The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2017

Posted in Features on December 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

top-30-of-2017

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 2017 to that, please do.

We’re almost at the finish line for 2017, and if I’m honest, it’s not a minute too soon. I think if one more record comes out this year my head is going to explode.

A perpetual onslaught of cool music is, of course, nothing to complain about. It just seemed like every time I thought I had a handle on where the year was going, some other announcement came through and knocked me on my ass. What’s that? The Obsessed are putting out their first album in more than two decades? Oh and Monolord have a new one coming? Radio Moscow just signed to Century Media? Arc of Ascent are back? Samsara Blues Experiment are back? Causa Sui are putting out a live album and a studio album? Sasquatch are going to Europe and sneaking a record along with them? All of a sudden I’m out of breath feeling like I just ran a lap.

It’s been madness this year. Between an emergent neo-psych movement in the wake of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and others, and the ongoing and constant reshaping of doom and heavy rock from practitioners new and old, I don’t know how anyone could ever claim to keep up with any of it.

You know I do the best I can, so when you look through this list, please keep in mind that these are my picks and the result of applying my own standard, which if you’ve ever seen a list on this site before you probably already know is a combination of things like what I view as being important on a critical level and things like what kept me coming back as a listener. What were the year’s biggest releases and what couldn’t I get enough of? Sometimes those two things come together around one record and it’s beautiful. That’s usually your album of the year, or close to, anyhow.

No sense in delaying further. I hope if you haven’t heard some of this stuff you’ll give it a shot, and if you have something you felt strongly about it, you’ll let me know in the comments. Thanks in advance for keeping it civil, and of course for reading.

Here goes:

30. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
geezer psychoriffadelia

Released by Kozmik Artifactz and STB Records. Reviewed May 16.

Coming off of what was their strongest album to-date in their 2016 self-titled (review here), New York heavy psych blues trio Geezer decided it was time to take the groove for a walk. And so they did. Psychoriffadelia is the result — a looser collection of jams and willfully unrefined heavy blues, reveling in the politically incorrect on “Dirty Penny” only after basking in the post-Monster Magnet hypnosis of “Red Hook” and the earlier roll of the more straightforward “Hair of the Dog” and “Stressknots.” Everything Geezer has done to this point has pushed their sound to new places. Psychoriffadelia is no exception.

29. Orango, The Mules of Nana

orango the mules of nana

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed March 27.

More than a touch of twang on opener “Heartland” sets a tone of Americana-infusion for Orango‘s sixth LP, The Mules of Nana, but the 10-tracker is ultimately much more about harmony-laced classic heavy smoothness than playing to prairie-minded sensibilities, though roots spread wide through a natural, dirty blues just the same. However they get there, “Hazy Chain of Mountains,” the softshoe-ready funk of “Head on Down” and the peacefully progressive finish of “Ghost Rider” bring ’70s-style thrills in songwriting and their precise, gorgeous execution. Underrated record from an underappreciated band.

28. Radio Moscow, New Beginnings

radio moscow new beginnings

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Oct. 6.

Cali boogie kingpins and all-around marvelous frenetic bastards Radio Moscow were in top form on their Century Media debut, and if it was a new beginning they were searching for, they met it head on with a sound as classic and organic as ever. Arguably the most powerful power trio in their game, they tore through cuts like “No One Knows Where They’ve Been” and “Deceiver” while offering flourish in the trip-out “Woodrose Morning” and subdued blues-psych on the penultimate “Pick up the Pieces.” Very much to form, but cast of a form that still manages to outclass all challengers.

27. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma

spaceslug time travel dilemma

Released by Southcave Records, BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

And so here we have the first of what will no doubt be several records about which I’m going to say they should be higher on the list. Poland’s Spaceslug have emerged from the moist ground created by their own tonality and on their sophomore full-length, they proffered warm depth of fuzz and a corresponding melodic and psychedelic reach that was resonant even before they brought in ex-Sungrazer bassist Sander Haagmans for a guest spot on the title-track. It’s been out for 10 months and still delivers every time I put it on, which is often.

26. Mothership, High Strangeness

mothership high strangeness
Released by Ripple Music and Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed March 7.

Three albums into a tenure marked by hard-driving riffs, scorching solos and relentless road work, there’s little Texas trio Mothership need to do at this point to prove themselves to their audience. At the same time, High Strangeness brought considerable expansion to their range overall, whether it was the exploratory “Eternal Trip” or the semi-metallic insistence behind “Midnight Express,” while staying tied together with lyrical and instrumental hooks. High Strangeness set a new standard for Mothership, plain and simple, and easily surpassed the considerable accomplishments of their 2012 self-titled debut (review here) and 2014’s Mothership II (review here).

25. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days

eternal black bleed the days

Released by Obsidian Sky Records. Reviewed Aug. 1.

There was a lot about Eternal Black‘s Bleed the Days that chugged its way into the post-Wino oeuvre of US-style trad doom, but the gruff, lumbering and impeccably riffed outing was nonetheless one of 2017’s best debut full-lengths, and it was the songwriting that got it there. Already sounding sure in the vibe captured, cuts like the plodding brooder “Sea of Graves” and “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun” showed potential in mood and atmosphere as much as sheer sonic heft — though of course there was plenty of that to go around as well. Doomers missed it at their peril.

24. Kadavar, Rough Times

kadavar rough times

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Sept. 6.

It kind of feels like a slight to have Berlin trio Kadavar appear anywhere outside of at least a top 10 on any kind of list whatsoever, ever, but that’s not my intention at all. Rather, their fourth album and third for Nuclear Blast found them at an important stage in their progression — past the novelty of the vintage feel in their early work, after having proven their songwriting could translate to a modern context, and embarking on a process of expanding their sound. Rough Times, which was as current as current could be, met that goal and beat it easily with a barrage of memorable choruses and a dark streak one could only consider suitable for our age.

23. Shroud Eater, Strike the Sun

shroud eater strike the sun

Released by STB Records. Reviewed June 28.

The biggest surprise about Shroud Eater‘s long-awaited sophomore long-player was also its most encouraging aspect — namely how it found the Miami trio bringing together various impulses shown on a number of shorter releases over the course of the six years since their debut, ThunderNoise (review here), came out in 2011, and still managed to utterly crush when it so chose. With a swath from sludge to drone and back again, this was no minor feat, and that the songs they brought to bear were so memorable at their heart as well makes me hope all the more it’s not 2023 before their third album arrives.

22. Enslaved, E

enslaved e

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 4.

What’s left to say about Norwegian progressive black metal innovators Enslaved 14 records into their career? Plenty as it turns out. The introduction of new keyboardist/vocalist Håkon Vinje in place of Herbrand Larsen brought a new twist on a signature element of Enslaved‘s approach. Vinje utterly owned his role, and his performance alongside guitarist Ivar Bjørnson, bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson, guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal and drummer Cato Bekkevold resulted in a fresh urgency that made the band’s sound even more potent and set their ongoing creative evolution on a new branch of its self-directed path.

21. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical

arc-of-ascent-realms-of-the-metaphysical

Released by Astral Projection and Clostridium Records. Reviewed April 6.

Some five years on from 2012’s The Higher Key (review here) and seven out from their debut, Circle of the Sun (review here), and with bassist/vocalist Craig Williamson firmly entrenched in his always excellent Lamp of the Universe psych-drone-folk solo-project, I wasn’t sure there would be another offering from New Zealand heavy psych-rock trio Arc of Ascent, but Realms of the Metaphysical took shape from an ether of riffs and echoes atop resilient underlying structures and revitalized the group with new drummer Mark McGeady in the lineup with Williamson and guitarist Matt Cole-Baker. Remains to be seen if this marks a priority shift for Williamson or it’s a one-off, but its arrival was welcome either way.

20. Causa Sui, Vibraciones Doradas

causa sui vibraciones doradas

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

With the various glories already offered in 2017 on the Live in Copenhagen (review here) 3LP, one didn’t necessarily expect a new studio outing from Danish instrumental psych masters Causa Sui, but Vibraciones Doradas found them as vibrant as ever, bringing forth a surprising amount of tonal weight on songs like “El Fuego,” warm fuzz for the basking on opener “The Drop” and spaciousness on the closing title-track. Somewhat more straight-ahead in its rocking groove than 2016’s Return to Sky (review here), the five-track/38-minute long-player showed yet again why Causa Sui are always welcome and that any news of a new release from them, live, studio, whatever, is good news. This was the kind of record that could make your day if you let it.

19. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable

telekinetic yeti abominable

Released by Sump Pump Records. Reviewed April 10.

The Iowa-based duo of guitarist/vocalist Alex Baumann and drummer Anthony Dreyer, operating as Telekinetic Yeti, released what I considered to be the debut of the year, both for the fullness of its tonality and the accomplishment in songcraft it already showed. Powered by cuts like its lumbering title-track and the gloriously fuzzed runner “Stoned and Feathered,” it could’ve been another band’s second or third record for the level of cohesion on display and the obvious awareness on the part of the band of what they wanted to do with their sound and the just-as-obvious result of their bringing it to life.

18. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust

cloud catcher trails of kozmic dust

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Dec. 9, 2016.

While I admit I’m still not 100 percent certain on whether to spell “kozmic” in the title with a ‘k’ or with a ‘c’ on the end, that question did nothing ultimately to diminish enjoyment of Denver emergents Cloud Catcher‘s sophomore outing. Topped off by one of the best album covers of the year, the follow-up to their 2015 debut, Enlightened Beyond Existence (discussed here), took the progressive casting of that record to a place entirely more raw and rock-driven, willfully roughing up the edges even as it showed marked creative growth on a relatively quick turnaround. The must-hear bass tone of “Beyond the Electric Sun” and “Super Acid Magick” was icing on a cake of choice riffing and Hendrixian lead swirl, and the shuffle they elicited was enough to make even the most stubborn of asses (i.e. mine) think about moving.

17. Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child

ruby the hatchet planetary space child

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 29.

After the neo-garage manifestations of their 2015 sophomore outing, Valley of the Snake (review here), it was clear Philly psych rockers Ruby the Hatchet were a force when it came to songwriting. What was less obvious was what they’d do with that going forward. On Planetary Space Child, at least, the answer is they’ll take it to Freaktown. The melody-happy, organ-laced swirlmasters conjured presence kosmiche enough to justify the album’s title, and around the cast-in-moon-rock structures of the swinging “Pagan Ritual” and the playfully doomed “Symphony of the Night,” Ruby the Hatchet built a multifaceted weirdoist triumph the likes of which simply doesn’t come along every year, establishing themselves as more reliable and less predictable than ever: an absolute win.

16. Alunah, Solennial

alunah solennial

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 1.

It’s been the case more or less all along with UK forest rockers Alunah that their nature-minded material and heavy rolling grooves have had their haunting aspects, but with the production of Conan‘s Chris Fielding behind it, Solennial — their fourth LP and first on Svart — brought this to new levels entirely. The songs, memorable like footprints in the woods, are somewhat bittersweet in context now, since founding guitarist/vocalist Sophie Day announced in September she was leaving the band, but as the group will move forward led by guitarist Dave Day and recently acquired new singer Siân Greenaway, intrigue remains high at what the future might bring and the impact of Solennial is undiminished.

15. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream

mindkult-lucifers-dream

Released by Transcending Obscurity Records and Caligari Records.

Virginia-based doomgazing garage cult solo-project Mindkult has thus far managed to keep some of the mystique around its sole inhabitant, Fowst, which is admirable in a way. As the multi-instrmentalist, vocalist and producer this year answered the promise of last year’s Witch’s Oath (review here) debut, he did so around a swath of purposeful miseries, loose devil worship and other dark thematics, casting an atmospheric darkness matched head-on by the tonal murk of his riffs. Through this, however, the songwriting was no less memorable than on the first offering, and as the project moves forward, one can only hope that Fowst will continue to use that as the core aspect buried six feet under his other, formidable stylistic achievements. That certainly was how it worked out on Lucifer’s Dream.

14. Argus, From Fields of Fire

argus from fields of fire
Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Sept. 1.

Behold ye perhaps the most underrated band in heavy metal. Regardless of subgenre, style, strata, whatever, it’s hard to listen to From Fields of Fire and think of Pittsburgh’s Argus as anything else. The five-piece’s fourth album continued to owe part of its sound to doom, but was much more encompassing than simply that, touching on aspects of classic metal with a command that left one wondering how they hadn’t yet been tapped to open for Judas Priest on that band’s next tour. Victory abounds on a per-song basis throughout the nine-tracker, and whether it was the emotional crux of “Hour of Longing” or the catchy fistpump righteousness of “Devils of Your Time” or the 11-minute progressive reach of “Infinite Lives/Infinite Doors,” Argus once again crafted a work nigh-unmatched in poise and class.

13. Uffe Lorenzen, Galmandsværk

Uffe-Lorenzen-Galmandsvaerk

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

For the first outing ever to be issued under his real name, Denmark’s Uffe Lorenzen — aka Lorenzo Woodrose of garage-psych pioneers Baby Woodrose — danced between acid folk singer-songwriterisms like “Flippertøs” and more expansive jamming on “På Kanten Af Verden,” all the while retaining his distinct structural and arrangement sensibilities and creating a flowing vibe that was nothing less than a pure joy of classic-form psychedelia. The most serene and pastoral freakout one was likely to witness in 2017, easily, Galmandsværk resounded in the Mellotron-laced “Høj Som Et Højhus” and was no less at home in the acoustic spaciousness of the earlier “Remits Tyranni,” able to wander where it pleased and find steady ground in molten surroundings.

12. The Flying Eyes, Burning of the Season

the flying eyes burning of the season

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 11.

A welcome return from a viciously underappreciated band, The Flying EyesBurning of the Season marked the Baltimore four-piece’s first offering for Ripple Music and first since 2013’s Lowlands (review here), a four-year stretch during which the band kept busy touring Europe and South America, the latter also being where they recorded these songs with Gabriel Zander at Estudio Superfuzz in Brazil. The tonal depth resulting from that process was enough to make the collection a highlight, but it was the songs themselves that most stood out, benefiting from the band’s expanded reach and legitimate, hard-won maturity. Especially for a group who’ve done so much work on the road over their years — to be fair, the US has been pretty low priority in that regard — they remain a secret kept too well.

11. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper

bell witch mirror reaper

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Dec. 27.

Doomed extremity simply unmatched in its scope. The song of the year for 2017. An accomplishment the likes of which is prone to happen maybe once or twice in a generation. None of this seems to really speak to the entirety of the achievement that is Bell Witch‘s Mirror Reaper — the single-song, 83-minute full-length issued by the Seattle duo like a challenge in the face of mortality itself. Beautiful, devastating and weighted like the grave, its sprawl utterly consumed the listener, and I firmly believe it will be years before its depths are fully processed. Some offerings are bigger than the year in which they’re released. Mirror Reaper would seem to function on a scale of its own, and though it could easily be read as a litmus test for audience punishment, the truth of the listening experience is both more emotionally complex and more fulfilling than simple hyperbole can capture.

10. Monolord, Rust

monolord rust

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Oct. 26.

The story all along with Gothenburg’s Monolord has been tone. Tone tone tone. Crush crush crush. Riffs riffs riffs. Nothing wrong with any of that, but their third album, Rust, proves once and for all that there’s more to the trio than “cool riffs bro” and post-Electric Wizard nod. Catchy cuts like “Dear Lucifer” and rolling opener “Where Death Meets the Sea” brought a sense of space leading to the later sprawl of “Forgotten Lands” and “At Niceae,” and the band settled into an individualized, lumbering psychedelia that moved forward from 2015’s Vænir (review here), not leaving behind the heft that earned them their reputation, but not at all being limited by it either in scope or overall approach. Three records in, Rust brought forth Monolord‘s greatest sonic expansion yet and gave rise to the feeling that their true potential was just starting to come to fruition. Also, crush crush crush. Cool riffs, bro.

9. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn

vokonis-the-sunken-djinn

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 5.

The Sunken Djinn is Vokonis‘ second full-length in as many years, and in addition to serving as their Ripple debut where 2016’s Olde One Ascending (review here) landed via Ozium Records, it was a feast for hungry riff hounds. In defiance of its quick turnaround, it showed a firm evolution taking place within the upstart Swedish trio of guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, bassist/backing vocalist Jonte Johansson and drummer Emil Larsson, whose range overall was greater in tracks like “Rapturous” and the torrential “Blood Vortex” while nonetheless controlled in its delivery. Their Sleep-y origins still a factor sound-wise, Vokonis were able just the same to push themselves ahead into new sonic ground in fittingly lumbering fashion, and the character they brought to “The Sunken Djinn,” “Calling from the Core” and the noise-caked “Maelstroem” seemed to speak to a burgeoning sense of atmospheric focus taking hold as well. Still so much potential here.

8. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals

electric moon stardust rituals

Released by Sulatron Records. Reviewed April 7.

Do I even need to remotely justify having Electric Moon‘s first studio album in six years on this list? Was it not just like a love-letter issued by the cosmos itself? What more explanation could possibly be necessary? Not that the German trio haven’t dropped copious, glorious live outings all the while, but to have Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, “Komet Lulu” Neudeck and Marcus Schnitzler follow-up 2011’s The Doomsday Machine (review here) with four cuts culminating in the 22-minute sprawl of “(You Will) Live Forever Now” was high on the list of the year’s most satisfying psychedelic journeys. Constantly exploring, their methods always seem geared toward finding the molten essence of space rock itself, and though the songs on Stardust Rituals were a little more crafted than some of their straight-up improv jams, they nonetheless showed there are many avenues one might take to get to the heart of the sun.

7. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us

sun-blood-stories-it-runs-around-the-room-with-us

Self-released. Reviewed May 1.

This one is personal, and by that I mean I love this fucking band. Similar to my experience with their 2015 sophomore outing, Twilight Midnight Morning (review here), the third record by Boise-based trio of Ben Kirby (vocals, guitar, synth, percussion), Amber Pollard (vocals, guitar, theremin, percussion) and Jon Fust (drums, keys, percussion, noise) was one that I simply could not put down. Even now, seeing the name of the record is all I need to have songs like “The Great Destroyer” and the immersive midsection in “Come Like Rain” and “Time Like Smoke” stuck in my head, let alone the ultra-brazen, searingly-pissed “Burn” noise assault that finished the album and in the span of 90 seconds turned all the psychedelic warmth and serenity on its face with a visceral anger completely unforeseen and jarring, turning it from a depth-laden execution of adventurous neo-psych and indie into a project of conceptual artistry with all the efficiency of the chemical reaction it sought to portray. If you missed it, your loss.

6. The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field

the-atomic-bitchwax-force-field

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Dec. 7.

Songs like “Alaskan Thunder Fuck,” “Humble Brag” and “Earth Shaker (Which Doobie U Be?)” assured that the defining character of Force Field, the sixth album from New Jersey’s The Atomic Bitchwax, was pure scorch. That made the 12-cut outing a more than worthy follow-up for 2015’s  Gravitron (review here), which introduced this more speed-rock-minded, aggressive delivery from the tight-as-nails trio, and while they proved they could still lock in a slower groove on the organ-topped finisher “Liv a Little,” head-spinners like the instrumental “Fried, Dyed and Layin’ to the Side” and “Houndstooth” came across like the fruit of the band pushing themselves to the limits of their physical ability in terms of tempo, and their ride along the edge of that line brought thrills at every turn. And make no mistake, there were a lot of turns. Fortunately, bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella seemingly had a corresponding hook in their pocket for each one of them. This band is a national treasure.

5. Atavismo, Inerte

atavismo inerte

Released by Temple of Torturous. Reviewed Feb. 21.

Warm, fuzzy tones, rhythmic shifts right out of classic progressive rock, melodic intricacy and periodic excursions into glorious psychedelic drift: I’m not sure what wasn’t to like about Inerte, Atavismo‘s second full-length behind 2014’s Desintegración (review here). Comprising five tracks of unmistakable flow and jam-laden fluidity, it was immersive with landmarks along the way to keep the listener from getting too lost, and whether or not one spoke Spanish, the three-piece of Jose “Poti” Moreno (ex-Viaje a 800Mind!), bassist/vocalist Mateo and drummer/vocalist Sandri Pow (also ex-Mind!) made it easy to follow along their purposefully meandering path, offering guidance no less skillful on the 11-minute fuzz-freaker “El Sueño” than the dream-toned linear build of “Belleza Cuatro.” There were very, very few albums I listened to more this year than this one, which is precisely why it is where it is on this list.

4. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe

samsara-blues-experiment-one-with-the-universe

Released by Electric Magic Records and Abraxas Records. Reviewed May 4.

Four years between records isn’t at all an unheard of stretch. It’s not the longest on this list by any means. But with Berlin heavy psych rockers Samsara Blues Experiment, it really seemed like the band was done, so to have them come back with such force on One with the Universe was, as I know I said at several points throughout the last 12 months, one of the year’s total highlights. Tracked by former bassist Richard Behrens, the group’s fourth album answered the extended-track spread of 2013’s Waiting for the Flood (review here) with a deeper sense of sonic variety, and while the 15-minute title-cut and opener “Vispassana” still had plenty of room for jamming out and even six-minute centerpiece “Glorious Daze” found room for some flourish of organ and sitar, guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, drummer Thomas Vedder and bassist Hans Eiselt rightly featured the chemistry they’ve built as a trio live and brought to the songs a renewed sense of vigor, sounding — and hopefully being — truly inspired. Waiting for the Flood capped a period of marked productivity across several years. Fingers crossed One with the Universe begins that cycle anew.

3. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World

Elder-Reflections-of-a-Floating-World

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed May 23.

You just can’t consider Elder‘s Reflections of a Floating World outside the context of the progressive achievement that was their prior outing, 2015’s Lore (review here). Where the trio — based now between Massachusetts and Berlin, Germany — took their first two outings, 2008’s self-titled debut (discussed here) and 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), to find their sound, which they began to showcase on the 2012 Spires Burn/Release EP (review here), it was Lore that brought to fruition the potential that had always been waiting to be unleashed by the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto, and Reflections of a Floating World had the daunting task of being the next further step from that landmark moment. To say the band rose to the occasion is perhaps to undersell the cohesion at work in consuming-but-cohesive pieces like opener “Sanctuary” or “Blind” or “Staving off the Truth,” which brought together clear-headed psychedelia around a wash that seemed to stem as much from rhythm as melody. As they’ve matured stylistically and become a major touring presence, Elder have made themselves perhaps the most pivotal American heavy rock act going, and Reflections of a Floating World brings them to the discovery of yet another apex while at the same time giving zero indication it will be the last one they find.

2. Colour Haze, In Her Garden

colour haze in her garden

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed March 9.

Of course, the bonus of writing about Colour Haze in just about any context is that you get to put Colour Haze on while you’re doing it, and in the case of the 12th LP from these Munich heavy psych forebears, that’s an even more appealing prospect. After stripping down some of the arrangement flourish with 2014’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), the 13-track/73-minute 2LP In Her Garden brought a revitalized sonic expansion, but as ever, it wasn’t just the horns or the strings or the blend of keys and acoustics that made In Her Garden the unbridled joy that it was and continues to be — it was the underlying performance from guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald that gave the album the stem on which its garden grew. That’s not to say Jan Faszbender‘s work on modular synth, Rhodes, and Hammond or the arrangements of strings, tuba, bass-clarinet and trombone throughout hurt anything, just that as Colour Haze have grown into incorporating these elements into their groundbreaking aesthetic, they haven’t left behind the organic chemistry and necessary live feel that has helped them influence a generation of followers over their more than 20-year career. One came through as much as the other on In Her Garden, and that balance gave the overarching warmth of their self-recorded tonality yet another level on which to engage their audience. I’ll be a sucker for Colour Haze for as long as I live, and I have absolutely no problem admitting to and owning that.

1. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War

all them witches sleeping through the war

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Jan. 27.

It was clear early on that Nashville four-piece All Them Witches were contending hard for Album of the Year with Sleeping Through the War, their fourth long-player and second for New West following the mellow vibes of 2015’s Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (review here). What finally sealed it? The songs. Working with producer Dave Cobb, the each-member-essential lineup of bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, key-specialist Allan van Cleave (Rhodes, Mellotron, piano, organ, etc.) and drummer/graphic artist Robby Staebler solidified their approach in exciting new ways on early cuts like the grunge-crunching “Don’t Bring Me Coffee” and the shuffling “Bruce Lee,” which hit in succession following the fluid lead-in of opener “Bulls,” an introduction of the organic psychedelia and heavy blues that the loose-swinging of “3-5-7″‘s nigh-on-gospel chorus and subsequent, almost maddeningly catchy “Am I Going Up?” would continue to push outward, thereby setting a linear course into a consciousness-capturing side B with “Alabaster” and the jammier “Cowboy Kirk” and “Internet” playing between melodic nuance and mindful, go-with-it drift. The unflinching strength of the material was matched perhaps only by the understatement of its delivery, which was the more staggering considering how easily the arrangements of background vocals on “Am I Going Up?” or  “3-5-7” could have come through as overblown or self-indulgent, and by the time they got down to the light weirdo-bluesy stomp of “Internet” — the key lyric and hook being, “Guess I’ll go live on the internet” — there was no doubting the genuine nature of the realization Sleeping Through the War represented for All Them Witches. Coupling that feeling of achievement with the sheer repeatability of the listening experience itself left no doubt that 2017 belonged to these tracks and the marvelous way the band wove between them, and that whatever other sounds All Them Witches may go on to explore and whatever else they may accomplish as a result, Sleeping Through the War was a truly special moment in their evolution that, as with the best of offerings in any year, will continue to resonate long after the calendar page has turned.

The Next 20

You know, I used to feel like once you got past a top 20, the numbers were arbitrary. Then I felt that way about the top 30. This year, I think I agonized more about what to include in numbers 31-50 than I did between 30 and the album of the year. Put that in your “go figure” file while you chew on these picks:

31. Cities of Mars, Temporal Rifts
32. The Midnight Ghost Train, Cypress Ave.
33. Snowy Dunes, Atlantis
34. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
35. PH, Eternal Hayden
36. Sasquatch, Maneuvers
37. Young Hunter, Dayhiker
38. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
39. Ufomammut, 8
40. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
41. Paradise Lost, Medusa
42. Beastmaker, Inside the Skull
43. Arduini / Balich, Dawn of Ages
44. Primitive Man, Caustic
45. Motorpsycho, The Tower
46. Arbouretum, Song of the Rose
47. Hymn, Perish
48. Youngblood Supercult, The Great American Death Rattle
49. Pallbearer, Heartless
50. Dool, Here Now There Then

There’s so, so much good stuff here. So much. The Cities of Mars debut was a treasure and the only reason it wasn’t on my top debuts list was because I haven’t had the chance to go back in and put it on. The Young Hunter record? Some of their best work yet. Hell, that Arduini / Balich album alone! Then you’ve got huge releases by Pallbearer, Ufomammut, Paradise Lost, Primitive Man, on and on. Like I said at the outset, one more album and my head was gonna explode this year. Way too much to ever hope to keep up with. One thing though I felt like I really wanted to emphasize including was Dool. They’re in the last spot, but make no mistake, in atmosphere and songwriting that album was something really special and loaded with potential. It’s not there because it came in last. It’s there to highlight the point of how much it should be on this list.

What’s that? More records? Okay…

Honorable Mentions

In case you also weren’t completely overwhelmed this year, maybe another batch of records will do the trick. Here’s some presented alphabetically:

Anathema, The Optimist
Blackfinger, When Colors Fade Away
Child, Blueside
Cortez, The Depths Below
Demon Eye, Prophecies and Lies
Elbrus, Elbrus
Electric Wizard, Wizard Bloody Wizard
Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury
Five Horse Johnson, Jake Leg Boogie
Mirror Queen, Verdigris
The Obsessed, Sacred
T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain
Outsideinside, Sniff a Hot Rock
Queens of the Stone Age, Villains
Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace
Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
Steak, No God to Save
Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light
Valborg, Endstrand
With the Dead, Love from With the Dead

Plus: Abronia, Lewis and the Strange Magics, Iron Monkey, Band of Spice, Puta Volcano, Galley Beggar, Heavy Traffic, Coltsblood, REZN, Green Meteor, Demon Head, Lord, Grigax, The Raynbow, Carpet, Norska, Les Lekin, Slow, Ixion, and I’m sure more that I’ll add as the names continue to pop into my head.

I did this back in June as well, but I also want to draw attention to a swath of quality live albums that came out this year. The top pick should be no surprise if you’ve been hanging around the site of late:

Live Albums:
1. SubRosa, Subdued Live at Roadburn
2. Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen
3. Slomatics, Futurians Live at Roadburn
4. My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
5. Wight, Fusion Rock Invasion
5. Death Alley, Live at Roadburn

Thank You

It’s been a hell of a year, obviously. Musically and otherwise. As always, I cannot possibly come close to thanking you enough for your incredible and ongoing support of The Obelisk, of what this site is, what it’s become over its nearly nine-year run, what it will continue to become going forward from here. It is astounding to me and deeply humbling that you would possibly take time out of your busy day and your busy life to check out what’s going on here, and words fail me continually when it comes to feeling like I can properly convey my appreciation for that. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Tattoo it on my forehead.

Thank you to The Patient Mrs. for understanding how much I need to be doing this, to Slevin for keeping the site running on the technical end, to Behrang Alavi for taking over hosting earlier this year, to my family for their ongoing support, to The Pecan for sleeping late some mornings and giving me time to write, and to everyone who ever shared a link on social media or made a comment on a post or anything like that. To long-time readers and to newcomers alike — thank you so much. This year has seen a fair share of ups and downs, but the support this site gets sustains me in ways I never expected it could, and that would be impossible without you. Please know how crucial that is to me.

Well, that should do it. I know there are probably disagreements about where things landed on the list, what was included, what was left out, etc., as there always are. All comments are of course welcome — only thing I’d ask is you please keep it civil and respectful of the opinions of others. Otherwise, have at it. Please.

And one more time, thank you for reading.

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Surya Kris Peters Releases New Album Drones from the Wood as Name-Your-Price Download

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Surya Kris Peters

In discussing his new solo release, Drones from the Wood, below, Samsara Blues Experiment frontman and Berlin-based solo artist Christian Peters, aka Surya Kris Peters, likens it to his 2016 debut under the moniker, The Hermit (review here), and fair enough. Peters has been on something of a prolific tear ever since that record surfaced, issuing the Holy Holy Holy (review here) long-player and the EP 2nd Chances (review here) earlier this year — the latter not actually a Surya release, but one under his own name — and of course Samsara Blues Experiment putting out one of the best records of 2017, but Drones from the Wood (is that a Tull reference in the title?) is the latest manifestation of this creative hot streak, and it’s available as a name-your-price download now from the Bandcamp page of Peters‘ label, Electric Magic Records.

Get yourself some dronescapes. Go on, it’s been a long week. You’ve earned it.

Art, info, links, audio. You know how we do:

Surya Kris Peters Drones from the Wood-700

Chris Peters: “This is my 3rd longplayer as Surya Kris Peters, and the fourth full-length solo album including early stuff as Soulitude. With this one I think I am going back a bit in direction of “The Hermit”, mostly shorter numbers, a bit classical influenced as I felt I’d really wanted to do more symphonic stuff. Basically it’s a mixture of influences from the 70s (most of all Jean Michel Jarre & Tomita), but also a bit of romantic ’80s, and the bits of my own ‘weirdness,’ I guess. I might pretty much have found my own niche also with this project. Plus: This is also the first time I did my own kind of mastering.”

Music to be filed under: Ambient / Drone / Minimal / Early Electronic

Tracklisting:
1. This Great Delusion 05:35
2. Drones From The Wood 06:11
3. Escaping Suburbia 05:43
4. Far Away And Out Of Time 03:40
5. Intermission: Like A Breath Of Fresh Air 02:23
6. Once More With Feeling 01:37
7. Last Supper At Sakura’s 02:16
8. Plastic Flowers For Laura 01:45
9. Elysian Fields 04:41

https://www.facebook.com/sunchylde
http://electricmagic.bigcartel.com/
https://electricmagicrecords.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/electricmagicrecords/

Surya Kris Peters, Drones from the Wood (2017)

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Samsara Blues Experiment Announce March 2018 European Touring

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 22nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

samsara blues experiment photo by adam

I know I said as much around the time they were putting the album out this past Spring, and before that as they took to touring and doing shows again after a couple years’ absence, but the resurgence of German psych rockers Samsara Blues Experiment stands among my favorite heavy happenings of 2017. Doesn’t at all hurt either that their fourth long-player, One with the Universe (review here), wound up as one of the strongest releases of the year — or will wind up among them when list-time hits next month, anyhow — or that the band has continued to tour on multiple continents. Even if I didn’t get to see them, the Berlin trio’s continued thriving only makes the European heavy underground as a whole stronger. And yes, I mean that.

Samsara Blues Experiment just took part this week in Dutch outfit The Machine‘s 10th anniversary show, and the news that they’ll once again hit the road come next March couldn’t be more welcome, as it will see them carry over the active streak from 2017 to 2018. They promise more to come as well, so I’ll be keeping an eye out to the best of my ability. Till then, dates in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland and Germany follow here, as presented by Sound of Liberation and posted by the band:

samsara blues experiment tour poster

Samsara Blues Experiment – EU Tour 2018

Live is life!

2018 heady touring coming up…

03.03. Berlin, Zukunft Am Ostkreuz

08.03. Tilburg (NL), 013
09.03. Groningen (NL), Vera
10.03. Brüssel (BE), Magasin 4
11.03. Amsterdam (NL), Melkweg
12.03. Paris (FR), Backstage
13.03. Lyon (FR), CCO Villeurbanne
14.03. Luzern (CH), Treibhaus
15.03. Aschaffenburg, Colos-Saal
16.03. Dortmund, Piano (Rock Hard Night)
17.03. Dresden, Beatpol

More tours to come…

Stay hot!

PS: We know you want us in Italy, UK & Ireland, Spain, the East, and North of the wall of snow and everywhere else, and we are somehow working on it too.

Samsara Blues Experiment on Thee Facebooks

Samsara Blues Experiment Tumblr

Samsara Blues Experiment on Instagram

Samsara Blues Experiment on Bandcamp

Electric Magic Records on Thee Facebooks

Electric Magic Records on Bandcamp

Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe (2017)

Samsara Blues Experiment on Thee Facebooks

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Quarterly Review: Nibiru, The Ditch and the Delta, Cyanna Mercury, Surya Kris Peters, Golden Bats, Blind Hen, The Black Wizards, Low Flying Hawks, Brother Sister Hex, Cold Insight

Posted in Reviews on September 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk quarterly review

Ready for round three of the Fall 2017 Quarterly Review? I hope so, because it’s a doozy. Things get pretty weird and pretty rockin’ in this batch, and at the risk of being completely honest, I much prefer it that way. It’s a varied group — maybe the most diverse in terms of sound throughout the entire week, though there’s stiff competition still to come — and as we hit the 30th review, that brings us to the halfway point of the Quarterly Review itself, which if all keeps proceeding according to plan will wrap up on Monday with a grand total of 60 done. Let’s hope no pianos fall on my head between now and then, literally or figuratively. Onward.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Nibiru, Qaal Babalon

nibiru qaal babalon

The fourth full-length from Italian sludge ritualists Nibiru, Qaal Babalon (on Argonauta) is an encompassing, 57-minute grind comprised of four extended tracks, the longest of which is opener (immediate points) “Oroch” at 19:07 – a song whose depths run dark and cruel and which, even when the tempo pushes upward from its initial slow crawl, still feels massively slow. Still, the spirit behind “Oroch” as well as the following and much faster “Faboan” (10:51), the buzzsaw noise cutting avant insanity of “Bahal Gah” (16:40) and full-drone rite of “Oxex” (11:05) is less directly about the punishment itself than about the exploration enacted thereby. That is, Nibiru aren’t just heavy for heaviness’ own sake and they’re not just assaulting their listenership without reason. Though I won’t take away from its raw sonic impact, Qaal Babalon’s greatest asset is its atmospheric impression and the experimentalism it brings to bear, which moves Nibiru into a terrifying place sound-wise that they seem to have all to themselves.

Nibiru on Thee Facebooks

Argonauta Records website

 

The Ditch and the Delta, Hives in Decline

the-ditch-and-the-delta-hives-in-decline

Hailing from the unlikely heavy hotbed of Salt Lake City, Utah – though where better for a counterculture to emerge? – sludge rocking trio The Ditch and the Delta made their debut earlier in 2017 with the seven-song Hives in Decline via Battleground Records before being picked up by Prosthetic for this reissue. Comprised of bassist/vocalist Kory Quist (see also: Making Fuck), guitarist/vocalist Elliot Secrist and drummer Charles Bogus, the three-piece pummel handily throughout early cuts like opener and longest track (immediate points) “Hives in Decline” “Fuck on Asphalt” and the nodding “Sleeping Dogs,” but with the instrumental interlude “Dry Land,” they tap into post-Across Tundras heavy Americana and in that brief two-minute stretch deeply affect the mood of the release overall. They’re back to angular noise rock turns soon enough on “Till Body Quits” and the Remission-era-Mastodon-style “Mud” before alternating between lurching crush and airier prog/post-rock on closer “Dread Spectacle,” but by then the secret’s out of their underlying complexity, and rather than offset the sense of drive in the prior cuts, one finds them only enhanced by the later unfolding. Intense, and very much in the process of sorting through these impulses, but loaded with potential.

The Ditch and the Delta on Thee Facebooks

The Ditch and the Delta at Prosthetic Records

 

Cyanna Mercury, Archetypes

Cyanna-Mercury-Archetypes

From Greek dialogue in “Hermes” to the Nick Cave-style piano balladry of “Apollo” to the organ-and-handclaps Mediterranean pop underscoring “Lilith”’s boogie and the spoken verses and explosive hook of “Snake” ahead of moody closer “There will be a Time,” Cyanna Mercury’s debut long-player, Archetypes, seems to leave no sonic stone unturned. The Athens-based five-piece hone a thoroughly progressive approach across the 10-track/40-minute (plus a CD bonus track) outing, touching on heavy psych in opener “Horse Dark as Night” and injecting a darker theatricality into centerpiece “Ode to the Absent Father” and the later “Nothing We Can Do,” but refusing to relegate themselves ultimately to one sound or another. Elements of folk, heavy rock, psychedelia, classic prog, pop and more besides show themselves across what’s a legitimate head-trip of a record, and though it’s hard to get a grip on where Cyanna Mercury are ultimately headed with this sonic brew already so potent and already so much their own, they seem to be completely in control of how it all plays out in arrangement and songwriting, and they work quickly to earn the listener’s trust via a resonant overarching flow that renders Archetypes truly immersive. Will fly under most radar, but a stunningly creative debut.

Cyanna Mercury on Thee Facebooks

Cyanna Mercury on Bandcamp

 

Surya Kris Peters, 2nd Chances

surya-kris-peters-second-chances

Numerically-titled three-song EP 2nd Chances is – since we’re going by the numbers – the third release of 2017 from Surya Kris Peters, behind the synth-driven Dream Exit EP digitally-issued this past summer and January’s Holy Holy Holy (review here) full-length. With it, Samsara Blues Experiment frontman Christian Peters further expands the contextual breadth of his solo work, revisiting songs from his prior outfit Terraplane in the Mellotron-infused melancholy of “Smalltown Blues” and the quick, folkish rambling instrumental “Dark Euphoria” while also covering Jefferson Airplane’s “Come up the Years” between. All told, it’s only 10 minutes long, but Peters brings a particularly progressive psychedelic folk vibe to the tracks, and from the shimmering guitar lead that takes hold in “Come up the Years” and the intimate feel of “Smalltown Blues” despite an arrangement of keys, vocals, multiple layers of guitar and effects, an emotional and sonic resonance is still very much achieved. One never wants to guess what Peters will do next, but if he had a full-length of this kind of thing out at some point, you wouldn’t be likely to find me complaining.

Surya Kris Peters on Soundcloud

Electric Magic Records on Bandcamp

 

Golden Bats, Residual Dread

golden-bats-residual-dread

An underlying mournfulness pervades Golden BatsResidual Dread, or maybe that’s just the Brisbane-based solo-project of multi-instrumentalist/vocalist/engineer Geordie Stafford living up to the title chosen for the album on “Nothing.” Elsewhere, Residual Dread takes on guitar-as-keyboard plotted soloing in 11-minute closer “The Crows Build a Fire” and find a place between black metal and doomly roll, and add piano to tapped Godflesh-style programming on opener “Trouble in the Sewers” and bring organ to the relative bounce of “Eye Juices” as far-back echoing shouts provide the vocal presence. Setting elements against each other would seem to be a core aspect of Stafford’s intent, and the feel on Residual Dread is more about the smashing them together and seeing what happens than trying to gently meld one idea from two or three. That lends a raw, experimentalist sensibility to the lumber of “Outer Body” and “Into the Silver Valley” that serves them well, like a Large Hadron Collider driven by riffs and thickness of tone.

Golden Bats on Thee Facebooks

Haemorrhage Records webstore

 

Blind Hen, Life

blind-hen-life

In its first two minutes, Blind Hen’s “As a Monster” moves from electronica-style Euro dance rock to heavy-riffed progressive metal. Then it turns back. This is just the start of the Finnish four-piece’s four-track/21-minute Life EP, and “Titanic” follows stylistic suit with an even more intense thrust early before moving into psychedelia in its second half with an underlying tension in its beat to contrast the melodic wash overtop. The chugging “The Maze” is more guitar-led and straightforward, but even there, Blind Hen find room for nuance in their vocal arrangement, also bringing in acoustics amid the multiple layers of singing, and with a sample at the outset, closer “Catch” moves once again toward the danceability of the earlier fare, if in a via-Mr.Bungle rhythmic restlessness rather than the fusion beatmaking. Weird, weird, weird. What draws Life together is the fact that Blind Hen cross this aesthetic swath with stuck-in-your-head choruses as a constant, essentially giving the audience something to grasp onto while they go wherever they want in terms of sound. It is appreciated to say the least, and shows the band to be all the more attuned to their craft, even when they seem at their most unhinged.

Blind Hen on Thee Facebooks

Blind Hen on Bandcamp

 

The Black Wizards, What the Fuzz!

the-black-wizards-what-the-fuzz

If you’ve got 68 minutes, Portuguese four-piece The Black Wizards are ready to have a heavy blues shindig on their second 2LP full-length, What the Fuzz!, and I do believe we’re all invited. The nine-song outing emphasizes the vocals of guitarist Joana Brito, who emerges on post-intro opener “Freaks and Geeks” with a prominent kind of trilling in her voice of the sort Parker Griggs brings to Radio Moscow that holds for the duration as a steady presence. Joined by guitarist Paulo Ferreira, bassist/acoustic guitarist B and drummer/backing vocalist Helena Peixoto, Brito leads the way through the fuzzy rollout of the nine-minute “The Story of an Hopeless Drummer” (sic), stepping back to let the guitar/bass have a righteously nodding moment late in the track, but holds firm in a forward position on the short, twanging “Just Not Today” as well as the early going of the prior subdued-blues-smoker highlight “Floating Blues.” “Build Your Home,” “I Don’t Wanna Die” and the particularly-classic-sounding “Fire” revive the classic heavy rock spirit of “Freaks and Geeks,” and 16-minute finale “Everything is Good Until Trouble Comes” uses its extra runtime for a satisfying and patient execution with an expanded arrangement including choral vocals, organ and additional guitar effects. You might be boogied out by the time they’re done, but as The Black Wizards crash through their big finish, they sound like their party’s just getting started.

The Black Wizards on Thee Facebooks

The Black Wizards on Bandcamp

 

Low Flying Hawks, Genkaku

low-flying-hawks-genkaku

One might expect that with all the Melvins affiliation going on in the second Magnetic Eye Records full-length from L.A. duo Low Flying Hawks, Genkaku would sound, you know, more like the Melvins, but despite working with bassist Trevor Dunn, drummer Dale Crover and producer Toshi Kasai, and despite bringing in Buzz Osbourne for guest vocal spots on eight-minute opener/longest track (immediate points) “Smile” and side B leadoff “Space Wizard,” initials-only multi-instrumentalists EHA and AAL follow their 2016 debut, Kofuku (review here), with a sound even more their own, balancing between thick riffy rollout and post-rock atmospherics. Of course, they weird out a bit on “Smile” and the lumberingly spacious “Uncool” and “Virgin Witch,” but whether it’s the later mournfulness of “Hallucination” or “Twilight” toying with noisy fuckall while seeming to mock heavy rocker burl ahead of the melodic payoff in closer “Sinister Waves,” there’s more EHA and AAL in Low Flying Hawks than the prominent pedigree of their collaborators might lead you to believe. All the better for what becomes a richly satisfying 43-minute listen rife with depth, patience, and yes, personality.

Low Flying Hawks on Thee Facebooks

Magnetic Eye Records on Bandcamp

 

Brother Sister Hex, End Times

brother-sister-hex-end-times

Coherent songwriting rests at the core of what Denver’s Brother Sister Hex bring to their five-song third EP, End Times, which darkens up Queens of the Stone Age-circa-Songs for the Deaf vibing on its title-track (also a bit of Kyuss’ “El Rodeo” in there for good measure) before delving into more ambient fare on the centerpiece “Confessions.” Vocalist/guitarist Colfax Mingo demonstrates SubRosa-style vocal command there, but the context is more rock-based, uptempo and straightforward as she, guitarist Patrick Huddleson, bassist Drew Hicks and guest-drummer Jordan Palmer (Plastic Daggers) meld traditionalist structures with atmospheric moodiness. Opener “Hey” offers a suitable greeting through hook and groove, and the shuffle of “Sweet and Sleazy” and the rumbling fuzz (Hicks makes it a highlight) of closer “News Feed” wraps with another grunge-style QOTSA melody efficiently drawn, shouting the question “what have we done?” as it thuds into its second half. Uh, you’ve made a professional-sounding, excellently-constructed EP that shows you’re more than ready to embark on a debut full-length, permanent drummer or no. So yeah, get on that.

Brother Sister Hex on Thee Facebooks

Brother Sister Hex on Bandcamp

 

Cold Insight, Further Nowhere

cold-insight-further-nowhere

As progressive as it is brutal, Further Nowhere is ostensibly the debut release from Paris’ Cold Insight. The material seems to date back at least to 2013, if not earlier than that, when band-spearhead Sébastien Pierre (also of Enshine, Fractal Gates, and others) first issued what’s now tagged as a “pre-production album” version, but it’s hardly as though the lush, growling, melodeathly doom sounds dated. With sonic likenesses throughout to bands like Amorphis, Dark Tranquility and Paradise Lost, Cold Insight – on which Pierre, who also did the artwork, is joined by drummer Christian Netzell while Jari Lindholm adds lead guitar – hit on a very particular, very European style, and not an unfamiliar one as displayed in the righteously driving “Distance,” but the find-the-beauty-in-darkness spirit behind “Close Your Eyes” and songs like “Even Dies a Sun” and the more uptempo later piece “I Will Rise” help ensure that the formidable 12-song/66-minute run of Further Nowhere never gets too bogged down in its melancholy. It may have been a while in the making, and one hopes a follow-up won’t take as long to arrive, but the precise execution Pierre hones in these songs and the depths to which he can bring a willing audience are a fitting payoff for the years of work that went into their construction.

Cold Insight on Thee Facebooks

Cold Insight on Bandcamp

 

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

Posted in Features on June 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top-20-2017-so-far

The time has come to take a look at some of the best albums of 2017 so far. I hardly know where to start. In some ways, this list is harder to put together than the end-of-year one that comes out in December, because by then not only do you have the full year to draw on, but it’s easier to sort of put a narrative to the course of events of 12 months, whereas in this case, obviously, the story is half told. So I guess if the list feels incomplete, that might be part of why.

Even with just six months to work from, the list has become fairly immense. I’ve been keeping track of 2017 releases since about September of last year, and the amount of stuff that’s come through has been staggering. Every year brings good music, and the basic fact of the matter is that if you don’t think so it’s because you’re either unwilling to find it or unwilling to let yourself hear it, but 2017 has been a multi-tiered assault of sounds from all over the world, and it seems like whatever you might be into, the universe stands ready to accommodate.

There’s a lot to say about that — is the market flooded? — but it’s a topic for a different post. I’ll keep it short here and just say that as always, it’s an honor to be covering the stuff that I cover and that I deeply appreciate you taking the time to read. I hope if there’s a release you feel deeply passionate about that you don’t see on my list below that you’ll please let me know about it in the comments.

Also, please note that in order to qualify for this list, a record had to come out on or before June 9. That’s the cutoff.

Okay, here goes:

The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

elder reflections of a floating world

1. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World
2. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War
3. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe
4. Colour Haze, In Her Garden
5. Atavismo, Inerte
6. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us
7. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust
8. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn
9. The Obsessed, Sacred
10. Mothership, High Strangeness
11. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma
12. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals
13. Alunah, Solennial
14. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical
13. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
14. Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace
15. PH, Eternal Hayden
16. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
17. T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain
18. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable
19. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
20. Lord, Blacklisted

Notes

If you keep up with this site at all, there probably aren’t a lot of surprises in there. These are all records that have been discussed at great length over the last six months, reviewed, streamed, analyzed, whathaveyou’d all the way. If you don’t believe me, search any of the names. Still, as far as my personal picks go and who I think has crafted something special over the last six months, this feels pretty representative to me. I managed to live for a full week with the list as you see it above, without making changes. That’s usually my standard.

And as always, it’s a combination of what I’ve listened to most and what I feel has had the greatest impact thus far into the year. Between the two, there was little doubt Elder would take the top spot. I’ve probably listened to the All Them Witches record more than anything else this year, including Elder’s Reflections of a Floating World, but the truth is the Massachusetts trio are working at a level of their own making in terms of their sonic progression, and that they’ve emerged as one of if not the most pivotal American underground heavy rock bands going. The situation was much the same when they put out Lore in 2015 and claimed that year’s top-album spot, but even since then their sound has expanded and they continue to demand ultimate respect.

As for the All Them Witches album — absolute stunner. The increased depth of their arrangements on Sleeping Through the War came at no expense of songwriting, resulting in ultra-memorable material that could either wash over you with melody or shove you out of your seat with the force of its rhythm, and that band continues to be a treasure. No other way to put it.

From there, we move into what I think are the four best heavy psych offerings of 2017 so far, with Samsara Blues Experiment, Colour Haze, Atavismo and Sun Blood Stories, in that order. Samsara Blues Experiment’s return has been a joy to witness and their first album in four years lived up to the occasion. Colour Haze expanded the palette from their last album with In Her Garden and proved as immersive as always. I’m still getting to know that record. Atavismo’s second full-length upped the progressive influences without losing fluidity or cohesion in songwriting, and Sun Blood Stories’ hypnotic shoegaze offered expansive thrills and a sense of varied, beautifully crafted exploration.

A pair of exciting young bands thereafter in Colorado’s Cloud Catcher, whose boogie is right-on-right-on and whose development continues to hold much potential, and Vokonis, whose crushing riffs on The Sunken Djinn were met with an increased focus on structure and tightening of approach that maximized overall impact. The Obsessed’s unexpected return could only be called a triumphant one, and Mothership’s third long-player found them working in a richer sense of mood than previous outings, adding yet more character to what was still a blast of good-time rock and roll. They round out the top 10 in full command of who they are as players.

Granted, the next 10 releases are kind of all over the place, but I think that just shows the overarching quality of work being done across the board. From Spaceslug’s melodic stoner-psych to Electric Moon’s studio return — so, so, so good — to Alunah’s continued growth in nature-worshiping heavy and Arc of Ascent’s comebacker of rolling heavy riffs and metaphysical themes, there’s been so much to take in. I especially like the pairing of Rozamov and Siena Root as a sense of scope for 2017 so far; the former being so dark and crushing and the latter who lived up to calling their record A Dream of Lasting Peace. You want to know both ends of the spectrum? There they are.

PH’s Eternal Hayden gets a nod for its effective reset of the context of that band following the completion of their trilogy of albums, and Geezer’s Psychoriffadelia might have been something of a tossoff in the making, but the level at which the New York trio jams nonetheless assures it a spot here. Plus, a Nazareth cover. So duh.

I couldn’t help but include T.G. Olson’s Foothills Before the Mountain on the list as the Across Tundras frontman creeps closer to a full-band sound for his solo work, adding to his acoustic singer-songwriter foundations, and the crush of Telekinetic Yeti’s post-Sleep riffing evoked so many nods I thought they deserved one here as well. Placing The Devil and the Almighty Blues was difficult, but especially after seeing them live, I felt like I had a better idea of where they were coming from on II, so knew they belonged somewhere, even if it was tucked in at the end. And of course, Lord. Always killer, always experimenting, always chaotic. Never have grind and sludge sounded more cohesive together. They’re the band I wish Soilent Green had become, and yes, I mean that.

Honorable Mention

Let’s do another 10 releases, shall we?

21. Beastmaker, Inside the Skull
22. Arduini/Balich, Dawn of Ages
23. Brume, Rooster
24. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
25. Six Sigma, Tuxedo Brown
26. Demon Head, Thunder on the Fields
27. Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light
28. Steak, No God to Save
29. Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
30. Dool, Here Now There Then

And just to make the point, here are even more worthy of note in this space:

Elbrus, Elbrus
Cortez, The Depths Below
Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury
Child, Blueside (a December 2016 release, maybe, but I think the vinyl was this year, so whatever)
Pallbearer, Heartless
Spidergawd, IV
Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun
Loss, Horizonless

There are of course other names as well that come to mind. Like I said at the outset, it’s a crowded field: Hymn, Arbouretum, Green Meteor, REZN, Demon Head, Galley Beggar, Devil’s Witches, Orango, Heavy Traffic, Coltsblood, Mt. Mountain, Vokonis, Solstafir, High Plains, on and on.

Also worth highlighting several really, really quality live records that have surfaced so far this year. I didn’t really know where to place them among the other studio offerings, but they deserve note for sure:

Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen
Death Alley, Live at Roadburn
My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
Enslaved, Roadburn Live

More to Come

Of course, we’re still just barely halfway through the year, so keep on the lookout for more to follow. If you didn’t see my massive 200+ albums to watch for list in January, it has many that have come out and many more still to surface, but here are a few highlight names as well that you’re going to want to keep an eye on in the months ahead:

Queens of the Stone Age
Radio Moscow
The Atomic Bitchwax
Kadavar
Ufomammut
The Midnight Ghost Train
Moon Rats
Clamfight
Egypt
the Melvins
Bison Machine
Seedy Jeezus
High on Fire
Monster Magnet

Thanks for Reading

Before I check out, I’d like to give special mention to Lo-Pan’s In Tensions EP as the best short release of the year thus far. Along with EPs from Godhunter, Kings Destroy, Solace and Shroud Eater, it has assured those seeking a quick fix are handed their ass in return for asking.

Well, that’s about where I’m at with it. As per usual, I’m sure there are things I forgot and/or left off here, because I’m human and whatnot, so please if you have something to add, feel free to do so in the comments so long as you can keep it cordial. No name calling. I’m sensitive and you’ll ruin my whole day. I mean that.

Thanks again for being a part of this and here’s to an excellent rest of 2017.

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Interview: Christian Peters of Samsara Blues Experiment

Posted in Features on May 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

christian peters samsara blues experiment

This one’s been a while in the making. Like, years. And as Samsara Blues Experiment guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters says below in his answer, the question I’ve been waiting to ask him as well is the one about his band’s experience touring the US for their 2013 album, Waiting for the Flood (review here). I had been thinking of this as a tipping point for the group to enter into something of a semi-hiatus as they did after that record, touring some in Europe but ultimately stepping back for a few years as Peters pursued solo work, his Electric Magic Records label, and other creative outlets.

My narrative, as ever, was off. It was a long European run that set Samsara Blues Experiment to the task of reevaluating who they were and what kind of band they wanted to be, and as the Berlin-based trio make their return in 2017 via their fourth full-length, One with the Universe (review here), Peters seems nothing if not clearheaded in his feelings on the issue. Joined in the now-three-piece by drummer Thomas Vedder and bassist Hans Eiselt after parting ways with former bassist Richard Behrens (who nonetheless recorded the new album), Peters seems to be embracing the opportunity to refresh his band’s sense of purpose and direction, and as they’ve never sounded so much like themselves on tracks like “Vipassana,” “Sad Guru Returns” and the album’s title-track, so too do Samsara Blues Experiment come across as assured of the methods by which their creativity is brought to life.

As it turns out, that sense of being assured was hard-won, both on his part and that of the band as a whole, and that tour in the US did seem to be a factor in how they’ve wound up where they are, for better and worse alike. In talking to Peters about that trip and about the album in general, I wanted to get a sense of where they were and where they might be going, and though he was reluctant to speculate on the latter, the honesty and at times philosophical approach to everything his group has been through underscores his knowing how vitally important the band is to him. It’s not something he could just leave behind — it’s an ongoing work driven by passion and a shifting creative spirit.

And after a full decade together, one shouldn’t be surprised to find One with the Universe also is Samsara Blues Experiment‘s most mature offering to-date, but what seems even more resonant to me in reading Peters‘ answers about its making is just how much more a work of spirit it is than simply another batch of parts thrown together. Not every artist is brave enough to admit that about their own output; some like to pretend these things just happen by mistake. Granted a song can come about spontaneously, and often those results are among the most satisfying, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. To pretend otherwise is silly. This is important to Peters. Crucially so. Especially in light of the quality of the work they’re doing, it’s hard not to respect the hell out of that.

Complete Q&A follows here. Please enjoy.

samsara blues experiment

It’s been four years since the last Samsara Blues Experiment album. Tell me about what’s changed in the band over that time and where you feel you are today as a group as opposed to where you were when you did Waiting for the Flood?

The most evident change is the turn back to a three-piece, as it was already in the earlier days of the band. In November 2013 we did this one long EU tour which sort of set the tracks for what had to happen right after this. I for myself was at one point pretty close to a burnout situation then, not sure if everything in the rock ‘n’ roll circus really was made for me, and I had to take a time out from the whole thing then. So right after this tour we had a few weeks of no rehearsals or playing live, and when the four of us met, it was mostly for talking about where everybody wanted to go with the band and with his life.

It pretty soon turned out that Richard, in total contrary to my ideas, wanted to tour even more, play more, turn it all into this sort of a job. Which then was something like a worst-case scenario for me, also because I thought that the four-piece sound really had to be thought about and worked out much more than we did then. I was not always happy with two dueling guitars too. And also, you know, in my belief there has to remain some kind of freedom which probably cannot be maintained if my while life sort of depends only from what I do in the band. I wanted to play better songs, better shows, not necessarily more! But I also wanted something else, of which I wasn´t specific about… I needed to find that out for myself.

So at some point it all seemed to have become a pretty tricky situation because everybody wanted to first of all find a “let’s stay together”-solution, but several other personal things led towards Richard leaving the band and Hans switching to bass. At some point it just happened kind of naturally, also because Hans was a bass player before, and btw one whom I always admired. We had to get used to this new situation and work a lot behind closed doors… So we spent the years 2014 and 2015 with shaping “the new band sound” and the new band as well. And besides from that I also got pretty deep into playing synthesizers and recorded a whole bunch of solo albums and EPs as Surya Kris Peters. I just needed to find other ways to be creative, I guess.

So after these weeks and months of “reshaping,” Thomas, Hans and I agreed that 2016 would be pretty much the year for coming up with new ideas for a new album, and not playing live at all. But since a year without one show can be long, at some point we decided to at least play one Berlin show and aside of that did what we needed to do to record One with the Universe in January 2017, again in Richard’s studio with him on the job, as a friend, now also a “hired studio technician” but sometimes still also a fourth creative input, not more on bass, more like a co-producer.

What’s the story behind “Sad Guru Returns?”

It started as a wordplay, because whenever I went through Berlin last summer I saw these Sadhguru-posters. I just like words, how words sound, how words interact, and I then made up this sad-guru thing and later found these samples of him speaking which could be pretty much be my own thoughts when he says, “we are the most comfortable generation ever, but we are not happy,” etc. — to me it’s like almost everybody seems to be looking for something but rarely anybody starts with him- or herself.

Life’s not about things you know. Not at all. In my humble opinion, it’s mostly about making real connections with people. Then there’s a lot of potential in each and every one of us, to be positive and loving and happy, to be creative, to be an even more important part to the whole thing than we are already. You know, I just don’t dig people dragging themselves and others down, especially if there seems to be no reason for that. All the negativity in people right now it seems to be just too much. At least that’s how I see it. Too much sadness in this world, way too much fear too these days… Everybody can make decisions, to a certain point at least. You can be happy and poor too. We all live, we’ll all die. Think about it. How do you want to spend your time on this planet?!

In the interim between records, you embarked on several solo outings as well. Did this affect your return to songwriting for Samsara Blues Experiment at all?

Well probably, because some of the songs have quite a lot of synths in them, like the whole intro-part of “Eastern Sun and Western Moon” or the title-track. I am just happy that both and Hans and Thomas share some of my enthusiasm for sounds from these “little keyboards,” as someone once described them…

What ultimately made you decide it was time to bring back Samsara Blues Experiment?

Honestly, I went through a really rough time from 2015 on. I lost contact to this once really important person. It was pretty much the first time I thought I had this love-relationship-thing sorted out, but then it turned out I knew nothing at all. I spent a long time in despair, in a dark room with nobody but myself. I was almost crazy and at some point nearly suicidal and I am not saying this to show off or something but it was just one of the darkest periods of my life for sure.

Then I heard of Rutger [Smeets] from Sungrazer committing suicide and it was really like a shock. I barely knew the guy, but we occasionally met and all the guys in Sungrazer were like these happy dudes, always sharing a good story, a BBQ, a bottle of limoncello (I didn´t forget.), whatever… I have no idea why Rutger finally did it, but at this point I pretty much just thought: WHAT THE F**K?! THIS IS JUST WRONG!!

I had a series of other not-too-happy-moments but then really felt like I needed to put myself together and started to finally look at the good things that remained there with me, and as one of the main things, there is this band. Honestly, at that period I also pretty much left Hans and Thomas in the dark, which wasn´t very nice of me to do but I just couldn´t handle it otherwise. Again, I canceled rehearsals and I even went out to play with other guys, just to find out where I belong I guess.

And I still belong with SBE, the band that Thomas and Hans I have formed in these last years and even earlier on, for all the songs we wrote when Richard wasn’t with us, when he was working his sound technician job and we already rehearsed or played live as a three-piece (we played one show in Kiev, Ukraine, as a three-piece when Richard wasn’t allowed into the country because he forgot to bring his passport… one of the many stories).

So to sum it up, I basically had to learn to appreciate thesamsara blues experiment band and to find again my place in the puzzle. I am a musician. Right now this is pretty much what I’d say to some stranger who’d ask me what I do in my life. I live music 24/7 now. Nothing else.

Oh, and at some point some of our fans helped as well to realize what we have here with this band. So, thank you there! We all are part of this picture.

Which came first, the album title or the song “One with the Universe” itself? Tell me about how that song came together, and how does it tie into the album (and, I suppose, the universe) as a whole?

Most times the music comes first, as it was also with this one. In 2016 we always did this one long jam session, based on two or three basslicks from Hans and a few parts from me, and it seemed almost impossible to bring all these pieces together to just one “proper song,” but after something like a half-year we miraculously did it. It was for sure among the hardest tasks in my almost 20-year-long career as a productive musician. I still refuse to learn too much about music theory, writing down notes or tabs or any of that. I know it’s maybe a bit stupid and limiting, but then I also often don’t have a lot of patience, nor a real interest for learning this to be honest.

The title “One with the Universe” just seemed to fit some of the overall topics that are connected with the album. In the first place maybe also that there is a new unity within the band. But also the idea that we all belong to a more “wholesome concept,” that no one really is nor should be isolated. That there is no “us versus them” as it is so often implied with the very cultivated society models we live in, and as it’s also projected even on artists, musicians and their work and recordings. Hey everybody: This is not a contest, you know?! And also, even while I am not a big philosopher or something, but also this man against woman thing, which seems to be part of “our culture.” To me all of this is just not right at all! Again, it’s also pretty much what Sadhguru says, and he is not my guru as more a person with whose thoughts I can partially identify myself.

How was it working with Richard as a producer/engineer as opposed to also having him in the band playing bass?

By now all or most the problems of the past seem pretty much solved. Richard seems to be very happy with his new role, and we are happy with the “new band.” It’s pretty much of a karmic relationship, but if you let all the ego-stuff aside, there´s a lot of great memories to share and a lot of good memories to be made for us still, if we want. You know, I could be angry for a whole lot of stupid reasons that lie back in the past, and so could be Richard or anybody else, but at some point you realize that you made a deep connection as friends and you either cherish that, or you go on bumping into the next karmic relationship. Simple as that, complicated as that.

You came to the US to support Waiting for the Flood. Tell me about that experience, what you learned from it and how you’ve been able to take that and move forward with this record. Will you be back at any point?

Well, this is the question I have been waiting for and it’s a tricky one to answer indeed. As you know we have been in the States as early as we had our first demo recordings, which back then seemed very naive and maybe a bit stupid, but the more the bravest thing a young band could do. Since my childhood I have been heavily influenced by the American way of life. I played baseball with a wooden stick when kids around me thought I’d gone crazy. I even fantasized of once going to US high school and college and becoming a professional in either baseball or basketball, or maybe the funniest: American football! I introduced all my friends to all these “cool things” from America, as in the GDR or the young reunited Germany we did not really have an idea what the real life in the USA would be like: All of it just seemed to be magical. So it was the first and greatest dream to come to the USA, and I made it not earlier than 2009 with the first long tour SBE ever did. It seemed all to be dreamlike still. We slept on dirty floors, we played for a few bucks for even fewer enthusiasts or music nerds or people who just came to the shows because they had some ancestor from Germany, I don’t know… it was okay back then, when most of us were like big kids in a candy store, basically.

Change of scenery, the band now has played a bunch of festivals and longer tours in Europe. We have grown up to adults in our early-to-mid 30s. Some of us have families and jobs and need to compromise on all the things that life brings along when you realize that not all of it is happening in candy stores anymore. Following the call of our not-so-few fans in the USA — as we had recorded three studio albums in the meantime since our first US tour — we found people to help organizing this return, as we thought, until a few weeks before this tour was supposed to happen all crashed down like a castle made of sand. I still have a lot of reason to be angry and frustrated here and I could name a few names, but there is no reason for that as more to say; we do not have very good and trustworthy contacts in your country. People whom we can rely on and who do this for the sake of the music and not because they need to earn their living from this, which just won’t work at all.

We are not a commercial act. We do not think very much in commercialist patterns. We are just not like most of the bands you know, we really basically play for the sake of expressing feelings though music, but when we travel we also expect to be treated with respect and honesty. We would love to return to the USA, but at this point it does not seem much practical or even possible. I am sorry for our fans there, but we will see what the future will bring, and not give up on trying to make “deeper connections.”

I hope this wasn’t confusing.

In the meantime, Samsara Blues Experiment toured South America already this year for the first time. How were those shows and how was that experience overall for you?

In one word: incredible!! People in South America seem to be starving for a good live show, even while we in particular always had quite many fans there, thanks to the miracles of the internet. I am just so grateful for having met Felipe [Toscano] of Abraxas booking, who started out as a fan of our music and now runs this amazing organization, in his free time from work and private life. What an amazing guy, really. What an overwhelming positive vibe on all shows on that continent. I still may be under the illusion of a first naive impact now, but I have rarely felt as welcome as there. It was just amazing, incredible, lovely.

You’ve now made four albums with Samsara Blues Experiment and it’s almost a decade since the first demo surfaced. How do you feel about what you’ve accomplished in that time? Where do you see the progression continuing to go?

I think we’ll just go with the flow, more or less. I am pretty much happy as it is now. I only would like to see us more widely exposed, like playing on more different occasions than just mostly stoner festivals, which isn’t wrong at all but I think we are much more than just another stoner group that likes Black Sabbath. Don’t get me wrong or so, I know where we belong the most, but then we also belong to the universe, and the universe is big. I would like to get things solved with the USA really, also in terms of distribution, but we are samsara blues experiment one with the universeworking on it and hopefully solving some of these issues.

You’ve just done Desertfest and have other festival dates coming up as well. Any plans yet for the Fall or anything else you want to mention?

Maybe we will be doing new songs then, maybe we will travel, or just be with the ones we love the most. Who knows? I think we’ll really try and go with the flow for a bit.

Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe (2017)

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Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe: Returning to the Path

Posted in Reviews on May 4th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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With the release of their ambitiously-titled fourth album, One with the Universe, Berlin-based heavy psych rockers Samsara Blues Experiment provide the keystone of a resurgence that began late last year with a return to playing shows. Their last outing was 2013’s Waiting for the Flood (review here), and it was the most vivid realization to-date of their blend of progressive rock and psychedelic jamming, while continuing the momentum they’d built throughout their prior outings, 2011’s Revelation and Mystery (review here) and 2009’s Long Distance Trip (review here) debut, and with that behind them, it was easy to expect them to roll forward as they had for the half-decade since their demo (review here) surfaced in 2008. They didn’t.

By 2015, what had been a four-piece parted ways with bassist Richard Behrens (now of Heat), and after an increasing profile of tours and festival appearances, shows pretty much stopped as guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters embarked on a succession of solo outings exploring textures of synth and classic krautrock influences. In hindsight, the break makes some sense, particularly given the work Peters did in the interim, and really it hasn’t been egregiously long since the last Samsara Blues Experiment came out — four years isn’t eight, mathematically speaking — but as a fan of the band’s work, it’s hard to note the arrival of One with the Universe via Peters‘ own Electric Magic Records imprint with anything other than a sense of relief. Even before one digs into the five-track/43-minute outing rife with winding instrumental explorations, Eastern-minded inflections of theme and arrangement, and an overarching sense of celebration resonant from driving opener “Vipassana” (premiered here) through the swinging, pushing-outward finale of “Eastern Sun and Western Moon,” it’s awfully good to have Samsara Blues Experiment active again.

That’s about the least impartial statement one could make about the record beyond “duh, I like it,” so maybe take this review with the appropriate grain of salt, but the truth is that from their beginnings in the post-Colour Haze sphere of warm-toned heavy psych, Samsara Blues Experiment — now Peters, drummer Thomas Vedder and bassist Hans Eiselt — have become one of Europe’s leading underground presences in terms of the individualism they bring to their approach. One can hear it as rolling waves lead the way into “Vipassana,” a track that takes its name from the Buddhist concept of insight into reality’s true nature, Vedder‘s drums providing the transition into a progression marked by what ends up as an instrumental theme throughout: the use of keys and synth alongside the guitar, bass and drums.

With a recording job by ex-member Behrens and a wide-sounding mix that allows for shifts in volume and tone in “Vipassana” as much as for flourish of sitar on the centerpiece “Glorious Daze” and the bouncing ’70s organ work on the 15-minute penultimate title-track, Samsara Blues Experiment sound free to explore these spaces and well beyond, such that the earlier “Sad Guru Returns” — instrumental save for some samples at the beginning and end — and the trade between the push and crash of its hook and the sense of jammy-but-purposeful meandering in “Vipassana” set an immersive vibe more interactive than it is hypnotic.

That is to say, as “Glorious Daze” comes on to chill out the end of side A — not that it doesn’t build to its own crescendo around the aforementioned sitar and keys, because it most definitely does — One with the Universe sounds less about trying to draw listeners into an unconscious state than encouraging them to actively engage with what they’re hearing. Maybe “get up and dance” would be a too-strong interpretation, but at very least, Samsara Blues Experiment are asking those hearing these songs to remain present in the moment with them, whether that’s expressed through the thrust of “Vipassana,” the drift into swirl of “Sad Guru Returns” or the move from serenity to serenity in “Glorious Daze.”

samsara blues experiment

Of course, one can still get plenty lost in One with the Universe if so desired, and that’s especially true of the title-track. Starting out with a somewhat foreboding keyboard movement from Peters and bassline from Eiselt, the extended stretch is immediate in signaling its own patience and adjusting the expectation of the listener accordingly. Thus far, Samsara Blues Experiment have been fairly energetic in their delivery and they’ll be again as they move through this and “Eastern Sun and Western Moon” still to come, but the opening minutes of “One with the Universe” itself are given over to a languid unfolding that eases through the first half so subtly and fluidly that by the time vocals show up amid all the synth swirl, double-timed hi-hat, spacious guitar strum that turns to starts and stops, they’re more than nine minutes deep and one has all but stopped anticipating their arrival.

From that point on, the trio hit into a boogie-fied section that feels written for the stage and is the most prevalent example of the album’s celebratory mood — the lines, “Hey hey, want to be with you every day/Hey hey, think of all the promises we made,” defining the good-times atmosphere Samsara Blues Experiment are inhabiting in the back half of the song. Peters moves to layer keys and guitar (and vocals) as a verse takes hold, and a joyous, righteous jam ensues that’s as much fun to hear as it is an expression of the organic power trio construction between him, Vedder and Eiselt, vocals locking in note for note on a quick guitar lead before the song moves into its next verse playing off the “Hey hey, want to be with you every day/Hey hey, think of all the groovy times we’ve had,” lyrical foundation with added percussion behind.

They’re in full swing at this point, and at 14 minutes flat, they align to push “One with the Universe” to its conclusion, Vedder‘s crash becoming a wash in the process. That would seem to leave “Eastern Sun and Western Moon” as something of an epilogue, but in its lyrical theme and seven-minute linear build, it proves essential in tying One with the Universe together from start to finish, finding a place for itself between the thrust of “Vipassana” and the patience of the title-cut, bringing back the interplay of organ and guitar, and offering listeners a last chance to travel along with the band as they make their way toward a late-arriving peak in the song’s second half and close out the record with a bit of residual hum — sound waves rather than the ocean waves that started out the opener, but still undulating.

In addition to signaling their return after this four-year stretch, One with the Universe also marks a decade since Samsara Blues Experiment first got together in 2007. If one looks at the scope of what they’ve been able to accomplish over their tenure, the context in which this new collection arises is even broader and all the more worthy of appreciation. It’s been a significant creative journey up to this point, and whatever their future might hold in terms of releases, touring, etc., their fourth full-length confirms that no matter what might change for them or how their aesthetic might shift in the process of their continued becoming, their commitment to growth is unwavering and a crucial, defining aspect of who they are as a unit. Yet one more reason to be glad to have them back.

Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe (2017)

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Samsara Blues Experiment Premiere “Vipassana”; Reveal Art and Tracks for One with the Universe out May 12

Posted in audiObelisk on March 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

samsara blues experiment

As they returned home to Germany this past week from a South American tour and made ready to head out over the next month on a slew of European dates including festival stops at Under the Black Moon, Riff Ritual, and Desertfest in London and their native Berlin, Samsara Blues Experiment came one step closer to the release of their fourth full-length, One with the Universe. The album — confirmed for a May 12 release through Electric Magic Records with cover art by Michel Bassot newly unveiled below — arrives four years after the third Samsara Blues Experiment outing, Waiting for the Flood (review here), and finds the band pared down to a trio for the first time on a studio offering, returning to activity after several years away following a prolific run between 2009 and 2013, and embarking on some of their boldest and most progressive arrangements to date.

I haven’t heard One with the Universe in its entirety yet — as of this weekend, the master was still being finalized — but today I have the extreme pleasure of hosting the premiere of the 10-minute opening track, “Vipassana,” for your (and my) streaming enjoyment. Obviously, its my basis for the assessment above about the arrangements, and as the song plays through its jam-based course, one can hear that coming through in the synth provided by guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, joined in the three-piece by drummer Thomas Vedder and bassist Hans Eiselt. At the same time, to go along with the core warmth of low end and natural push of the toms at the start and the airy guitar and echoing vocals that accompany, there also emerges some weightier tonality in the chorus that hits with a more aggressive underlying vibe. Dare I say “doomly?” I won’t guess how it plays out across the span of One with the Universe, which runs just under 47 minutes, but along with the synth sprawl that starts at about the halfway point, it’s something that turned my head listening to “Vipassana.”

I’ll hope to have a review up sometime between now and the May 12 release date, so I’ll save some of the rambling for that, but the name of the song, if you’re wondering, refers to the Buddhist notion of insight into the true nature of reality. Not exactly a toss-off scale on which to begin an album. Such purposes are welcome from Samsara Blues Experiment, who recorded the likewise ambitiously-titled One with the Universe with former bassist Richard Behrens (also of Heat), who also helmed the last outing. One looks forward to hearing how this spiritual searching resolves itself, or if it does at all, throughout the rest of the tracks.

Peters was kind enough to give some background on the making of “Vipassana,” and you’ll find his words, the complete album tracklisting, upcoming tour dates and more info under the player below.

Please enjoy:

Christian Peters on “Vipassana”:

‘Vipassana’ is the first song we did after Richard had left the band. It came out from a series of jam sessions. Pretty much this is all we did in the first rehearsals after Richard left: jamming, jamming and even more jamming. The song topic seems to be about growing up, or maybe growing up responsibly. Kind of a coming of age thing wrapped in heavy riffs and Pink Floydish-psychedelia, plus some kind of Indian raga theme. It’s pretty much what one can consider as ‘classic SBE’-material already, I think.

It may be interesting to know that Richard, who did not play any instruments, but again recorded the album, also contributed some nice ideas in the process, like having me play the backward solo or putting in some vintage tape-effects. we are all very happy with the outcome of this song in particular and hope you will enjoy. there is much more on the album.

samsara-blues-experiment-one-with-the-universeSAMSARA BLUES EXPERIMENT’s fourth ‘full piece of wax’ “One with the Universe“ is a culmination of all their works and truly a hard hitting cosmic invitation for floating into their universe of spiritual progression. The most evolutionary development compared to previous albums is the cosmic usage of analog synthesizers, keyboards and effects, while not losing focus on catchiness and well-rendered songwriting.

These five new epics subtly integrate flashes from Jimi Hendrix´ “Electric Ladyland“, Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath, with Canterbury Prog elements à la Caravan and the fuzzed-out riffs of Kyuss. “One with the Universe“ can not be put just into one genre: it is a multifaceted heavy rock album with tons of soul, courage and originality!

The album will be released on May 12th through Electric Magic Records.

TRACK LISTING:
1. Vipassana (10:43)
2. Sad Guru Returns (7:55)
3. Glorious Daze (6:01)
4. One with the Universe (15:03)
5. Eastern Sun & Western Moon (7:09)

– ARTWORK FROM MICHEL BASSOT –

EUROPEAN SHOWS:
25.03. Roma (IT), Defrag
31.03. Osnabrück, Westwerk
01.04. München, Under The Black Moon Festival
02.04. Leipzig, Werk 2
22.04. Barcelona, Riff Ritual Festival
29.04. Berlin, Desertfest
30.04. London (UK), Desertfest
12.05. Berlin, Zukunft am Ostkreuz (Stummfilm-Special)
13.05. Berlin, Zukunft am Ostkreuz (Albumrelease Parteeey)
14.05. Hamburg, Hafenklang
15.05. Wiesbaden, Schlachthof
16.05. Bielefeld, Forum
17.05. Nijmegen (NL), Doornroosje
18.05. Nantes (FR), Le Ferrailleur
19.05. Paris (FR), Backstage
20.05. Köln, Underground
11.08. Finkenbach, Finki Festival

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