The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 08

Posted in Radio on January 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

gimme radio logo

This was my 2019 preview… of sorts. By which I mean that it in no way encompassed everything coming out this year and that some of it was basically me being like, “golly, it sure would be nice if BAND X put out a record in the next 12 months.” Still fun, but I think definitely well earning that “of sorts” tag.

I keep notes with a running list of things like albums coming out and best records of the year, artwork, EPs, etc., and in my notes for what’s coming out in 2019 I have over 50 bands listed so far. Here they are, cut and paste-style:

Cities of Mars, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, No Man’s Valley, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan, Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Samsara Blues Experiment, Papir, Conan, Green Lung, BUS, Worshipper, Volcano, Mos Generator, Earth, Nebula Drag, Elder, Daxma, Besvärjelsen, Bellrope, The Sabbathian,

Some of that has been officially announced, some hasn’t, and some is rampant speculation, but many of these, and there’s always the contingency that expected releases can be delayed owing to recording and tour schedules, pressing concerns, pianos falling on heads, and so on, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find a bunch of those records on my year-end list in December. Whoopee.

What’s more important to stress, however, is that this is by no means the be-all-end-all list of things coming out. It’s a long year, and it’s January right now. There will be offerings in September and October that no one knows now are even in the works, and still more that aren’t. That’s why the list ends with a comma and a space instead of a period. There’s more to be added.

That said, this is a damn good show and I stand by it. Some of the inclusions could/would/will be among the year’s best albums — the new Worshipper is fantastic, and the new Kings Destroy owns my soul — but I wanted to put some stuff in here that the Gimme audience, which I tend to think of as being more metal though I have absolutely nothing to base that on, isn’t familiar with. Curse the Son, Snail, Sun Blood Stories.

It’s fun to talk about new albums coming out — I had a particular blast mentioning how annoyed I am at the universe for there being a new Sun Blood Stories album and I haven’t heard it yet — and even if some of it is speculative, that’s a good time too.

If you missed the show last night, it’s on tomorrow at 9AM at: http://gimmeradio.com.

The Obelisk Show Ep. 08 – 01.20.19

 

Lowrider Lameneshma Ode to Io (Deluxe Edition) 0:04:57
Kings Destroy Smokey Robinson Kings Destroy 0:04:03
BREAK
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard The Master and His Emissary Totems (Split w/Slomatics) 0:12:02
Snail Born in Captivity Feral 0:05:00
Motorpsycho The Tower The Tower 0:08:41
Mars Red Sky Friendly Fire Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) 0:04:51
BREAK
Sun Blood Stories Step Softly Ghost It Runs Around the Room with Us 0:04:48
Elephant Tree Dawn Elephant Tree 0:04:12
Curse the Son Aislamiento Isolator 0:07:13
Alunah Awn Amber & Gold* 0:05:50
Worshipper Night Child (The Oath cover) Mirage Daze 0:04:19
Hexvessel Old Tree All Tree* 0:03:40
Vokonis Rapturous The Sunken Djinn 0:06:09
Mr. Peter Hayden We Fly High Eternal Hayden 0:07:13
BREAK
Kind Rabbit Astronaut Rocket Science 0:03:49
Om Haqq al-Yaqin Advaitic Songs 0:11:29
Samsara Blues Experiment One with the Universe One with the Universe 0:15:07

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Sunday night at 7PM Eastern, with replays the following Tuesday at 9AM. Next show is Feb. 3. Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the-top-30-of-2018

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 2018 to that, please do.

It just wouldn’t be a year if it wasn’t completely overwhelming, right?

2018 has certainly met that standard and then some. The swath of output, whether it’s a new generation adopting and adapting established methods or out and out reinventing the stylistic wheel and then pushing it uphill on a seemingly endless barrage of tours, has been staggering, and it’s still happening. There’s a little more than a week to go in the year. You think a band isn’t putting something out today? Of course they are. It’s every day. It’s all the time.

But this year wasn’t just about quantity either. I think one of my biggest struggles in writing about albums in 2018 — and with the last Quarterly Review and various premieres and video posts that were basically album reviews in disguise, let’s estimate we’re somewhere past 300 records reviewed one way or another — was in conveying just how killer so much of the stuff coming through was. How many times can you say the word “awesome?” Well, I’m sure we’ll see it a few more times before this list is over, so there you go.

I say something like this every time I do a list, but please keep in mind these are my picks and I’m one person. But I am a person. I know there’s the whole internet-anonymity thing, but I assure you, I’m a human being (more of a cave troll, really) typing these words. I’m all for everyone sharing their own picks in the comments, and all for passionate advocating, but please, let’s keep it civil and respectful. These things can spiral out of control quickly, but let’s remember that we’re all human beings and worth of basic courtesy, even if some of us are dead wrong about a good many things. You should definitely punch nazis, though.

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

[UPDATE: You’ll notice the inclusion of an ’18a.’ I had Stoned Jesus in my notes as number 18 initially and they got dropped as I was adjusting things along the way. I’ve added them back in, but it didn’t seem fair to bump everyone else down after the post had already been published. That was the best I could come up with for a solution. If you’re pissed about one more killer record being added, please feel free to email me and tell me all about it.]

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Chicago’s The Skull had no small task before them in following up their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) — let alone living up to their pedigree — but their second album demonstrated a creative growth that sacrificed nothing of memorability when it came to songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “All that Remains (Is True).” They got down to work and got the job done, which is what a working band does. 2018 was by any measure a fantastic year for doom, and The Skull were a big part of why.

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

The Dec. 2017 murder of Rev. Jim Forrester was tragic. No other way to say it. Foghound, who were in the midst of making Awaken to Destroy at the time, put together an album that not only features Forrester‘s last recorded performance, but pays respect to his memory while the wound is still raw and manages to kick ass all the while. It’s a record that can’t ever be divorced from its circumstances — just can’t — and so it can be a heavy listen in more than just its tones, but it’s basically Foghound proving they’re unstoppable. And so they are.

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

Who among us here today is not a sucker for Orange Goblin? Come forward an be judged. I mean, really. Nine records deep, the London sceneforgers are nothing less than an institution, beloved by boozehounds, riffhounds, doomhounds, and really, a wide variety of hounds the world over. Also dudes. With its essential title-track hook and highlight cuts in “Ghosts of the Primitives” and “Burn the Ships” — or, you know, any of them — they added to one of heavy’s most unshakable legacies with an album as furious as it is welcoming to its generations-spanning fanbase.

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

fu manchu clone of the universe
Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed Feb. 15.

There are two kinds of people in this world, and they’re both Fu Manchu fans. Clone of the Universe turned heads with a guest appearance from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson on the 18-minute side-B-consuming “Il Mostro Atomico,” but really to focus on that instead of “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” etc., is only seeing half the point of the album in the first place. The long-running lords of fuzz hit a new stride with 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), and Clone of the Universe was in every way a worthy successor.

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain
Released by Svart Records. Reviewed May 16.

It was an unenviable task before Witch Mountain in replacing vocalist Uta Plotkin, but founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson found the right voice in Kayla Dixon and solidified the lineup with her and bassist Justin Brown enough to make a declarative statement in Witch Mountain‘s self-titled LP. That’s the story of it. They pulled it off. Met with what was unquestionably a bummer circumstance, they pushed through and moved their sound forward through a new beginning — and not their first one. Watch out when their next record hits.

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Richmond, Virginia, doomers Windhand‘s second collaboration with producer Jack Endino produced a marked and purposeful expansion of their sound, encompassing classic grunge influences and a heavy psychedelic swirl that added color their previously-greyscale sonic haze. Resonant in tone and emotionalism, Eternal Return readjusted Windhand‘s trajectory in such a manner that, where one might’ve thought they knew where the band were headed in terms of their progression, they’ve made themselves a less predictable outfit on the whole. For that alone, it’s a triumph. Then you have the songs.

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

I don’t even want to admit how long I was waiting for Sun Voyager‘s first long-player to show up, but when it finally did, the New York trio did not disappoint. Catchy, energetic, fuzzed-out tunes with driving rhythms and a heavy psych flourish, they tapped into shoegaze and desert vibes without losing any sense of themselves in the process, and if the extra wait was so they could be so remarkably coherent in their expression on their full-length, then I wouldn’t want it to have shown up any sooner. An easy pick to stand among 2018’s best debut albums. Now to wait for the next one.

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

It should tell you something that after working quickly to produce three albums, Louisiana’s Forming the Void are still defined by their potential. If I had my druthers, I’d put the recent Ripple signees on tour for the bulk of 2019, across the US and in Europe for festivals and support-slot club shows, really give them an opportunity to hammer out who they are as a band and then hit the studio for LP four. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but they’d only be doing the universe a favor by kicking into that gear. As it stands, their progression is palpable in their material and they stand absolutely ready for whatever the next level might be for them.

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

Released by BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed June 29.

Aside from the speed at which Spaceslug have turned around offerings — with Eye the Tide following 2017’s Mountains and Reminiscence EP (review here) and Time Travel Dilemma (review here) full-length and their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here) — the Polish outfit have undertaken significant progression in their sound, moving from pure heavy psychedelic warmth to incorporating elements out of extreme metal as they did on Eye the Tide. Adding to the latest record’s accomplishment is the smoothness with which they brought seemingly opposing sides together, only adding depth to an approach already worthy of oceanic comparison.

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

Conan Existential Void Guardian
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Conan‘s reign of terror has been unfolding for more than a decade now, and each of their albums has become a kind of step along a path of incremental growth. Consider the melody creeping into the shouts of founding guitarist Jon Davis, or the emergence of bassist Chris Fielding as a vocal presence alongside, the two sharing a frontman role more than ever before while welcoming drummer Johnny King to the fold of destructive tonality and doomly extremism. Existential Void Guardian may end up just being another stomp-print on their way to the next thing, but it affirmed the fact that as much as Conan grow each time out, their central violence continues to hold sway.

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

PALE DIVINE S/T
Released by Shadow Kingdom Records. Reviewed Nov. 21.

Look. A new Pale Divine record doesn’t come along every day, so yeah, their self-titled was probably going to be on my list one way or the other, but it definitely helps that not only was it their first outing in six years since 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here), but it had the songs to live up to a half-decade-plus of anticipation. It marked the first studio appearance from bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis alongside guitarist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey — now both of Beelzefuzz as well — and made a strong argument for how much Pale Divine deserve more than 20 years on from their initial demo to be considered classic American doom.

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands
Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed May 11.

The return and rise to prominence of Washington pure heavy rockers Mos Generator might be the underground’s feelgood story of the decade, but it hasn’t by any means been easily won. In addition to rebuilding the band however many albums ago, guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed has put in innumerable hours on tour and worked to actually develop the group creatively in addition to in terms of stage presence. This is shown throughout some of the classic prog elements making their way onto Shadowlands, and perhaps some of the collection’s moodier aspects are born of the aforementioned road time as well. Hard for that kind of thing not to be a slog after a while, but at least they have killer tunes to play.

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

The only safe bet about Stoned Jesus‘ fourth long-player, Pilgrims, was that it was going to sound different than the third. That 2015 outing, The Harvest (review here), preceded the band touring to celebrate the fifth anniversary and after-the-fact success of 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but Pilgrims defied narrative in that instead of incorporating elements from the second record in more of a heavy psych or jam sound, Stoned Jesus instead showcased a tighter, more sureheaded sense of craft than they’ve ever displayed before, and arrived on Napalm Records with a collection of songs that demonstrated the growth and sense of creative will that drives them. While one can take a look at their moniker and think immediately they know what’s coming, Stoned Jesus have made themselves one of the least predictable bands in heavy rock.

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

“Pirate Smile.” “Lines.” “Whatever.” “It Ain’t Right.” “Threes.” “Cinderella.” “Generals.” “Big Enough.” “Alone.” “Lucky. Mike Cummings, Jessica Baker, Erik Larson. Every player, every song, every minute. If you want to know what heart-on-sleeve sounds like, it fucking sounds like Backwoods Payback. In their line from hardcore punk to grunge to heavy rock, they encompass experiences and emotionalism that are both shown in raw form throughout Future Slum, and build all the while on the chemistry they set out in developing with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), when they welcomed Larson to the lineup on drums and revitalized their mission. Also worth noting, they were the best live band I saw this year. Anywhere.

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

No question the excitement of C.O.C. putting out their first record with frontman Pepper Keenan involved since 2005’s In the Arms of God was one of this year’s top stories in heavy. And No Cross No Crown tapped directly into the spirit of 1994’s Deliverance (discussed here) and 1996’s Wiseblood (discussed here) in terms of direction, while updating the band’s style with a four-part 2LP in mind. In some ways, it’ll be their next album that really gives listeners a sense of where they’re at and where they might be headed, but as welcome returns go, having Keenan alongside Mike DeanWoody Weatherman and Reed Mullin is in no way to be understated, and neither is the quality of their output together, then and now.

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It is no simple feat to hypnotize an audience and convey serenity while at the same time holding attention with songcraft, so that the listener isn’t actually so much unconscious as malleable of mood and spirit in such a direction as the band suggests. Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to become experts at this, and their third full-length fosters tonal warmth and jammy progressions with an overarching naturalism that finds them so committed to analog recording that one can buy direct transfers of the tape master of III. Some acts take classic-style practices as an aesthetic choice. With Naxatras, it seems to be the stuff of life, yet their sound is only vibrant and human in a way that, at least one hopes, is even more representative of the future than the past.

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

It was time for Clutch to make a change in producers, and the Maryland overlords of groove seemed to know it. Known as a live band, they went with Vance Powell, who’s known a live band producer. The results on Book of Bad Decisions might not have been so earth-shatteringly different from 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here), which was the too-soon follow-up to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — both helmed by Machine — but the inimitable four-piece indeed succeeded in capturing the electricity of their stage performance and, as ever, treated fans to a collection of songs bearing Clutch‘s unmistakable hallmarks of quirky lyrics, funky rhythms and heavy roll. They may always be a live band, but Clutch‘s studio work is in no way to be discounted, ever, as this record reaffirmed. Plus, crab cakes.

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

After 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), I wasn’t sure Ancestors were going to put out another record. They kicked around word of one for a while, but it wasn’t until the end of last year that it really seemed to congeal into a possibility. And by then, who the hell knew what they might get up to on a full-length? With Suspended in Reflections, in some says, they picked up where they left off in terms of finding a niche for themselves in progressive and melodic heavy, but I think the time showed in the poise of their execution and the control of the material. Suspended in Reflections can’t help but be six years more mature than its predecessor, and that suits its contemplative feel. In tracks like “Gone,” and “The Warm Glow,” they tempered their expansive sound with an efficiency that can only be had with time.

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

The narrative here was hard to beat. Matt Pike spending an album cycle talking about Lemmy Kilmister and paying homage to his dirt-rock forebear and the gods of old? It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Electric Messiah was the third collaboration between High on Fire and producer Kurt Ballou behind 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), and while it seemed after the last record that the formula might be getting stale, the band only sounded more and more lethal throughout the latest offering. Even putting aside their contributions to underground heavy, they’ve become one of the most essential metal bands of their generation. Metal, period. Doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re talking about it. If you’re listening to High on Fire, you know it. Usually because you’ve just been decapitated.

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

You know, if you take the time to separate Yawning Man from their 30-plus-year history and their legacy as one of the foundational acts of what later became desert rock, and you listen to The Revolt Against Tired Noises, you’re still left with basically a dream of an album. Mostly instrumental, as is their wont, they nonetheless had bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) sing this time around on a version of the previously-unreleased “Catamaran,” which Kyuss covered once upon a whenever although Yawning Man had never officially put it to tape. But really, that and all other novelty aside, guitarist Gary Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are a chemistry unto themselves. I don’t know if they’ll ever be as huge as they should be, but every bit of acclaim they get, they’ve earned, and if The Revolt Against Tired Noises helps them get it, all the more so.

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

Swedish heavy rock mavens Greenleaf have become an entirely different band than they once were. No longer a Dozer side-project from guitarist Tommi Holappa with a rotating cast of players, they’re a solidified, road-tested, powerhouse unit, and Hear the Rivers bleeds soul as a result. Holappa, frontman Arvid Hällagård, bassist Hans Fröhlich and drummer Sebastian Olsson sound like they’re absolutely on fire in the album’s tracks, and far from being staid or formulaic as one might expect a sixth long-player to be, Hear the Rivers built on what the band accomplished with 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) and came across as all the more vital and nearly frenetic in their energy. I won’t say Greenleaf has seen their last lineup change, because one never knows, but the band as they are today is the realization of potential I don’t think even Greenleaf knew was there.

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 4.

Five records deep into a career into its second decade, Gozu haven’t had a miss yet. Admittedly, some of their early work can seem formative considering where they are now, but still. And after the 2016 rager, Revival (review here), to have the band return to the same studio — Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where strides producer Dean Baltulonis — for the follow-up allows for the four-piece to directly show how their sound has grown more encompassing in the last couple years. And it has. Equilibrium is a rich and varied listen that holds true to Gozu‘s well-established penchant for soulful vibes and crunching, hard-hitting riffs and groove, but while it shares the directness of approach with Revival, it makes moves that a band could only make moving from one record to the next. I expect nothing less their next time out as well, because a decade later, that’s Gozu‘s proven track record.

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

monster magnet mindfucker
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 23.

The battle for the best album title of 2018 ended early when New Jersey everything-rockers Monster Magnet announced the release of Mindfucker. And what else to call a Monster Magnet LP at this point? They’ve stopped writing to genre. They’re driven by the creative mania of frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf, and they’ve seen psychedelic expanses and commercial success the likes of which would serve the tenure of four lesser bands. What’s left to do but whatever the hell you want? So that’s what Monster Magnet are doing. It just so happens that while they’re doing it, they’re still basically outclassing the entirety of the former planet earth as songwriters. As Monster Magnet fan in 2018, there was nothing more I could’ve asked than what Mindfucker delivered. And if you’re still trying to get your brain around it however many months later, you’re not alone. I think that’s the idea.

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Best doom album of 2018. The combination of craft and passion behind the delivery. The way the dark tones fed into the emotions so clearly on display and sheer presence of it in listening to songs like “Keeping the Lighthouse,” “Ruination by Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here.” Apostle of Solitude never seem to be the highest profile band out there, but their work seems never to be anything less than outstanding, and I refuse to accept them as anything less than among the most pivotal American acts out there making traditional doom. And not just making it, but making it their own, with a sense of new pursuits and individualism that extends to playing style as well as atmosphere. I know doom isn’t exactly in short supply these days — figuratively or literally — but if you miss out on what Apostle of Solitude are doing with it, you’ll only regret it later. I’ll say it one more time: Best doom album of 2018.

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

holy grove ii
Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 31.

Every now and again, anticipating the crap of an album really pays off, and such was the case with Holy Grove II, the Ripple Music debut from the Portland outfit whose 2016 self-titled (review here) seemed like such a herald of excellence to come while also, you know, being killer. Holy Grove II brought the four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis to entirely new levels of composition and execution. In songs like “Blade Born,” the shorter, sharper “Aurora,” the patiently rolling “Valley of the Mystics,” “Solaris” and closer “Cosmos,” which boasted a not-really-necessary-but-definitely-welcome guest vocal appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt, — and oh wait, that’s all of the tracks — Holy Grove entered a different echelon. Anticipation will likewise be high for Holy Grove III, but it’ll be hard to complain with this record to keep company in the meantime.

6. All Them Witches, ATW

all them witches atw
Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Over five All Them Witches albums, the Nashville four-piece have gone from a nascent heavy Americana jam band to one of the most distinct acts in the US underground. Their development in sound is chemistry-driven, so it was a risk when the founding trio of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) and drummer Robby Staebler welcomed new keyboardist Jonathan Draper into the lineup to take the place of Allan van Cleave. Amid a more naturalist production than that of 2017’s Sleeping Through the War (review here), the revamped four-piece flourished in terms of songwriting and conveying their stage-born sonic personae. From the gleeful fuckery of opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” to the memorable moodiness of “Diamond” and the back-end jam “Harvest Feast” en route to the stretched-out end of “Rob’s Dream,” All Them Witches essentially confirmed they could do whatever they wanted and make it work.

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

yob our raw heart
Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed June 7.

Actually, if you want a sample of YOB‘s raw heart, the place to go is probably 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), but whatever the Eugene, Oregon, shapers of cosmic doom might’ve lacked in titular accuracy on their eighth long-player, they made up for in a new, statesman-like posture. Their approach was mature, hammered out to a professionalism working completely on its own terms, and they never sounded so sure of who they are as a band or as confident of their direction. In extended cuts “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and “Our Raw Heart,” they explored new and progressive textures and melodies, and managed to reaffirm their core aspects while finding room for conveying emotion that came across as nothing but ultimately sincere. They have been and still are one of a kind, and as they continue to move forward, they remain a band that makes one feel lucky to be alive to witness their work. Our Raw Heart was perhaps more refined than it let on, but the heart was there for sure, as always.

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t a fan of the (relatively) harder-hitting approach Brant Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band took on 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), but Mankind Woman brought in some more of his soul influences, and whether it was the subtly subversive funk of “Chocolatize” and “Brand New Old Times” or the callout “1968” and laid back vibes of the title-track and “Swagger and Sway,” Bjork — working with guitarist Bubba DuPree on songwriting and production — offered a definitive look at what has made his 20-year solo career so special and demonstrates not only his longevity and his legacy, but his will to continue to progress as an artist honing his craft. His discography is well populated by now to be sure, but Mankind Woman represents a turn from the last couple records, and if it’s in any way portentous of things to come, it bodes well. Bjork is right at home nestled into classic-style grooves, and his legacy as one of the principal architects of desert rock is continually reaffirmed.

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

They’ve been great, not just good, for a long time now, and as forerunners of the San Diego heavy scene, they’re godfathers to an up and coming generation of bands taking their influence — let alone acts from the rest of the world — but Black Heaven is a special moment for them because of its departure. No, it wasn’t not the first time guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sang on an Earthless recording, but it did represent a tip of the balance in that direction for the band on a studio full-length, and that resulted in a special moment. Album opener “Gifted by the Wind” was one of the best songs I heard this year, and while “End to End” and the all-thrust “Volt Rush” affirmed that more traditional songwriting was well within the grasp of Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, they still found space for a sprawling jam or two, keeping their claim on the instrumentalism that’s (largely) fueled their tenure to date. Earthless don’t want for acclaim, but every bit of it is earned, and while their primary impact has always been live, Black Heaven saw them construct a traditional-style LP that still bore the hallmarks of their collective personality. It was the best of all worlds.

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

king buffalo longing to be the mountain
Self-released/released by Stickman Records. Reviewed Sept. 27.

In the dark early hours of 2018, the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson issued the Repeater EP (review here) as a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), so Longing to Be the Mountain didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but even with Repeater preceding its arrival, I don’t think anyone necessary expected King Buffalo‘s second album to have such a scope or to be so engrossing with it. In its melody, patience, atmosphere and heft, it was an absolute joy to behold. Its songs were memorable at the same time they were far-reaching, and while Orion was already my pick for the best debut of 2016, Longing to Be the Mountain realized even more potential than that record had hinted toward. It could be intimate or majestic at its whim, and its dynamic set an individual characterization of heavy psychedelia and blues-style sprawl that the band wholly owned. With production by Ben McLeod of All Them Witches behind them, they worked to serve notice of a progression undertaken the results of which are already staggering and still seem to be looking ahead to the next stage, literally and figuratively. One of the principal standards I use in constructing this list every year is what I listen to most. That’s this record.

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

Obviously, right? To some extent, when Sleep surprise-announced on April 19 they’d release their first album in 15 years the next day, and then did, they took ownership of 2018. Even with records still to come at that point from YOB and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike‘s own High on Fire, there was no way that when the end of the year came around, it wasn’t going to be defined by the advent of a new Sleep record. And even if it sucked, it would probably still be Album of the Year, but fortunately, as Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om) and drummer Jason Roeder (also Neurosis) took their long-running stage reunion to the studio, they brought material that highlighted the best elements from all players. Pike‘s wild soloing, Cisneros‘ meditative vocals and Roeder‘s intricate but smooth style of roll all came together in older pieces like “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Sonic Titan” and newer highlights “Giza Butler” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” and aside from the excitement at their existence, they showed the mastery of form that Sleep had been demonstrating live since 2009 and which they hinted toward in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here). A new Sleep full-length was something long-discussed, long-rumored and long-considered, but when it finally happened, I think the results vaporized expectation in a way no one could’ve anticipated. There’s a reason Sleep are Sleep. Having The Sciences as a reminder of that brought about the defining moment of 2018.

The Next 20

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a Top 30 at all if it didn’t go to 50. Don’t try to make sense of it, just look at the records.

31. Atavismo, Valdeinfierno
32. Grayceon, IV
33. Clamfight, III
34. Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique
35. Megaton Leviathan, Mage
36. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland
37. Arcadian Child, Superfonica
38. Freedom Hawk, Beast Remains
39. The Machine, Faceshift
40. Messa, Feast for Water
41. Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium
42. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Science Fiction
43. Domkraft, Flood
44. Träden, Träden
45. Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
46. Samavayo, Vatan
47. Foehammer, Second Sight
48. Bongripper, Terminal
49. Mansion, First Death of the Lutheran
50. Sunnata, Outlands
51. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Come and Chutney

Believe me when I tell you, I sweated over this section more than I did the actual top 30. Mansion should be higher. So should Chubby Thunderous, though something in me thought they might like being #50 on a list of 30. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Clamfight, Black Rainbows, Foehammer, Seedy Jeezus, Messa, Domkraft. All of these were fucking awesome. And there are more (we’ll get there). Eventually numbers add up. I won’t say a bad word about any of these. That’s it.

Honorable Mention

This section always winds up expanded as other people point out things I missed and so on, but here’s what I’ve got in the immediate, alphabetically:

  • Alms, Act One
  • Ape Machine, Darker Seas
  • Belzebong, Light the Dankness
  • Black Moon Circle, Psychedelic Spacelord
  • Blackwater Holylight, Blackwater Holylight
  • Bong, Thought and Existence
  • Carpet, About Rooms and Elephants
  • Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery
  • Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree
  • Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need
  • Death Alley, Superbia
  • Drug Cult, Drug Cult
  • Dunbarrow, II
  • Electric Citizen, Helltown
  • Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn
  • Evoken, Hypnagogia
  • Funeral Horse, Psalms for the Mourning
  • Fuzz Evil, High on You
  • Graven, Heirs of Discord
  • Graveyard, Peace
  • Green Dragon, Green Dragon
  • Green Druid, Ashen Blood
  • Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing
  • High Priestess, High Priestess
  • Horehound, Holocene
  • IAH, II
  • JIRM, Surge ex Monumentis
  • Killer Boogie, Acid Cream
  • Lonely Kamel, Death’s Head Hawkmoth
  • MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure
  • Moab, Trough
  • Mountain Dust, Seven Storms
  • Mouth, Floating
  • Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence
  • T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid
  • Onségen Ensemble, Duel
  • Orango, Evergreen
  • Owl, Nights in Distortion
  • Pushy, Hard Wish
  • Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground/Meditation
  • River Cult, Halcyon Daze
  • Rotor, Sechs
  • Somali Yacht Club, The Sea
  • Sumac, Love in Shadow
  • Sundrifter, Visitations
  • Svvamp, Svvamp II
  • Thou, Magus
  • Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse
  • Weedpecker, III

Special Note

Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to include these in the list proper because they’re not really underground releases, but there were two more records I especially wanted to highlight for their quality:

  • Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
  • Judas Priest, Firepower

Best Short Release of the Year

Normally I’d do this as a separate post, but as a result of being robbed earlier this year, I feel like my list is woefully incomplete. If you have any demos, EPs, splits, singles, etc., to add to it, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Still, the top pick was clear:

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Rarely do two bands work in such coherent tandem to their mutual benefit. Here are a few other essential short releases for 2018, alphabetically:

  • All Them Witches, Lost and Found
  • Alunah, Amber & Gold
  • Canyon, Mk II
  • Demon Head, The Resistence
  • Destroyer of Light, Hopeless
  • Ecstatic Vision, Under the Influence
  • Godmaker & Somnuri, Split
  • Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul
  • King Buffalo, Repeater
  • Minsk & Zatokrev, Split
  • Sleep, Leagues Beneath
  • Stonus, Lunar Eclipse
  • Sundecay, Gale

Looking Forward

A good many albums have already been announced or hinted at for 2019. I in no way claim this to be a complete roundup of what’s coming, but here’s what I have in my notes so far, in absolutely no order:

Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Cities of Mars, Heavy Temple, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan (LP), Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Om.

Okay, That’s It

Yeah, no, I’m serious. List is done. Everybody go back to your lives. Your families miss you.

Really though, while this is by no means my last post of 2018, I can’t let it pass without saying thank you so much to everyone for checking out the site this year, or for just digging into this, or for sending me music, or hitting me up on social media, sharing a link, anything. Thank you. Thank you. I could never have imagined when it started out where it would be now. Or that I’d still be doing it. Your support means more to me than I can say, and I thank you so much for being a part of this with me.

So thanks.

If you have something to add to the list, please do so by leaving a comment below, but keep in mind as well the above note requesting civility. Please don’t make me feel stupid because I forgot your favorite record. I forgot a lot of people’s favorite records. I’m one dude. I’m doing my best.

And please keep in mind if you’ve got a list together that the Year-End Poll is open and results will be out Jan. 1.

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Desertfest London 2019 Confirms Om, Wovenhand, Stoned Jesus, Great Electric Quest, Elephant Tree, Messa, High Fighter and More

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 29th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

desertfest london 2019 square poster

A monstrous announcement from Desertfest London 2019 finds the festival, as it has over the last several years, with a far reach in geography and style alike. Acts like Great Electric Quest, High Reeper, Salem’s Bend, The Devil and the Almighty Blues, High Fighter, and Messa represent a flood of up and coming underground heavy from the US and Europe — I’d count hometown heroes Elephant Tree and Greece’s Naxatras at the forefront of that surge — while Om, Wovenhand, Mondo Generator, Stoned Jesus, Sabbath AssemblyJaye JayleHHY and the Macumbas and Wiegedood are of course no minor shakes in terms of draw or aesthetic swath.

Desertfest‘s first announcement, which came through in September with Earthless, All Them Witches, Kadavar and Colour Haze, among others, was enticing enough. This one does nothing but make one want to book travel and lodging.

The PR wire has the details:

desertfest london 2019 old empire stage

Drone doom pioneers OM confirmed as first headliner + 15 more acts added to the DESERTFEST LONDON 2019 lineup!

After warming you up with our first announcement in September, it’s time to break out the big guns. Today we’re adding 16 killer bands to Desertfest, including the lineup for 2019’s Old Empire stage, which, after years of bringing some of the heaviest sounds all weekend, will this year takeover as our Friday main stage. We couldn’t be happier with their first pick, Desertfest 2019’s opening headliners, the incomparable, spiritual force of stoner drone that is Om.

Formed in 2003 as one great band drifted off for a decade, Om – then consisting of the two-part assault of Sleep’s Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius – brought with them an extension of the hypnotic heavy first hinted at on Sleep’s Jerusalem/Dopesmoker. Achieving more with just vocals, bass and drums than most can dream of with a packed out stage, the opening one-two punch of Variations on a Theme and Conference of the Birds serves as a revelation to many; stripped-back power that cleans the cobwebs from your brain with reverberating blasts of droned-down stoner-doom.

By 2007’s Pilgrimage – the last full-length to feature Hakius on drums – Om had begun to lean more and more heavily into spiritual themes and Eastern tones, bringing about a new definition of what exactly heavy is; because let’s be clear, Om are heaviness incarnate, just not in the traditional sense. Through God is Good and their latest LP, Advaitic Songs – their first as a trio and surely one of the finest put to record this decade – Om continued down a path of hazed out perfection. It’s a testament to the importance of the band that, even as Sleep woke up, Om persist, ready to send you into a trance at the pluck of a bass. Be sure to catch Om when they headline the Old Empire stage – and Desertfest at large – on Friday 3rd May.

Joining them on the Old Empire stage, and continuing Old Empire’s tradition of showcasing heaviness from unexpected places, are Wovenhand. Labelled many things over the near two decades they’ve been kicking around, from alternative country, to neofolk, to Southern-gothic, Wovenhand are simply low and slow, oozing with an atmosphere of gloom. Music torn from the heart and soul of David Eugene Edwards (ex-16 Horsepower), Wovenhand are a deeply personal experience that you won’t want to miss.

But that’s not all for the Old Empire stage, who offer up three more treats for Desertfest 2019; firstly, a slice of black metal in the shape of Wiegedood, whose Die doden hebben het goed trilogy serves as a granite slab of brutality. Featuring members of post-black metal heroes Oathbreaker, as well as being part of the illustrious Church of Ra collective – a handful of acts tethered by a DIY ethic – Wiegedood will bring heaviness as we traditionally know it to the stage.

The jazz-inspired, ominous soundscapes of HHY & the Macumbas bring an exploration of the apocalypse to proceedings. Showcasing why they’re one of the most inimitable acts in the Portuguese, or perhaps even European underground scene, HHY are ordered chaos, wielding a twin attack of percussion and horns, tied together with a thin spine of drone.

Rounding off this year’s Old Empire stage come the desolate, minimalist sonic mantras of Louisville’s Jaye Jayle. Revelling in the simplicity of a “Less is more” philosophy, Jaye Jayle build tension with their barely crawling musical progressions and stitch it all together with the gruff, semi-spoken vocals of Evan Patterson.

Yet again, the Old Empire stage looks set to be one of the most exciting places to be over the whole of the Desertfest weekend, bringing both the darkness and the light; but that’s not all to expect over the May Bank Holiday weekend in Camden.

Elsewhere over the weekend, we’re excited to be welcoming Ukraine’s Stoned Jesus to Desertfest London. The stoner blues trio, who released their 4th full-length Pilgrims in September, possess a tone all of their own. Offering up one of the scene’s most beloved albums in 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar, Stoned Jesus remain a treat to catch live; as do punk infused stoner rockers Mondo Generator. Headed up by legend of the underground, Nick Oliveri, Mondo Generator are, like any of Oliveri’s myriad projects, an undeniably raucous experience live.

Next up, a double bill of some of Europe’s finest heavy psych; Part of the modern Greek wave of stoner and psych, without ever disappearing into the crowd, Naxatras are unashamed worshippers of the 70s riff. That said, they bring plenty of their own flavour to the mix. Whilst Oslo’s The Devil and the Almighty Blues live up to their name, bringing a devilishly groovy stomp and infusing it with their almost nonchalant, relaxed tones, fast becoming one of the most exciting bands in all of heavy psych.

There’s doom aplenty as ever at Desertfest, with all angles covered; the occult is worshipped with Sabbath Assembly and Messa’s take on the science of slow, whilst Elephant Tree will continue to show why they’re one of the UK’s finest acts with their uncompromising push outwards to the outer limits of doom.

A double dose of 70’s worship comes in the form of the strutting duo of Great Electric Quest and Salem’s Bend, with today’s announcement rounded off by two chances to get high; High Fighter are set to surround us with a densely packed smog of doom and High Reeper filtering the riffs of classic heavy metal through the So-Cal skater scene.

With dozens more bands still to be announced, including our Saturday and Sunday headliners, Desertfest 2019 is shaping up to be another hit of the best stoner, doom, sludge and psych on the planet. Don’t miss the annual celebration of the underground in Camden next May Bank Holiday weekend. Book your tickets today.

http://www.desertfest.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/DesertfestLondon
https://www.instagram.com/desertfest_london/
https://twitter.com/DesertFest

Wovenhand, Live at Fire in the Mountains, Jackson, WY, June 30, 2018

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Elephant Tree to Enter Studio Jan. 5

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Once upon a whenever it was, a certain Elephant Tree bassist/vocalist — one Peter Holland — bestowed on my unworthy head what I think is one of the highest compliments an Englishman can give an American when he said, “You understand our humour.” And yes, he pronounced the ‘u.’ I therefore feel justified at the chuckle I got in reading the line in their gonna-make-a-new-album announcement below that notes it’ll be “that same old Elephant Tree magic but this time imagine it different.” And oh, by the way, they’re a four-piece now. Good fun.

Actually, they’ve been playing as a four-piece here and there for a while now, and they recorded their 2014 first EP, Theia (review here) as one before paring down to a trio for 2016’s triumphant self-titled debut full-length (review here), but I guess bringing John Slattery into the studio makes that more or less official. Riley MacIntyre, who was the fourth on that EP and worked on the LP alongside the aforementioned Holland, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley and drummer Sam Hart, will once again be at the helm as producer. If it ain’t broke.

And indeed, it ain’t. After the self-titled, an initial US incursion at Psycho Las Vegas in 2017, slated involvement in the forthcoming Planet of Doom animated film project, and multiple European tours including an extensive one this Fall with Mothership and Stoned Jesus, it seems to me momentum is well on Elephant Tree‘s side heading into their second record, and while I rarely say this kind of thing, in light of the fact that they’re looking for a new label, I fail to see what would stop someone like Napalm Records from picking them up. Releasing through Magnetic Eye again would be great, but if they’re looking for a new outlet, fine. They’ve proven themselves on stage and in the studio. Their social media and promotional presence is dead-on. They tour hard, and they’ve found a sound that is distinct in its personality and execution while remaining rooted in automatically familiar song structures and genre tropes bent to their will. They’re poised in the next couple years to stand as forerunners of the next generation of London’s heavy scene. What more would a record label want in a prospective band?

My A&R musings aside, it’s safe to say Elephant Tree‘s sophomore outing is high on my list of most anticipated records for 2019. From the couple songs I was fortunate enough to see live in October at Høstsabbat (review here), only more so.

They play their last live show of the year this weekend in Manchester. Info on that and their recording announcement follow:

elephant tree studio

AN IRISHMAN, A CANADIAN AND THREE ENGLISHMEN WALK INTO A STUDIO….

SHOCK HORROR; ELEPHANT TREE MEMBERS TO SPEND MORE TIME INDOORS!

That’s right. It’s finally time for us to announce that we have finally committed to ink our intention to enter the studio once again.

Starting 5th of January we will be headed back into the dark depths of the studio to work on our as-yet-unnamed album. With practices in full swing, and songs coming together like a quality macaroni cheese pie, there will soon be a thunderous call from over the horizon. We are still looking for an avenue of release as of yet and haven’t confirmed anything on that front (despite what the rumour mill may churn out…) and can’t offer up any scope of a release date yet, but we are open to all offers!

Returning to produce melody out of madness, Riley MacIntyre is back in the saddle. Not satisfied with having only two nationalities, John Slattery will be tackling Synths and extra guitar duties, as the latest addition to the line-up. Expect more of that same old Elephant Tree magic but this time imagine it different…

We’ll be posting regular updates from writing all the way through to mastering so keep an eye out for any official news here, more of which to follow tomorrow…!

Elephant Tree live:
Nov. 25 Sophie Lancaster Festival Manchester UK
https://www.facebook.com/events/986976281494183/

https://www.facebook.com/elephanttreeband
https://twitter.com/ElephantTreee
http://instagram.com/elephant_tree_band
https://elephanttree.band

Elephant Tree, “Dawn” live at Blue Moon Festival, Nov. 2017

Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree (2016)

Tags: , , ,

Live Review: Høstsabbat 2018 Night Two in Oslo, Norway, 10.06.18

Posted in Reviews on October 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

hostsabbat 2018 poster

I knew this was going to be a quick trip, but now that I’m sitting on the other end of Høstsabbat 2018 it feels even quicker than it did on paper. Today was — church pun totally intended — little short of immaculate. It picked up from the energy and personality of yesterday’s show and directed the personalities of each stage in a different way. Upstairs on the altar, it was rock and psych for most of the night, while downstairs in the Crypt, it dug deep into post-metal. Then, for the final two acts, they pulled a total swap. Just when you think you’ve caught the pattern: no dice.

Slept hard after posting that last review and stopped at the organic market on my way back to the Kulturkirken Jakob and picked up a little natural-rubber frog for The Pecan back home, then hit the venue to check in. I should note: Coffee was had. In bulk. I didn’t count cups, but I wouldn’t have been able to keep track anyhow. I know I put down two or three before Taiga Woods were finished opening the day in the basement, and I stopped in for more several times along the way after that. Big quality of life improvement.

I’m not sure how else to say it — today was a special day. I am not young, and I have been to many shows in my time. That’s not bragging; I’ve by no means seen the most shows. But I’ve seen a few. And a day like this doesn’t come along all that often. I know already I’ll be looking back on my time here fondly. I haven’t even left the hotel to go to the airport yet, and frankly I’m already feeling nostalgic.

Thank you for reading. This is how it went:

hostsabbat art

Taiga Woods

Taiga Woods (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Rockin’ start to the proceedings. Oslo’s own Taiga Woods tapped into a traditional style of desert heavy, showing shades of Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age early on, but working their way toward their own identity in style and presence. Most of what they played came from their 2017 self-titled debut, though it’s worth noting that it would seem guitarist/vocalist Erik Skundberg has undergone a total revamp of the band in the 13 months since that LP was released, bringing on board drummer Jonatan Eikum as well as guitarist Jøran Normann, who played upstairs yesterday as a member of Lonely Kamel, and bassist Ole Ulvik Rokseth, who opened the Crypt yesterday as part of SÂVER. Familiar faces or no, that’s not a minor change when it’s three-fourths of the lineup. But as refreshing as it was to see an act get down to the ’90s roots of modern-style heavy rock, they lacked nothing for chemistry between them, and the new song “Step Up” fit well ahead the catchy “Slow Burning” as they made their way toward finishing with “The Great Machine.” I didn’t see CDs for sale, which only says to me they’re ready for someone to step up and put that record out either before or in conjunction with a new one to come.

Elephant Tree

Elephant Tree (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Maybe once — maybe — at a festival like this, I’ll see something that makes me pull the plugs out of my ears. Elephant Tree were that band at Høstsabbat. Kind of hard not to feel like the universe was doing me favors, lining up them, Asteroid and Electric Moon one into the next on the upstairs stage. The London three-piece were freshly arrived off a tour with Mothership and Stoned Jesus, and they sounded like it. I was lucky enough to see them in their hometown this past May (review here), and of course the context was different them play on an actual church altar in a room with a ceiling at least three stories high, but even so, they were locked in like a band who’ve been touring, and while they were joking around and guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley and bassist/vocalist Peter Holland were ragging on drummer Sam Hart for forgetting to get a beer before they took stage — someone brought him one — they were utterly locked in through “Dawn,” “Surma” and “Aphotic Blues” from their 2016 self-titled debut (review here). The harmonies between Townley and Holland were dead on, and they only showed progression in that regard with two new songs that carried the tentative titles “Wasted” and “Bella” before they closed out with a slowed-down cover of Black Sabbath‘s “Paranoid.” Because of the tempo, I actually thought they might dip into the Type O Negative version, but they ultimately stayed loyal at least in structure to the original. To call them a highlight of the trip would be underselling it viciously. A blast all the way through. They played Psycho Las Vegas last year, but I hope their next album brings them to the US for a full tour. They sounded ready and well up to the task.

Dwaal

Dwaal (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I knew nothing about Dwaal going into their set, and sometimes I like that. Also based in Oslo, they packed their five-piece lineup into the basement stage such that bassist Stian spent a decent portion of the set playing at least half behind a concrete support pillar. Metal. Actually, post-metal, and sludge, and doom, but fittingly atmospheric for an evening that would be headlined by Amenra. Their debut EP, Darben, came out last year comprised of two extended cuts — I’d call it a full-length since it topped 30 minutes, but why argue? — and they’ve reportedly got an album in the works, and while I don’t know if the bulk of what they played was new or older, their aggression and their level of crushing riffing were obviously a far cry from both Elephant Tree and Taiga Woods, but they marked the beginning point of a second thread running throughout the evening, which comprised more ambient and aggro post-whatnottery in contrast to the more rock-minded or psychedelic fare. Either way, the room knew them more than I did and they had heads banging and nodding in front of the “stage” — that’s not to say “the spot on the floor where the rug was” — and on the side as well, which was closed yesterday and opened today presumably to accommodate a broader flux of attendees. It was full for Dwaal, and reasonably so.

Asteroid

Asteroid (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Such boogie. Such warmth. I mean, come on. All other things in the universe being equal — especially money — the chance to see Asteroid alone would’ve justified this trip. I made my way up early to the Chapel stage, to make sure I got a spot up front to see them, and was rewarded with a set that gracefully spanned all three of their albums to-date and found them jamming out psychedelic heavy blues with a naturalism that was present not only in the individual tones and voices of guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse and bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson, or the swing and shuffle in Jimmi Kohlscheen‘s drumming, but in the sonic conversation between the the three of them. That might be the most classic aspect of the Örebro trio’s sound, and it’s something that comes across on their records as well — their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here), 2010’s II (review here) and 2016’s return from hiatus, III (review here) — but of course, to see it in the moment as it’s happening, to see them make the easy shift between “Garden” and “Disappear” or to have them turn to the riffy “Speaking to the Sea” from the first album ahead of “Mr. Strange” from the latest one, it was all the more powerful of an impression made. I hear tell there’s new material in the works; songs coming together for the next record and plans to tour ahead of hitting the studio. As Asteroid have been off and on the better part of the last five years, it only bodes well to know they’re thinking ahead for good things to come. They only make the world a better place for existing, and the more they do that, the merrier.

The Moth Gatherer

The Moth Gatherer (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Back downstairs for more post-metallic volume assault. Sweden’s The Moth Gatherer in some ways picked up where Dwaal left off, but traded in some of the rawness of their Crypt-stage predecessors for an even-more atmospheric take. They had an EP out last year called The Comfortable Low, but their latest full-length was 2015’s The Earth is the Sky (review here), and their more post-rock-based style sat well with the crowd downstairs that was packed to capacity with a line outside waiting to get in as other people made their way out. A very thoughtful, progressive sound nonetheless had its share of claustrophobia, which was all the more fitting given the basement where they played, and watching them, it was evident just how righteously Høstsabbat had managed to capture not just a “club show” experience with its smaller stage, but more like a house show. To low light and periodically bludgeoning intensity, The Moth Gatherer filled that Crypt with sound as much as people, and they were a band I’d probably never have the chance to see anywhere else, so I felt all the more fortunate for the chance to do so here, in that small room where the walls seemed so ready to cave in at a moment’s notice. The thread that started with Dwaal and continued with The Moth Gatherer would pick up again with Amenra at the end, but there was still more rock to be had first.

Electric Moon

Electric Moon (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Before the German instrumentalist space/psych jammers got started, they shared a hug on the side of the stage, and then guitarist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt got on mic and wished everyone a pleasant flight. With the core trio of the band made all the more lush owing to guest synth from Burt Rocket (SEID) at the center of the stage, that trip took off quickly and didn’t bother to look back at ground below. Schmidt and bassist/sometimes-vocalist “Komet Lulu” Neudeck were rejoined by original drummer Pablo Carneval about a year ago, and their adventures only seemed to take them farther and farther out as their set went on, washes of guitar and synth floating up to the high ceiling while the bass and drums held together a fluidity of groove that showed the band for the masters of the form — such as it is a “form” with a sound so utterly molten — that they are. I’ve been lucky enough to catch them at Roadburn in years past (review here) and with their members in various projects, as the band’s pedigree runs through acts like Zone Six and WeltraumstaunenKrautzone, etc., but to see Electric Moon on stage is something unto itself. They’re never overly showy in terms of thrashing about or anything, but the experience of their sonic exploration comes through vividly as they play, and that suits the laid back feel of the resultant material itself perfectly. They did not in any way fail to invite the audience along on what indeed turned out to be a pleasurable, radiant-in-the-sense-of-light journey.

Brutus

Brutus (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I did not see nearly enough of Brutus. They were killer, and they were killing, and I did not see nearly enough of them doing it. To be fair to myself, I’d probably say the same if I’d managed to watch their full set, but the Norwegian traditionalist heavy rockers headlined in the Crypt, and they had the basement of Kulturkirken Jakob so jammed with bodies that for the first time in the whole weekend, I felt the press of the crowd almost knock me over up front. And even if I do at some point in my life get to see Brutus again, chances are, it won’t be in the kind of situation where I’m in danger of tripping over the stage monitors on the floor because of the push of people behind me, so I relished the opportunity while I could. And Brutus — clearly hometown heroes of boozy riff-purveyance — were a thrill to behold in that headlining spot. They could’ve played upstairs easily, I’m sure, but despite their sonic discrepancy with The Moth Gatherer and Dwall directly before, they made that basement into a party all the way, and while I knew that in just a little while, Amenra were going to close out the festival on a much darker note, the chance to see Brutus play, and to play in a place that small, wasn’t to be overlooked. I didn’t see enough of it, but I’m grateful for what I did catch, because that’s not an opportunity that will come along often, if it ever does again at all.

Amenra

Amenra (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The Belgian post-metal kingpins have toured the US more than a couple of times at this point, I believe most recently as support for the wallop duo of Neurosis and Converge — their also on the former’s label, Neurot Recordings — but I’m still not sure America really appreciates just how huge Amenra are in Europe. They’re gods here. I knew that from seeing them at Roadburn in 2016, but the intervening years have only seen them all the more don a headliner role. They would seem to have taken the post-metal crown that once belonged to Cult of Luna, and while I’ll admit I could in no way match my fellow fest-goers’ sense of worship when it came time for them to go on, there’s absolutely nothing one can take away either from their intensity or their obvious dedication to how they present themselves. I don’t know if it would be possible to find a more fitting locale for Amenra to play than in a church with cathedral ceilings of height enough for their projections to be shown massively to the assembled congregation, but even if you discount all of that, and ignore the we-play-in-the-dark-until-the-strobes-hit lighting and the fact that frontman Colin H. van Eeckhout doesn’t face the audience until the last song, if then, they’re still a formidable presence live, and there would’ve been nowhere else to put them on the Høstsabbat bill if they weren’t at the top of it. I’m not 100 percent sure I’m ready to call myself a full-on convert to the “church of ra,” as they put it, but I definitely didn’t have any trouble seeing the appeal of their dogma. And I reserve the right to become a total fanboy at some later date.

I left out of Kulturkirken Jakob into the chilly Oslo air without my hoodie on. Just wanted to feel that cold as it was rather than shy away from it. Something about the sensory experience on my bare neck and forearms seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s coming up on three in the morning CET and my flight is at nine-something, so I won’t get to see a lot of the city on this trip. Maybe that was my way of taking as much of it in as I could.

When I got back around the block to the Anker Hotel, I messaged Johannes from Asteroid. We had talked earlier in the day about doing an interview for “The Obelisk Show” on Gimme Radio, and it didn’t happen at the venue, but I thought if they were around the hotel maybe it could work. Was worth a shot, anyhow. Robin was asleep, but I chatted in the hotel bar with Johannes and Jimmi, and that was a blast. I spoke with Elephant Tree earlier in the day as well, and with Ole Helstad and Jens Storaker, who run the fest, so I think I’ll probably just dedicate a whole episode to having been here. I think I have a few weeks before I get there, but I’ll keep you posted.

I haven’t sorted any pics yet from tonight, so need to do that, but I’m not sleepy yet, so hopefully my brain won’t come crashing down before I have to leave for the airport. Help me, last tiny drops of adrenaline.

My eyelids are getting heavy just thinking about it.

I can’t possibly thank you enough for reading if you have.

Thank you.

Thank you so much to Jens and to Ole for having me back here. Thank you to The Patient Mrs. and to Cate Wright for taking on my Pecan duties in my absence. Thank you to my mother and my sister for their undying support. My only hope is they know how grateful I am for it. Thanks to Falk-Hagen Bernshausen for always being so great to run into at fests, to Andrea who I met here, to Kai, who is an institution unto himself, to Pete, Jack and Sam from Elephant Tree, to Robin, Johannes and Jimmi from Asteroid, to Sula Bassana, Martin from Domkraft, Jens Heide, Lex and everyone else I spoke to over the last two days who said hi. It’s hugely appreciated and humbling. People say nice things. It feels good. Thank you.

Alright. On to photos, and then to shower, and then to airport. I doubt I’ll have it in me to post again before I’m back home, and don’t look for much on Monday, but really, one more time, thank you. So much. I don’t even get it, how lucky I am. My soul feels restored for having been here.

Thank you for that.

Pics after the jump.

Read more »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Live Review: Elephant Tree, Morag Tong and Wychhound in London, UK, 05.16.18

Posted in Reviews on May 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Elephant Tree (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The kind of evening to vibrate the plugs in your ears. I’m loath to do this, but there’s a lot of context to this one that needs quick covering, so here are a few bullet points so we’re all on the same page:

  • I’m in London with my wife who is a college professor leading a study abroad trip for students. The baby and I got to tag along. Good deal.
  • While in Canterbury, the house where we were staying was burgled overnight. Among the stolen: My laptop, my camera, my glorious cosmic backpack. Sucked. Years of writing and music, gone. No backups (I know, I know…). Patient Mrs., Pecan and self fine though, so could’ve been worse.
  • One of my wife’s students very generously let me borrow her camera and take it to The Black Heart in Camden Town to shoot Morag Tong‘s release show with Elephant Tree and Wychhound on the bill.
  • I took my first Uber to get there. You don’t actually need to know that, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.

I met guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley and drummer Sam Hart from Elephant Tree outside The Black Heart before I even got through the door and was warmly greeted. All the more appreciated after a long day. A week after Desertfest London, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of crowd — people could be fired up just as easily as burnt out — but it was for sure the former inside; already packed and the show, which would happen upstairs in the venue itself as opposed to the downstairs bar, hadn’t even started.

It had been half a decade since the last time I was fortunate enough to be in The Black Heart. The upstairs bar had moved from the back to the side of the venue, but beyond that, not much had changed. Downstairs was much the same as I remembered, with the big bar in the center and tables and enclaves off to the sides, a place one could both get rowdy or have a quiet conversation. Outside, people smoked like fiends. Inside, I found Elephant Tree bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, also formerly of Stubb and Trippy Wicked, old friend Chris West of an ever-increasing number of bands, among them the newly formed Glanville, whose EPK was on my stolen laptop, and met a woman Jack introduced as Sister Rainbow, who had the hair to match and for whom this would mark her 36th Elephant Tree show. Being my first, I told her she had me beat by a wide margin.

Soon enough after, things got started upstairs with Wychhound on first. The Londoners have been around a few years, and have a new EP out called Earth Orbiter following up their 2015 self-titled, which they tracked as a five-piece with vocals. Instrumental now, they made good use of the dynamic between Roberto Pini and Miles McDonald on guitar in setting the foundation for their sound, which was someplace between Kyuss-style desert worship and the heavier explorations of Pelican with shades of Russian Circles-esque post-heavy in some of its more daring moments. Bassist Neil Neighbour and drummer Sid Naghdi provided a foundation of weighted groove and allowed the guitars space to wander when they were so inclined, and some of the most effective moments came in combining forward drive with that emergent sense of space.

Even in this age of immediate access, sometimes it’s nice to go in blind — plus I, admittedly, had a pretty busy day — so I hadn’t gotten to check Wychhound out before, but their atmospherics on a piece like “Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL-9)” were readily apparent and still left room for rawer, head-down riffing in the material surrounding. It was enough to make me visit their Bandcamp and snag a download, which I guess was the idea in the first place. Some growing to do, perhaps, as they continue to come into their own sound, but they were a right on way to start the night and full enough in tone that, yes, I had to keep adjusting my right earplug because the low end was making it vibrate.

Speaking of tone, fucking Elephant Tree. Their self-titled debut (review here) on Magnetic Eye was easily one of the best records of 2016, and especially after missing them last year at Psycho Las Vegas, as soon as I found out they were playing while I’d be in town, I knew I had to see them. The three-piece did not disappoint, and that wasn’t a surprise. That is, I knew they’d be good. I’d seen videos and was of course familiar with the album and all that. I knew they’d be good. What I didn’t expect was that they’d be so much fun.

Peter Holland is at very least two things, and I say them both with utter affection and zero sarcasm. He is among the most charming drunks I’ve ever encountered, and he is insanely talented. At this point I’ve seen him play in three different bands and he’s never failed to make a mark in each of them in terms of sound. His voice is immediately recognizable, his smile infectious and his style of play was as perfect a match for Townley‘s guitar on stage as it had been on the record. Also, he broke a string before they went on. They still started more or less on time, laughing and making fun of each other in the process. Then, in the first song, Hart‘s drum stool busted. Hardly missed a beat, kept playing, and fixed it before they started the next cut. Later on, one of Townley‘s pedals got stuck on and he couldn’t turn it off, making a kind of wash of low end psychedelic waves out of a verse riff in the process. No fucking complaints there.

The point is there was no stopping Elephant Tree from rolling out their massive nod. And when I say massive, I don’t just mean it sounded big, but it sounded like it had a physical presence. Tone you could chew like gum. Between the laid back groove and the laid back vibe and the lady in the crowd making seal noises — no, it wasn’t Sister Rainbow; she was down the front rocking out as only someone on their 36th show with a band could hope to do — it was impossible not to have a good time, so I put my borrowed camera down and did exactly that for a little bit. Just let it go and enjoyed myself, and whether it was the evening’s highlight “Aphotic Blues” or the album closer “Surma” or “Dawn” — which was precisely as built for a sing-along as it seems, with Townley and Holland sharing vocals — I had no regrets. Townley brought a frontman presence to the guitar/vocal spot and though there were times when the bass threatened to swallow everything in its path, his solos cut through and gave the whole thing an entirely new sense of space. What a blast.

By way of plainly stating the obvious, they were my highlight, but Morag Tong were still to go, playing cuts from their Last Knell of Om debut full-length, which is officially out tomorrow, May 18. I’d been lucky enough to hear the album prior to seeing them — it, too, was on the desktop of my stolen laptop, and I believe slated for the next Quarterly Review, though of course I can’t be sure of that because my notes… well, you get the idea — and knew a bit of what was coming. They started out with guitarists Alex Clarke and Lewis Crane both on e-bow guitar (dueling e-bows!) and would go on to play the complete album, swapping the order to finish with “To Soil” and letting drummer Adam Asquith initially bide his time before unleashing his growling vocal between “Transmission” and “New Growth.” Equal parts psychedelic and doom, they were clearly proud of the work they’d done — and rightly so — and hypnotic in their presentation enough even on stage to give a sense of the underlying element of drone on the record.

Back into the (new) notes they go for the next Quarterly Review. Swapping out the saturated red light for a cooler-toned blue, they were a fitting end to a day that had started as a huge bummer some 17 hours earlier and had a massive turnaround in spirit and mood — more on that later. As they lurched out their meditative immersion, I made my way back downstairs to say a few quick goodnights and Uber myself back to Maida Vale, having had a night so satisfying that I almost forgot about the events of the morning prior. A night of volume and heart in kind, and the kind of night that I was so glad to be a part of that I’m still wearing The Black Heart‘s paper wristband on my right arm. And I hate those damn things.

Thanks for reading.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Stoned Jesus, Mothership & Elephant Tree Announce September Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Holy rat farts that’s a good tour. You’ve got Stoned Jesus, fresh off a year celebrating their 2012 sophomore album Seven Thunders Roar and itching to promote their new album, teaming up with Texas’ Mothership, who by then should be road-testing new material for their next record, and Elephant Tree, who’ll have a new album in the hopper if not already out by the time the tour starts. Three absolutely killer bands, all fired up and ready to bring their best to the assembled masses. It’s an easy one to get excited about, you know, if you like things that are awesome.

The run is presented by Sound of Liberation, who in addition to umpteen festivals throughout the Spring and Fall seasons, specialize in precisely this kind of righteousness. Still, I didn’t see this one coming.

It was announced thusly:

stoned jesus mothership elephant tree tour

We are thrilled to unveil today the dates for an incredible 3-band package taking over European clubs in September!

Featuring the Ukrainian much-loved trio Stoned Jesus (working on a new album to be released by Napalm Records in September), along with Texas live-beasts Mothership (who will promote their last-year highly-acclaimed album “High Strangeness”) and Uk-based doom-explorers Elephant Tree (also sharping up some new tunes for an upcoming album), we believe this bill has the potential to rock your nights!

This will happen from September 13th to 29th in the best European dens. Get in touch with your local rock dealer to get your ticket quick!

13.09.18 | DE | Wiesbaden | Schlachthof
14.09.18 | DE | Stuttgart | JH Hallschlag
15.09.18 | CH | Pratteln | Z7 (Up In Smoke Warm-Up)
16.09.18 | CH | TBA
17.09.18 | DE | Munich | Feierwerk
18.09.18 | AT | Graz | PPC
19.09.18 | AT | Vienna | Arena
20.09.18 | DE | Leipzig | Werk 2
21.09.18 | DE | Berlin | Bi Nuu
22.09.18 | NL | Nijmegen | Doornroosje
23.09.18 | NL | Amsterdam | Melkweg
24.09.18 | DE | Cologne | Helios 37
25.09.18 | DE | Bielefeld | Forum
26.09.18 | DE | Brussels | Magasin 4
27.09.18 | FR | Paris | Petit Bain
28.09.18 | UK | London | The Garage
29.09.18 | UK | Sheffield | Doom vs Stoner Fest*
(* Stoned Jesus & Elephant Tree only)

www.soundofliberation.com
https://www.facebook.com/Soundofliberation/
https://twitter.com/sol_ug

Stoned Jesus, “I’m the Mountain” live in 2017

Tags: , , , , , ,

Keep it Low 2017: Colour Haze, Belzebong, The Necromancers and A Great River in the Sky Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

keep it low 2017 banner

I was kind of wondering if the Munich-based Keep it Low festival would add Colour Haze for Keep it Low 2017. The long-running German heavy psych progenitors have played multiple editions of the event and have kind of become a staple of the lineup, so to see them added as they support their new album, In Her Garden (review here), is definitely cool. Joining them in this round of adds are BelzebongThe Necromancers and A Great River in the Sky, and on a bill with Saint VitusBrant BjorkRadio MoscowMars Red SkyConanUfomammutStoned JesusMonolordMos Generator and so on — the list is fucking wild — they only make it stronger and richer.

Of all the Fall fests in Europe — there are many and I won’t take away from what any of them are doing — Keep it Low has been the one I’ve most wanted to see over the past few years. It’s grown into what really seems like a unique vibe between its stages, skatepark, biergarten, and so on, and though they’re promising heavier acts this year and delivering that already with the likes of Ufomammut and Vitus and Conan, etc. — see also Belzebong here — there’s still plenty of heavy psych and rock and roll to be had, and that blend, as we all know, is what it’s all about. Anyway, it looks awesome. It won’t be this year, but I’ll get there one of these days.

It’s presented, of course, by Sound of Liberation, who updated the lineup thusly:

keep-it-low-2017-new-poster

Keepers,
Today we have 4 new band announcements for Keep It Low Festival 2017! We’re happy to present you:

Colour Haze
BelzebonG
The Necromancers
A Great River In The Sky

It has become a kind of tradition that mighty Colour Haze headline Keep It Low’s Friday, so never change a winning team!

Get your 3-day tickets here: http://bit.ly/2lr4hzH and….keep it low!

Line Up:
BRANT BJORK (with Special Guest Sean Wheeler) | SAINT VITUS | RADIO MOSCOW | MARS RED SKY | UFOMAMMUT | STONED JESUS | CONAN | MONOLORD | NAXATRAS | HOUSE OF BROKEN PROMISES | BEASTMAKER | MOS GENERATOR | USNEA | ELEPHANT TREE | KALEIDOBOLT | MOUNT HUSH | GODSGROUND
+ many more TBA

Limited 3-day tickets available!

October 20 | 21 | 22 2017
Feierwerk München

After an amazing and once again sold out edition in 2016 you can expect 3 days, 27-30 bands, amazing people and good vibes at Keep It Low 2017! For the very first time we will have the “Doom-Frühschoppen” with some HEAVY bands on the last day of the Festival.

https://www.facebook.com/events/201489380309269/
https://www.facebook.com/keepitlowfestival/

Colour Haze, In Her Garden (2017)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,