Posted in Whathaveyou on December 23rd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s the match of your tonal dreams. Colour Haze and My Sleeping Karma co-headlining a tour in March, both supporting early 2017 releases. In the case of Colour Haze, it’s a new studio record currently in the process of being mixed for issue on Elektrohasch, first on CD in Feb., then LP after. For My Sleeping Karma, it’s the previously-announcedMela Ananda – Live offering, which Napalm Records will have out Feb. 24. With the shows presented by Sound of Liberation, they’re calling the run the ‘Coloured Karma Tour,’ and it begins March 16 in Cologne and runs through April 1 in Stuttgart.
Aside from bringing the incredible thought of seeing these two bands sharing a stage, this is also the first news I’ve seen of a new Colour Haze album, and that’s some of the best news one can hope to get on any given day. I’ll hope to have more on that as we get closer, and more on the My Sleeping Karma live record as well, which is their first — and as someone who’s never had the pleasure of watching them play, I’m interested to hear how their ultra-smooth tones resonate — but in the meantime, here’s the announcement as put out by My Sleeping Karma on the social medias for your perusal/jealousy:
Hey Friends, some good news right before X-mas. In March 2017 we are going on a Double Headliner Tour with our friends in Colour Haze. Both bands will play full shows and present their new releases. We are sorry that we can’t cover all parts of Europe, it’s just impossible timewise. Hope to see you all for a “Mela Ananda” in March.
If you like, please spread the word by sharing this post. Thank you all!!!
Coloured Karma Tour 2017: My Sleeping Karma + Colour Haze
( Ticketlinks and FB Events will be posted soon) 16.03. Cologne, Live Music Hall 17.03. UK – London, The Garage 18.03. BEL – Leuven, Het Depot 19.03. NL – Nijmegen, Doornroosje 20.03. F- Paris, Divan Du Monde 21.03. CH – Pratteln, Z7 22.03. Munich, Feierwerk 23.03. Saarbrücken, Garage 24.03. Darmstadt, Centralstation 25.03. Hamburg, Markthalle 26.03. Berlin, Astra 27.03. Hannover, Faust 28.03. Leipzig, Werk 2 29.03. Nürnberg, Hirsch 30.03. A- Vienna, Arena 31.03. A – Graz, PPC 01.04. Stuttgart, JH Hallschlag
Wherever you might lie on the political spectrum, it seemed important to me to close out this week with something radiating love, and in the decade since it came out I’ve yet to put on Colour Haze‘s Tempel and hear or feel anything else from it.
One doesn’t generally think of a band’s eighth album as being a particularly landmark moment in their progression. By the time most acts get that far — and make no mistake, most acts don’t — they’ve probably settled into their sound or at least solidified their processes to a point where they’re kind of on autopilot, even if that autopilot involves a natural growth pattern. For Colour Haze, it was different. The Berlin trio’s seventh outing, their 2004 self-titled (discussed here) had served as a stunning follow-up to the preceding 2001 double-album, Los Sounds de Krauts, and thrust the band to the fore of what seems in hindsight to have been a nascent movement of heavy psychedelia they’d spearhead both aesthetically and through the contributions of guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek‘s label, Elektrohasch Schallplatten. The challenge before them was how to answer the warmth and the expanse of the self-titled without repeating themselves, losing the ultra-organic sensibility that made that outing such a joy, or sacrifice songcraft in the process. No small task.
I remember getting Tempel as a fan of the band, putting it on, hearing “Fire” for the first time and immediately knowing they’d done it. From the gentle opening of the winding “Aquamaria” (also the longest track on the album; immediate points) down through later liquefication of “Ozean” and the harmonized finale “Stratofarm,” Tempel presented a vision of psychedelic heft that seemed to need neither but fed off both. The chemistry between Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald was all it needed to convey this — underscoring the point of just how special a group Colour Haze had become. To listen to “Mind” or “Gold and Silver” or the memorable instrumental title-track, they bring forth a varied approach that ties together with fluidity that few beyond Colour Haze can claim to have matched in the years since, classic in style but perhaps even more so now sounding fresh and like something that was genuinely new. One could hear shades of their earlier and more strictly desert rocking work in the later thrust of “Gold and Silver” and the subsequent shuffle of “Earth,” which follows, reminding of records like 1999’s Periscope, 2000’s CO2 or 2001’s Ewige Blumenkraft, but even these are met with shimmering organ and/or a depth of tone that were a definitive forward step even from where Colour Haze were two years earlier.
A couple weeks ago, I was having an email back and forth with someone whose opinion I greatly respect, and the conversation turned to Colour Haze. My thoughts were simple: People still don’t know how incredible this band is. I genuinely feel that way. As much as Koglek, Rasthofer and Merwald have helped to influence a generation of European heavy psych, played a large role in establishing what those words mean when placed in succession, they’re still somehow underrated. Their progression would continue from Tempel on through 2008’s spectacular All, 2012’s much-delayed but glorious 2LP She Said (review here), and late-2014’s surprise outing, To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), the touring for which also resulted in earlier-2016’s Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015 (review here). I haven’t heard from them in a bit, but I wouldn’t be the least surprised if they had new stuff in the works for next year or 2018 as well. They never seem to stop, which of course is another part of the appeal. One hopes that if they keep going perpetually, they’ll finally get the recognition they deserve.
As always, I hope you enjoy.
Hug someone you love. Pet your dog or your cat. Write something on the internet. Smoke what you smoke. Drink what you drink. Eat what you eat. Do whatever you have to do to get by. I don’t really want to say much about politics in this space. Somehow I’ve become increasingly wary of doing so over the last couple years. When I was at The Aquarian I wrote a political column every week, often little more than a 700-800 word rant about something pissing me off. I was younger, and drunk. Apart from these posts, which have become half-personal update, half-music (not that music’s not personal), I don’t do that here, or really on Thee Facebooks either.
What I will note is that this election affected me on a personal and emotional level in a way no presidential contest has done in my 35 years. The anxiety beforehand — for months beforehand — and the shock and sadness at the result have been much, much deeper than I expected them to be. I’m actually a pretty political guy, comparatively. I keep up on issues, news of the day, who’s doing what and so on to the best of my ability. This isn’t the first time I’ve ever paid attention. But yeah, it’s been like nothing I’ve ever felt before, even during the Bush/Cheney years. Of course, as a straight white male, it ain’t like the Supreme Court’s coming to take away my rights or like my healthcare is less secure — though state funding for public higher ed., in which The Patient Mrs. works and from which our insurance comes, is more of a question in an arena of increased privatization and budget slashing — but there are people I love whose lives will change directly for the worse because of what happened in my country on Tuesday night. I have a niece whom I worship and adore who will enter her formative years under a president who has openly bragged about sexually assaulting women, and yes, that hurts. It should hurt.
That’s all I’ll say about it. For now. If shit goes full-on 2006-levels-of-despair, I may need to establish some kind of rant space around here just so I don’t lose my fucking mind. We’ll see.
Here’s what’s in the notes for next week. Subject to change:
Mon. – Full album stream/review of the new Borracho.
Tue. – Season of Arrows track premiere.
Wed. – Ice Dragon‘s new single reviewed.
Thu. – EYE‘s new album reviewed day before release.
Fri. – Full album stream/review of The Munsens.
That’s where we’re at for now. I have a couple fest writeups to work on as well, so will be busy over the weekend one way or another. But I’ve also got my best friend up from NJ for the next couple days, and I got my Playstation 4 Pro yesterday and a demo of Final Fantasy XV that I’m looking forward to digging into further, and The Patient Mrs. is very likely buying a new car today to replace the one that died en route to The Obelisk All-Dayer in August, so yeah, there’s kind of a lot going on. My sister also had a special birthday yesterday, which I’ll note because I love her deeply and was sorry to not be there for it. She’s also in Jersey, along with the rest of my family.
You should also know that revisiting Tempel has been inspiration enough to re-load the complete Colour Haze catalog into my iTunes — it’s been there previously but was removed; software stuff; long story — so I expect that will be a good portion of the weekend’s fare as well, which can only be to the benefit of the next few days.
I hope whatever you’re up to you have a great time and that you stay safe.
Posted in Reviews on September 16th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Marked out by their tonal warmth and immersive progressions, the long-form fluidity of Melbourne trio Ahkmed makes a welcome return with The Inland Sea, the band’s first full-length since 2009’s Distance (review here). That outing was also released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten — which, if you know the label run by Stefan Koglek of Colour Haze, should be about as far as you need to read in this review to let you know you should get on board.
After seven years, there have been some notable shifts in Ahkmed‘s sound, veering away from post-rock more pure heavy psych jamming, here presented in raw, mostly-instrumental form across five extended tracks — “Kaleidoscope” (10:44), “The Inland Sea” (12:53), “Last Hour of Light” (20:09), “Pattern of Atolls” (11:54) and “The Empty Quarter” (15:31) — totaling a satisfyingly symmetrical 1:11:11 runtime.
Not a minor investment in terms of the front-to-back listen, but the dreamtones and spaciousness of the title-track, the graceful manner in which the songs unfold and the varied atmospheres between them assure that the journey remains engaging for the duration, drummer John-Paul Caligiuri adding vocals over the slow wash of “The Inland Sea” (though that might be a sample; it’s kind of obscure in the mix) and the subsequent centerpiece after the hypnotic opening of “Kaleidoscope” to bring a definitively human presence to the material just when it seems to be pushing out further and further.
Also the introduction of new bassist Finn Rockwell, who comes aboard to replace Dan McNamara, alongside Caligiuri and guitarist Carlo Iacovino, The Inland Sea casts out cosmic with a natural chemistry and patient execution, indulging itself as a release like this invariably must, but not doing so in an offputting or pretentious fashion.
That can be a hard line to walk, but Ahkmed make it work in the best way possible — by simply doing it. From the fuzzy guitar line that starts “Kaleidoscope” onward, the three-piece ease their way into progressive spacedelia with an underlying command that speaks to the years they’ve been at it, Caligiuri and Iacovino having started the band circa 1998.
As they approach 20 years in and mark their resurgence from a dormant period, The Inland Sea lacks nothing for vitality, though admittedly they’re not exactly shooting for uptempo party rock. That’s not to say their delivery isn’t energetic or they don’t sound like they’re making the music they want to be making — quite the opposite, actually — just that the trance that takes hold about halfway through “Kaleidoscope” and continues into “The Inland Sea” would seem to be closer to the endgame goal the album is pushing toward.
It’s about the texture and spirit that emerges from the material; something to get lost in. They build “Kaleidoscope” to a formidable apex and end it with a fading wash to let the title cut take hold with two builds of its own, patiently marched forward by cymbal washes as the guitar spaces out, the song almost dividing in half for when one part ends and the next one starts.
By its finish, it too gets to significant proportion, but the difference in ambience is noteworthy, and another balance Ahkmed strike subtly throughout The Inland Sea as “Last Hour of Light” — an obvious focal point, for even more than its sheer length — arrives with about two minutes of introduction from the guitar before the vocals and quiet drums join in. At this point, the ethereal mood is fully constructed, but Caligiuri does have a grounding effect when he starts with the first verse, something to give a sense of place to what can seem to be so willfully formless.
At first, it seems like “Pattern of Atolls” might be trying to bridge the the two sides between Ahkmed‘s post-rock and more heavy psych liquefaction, but it winds up pushing further, thickening its tones in the second half and pushing into territory more outwardly heavy than anything The Inland Sea has yet offered. Caligiuri returns on vocals earlier in the track but recedes into the molten flow that seems to rise up after his lines are done, and it’s Rockwell whose low end seems to signify the heft to come, fuzzed-out as it is.
They start to dive into a payoff but hold back, saving it for the end of the song, which feels about right once they hit the nine-minute mark and crash into a blown-out final three minutes that cap with bass-noise swirling directly into the guitar intro of “The Empty Quarter” — the most purposeful transition they’ve yet made and one that ties the final two tracks together in a way that brings to mind a linearity that The Inland Sea invariably wouldn’t have as a 2LP, on which “The Empty Quarter” and “Pattern of Atolls” would each likely occupy a side.
Maybe that’s Ahkmed acknowledging the digital/vinyl companionship, the sort of symbiotic the most and least physical formats have developed over the years since Distance, or maybe it’s just the way the songs flowed the best. I wouldn’t hazard a guess. Either way, the closer follows a similar pattern of a guitar intro leading to a verse that shifts into a jam quiet, louder, quiet again, noisy for a bit, then at last arriving at the groove that will carry it out.
To listen to The Inland Sea by this time and look for intricacies almost feels like missing the point, which is clearly to let the album wash over you and move you from one end of its span to the other. Nonetheless, “The Empty Quarter” and the four cuts before it do offer a depth of experience for those willing to dig in — headphones recommended — and the spaces they evoke seem vast enough to hold a presence until next time. Hopefully that’s not another seven years.
Posted in Reviews on August 3rd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Technically speaking, this isn’t the first Colour Haze live record, but it most definitely is the first they’ve put out through Elektrohasch, and it’s their most complete-feeling to date. A set from the Berg Herzberg festival aptly-titled Berg Herzberg Festival 18 Juli 2008 was issued in 2009, but in comparison, Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015 attempts to capture the best performances of a whole tour and winds up with two discs and over two hours and 11 minutes of music as a result. Spend an afternoon with Colour Haze. There are few better ways I can think of to dedicate that time, honestly, though I’m hardly impartial as a fan of the band. Comprised of 13 tracks, Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015 culls material recorded in Paris, Frankfurt, Wurzberg, Berlin, Köln and puts it together fluidly — presumably in an effort to give an idea of what any given night’s setlist might’ve been — while spanning a decent portion of the Munich trio’s widely influential career.
As ever, Colour Haze are guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald, and this live outing was taped early last year as they were out with Radio Moscow, Cherry Choke and The Sun and the Wolf to support the late-2014 release of To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), their 11th studio album. Though they continue to be regular denizens of Duna Jam — and why not? — they’ve done less overall touring the last several years, having nestled themselves into a kind of statesman-like status in Europe’s heavy rock scene and provided a formative blueprint for an entire swath of jam-based heavy psychedelia with their unmatched instrumental chemistry, depth of tone and memorable songcraft.
Fortunately for anyone who might pick it up, all of those are on display throughout Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015, and Colour Haze show just how successful they’ve been in bringing an on-stage feel to their recordings all along as they dig into the still-exploratory-feeling title-track from 2012’s double-LP She Said (review here), from which “Transformation” and “Grace” are also featured, in succession, both with different arrangements than appear on the album. To the Highest Gods We Know gets its due as well, with a medley of “Überall” and “Call” joined together, a shortened, string-less take on its “To the Highest Gods We Know” and the righteously-riffed album opener “Circles,” on which Koglek‘s and Rasthofer‘s tones come through no less brilliantly than on the record itself. They go as far back as 1999’s Periscope, opening with that album’s title-track, feature “Love” and a 26-minute version of “Peace, Brothers and Sisters!” from their 2004 self-titled, “Aquamaria” and “Tempel” from 2006’s Tempel, and “Moon” from 2008’s All.
Transitions across this swath of time — 16 years’ worth of material — are of course as seamless as anyone familiar with their work would expect, the three-piece having set their course with Periscope and continued to refine their processes ever since. Granted, for a live offering like this, there wouldn’t necessarily be the warts-and-all missteps one might find in, say, a single recorded set from any group — a flubbed note here, a flat line there — but at no point does Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015 sound anything other than blissfully natural in its execution, and as the band hop from town to town, “Überall and Call” in Frankfurt, “Circles” in Paris, and so on, they give the genuine impression that the circumstances are the same, every night, every city, and so succeed in making Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015 a representation of the tour and their live show in general. Whether it’s getting lost in the 13-minute “Transformation” or the far-ranging jam they embark on as part of “Peace, Brothers and Sisters!,” Colour Haze bring their legend to life in welcoming fashion.
And yeah, maybe the two-plus-hour live record is a fan piece. We’re coming up on being two years removed from the release of To the Highest Gods We Know and Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee coincides with Colour Haze‘s return to the US to take part in Psycho Las Vegas after a decade since their last US show, at Emissions from the Monolith in Ohio, so that they’d want to get something out makes sense from a practical standpoint as well, but it says something about the band that clearly this material has been carefully compiled, edited together so smoothly, and done in a manner worthy of the quality of the performances contained within. It is in no way half-assed, up to the point of including “Get it On” from 2000’s CO2 as a bonus track after the show-unto-itself “Peace, Brothers and Sisters!” caps what would be the regular set. An encore! After a 26-minute song!
There are few acts who could get away with such a thing, let alone as gloriously as Koglek, Rasthofer and Merwald do here — the latter’s snare subtlety even coming through on the live recording — but Colour Haze aren’t just any band. As they’ve demonstrated time and again, their strange brew is endlessly potent, and while they’ve marched past 20 years since the release of their first album in 1995’s Chopping Machine (discussed here), this collection proves their luster has only shone brighter over time and that their vision of a new classic rock finds no conflict in being as loyal to its roots as it is forward-thinking. Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee will be essential for any Colour Haze fan regardless of geography or how often they might tour in a given place, but for newcomers as well, it gives not only a sense of the spectrum of (much of) their catalog, but also provides a wholly immersive listening experience, and so pushes forward an essential aspect of the band’s sonic personality. Go with it.
Heavy psych masters Colour Haze announce Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015, a new live release through Elektrohasch Schallplatten, due this month on CD with vinyl to follow in July. Comprising two discs with more than two hours’ runtime, Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015 chronicles the Munich trio’s early 2015 run alongside The Sun and The Wolf, Radio Moscow and Cherry Choke on the Up in Smoke Vol. 5 tour to support their latest studio full-length, To the Highest Gods We Know (review here).
That record, which was a return to normalcy after a tumultuous release process for 2012’s double-LP, She Said (review here), and both albums feature heavily in the setlist for Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015. With recordings from shows in Frankfurt, Paris, Köln, Würzburg and Berlin, tracks like “She Said,” “Transformation” and “To the Highest Gods We Know” shine with different interpretations and varied arrangements for the stage that make it plain why the band wanted to document the tour to give their worldwide audience a look at what’s rarely seen or heard outside Europe.
For more than 20 years, Colour Haze have worked to craft an unmatched legacy in heavy psychedelia. Across their 11 studio albums, they’ve cast an influence that knows no borders and emphasizes the timeless nature of instrumental chemistry at its best. Comprised of guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek (also the head of Elektrohasch), bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald, Colour Haze previously released the limited live outing, Burg Herzberg Festival 18. Juli 2008, in 2009, but Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015 will be the first official Colour Haze live offering through Elektrohasch, and if the title is anything to go by, it might not be the last.
Colour Haze play their first US show in a decade in August at Psycho Las Vegas. Below, you can stream the premiere of “Circles (Paris)” from Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015. More info on exact release dates — it’ll probably be an “out now” situation — when it comes in.
Cover art and tracklisting follow:
Colour Haze, Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015:
1. Periscope (Frankfurt)
2. Moon (Frankfurt)
3. Uberall & Call (Frankfurt)
4. She Said (Paris)
5. Aquamaria (Würzburg)
6. To the Highest Gods We Know (Köln)
7. Circles (Paris)
1. Transformation (Berlin)
2. Grace (Berlin)
3. Tempel (Köln)
4. Love (Paris)
5. Peace Brothers and Sisters! (Frankfurt)
6. Get it On (Köln) (Bonus Track)
I maintain a deep affection for the second The Kings of Frog Island record, II, as I do for few others. Might sound like hyperbole, but the album is damn near perfect. Released by Elektrohasch in 2008, it followed their ’05 self-titled debut and fleshed out a sound somewhere between heavy psychedelia and warm-toned classic stoner rock that to this day, some eight years after the fact, remains high on my list of all-time outings in the genre. You know how sometimes an album hits you just right? That’s me and “The Watcher,” me and “Welcome to the Void,” “Joanne Marie,” “Hallucination,” the weirdo slide guitar pastoralism of “Laid” and the way it nods into “Ride a Black Horse” en route to the nighttime desert-style closing vibes of “Satanica,” “Witching Hour” and the epilogue “Amphibia Rising.” From the moment the train announcer comes on to say service to Frog Island has been canceled and we’ll have to catch the last train to Satansville, which departs at 23.58 from platform six, II has the perfect blend of flow and vibe and memorable songwriting. To be blunt about it, it’s one of my favorite records. I’m still surprised the universe didn’t collapse on itself when it was released, and of all the stuff that’s come out of the UK since, I can only assume it’s because The Kings of Frog Island don’t play out much that they haven’t had more of an influence. Much to the loss of everyone, really.
The band’s lineup has been somewhat nebulous in the years since II, but when I interviewed guitarist/vocalist Mat Bethancourtearly in 2009 (it was one of if not the first interviews to go on this site), he said the album was about, “The planets of Satanica and Amphibia are fighting an epic battle for control of the universe and all its lost souls.” Bethancourt, who cut his fuzzy teeth in the also-underrated Josiah, would move on from the band following 2010’s III (review here), to focus on the then-nascent Cherry Choke, but fellow founders Mark Buteaux (vocals/guitar) and Roger “Dodge” Watson (drums) would continue to delve into heavy psychedelia and an ever-jammier presence across 2013’s IV (review here) and 2015’s V (review here), basking in lush and exploratory elements that still owe part of their crux to what The Kings of Frog Island established here in the mega-fuzz of “Welcome to the Void” — a song that I continue to believe offers better tone than Electric Wizard‘s “Witchcult Today” — and the sentimental wisps of “Amphibia Rising.” I don’t know who won the battle for all those lost souls, but I know the process of duking it out made for one hell of a listen.
As of last month, The Kings of Frog Island were back in the studio working on what I can only assume will be called VI when it’s done. Whether or not that’ll be out this year or what, I don’t know, but they continue to be an act that I’m always deeply happy to hear from, and listening back to it now for the first time in a while, II (also previously discussed here) sounds more like a classic than it ever has, to me anyway.
As always, I hope you enjoy.
I’ve been in Atlanta all week for work. It’s been busy, but I feel like more for this site than for my job. Look at the last few days: Seven posts today, seven yesterday, five Wednesday (five is about normal), six Tuesday, six Monday. And I’ve been traveling. I said last Friday I didn’t know how it was going to work out, but it did. To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t anything I blew off. And if I’m wrong about that, it wasn’t anything malicious or conscious, I assure you.
I’ll be back in Massachusetts for it, but next week is also duly crammed. Monday I’m hosting a track premiere for Hotel Wrecking City Traders and a full album stream for Holy Grove. Tuesday is new stuff from Rhin and Young Hunter (and that review is going to take me a while, I can feel it already). Wednesday, a full stream from Ancient Warlocks. Thursday, a video premiere from Gozu. Friday, new Blackwitch Pudding. Plus I’ve got Merlin, Stars that Move, Queen Elephantine and Lord waiting to be reviewed, among others, so plenty to work on.
Because I apparently need to be this busy. And when I’m not, I have no idea what to do with myself.
We’ve been running the radio backup server for the last couple weeks, but this weekend I’m hoping to take the proper server hard drive and hook it into a Raspberry Pi I bought to replace the old box. Remains to be seen if I can actually make that happen, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway, and if it does happen, I have a bunch of records I want to add to the server, whether I get to write about them or not. And by that I mean I probably won’t have time to, but you know, we’ll see.
Just heard as well, but R.I.P. Keith Emerson.
Please have a great and safe weekend, whatever you’re up to. The Patient Mrs. and I will be bumming down to Providence tomorrow to buy ricotta cheese and probably some chicken, but other than that I’m looking forward to a quiet couple days before Monday brings the inevitable return-to-real-life shitstorm. Always an adventure.
Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This list is not culled in any way from the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2015 to that, please do.
It’s damn near impossible to start one of these posts without some derivation of, “Whew! What a year it’s been!” The truth is that, since 2014, I’ve been keeping a list of the best releases of 2015, and the list has just grown and grown and grown over the last 12 months. Could have been a top 40, easy. Could have been a top 50, 60, whatever. It was complete inundation.
If you’ve been checking in on any of the lists that have gone up so far, you might notice that some of these records have appeared elsewhere, and possibly in a different order. How does an album end up ahead of another on one list and not on another? Different criteria. Different basis of judgment. As always, the big year-end list (this one) is derived both from what I think are the most important offerings of the year plus what I listened to the most, because while I believe deeply in the critical value of a given work, I also believe there’s value in the kind of record you just can’t put down.
Basically, I believe records have value. Stay tuned for more daring adventures in understatement.
A few emergent factors for 2015 to note: The increasing expansion of subgenres. Psychedelia and what I’ve come to call the heavy ’10s sound finding further root as prominent styles of the day, as well as a budding of emotive doom in the post-Pallbearer vein. At the same time, a more straightforward heavy rock is also making a return, and look for that to continue as new listeners discover past landmarks and modern plays thereupon. Everything is cyclical, and I’m interested to see what the next two or three years bring, both as Millennials hit 30 (and beyond) and as younger kids come up and fuzz out.
But that’s a conversation for a different time, and before we get there, it’s time to take a look back at the best full-lengths of 2015. I hope if I’ve left something out, you’ll let me know about it in the comments, but until then, here we go:
Going by some of the results I’ve seen from the Readers Poll, I’m guessing there will be some disagreement on the placement of High on Fire‘s seventh full-length, third for eOne and second to be produced by Kurt Ballou behind 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), but for me it came down to what I went back to more. The brilliant “The Falconist” would be enough on its own for Luminiferous to be included on this list, and taken as a whole, the record affirmed the trio as pivotal heavy metal marauders, an act whose devastation is undulled by the wear they’ve put on it touring the world over and again.
Undaunted by a name change from Church to CHRCH, the Sacramento five-piece unleashed rare doom extremity on their debut album, but peppered that with a stylistic nuance that many in the pummel-pummel-pummel game cast off, whether it was psychedelic flourish in the guitar or some eerie atmospheric. Among the post potential-filled debut offerings of the year, that’s not a guarantee they’ll find future success on the same level, but it does mean that if you didn’t hear the 19-minute “Dawning,” you missed out.
Coherent bliss. The second full-length from the four-piece Golden Void was a logical step forward from the band’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), but that was precisely what it needed to be. With an emerging dynamic of dual vocals between guitarist Isaiah Mitchell (also Earthless) and keyboardist Camilla Saufley-Mitchell on cuts like “Astral Plane” and “Silent Season,” Berkana was less adherent to space rock overall than its predecessor, but gave a more individualized take and was all the richer for it.
Probably should have a higher number. Part of the enduring appeal for The Harvest for me is not only how Ukrainian three-piece Stoned Jesus so absolutely pushed back from the album before it, 2012’s sophomore outing, Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but how much reasoning they put behind the moves they made on the six included tracks. Each song had its purpose and place in the overarching flow, and The Harvest continues to deliver something new on thoroughly-earned repeat listens. Perhaps most encouraging of all, I have no idea what they’ll do next.
Swedish retro forerunners are hands-down one of the most influential European heavy rock acts of their generation. The ’70s revivalism they helped spearhead on their first, second and third LPs has given them rich ground to develop, and they still managed to bring something new to their sound with the soulfulness of Innocence and Decadence, as well as increasing command and diversity in the vocals. Drummer Axel Sjöberg turned in a career performance, and although there are heaps upon heaps of bands out there indulging in post-Graveyard boogie, they showed once again that they’re able to stand both out from the crowd and well above it. Plus, any swing-rocking album that dares to break out soul-singer backing vocals and blastbeats, and pull both off without blinking deserves respect, no matter what else it might have going on.
It felt so good to put on Death Hawks‘ Sun Future Moon for the first time and be completely blindsided by its serene psychedelic ritualizing. The Finnish four-piece reveled in classic progressive methods, and where it would’ve been so easy for songs like “Hey Ya Sun Ra” or “Dream Life, Waking Life” to come across as pretentious, the naturalism in the recording gave the band’s third album such a liquefied flow that it was impossible not to be swept up by it until, at last, “Friend of Joy” launched into and beyond a peaceful stratosphere in spaced-out ambience. My first exposure to the group and their first outing for Svart, it’s a record so textural and so graceful that it seems to unfurl itself more each time through.
A quick and strong turnaround from this Norwegian sax-inclusive foursome, who might seem to come out of nowhere were it not for the pedigree of Kenneth Kapstad and Bent Sæther in long-running progressives Motorpsycho. Together with Per Borten and Rolf Martin Snustad, Spidergawd spoke to more primal rock instincts — their two LPs to-date and soon to be three are testaments to the ability of music to move, to shove, and to shake; or as they put it, “Get Physical” — but as there is breadth as well, as the psychedelic “Caereulean Caribou” demonstrated. Anchored by the hook of “Fixing to Die Blues,” Spidergawd‘s second wandered far and wide, but welcomed listeners along for each step of the journey.
As the title promised, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s third offering and Napalm Records debut delivered harsh truths. They came at breakneck speed and delivered with stage-hewn chemistry by the Midwestern power trio, whose years of road-dogging were brought to bear in the gruff, gravel-throated voice of guitarist Steve Moss, who led drummer Brandon Burghart and newcomer bassist Mike Boyne across nigh-unparalled riff torrents, with all the boogie of any number of ’70s-style sidewinders, but also with a tonal thickness that seemed a miracle it could move at all. Not without its adventurous side in the quieter “The Little Sparrow,” Cold was the Ground brimmed with intensity that brought the band to new levels in every conceivable fashion.
Blessed art the weirdos, whose records might be few and far between, who might not tour, but whose bold fits and starts span genres easily and whose work truly stands alone. Leeches of Lore‘s Toshi Kasai-produced Motel of Infinity was a godsend in the enduring battle against normality. It was a grinding, grooving anti-punk stampede, at times frenetic and at other times whatever the opposite of frenetic is, and to-date, it’s the Albuquirky outit’s masterpiece, from the low-end buzzsaw, gang-shout and falsetto of “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” through the bass and organ bounce of “Noah’s Soul (is Burning).” They have been and still are a band unto themselves, and the we-do-this-every-day confidence of their execution across Motel of Infinity‘s run only emphasizes how utterly necessary they are.
With the Dead vocalist Lee Dorrian (also head of Rise Above Records, also ex-Cathedral) basically laid it all out there in the interview here when he said, “We wanted to make the most skull-crushing record we possibly could.” That’s precisely what With the Dead‘s self-titled debut is. It’s as heavy as possible, as filthy as possible, all the way through. In some ways very much the sum of its elements with Dorrian on vocals, Tim Bagshaw on guitar/bass and Mark Greening on drums (both ex-Ramesses), it was also of course more than just that, and while so much of their story has yet to be told as they move into their initial live appearances in 2016, their opening salvo was nothing if not as destructive as its intent.
How could anyone possibly have even remotely reasonable expectations for a Clutch record after 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here). I won’t say the Maryland stalwarts didn’t deliver with Psychic Warfare, and I doubt any fan of the band who’s dug into “X-Ray Visions,” “A Quick Death in Texas” or “Noble Savage” would, but their returning to producer Machine for the second time in a row made it almost too easy to compare Clutch‘s 10th and 11th long-players. Four years between albums was shortened to just two, and that may have had something to do with it as well, but while the songs were there and I’ve no doubt that Psychic Warfare will endure over the long term — ask me sometime how long it took me to get into Pure Rock Fury — in the moment of its release, Psychic Warfare seemed to stand in the shadow of its predecessor rather than in its own light.
An awaited return for Midwestern-turned-West-Coast psychedelic rockers Mondo Drag, their self-titled sophomore outing had three years between its recording and release, and was made in 2012 with a shortlived incarnation of the band with bassist Zack Anderson and drummer Cory Berry, both formerly of Radio Moscow and then-soon to be of Blues Pills. Unsurprisingly, the grooves were tight, but even better, Mondo Drag blew past the peaceful headtrippery of their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), toward more expansive and proggy fare. They’ll look to continue that thread on their third outing, The Occultation of Light, in 2016, but the self-titled captured a special moment worthy of celebration, still rife with the classic-minded ethereal spirit of the first outing, but clearly bent on defining its own sonic dogma in hooks and synthy vibes.
18. Lamp of the Universe, The Inner Light of Revelation
At the risk of sounding biased, just about any new release from New Zealand tantric psych outfit Lamp of the Universe is going to be welcome by me. Comprised solely of Craig Williamson (also Arc of Ascent), the long-running project nonetheless casts out gorgeously textured meditative psychedelia, at times delving into drone or Eastern folk, but always marking out its own sonic space, whether in the more rock-minded groove of “God of One” or the drumless acoustic swirl of “Ancient Path.” Lamp of the Universe is a rare band — as much as it is a band — that covers a swath of ground stylistically and manages to sound like nothing but itself as it does so, and Williamson‘s commitment to his cosmic mantras remains firm and creatively fertile as the seeds he planted early on continue to bear fruit in complex arrangements that never distract from the central, spiritual purpose of the music.
Even with its title-track broken into two 20-plus-minute side-consuming halves, it was abundantly plain to hear that Sparkling Waters was the most realized Mammatus outing yet. The four-song, 75-minute offering brimmed with a clarity that even their late-2013 third album, Heady Mental (review here), could only partially claim, leaving behind the fuzz and fog of their earlier work almost entirely while remaining open to employing sonic heft when suitable to their more complex motives. Most effective about Mammatus at this stage was the way they eased into and through varied parts while tying together a coherent whole piece, the builds and cascades of “Sparkling Waters Part One” setting up an expectation of fluidity that held firm even through the more jagged buzz in the early going of closer “Ornia,” the grand finale of which resonates as a cacophony without letting itself actually lose control.
16. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, The Night Creeper
UK ladykillers Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats have emerged as one of the most essential bands of the ’10s. The Night Creeper is their fourth album and it takes the defining eeriness of their melodies and roughs it up with a mostly-live recording job — something which, now that they’re a touring act, they can do — for their grittiest, dirtiest-sounding offering yet. Songs like “Melody Lane,” “Pusher Man” and opener “Waiting for Blood” speak to what’s let their methodology spread so widely in the first place, the VHS grain of their guitars and vocals resting over classic swing and proliferating maddening hooks with lethal intent. Between the nine-minute gruel of “Slow Death” and the hidden acoustic track “Black Motorcade,” The Night Creeper wasn’t without its element of sonic progress, but with Uncle Acid, it’s still the combination of threat, swing and memorable songwriting that brings listeners back to their dark alleyways for another taste.
Easily one of 2015’s most encouraging debuts. Making its opening salvo with the propulsion of Motörhead-derived heavy rock in songs like “Over Under” and “Black Magick Boogieland,” the first outing from Amsterdam-based foursome Death Alley touched on classic ideals without going retro on “Bewildered Eyes,” nodded toward psychedelic melodicism and more patient intentions in “Golden Fields of Love,” and portrayed its punker roots in “Dead Man’s Bones” — all before the 12:40 space rock extravaganza that took hold with closer “Supernatural Predator.” It was a lot of territory to cover, but Death Alley not only made it sound cohesive, they made it rock and they made it a good time. In just about 41 minutes, Black Magick Boogieland was not only a voyage well worth taking, it was a potential-filled, headbang-worthy ripper of an album from an outfit who deserves every bit of attention they seem to be shouting for. Hope they don’t wait long for a follow-up.
Five records in, Dutch trio The Machine have found a niche for themselves between heavy psych rock, desert fuzz and exploratory jamming. Offblast!, with a title that seemed more reminiscent of Europunker speed rock, was as spacious as it was driving, and whether it was the more structured material like “Dry End” or “Coda Sun” or the two extended cuts, 16-minute opener ““Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and 12-minute closer “Come to Light,” their dynamic remained natural and held firm to a spontaneous sensibility, like at any turn, any part might take off for an eight-minute ride to who knows where. That that didn’t always happen only made Offblast! a richer listening experience, its varied ideas coming through consistent tonality to affect a more than satisfying front-to-back flow that toyed with momentum even as it built more and more of it. Was a while in the making, coming three years after 2012’s Calmer than You Are (review here), but easily worth the wait.
13. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
There were moments where the self-titled debut from Brothers of the Sonic Cloth was almost too much to take in one sitting. By the time the Tad Doyle-led trio got around to the 11-minute “La Mano Poderosa,” sometimes I felt like I needed a second to catch my breath before diving further, always further, into the smoldering abyss their tones, growls and lurch seemed to create. Six years after their demo (review here) served notice like a tectonic rumble in the distance, the album arrived with comet-into-planet heft, and its oppression was as much about atmosphere as it was sheer aural assault. Imagine an arm reaching down your throat, grabbing your lungs, and forcibly deflating them one at a time. Is that hyperbole? Absolutely, and well earned. Every bit the debut of the year.
No, Boston supergroup Kind aren’t so high on this list just because they called a song “Pastrami Blaster.” Granted, that didn’t hurt, but ultimately it was the blend of cavernous psychedelics and heavy rumble that made Rocket Science so infectious. Comprised of vocalist Craig Riggs (Roadsaw), guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, The Scimitar, etc.), bassist Tom Corino (Rozamov) and drummer Matt Couto (Elder), Kind earned immediate interest for their pedigree, but it was more the breadth of jams like “Hordeolum” and “The Angry Undertaker” that defined their first outing, various impulses toward structure and open-endedness not so much pushing against each other as working in tandem to craft something that drew from the best of both mindsets. Obviously these are busy guys, but hopefully Kind doesn’t all by the wayside for other ongoing projects. Rocket Science was unmistakable in its demonstration that they have much to offer.
Iowa five-piece Bloodcow hadn’t put out a record since 2007’s Bloodcow III: Hail Xenu, but that didn’t stop Crystals and Lasers from being their best work yet. As much punk as metal as heavy rock, it wasn’t for everybody, but it was most definitely for me. With a constant thread of satire in songs like “Ultra Super Sexual,” “Sock,” “Dick for Days” and the oh-shit-I’m-middle-aged-how-the-fuck-did-this-happen (not saying I relate or anything, but holy shit I can relate) “After Party,” it was nonetheless a stylistically varied and universally professional-sounding 13-track collection, offering weirdo quirk in “Blood and Guts,” “Exploding Head” and “Little Chromosome” and finding room for a bit of scathing social commentary in its title-track and “HIVampyre.” If they’re working at an eight-year pace, I don’t know that we’ll get another Bloodcow record, but they very clearly put everything they had into Crystals and Lasers and the result was a defining statement.
After two wallops in the form of 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) and 2012’s self-titled debut (discussed here), German trio Kadavar continued to prove the effectiveness of their songwriting on Berlin, a return that front-to-back brimmed with vitality and bounce rare enough for heavy rock generally more content to be downtrodden or attempting to feign bluesy substance. Unabashedly poppy at times, Berlin was the party that brought everyone along who was up for taking the ride, and whether it was the hook of “Lord of the Sky” showing how just a tiny melodic turn could make a track infectious or cuts like “Thousand Miles Away from Home,” “Filthy Illusion,” “Stolen Dreams,” “Spanish Wild Rose,” “See the World with Your Own Eyes” — all of them, really — working their way into the consciousness, Berlin felt like it was primed to be the soundtrack of many summers to come. They moved away from the retro style of their first two outings, but in so doing took fuller command of their sound and put it to remarkable use.
Picking up right where Flower of Disease closer “The River” left off with “Another River to Cross,” Goatsnake‘s third full-length arrived a full 15 years after its predecessor, and as one might expect that brought some considerable changes in the band’s sound. Oh, they still rolled the hell out of a riff, guitarist Greg Anderson (he of SunnO))) and Southern Lord Recordings) very much at the fore tonally, but a bluesy inflection from vocalist Pete Stahl (also earthlings?) and some well-placed backing vocals added personality in a daring and unexpected fashion. Songs like “Jimi’s Gone,” “Elevated Man” and “Grandpa Jones” sat comfortably in the band’s influential pantheon of heft, but it was how Black Age Blues pushed beyond what Goatsnake did in their initial run that made it so satisfying. For a record that arrived five years after they got back together, it could have easily been disaster, but Black Age Blues built on what Goatsnake was without detracting from the legacy that has influenced a generation of heavy rock.
I’m proud to call the members of Kings Destroy friends and I won’t attempt to feign impartiality when it comes to considering their work as a band, but I felt in listening to their self-titled third LP that they had finally gotten to the point where they were bringing the onstage confrontationalism of their live show to the studio. Yeah, “Mr. O” was upbeat and catchy and gave side A some thrust, but even in chugging opener “Smokey Robinson” or the moody “Mytho” and “Embers,” Kings Destroy not only came further into their own in terms of style, building on the anti-genre defiant stance of 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), but did so with a clearheaded progressivism, a better sense of who they are musically and what they want the band to be. I wouldn’t trade seeing them play “Embers” or “W2” as many times as I have for anything, but even unto the gang-shout half-speed hardcore of “Time for War,” Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy made no bones about how it wound up with the eponymous title. It’s them through and through.
It may never be possible to listen to the self-titled debut from Cigale outside the context of the death of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets (ex-Sungrazer). That loss casts a dark shadow over a collection that otherwise radiates colorful sweetness and serenity, the peaceful depth beginning with “Grey Owl” and only broadening as it turns and weaves through “Steeplechase,” “Feel the Heat,” “Harvest Begun” and so on, but the record remains a gorgeous, engrossing wash of resonant melody and underlying presence. Not without its moments of melancholy, the more overarching impression was of beauty not tied to any notion of playing to genre or style, and while I don’t know what the future will hold for the band, if they’ll keep moving forward or not or if they’re even in a place yet to consider such things, they helped broaden the context of European heavy psychedelia with their first album, and that is no minor achievement.
Another one that just kind of smacked me in the face. Idahoan heavy psych explorers Sun Blood Stories‘ second album, Twilight Midnight Morning was soaked in vibe and moved fluidly between experimentalist noisemaking and patient, memorable songwriting. Tracks like “West the Sun,” “Witch Wind” and “Found Reasons Found Out” never raged, exactly, but had enough weight to their rhythm to let you know they were there and interested in groove, while later pieces “Time Like Smoke,” “Moon Song: Waxing” and “Misery is Nebulous” drew exponentially from earlier freakout impulses and shifted into a dronier and more ambient approach. The combination of the two — semi-structure up front, open expansion in the back — made the three-part Twilight Midnight Morning engaging and hypnotic in kind, and though I hope they get weirder and experiment and develop the atmospheric side of their sound, I’ve also got my fingers crossed they hold firm to their more grounded aspects, since its the range between the two that gives their sophomore outing its defining fluidity.
I’ll cite precedent in last year’s list for including a “5a.” The intent in doing so is to convey the idea that Colour Haze‘s latest outing, To the Highest Gods We Know, is worthy of top five consideration, but its release date was split between 2014 (CD) and 2015 (LP), so it was a little unclear where to put it. As the album is basically a year old at this point, it seems fair to say it’s held up, drawing back from the grandiose vision of 2012’s She Said (review here) without losing sight of the progressive elements that have taken root in the German trio’s sound. Their work has been and remains essential to the development of heavy psychedelic rock in Europe and beyond, and even though To the Highest Gods We Know felt like something of a reset — a stripping down of arrangements in places and getting back to a trio-in-a-room feel — it still stepped forward in its title-track and in songs like “Überall” and “Call” and showed that even when it seems Colour Haze have pushed their approach as far as it can go, there’s always new ground to explore, and their pull to do so is undiminished.
Doesn’t exactly seem like giving away state secrets to note that a record with songs like “Sexecutioner” and “Fuck Face” is aggressive, but it’s particularly interesting in light of the past work of New Jersey trio The Atomic Bitchwax, who I don’t think sounded as barn-burning as they do on Gravitron even in their earliest going. The trio of bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella kept their signature winding riff style intact — demonstrated most expansively over 2011’s single-song full-length instrumental The Local Fuzz (review here) — but while their turns were as blinding as ever, their tones were more pointed and Pantella‘s snare more upfront on the beat, which gave Gravitron a newfound sense of urgency. It worked. Even poppier songs like “Roseland” or the closing “Ice Age Hey Baby” benefited from the additional thrust, and the album overall felt lean, mean and ready to be taken on the road, which of course is exactly what they did with it. Six albums in, The Atomic Bitchwax were at their most vital yet.
Nashville four-piece All Them Witches probably could’ve gone into the studio, churned out a record of crunchy riffs with a quiet part or two for flavor and positioned themselves at the forefront of American heavy rock with their New West Records debut and third full-length overall, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. Instead, they defied expectation boldly and brought their growing audience into the room with them and producer Mikey Allred as they captured the album, which finds its most affecting moments not in tonal weight, but emotional resonance, the melody at the midpoint of “Talisman” or the string arrangement gracefully tucked into “Open Passageways.” There’s still the push of “Dirt Preachers,” and entrancing closer “Blood and Sand – Milk and Endless Waters” has its heft as well, but All Them Witches‘ success ultimately came from being the album they wanted to make, built from the dynamic that’s developed on stage between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Allan Van Cleave on Fender Rhodes/strings, and drummer Robby Staebler, and alive in its feeling of exploration. I won’t predict what they might do from here, but I’m willing to say outright it’ll be worth hearing one way or another.
My expectations for Snail‘s third post-reunion full-length and Small Stone label debut, Feral, were pretty high. Not unreasonably so, though. Their 2012 outing, Terminus (review here), built on the blend of heavy psych riffs, laid back roll and melodicism that 2009’s Blood (review here) established as the band’s working modus, but Feral was going to be a different beast from the start because it was the West Coast outfit’s first full-length as a trio since they made their self-titled debut (reissue review here) in 1993 before splitting up the next year. Whatever my expectations were, however, Snail shattered them almost immediately. In the progression of their songwriting as shown across the strong opening salvo of “Building a Haunted House,” “Smoke the Deathless” and “A Mustard Seed” through one of the year’s best songs in the expansive and crushing “Thou Art That,” the three-piece showcased a breadth unlike anything they’d conjured before, and it only continued through “Born in Captivity,” the catchy “Derail,” “Psilocybe” and the soul-infused wah leads that peppered the pleading closer “Come Home.” Where Terminus offered intensity, Feral offered patience in its execution, and the atmosphere it created suited the band’s sound as well as the Seldon Hunt cover art seemed to summarize the alternate reality in which the music took place. Everything about how it came together worked just right, and even as a fan of the band’s work since they got together again, I was taken aback by the unflinching quality of Feral front to back.
2. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
Ten years is a long, long time. Especially in music. The prospect of a fourth Acid King record has been tossed around for at least the last six of those 10 years, but to finally have it realized was something else entirely. Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere was without a doubt my most-listened-to album of the year, and its combination of tonal haze, low-end heft and spacious atmosphere was perfect. There’s just no other way to say it. It was perfect. From “Silent Pictures” and “Coming down from Outer Space” through “Red River,” “Infinite Skies” and the sprawling “Center of Everywhere” itself, guitarist/vocalist Lori S., bassist Mark Lamb and drummer Joey Osbourne crafted an absolutely perfect heavy psych record. How many bands walking the earth could even get away with calling a track “Laser Headlights,” let alone make it kick ass? Yeah, Goatsnake came back this year, and that was great, but for me, the return of Acid King to their throne of nod was even more the story of the year. Together with producer Billy Anderson, they offered a depth of tone that was simply unmatched, and without an ounce of pretense, they unveiled a roll that continues to resound. I’m a big fan of getting lost in a record, and Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere eased the listener in with its “Intro,” pulled reality apart from with “Silent Pictures” and set about doing the universe a favor by remaking the cosmos as the kind of place where one might find a wizard riding a tiger past the craters of the moon, until, at last, it deposited you back where you started. Best trip of 2015, no question.
Make no mistake, 2015 was Elder‘s year. We were all just living in it. Truth be told, I’ve been back and forth between Elder and Acid King in the top spot for the last couple months (you might recall in July they were reversed), but when it finally came to it, there was no way I could feasibly call anything other than Lore the album of the year. From the gorgeous Adrian Dexter artwork (discussed here), through the progressive clarion of “Compendium”‘s noodling guitar line and into the massive scope of the title-track (discussed here), Lore was the moment in which Elder — guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto — tore down the walls of genre, whether it was heavy rock, psychedelia or anything else, and emerged with their own approach and complex, varied modus of songwriting. They’ve been turning heads since their self-titled debut arrived in 2008, but with 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), they began to demonstrate the potential for really adding something to the patchwork of underground heavy. In moving forward by making clarity a hallmark both of their sound and of their purpose, Elder came into their own with these five tracks, and do not at all be surprised a couple years from now when bands start showing up aping DiSalvo‘s style of riffing, since such a bold and successful foray of individualism can only be influential in the longer run. At nearly an hour long, Lore was not a minor undertaking, but each song seemed to set up its own atmosphere, feeding not only its own singular focus, but that of the album overall. Its turns blinding, its impact forceful and its affect drawing from the best of the sonic personalities of all three players, Elder‘s Lore reaped wide acclaim and earned it every step of the way. Its progressive vision has only begun to be digested.
Killer Boogie, Detroit – Impressive debut from the retro-minded offshoot of Black Rainbows brought ’70s boogie to Italy. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a quick turnaround, but either way, their first outing knew its audience and spoke directly to it.
My Sleeping Karma, Moksha – This one was on various incarnations of the list. Very interested to see where the German heavy prog outfit wind up in terms of expanding their arrangements, but Moksha was a satisfying step forward in that process.
Egypt, Endless Flight – Should probably have a number, but the fact is it’s only been out for like two weeks, so it hasn’t really been given the test of time at this point. Still, Egypt always deliver and this was no exception.
Valkyrie, Shadows – An awaited third full-length from Virginia’s Valkyrie and also their Relapse Records debut offered enough blazing guitar work to meet any quota, and was a welcome return after a long absence.
Magic Circle, Journey’s End – The second LP from this Massachusetts outfit pushed beyond doomly confines into more traditional metallurgy but held its eerie atmospherics intact, and the combination suited them remarkably well.
Monolord, Vænir – This was my go-to for 2015 when nothing else seemed quite crushing enough. The Swedish trio have very quickly stomped their way into the hearts and minds of the international underground, and rightfully so.
Freedom Hawk, Into Your Mind – After making a transition from a four-piece to a trio, this Virginian outfit proceeded to take a few stylistic risks on their second Small Stone long-player, and they paid off.
Tombstones, Vargariis – Fourth full-length from this Norwegian trio pushed them outside of doom’s confines into a darker and more extreme version of heaviness that pulled from death and black metals in addition to its sludgy underpinnings. The meld was punishing and lost nothing of its groove, wherever it went at any given moment.
Faces of Bayon, Ash and Dust Have no Dominion – I guess my only hesitation with including Faces of Bayon‘s second outing in any kind of year-end fare is I’m not sure if the album has actually been released yet. Even if not, they’re easily worth a mention.
Ice Dragon, A Beacon on the Barrow – Kind of a down year from Ice Dragon in terms of overall productivity, but if the quantity was down compared to some, A Beacon on the Barrow was quality enough to carry them through. In a way, I think the album actually benefited from the band giving listeners time to take it in.
Arenna, Given to Emptiness – Ah, so good. The Spanish heavy psych troupe dug in deep on Given to Emptiness and conjured sonic and emotional resonance on their second full-length. It’s one that still gets repeat listens.
Monster Magnet, Cobras and Fire – The long-running New Jersey outfit’s reworking of their 2010 album Mastermind was excellent, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t seem fair to list it when they’re working mostly from already-released source material. But still, if you haven’t heard it, go find it.
Various Artists, Electric Ladyland [Redux] – Even if the results hadn’t been so spectacular, Electric Ladyland [Redux] would deserve a mention for the sheer scope and logistical nightmare that the project must have been. Kudos to Magnetic Eye Records all around.
There are so many others: Abrahma, Goya, Sun and Sail Club, Deville, Sacri Monti, Dirty Streets, Ufomammut, Wo Fat‘s live album, Mirror Queen, Pentagram, Torche, Sumac, Garden of Worm, Black Rainbows, Holy Serpent, Minsk, Baron, Weedpecker, Electric Moon, Fuzz, Bell Witch, Windhand, Niche, We Lost the Sea, Seremonia, Sunder, Domovoyd, The Heavy Eyes, Demon Head, Fogg, Stars that Move, Enslaved, Ruby the Hatchet, on and on and on. That’s not even to mention the stuff I didn’t hear — Baroness will be on many people’s lists, no doubt, as well as Mutoid Man, Ghost and Kylesa — so yeah, I could pretty much keep going ad infinitum.
I, however, cannot. It’s been an absolute pleasure trying to keep up with 2015’s barrage the last 12 months, and I expect 2016 will only bring more. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading or that you’re able to get some use out of this post, whatever that might mean, and I thank you deeply, from the bottom of my heart, for your time and for reading. It means more to me than I can say that you might check out even any portion of this site or be involved, whether it’s sharing a link, leaving a comment to let me know who I forgot to mention or correct my spelling, signing up for the forum, listening to the radio, whatever it might be.
Thank you for an amazing 2015. And please stay tuned, because of course, there’s much more to come.
About a decade ago, The Atomic Bitchwax wrote a song called “The Passenger” which featured the lines, “I always thought you’d come around/Realize where your home really was…” and went on to talk about filling the space with fuzz. When it comes to certain bands calling it quits, “Realize where your home really was” continues to ring in my head. I guess that, since they broke up in 2013, I figured that the three members of Netherlands-based heavy psych rockers Sungrazer would spend the next however many years working their way back to each other. Different projects would come and go, whatever personality or creative conflicts that might have been insurmountable at the time would fall by the wayside, seen at last for how minute they actually were in comparison to the special collaboration between the three of them. Eventually, one way or another, Sungrazer would get back together.
I’ll allow this was a fan’s denial. Between 2010’s Sungrazer (review here) and 2011’s Mirador (review here), I had them pegged as the forerunners of the next generation of European fuzz. The band who could take the lessons of Colour Haze and maybe push even further into something new, turning influence into something truly individual and thus becoming an influence in their own right. When they disbanded after 2013’s split with The Machine (review here), it was hard not to feel like there was potential going to waste. Here was a band who, already so clearly with something special to offer, could have done so much more just blatantly refusing to do it.
It was heartbreaking to learn earlier this week about the passing of former Sungrazer guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets. Genuinely, and not just because I dug the band he used to play in or the band he went on to play in afterward (that being Cigale). I don’t know what Smeets‘ circumstances were, but it’s almost too easy to read into, which is an impulse I’ve been trying all week, mostly unsuccessfully, to fight against.
And so, we close out the week with Mirador, the second and final full-length from Sungrazer. There was really no other choice, and to be honest, I haven’t put on much else since Tuesday. I remember getting a review copy of Mirador and listening to it in the morning a lot, even after I wrote it up, and though I wasn’t even really done yet with the self-titled — still not, as it happens — I recall thinking what a huge step forward it was for Smeets, bassist/vocalist Sander Haagmans and drummer Hans Mulders. How they had managed to develop so much chemistry between them in just a year’s time, how natural they sounded, and how fluid the whole experience of hearing it was, from the ultra-catchy “Sea” into the progressive harmonies of “Behind,” the molten explorations of “Mirador” itself and the playful spirit of “34 and More.” Between these and the early patience established on opener “Wild Goose,” the fade-in of which seems to pick up right from where the debut left off, the instrumental “Octo,” and “Goldstrike,” which is like the gateway to the expanses to come, Mirador remains four years later an album that stands out as a high point in the style. In light of Smeets‘ passing, it seems even more precious, and we should be all the more grateful to have it.
The loss is bigger than we can know. I’ve already expressed my condolences to family, friends and bandmates, but again: Heel veel sterkte. Gecondoleerd.
I think we’ll leave it there for the week. Thanks for reading. Forum and radio.