The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2015

Posted in Features on December 18th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

top 20 debuts 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.

I’ll note right away that this list started out as a top 10. When it came to it, it didn’t seem fair to cut it off. Too much left out. It gets to a point where you look at your list of honorable mentions and it’s like three times as long as your list itself and you realize maybe you should up the numbers and give a few more records their due. So yeah, a top 20 it is.

The temptation with a list like this, especially since it’s dealing with bands working on their first full-length albums (EPs are counted separately), is to think of it as indicative of future movement overall, to try and measure some overarching trend from some of the best outings of the year. I’m not sure that’s a fair approach either to the bands who made these records or to everyone else who might come after, but if we step back and look at what’s presented in the list below, we see veterans resurfacing in new incarnations, new, young groups coming together with classic ideologies, a bit of heavy extremity, psych melding with pop, heavy rock going prog and much more.

What all that tells me is that notions like “underground” and “heavy,” these vague terms that get applied so liberally, are constantly expanding. Whatever their individual sound might be, these bands all pushed ahead an overarching stylistic progression in whatever they’re doing, and like the best of debut albums, they held promise for further growth beyond this already impressive output. It’s less about which seems like an immediate landmark, touchstone, whatever, than it is about what sets up and effectively begins that development going forward, though striking a chord in the present never hurts either.

To that end, here we go:

brothers of the sonic cloth brothers of the sonic cloth

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2015

1. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
2. Death Alley, Black Magick Boogieland
3. Cigale, Cigale
4. Kind, Rocket Science
5. Fogg, High Testament
6. Crypt Sermon, Out of the Garden
7. CHRCH, Unanswered Hymns
8. With the Dead, With the Dead
9. Demon Head, Ride the Wilderness
10. Sacri Monti, Sacri Monti
11. Stars that Move, Stars that Move
12. Chiefs, Tomorrow’s Over
13. Sunder, Sunder
14. Ecstatic Vision, Sonic Praise
15. Bison Machine, Hoarfrost
16. Serial Hawk, Searching for Light
17. Cloud Catcher, Enlightened Beyond Existence
18. Khemmis, Absolution
19. Sumac, The Deal
20. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, The Devil and the Almighty Blues

Honorable Mention

By way of honorable mentions, first I have to give a nod to Foehammer‘s self-titled debut EP, which would be on this list probably in the top five if not the top three were it not for the fact that, as noted, it’s an EP. Its list will come. The 2015 release of Horsehunter‘s self-titled on Magnetic Eye was killer as well, but since the album initially came out in 2014, it didn’t seem fair to include it in the list proper.

Releases from Killer Boogie, Snowy DunesSweat LodgePlanes of SatoriDoctoR DooMLasers from Atlantis and Lords of Beacon House (I heard the EP, not the LP) also provided thrills a-plenty, and while I recognize that sounds like sarcasm, please rest assured it’s not. I’m sure there are others, and as always, I reserve the right to tweak mentions and numbers over the next however many days, weeks, years, etc.


There wasn’t much mystery to this one for me. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth held onto that top spot for most of the year, and it seemed like no matter what came along, the wall of sound that Tad Doyle and company built on that record simply would not be torn down. As oppressive in tone as it is in atmosphere, it was a long-awaited debut that produced devastating results the ripples from which I expect will continue to resonate well into 2016 and beyond.

Brothers of the Sonic Cloth is one example of a veteran presence finding a new home, as several did this year. See also, Sumac with former members of IsisEcstatic Vision with players from A Life Once LostWith the Dead with members of Cathedral and Ramesses coming together for the first time, Kind drawing its lineup from the likes of RoadsawMilligramRozamov and Elder, and even groups like Sunder, who previously released an album together under the moniker The Socks before abandoning that project in favor of the current one, as well as Sacri Monti, with a member from Radio Moscow in tow, Cigale, who had two members from SungrazerStars that Move which sprang from Starchild, and Death Alley with members of MührGewapend Beton and The Devil’s Blood showcased how one band flows out of another and out of another, and so on.

That Death Alley debut had charm worthy of its title — which was also my favorite of the year — and showed the potential of that band to set up a real stylistic range going forward. I hope they continue to expand, get a little weird and freaked out and keep that core of songwriting and forward drive that makes Black Magick Boogieland so propulsive. For new bands, Cigale‘s self-titled was beautiful, but would later become tinged with tragedy following the death of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets earlier this year. Not to mention friends and family, his is a significant loss for European psychedelia as a whole, and while that was inarguably one of the low points of 2015, the album itself remains a gorgeous statement.

Young acts like FoggDemon HeadBison MachineSunderCloud Catcher and even Sacri Monti showcased varied takes on classic heavy, some more into boogie and jams and some looking for something a little rougher edged. Cloud Catcher‘s progressive take was a particularly pleasant surprise, while Sunder‘s psychedelia teemed with melody and a cohesive presence born out of what could’ve been unhinged otherwise. Between these, the heavy riffing of The Devil and the Almighty Blues and Serial Hawk, the formative fuzz of Chiefs, the resonant doom of Khemmis and the righteous traditionalism of Crypt Sermon, the notion of genres and subgenres as an ever-expanding universe seemed to be playing out on a weekly basis.

This, invariably, leads to new extremes, which in turn brings me to CHRCH. Like Foehammer, whose EP is in honorable mentions, the Unanswered Hymns long-player from CHRCH was a bright spot especially for how little light it seemed to let escape its abyssal grasp. They’re an easy bet for a band to catch on because they’ve garnered a formidable response already, but what sticks out to me most about them is the sense of pushing established parameters into fresh territory. What they’ll do in the months and years to come of course remains to be seen — they could break up tomorrow; it happens — but where a group like Primitive Man are almost singularly based on extremity of pummel and brutality (not to take away from them), CHRCH have the space in their sound for a multi-faceted progression, and that’s a huge part of what made Unanswered Hymns so encouraging.

I know there were many more debut LPs than these released this year, and even more debuts that were EPs and demos of note and things like that. The reason I single out debut albums for a list is because it’s among the most pivotal offerings a band can make. You’ll never get to release a second debut record. Some bands never live theirs down, some never attain quite the same level again and struggle with it for decades. Either way, it’s no small thing to get a group together and bring it to the point of putting out a first long-player, and that accomplishment in itself, regardless of the results, is worth highlighting.

No doubt I’ve left a few excellent offerings out. I hope you’ll let me know in the comments what debut albums landed hardest with you in 2015. In any case, thanks for reading.


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Duuude, Tapes! Demon Head, Ride the Wilderness

Posted in Duuude, Tapes! on June 3rd, 2015 by JJ Koczan

demon head ride the wilderness tape cover

Pressed to golden cassette with an eight-panel j-card in an edition of 150 copies by Caligari Records, the eight-track debut long-player from ’70s-styled Copenhagen five-piece Demon Head, titled Ride the Wilderness, seems way more concerned with going back to the source material than taking inspiration from modern practitioners. By which I mean it’s more Pentagram than Witchcraft. That distinction would probably seem minute to some ears, but it makes a difference in the listening experience on Ride the Wilderness — which in addition to the Caligari tape has been released on tape in the EU by Smokedd Productions, on CD via This Charming Man and Wolfbiker Records and on vinyl through This Charming Man —  as it did on Demon Head‘s two 2014 releases, Demo 2014 (review here) and the Demon Head b/w Winterland (review here). Three songs from that demo are repurposed here, one of them being “Demon Head,” and “Winterland” appears on the album as well, so those who’ve caught onto the band’s energetic take on classic-style proto-metal will no doubt find some of the material familiar, catchy as those songs are, but all seem to have been re-recorded, and for what it’s worth, one of the 46-minute offering’s greatest strengths is its front to back flow, which even split into two sides with a pause between side one and two, as on the tape, rests easy on a bed of rolling grooves, ’70s swing, natural tonality and resonant hooks.

“Undertaker,” “Winterland” and “Ride the Wilderness” all appear on side one, with the newcomer “Revelations of April” before the title-track. As it opened the demo, “Undertaker” is no less an introduction here to the point of view conjured by the band — vocalist Marcus Ferreira Larsen, lead/slide guitarist Thor Nielsen, rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Birk Nielsen, bassist Mikkel Fuglsang and drummer Jeppe Wittus — with a proclamation-prone Larsen donning the titular role and informing the listener, “I’ve been waiting for you and I’ve been dying to meet you,” in the first of several landmark hooks the record provides. His presence is considerable as a frontman even on the recording, but he’s well met throughout Ride the Wilderness by the swinging groove of Wittus‘ drumming and the alternating between more uptempo boogie and morose, semi-theatrical doom. Much to their credit, at no point to Demon Head sound like they’re not having a good time, and that only adds to the vital spirit of their delivery. Part of that could be youth, but whatever it is, it makes “Winterland” all the more infectious and pushes the roll of “Revelations of April” outward with a sense of something spontaneous en route to the tempo shifts, righteous delivery of the title line and later layered solos of “Ride the Wilderness” that are on their way to calling Graveyard to mind but seem consistently to be on a darker stylistic trip.


That holds true for side two of the tape as well, which is perhaps less immediate than the bash-you-over-the-head choruses of “Undertaker” or “Winterland,” but ultimately the more satisfying of Ride the Wilderness‘ two halves, with three newer cuts where side one had three older ones. “Book of Changes” leads off, followed by the reappearing “Demon Head,” “The Greatest Lie” and the closer and longest cut at 7:20, “Worthless.” No question “Demon Head” is an anchor for the 24-minute side two, but it’s far from the only highlight, with a shuffle emerging on “Book of Changes” from a kind of drawling progression to build to the inevitable slowdown, Larsen calling out the wickedness of man over a quick wash of noise before a return to the winding central figure, and “The Greatest Lie” being the most impressive accomplishment Demon Head present on their debut, an under-five-minute roll that plays to cult cliché brazenly without it mattering and outdoes even the chorus of “Demon Head” before it — no easy feat — with a two-layer hook that comes coupled with Ride the Wilderness‘ best nod and shifts into quirked-up horror thematics in its last minute-plus before making way for the more spacious, slow-crawling “Worthelss,” which keeps to its lumbering pace until there are about two minutes left, then kicks into higher gear to give Ride the Wilderness the raucous finish it deserves, Nielsen topping off with yet another impressive solo as the track fades out to the eventual click back to side one.

It should say something that no fewer than four labels picked up Ride the Wilderness for a release — if nothing else, they come well endorsed — but the strength of the album isn’t in who’s standing behind the songs so much as in the songs themselves. Demon Head make a formidable opening statement with Ride the Wilderness, and with the development they already show between redone cuts like “Undertaker” and “Ride the Wilderness” and newer ones like “Worthless” and “The Greatest Lie,” it will be even more intriguing to find out where they end up their next time out. Planet earth is not short on ’70s stylization whether it’s from Europe or the States, but when Demon Head tell you to Ride the Wilderness, it’s an easy invitation to accept.

Demon Head, Ride the Wilderness (2015)

Demon Head on Thee Facebooks

Demon Head on Bandcamp

Caligari Records on Thee Facebooks

Caligari Records on Bandcamp

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Demon Head to Release Ride the Wilderness in May

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 30th, 2015 by JJ Koczan


Danish five-piece Demon Head issued one of my favorite short releases last year in their Demo 2014 tape (review here), and then followed that up quickly with a 7″ called Demon Head b/w Winterland (review here) that also showcased much promise, so their debut full-length has been one to look forward to. Titled Ride the Wilderness and repurposing three songs from the demo which also appeared on the single, Demon Head‘s debut has all the languid analog roll one could ask, but brings a youthful energy to the tenets of post-Witchcraft retroism that carries well across the songs, a nascent melodic sensibility in progress amid the organic tones and swinging grooves. It’s an easy one to dig, as the first track made public, “Book of Changes,” attests below.

Announcement of the album’s arrival through no fewer than three labels — This Charming Man on LP, Caligari Records on tape (also a local tape release through Smokedd Productions), and Wolfbiker on CD — follows, dutifully transcribed from the PR wire:

demon head ride the wilderness

Friends and strangers!

Hear the thunder on the horizon? The time is coming..

It is with great pleasure that we can tell you all that May will see the release of our first full-length album, RIDE THE WILDERNESS.

It will be no less than eight songs of wild rock that we summoned and trapped in a tape machine last year for the untamed and unchained!

Recorded at The Chaos Island and Mastered by Tiger Bartelt of Kadavar, we’re dying for you to hear it..

LP on This Charming Man-Records, CD on Wolfbiker records as well as cassette tapes by Caligari Records overseas and local Smokedd Productions… Lightning strikes!!

DEMON HEAD’s debut album will finally see the light of night in May… We’ve been dying for you all to hear these hard rocking songs and sinister tales from nightmarish corners of our minds!

On a lost road between Heavy Rock highways and the Doom abyss, these eight tunes have been crafted with dedication to the old rock music traditions, for those that are born to be wild. Following the Winterland 7″ (Levitation Records) and a sold-out demo tape, we have recorded RIDE THE WILDERNESS in our own studio, capturing and manipulating this wicked devil child of our on gritty tape machine and haunted sound equipment from days bygone. Inspired by the likes of Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and The Doors, this is a soundtrack for days of thunder & lightning.

May 20 – Grand, Malmö
May 21 – TBA, Germany
May 22 – Loppen, Copenhagen
May 23 – Hässelholm, Sweden

Demon Head, “Book of Changes”

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