Friday Full-Length: Colour Haze, All

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 14th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Colour Haze, All (2008)


Ten years of All. A decade since this album came out, and that stretch has done nothing to dull its luster. Colour Haze didn’t invent the idea of warmth in a recording, but they might well have perfected it over their years. All swept in and was my album of the year pick in 2008, and its warmth is no small part of why, but it’s also the point at which Colour Haze — already past the 10-year mark themselves by then and on their ninth LP and fourth through Elektrohasch Schallplatten — began to show just how expansive their intentions really were. And how progressive.

It was a new level of maturity in their songwriting and a new level of patience even beyond that which they brought to 2006’s Tempel or their 2004 self-titled (discussed here), both also pivotal offerings both for the band and for European heavy psychedelia in general. Those records seemed to establish the pattern, and All, with its 65-minute 2LP run and its 10 one-word tracks that all streamed together to deliver the message, “silent moon turns lights; if stars all fall one remains,” came through as a new realization of many of the ideas Tempel and Colour Haze put forth, let alone 2003’s 2CD Los Sounds de Krauts, 2001’s Ewige Blumenkraft (reissue review here) or any of their earlier, more desert rock-influenced work preceding.

By the time they got to All, the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek — also, if it needs to be said, the head of Elektrohasch — bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald, had already defined what their core sound was going to be, but in the mellow strums and backwards drums of “Turns,” and in the funk of “Moon” preceding, in the incorporation of organ on “Lights” and the hyper-immersive flow of its title-track, All demonstrated that as groundbreaking as Colour Haze had been up to that point, their exploration was really just getting started.

I don’t want to say All blew everything Colour Haze had previously done out of the water, because that’s not really true. Those other records stand up to any scrutiny one might want to give them and then some, each marking a point in the ongoing forward motion of the band’s continued growth. You cannot have one without the others before it, and that’s true of their work to-date. When they got around to All, however, there was a clear shift in terms of the scope at work. Tempel was and remains defined by its chemistry between KoglekRasthofer and Merwald — the same can be said to a degree of everything the band does — but had an inward-looking feel, where true to its title, All was more expansive and outward-directed.

Given a lot of the sonic exploration underway in songs like opener “Silent,” the sitar/acoustic-based “Stars,” and the tense, churning shuffle of “If” before it, it’s fair to say Colour Haze‘s reach had never been so much a factor in their arrangements, which had always beencolour haze all creative, and an overarching sense of poise held firm throughout, no matter where an individual song seemed to meander. It would be four more years before they put out a song called “Grace,” but All had plenty to go around.

Perhaps nowhere more so than on the extended pairing of “All” and “Fall.” I’ll gladly admit to being more familiar with the CD version — though once I did get to hold the limited edition cloth-cover double vinyl in my hands and I immediately felt unworthy — and while on the LP that’s the split between sides C and D, on the, ahem, CD, it’s a linear shift from one into the next, and it’s the point at which the fluidity that so much permeates the album as a whole finds its high water mark.

The arrival of the keys behind the driving apex toward the end of “Fall” is an obvious culmination point for the entire outing, but even before that, in the patience and gorgeous unfolding of “All” itself and the manner in which it takes on what’s essentially Colour Haze‘s signature riff and with Rasthofer‘s bass as a foundation builds upon it in a new and glorious way. The solo in the second half. The quiet noodling that follows with Merwald‘s cymbal-mute stops keeping the tension going. The build back up to full volume again, and indeed, the keys that emerge late; it’s nothing if not aptly titled “All.” It’s the kind of work that reaffirms hope for the species, even 10 years after the fact.

Repetitions of “We’ve got to get together/We’ve got to be all one” and a well-timed return of sitar make “One” more than an afterthought following “Fall,” and the quiet stand-mostly-alone guitar of “Remains” that caps the album is a statement unto itself. That they would finish not in grand crescendo, but instead peacefully making their way out — it’s another subtle but key decision that makes All the masterpiece it still is.

Colour Haze would, of course, continue the thread. As alluded to, in 2012, after copious delays on the technical side they released She Said (review here), which dived even deeper into expanded arrangements, with horns and strings pulled in alongside the core trio on cuts like “Transformation” and the aforementioned “Grace.” Late-2014’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here) followed and drew back to a more rooted and jammier vibe, but still had its progressive aspects readily on display, and after the 2016 live record, Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015 (review here), 2017 brought In Her Garden (review here), which again was one of the year’s best albums and renewed their commitment to the tenets of classic progressive rock while retaining the organic melodic and rhythmic sensibilities that seem at this point to be indispensable to their sound.

I had the opportunity to see them in London back in May of this year for the first time in half a decade, and they were nothing short of incredible. An absolute treasure of a band. They’ll make an annual sojourn to Keep it Low in their native Munich next month and play Sankt Hell in Berlin to round out the year, and I would not be at all surprised if 2019 brought a new release from them of one sort or another. Whatever that might be, it’d only be welcome.

I sincerely hope you enjoy All, and thanks for reading.

My early mornings doing Obelisk stuff have kind of become overnight shifts. I got up sometime around 1:30AM to start this post, and it’s coming on 4AM now. Most of this week I’ve been up between 2 and 2:30. I slept until my alarm went off at 3:30AM the other day and felt like I was behind all day because I didn’t get enough done before the baby woke up. And the truth is I was. One attempts to find a balance.

Attempts.

Hey, looks like I might be going back to Norway. I tend to never consider these things settled until I’m through security and getting on the flight — though even that wasn’t far enough when that volcano went off on my way to Roadburn in 2010 — but things are in motion to get me back to Høstsabbat in a couple weeks and it has The Patient Mrs.’ seal of approval. Electric Moon, Asteroid, Toner Low, Elephant Tree, on and on, playing in a church in Oslo? Yeah, you can go right ahead and sign me up for that one. Keeping my fingers crossed all the confirmation comes through okay. Naturally, if it happens, I’ll be covering. More info on the fest is here. It’s sold out.

Also looks like I’m getting a show on Gimme Radio. I turned in a sample playlist and they dug it so, it’s kind of a thing I’m trying out. I did college radio at WSOU, and kind of have missed being on-air ever since, so this could be a cool way to do that. Plus there are good people involved and that’s always key. More to come. I need to send them pictures of myself. Sadly, I’m awful-looking, so this is a source of some anxiety. Like, life-long.

In the meantime, The Little Dog Dio continues a steady decline. We’ve been hand-feeding her chicken breast and Polly-O string cheese for I guess two weeks now, and she just ate a bunch and drank some water and went out to pee, so clearly the steroids we’ve been giving her are doing their job, but she’s less comfortable between doses of pain meds than she’s been. Last night she was hunched up standing with her head down, clearly uncomfortable, and it had been a while since we saw that. Just now she got up out of her bed in the kitchen and came to lay down by my feet, which she ordinarily wouldn’t do — a shar pei wants to be nearby, but likes its space — so yeah. I’ve loved this dog for a long time. Another vet appointment next week to follow-up and see where we’re at. I’ll just give scritches and belly rubs until then. How about a billion dollars to whoever cures cancer first? I’d donate to that Kickstarter.

I don’t even want to get up and get another cup of coffee for fear of disturbing her.

That’s been hard. The worst part is there are moments where she’s eating and I forget and I feel like she’s maybe getting better and I look at the GIANT FUCKING TUMOR in her shoulder and just feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. She’s not going to get better. We’re buying time. Buying time and drawing it out. I told The Patient Mrs. a few days ago that I always imagined she wouldn’t so much die as evolve beyond her corporeal form and become a being of pure light like in that episode of The Next Generation. I was kidding, of course, but let that be indicative of my overall ability to emotionally handle what’s coming. Eating made her hurt. It happened last night too and it happened just now. Ugh.

Okay.

The Patient Mrs.’ semester has also started, so the week’s been kind of a mess on that end too. Summers “off” is nice — or would be; she has to work all the time anyway, between research, reading, writing and meetings for sundry university service projects, so while she’s not teaching, “summers off” is mostly a myth — but having your schedule upended every couple months, especially now with The Pecan running the show as he is, I’m trying to figure out when’s naptime not the least so I can sleep too. We’ll get there. We’re not there yet.

If you’re in North Carolina or anywhere in Hurricane Florence’s path, good luck and stay safe. My grandmother who passed away last year was named Florence. If she were alive and lucid, I’d like to think she’d see it as a fitting tribute. If anyone sees people after the storm selling “I survived Florence” t-shirts, I want one in every size available. Black shirts preferred. I’ll PayPal you the cash.

I’m streaming a track from the new Sherpa album — so good — and I’m going to try to review the new All Them Witches next week, and I’ve got stuff slated into the middle of the week already, news and such, but yeah, I’m going to finish working it all out over the weekend, so I’ll just leave it there for now.

Like always, I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please have fun, hug your loved ones and take care of yourself in the best way you can.

And like always, please check out the Forum and Radio stream. It is appreciated.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Saturnia Post “Gemini” Video from The Seance Tapes

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 26th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

saturnia

Somebody had the right idea. I’m gonna guess it was Luís Simões. When Portuguese heavy psych rockers Saturnia hit Colour Haze Studio — yes, run by the band of the same name — to record their latest album, The Seance Tapes (review here), they brought a video camera along to capture the process. This was the right idea because the band was recording live for the first time, and where it’s traditionally been Simões working on his own in multi-instrumentalist fashion handling guitar, sitar, bass, vocals, etc., this time he not only had drummer André Silva with him, but also key specialist Nuno Oliveira on organ, synth, electric piano and whatnot, tracking live as a three-piece.

This wouldn’t necessarily be a minor change if it was Saturnia‘s second record or even their third, but it’s their seventh. They’ve worked pretty much with Simões and various other contributors all along, and for the first time it’s a full band functioning as a live act. I guess Simões figured that if he was going to continue to push into new ground as the band had a six-album track record of doing, this was the way to go. It worked. The Seance Tapes is a collection of songs that featured on past Saturnia full-lengths, and even so, one can hear the new life breathed into the material as they go. It flows much as a live set would because basically it is a live set, played and then given further flourish later on atop the basic tracks laid down to analog tape.

I wouldn’t speculate as to whether Saturnia will continue in this manner or go back to the way things have always been, but either way, The Seance Tapes captures a special moment in their history, and as such, it’s all the more fitting that it’s caught on video and preserved in more than just the album itself. A video for “Mindrama” from 2007’s Muzak has already surfaced, but you can see the band in the studio below for “Gemini” from their 1999 self-titled debut. I don’t expect it will be the last clip that makes its way to the public.

The Seance Tapes is out now on Elektrohasch Schallplatten.

Please enjoy:

Saturnia, “Gemini” official video

New video from The Seance Tapes – Gemini.

Recorded at Colour Haze Studio, Reichertshausen.

Saturnia on Thee Facebooks

Saturnia website

Elektrohasch Schallplatten website

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Saturnia, The Seance Tapes: An Open Channel

Posted in Reviews on July 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

saturnia the seance tapes

To-date, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Luís Simões has led Saturnia through seven albums of ever-increasing cosmic reach. Simões, who is based in Lisboa, Portugal, and plays guitar, lap steel, theremin, bass pedals, Mellotron, and acoustic and electric sitar, has always been the core of the band and he remains so, but the difference with Saturnia‘s latest offering, The Seance Tapes (released by Elektrohasch), is that he’s joined in the studio by a stage-ready band. He and drummer André Silva have worked together before, unless I’m mistaken, but together in the studio with keyboardist, organist, electric pianist, synthesist — basically if it’s got keys, he’s right in there — Nuno Oliveira, the resultant trio tap into a live chemistry that’s never been conjured by Saturnia until now. It’s only fitting, then, that the 12-tracks of The Seance Tapes should be culled, two each, from the band’s six-album back catalog:

1. Chrysalis (5:31) from 2001’s The Glitter Odd
2. A Burnt Offering (8:10) from 2016’s The Real High
3. Infinite Chord (5:17) from 2007’s Muzak
4. I Am Utopia (8:52) from 2012’s Alpha Omega Alpha
5. The Real High (8:33) from The Real High
6. Hydrophonic Gardening (3:40) from 2003’s Hydrophonic Gardening
7. Mindrama (6:00) from Muzak
8. Gemini (4:44) from 1999’s Saturnia
9. Still Life (5:06) from The Glitter Odd
10. Sunflower (7:31) from Hydrophonic Gardening
11. The Twilight Bong (9:33) from Saturnia
12. Cosmonication (6:04) from Alpha Omega Alpha

Ordered for maximum flow rather than chronology, the 79-minute album stretches the limits of the CD format and is currently awaiting a 2LP issue, but however one might end up taking it on, the intention is plain in giving Saturnia‘s live ambitions a studio form, and hearing the sitar-drone-laced “The Real High” or the post-The Heads space-rock-meets-shoegaze-vocals vibes of “I am Utopia” before it, the vibrancy emanating from them is as infectious as the swinging rhythms brought to bear by Silva‘s utter mastery of psychedelic percussion. Whether it’s hand drums on “The Real High” or the far-off cymbals echoing behind the Mellotron-laced “Still Life” or the pickup brought to opener “Chrysalis,” or the subtle grounding given to the mellow psych-prog meandering of “A Burnt Offering” and the especially King Crimson-esque “Cosmonication,” Silva‘s contributions are utterly essential. One could say the same of the textures Oliveira brings to the same tracks alongside Simões, and even if power-trio-Saturnia had the blueprint of the band’s past albums to work from, it’s still an impressive amount of character brought to the material to make it come to life.

saturnia

No doubt actually recording live has something to do with that as well. Of course, Simões, who also helms Saturnia‘s production duties, has been at this long enough to know what he wants from the band in terms of sound, but with Silva and Oliveira on board, he’s still in relatively unexplored territory. While it seems likely that they would’ve gone back later to layer in effects, synth, swirls, percussion and so on, since there’s only so much a human being can be playing at one time — curse our limitations as a species! — to even put down the basic tracks live is a bold choice on the part of the band. A safe one, too, though, considering what they’re playing is established material rather than something new. Still, you want to show off your live band? Play live. Seems fair enough, right? Simões being the one running the show would know that, but that doesn’t mean the decision lacks bravery. On the contrary, two years after releasing The Real High and some 19 years forward from their debut (which Elektrohasch also reissued in 2009), Saturnia have chosen to take their exploration to a meta level — examining what it means to be a full band after so many years under Simões‘ direct control with complementary contributions from guest players. It’s the shape of the band itself changing now.

So what one ends up with on The Seance Tapes is a forward-looking retrospective. And for as much time as it covers, the sound throughout is strikingly cohesive when it comes to representing Saturnia‘s past material as hippie-dance-ready psychedelia. In more active stretches like “Mindrama” and the cosmic pulsations of “Sunflower” and the deep-dive moodier feel of the slow-rolling “Gemini,” there is a unity throughout that comes from the performance on the part of the band. That is, while Saturnia‘s sonic progression over the last almost-two-decades has brought it from electronic influences to being the kind of band who might decide to do a greatest hits record live in the studio rather than simply assemble the tracks as they were, there isn’t necessarily a hiccup throughout The Seance Tapes as they jump back and forth from album to album in Simões‘ discography. Rather, it’s the very fact that they’re putting it to tape live that draws the material together. They take advantage of the methodology in terms not only of bringing vitality to the songs — and these songs sound truly vital; vibrant and affirming like the best of peak-psychedelia, even with a heavier underpinning — but in creating a thread between them that helps make that vitality so pervasive. In the sitar-fueled revelations of “The Twilight Bong” and the spaced-out Mellotron epique groove of “Infinite Chord” and in the percussive serenity wash that is the second half of “The Real High,” there isn’t anywhere or anywhen that Saturnia go where they don’t seem right at home.

Perhaps most interesting of all when it comes to The Seance Tapes is the temporal accomplishment of it in using past material to establish the sound of who Saturnia are now. Much like the balance between safety and risk in recording older songs live with a new lineup, there’s also the fact that they’re making a definitive statement of intention across this graceful and extended span. Whatever Saturnia have been in the past, they’re working toward a new plane, and it’s inherent in the context of The Seance Tapes that it should be a landmark along the band’s timeline. Whether Simões will continue with the band in this form and adopt a more live-focused ethic, I don’t know, but it says something about creative will that after six records, the crux of what makes his project what it is has shifted so significantly. No doubt he could easily continue to bang out collections every couple years on his own, and that both might still happen and be just fine — it’s certainly worked before — but The Seance Tapes represents a drive that extends to more than just an adventurous sound. It is a genuine search for and attempt to bring something new to Saturnia, and what or may not be next, the dividends wrought here are not to be ignored.

Saturnia, “Mindrama” official video

Saturnia on Thee Facebooks

Saturnia website

Elektrohasch Schallplatten website

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Live Review: Colour Haze, Trevor’s Head and The Brothers Keg in London, 05.22.18

Posted in Reviews on May 23rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

colour haze (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Colour Haze are my that band. You know that band. There’s some resonance there that goes deeper than the average listening experience. I have a couple that bands – YOB, Neurosis, etc. – but in my 15 years of following the Munich trio’s work – which makes me Johnny Comelately when set against the fact that their first album, Chopping Machine (discussed here), came out 23 years ago – I’ve only seen them three times prior. One was Roadburn 2009 (discussed here), another Desertfest London 2013 (review here), and to go way back, Emissions from the Monolith in 2006, which to-date remains the only show they’ve ever played on US soil. I’ve said so before, but that was a moment that genuinely changed my life.

So it was my last night in London before flying back to the US Eastern Seaboard and facing the reality check of bills, stacks of mail – my mail log was on my stolen laptop; whoops – laundry, grocery shopping, and so on, so you’re god damned right I was going to see Colour Haze as they happened to be in town on a tour that brought them to midsize club The Garage for what would be the first non-fest set of theirs I’d ever seen. On my way to the show, I was thinking of what it might bring, for what the room would be like, what the gig would be like, how many people would be there, all that stuff mixed into an anxiety and excitement that lasted pretty much until I walked in the door and saw The Brothers Keg on stage opening the three-band bill.

With Tom Fyfe on drums — also of StubbThe Brothers Keg made their debut with a demo (discussed here) late last year and played material from that and then some, proffering a blend of heavy, desert rock, shouty sludge and psychedelia that someday, probably years from now, some clever critic is going to dub the “London sound.”

It speaks to Kyuss and Iron Monkey alike, but definitely came of age with some grunge influence, and isn’t unaware of the UK’s massive psychedelic legacy either. At least The Brothers Keg weren’t. They had some bearings to straighten out in terms of overall direction, but as with the demo, their potential was writ large in their live set and they made an excellent opener for the night, tying in some elements that each of the next two acts would share.

Trevor’s Head also had some of that “London sound” to them, but it was more of an undercurrent to an overarching layer of prog-metal weirdness. Fronted by guitarist Roger Atkins they played material from their new album on APF Records, Soma Holiday (review here) and a few older songs from 2016’s Tricolossus. Obviously familiar to the crowd, who sang along as the band rolled through, Trevor’s Head‘s three-vocalist approach allowed them to bring the same variety to their live performance as they brought to the record, and three mics on stage meant that at any given point, any one of Atkins, bassist Aaron Strachan and drummer Matt Ainsworth might be breaking the balls of the others. Elephant Tree had a bit of that going too the other night, albeit with one fewer mic. Call it another London thing. Dudes being dudes and whatnot.

They’re an interesting band, though. All three have significant stage presence in the making, and they play with three discernible personalities, with Atkins the frontman despite being in a level line at the front of the stage with the others, Strachan lost in the world of his five-string, and Ainsworth amiably busting chops between songs while seated behind his kit. Again, they knew people in the crowd, but I think even as others started to show up ahead of Colour HazeTrevor’s Head represented the coterie of Desertscene — who booked this gig and also runs Desertfest London — with sonic purpose and a bit of the tongue-in-cheek persona that helps define who these groups are.

I was fortunate enough to talk to Colour Haze guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek for a bit before they went on, and he mentioned this was their 12th show in as many nights. The night before, they were in France. They’d already been to London once, as well as Porto, Madrid and up to Scotland, etc. That’s not an insignificant run for a band of 20 year olds, let alone a group of veterans who’ve influenced a generation of heavy psychedelic rockers and whose first album, Chopping Machine (discussed here), came out in 1995. And though this was my first time seeing them outside festival confines, I was not at all surprised to find they made a two-hour set seem far too short. They were amazing. I’m speaking literally. I stood there and was amazed.

Bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald might be the tightest rhythm section I’ve ever seen. It sounds like hyperbole, but I’m being honest. Their smooth shifts in meter, groove and progression were a joy to watch from the start of set-opener “She Said” through pre-encore set-closer “Transformation” — both taken from 2012’s She Said (review here) — and they played with such class both between themselves and in kind with Koglek and keyboardist/synthesist Jan Faszbender that as they made their way through the title-cut of 2006’s Tempel (discussed here), there was funk in their sound, as well as jazz and still enough rock to tie it all together. Merwald drove the linear builds forward as his kit faced sideways on the stage to put him head-on with Faszbender, and in classic fashion, as Rasthofer provided the foundation, it left Koglek‘s guitar free to wander. And it did. Gloriously.

And the tones. My god. The crowd — increasingly drunk, increasingly dancing — cheered from the first note Koglek played, and rightfully so. His and Rastofer‘s tones both are a guiding principle for Colour Haze, and standing in The Garage as the sound bounced off the back of the room and came around again at max volume, it was like swimming in warm water. Running “Skydancer” and “Skydance” from last year’s righteous In Her Garden (review here) together into one ahead of “Überall” from 2015’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), they built momentum and brought immersion to a level that I doubt I’d have been able to resist if I’d tried. “Aquamaria” had been an early representation, and along with the encore finale “Love,” it was remarkable what Faszbender — on tour for the first time with the band — brought to the arrangements of material new and old.

colour haze 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

In addition to bringing another melodic presence, the keys and synth fleshed out transitions between the songs and worked as much with Koglek as with Rasthofer. “House of Rushammon,” which first appeared on their lost 1998 second album, Seven (discussed here) and later showed up on their 2004 landmark self-titled (discussed here), led off the encore with “Love” behind it, and before they kicked into the latter, Koglek noted from the stage that in these times of increasing nationalism and everything going on in politics, it was something of which the world needed more. From that start, they executed a final swirling build that consumed the crowd to the point that people were jumping up and down in excitement, and one could only pull out one’s earplugs and give in. I won’t say I jumped, but it was one of several points in the set where I just closed my eyes and let go. At one point I turned to The Patient Mrs. — who had had a prior obligation earlier but showed up for the headliner like the proverbial boss she is — and told her I hadn’t felt so good in a year. It was true.

This trip, with its lows and highs, couldn’t have had a better finish. I have packing to do so I’ll keep this short, but between getting robbed and the subsequent support I received, the killer shows I saw, the little bit of record shopping I got to do yesterday (maybe more on that later), seeing good friends and embracing the magic that is British fish pie, I feel like seeing Colour Haze was exactly the kind of summary for how special this time has been. I’m lucky to have experienced it, and incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to do so.

Thank you for reading.

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Colour Haze on Tour Now

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 11th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

colour haze

If I can be perfectly honest with you, yeah, it’s cool that Colour Haze are on tour. It’s cool they’re playing places in Croatia, Austria, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, the UK, Belgium and of course their native Germany. All that stuff. Super cool. It’s cool they’re bringing out keyboardist Jan Faszbender, who played on 2017’s blissfully progressive In Her Garden (review here). That’s awesome. The tour starts tonight and I hope it goes really well, though I have a hard time imagining Colour Haze showing up to a town and not being greeted as liberators. Call me crazy.

So yeah, all that stuff is cool, but the real reason I’m posting about Colour Haze‘s European tour? It’s because it gives me the excuse to listen to Colour Haze, oh, all afternoon. And I don’t know about you, but where I come from, an afternoon spent listening to Colour Haze is never part of a bad day. I’m happy to spread the word on Colour Haze getting out and all that — most of the shows they’ve done in the last few years have been fest appearances — but I’m even happier to put on In Her Garden and make my day that much better for it.

Sound of Liberation is presenting the tour and posted the following:

colour haze tour poster

Colour Haze kick-off their European Tour tomorrow! They will be on the road with a fourth member, keyboards player Jan Faszbender, with who they worked on their latest album “In Her Garden”. Good times ahead for sure!

11.05.18 | AT | Vienna | Arena (+ MY SLEEPING KARMA)
12.05.18 | AT | Graz | PPC (+ MY SLEEPING KARMA)
13.05.18 | CRO | Zagreb | Kset
14.05.18 | IT | Scorze | Novak
15.05.18 | IT | Savonna | Raindogs
16.05.18 | FR | Toulouse | Rex
17.05.18 | SP | Barcelona | Razzmatazz 3
18.05.18 | SP | Madrid | Nazca
19.05.18 | PO | Porto | Hard Club
20.05.18 | SP | Bilbao | Stage Live
21.05.18 | FR | Nantes | Le Ferrailleur
22.05.18 | UK | London – The Garage
23.05.18 | UK | Glasgow | Audio
24.05.18 | UK | Manchester | Rebellion
25.05.18 | B | Hasselt | Muzikodrom
26.05.18 | D | Wiesbaden | Schlachthof (+ MY SLEEPING KARMA)

www.soundofliberation.com/colour-haze
http://colourhaze.de/
www.elektrohasch.de

Colour Haze, In Her Garden (2017)

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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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Quarterly Review: Les Discrets, Test Meat, Matus, Farflung, Carpet, Tricky Lobsters, Ten Foot Wizard & Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, The Acid Guide Service, Skunk, The Raynbow

Posted in Reviews on July 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-summer-2017

My friends, the time has come. Well, actually the time came about two weeks ago at the end of June, but I won’t tell if you don’t. Better late than never as regards all things, but most especially The Obelisk’s Quarterly Review, which this time around features releases recent, upcoming and a bit older, a mix of known and lesser known acts, and as always, hopefully enough of a stylistic swath to allow everyone whose eyes the series of posts catches to find something they dig between now and Friday. As always, it’ll be 50 records from now until then, 10 per day, and I see no reason not to jump right in, so let’s do that.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Les Discrets, Prédateurs

les discrets Prédateurs

After offering a preview of their marked stylistic turn in last year’s Virée Nocturne EP (review here), Lyon, France’s Les Discrets return with the suitably nighttime-urbane vibing of their Prédateurs full-length via Prophecy Productions. Five years after Ariettes Oubliées (review here), Fursy Teyssier and company reinvent their approach to the sonic lushness of their earlier work, departing the sphere of post-black metal they previously shared with sister band Alcest in favor of an anything-goes heavy experimentalism more akin to Ulver on cuts like “Le Reproche” or the deeply atmospheric “Fleur des Murailles.” Drones pepper “Rue Octavio Mey” and closer “Lyon – Paris 7h34” effectively conveys the sense of journey its train-schedule title would hint toward, and indeed Les Discrets as a whole seem to be in flux throughout Prédateurs despite an overarching cohesion within each track. It’s a fine line between multifaceted and disjointed, but fortunately, Teyssier’s grip on melodicism is unflinching and enough to tie otherwise disparate ideas together here.

Les Discrets on Thee Facebooks

Les Discrets at Prophecy Productions

 

Test Meat, Demo

test meat demo

Considering the pedigree involved in guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard (ex-Milligram, Blackwolfgoat, Kind, etc.), bassist Aarne Victorine (UXO, Whitey) and drummer Michael Nashawaty (Planetoid, Bird Language), it’s little surprise that Test Meat’s Demo would have a pretty good idea of where it wants to come from. The five-track first showing from the Boston trio blends raw-edge grunge and noise rock on “He Don’t Know” after opening with its longest inclusion (immediate points) in the 3:50 “Cuffing Season,” and though centerpiece “Done” nods at the starts-and-stops of Helmet, the subsequent 2:35 push of “If You Wanna” is strikingly post-Nirvana, and closer “Permanent Festival” rounds out by bridging that gap via a still-straightforward heavy rock groove. Formative, yeah, but that’s the whole point. Test Meat revel in their barebones style and clearly aren’t looking to get overly lush, but one can’t help but be curious how or if they’ll develop a more melodic sensibility to go with the consuming, full buzzsaw tones they elicit here.

Test Meat on Thee Facebooks

Test Meat on Bandcamp

 

Matus, Intronauta

matus intronauta

Worth noting that while the opening cut here, “Claroscuro,” shares its title with Matus’ 2015 full-length (review here), that song didn’t actually appear on that album. Does that mean that the Lima, Peru, classic progressive rockers are offering leftovers from the same sessions on their new EP and perhaps final release, Intronauta? I don’t know, but the four tracks of the digital outing are a welcome arrival anyway, from the laid back easy vibes of the aforementioned opener through the riffier “Intronauta (Including Hasta Que El Sol Descanse en Paz),” the Theremin-soaked finish of the harder-driving “Catalina” and the acoustic-led four-part closer “Arboleda Bohemia,” which unfolds with lushness that remains consistent with the naturalism that has always been underlying in the band’s work. They’ve said their last few times out that the end is near, and if it’s true, they go out with a fully-cast sonic identity of their own and a take on ‘70s prog that remains an underrated secret of the South American underground.

Matus on Thee Facebooks

Matus on Bandcamp

 

Farflung, Unwound Celluloid Frown

farflung unwound celluloud frown

The jury, at least when it comes to the internet, still seems to be somewhat divided on whether the name of Farflung’s five-track/34-minute EP is Unwound Celluloid Frown or Unwound Cellular Frown. I’d say another argument is whether it’s an EP or an LP, but either way, let the follow-up to the more clearly-titled 2016 album (review here) demonstrate how nebulous the long-running Los Angeles space rockers can be when it suits them. Hugely and continually underrated, the troupe once again aligns to Heavy Psych Sounds for this release, which is rife with their desert-hued Hawkwindian thrust and weirdo vibes, permeating the rocket-fuel chug of the title-track and the noise-of-the-cosmos 13-minute headphone-fest that is “Axis Mundi,” which seems to end with someone coming home and putting down their car keys before a slowly ticking clock fades out and into the backwards swirling intro of lazily drifting closer “Silver Ghost with Crystal Spoons.” Yeah, it’s like that. Whatever you call it, the collection proves once again that Farflung are a secret kept too well.

Farflung on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Carpet, Secret Box

carpet secret box

Immersive and progressive psychedelia unfolds from the very opening moments of Carpet’s third album, Secret Box (on Elektrohasch Schallplatten), as the Augsberg, Germany-based five-piece explore lush arrangements of Moog, Rhodes, trumpet, vibraphone, etc. around central compositions of fluid guitar-led melodies and engaging rhythms. Their 2015 Riot Kiss 7” (review here) and 2013 sophomore long-player, Elysian Pleasures (review here), came from a similar place in intent, but from the funk wah and percussion underscoring the pre-fuzz-explosion portion of “Best of Hard Times” and the okay-this-one’s-about-the-riff “Shouting Florence” to the serene ambience of “For Tilda” and ethereal fluidity of “Pale Limbs” later on, the secret of Secret Box seems to be that it’s actually a treasure chest in disguise. Opening with its longest track in “Temper” (immediate points), the album hooks its audience right away along a graceful, rich-sounding melodic flow and does not relinquish its hold until the last piano notes of the closing title-track offer a wistful goodbye. In between, Carpet execute with a poise and nuance all the more enjoyable for how much their own it seems to be.

Carpet on Thee Facebooks

Carpet on Bandcamp

 

Tricky Lobsters, Worlds Collide

tricky lobsters worlds collide

Full, natural production, crisp and diverse songwriting, right-on performances and a name you’re not about to forget – there’s nothing about Tricky Lobsters not to like. Worlds Collide is their sixth album and first on Exile on Mainstream, and the overall quality of their approach reminds of the kind of sonic freedom proffered by Astrosoniq, but the German trio of guitarist/vocalist Sarge, bassist/vocalist Doc and drummer/vocalist Captain Peters have their own statements to make as well in the stomping “Battlefields,” the mega-hook of “Big Book,” the dreamy midsection stretch of “Father and Son” and the progressive melody-making of “Tarred Albino” (video premiere here). The emphasis across the nine-song/42-minute outing is on craft, but whether it’s the patient unfolding of “Dreamdiver Pt. I & II” or the harp-and-fuzz blues spirit of closer “Needs Must,” Tricky Lobsters’ sonic variety comes paired with a level of execution that’s not to be overlooked. Will probably fly under more radars than it should, but if you can catch it, do.

Tricky Lobsters on Thee Facebooks

Tricky Lobsters at Exile on Mainstream Records

 

Ten Foot Wizard & Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Special

ten-foot-wizard-chubby-thunderous-bad-kush-masters-special

Dubbed Special for reasons that should be fairly obvious from looking at the cover art, this meeting of minds, riffs and cats between Manchester’s Ten Foot Wizard and London’s Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters brings four tracks – two per band – and goes so far as to find the groups collaborating on the former’s “Get Fucked,” which opens, and the latter’s “Dunkerque,” which begins their side of the 7”, as vocalists The Wailing Goblin (of Chubby Thunderous) and Gary Harkin (of Ten Foot Wizard) each sit in for a guest spot on the other band’s cuts. Both bands also offer a standalone piece, with Ten Foot Wizard digging into heavy rock burl on “Night Witches” and Chubby Thunderous blowing out gritty party sludge in “Nutbar,” which rounds out the offering, and between them they showcase well the sphere of the UK’s crowded but diverse heavy rock underground. Kind of a niche release in the spirit of Gurt and Trippy Wicked’s 2016 Guppy split/collab, but it works no less well in making its impact felt.

Ten Foot Wizard on Thee Facebooks

Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters on Thee Facebooks

 

The Acid Guide Service, Vol. 11

the acid guide service vol 11

It turns out that Vol. 11 is actually Vol. 1 for Garden City, Idaho, three-piece The Acid Guide Service, who dig into extended fuzz-overdose riffing on the 52-minute nine-tracker, proffering blown-out largesse even on shorter cuts like the five-minute “Into the Sky” while longer pieces like opener “Raptured” (7:16), “EOD” (9:38) and closer “Black Leather Jesus” (10:04) skirt lines between structure and jams as much as between heavy rock and psychedelia. Proffered by the trio of guitarist/vocalist Russ Walker, bassist/vocalist Tyler Walker and drummer Nick McGarvey, one can hear shades of Wo Fat in the guitar-led expanse of “Rock ‘n’ Roll (Is the Drug I’m On),” but on the whole, Vol. 11 speaks more to the late-‘90s/early-‘00s post-Kyuss stoner rock heyday, with flourish of Monster Magnet and Fu Manchu for good measure in the hard-swinging “Dude Rockin’” and its chugging companion piece, “Marauder King.” Big tones, big riffs, big groove. The Acid Guide Service are preaching to the converted, but clearly coming from a converted place themselves in so doing. Right on.

The Acid Guide Service on Thee Facebooks

The Acid Guide Service on Bandcamp

 

Skunk, Doubleblind

skunk doubleblind

Professing a self-aware love for the earliest days of heavy metal in idea and sound, Oakland’s Skunk offer their full-length debut with the self-released Doubleblind, following up on their 2015 demo, Heavy Rock from Elder Times (review here). That outing featured four tracks that also appear on Doubleblind – “Forest Nymph,” “Wizard Bong,” “Black Hash” and “Devil Weed.” Working on a theme? The theme is “stoned?” Yeah, maybe, but the cowbell-infused slider groove and standout hook of “Mountain Child” are just as much about portraying that ‘70s vibe as Skunk may or may not be about the reefer whose name they bear. Presumably more recent material like that song, “Doubleblind,” closer “Waitin’ Round on You” and leadoff cut “Forest Nymph” coherently blend impulses drawn from AC/DC, Sabbath and Zeppelin. John McKelvy’s vocals fit that spirit perfectly, and with the grit brought forth from guitarists Dmitri Mavra and Erik Pearson, bassist Matt Knoth and drummer Jordan Ruyle, Skunk dig into catchy, excellently-paced roller riffing and cast their debut in the mold of landmark forebears. Mothers, teach your children to nod.

Skunk on Thee Facebooks

Skunk on Bandcamp

 

The Raynbow, The Cosmic Adventure

the raynbow the cosmic adventure

As they make their way through a temporal drift of three tracks that play between krautrocking jazz fusion, psychecosmic expansion and Floydian lushness, Kiev-based explorers The Raynbow keep immersion central to their liquefied purposes. The Cosmic Adventure (on Garden of Dreams Records) is an aptly-titled debut full-length, and the band who constructed it is comprised of upwards of eight parties who begin with the 16-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “Changes,” which builds toward and through a metallic chug apex, sandwiching it on either side with ultra-patient molten tone and soundscaping that continues to flourish through the subsequent “Cosmic Fool” (5:17) and “Blue Deep Sea Eyes” (8:18), the whole totaling a still-manageable outward trip into reaches of slow-moving space rock that whether loud or quiet at any individual moment more than earns a volume-up concentrated headphone listen. The kind of outfit one could easily imagine churning out multiple albums in a single year, The Raynbow nonetheless deliver a dream on The Cosmic Adventure that stands among the best first offerings I’ve heard in 2017.

The Raynbow on Thee Facebooks

Garden of Dreams Records 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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