle
2. Like Lovers Do
3. Re-Run
4. Aleya
5. Synchronicity
6. Whisper
7. A Room with a View
8. Play For Rewind
9. Scent of Life
10. I am a Tree

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Death Hawks, “Scent of Life”

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Death Hawks Post Video for New Single “Atitlán”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

death hawks photo Sami Sänpäkkilä

So good. So good. New Death Hawks. So good. Post over. Okay, go watch the video.

Really?

Nah, not really, but if you read the above, you pretty much have the point of everything I have to say about the Finnish psychedelic rockers’ new clip for their single “Atitlán,” which as fortunate fate would have it is the predecessor to a fourth long-player to be released this Fall by Svart Records. The band’s blend of classic progressive elements and forward-thinking spaciousness is entirely their own, and if you heard their last album, 2015’s still-put-it-on Sun Future Moon (review here), you know that the result of their sonic meld lacks nothing for memorability for being so otherwise far, far out. Did I mention “so good?” Okay, right on.

Director Sami Sänpäkkilä, who also helmed the camera and edited the video for “Atitlán” and has worked with the band before, put up a pretty interesting blog post about its making in both conceptual and technical terms, which I’ve cut and pasted below since you don’t often see something so detailed about the actual putting together of a video. That post talks as well about Death Hawks frontman Teemu Markkula‘s providing the stage costumes from his work as a professional drag performer, and the glamorous visual elements end up making “Atitlán” both subversive and all the more a trip into the band’s own world, which makes it suitable that the song itself comes from Markkula‘s traveling to Guatemala and staying for a month by the side of a volcano-surrounded lake. As far as inspiration goes, that’ll probably do the job.

I’ll hope to have (much) more on Death Hawks‘ next record as we get nearer to its arrival, but until then, “Atitlán” has a catchy enough hook to set up residence for heavy rotation on the mental jukebox, and you can hear it and see the accompanying video on the player below. Keep an eye out for the parts where they’re waving crystals in front of the camera. Sänpäkkilä mentions it in his post and you can totally see it in the clip itself once you know what you’re looking for. And if watching drag artists makes you uncomfortable, one suspects that’s part of the point.

So dig it:

Death Hawks, “Atitlán” official video

Today, Death Hawks – the most successful Finnish psychedelic rock act of modern times – reveal a new video for the track “Atitlán.” A new recording two-and-a-half years after their smash-hit album, Sun Future Moon, for Svart Records, “Atitlán” is a special digital-only single currently available on all major digital platforms.

As vocalist/guitarist Teemu Markkula reveals, “We’ve been playing around with the song’s characteristic theme for about a year during soundchecks all over Europe. At some point, our bass player Riku made a demo from it, and we decided to produce this new single from it. The song is a melodic and vocal-driven pop song. It has an interesting variety of instruments and a lot of layers which makes it possible to immerse oneself into the song.”

Continuing about the song’s genesis, he says, “At that time, I had just spent a month in a little Guatemalan village by the lake Atitlán. It’s a magical place! A big lake that has three volcanoes rising up from the shorelines – even more if you count in the ancient volcanoes. This song actually is a kind of a postcard from there, and it is dedicated to the most wonderfully bizarre and liberal people. Travelling really broadens the mind! Whaddaya know?”

Sami Sänpäkkilä on “Atitlán”:

Death Hawks new song Atitlán from their fourth full length album is also my third video for the band. All the videos we’ve done have been very different in technique. Black Acid was shot on super 8 and on Beyond Thyme we used UV lights and paints.

Teemu Markkula and myself cooked up the idea on what the video should include in terms of looks and story. The choreography, lights and the visuals were mostly done at the studio. Teemu had some reference images so we kind of had an idea of the colors we wanted. The clothes were all Jukka’s stage clothes as he’s a professional drag artist.

The whole shoot only took about 6-7 hours including lunch and that speed is due to the fact we had a good studio (Visual Works in Helsinki) and loads of people doing their thing. Lighting and VJ setup was simple. We had a 650W tungsten with a soft box and a grid high up on the ceiling. We also had an amazing portable and wirelessly triggered fog machine that was super easy and fast to use. Jonne Pitkänen did the front projections and Ilona Lehtonen did all the back projections.

All the effects except for the double exposure shots are in-camera effects. We had a few crystals that we shaked in front of the camera.

Directed by Sami Sänpäkkilä
Script: Sami Sänpäkkilä, Teemu Markkula
Music by Death Hawks
Actors: Teemu Markkula, Jukka Kuronen
Gaffer: Anna-Mari Nousiainen
VJ’s: Ilona Lehtonen, Jonne Pitkänen

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2015

Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2015 by JJ Koczan

top 30 albums of 2015 1

Please note: This list is not culled in any way from the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2015 to that, please do.

It’s damn near impossible to start one of these posts without some derivation of, “Whew! What a year it’s been!” The truth is that, since 2014, I’ve been keeping a list of the best releases of 2015, and the list has just grown and grown and grown over the last 12 months. Could have been a top 40, easy. Could have been a top 50, 60, whatever. It was complete inundation.

If you’ve been checking in on any of the lists that have gone up so far, you might notice that some of these records have appeared elsewhere, and possibly in a different order. How does an album end up ahead of another on one list and not on another? Different criteria. Different basis of judgment. As always, the big year-end list (this one) is derived both from what I think are the most important offerings of the year plus what I listened to the most, because while I believe deeply in the critical value of a given work, I also believe there’s value in the kind of record you just can’t put down.

Basically, I believe records have value. Stay tuned for more daring adventures in understatement.

A few emergent factors for 2015 to note: The increasing expansion of subgenres. Psychedelia and what I’ve come to call the heavy ’10s sound finding further root as prominent styles of the day, as well as a budding of emotive doom in the post-Pallbearer vein. At the same time, a more straightforward heavy rock is also making a return, and look for that to continue as new listeners discover past landmarks and modern plays thereupon. Everything is cyclical, and I’m interested to see what the next two or three years bring, both as Millennials hit 30 (and beyond) and as younger kids come up and fuzz out.

But that’s a conversation for a different time, and before we get there, it’s time to take a look back at the best full-lengths of 2015. I hope if I’ve left something out, you’ll let me know about it in the comments, but until then, here we go:

30. High on Fire, Luminiferous

high on fire luminiferous

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed June 15.

Going by some of the results I’ve seen from the Readers Poll, I’m guessing there will be some disagreement on the placement of High on Fire‘s seventh full-length, third for eOne and second to be produced by Kurt Ballou behind 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), but for me it came down to what I went back to more. The brilliant “The Falconist” would be enough on its own for Luminiferous to be included on this list, and taken as a whole, the record affirmed the trio as pivotal heavy metal marauders, an act whose devastation is undulled by the wear they’ve put on it touring the world over and again.

29. CHRCH, Unanswered Hymns

chrch unanswered hymns

Released by Battleground Records. Reviewed June 30.

Undaunted by a name change from Church to CHRCH, the Sacramento five-piece unleashed rare doom extremity on their debut album, but peppered that with a stylistic nuance that many in the pummel-pummel-pummel game cast off, whether it was psychedelic flourish in the guitar or some eerie atmospheric. Among the post potential-filled debut offerings of the year, that’s not a guarantee they’ll find future success on the same level, but it does mean that if you didn’t hear the 19-minute “Dawning,” you missed out.

28. Golden Void, Berkana

golden void berkana

Released by Thrill Jockey Records. Reviewed Sept. 22.

Coherent bliss. The second full-length from the four-piece Golden Void was a logical step forward from the band’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), but that was precisely what it needed to be. With an emerging dynamic of dual vocals between guitarist Isaiah Mitchell (also Earthless) and keyboardist Camilla Saufley-Mitchell on cuts like “Astral Plane” and “Silent Season,” Berkana was less adherent to space rock overall than its predecessor, but gave a more individualized take and was all the richer for it.

27. Stoned Jesus, The Harvest

stoned jesus the harvest

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Probably should have a higher number. Part of the enduring appeal for The Harvest for me is not only how Ukrainian three-piece Stoned Jesus so absolutely pushed back from the album before it, 2012’s sophomore outing, Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but how much reasoning they put behind the moves they made on the six included tracks. Each song had its purpose and place in the overarching flow, and The Harvest continues to deliver something new on thoroughly-earned repeat listens. Perhaps most encouraging of all, I have no idea what they’ll do next.

26. Graveyard, Innocence and Decadence

graveyard innocence and decadence

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 7.

Swedish retro forerunners are hands-down one of the most influential European heavy rock acts of their generation. The ’70s revivalism they helped spearhead on their first, second and third LPs has given them rich ground to develop, and they still managed to bring something new to their sound with the soulfulness of Innocence and Decadence, as well as increasing command and diversity in the vocals. Drummer Axel Sjöberg turned in a career performance, and although there are heaps upon heaps of bands out there indulging in post-Graveyard boogie, they showed once again that they’re able to stand both out from the crowd and well above it. Plus, any swing-rocking album that dares to break out soul-singer backing vocals and blastbeats, and pull both off without blinking deserves respect, no matter what else it might have going on.

25. Death Hawks, Sun Future Moon

death hawks sun future moon

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Nov. 3

It felt so good to put on Death HawksSun Future Moon for the first time and be completely blindsided by its serene psychedelic ritualizing. The Finnish four-piece reveled in classic progressive methods, and where it would’ve been so easy for songs like “Hey Ya Sun Ra” or “Dream Life, Waking Life” to come across as pretentious, the naturalism in the recording gave the band’s third album such a liquefied flow that it was impossible not to be swept up by it until, at last, “Friend of Joy” launched into and beyond a peaceful stratosphere in spaced-out ambience. My first exposure to the group and their first outing for Svart, it’s a record so textural and so graceful that it seems to unfurl itself more each time through.

24. Spidergawd, II

spidergawd ii

Released by Stickman Records and Crispin Glover Records. Reviewed Jan. 5.

A quick and strong turnaround from this Norwegian sax-inclusive foursome, who might seem to come out of nowhere were it not for the pedigree of Kenneth Kapstad and Bent Sæther in long-running progressives Motorpsycho. Together with Per Borten and Rolf Martin Snustad, Spidergawd spoke to more primal rock instincts — their two LPs to-date and soon to be three are testaments to the ability of music to move, to shove, and to shake; or as they put it, “Get Physical” — but as there is breadth as well, as the psychedelic “Caereulean Caribou” demonstrated. Anchored by the hook of “Fixing to Die Blues,” Spidergawd‘s second wandered far and wide, but welcomed listeners along for each step of the journey.

23. The Midnight Ghost Train, Cold was the Ground

the midnight ghost train cold was the ground

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 26.

As the title promised, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s third offering and Napalm Records debut delivered harsh truths. They came at breakneck speed and delivered with stage-hewn chemistry by the Midwestern power trio, whose years of road-dogging were brought to bear in the gruff, gravel-throated voice of guitarist Steve Moss, who led drummer Brandon Burghart and newcomer bassist Mike Boyne across nigh-unparalled riff torrents, with all the boogie of any number of ’70s-style sidewinders, but also with a tonal thickness that seemed a miracle it could move at all. Not without its adventurous side in the quieter “The Little Sparrow,” Cold was the Ground brimmed with intensity that brought the band to new levels in every conceivable fashion.

22. Leeches of Lore, Motel of Infinity

leeches of lore motel of infinity

Released by Lorchestral Recording Company. Reviewed Sept. 15.

Blessed art the weirdos, whose records might be few and far between, who might not tour, but whose bold fits and starts span genres easily and whose work truly stands alone. Leeches of Lore‘s Toshi Kasai-produced Motel of Infinity was a godsend in the enduring battle against normality. It was a grinding, grooving anti-punk stampede, at times frenetic and at other times whatever the opposite of frenetic is, and to-date, it’s the Albuquirky outit’s masterpiece, from the low-end buzzsaw, gang-shout and falsetto of “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” through the bass and organ bounce of “Noah’s Soul (is Burning).” They have been and still are a band unto themselves, and the we-do-this-every-day confidence of their execution across Motel of Infinity‘s run only emphasizes how utterly necessary they are.

21. With the Dead, With the Dead

with the dead self titled

Released by Rise Above Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

With the Dead vocalist Lee Dorrian (also head of Rise Above Records, also ex-Cathedral) basically laid it all out there in the interview here when he said, “We wanted to make the most skull-crushing record we possibly could.” That’s precisely what With the Dead‘s self-titled debut is. It’s as heavy as possible, as filthy as possible, all the way through. In some ways very much the sum of its elements with Dorrian on vocals, Tim Bagshaw on guitar/bass and Mark Greening on drums (both ex-Ramesses), it was also of course more than just that, and while so much of their story has yet to be told as they move into their initial live appearances in 2016, their opening salvo was nothing if not as destructive as its intent.

20. Clutch, Psychic Warfare

clutch psychic warfare

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Oct. 6.

How could anyone possibly have even remotely reasonable expectations for a Clutch record after 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here). I won’t say the Maryland stalwarts didn’t deliver with Psychic Warfare, and I doubt any fan of the band who’s dug into “X-Ray Visions,” “A Quick Death in Texas” or “Noble Savage” would, but their returning to producer Machine for the second time in a row made it almost too easy to compare Clutch‘s 10th and 11th long-players. Four years between albums was shortened to just two, and that may have had something to do with it as well, but while the songs were there and I’ve no doubt that Psychic Warfare will endure over the long term — ask me sometime how long it took me to get into Pure Rock Fury — in the moment of its release, Psychic Warfare seemed to stand in the shadow of its predecessor rather than in its own light.

19. Mondo Drag, Mondo Drag

mondo drag self-titled

Released by Kozmik Artifactz and RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Jan. 8.

An awaited return for Midwestern-turned-West-Coast psychedelic rockers Mondo Drag, their self-titled sophomore outing had three years between its recording and release, and was made in 2012 with a shortlived incarnation of the band with bassist Zack Anderson and drummer Cory Berry, both formerly of Radio Moscow and then-soon to be of Blues Pills. Unsurprisingly, the grooves were tight, but even better, Mondo Drag blew past the peaceful headtrippery of their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), toward more expansive and proggy fare. They’ll look to continue that thread on their third outing, The Occultation of Light, in 2016, but the self-titled captured a special moment worthy of celebration, still rife with the classic-minded ethereal spirit of the first outing, but clearly bent on defining its own sonic dogma in hooks and synthy vibes.

18. Lamp of the Universe, The Inner Light of Revelation

lamp of the universe the inner light of revelation

Released by Clostridium Records and Astral Projection. Reviewed April 27.

At the risk of sounding biased, just about any new release from New Zealand tantric psych outfit Lamp of the Universe is going to be welcome by me. Comprised solely of Craig Williamson (also Arc of Ascent), the long-running project nonetheless casts out gorgeously textured meditative psychedelia, at times delving into drone or Eastern folk, but always marking out its own sonic space, whether in the more rock-minded groove of “God of One” or the drumless acoustic swirl of “Ancient Path.” Lamp of the Universe is a rare band — as much as it is a band — that covers a swath of ground stylistically and manages to sound like nothing but itself as it does so, and Williamson‘s commitment to his cosmic mantras remains firm and creatively fertile as the seeds he planted early on continue to bear fruit in complex arrangements that never distract from the central, spiritual purpose of the music.

17. Mammatus, Sparkling Waters

mammatus sparkling waters

Released by Spiritual Pajamas. Reviewed Nov. 9.

Even with its title-track broken into two 20-plus-minute side-consuming halves, it was abundantly plain to hear that Sparkling Waters was the most realized Mammatus outing yet. The four-song, 75-minute offering brimmed with a clarity that even their late-2013 third album, Heady Mental (review here), could only partially claim, leaving behind the fuzz and fog of their earlier work almost entirely while remaining open to employing sonic heft when suitable to their more complex motives. Most effective about Mammatus at this stage was the way they eased into and through varied parts while tying together a coherent whole piece, the builds and cascades of “Sparkling Waters Part One” setting up an expectation of fluidity that held firm even through the more jagged buzz in the early going of closer “Ornia,” the grand finale of which resonates as a cacophony without letting itself actually lose control.

16. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, The Night Creeper

uncle acid the night creeper

Released by Rise Above Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

UK ladykillers Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats have emerged as one of the most essential bands of the ’10s. The Night Creeper is their fourth album and it takes the defining eeriness of their melodies and roughs it up with a mostly-live recording job — something which, now that they’re a touring act, they can do — for their grittiest, dirtiest-sounding offering yet. Songs like “Melody Lane,” “Pusher Man” and opener “Waiting for Blood” speak to what’s let their methodology spread so widely in the first place, the VHS grain of their guitars and vocals resting over classic swing and proliferating maddening hooks with lethal intent. Between the nine-minute gruel of “Slow Death” and the hidden acoustic track “Black Motorcade,” The Night Creeper wasn’t without its element of sonic progress, but with Uncle Acid, it’s still the combination of threat, swing and memorable songwriting that brings listeners back to their dark alleyways for another taste.

15. Death Alley, Black Magick Boogieland

death alley black magick boogieland

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 8.

Easily one of 2015’s most encouraging debuts. Making its opening salvo with the propulsion of Motörhead-derived heavy rock in songs like “Over Under” and “Black Magick Boogieland,” the first outing from Amsterdam-based foursome Death Alley touched on classic ideals without going retro on “Bewildered Eyes,” nodded toward psychedelic melodicism and more patient intentions in “Golden Fields of Love,” and portrayed its punker roots in “Dead Man’s Bones” — all before the 12:40 space rock extravaganza that took hold with closer “Supernatural Predator.” It was a lot of territory to cover, but Death Alley not only made it sound cohesive, they made it rock and they made it a good time. In just about 41 minutes, Black Magick Boogieland was not only a voyage well worth taking, it was a potential-filled, headbang-worthy ripper of an album from an outfit who deserves every bit of attention they seem to be shouting for. Hope they don’t wait long for a follow-up.

14. The Machine, Offblast!

the machine offblast

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed May 28.

Five records in, Dutch trio The Machine have found a niche for themselves between heavy psych rock, desert fuzz and exploratory jamming. Offblast!, with a title that seemed more reminiscent of Europunker speed rock, was as spacious as it was driving, and whether it was the more structured material like “Dry End” or “Coda Sun” or the two extended cuts, 16-minute opener ““Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and 12-minute closer “Come to Light,” their dynamic remained natural and held firm to a spontaneous sensibility, like at any turn, any part might take off for an eight-minute ride to who knows where. That that didn’t always happen only made Offblast! a richer listening experience, its varied ideas coming through consistent tonality to affect a more than satisfying front-to-back flow that toyed with momentum even as it built more and more of it. Was a while in the making, coming three years after 2012’s Calmer than You Are (review here), but easily worth the wait.

13. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth

brothers of the sonic cloth self titled

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed March 3.

There were moments where the self-titled debut from Brothers of the Sonic Cloth was almost too much to take in one sitting. By the time the Tad Doyle-led trio got around to the 11-minute “La Mano Poderosa,” sometimes I felt like I needed a second to catch my breath before diving further, always further, into the smoldering abyss their tones, growls and lurch seemed to create. Six years after their demo (review here) served notice like a tectonic rumble in the distance, the album arrived with comet-into-planet heft, and its oppression was as much about atmosphere as it was sheer aural assault. Imagine an arm reaching down your throat, grabbing your lungs, and forcibly deflating them one at a time. Is that hyperbole? Absolutely, and well earned. Every bit the debut of the year.

12. Kind, Rocket Science

kind rocket science

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Dec. 2.

No, Boston supergroup Kind aren’t so high on this list just because they called a song “Pastrami Blaster.” Granted, that didn’t hurt, but ultimately it was the blend of cavernous psychedelics and heavy rumble that made Rocket Science so infectious. Comprised of vocalist Craig Riggs (Roadsaw), guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, The Scimitar, etc.), bassist Tom Corino (Rozamov) and drummer Matt Couto (Elder), Kind earned immediate interest for their pedigree, but it was more the breadth of jams like “Hordeolum” and “The Angry Undertaker” that defined their first outing, various impulses toward structure and open-endedness not so much pushing against each other as working in tandem to craft something that drew from the best of both mindsets. Obviously these are busy guys, but hopefully Kind doesn’t all by the wayside for other ongoing projects. Rocket Science was unmistakable in its demonstration that they have much to offer.

11. Bloodcow, Crystals and Lasers

bloodcow crystals and lasers

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 4.

Iowa five-piece Bloodcow hadn’t put out a record since 2007’s Bloodcow III: Hail Xenu, but that didn’t stop Crystals and Lasers from being their best work yet. As much punk as metal as heavy rock, it wasn’t for everybody, but it was most definitely for me. With a constant thread of satire in songs like “Ultra Super Sexual,” “Sock,” “Dick for Days” and the oh-shit-I’m-middle-aged-how-the-fuck-did-this-happen (not saying I relate or anything, but holy shit I can relate) “After Party,” it was nonetheless a stylistically varied and universally professional-sounding 13-track collection, offering weirdo quirk in “Blood and Guts,” “Exploding Head” and “Little Chromosome” and finding room for a bit of scathing social commentary in its title-track and “HIVampyre.” If they’re working at an eight-year pace, I don’t know that we’ll get another Bloodcow record, but they very clearly put everything they had into Crystals and Lasers and the result was a defining statement.

10. Kadavar, Berlin

kadavar berlin

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed July 7.

After two wallops in the form of 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) and 2012’s self-titled debut (discussed here), German trio Kadavar continued to prove the effectiveness of their songwriting on Berlin, a return that front-to-back brimmed with vitality and bounce rare enough for heavy rock generally more content to be downtrodden or attempting to feign bluesy substance. Unabashedly poppy at times, Berlin was the party that brought everyone along who was up for taking the ride, and whether it was the hook of “Lord of the Sky” showing how just a tiny melodic turn could make a track infectious or cuts like “Thousand Miles Away from Home,” “Filthy Illusion,” “Stolen Dreams,” “Spanish Wild Rose,” “See the World with Your Own Eyes” — all of them, really — working their way into the consciousness, Berlin felt like it was primed to be the soundtrack of many summers to come. They moved away from the retro style of their first two outings, but in so doing took fuller command of their sound and put it to remarkable use.

9. Goatsnake, Black Age Blues

goatsnake black age blues

Released by Southern Lord. Reviewed May 19.

Picking up right where Flower of Disease closer “The River” left off with “Another River to Cross,” Goatsnake‘s third full-length arrived a full 15 years after its predecessor, and as one might expect that brought some considerable changes in the band’s sound. Oh, they still rolled the hell out of a riff, guitarist Greg Anderson (he of SunnO))) and Southern Lord Recordings) very much at the fore tonally, but a bluesy inflection from vocalist Pete Stahl (also earthlings?) and some well-placed backing vocals added personality in a daring and unexpected fashion. Songs like “Jimi’s Gone,” “Elevated Man” and “Grandpa Jones” sat comfortably in the band’s influential pantheon of heft, but it was how Black Age Blues pushed beyond what Goatsnake did in their initial run that made it so satisfying. For a record that arrived five years after they got back together, it could have easily been disaster, but Black Age Blues built on what Goatsnake was without detracting from the legacy that has influenced a generation of heavy rock.

8. Kings Destroy, Kings Destroy

kings destroy self titled

Released by War Crime Recordings. Reviewed April 15.

I’m proud to call the members of Kings Destroy friends and I won’t attempt to feign impartiality when it comes to considering their work as a band, but I felt in listening to their self-titled third LP that they had finally gotten to the point where they were bringing the onstage confrontationalism of their live show to the studio. Yeah, “Mr. O” was upbeat and catchy and gave side A some thrust, but even in chugging opener “Smokey Robinson” or the moody “Mytho” and “Embers,” Kings Destroy not only came further into their own in terms of style, building on the anti-genre defiant stance of 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), but did so with a clearheaded progressivism, a better sense of who they are musically and what they want the band to be. I wouldn’t trade seeing them play “Embers” or “W2” as many times as I have for anything, but even unto the gang-shout half-speed hardcore of “Time for War,” Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy made no bones about how it wound up with the eponymous title. It’s them through and through.

7. Cigale, Cigale

cigale self titled

Self-released. Reviewed May 4.

It may never be possible to listen to the self-titled debut from Cigale outside the context of the death of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets (ex-Sungrazer). That loss casts a dark shadow over a collection that otherwise radiates colorful sweetness and serenity, the peaceful depth beginning with “Grey Owl” and only broadening as it turns and weaves through “Steeplechase,” “Feel the Heat,” “Harvest Begun” and so on, but the record remains a gorgeous, engrossing wash of resonant melody and underlying presence. Not without its moments of melancholy, the more overarching impression was of beauty not tied to any notion of playing to genre or style, and while I don’t know what the future will hold for the band, if they’ll keep moving forward or not or if they’re even in a place yet to consider such things, they helped broaden the context of European heavy psychedelia with their first album, and that is no minor achievement.

6. Sun Blood Stories, Twilight Midnight Morning

sun blood stories twilight midnight morning

Self-released. Reviewed June 19.

Another one that just kind of smacked me in the face. Idahoan heavy psych explorers Sun Blood Stories‘ second album, Twilight Midnight Morning was soaked in vibe and moved fluidly between experimentalist noisemaking and patient, memorable songwriting. Tracks like “West the Sun,” “Witch Wind” and “Found Reasons Found Out” never raged, exactly, but had enough weight to their rhythm to let you know they were there and interested in groove, while later pieces “Time Like Smoke,” “Moon Song: Waxing” and “Misery is Nebulous” drew exponentially from earlier freakout impulses and shifted into a dronier and more ambient approach. The combination of the two — semi-structure up front, open expansion in the back — made the three-part Twilight Midnight Morning engaging and hypnotic in kind, and though I hope they get weirder and experiment and develop the atmospheric side of their sound, I’ve also got my fingers crossed they hold firm to their more grounded aspects, since its the range between the two that gives their sophomore outing its defining fluidity.

5a. Colour Haze, To the Highest Gods We Know

colour haze to the highest gods we know

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Jan. 6.

I’ll cite precedent in last year’s list for including a “5a.” The intent in doing so is to convey the idea that Colour Haze‘s latest outing, To the Highest Gods We Know, is worthy of top five consideration, but its release date was split between 2014 (CD) and 2015 (LP), so it was a little unclear where to put it. As the album is basically a year old at this point, it seems fair to say it’s held up, drawing back from the grandiose vision of 2012’s She Said (review here) without losing sight of the progressive elements that have taken root in the German trio’s sound. Their work has been and remains essential to the development of heavy psychedelic rock in Europe and beyond, and even though To the Highest Gods We Know felt like something of a reset — a stripping down of arrangements in places and getting back to a trio-in-a-room feel — it still stepped forward in its title-track and in songs like “Überall” and “Call” and showed that even when it seems Colour Haze have pushed their approach as far as it can go, there’s always new ground to explore, and their pull to do so is undiminished.

5. The Atomic Bitchwax, Gravitron

the atomic bitchwax gravitron

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 20.

Doesn’t exactly seem like giving away state secrets to note that a record with songs like “Sexecutioner” and “Fuck Face” is aggressive, but it’s particularly interesting in light of the past work of New Jersey trio The Atomic Bitchwax, who I don’t think sounded as barn-burning as they do on Gravitron even in their earliest going. The trio of bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella kept their signature winding riff style intact — demonstrated most expansively over 2011’s single-song full-length instrumental The Local Fuzz (review here) — but while their turns were as blinding as ever, their tones were more pointed and Pantella‘s snare more upfront on the beat, which gave Gravitron a newfound sense of urgency. It worked. Even poppier songs like “Roseland” or the closing “Ice Age Hey Baby” benefited from the additional thrust, and the album overall felt lean, mean and ready to be taken on the road, which of course is exactly what they did with it. Six albums in, The Atomic Bitchwax were at their most vital yet.

4. All Them Witches, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker

all them witches dying surfer meets his maker

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

Nashville four-piece All Them Witches probably could’ve gone into the studio, churned out a record of crunchy riffs with a quiet part or two for flavor and positioned themselves at the forefront of American heavy rock with their New West Records debut and third full-length overall, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. Instead, they defied expectation boldly and brought their growing audience into the room with them and producer Mikey Allred as they captured the album, which finds its most affecting moments not in tonal weight, but emotional resonance, the melody at the midpoint of “Talisman” or the string arrangement gracefully tucked into “Open Passageways.” There’s still the push of “Dirt Preachers,” and entrancing closer “Blood and Sand – Milk and Endless Waters” has its heft as well, but All Them Witches‘ success ultimately came from being the album they wanted to make, built from the dynamic that’s developed on stage between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeodAllan Van Cleave on Fender Rhodes/strings, and drummer Robby Staebler, and alive in its feeling of exploration. I won’t predict what they might do from here, but I’m willing to say outright it’ll be worth hearing one way or another.

3. Snail, Feral

snail feral

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Oct. 13.

My expectations for Snail‘s third post-reunion full-length and Small Stone label debut, Feral, were pretty high. Not unreasonably so, though. Their 2012 outing, Terminus (review here), built on the blend of heavy psych riffs, laid back roll and melodicism that 2009’s Blood (review here) established as the band’s working modus, but Feral was going to be a different beast from the start because it was the West Coast outfit’s first full-length as a trio since they made their self-titled debut (reissue review here) in 1993 before splitting up the next year. Whatever my expectations were, however, Snail shattered them almost immediately. In the progression of their songwriting as shown across the strong opening salvo of “Building a Haunted House,” “Smoke the Deathless” and “A Mustard Seed” through one of the year’s best songs in the expansive and crushing “Thou Art That,” the three-piece showcased a breadth unlike anything they’d conjured before, and it only continued through “Born in Captivity,” the catchy “Derail,” “Psilocybe” and the soul-infused wah leads that peppered the pleading closer “Come Home.” Where Terminus offered intensity, Feral offered patience in its execution, and the atmosphere it created suited the band’s sound as well as the Seldon Hunt cover art seemed to summarize the alternate reality in which the music took place. Everything about how it came together worked just right, and even as a fan of the band’s work since they got together again, I was taken aback by the unflinching quality of Feral front to back.

2. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere

acid king middle of nowhere center of everywhere

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 19.

Ten years is a long, long time. Especially in music. The prospect of a fourth Acid King record has been tossed around for at least the last six of those 10 years, but to finally have it realized was something else entirely. Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere was without a doubt my most-listened-to album of the year, and its combination of tonal haze, low-end heft and spacious atmosphere was perfect. There’s just no other way to say it. It was perfect. From “Silent Pictures” and “Coming down from Outer Space” through “Red River,” “Infinite Skies” and the sprawling “Center of Everywhere” itself, guitarist/vocalist Lori S., bassist Mark Lamb and drummer Joey Osbourne crafted an absolutely perfect heavy psych record. How many bands walking the earth could even get away with calling a track “Laser Headlights,” let alone make it kick ass? Yeah, Goatsnake came back this year, and that was great, but for me, the return of Acid King to their throne of nod was even more the story of the year. Together with producer Billy Anderson, they offered a depth of tone that was simply unmatched, and without an ounce of pretense, they unveiled a roll that continues to resound. I’m a big fan of getting lost in a record, and Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere eased the listener in with its “Intro,” pulled reality apart from with “Silent Pictures” and set about doing the universe a favor by remaking the cosmos as the kind of place where one might find a wizard riding a tiger past the craters of the moon, until, at last, it deposited you back where you started. Best trip of 2015, no question.

1. Elder, Lore

elder lore

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed Feb. 19.

Make no mistake, 2015 was Elder‘s year. We were all just living in it. Truth be told, I’ve been back and forth between Elder and Acid King in the top spot for the last couple months (you might recall in July they were reversed), but when it finally came to it, there was no way I could feasibly call anything other than Lore the album of the year. From the gorgeous Adrian Dexter artwork (discussed here), through the progressive clarion of “Compendium”‘s noodling guitar line and into the massive scope of the title-track (discussed here), Lore was the moment in which Elder — guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto — tore down the walls of genre, whether it was heavy rock, psychedelia or anything else, and emerged with their own approach and complex, varied modus of songwriting. They’ve been turning heads since their self-titled debut arrived in 2008, but with 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), they began to demonstrate the potential for really adding something to the patchwork of underground heavy. In moving forward by making clarity a hallmark both of their sound and of their purpose, Elder came into their own with these five tracks, and do not at all be surprised a couple years from now when bands start showing up aping DiSalvo‘s style of riffing, since such a bold and successful foray of individualism can only be influential in the longer run. At nearly an hour long, Lore was not a minor undertaking, but each song seemed to set up its own atmosphere, feeding not only its own singular focus, but that of the album overall. Its turns blinding, its impact forceful and its affect drawing from the best of the sonic personalities of all three players, Elder‘s Lore reaped wide acclaim and earned it every step of the way. Its progressive vision has only begun to be digested.

Honorable Mention

Killer Boogie, Detroit – Impressive debut from the retro-minded offshoot of Black Rainbows brought ’70s boogie to Italy. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a quick turnaround, but either way, their first outing knew its audience and spoke directly to it.

My Sleeping Karma, Moksha – This one was on various incarnations of the list. Very interested to see where the German heavy prog outfit wind up in terms of expanding their arrangements, but Moksha was a satisfying step forward in that process.

Egypt, Endless Flight – Should probably have a number, but the fact is it’s only been out for like two weeks, so it hasn’t really been given the test of time at this point. Still, Egypt always deliver and this was no exception.

Valkyrie, Shadows – An awaited third full-length from Virginia’s Valkyrie and also their Relapse Records debut offered enough blazing guitar work to meet any quota, and was a welcome return after a long absence.

Magic Circle, Journey’s End – The second LP from this Massachusetts outfit pushed beyond doomly confines into more traditional metallurgy but held its eerie atmospherics intact, and the combination suited them remarkably well.

Monolord, Vænir – This was my go-to for 2015 when nothing else seemed quite crushing enough. The Swedish trio have very quickly stomped their way into the hearts and minds of the international underground, and rightfully so.

Freedom Hawk, Into Your Mind – After making a transition from a four-piece to a trio, this Virginian outfit proceeded to take a few stylistic risks on their second Small Stone long-player, and they paid off.

TombstonesVargariis – Fourth full-length from this Norwegian trio pushed them outside of doom’s confines into a darker and more extreme version of heaviness that pulled from death and black metals in addition to its sludgy underpinnings. The meld was punishing and lost nothing of its groove, wherever it went at any given moment.

Faces of Bayon, Ash and Dust Have no Dominion – I guess my only hesitation with including Faces of Bayon‘s second outing in any kind of year-end fare is I’m not sure if the album has actually been released yet. Even if not, they’re easily worth a mention.

Ice Dragon, A Beacon on the Barrow – Kind of a down year from Ice Dragon in terms of overall productivity, but if the quantity was down compared to some, A Beacon on the Barrow was quality enough to carry them through. In a way, I think the album actually benefited from the band giving listeners time to take it in.

Arenna, Given to Emptiness – Ah, so good. The Spanish heavy psych troupe dug in deep on Given to Emptiness and conjured sonic and emotional resonance on their second full-length. It’s one that still gets repeat listens.

Monster Magnet, Cobras and Fire – The long-running New Jersey outfit’s reworking of their 2010 album Mastermind was excellent, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t seem fair to list it when they’re working mostly from already-released source material. But still, if you haven’t heard it, go find it.

Various Artists, Electric Ladyland [Redux] – Even if the results hadn’t been so spectacular, Electric Ladyland [Redux] would deserve a mention for the sheer scope and logistical nightmare that the project must have been. Kudos to Magnetic Eye Records all around.

There are so many others: Abrahma, GoyaSun and Sail Club, DevilleSacri MontiDirty StreetsUfomammutWo Fat‘s live album, Mirror Queen, PentagramTorcheSumacGarden of WormBlack RainbowsHoly SerpentMinskBaronWeedpeckerElectric MoonFuzzBell WitchWindhand, Niche, We Lost the SeaSeremoniaSunderDomovoyd, The Heavy EyesDemon HeadFoggStars that MoveEnslavedRuby the Hatchet, on and on and on. That’s not even to mention the stuff I didn’t hear — Baroness will be on many people’s lists, no doubt, as well as Mutoid Man, Ghost and Kylesa — so yeah, I could pretty much keep going ad infinitum.

I, however, cannot. It’s been an absolute pleasure trying to keep up with 2015’s barrage the last 12 months, and I expect 2016 will only bring more. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading or that you’re able to get some use out of this post, whatever that might mean, and I thank you deeply, from the bottom of my heart, for your time and for reading. It means more to me than I can say that you might check out even any portion of this site or be involved, whether it’s sharing a link, leaving a comment to let me know who I forgot to mention or correct my spelling, signing up for the forum, listening to the radio, whatever it might be.

Thank you for an amazing 2015. And please stay tuned, because of course, there’s much more to come.

 

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audiObelisk Transmission 055

Posted in Podcasts on December 14th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

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Before we get to all the tracks and this and that, I have to say, this double-size year-end podcast was an absolute pleasure to put together. Fun. Actual fun. I don’t know if it was the preponderance of excellent songs to work from that came out in 2015 or what, but I had a really good time making my way through the near-four-hour run, and I hope you feel that way too as you listen.

It should go without mentioning, but I’ll give the disclaimer anyway that this is in no way, shape or form a complete rundown of everything awesome produced this year. My own Top 10 has bands on it who aren’t represented here, so if you don’t see something you think belongs in the mix below — looking at you, Baroness fans — please keep in mind that it’s not my intent to offer anything more than a partial summary. Otherwise, I’d have to make it a year long.

Thanks for listening if you get the chance to do so, and if there’s something here you haven’t yet checked out, I hope you dig it. The flow is pretty easy front to back, but we get into some more extreme stuff in the third hour for a bit before going grand with Elder and the “Digestive Raga” from Øresund Space Collective, which seemed an appropriate way to end off giving everyone a chance to process what’s just been heard. Please enjoy.

Track details follow:

First Hour:
0:00:00 Acid King, “Red River” from Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
0:08:24 Clutch, “Firebirds” from Psychic Warfare
0:11:23 Bloodcow, “Crystals and Lasers” from Crystals and Lasers
0:14:28 Stoned Jesus, “Rituals of the Sun” from The Harvest
0:21:25 Ufomammut, “Plouton” from Ecate
0:24:33 Geezer, “So Tired” from The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter One Split w/ Borracho
0:32:36 Wizard Eye, “Thunderbird Divine” from Wizard Eye
0:37:40 Mondo Drag, “Crystal Visions Open Eye” from Mondo Drag
0:42:08 Fogg, “Seasons” from High Testament
0:48:26 Goatsnake, “Grandpa Jones” from Black Age Blues
0:53:02 Snail, “Thou Art That” from Feral

Second Hour:
1:03:17 Sergio Ch., “Las Piedras” from 1974
1:06:40 All Them Witches, “Blood and Sand – Milk and Endless Waters” from Dying Surfer Meets His Maker
1:13:54 Death Hawks, “Ripe Fruits” from Sun Future Moon
1:18:45 Colour Haze, “Call” from To the Highest Gods We Know
1:26:46 Kadavar, “Last Living Dinosaur” from Berlin
1:30:50 Spidergawd, “Fixing to Die Blues” from Spidergawd II
1:35:02 The Machine, “Dry End” from Offblast!
1:38:01 The Midnight Ghost Train, “Straight to the North” from Cold was the Ground
1:42:00 Kind, “Pastrami Blaster” from Rocket Science
1:48:29 Valley, “Dream Shooter, Golden!” from Sunburst
1:54:22 Graveyard, “From a Hole in the Wall” from Innocence and Decadence
1:58:09 Demon Head, “Book of Changes” from Ride the Wilderness

Third Hour:
2:02:50 Egypt, “Endless Flight” from Endless Flight
2:12:29 Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, “Empires of Dust” from Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
2:20:09 With the Dead, “I am Your Virus” from With the Dead
2:25:45 Ahab, “Red Foam (The Great Storm)” from The Boats of the Glen Carrig
2:32:08 Kings Destroy, “Mr. O” from Kings Destroy
2:36:37 Sun and Sail Club, “Dresden Firebird Freakout” from The Great White Dope
2:38:33 Sunder, “Wings of the Sun” from Sunder
2:42:41 Weedpecker, “Into the Woods” from Weedpecker II
2:50:50 Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, “Pusher Man” from The Night Creeper
2:56:26 Eggnogg, “Slugworth” from Sludgy Erna Bastard split w/ Borracho

Fourth Hour:
3:02:48 Golden Void, “Astral Plane” from Berkana
3:09:34 Elder, “Lore” from Lore
3:25:24 Øresund Space Collective, “Digestive Raga” from Different Creatures

Total running time: 3:55:26

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 055

 

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