The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2015

Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2015 by JJ Koczan

top 30 albums of 2015 1

Please note: This list is not culled in any way from the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2015 to that, please do.

It’s damn near impossible to start one of these posts without some derivation of, “Whew! What a year it’s been!” The truth is that, since 2014, I’ve been keeping a list of the best releases of 2015, and the list has just grown and grown and grown over the last 12 months. Could have been a top 40, easy. Could have been a top 50, 60, whatever. It was complete inundation.

If you’ve been checking in on any of the lists that have gone up so far, you might notice that some of these records have appeared elsewhere, and possibly in a different order. How does an album end up ahead of another on one list and not on another? Different criteria. Different basis of judgment. As always, the big year-end list (this one) is derived both from what I think are the most important offerings of the year plus what I listened to the most, because while I believe deeply in the critical value of a given work, I also believe there’s value in the kind of record you just can’t put down.

Basically, I believe records have value. Stay tuned for more daring adventures in understatement.

A few emergent factors for 2015 to note: The increasing expansion of subgenres. Psychedelia and what I’ve come to call the heavy ’10s sound finding further root as prominent styles of the day, as well as a budding of emotive doom in the post-Pallbearer vein. At the same time, a more straightforward heavy rock is also making a return, and look for that to continue as new listeners discover past landmarks and modern plays thereupon. Everything is cyclical, and I’m interested to see what the next two or three years bring, both as Millennials hit 30 (and beyond) and as younger kids come up and fuzz out.

But that’s a conversation for a different time, and before we get there, it’s time to take a look back at the best full-lengths of 2015. I hope if I’ve left something out, you’ll let me know about it in the comments, but until then, here we go:

30. High on Fire, Luminiferous

high on fire luminiferous

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed June 15.

Going by some of the results I’ve seen from the Readers Poll, I’m guessing there will be some disagreement on the placement of High on Fire‘s seventh full-length, third for eOne and second to be produced by Kurt Ballou behind 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), but for me it came down to what I went back to more. The brilliant “The Falconist” would be enough on its own for Luminiferous to be included on this list, and taken as a whole, the record affirmed the trio as pivotal heavy metal marauders, an act whose devastation is undulled by the wear they’ve put on it touring the world over and again.

29. CHRCH, Unanswered Hymns

chrch unanswered hymns

Released by Battleground Records. Reviewed June 30.

Undaunted by a name change from Church to CHRCH, the Sacramento five-piece unleashed rare doom extremity on their debut album, but peppered that with a stylistic nuance that many in the pummel-pummel-pummel game cast off, whether it was psychedelic flourish in the guitar or some eerie atmospheric. Among the post potential-filled debut offerings of the year, that’s not a guarantee they’ll find future success on the same level, but it does mean that if you didn’t hear the 19-minute “Dawning,” you missed out.

28. Golden Void, Berkana

golden void berkana

Released by Thrill Jockey Records. Reviewed Sept. 22.

Coherent bliss. The second full-length from the four-piece Golden Void was a logical step forward from the band’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), but that was precisely what it needed to be. With an emerging dynamic of dual vocals between guitarist Isaiah Mitchell (also Earthless) and keyboardist Camilla Saufley-Mitchell on cuts like “Astral Plane” and “Silent Season,” Berkana was less adherent to space rock overall than its predecessor, but gave a more individualized take and was all the richer for it.

27. Stoned Jesus, The Harvest

stoned jesus the harvest

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Probably should have a higher number. Part of the enduring appeal for The Harvest for me is not only how Ukrainian three-piece Stoned Jesus so absolutely pushed back from the album before it, 2012’s sophomore outing, Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but how much reasoning they put behind the moves they made on the six included tracks. Each song had its purpose and place in the overarching flow, and The Harvest continues to deliver something new on thoroughly-earned repeat listens. Perhaps most encouraging of all, I have no idea what they’ll do next.

26. Graveyard, Innocence and Decadence

graveyard innocence and decadence

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 7.

Swedish retro forerunners are hands-down one of the most influential European heavy rock acts of their generation. The ’70s revivalism they helped spearhead on their first, second and third LPs has given them rich ground to develop, and they still managed to bring something new to their sound with the soulfulness of Innocence and Decadence, as well as increasing command and diversity in the vocals. Drummer Axel Sjöberg turned in a career performance, and although there are heaps upon heaps of bands out there indulging in post-Graveyard boogie, they showed once again that they’re able to stand both out from the crowd and well above it. Plus, any swing-rocking album that dares to break out soul-singer backing vocals and blastbeats, and pull both off without blinking deserves respect, no matter what else it might have going on.

25. Death Hawks, Sun Future Moon

death hawks sun future moon

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Nov. 3

It felt so good to put on Death HawksSun Future Moon for the first time and be completely blindsided by its serene psychedelic ritualizing. The Finnish four-piece reveled in classic progressive methods, and where it would’ve been so easy for songs like “Hey Ya Sun Ra” or “Dream Life, Waking Life” to come across as pretentious, the naturalism in the recording gave the band’s third album such a liquefied flow that it was impossible not to be swept up by it until, at last, “Friend of Joy” launched into and beyond a peaceful stratosphere in spaced-out ambience. My first exposure to the group and their first outing for Svart, it’s a record so textural and so graceful that it seems to unfurl itself more each time through.

24. Spidergawd, II

spidergawd ii

Released by Stickman Records and Crispin Glover Records. Reviewed Jan. 5.

A quick and strong turnaround from this Norwegian sax-inclusive foursome, who might seem to come out of nowhere were it not for the pedigree of Kenneth Kapstad and Bent Sæther in long-running progressives Motorpsycho. Together with Per Borten and Rolf Martin Snustad, Spidergawd spoke to more primal rock instincts — their two LPs to-date and soon to be three are testaments to the ability of music to move, to shove, and to shake; or as they put it, “Get Physical” — but as there is breadth as well, as the psychedelic “Caereulean Caribou” demonstrated. Anchored by the hook of “Fixing to Die Blues,” Spidergawd‘s second wandered far and wide, but welcomed listeners along for each step of the journey.

23. The Midnight Ghost Train, Cold was the Ground

the midnight ghost train cold was the ground

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 26.

As the title promised, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s third offering and Napalm Records debut delivered harsh truths. They came at breakneck speed and delivered with stage-hewn chemistry by the Midwestern power trio, whose years of road-dogging were brought to bear in the gruff, gravel-throated voice of guitarist Steve Moss, who led drummer Brandon Burghart and newcomer bassist Mike Boyne across nigh-unparalled riff torrents, with all the boogie of any number of ’70s-style sidewinders, but also with a tonal thickness that seemed a miracle it could move at all. Not without its adventurous side in the quieter “The Little Sparrow,” Cold was the Ground brimmed with intensity that brought the band to new levels in every conceivable fashion.

22. Leeches of Lore, Motel of Infinity

leeches of lore motel of infinity

Released by Lorchestral Recording Company. Reviewed Sept. 15.

Blessed art the weirdos, whose records might be few and far between, who might not tour, but whose bold fits and starts span genres easily and whose work truly stands alone. Leeches of Lore‘s Toshi Kasai-produced Motel of Infinity was a godsend in the enduring battle against normality. It was a grinding, grooving anti-punk stampede, at times frenetic and at other times whatever the opposite of frenetic is, and to-date, it’s the Albuquirky outit’s masterpiece, from the low-end buzzsaw, gang-shout and falsetto of “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” through the bass and organ bounce of “Noah’s Soul (is Burning).” They have been and still are a band unto themselves, and the we-do-this-every-day confidence of their execution across Motel of Infinity‘s run only emphasizes how utterly necessary they are.

21. With the Dead, With the Dead

with the dead self titled

Released by Rise Above Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

With the Dead vocalist Lee Dorrian (also head of Rise Above Records, also ex-Cathedral) basically laid it all out there in the interview here when he said, “We wanted to make the most skull-crushing record we possibly could.” That’s precisely what With the Dead‘s self-titled debut is. It’s as heavy as possible, as filthy as possible, all the way through. In some ways very much the sum of its elements with Dorrian on vocals, Tim Bagshaw on guitar/bass and Mark Greening on drums (both ex-Ramesses), it was also of course more than just that, and while so much of their story has yet to be told as they move into their initial live appearances in 2016, their opening salvo was nothing if not as destructive as its intent.

20. Clutch, Psychic Warfare

clutch psychic warfare

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Oct. 6.

How could anyone possibly have even remotely reasonable expectations for a Clutch record after 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here). I won’t say the Maryland stalwarts didn’t deliver with Psychic Warfare, and I doubt any fan of the band who’s dug into “X-Ray Visions,” “A Quick Death in Texas” or “Noble Savage” would, but their returning to producer Machine for the second time in a row made it almost too easy to compare Clutch‘s 10th and 11th long-players. Four years between albums was shortened to just two, and that may have had something to do with it as well, but while the songs were there and I’ve no doubt that Psychic Warfare will endure over the long term — ask me sometime how long it took me to get into Pure Rock Fury — in the moment of its release, Psychic Warfare seemed to stand in the shadow of its predecessor rather than in its own light.

19. Mondo Drag, Mondo Drag

mondo drag self-titled

Released by Kozmik Artifactz and RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Jan. 8.

An awaited return for Midwestern-turned-West-Coast psychedelic rockers Mondo Drag, their self-titled sophomore outing had three years between its recording and release, and was made in 2012 with a shortlived incarnation of the band with bassist Zack Anderson and drummer Cory Berry, both formerly of Radio Moscow and then-soon to be of Blues Pills. Unsurprisingly, the grooves were tight, but even better, Mondo Drag blew past the peaceful headtrippery of their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), toward more expansive and proggy fare. They’ll look to continue that thread on their third outing, The Occultation of Light, in 2016, but the self-titled captured a special moment worthy of celebration, still rife with the classic-minded ethereal spirit of the first outing, but clearly bent on defining its own sonic dogma in hooks and synthy vibes.

18. Lamp of the Universe, The Inner Light of Revelation

lamp of the universe the inner light of revelation

Released by Clostridium Records and Astral Projection. Reviewed April 27.

At the risk of sounding biased, just about any new release from New Zealand tantric psych outfit Lamp of the Universe is going to be welcome by me. Comprised solely of Craig Williamson (also Arc of Ascent), the long-running project nonetheless casts out gorgeously textured meditative psychedelia, at times delving into drone or Eastern folk, but always marking out its own sonic space, whether in the more rock-minded groove of “God of One” or the drumless acoustic swirl of “Ancient Path.” Lamp of the Universe is a rare band — as much as it is a band — that covers a swath of ground stylistically and manages to sound like nothing but itself as it does so, and Williamson‘s commitment to his cosmic mantras remains firm and creatively fertile as the seeds he planted early on continue to bear fruit in complex arrangements that never distract from the central, spiritual purpose of the music.

17. Mammatus, Sparkling Waters

mammatus sparkling waters

Released by Spiritual Pajamas. Reviewed Nov. 9.

Even with its title-track broken into two 20-plus-minute side-consuming halves, it was abundantly plain to hear that Sparkling Waters was the most realized Mammatus outing yet. The four-song, 75-minute offering brimmed with a clarity that even their late-2013 third album, Heady Mental (review here), could only partially claim, leaving behind the fuzz and fog of their earlier work almost entirely while remaining open to employing sonic heft when suitable to their more complex motives. Most effective about Mammatus at this stage was the way they eased into and through varied parts while tying together a coherent whole piece, the builds and cascades of “Sparkling Waters Part One” setting up an expectation of fluidity that held firm even through the more jagged buzz in the early going of closer “Ornia,” the grand finale of which resonates as a cacophony without letting itself actually lose control.

16. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, The Night Creeper

uncle acid the night creeper

Released by Rise Above Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

UK ladykillers Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats have emerged as one of the most essential bands of the ’10s. The Night Creeper is their fourth album and it takes the defining eeriness of their melodies and roughs it up with a mostly-live recording job — something which, now that they’re a touring act, they can do — for their grittiest, dirtiest-sounding offering yet. Songs like “Melody Lane,” “Pusher Man” and opener “Waiting for Blood” speak to what’s let their methodology spread so widely in the first place, the VHS grain of their guitars and vocals resting over classic swing and proliferating maddening hooks with lethal intent. Between the nine-minute gruel of “Slow Death” and the hidden acoustic track “Black Motorcade,” The Night Creeper wasn’t without its element of sonic progress, but with Uncle Acid, it’s still the combination of threat, swing and memorable songwriting that brings listeners back to their dark alleyways for another taste.

15. Death Alley, Black Magick Boogieland

death alley black magick boogieland

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 8.

Easily one of 2015’s most encouraging debuts. Making its opening salvo with the propulsion of Motörhead-derived heavy rock in songs like “Over Under” and “Black Magick Boogieland,” the first outing from Amsterdam-based foursome Death Alley touched on classic ideals without going retro on “Bewildered Eyes,” nodded toward psychedelic melodicism and more patient intentions in “Golden Fields of Love,” and portrayed its punker roots in “Dead Man’s Bones” — all before the 12:40 space rock extravaganza that took hold with closer “Supernatural Predator.” It was a lot of territory to cover, but Death Alley not only made it sound cohesive, they made it rock and they made it a good time. In just about 41 minutes, Black Magick Boogieland was not only a voyage well worth taking, it was a potential-filled, headbang-worthy ripper of an album from an outfit who deserves every bit of attention they seem to be shouting for. Hope they don’t wait long for a follow-up.

14. The Machine, Offblast!

the machine offblast

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed May 28.

Five records in, Dutch trio The Machine have found a niche for themselves between heavy psych rock, desert fuzz and exploratory jamming. Offblast!, with a title that seemed more reminiscent of Europunker speed rock, was as spacious as it was driving, and whether it was the more structured material like “Dry End” or “Coda Sun” or the two extended cuts, 16-minute opener ““Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and 12-minute closer “Come to Light,” their dynamic remained natural and held firm to a spontaneous sensibility, like at any turn, any part might take off for an eight-minute ride to who knows where. That that didn’t always happen only made Offblast! a richer listening experience, its varied ideas coming through consistent tonality to affect a more than satisfying front-to-back flow that toyed with momentum even as it built more and more of it. Was a while in the making, coming three years after 2012’s Calmer than You Are (review here), but easily worth the wait.

13. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth

brothers of the sonic cloth self titled

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed March 3.

There were moments where the self-titled debut from Brothers of the Sonic Cloth was almost too much to take in one sitting. By the time the Tad Doyle-led trio got around to the 11-minute “La Mano Poderosa,” sometimes I felt like I needed a second to catch my breath before diving further, always further, into the smoldering abyss their tones, growls and lurch seemed to create. Six years after their demo (review here) served notice like a tectonic rumble in the distance, the album arrived with comet-into-planet heft, and its oppression was as much about atmosphere as it was sheer aural assault. Imagine an arm reaching down your throat, grabbing your lungs, and forcibly deflating them one at a time. Is that hyperbole? Absolutely, and well earned. Every bit the debut of the year.

12. Kind, Rocket Science

kind rocket science

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Dec. 2.

No, Boston supergroup Kind aren’t so high on this list just because they called a song “Pastrami Blaster.” Granted, that didn’t hurt, but ultimately it was the blend of cavernous psychedelics and heavy rumble that made Rocket Science so infectious. Comprised of vocalist Craig Riggs (Roadsaw), guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, The Scimitar, etc.), bassist Tom Corino (Rozamov) and drummer Matt Couto (Elder), Kind earned immediate interest for their pedigree, but it was more the breadth of jams like “Hordeolum” and “The Angry Undertaker” that defined their first outing, various impulses toward structure and open-endedness not so much pushing against each other as working in tandem to craft something that drew from the best of both mindsets. Obviously these are busy guys, but hopefully Kind doesn’t all by the wayside for other ongoing projects. Rocket Science was unmistakable in its demonstration that they have much to offer.

11. Bloodcow, Crystals and Lasers

bloodcow crystals and lasers

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 4.

Iowa five-piece Bloodcow hadn’t put out a record since 2007’s Bloodcow III: Hail Xenu, but that didn’t stop Crystals and Lasers from being their best work yet. As much punk as metal as heavy rock, it wasn’t for everybody, but it was most definitely for me. With a constant thread of satire in songs like “Ultra Super Sexual,” “Sock,” “Dick for Days” and the oh-shit-I’m-middle-aged-how-the-fuck-did-this-happen (not saying I relate or anything, but holy shit I can relate) “After Party,” it was nonetheless a stylistically varied and universally professional-sounding 13-track collection, offering weirdo quirk in “Blood and Guts,” “Exploding Head” and “Little Chromosome” and finding room for a bit of scathing social commentary in its title-track and “HIVampyre.” If they’re working at an eight-year pace, I don’t know that we’ll get another Bloodcow record, but they very clearly put everything they had into Crystals and Lasers and the result was a defining statement.

10. Kadavar, Berlin

kadavar berlin

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed July 7.

After two wallops in the form of 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) and 2012’s self-titled debut (discussed here), German trio Kadavar continued to prove the effectiveness of their songwriting on Berlin, a return that front-to-back brimmed with vitality and bounce rare enough for heavy rock generally more content to be downtrodden or attempting to feign bluesy substance. Unabashedly poppy at times, Berlin was the party that brought everyone along who was up for taking the ride, and whether it was the hook of “Lord of the Sky” showing how just a tiny melodic turn could make a track infectious or cuts like “Thousand Miles Away from Home,” “Filthy Illusion,” “Stolen Dreams,” “Spanish Wild Rose,” “See the World with Your Own Eyes” — all of them, really — working their way into the consciousness, Berlin felt like it was primed to be the soundtrack of many summers to come. They moved away from the retro style of their first two outings, but in so doing took fuller command of their sound and put it to remarkable use.

9. Goatsnake, Black Age Blues

goatsnake black age blues

Released by Southern Lord. Reviewed May 19.

Picking up right where Flower of Disease closer “The River” left off with “Another River to Cross,” Goatsnake‘s third full-length arrived a full 15 years after its predecessor, and as one might expect that brought some considerable changes in the band’s sound. Oh, they still rolled the hell out of a riff, guitarist Greg Anderson (he of SunnO))) and Southern Lord Recordings) very much at the fore tonally, but a bluesy inflection from vocalist Pete Stahl (also earthlings?) and some well-placed backing vocals added personality in a daring and unexpected fashion. Songs like “Jimi’s Gone,” “Elevated Man” and “Grandpa Jones” sat comfortably in the band’s influential pantheon of heft, but it was how Black Age Blues pushed beyond what Goatsnake did in their initial run that made it so satisfying. For a record that arrived five years after they got back together, it could have easily been disaster, but Black Age Blues built on what Goatsnake was without detracting from the legacy that has influenced a generation of heavy rock.

8. Kings Destroy, Kings Destroy

kings destroy self titled

Released by War Crime Recordings. Reviewed April 15.

I’m proud to call the members of Kings Destroy friends and I won’t attempt to feign impartiality when it comes to considering their work as a band, but I felt in listening to their self-titled third LP that they had finally gotten to the point where they were bringing the onstage confrontationalism of their live show to the studio. Yeah, “Mr. O” was upbeat and catchy and gave side A some thrust, but even in chugging opener “Smokey Robinson” or the moody “Mytho” and “Embers,” Kings Destroy not only came further into their own in terms of style, building on the anti-genre defiant stance of 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), but did so with a clearheaded progressivism, a better sense of who they are musically and what they want the band to be. I wouldn’t trade seeing them play “Embers” or “W2” as many times as I have for anything, but even unto the gang-shout half-speed hardcore of “Time for War,” Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy made no bones about how it wound up with the eponymous title. It’s them through and through.

7. Cigale, Cigale

cigale self titled

Self-released. Reviewed May 4.

It may never be possible to listen to the self-titled debut from Cigale outside the context of the death of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets (ex-Sungrazer). That loss casts a dark shadow over a collection that otherwise radiates colorful sweetness and serenity, the peaceful depth beginning with “Grey Owl” and only broadening as it turns and weaves through “Steeplechase,” “Feel the Heat,” “Harvest Begun” and so on, but the record remains a gorgeous, engrossing wash of resonant melody and underlying presence. Not without its moments of melancholy, the more overarching impression was of beauty not tied to any notion of playing to genre or style, and while I don’t know what the future will hold for the band, if they’ll keep moving forward or not or if they’re even in a place yet to consider such things, they helped broaden the context of European heavy psychedelia with their first album, and that is no minor achievement.

6. Sun Blood Stories, Twilight Midnight Morning

sun blood stories twilight midnight morning

Self-released. Reviewed June 19.

Another one that just kind of smacked me in the face. Idahoan heavy psych explorers Sun Blood Stories‘ second album, Twilight Midnight Morning was soaked in vibe and moved fluidly between experimentalist noisemaking and patient, memorable songwriting. Tracks like “West the Sun,” “Witch Wind” and “Found Reasons Found Out” never raged, exactly, but had enough weight to their rhythm to let you know they were there and interested in groove, while later pieces “Time Like Smoke,” “Moon Song: Waxing” and “Misery is Nebulous” drew exponentially from earlier freakout impulses and shifted into a dronier and more ambient approach. The combination of the two — semi-structure up front, open expansion in the back — made the three-part Twilight Midnight Morning engaging and hypnotic in kind, and though I hope they get weirder and experiment and develop the atmospheric side of their sound, I’ve also got my fingers crossed they hold firm to their more grounded aspects, since its the range between the two that gives their sophomore outing its defining fluidity.

5a. Colour Haze, To the Highest Gods We Know

colour haze to the highest gods we know

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Jan. 6.

I’ll cite precedent in last year’s list for including a “5a.” The intent in doing so is to convey the idea that Colour Haze‘s latest outing, To the Highest Gods We Know, is worthy of top five consideration, but its release date was split between 2014 (CD) and 2015 (LP), so it was a little unclear where to put it. As the album is basically a year old at this point, it seems fair to say it’s held up, drawing back from the grandiose vision of 2012’s She Said (review here) without losing sight of the progressive elements that have taken root in the German trio’s sound. Their work has been and remains essential to the development of heavy psychedelic rock in Europe and beyond, and even though To the Highest Gods We Know felt like something of a reset — a stripping down of arrangements in places and getting back to a trio-in-a-room feel — it still stepped forward in its title-track and in songs like “Überall” and “Call” and showed that even when it seems Colour Haze have pushed their approach as far as it can go, there’s always new ground to explore, and their pull to do so is undiminished.

5. The Atomic Bitchwax, Gravitron

the atomic bitchwax gravitron

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 20.

Doesn’t exactly seem like giving away state secrets to note that a record with songs like “Sexecutioner” and “Fuck Face” is aggressive, but it’s particularly interesting in light of the past work of New Jersey trio The Atomic Bitchwax, who I don’t think sounded as barn-burning as they do on Gravitron even in their earliest going. The trio of bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella kept their signature winding riff style intact — demonstrated most expansively over 2011’s single-song full-length instrumental The Local Fuzz (review here) — but while their turns were as blinding as ever, their tones were more pointed and Pantella‘s snare more upfront on the beat, which gave Gravitron a newfound sense of urgency. It worked. Even poppier songs like “Roseland” or the closing “Ice Age Hey Baby” benefited from the additional thrust, and the album overall felt lean, mean and ready to be taken on the road, which of course is exactly what they did with it. Six albums in, The Atomic Bitchwax were at their most vital yet.

4. All Them Witches, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker

all them witches dying surfer meets his maker

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

Nashville four-piece All Them Witches probably could’ve gone into the studio, churned out a record of crunchy riffs with a quiet part or two for flavor and positioned themselves at the forefront of American heavy rock with their New West Records debut and third full-length overall, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. Instead, they defied expectation boldly and brought their growing audience into the room with them and producer Mikey Allred as they captured the album, which finds its most affecting moments not in tonal weight, but emotional resonance, the melody at the midpoint of “Talisman” or the string arrangement gracefully tucked into “Open Passageways.” There’s still the push of “Dirt Preachers,” and entrancing closer “Blood and Sand – Milk and Endless Waters” has its heft as well, but All Them Witches‘ success ultimately came from being the album they wanted to make, built from the dynamic that’s developed on stage between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeodAllan Van Cleave on Fender Rhodes/strings, and drummer Robby Staebler, and alive in its feeling of exploration. I won’t predict what they might do from here, but I’m willing to say outright it’ll be worth hearing one way or another.

3. Snail, Feral

snail feral

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Oct. 13.

My expectations for Snail‘s third post-reunion full-length and Small Stone label debut, Feral, were pretty high. Not unreasonably so, though. Their 2012 outing, Terminus (review here), built on the blend of heavy psych riffs, laid back roll and melodicism that 2009’s Blood (review here) established as the band’s working modus, but Feral was going to be a different beast from the start because it was the West Coast outfit’s first full-length as a trio since they made their self-titled debut (reissue review here) in 1993 before splitting up the next year. Whatever my expectations were, however, Snail shattered them almost immediately. In the progression of their songwriting as shown across the strong opening salvo of “Building a Haunted House,” “Smoke the Deathless” and “A Mustard Seed” through one of the year’s best songs in the expansive and crushing “Thou Art That,” the three-piece showcased a breadth unlike anything they’d conjured before, and it only continued through “Born in Captivity,” the catchy “Derail,” “Psilocybe” and the soul-infused wah leads that peppered the pleading closer “Come Home.” Where Terminus offered intensity, Feral offered patience in its execution, and the atmosphere it created suited the band’s sound as well as the Seldon Hunt cover art seemed to summarize the alternate reality in which the music took place. Everything about how it came together worked just right, and even as a fan of the band’s work since they got together again, I was taken aback by the unflinching quality of Feral front to back.

2. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere

acid king middle of nowhere center of everywhere

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 19.

Ten years is a long, long time. Especially in music. The prospect of a fourth Acid King record has been tossed around for at least the last six of those 10 years, but to finally have it realized was something else entirely. Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere was without a doubt my most-listened-to album of the year, and its combination of tonal haze, low-end heft and spacious atmosphere was perfect. There’s just no other way to say it. It was perfect. From “Silent Pictures” and “Coming down from Outer Space” through “Red River,” “Infinite Skies” and the sprawling “Center of Everywhere” itself, guitarist/vocalist Lori S., bassist Mark Lamb and drummer Joey Osbourne crafted an absolutely perfect heavy psych record. How many bands walking the earth could even get away with calling a track “Laser Headlights,” let alone make it kick ass? Yeah, Goatsnake came back this year, and that was great, but for me, the return of Acid King to their throne of nod was even more the story of the year. Together with producer Billy Anderson, they offered a depth of tone that was simply unmatched, and without an ounce of pretense, they unveiled a roll that continues to resound. I’m a big fan of getting lost in a record, and Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere eased the listener in with its “Intro,” pulled reality apart from with “Silent Pictures” and set about doing the universe a favor by remaking the cosmos as the kind of place where one might find a wizard riding a tiger past the craters of the moon, until, at last, it deposited you back where you started. Best trip of 2015, no question.

1. Elder, Lore

elder lore

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed Feb. 19.

Make no mistake, 2015 was Elder‘s year. We were all just living in it. Truth be told, I’ve been back and forth between Elder and Acid King in the top spot for the last couple months (you might recall in July they were reversed), but when it finally came to it, there was no way I could feasibly call anything other than Lore the album of the year. From the gorgeous Adrian Dexter artwork (discussed here), through the progressive clarion of “Compendium”‘s noodling guitar line and into the massive scope of the title-track (discussed here), Lore was the moment in which Elder — guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto — tore down the walls of genre, whether it was heavy rock, psychedelia or anything else, and emerged with their own approach and complex, varied modus of songwriting. They’ve been turning heads since their self-titled debut arrived in 2008, but with 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), they began to demonstrate the potential for really adding something to the patchwork of underground heavy. In moving forward by making clarity a hallmark both of their sound and of their purpose, Elder came into their own with these five tracks, and do not at all be surprised a couple years from now when bands start showing up aping DiSalvo‘s style of riffing, since such a bold and successful foray of individualism can only be influential in the longer run. At nearly an hour long, Lore was not a minor undertaking, but each song seemed to set up its own atmosphere, feeding not only its own singular focus, but that of the album overall. Its turns blinding, its impact forceful and its affect drawing from the best of the sonic personalities of all three players, Elder‘s Lore reaped wide acclaim and earned it every step of the way. Its progressive vision has only begun to be digested.

Honorable Mention

Killer Boogie, Detroit – Impressive debut from the retro-minded offshoot of Black Rainbows brought ’70s boogie to Italy. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a quick turnaround, but either way, their first outing knew its audience and spoke directly to it.

My Sleeping Karma, Moksha – This one was on various incarnations of the list. Very interested to see where the German heavy prog outfit wind up in terms of expanding their arrangements, but Moksha was a satisfying step forward in that process.

Egypt, Endless Flight – Should probably have a number, but the fact is it’s only been out for like two weeks, so it hasn’t really been given the test of time at this point. Still, Egypt always deliver and this was no exception.

Valkyrie, Shadows – An awaited third full-length from Virginia’s Valkyrie and also their Relapse Records debut offered enough blazing guitar work to meet any quota, and was a welcome return after a long absence.

Magic Circle, Journey’s End – The second LP from this Massachusetts outfit pushed beyond doomly confines into more traditional metallurgy but held its eerie atmospherics intact, and the combination suited them remarkably well.

Monolord, Vænir – This was my go-to for 2015 when nothing else seemed quite crushing enough. The Swedish trio have very quickly stomped their way into the hearts and minds of the international underground, and rightfully so.

Freedom Hawk, Into Your Mind – After making a transition from a four-piece to a trio, this Virginian outfit proceeded to take a few stylistic risks on their second Small Stone long-player, and they paid off.

TombstonesVargariis – Fourth full-length from this Norwegian trio pushed them outside of doom’s confines into a darker and more extreme version of heaviness that pulled from death and black metals in addition to its sludgy underpinnings. The meld was punishing and lost nothing of its groove, wherever it went at any given moment.

Faces of Bayon, Ash and Dust Have no Dominion – I guess my only hesitation with including Faces of Bayon‘s second outing in any kind of year-end fare is I’m not sure if the album has actually been released yet. Even if not, they’re easily worth a mention.

Ice Dragon, A Beacon on the Barrow – Kind of a down year from Ice Dragon in terms of overall productivity, but if the quantity was down compared to some, A Beacon on the Barrow was quality enough to carry them through. In a way, I think the album actually benefited from the band giving listeners time to take it in.

Arenna, Given to Emptiness – Ah, so good. The Spanish heavy psych troupe dug in deep on Given to Emptiness and conjured sonic and emotional resonance on their second full-length. It’s one that still gets repeat listens.

Monster Magnet, Cobras and Fire – The long-running New Jersey outfit’s reworking of their 2010 album Mastermind was excellent, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t seem fair to list it when they’re working mostly from already-released source material. But still, if you haven’t heard it, go find it.

Various Artists, Electric Ladyland [Redux] – Even if the results hadn’t been so spectacular, Electric Ladyland [Redux] would deserve a mention for the sheer scope and logistical nightmare that the project must have been. Kudos to Magnetic Eye Records all around.

There are so many others: Abrahma, GoyaSun and Sail Club, DevilleSacri MontiDirty StreetsUfomammutWo Fat‘s live album, Mirror Queen, PentagramTorcheSumacGarden of WormBlack RainbowsHoly SerpentMinskBaronWeedpeckerElectric MoonFuzzBell WitchWindhand, Niche, We Lost the SeaSeremoniaSunderDomovoyd, The Heavy EyesDemon HeadFoggStars that MoveEnslavedRuby the Hatchet, on and on and on. That’s not even to mention the stuff I didn’t hear — Baroness will be on many people’s lists, no doubt, as well as Mutoid Man, Ghost and Kylesa — so yeah, I could pretty much keep going ad infinitum.

I, however, cannot. It’s been an absolute pleasure trying to keep up with 2015’s barrage the last 12 months, and I expect 2016 will only bring more. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading or that you’re able to get some use out of this post, whatever that might mean, and I thank you deeply, from the bottom of my heart, for your time and for reading. It means more to me than I can say that you might check out even any portion of this site or be involved, whether it’s sharing a link, leaving a comment to let me know who I forgot to mention or correct my spelling, signing up for the forum, listening to the radio, whatever it might be.

Thank you for an amazing 2015. And please stay tuned, because of course, there’s much more to come.

 

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Snail, Feral: Where the Wild Things Are

Posted in Reviews on October 13th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

snail-feral-seldon-hunt

From the opening guitar howls and languid bassline that begin opener “Building a Haunted House,” West Coast (Seattle and Los Angeles) outfit Snail quickly affirm a shift in focus on Feral, their fourth album. It comes coupled with a few noteworthy changes in circumstance. Their story has been one of resurgence since first getting back together to release their sophomore album, Blood (review here), on MeteorCity in 2009 as the four-piece of guitarist/vocalist Mark Johnson, guitarist Eric Clausen, bassist/recording engineer Matt Lynch and drummer Marty Dodson. Blood arrived some 16 years after their 1993 self-titled debut (review here), which had only previously received follow-up in 1994’s All Channels are Open EP, then the swansong for the original trio of Johnson, Lynch and Dodson.

In 2012, the four-piece Snail returned with a fresh batch of material in the form of the more straightforward, bigger-riffed and independently-released Terminus (review here), which despite its ominous title was not the end of the band nor of their creative progression, as their new album, Feral, demonstrates. It is their first for Small Stone Records and topped off with cover art by Seldon Hunt, it’s also their first post-reunion release to feature only the band’s three founding members, Clausen and the remaining trio having parted ways in 2013. That in itself is probably the biggest change as regards the eight-song/47-minute offering — much of what has made Snail‘s work so enjoyable these last six years holds firm — but a generally less aggressive vibe than what they showed on Terminus serves them remarkably well throughout Feral‘s span, and from the moment the dreamy roll of “Building a Haunted House” takes hold, Snail enact a fluidity that carries through the rest of the tracks while also veering through changes in tempo and mood to enrich the listening experience. I am a fan of the band, but to be blunt, Feral is easily among the best records I’ve heard this year.

“Building a Haunted House” ends big and noisy, and “Smoke the Deathless” provides immediate contrast in a thickened shuffle that also heralds one of the catchiest choruses on offer, pulling back the forward drive to thrust into more open-sounding chug, backing vocals behind Johnson — both Lynch and Dodson contribute vocals throughout; Lynch also keyboards — preceding a quick lead that finds Johnson stepping up with no trouble as the lone six-stringer in the group. Blink and you’re in the chorus again, and blink again and “Smoke the Deathless”‘ 3:35 are up, Snail building considerable momentum into the middle-ground groove of “A Mustard Seed,” which brings back Clausen for a guest spot on rhythm guitar, the mix thick and encompassing with the rumble of Lynch‘s bass and Dodson‘s hi-hat cutting through even as his ride seems to add to the wash.

Another hook enters a quick build that cuts back to the verse — which one might almost be tempted to call “bouncing” if it weren’t so substantial; elephants don’t bounce — and ends even quicker than did “Smoke the Deathless,” but if Snail seem to be working at a sprint, it’s all a setup. A brilliant setup, but a setup all the same. Already they’ve gone from the repurposed ’80s metallisms of Terminus into more heavy psych-rocking fare, keeping a forward-moving core, but generally paying more attention to atmosphere, and much to the benefit of the songs, which remain grounded in engaging choruses despite this spaciousness. Well, the 10-minute “Thou art That” throws the formula out the window, and (wonderfully) slams into a wall of engrossing, moody psychedelic rock and features the most complex structure Snail have proffered to-date as well as the central riff of the album, which is a chorus unto itself. Starting quiet and unfolding gracefully until the keys and grandiose hits finish out, it’s the kind of cut that, on its own, can make a record, and brings to mind the best of what Snail have done since their reactivation, bridging a gap between heavy-as-hell riffing and more ethereal sonic spaces.

snail

I have to believe that’s where the side breaks for the vinyl, and the aftermath of “Thou art That” is nothing if not a moment worthy of a breather to flip a platter. I also have to believe that when it comes to following up such a landmark track, it’s experience that led Snail to put “Born in Captivity” in the next spot, Dodson‘s drums serving as a we’re-not-done-yet signal that picks up a speedier pace and carries through an almost garage-punk boogie that seems to recall “Smoke the Deathless” until in its second half it transitions into an almost Beatlesian keyboard line for a bridge that adds a touch of classic weirdness to the otherwise forward motion, smoothing back into the chorus, which comes to incorporate that same line as it makes its way toward the end, cutting out finally to give the guitar the final say just before the five-minute mark, at which point Dodson and Lynch begin “Derail,” a slower, bigger and doomier feature for Johnson‘s lead work that conjures a wash in deep-running layers of guitar and bass and then cuts them down suddenly to give the chug of the verse total sway, balancing one off the other until finally at the end everything turns to noise.

The penultimate “Psilocybe” starts with a sense of heft worthy of Torche, and plods its beginning as the initial movement of a steady roll and nod that takes hold and does not let go for the first several minutes, even through a classy, melodic chorus, until at about the three-minute mark Snail break almost to silence and start a psychedelic build that carries them through the next two minutes until the next verse resumes the roll. The second time around, the turn is into a plotted-sounding jam, or an instrumental break at very least, that’s met with strange whispering voices, watery effects, more keys — Lynch plays a huge role atmospherically — and as the track devolves, that steady thunderplod from the beginning. After an extended wash of an outro, Feral almost sounds like it’s over, but the funky wah that commences a lonely tale in “Come Home” — its depressive lyric delivered in a soulful melody that makes the actual listening experience much more than the downer it might otherwise be — is a last-minute turn that winds up expanding the entire scope for the album as a whole, making it not only an easily-justified inclusion, but serving a genuine purpose to the record’s benefit.

A last hook, “Come home girl, I need you/You calm the voice in my head,” etc., brings together classic soul longing with a heavy rock push, once again bolstered by Lynch‘s keys, and rounds out Feral with a gorgeous, organ-laced last melodic dive into surrounds-your-head psychedelia, which has been the specialty all along. As Snail have moved past the novelty of their initial reunion, they’ve managed to amass a steady following, and Feral will no doubt add to that, but more importantly, it shows that even in the inevitably rawer form of a trio, they’re more than able and more than willing to continue to grow their sound and develop their approach. The final result is that Feral is as full creatively as it is sonically, and that four albums in, Snail are still ready to explore new ground and incorporate that into their own immediately recognizable context. It is their finest work to-date, and only seems to set up continued future expansion.

Snail, Feral (2015)

Snail on Thee Facebooks

Snail on Twitter

Snail’s website

Small Stone Records

Small Stone on Bandcamp

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Snail Confirm Sept. 25 Release for Feral

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 1st, 2015 by JJ Koczan

By the time Snail‘s new album, Feral, arrives, it will be almost six months to the day since the Seldon Hunt artwork was premiered here. That is not an insignificant stretch, but until you actually hear it you’re just going to have to take my word for it when I say it’s worth every second of the wait. After a strong comeback outing in 2009’s Blood (review here) and a definitive step forward in 2012’s Terminus (review here), Feral takes Snail‘s songwriting to places it hasn’t yet been and retains a sense of laid back heaviness and melodicism that has become their signature these last six years. If you don’t already have it on your gotta-hear list, put it there.

The PR wire brings affirmation, the preorder link, a bio I’m pretty sure that I wrote, the tracklisting and the stream for “Building a Haunted House,” which opens the record. Dig in:

snail-feral-seldon-hunt

Seattle psych metal trio SNAIL return with fourth album “Feral”, this month on Small Stone Records.

Seattle based psych metal forerunners SNAIL are making a great comeback with their heavy, hazy and stirring fourth record “Feral”, to be released this September on Small Stone Records.

Stream SNAIL’s intoxicating new song Building A Haunted House

SNAIL formed in 1992 in Los Angeles, consisting of singer Mark Johnson (The Crucified, PASTE, Blessing the Hogs), bassist Matt Lynch and drummer Marty Dodson. The eponymous first album (Big Deal Records) garnered much praise in the press, and gained a loyal following from peers, leading to the DIY, 4-track cassette-recorded All Channels are Open EP, after which SNAIL sadly succumbed to the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” lifestyle and eroded to the point of breaking up.

After 15 years’ absence, SNAIL reunited in 2008 with longtime friend and guitarist Eric Clausen as a fourth member, and unleashed Blood (Meteor City), which was among the highest-rated heavy rock records of 2009, combining fuzzy guitars and a pummeling rhythm section with layered, soaring melodies rarely heard in the genre. In a time of industry turmoil, the record went from blood-red to “in the black,” even attracting the attention of underground music legend Henry Rollins, who gave it multiple plays on his “Fanatics” radio show on influential Los Angeles station KCRW.

SNAIL’s 2012 follow-up, Terminus, showcased all fresh material, infused with the enthusiasm of newly-minted collaboration. Influences that were not evident in past works came to the fore, steeped in old-school metal and psychedelia. The subject matter was noticeably more mature, delving into the themes of mortality and its implications in our modern world. From crushing doom to head-bobbing Camaro rock and hypnotic psych, Terminus was SNAIL’s most varied work to date; but most importantly, it rocked.

With the challenge of a “first new album” behind them, SNAIL set to work on Feral, their fourth full-length and first for Small Stone. Taking the varied approach of Terminus to new degrees of psychedelia and sonic heft, songs like “Smoke the Deathless” and “Thou Art That” epitomize the weighted melodic appeal of the band, while closer “Come Home” steps forward in its brazen emotionalism. Topped off with mind-bending artwork by Seldon Hunt, Feral is their best work to date, demonstrates the progressive capacity of the once-again trio of Johnson, Lynch and Dodson, and shows that Blood and Terminus may have just been the start of the wildness to come.

Preorder on limited edition 180gr vinyl, CD and digital at this location

TRACK LISTING:
1. Building A Haunted House
2. Smoke The Deathless
3. A Mustard Seed
4. Thou Art That
5. Born In Captivity
6. Derail
7. Psilocybe
8. Come Home

SNAIL IS
Mark Johnson – Guitars, lead vocals, keys
Matt Lynch – Bass, keys, vocals
Marty Dodson – Drums, percussion, vocals

SNAIL LINKS
www.snailhq.com
www.facebook.com/snailhq
www.twitter.com/Snailhq
www.smallstone.com

Snail, Feral (2015)

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Snail West Coast Tour Starts July 30

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 22nd, 2015 by JJ Koczan

snail

I’ll have much more about Snail‘s fourth album, Feral, as we get closer to the Sept. 25 release date, but by way of an early heads up, it’s killer. The tones, the vibe, it all takes the steps the band made with 2012’s Terminus (review here) and matches them in force with the memorable songwriting and thick-toned rolling psychedelia of 2009’s return, Blood (review here), the effect both crushingly heavy and airborne all at once. Their first album as a trio since their 1993 self-titled debut (reissue review here), Feral marks the beginning of a new era for the West Coast outfit, and it’s only fitting they should get out and tour a bit to mark the occasion.

They’ll hit the road starting July 30 with company along the way from SasquatchThe Freeks and Virginia’s Akris, so if you happen to be on the West Coast, keep an eye out. Info follows as seen on the PR wire, along with the album preorder link and paragraph of their new bio that I wrote this past weekend, way overdue as it was:

snail feral tour

With the challenge of a “first new album” — 2012’s Terminus — behind them, Snail set to work on Feral, their fourth full-length and first for Small Stone. Taking the varied approach of Terminus to new degrees of psychedelia and sonic heft, songs like “Smoke the Deathless” and “Thou Art That” epitomize the weighted melodic appeal of the band, while closer “Come Home” steps forward in its brazen emotionalism. Topped off with mind-bending artwork by Seldon Hunt, Feral is their best work to date, demonstrates the progressive capacity of the once-again trio of Johnson, Lynch and Dodson, and shows that Blood and Terminus may have just been the start of the wildness to come.

Snail will be slowly and deliberately crushing the West Coast with tourmates Akris and The Freeks in late July/early August 2015. See dates below:

July 30 – Tower Bar, San Diego, CA with Sasquatch and Desert Suns
July 31 – Cafe Nela, Los Angeles, CA with The Freeks and The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic
August 1 – Cellar Door, Visalia, CA with The Freeks
August 2 – The Golden Bull, Oakland, CA with Blackwulf, Forgotten Gods, Lowcaster
August 4 – Starlite Lounge, Sacramento, CA with Akris and Amarok
August 6 – Ash Street Saloon, Portland, OR with Akris and Night of Elegance
August 7 – The Astoria Pub, Vancouver, BC with Akris, Mendozza and Bog
August 9 – The Highline, Seattle, WA with Akris and Dura Madre

https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/feral
https://www.facebook.com/snailhq
http://www.snailhq.com/
http://www.mysteriousmammal.com/

Snail, “Building a Haunted House”

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Artwork Premiere: Snail, Feral Cover by Seldon Hunt

Posted in Visual Evidence on March 26th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

snail

Feral is the upcoming fourth album and Small Stone debut from West Coast (CA/WA) outfit Snail. Their first record as the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Mark Johnson, bassist/engineer Matt Lynch and drummer Marty Dodson since their 1993 self-titled debut (reissue review here), Feral is set to issue this summer and features cover art by Brooklyn-based artist Seldon Hunt, known for his work with NeurosisIsisPelicanMade out of BabiesKings Destroy and on and on. Always varied in his approach, from photography to line-drawings to exquisite fractals to whatever the hell you might call the cover of the recent Blind Idiot God album, Hunt has consistently been able to adjust his own style to suit the project at hand, and Snail‘s Feral is no exception.

There is a snail on it, somehow subtly despite it being right up front on the left side of the picture. Gorgeously colorful with natural reds, browns and greens, two knotted trees frame what in other hands might’ve been a simple nature scene. Two snakes wrap around a deer’s antlers, and there’s some kind of scared-looking 10-legged creature hiding partially behind one of the four large mushrooms in the foreground. But the real story is in the deer’s eyes, dead and yellow. They have a threatening look to them which seems to find its answer in the partially-buried human skulls at the bottom and the new-growth grass coming up around them. All of a sudden, it’s more revolution than nature scene, as though human civilization has given way to a new natural order.

In its colorful psychedelic vibe and quiet foreboding, Hunt‘s piece fits the Snail record well, and I’m happy to be able to premiere the cover art. Click the image below to enlarge it if you’d like a closer look. Some comment from the band follows:

snail feral seldon hunt

Says Matt Lynch:

It was actually [The Obelisk’s] doing that we hooked up with him. I saw the art he did for Blind Idiot God because of your feature and we were still kinda exploring our options after many failed attempts by me to get something we could all agree on.

And I saw that art and thought “this guy gets it” you know, he had the feel of the record in him. The first idea he sent us was spot on. It was just a scribble sketch but we knew by the description that this was our guy.

Snail on Thee Facebooks

Seldon Hunt’s website

Small Stone Records

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30 Before ’15: Records Not to Miss Before the New Year Hits

Posted in Features on July 8th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Before I even start, let’s get one thing out of the way. I want a new Sleep album too. My not including them on this list isn’t due to the fact that I don’t think a new Sleep album is a good idea, but just because I haven’t seen anything about it being recorded or released in the next five-plus months. If it hits on Jan. 1, 2015, I’ll be the happiest Baby New Year you ever saw, but that’s a different list altogether.

Ditto that Om and High on Fire. The latter were writing as of May, and I know Om did some recording way back in January, but I’ve yet to see solid word of new records at all, let alone before the end of the year. Either or both or all three may happen, but until I see some hint of it, all I can go on is the info I can find.

Seriously though, how badass would it be if all three put out albums before the New Year? That excitement is kind of what this list is about. Some of these records I’ve heard, but most I haven’t, so it’s just basic speculation about what I think could be some of the best releases in the next couple months. You’ll note that while there are plenty of dates TBA, nothing listed arrives in November, so as 2014 winds down, there’s bound to be even more quality stuff than appears here.

In fact, I struggled to take things out to get it down to 30. And it still goes to 31! I figured no one would mind. They’re numbered, but the list is in alphabetical order.

If I left something out you’re dying to hear, please let me know in the comments.

Thanks in advance for reading:

 

1. Alunah, TBA (Sept.)


Birmingham’s Alunah, like several others below, are a holdover from the Most Anticipated Albums list back at the start of the year. The difference between now and then is that, while its title still hasn’t been revealed so far as I know, their Napalm Records debut has been recorded, mixed and mastered, the latter by Tony Reed, the former by Greg Chandler of Esoteric, and given a September release date. Two years after Alunah made riffy doom sound easy on their sophomore outing, White Hoarhound (review here), I look forward to hearing how they’ve grown and shifted in their approach to warm-sounding tones and memorable hooks. They’ve set a pretty high standard for themselves. Alunah on Thee Facebooks, Napalm Records.

2. Apostle of Solitude, Of Woe and Wounds (Oct.)


These guys. I don’t mind telling you it was a thrill when Indianapolis doomers Apostle of Solitude were announced as having signed to Cruz del Sur to release their third album, Of Woe and Wounds, this fall. Their second outing, 2010’s Last Sunrise (review here), didn’t get the attention it deserved, but the handful of songs they’ve made public since have shown much promise, and as the first Apostle of Solitude full-length to feature guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay) in harmony with guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown — the band is completed by bassist Dan Davidson and drummer Corey Webb — this is definitely going to make for a doomly autumn. Apostle of Solitude on Thee Facebooks, Cruz del Sur Music.

3. Blackwolfgoat, Drone Maintenance (Aug. 26)


Recorded late last year at Amps vs. Ohms in Boston, the third album from Maple Forum alum Blackwolfgoat — the prog-drone alter ego of guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, Black Pyramid, The Scimitar, Roadsaw, etc.) — is the project’s most expansive outing yet, and it seems Shepard is moving more in a song-based direction, rather than some of the building loops of the past two offerings. Of course, there will be plenty of those as well, but watch out for some acoustic guitar, and deep-in-the-mix vocals, as they could easily hint of things to come. Or Darryl could turn it on its head and do a calypso record. Either way, I’m on board with no pretense of impartiality. Blackwolfgoat on Bandcamp, Small Stone’s Bandcamp.

4. Blues Pills, Blues Pills (Aug. 5)


The much-heralded Swedish/French/American psych-blues conglomeration Blues Pills will make their self-titled debut (short review here) next month, and while it’s probably going to be a bigger deal in Europe than in the States — at least until Nuclear Blast brings them over here for a tour, then the country is going to go apeshit for them — the songwriting and soulful execution of their tracks justifies the hype. There’s a bit of retro posturing to what they do, some Graveyard shuffle (it feels inevitable at this point with a ’70s-influenced band), but the grooves are easy to dig into and the potential is basically limitless for where they want to go. It’s scary to keep in mind, but this is just the beginning. Blues Pills on Thee Facebooks, Nuclear Blast.

5. Bongripper, Miserable (July 7)


You may notice something strange about the date above for a list of upcoming albums in that July 7 was yesterday. Well, Chicago’s Bongripper posted their new three-track full-length monster Miserable on their Bandcamp for stream and download ahead of the vinyl’s arrival, and it was just too righteous to leave out. Those seeking landmark riffing need look no further than the 19-minute centerpiece “Descent,” which meters out stomp enough that future “scientists” will study its footprint, and closer “Into Ruin” (28:25) is guaranteed to be the heaviest half-hour you’ll spend today. Miserable feels like a no-brainer, but maybe that’s just because Bongripper have such a propensity for pounding skulls into mush. Bongripper on Thee Facebooks, Miserable on Bandcamp.

6. Botanist, VI: Flora (Aug. 11)


I feel like I missed a couple numbers from San Francisco-based environmentalist black metal unit Botanist along the way, but they’ll nonetheless issue VI: Flora on The Flenser next month, furthering their marriage of destruction and beauty and insistent percussive expression. The spaces Botanist — a one-man project from Robert Martinelli — create feel ritualistic without the dramatic posturing that pervades much of the genre, and sound, somewhere between raging and mournful, is hypnotic. Whatever your expectation might be, Martinelli seems pleased to use it to their advantage, and ultimately, defy it. Post-human, hammered dulcimer-laden black metal. It would be harder for Botanist to not be unique. Botanist on Thee Facebooks, The Flenser.

7. Brant Bjork, TBA (TBA)


When Brant Bjork‘s next album might show up, I don’t know. I know he’s signed to Napalm, and I know the photo above was snapped as he finished some vocals before going on tour with his Low Desert Punk band that includes guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, but whether or not the album they made is the funk-inspired Jakoozi that’s been in the offing for a while, or another collection of songs, and if Napalm will get it out before the end of the year remain a mystery. I do find it interesting that for his first “solo” outing post-Vista Chino (that band being on hiatus), Bjork has assembled a new band to work with rather than record multiple instruments himself, but no matter who’s involved, when it’s Brant Bjork writing the songs, it’s gonna be high rock from the low desert. Can’t wait to dig into whatever comes. Brant Bjork on Thee Facebooks, Napalm Records.

8. Earth, Primitive and Deadly (Sept.)


The headline for Earth‘s new album is it’s the one where they experimented with vocalists. And hey, if you’re going to toy around with the idea, you might as well get Mark Lanegan involved. The former Screaming Trees frontman is one of several singers appearing on Primitive and Deadly, due in September on Southern Lord, and it would appear that Earth‘s sound — always evolving, always somehow changing — is about to take another considerable turn. Fortunately, the Seattle band, led by guitarist Dylan Carlson and now approaching their 25th year, have long since proven worthy of trusting with their own direction. Earth will never be huge, by the simple nature of what they do, but their influence resounds and the quality of their output is unmatched. Earth on Thee Facebooks, Southern Lord Recordings.

9. Electric Wizard, Time to Die (Sept.)


“Wake up baby/It’s time to die.” So goes the title-track hook of Electric Wizard‘s new album and Spinefarm Records debut, Time to Die. As ever, it’s simple, hateful, drenched-in-fuzz misanthropy, and Electric Wizard revel in it accordingly. Their witchcult continues to grow in their native UK and abroad, and while their last two records have divided some listeners, they’ve invariably gained more ground than they’ve lost. A legal dispute with Rise Above finds them on the new label, and if there’s even the slightest chance that change will bring them to the US for a tour, I’ll take it. Expect 66 minutes of glorious filth. Electric Wizard on Thee Facebooks, Spinefarm Records.

10. Fever Dog, Second Wind (TBA)


Palm Desert youngsters Fever Dog have been kicking around the last few years finding their sound in varying elements of heavy rock and psychedelic experimentation. Most recently, they impressed with the single “Iroquois” (review here) taken from their new album Second Wind, and in looking forward to the full-length, I’m eager to learn how their style has solidified and what sort of vibes they conjure over its course. They’ve shown plenty of propensity for jamming in their prior work, so hopefully there’s a bit of that on hand as well. I’ve said before they’re a trio of marked potential, and nothing I’ve yet heard has dissuaded me from that impression. Fever Dog on Thee Facebooks, Fever Dog on Bandcamp.

11. Goat, Commune (Sept. 23)


Somehow, a band from Sweden who dress up in tribal costumes (problematic) and play Afrobeat psychedelia became a very, very big deal. I couldn’t explain it if I wanted to, and I won’t try, but I know that when Sub Pop releases Goat‘s second album, Commune, it’s going to be to a flurry of hype and heaps of critical fawning. It would be tempting to call Goat a novelty act, but their 2012 debut, World Music (discussed here), showcased a legitimately creative musical approach to go with the visual aspects of their presentation, and I find the fact that I have no idea what to expect from Commune to be refreshing. Goat on Thee Facebooks, Sub Pop Records.

12. Grifter, The Return of the Bearded Brethren (Aug. 11)


UK heavy rockers Grifter will make a welcome resurgence on Ripple Music with The Return of the Bearded Brethren, an album that builds on the straightforward, catchy sounds of their 2011 self-titled label debut (review here) and takes their infectiousness to new places lyrically, such as exploring issues of aging via an ode to Princess Leia from Star Wars. That particular brand of humor and is writ large on Grifter‘s second Ripple outing, and the trio set to work refining their take without losing the engaging feel of their self-titled. It feels like a long three years since that record hit, and I’ll be glad to have a follow-up in-hand. Grifter on Thee Facebooks, Ripple Music.

13. Ice Dragon and Space Mushroom Fuzz, New Blue Horizon/A Peak into the Future (TBA)


Unclear at this point whether Boston outfits Ice Dragon and Space Mushroom Fuzz collaborated on New Blue Horizon/A Peak into the Future, or if it’s a split. Either way, the prolific acts make a sound pairing. Both are vehemently creative and exploratory, psychedelic and progressive each in their way, and if what’s presumably a single finds them working together, all the better, but even if not, new material from either is nothing to balk at, particularly when topped off by such gorgeous artwork. Neither act is ever long from putting something out, so to have them come together one way or another makes a weird brand of sense, which I’m relatively sure the songs will as well. Ice Dragon on Thee Facebooks, Space Mushroom Fuzz on Thee Facebooks.

14. Ides of Gemini, Old World New Wave (Sept. 16)


Ides of Gemini‘s 2012 Neurot Recordings debut, Constantinople (discussed here), established the three-piece as freely inhabiting either side of the imaginary line between ambience and heaviness, J. Bennett and Kelly Johnston providing sometimes minimal, sometimes consuming foundations for vocalist Sera Timms (ex-Black Math Horseman, also Black Mare) to cast ethereal melodies. What Old World New Wave will hold sound-wise, I don’t yet know, but Ides of Gemini‘s otherworldly resonance and ultra-patient approach makes it well worth finding out. Ides of Gemini on Thee Facebooks, Neurot Recordings.

15. John Gallow, Violet Dreams (Aug. 4)


Frontman of Blizaro and Orodruin guitarist John James Gallo adds a ‘w’ to his last name and steps out solo on the I, Voidhanger Records release, Violet Dreams, the title hinting at some of his on-his-sleeve affinity for Italian psych-doom master Paul Chain and Swedish legends Candlemass. Gallo‘s work in Blizaro has a tendency to lean toward the progressive and cinematic, but as John Gallow, the focus is more on classic doom riffing and darkened metallurgy. As one would expect, he’s well in his element on the hour-long album, and I hope he decides to call the next one Ancient Theatre. Also note the incredible artwork of Costin Chioreanu. John Gallo on Thee Facebooks, I, Voidhanger Records.

16. John Garcia, John Garcia (Aug. 5)


A long-discussed solo debut for the former Kyuss frontman following a stint alongside Brant Bjork in Vista Chino, John Garcia‘s John Garcia (review here) finds the singer right in his comfort zone, topping desert rock riffs with his trademark guttural vocals. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I’d trade a second Vista Chino outing for it if given the choice — that band seemed to be on course for a sound of its own, separate from Kyuss‘ legacy, and that struck me as worth pursuing — but these songs have a similar enough production style that it’s easy to think of the one as an offshoot of the other, and of course Garcia calls his shots well throughout. John Garcia on Thee Facebooks, Napalm Records.

17. King Buffalo, TBA (TBA)


Including King Buffalo here was pretty speculative on my part, but I dig the Rochester, NY, outfit and didn’t want to leave the prospect of their STB Records debut long-player out. It probably won’t land until 2015 — the future! — but their demo (review here) still gets regular plays around these parts, and I’m very much looking forward to catching them with similarly-minded Nashville blues rockers All Them Witches when they tour together next month. Whatever King Buffalo‘s recording/release plans might be, they’re definitely one to keep an eye on in the back half of this year. King Buffalo on Thee Facebooks, STB Records.

18. Kings Destroy, Kings Destroy (TBA)


Love these guys, love this band. I make no bones about it. Their third record, self-titled and produced as the last two were by Sanford Parker, is as close as they’ve yet come to capturing their live sound, and while they’ve yet to nail down an exact release date, they have a couple very cool tours in the works for this fall, including dates next month with Eric Wagner‘s Blackfinger, that will make a fitting lead-in to their best outing yet. I’ve heard this and had the chance to see some of the material live, and they’ve outdone themselves again, which, considering the esteem in which I continue to hold their 2013 sophomore full-length, A Time of Hunting, is really saying something. Kings Destroy on Thee Facebooks, War Crime Recordings.

19. The Kings of Frog Island, V (Fall)


Easily one of the LPs I’m most eager to hear over the next few months, and specifically on vinyl. The Kings of Frog Island have shown themselves to be so dedicated to the format that their early-2013 album, IV (review here), was presented as two bundled sides even digitally. They recently gave a taste of what their fifth album will in-part hold via a video for “Sunburn” and I’m told more jamminess ensues elsewhere to complement that track’s easygoing flow and platter-ready hook. All the better. The Kings of Frog Island on Thee Facebooks, The Kings of Frog Island on YouTube.

20. Lonely Kamel, Shit City (Sept. 9)


I’d be lying if I said part of my immediate interest in Oslo heavy rockers Lonely Kamel‘s fourth record wasn’t due to the cheeky title, but it’s been three years since the Napalm Records four-piece released their last album, Dust (track stream here), and as they’ve put in plenty of road-time, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to go into this time around with elevated anticipation. I’m not sure you could get away with calling an album Shit City unless you meant business. Got my fingers crossed that’s precisely the case with Lonely Kamel. Lonely Kamel on Thee Facebooks, Napalm Records.

21. Lo-Pan, Colossus (Oct. 7)


Fucking a. Doing the research for this list was the first I’d seen the Jason Alexander Byers cover art for Lo-Pan‘s fourth album, Colossus, or its Oct. 7 Small Stone release date. I haven’t heard the tracks yet — they recorded in Brooklyn back in March, and while I got 2012’s Salvador (review here) pretty early, the Columbus four-piece seem to be keeping a tighter lid on the follow-up — and I can’t help but feel like that’s my loss. Judging by what I’ve heard of the material live, Lo-Pan have dug further into their individual brand of riff-led soulful heavy, and I’ve got a high wager that a few months from now, Lo-Pan‘s latest will make an appearance on another list. More to come. Lo-Pan on Thee Facebooks, Small Stone Records.

22. Novembers Doom, Bled White (July 15)


One of doom’s most fascinating and largely ignored progressions is that of Chicago melancholists Novembers Doom, who, when they started out 25 years ago, did so largely as a death metal band, and then moved on to pioneer an American interpretation of what’s commonly thought of as European doom, until, over their last several records, as they’ve started to move back to a more extreme, double-kick-drummed style. Bled White, on The End Records, continues along this path, but especially in the cleaner vocals of frontman Paul Kuhr there remain shades of the morose emotionality that typified what’s now become their mid-period doom idolatry. Unheralded, Novembers Doom keep exploring deeper, darker terrain. Novembers Doom on Thee Facebooks, The End Records.

23. Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden (Aug. 19)


Foundations of Burden is unquestionably among the second half of 2014’s most anticipated albums. Arkansas-based doom four-piece Pallbearer will mark its release with extensive European and North American tours, and where their 2012 Profound Lore debut, Sorrow and Extinction (review here), came out and caught listeners off-guard with its unabashed emotional core, their sophomore outing finds them positioned at the forefront of American doom. Already the hype machine is rolling out the red carpet for the Billy Anderson-produced Foundations of Burden, but no one can say these guys haven’t put their work in, and the record is indeed one to look forward to. Pallbearer on Thee Facebooks, Profound Lore Records.

24. The Skull, TBA (TBA)


For The Skull to put out an album of original material is a unique challenge. Their earlier-2014 first single (stream/review here) found them standing up to it on the new song “Sometime Yesterday Mourning,” but at least half the point of the band since its inception has been to pay homage to legendary doomers Trouble, from whence vocalist Eric Wagner, bassist Ron Holzner and drummer Jeff “Oly” Olson come. For their Tee Pee Records debut full-length — yet untitled and hopefully out before 2015 — it’ll be most interesting to see how guitarists Matt Goldsborough (ex-Pentagram) and Lothar Keller (Sacred Dawn) rise to the occasion of building off some of doom metal’s most celebrated tones. Fingers crossed on this one. The Skull on Thee Facebooks, Tee Pee Records.

25. Snail, Feral (TBA)


Nothing has been formally announced yet, but on Small Stone Records‘ website, they list Snail‘s Feral among their upcoming releases. It would make a suitable pairing, the West Coast riffers having previously worked with MeteorCity on their 2009 post-reunion outing, Blood (review here), prior to independently releasing 2012’s Terminus (review here), and Small Stone seems like a good home for their fourth overall record and return to form as a trio, which was their original incarnation before their original dissolution circa 1994. How they expand on the heavier crunch of Terminus remains even more a point of fascination, and surely their cult following will be glad to find out. I know I will. Snail on Thee Facebooks, Small Stone Records.

26. Steak, Slab City (Sept. 9)


After two strong EPs in 2012’s Disastronaught (review here) and 2013’s best-title-ever-boasting Corned Beef Colossus (review here), it’s time for London stoner rockers Steak to step up their game for their Napalm Records debut full-length. The four-piece headed to the Californian desert to record Slab City, and so it’s fair to think some of that atmosphere may have worked its way into the material. Would be an awfully long way to go, otherwise. In either case, Steak have showcased considerable songwriting chops already, now it’s just a matter of sustaining it for a full album’s runtime and keeping enough variety in their approach. I have no doubt they’re ready for this next step. Steak on Thee Facebooks, Napalm Records.

27. Stubb, Cry of the Ocean (TBA)


It is with simple, unabashed warm feelings that I look forward to hearing Cry of the Ocean, the second long-player and Ripple Music debut from UK riffers Stubb. They’ve traded out drummers since 2012’s self-titled (review here), bringing aboard Tom Fyfe with guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson and bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, but I’m excited to hear what changes and shifts in sound Cry of the Ocean might have in store to match its provocative title. Goes without saying the photo above isn’t the final artwork, but instead Tony Reed‘s mastering sheet from back in May when he worked on the tracks. No solid release date yet, but hopefully soon. Stubb on Thee Facebooks, Ripple Music.

28. Torche, TBA (TBA)


Torche‘s new album and Relapse Records debut was originally slated for the end of the summer. Given that no official word has come out about a title or anything like that and the members of the band have been busy with other projects, it seems unlikely as of now that they’ll hit that target, but after something of a break so frontman Steve Brooks could focus on the resurgent trio Floor, Torche are in fact getting going again, beginning with their first tour of Australia this fall. Maybe their LP will be out by the time they go and maybe it won’t, but word on the street is that whenever the thing arrives, it’s gonna be heavy, which I have no problem believing. Torche on Thee Facebooks, Relapse Records.

29. The Well, Monomyth (Late Summer)


I’ve been waiting since the March announcement that Austin trio The Well signed with RidingEasy Records for further word of their debut full-length, Monomyth (pretty sure that’s not the cover above), but thus far to no avail. Their 2012 single, Seven (review here), was a repeat-listen thriller, and anticipation abounds for what sort of psychedelic garage riffing they’ll conjure up for the album itself. It’s been a couple months at this point, and maybe it’ll be 2015 before Monomyth gets out, but screw it, a boy can hope. The Well on Thee Facebooks, RidingEasy Records.

30. Witch Mountain, Mobile of Angels (Sept.)

Please note: The original cover art with this post was not final and has been replaced with the above band photo.

Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain have spent much of the two years following their 2012 third LP, Cauldron of the Wild (review here) on tour in the US and abroad, playing fests, headlining, supporting, but generally putting in a lot of time. As such, Mobile of Angels, which will be out on Svart in Europe and Profound Lore in North America, comes as the end product of a considerable touring cycle. Has all that gigging worn Witch Mountain into the ground, or will they rise above it with metal-loving doom-blues supremacy? They’ve got a vinyl-ready 38 minutes on tap for September and if they’ve ever been in a position to make their case, it’s now. Watch out for the killer sway in “Can’t Settle,” the title of which seems a fitting theme for the band. Witch Mountain on Thee Facebooks, Profound Lore Records.

31. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend (Sept. 2)


Yet again — as was the case back in January — alphabetical order forces me to end with YOB, whose seventh full-length and Neurot debut might just be my most anticipated of all on this list. The recently-unveiled Orion Landau cover speaks to a brooding sentiment, and from the one time I was fortunate enough to hear it to-date, the four-track album from the Eugene, Oregon, natives corresponds to its visual side in being a more aggressive push than was 2011’s Atma (review here), but also more exploratory and contemplative in its approach. Now statesmen in American doom and the forebears of a cosmic-minded sound, YOB stand ready to showcase a creative progression that has yet to find its end point. YOB on Thee Facebooks, Neurot Recordings.

Other Notable Mentions

Just a couple of these I’d be remiss if I didn’t note. Some were carried over from earlier this year, others just come up along the way. Not sure on all the release dates, but these are worth keeping an ear out for:

Acid King — Were listed in January, but their record has a Feb. 2015 release date.

Bright Curse — Second album recorded at Skyhammer Studios.

Brothers of the Sonic Cloth — My understanding is the album is done and they’re waiting to secure a label. Seems like a good occasion for Southern Lord to step forward, if not Profound Lore or Neurot.

Eggnogg — Not sure if it’s their full-length, You’re all Invited, or something else that’s coming, but whatever. More stoner-funk riffing needs to be had.

40 Watt Sun — There was some word of this early in the year, but nothing since.

Godflesh — Their first in 15 years, A World Lit Only by Fire, will be out Oct. 7. A fuckup not including them on the list proper.

It’s Not Night: It’s Space — Eagerly awaiting the Small Stone debut from this instrumental outfit, but it might be next year.

Karma to Burn — New album, Arch Stanton, out in August. I emailed for a review promo and never heard back. Always a great feeling.

Larman Clamor — Solo-project from Alexander von Wieding has a new one in the can, but I’m not sure on the release schedule.

Lowrider — They’re working on it, but don’t hold your breath to have it out by December.

The Machine — Kind of a slow year for Elektrohasch, but the new one from these Dutch fuzzers would be a nice way end up.

NachtmystiumCentury Media releases their final album, The World We Left Behind, on Aug. 5.

Orange Goblin — Seriously debated putting them on the list, since I know they’ve recorded, but they seem to be promoting a recent reissue of 2007’s Healing through Fire and their upcoming European tour with Saint Vitus rather than their new album, so unless news comes out about it like this week from Candlelight, I wouldn’t expect it until early in 2015.

Pink Floyd — Believe it when I see it, but I honestly couldn’t care less either way if I tried.

Ruby the Hatchet — Their full-length Tee Pee debut is due sometime in the next couple months.

Sun Voyager — Upstate NY youngsters had hinted at new recordings.

Again, if I forgot anything — and I’m sure I did — please let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading.

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