Quarterly Review: Alcest, Superchief, Test Meat, Stones of Babylon, Nightstalker, Lewis & the Strange Magics, Room 101, Albatross Overdrive, Cloud Cruiser, The Spiral Electric

Posted in Reviews on January 8th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Welcome to Day Three of The Obelisk’s Winter 2020 Quarterly Review. It’s gonna be kind of a wild one. There’s a lot going on across this batch of 10 records, and it gets kind of weird — also, it doesn’t — so sit tight. It’ll be fun either way. At least I hope so. I’ll let you know when I’m finished writing. Ha.

Today we pass the halfway point on the road to 50 reviews by Friday. I think I’m feeling alright up to this point. It’s been a crunch behind the scenes, but it usually is and I’ve done this plenty of times now, so it’s not so bad. I always hold my breath before getting started, but once I’m in it, I rarely feel anymore overwhelmed than I might on any other given day. Which is still plenty, but you know, you make it work.

So let’s do that.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Alcest, Spiritual Instinct

alcest spiritual instinct

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the label’s modus in this regard as it’s picked up bands from the heavy underground over the last eight to 10 years — arguably a movement that began with Graveyard in 2012 — but Parisian post-black metal innovators Alcest make something of an aesthetic shift with their first outing for Nuclear Blast, Spiritual Instinct. Melody, of course, remains central to their purposes, but in the nine-minute side B opener “L’Île des Morts” as in its side A counterpart “Les Jardins de Minuit,” the subsequent “Protection” and “Sapphire” and even in the crescendo — glorious wash as it is — of the closing title-track, one can hear a sharper, decidedly metallic edge to the guitar and impact of the drums. That’s a turn from 2016’s Kodama (review here), which offered more of a conceptual progressivism, and of course the prior 2014 LP, Shelter (review here), which cast of metallic trappings almost entirely. Why the change? Who cares, it works, and they still have room for the cinematic keyboard-led drama of “Le Miroir” and plenty of the wistful emotionalism that’s been their hallmark since their debut in 2007. They’ve long since mastered their approach and Spiritual Instinct serves as another example of their being able to make their sound do whatever they want.

Alcest on Thee Facebooks

Nuclear Blast webstore

 

Superchief, Moontower

superchief moontower

Four records and just about a decade deep into a tenure that began with the 2010 Rock Music EP (review here), Iowa heavy rockers Superchief have found ways to bring an inventiveness to what’s still an ostensibly straightforward approach. Moontower, named for a lookout point where — at least presuming from the album’s artwork — people tailgate and get drunk, finds the dudely five-piece no less embroiled in burl than they’ve ever been, but using samples and other elements in interesting ways as with the revving motor matching step with the drums at the start of “Barking Out at the Blood Moon” or keyboards in “Rock ‘n’ Roll War” filling out the breaks where the riffs take a step back. Handclaps early in “Beer Me Motherfucker” — as much post-“Introduction” mission statement for the LP as a whole as anything — set the party tone, and from the shaker on “The Approach” to the Southern tinged shred and organ on closer “Priority of the Summer,” a car speeding by at the finish, Superchief find ways to make each of their songs stand out from its surroundings. Then they pair that with choice riffery, pro-shop sound and hooks. Sure enough, it’s once again a winning formula and a distinct showing of personality and craft that still comports with classic heavy style.

Superchief website

Superchief on Bandcamp

 

Test Meat, Enjoy

test meat enjoy

Boston duo Test Meat are so utterly bullshit-free as to be almost intimidating. Guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard (Kind, Blackwolfgoat, Hackman, Milligram, etc.) and drummer Michael Nashawaty (Planetoid) dig into heavy grunge and noise rock influences across a 10-track/27-minute full-length that resounds with punker roots and an ethic of willful straightforwardness. It’s not that the music is so intense there would be no room for frills, it’s that the structures are so tight and so purposefully barebones that they’d be incongruous. And it’s not that Test Meat are writing half-hearted songs, either. Frankly, neither the quality of their material nor the sharpness of the sound they captured at New Alliance Studio with Alec Rodriguez would remotely lead one to believe so, and nothing with such stylistic clarity happens by mistake. This is a band with a mission, and Enjoy finds them bringing that mission to life with a complete lack of pretense. It’s a reminder of what made grunge so appealing in the first place some 30 years and an entire internet ago. Songs and performance. Yes.

Test Meat on Thee Facebooks

Test Meat on Bandcamp

 

Stones of Babylon, Hanging Gardens

Stones of Babylon Hanging Gardens

Following a 2018 live demo, Portuguese instrumental three-piece Stones of Babylon — guitarist Rui Belchior, bassist João Medeiros, drummer Pedro Branco — embark with a conceptualist intent on their debut full-length, Hanging Gardens, issued through Raging Planet. An opening sample in the leadoff title-track describing the hanging gardens of Babylon sets the stage for what the band goes on to describe with wordless atmospheres over the five-song/47-minute long-player, their vision of heavy psychedelia touched with a suitable Middle Eastern/North African influence in the initial unfolding of the meditative 11-minute “Coffea Arabica” or the winding lead work over the punchy low end of “Black Pig’s Secret Megalith.” But Hanging Gardens is still very much a heavy rock release, and its material showcases that in tone and mood, with volume changes and builds taking hold like that in centerpiece “Ziggurat,” which in its second half sets a march of distorted largesse nodding forth until its final crashout. They save the most drift for “Babylonia (The Deluge),” and if they’re finishing with the story of the flood, one can’t help but wonder what narrative course they might follow in a second record. On the other hand, if one comes out of Hanging Gardens trying to envision Stones of Babylon‘s future, then the debut would seem to have done its job, and so it has. There’s stylistic and tonal promise, and with the edge of storytelling, an opportunity for development of which one hopes they avail themselves.

Stones of Babylon on Thee Facebooks

Raging Planet website

 

Nightstalker, Great Hallucinations

nightstalker great hallucinations

Frontman Argy and Greek heavy rock institution Nightstalker return with their eighth album in a quarter-century run, Great Hallucinations. Also their first LP for Heavy Psych Sounds after issuing 2016’s As Above So Below (review here) on Oak Island Records, it’s an up-to-par eight-track collection of catchy tracks marked out by psychedelic elements but underpinned by traditionalist structures, Argy‘s distinctive frontman presence, and an all-around unforced feeling of a mature, established band doing what they do. Not going through the motions in the sense of fulfilling some perceived obligation to stay on the road, but creating the songs they want to create in nothing less than the manner they want to create them. I won’t take away from the roll of “Seven out of Ten,” but as “Cursed” taps into a legacy of European heavy rock that runs from Dozer‘s turn of the century work — not to mention Nightstalker‘s own — to outfits today, it’s hard not to appreciate an act being so assured in what they do in terms of execution while actually doing it. In that way, Great Hallucinations is as refreshing as it is familiar.

Nighstalker on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Lewis and the Strange Magics, Melvin’s Holiday

Lewis and the Strange Magics Melvins Holiday

From their beginnings in garage doom and subsequent dive into exploitation/vamp psych, Barcelona’s Lewis and the Strange Magics put themselves in even weirder territory on their third album, Melvin’s Holiday, centering a story around the titular character whose life is in turmoil and so he goes on vacation. The sound of the band seems to do likewise, veering into ’70s lounge sleaze and island influences, toying with funky rhythms and keyboards amid catchy choruses across what still would have to be called an experimental 34-minute run. It is a concept album, to be sure, and one that comes through in its stylistic choices like the dreamy keyboards of the centerpiece “Carpet Sun” or the fuzzy stomp in “Sad in Paradise” and the percussion amid the Ween-sounding lead guitar buzz of “Lounge Decadence.” This could be Lewis and the Strange Magics working purposefully to cast off any and all expectation that might be placed on them, or it could just be a one-off whim, but there’s no question they pull off an impressive turn and carry the concept through in story and substance. When it comes to what they might do next time, the payoff of closer “Afternoon on the Sand” serves as one more demonstration that the band can do whatever the hell they want with their sound, so I’d expect them to do no less than precisely that.

Lewis and the Strange Magics on Thee Facebooks

Lewis and the Strange Magics on Bandcamp

 

Room 101, The Burden

room 101 the burden

The debut EP from Lansing, Michigan, four-piece Room 101, called simply The Burden, would seem to take a scorched-earth approach to atmospheric sludge, setting their balance to exploring ambient textures and samples in pieces like “You Will Never Know Security” — which, sure enough, samples 1984 to recount the origin of the band’s name — and the brief “A Place to Bury Strangers,” while the churning “As the Crow Flies” and “Missing Rope” present an outright extremity that comes through in post-Godflesh vocal barks and a Through Silver in Blood-style intensity of churn and general approach. Yet I wouldn’t necessarily call Room 101 post-metal — at least not here. The solo on “Missing Rope” seems to draw from more traditional sources, and the manner in which the chugging in “Plague Dogs” caps with a sudden quick series of hits recalls grindcore’s pivoting brutality. One might hope all of these elements get fleshed out more over subsequent releases, but as a first outing, part of The Burden‘s promise is also drawn from the sheer rawness of its impact and the lack of compromise in its wrench of gut.

Room 101 on Thee Facebooks

Room 101 on Bandcamp

 

Abatross Overdrive, Ascendant

albatross overdrive ascendant

Albatross Overdrive‘s 2016 LP, Keep it Running (review here), ran 31 minutes. Their follow-up, Ascendant, reaches to 33, but loses two tracks in the doing. Clearly, one way or the other, this is a conscious ethic on the band’s part, and it tells you something about their approach to heavy rock as well. There’s nothing too fancy about it — even in “Come Get Some,” which is the longest song the band have ever written at 6:40 — and they are not an outfit to waste their time. Structures run from verse to chorus to verse to chorus led through by guitarists Andrew Luddy and Derek Phillips and Art Campos‘ gritty delivery with an expectedly solid underpinning from bassist Mark Abshire (ex-Fu Manchu) and drummer Rodney Peralta and songs like the careening title-track and the blues-licked shover “Undecided” are enough to give the impression that anything else would be superfluous. They’re not lacking style — because ’70s-meets-’90s-straight-ahead-heavy is, indeed, a style — but it’s the level of their craft that stands them out.

Albatross Overdrive on Thee Facebooks

Albatross Overdrive on Bandcamp

 

Cloud Cruiser, I: Capacity

Cloud Cruiser I Capacity

Kyuss-style riffing takes a beating at the hands of Chicago newcomers Cloud Cruiser — who are not to be confused with Denver’s Cloud Catcher — who make their debut on vinyl through Shuga Records with I: Capacity, giving an aggressive push to what’s commonly considered a more laid back sound. In tone and rhythm and general gruffness, they are a deceptively pointed outfit, with turns of broader groove like that at the outset of “575” that speak to more influences than simply those of the Cali desert. They start off catchy and familiar-if-reshaped, though, on “Transmission” and “Glow,” letting their tale of alien abduction unfold across the lyrics while setting up the shifts that “Gone” and “575” and the thick-boogie of “Orbitalclast” will make before the EP’s would-be-clean-but-for-all-that-dirt-it’s-kicked-up 23-minute run is through. The balance they present speaks to a background in metal, though if they’re fresh arrivals in this realm of heavy, you’d never know it from the lumbering finish they present. Sometimes you just gotta get mean to get your point across. It suits

Cloud Cruiser on Thee Facebooks

Shuga Records website

 

The Spiral Electric, The Spiral Electric

the spiral electric the spiral electric

It is a progressive interpretation of fuzz ‘n’ buzz that San Francisco four-piece The Spiral Electric realize on their self-titled, self-released debut long-player, with recording and mixing by Dead Meadow‘s Steve Kille, the band — vocalist/synthesist/noisemaker/guitarist/percussionist/co-producer Clay Andrews, lead guitarist/backing vocalist Nicolas Percey, bassist Michael Summers and drummer Matias Drago — bridge the generally disparate realms of heavy psych and riffer heavy rock, giving a dreamy sensibility to “Marbles” with no less an organic vibe than they brought to the howling, attitudinal push of “No Bridge Left Unburned” earlier. They skillfully mess with the scale across the lengthy 14-track span, and thereby hold their audience for the duration in longer pieces like “The True Nature of Sacrifice” (8:24) as easily as they do in a series of three episodic interludes of noise, field recordings, synth, etc. This is a band ready, willing and able to space. the hell. out., and after listening to the record, you’d be a fool if you wanted to try. Not that they don’t have aspects to shore up or shifts that could be tightened and so on, but from ambition to fruition, it’s the kind of first record bands should aspire to make.

The Spiral Electric on Thee Facebooks

The Spiral Electric on Bandcamp

 

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Quarterly Review: Dommengang, Ice Dragon, Saint Karloff, Witch Trail, Love Gang, Firebreather, Karkara, Circle of Sighs, Floral Fauna, Vvlva

Posted in Reviews on January 7th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

We begin Day Two of the Winter 2020 Quarterly Review. Snow on the ground fell overnight and the day ahead looks as busy as ever. There’s barely time to stop for sips of coffee between records, but some allowances must be made. It’s Tuesday after all. There’s still a lot of week left. And if we can’t be kind to ourselves in the post-holiday comedown of wintry gray, when can we?

So yes, pause, sip — glug, more likely — then proceed.

I don’t usually play favorites with these things, but I think today’s might have worked out to be my favorite batch of the bunch. As always, I hope you find something that speaks to you.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Dommengang, No Keys

dommengang no keys

Driving heavy psych and rock meet with spacious Americana and a suburbanite dreaminess in Dommengang‘s No Keys, the now-L.A. trio’s follow-up to 2018’s Love Jail (review here). It is a melting pot of sound, with emphasis on melting, but vocal harmonies and consistently righteous basslines like that in “Stir the Sea” act to tie the nine component tracks together, making Dommengang‘s various washes of tone ultimately the creation of a welcoming space. Early cut “Earth Blues” follows opener “Sunny Day Flooding” with a mindful far-outbound resonance, and the later “Arcularius – Burke” finds itself in a linear building pattern ahead of “Jerusalem Cricket,” which reimagines ’70s country rock as something less about nostalgia than forward possibility. Having come far on their apparently keyboard-less journey, from the breadth-casting verses of “Stir the Sea” to the doomy interlude “Blues Rot,” they end with “Happy Death (Her Blues II)” which sure as hell sounds like it has some organ on it. Either way, whether they live up to the standard of the title or not is secondary to the album’s actual achievements, which are significant, and distinguish Dommengang from would-be peers in atmosphere, craft and melody.

Dommengang on Thee Facebooks

Thrill Jockey Records on Bandcamp

 

Ice Dragon, Passage of Mind

ice dragon passage of mind

Though they don’t do it nearly as often as they did between 2012 and 2015, every now and then Boston’s Ice Dragon manage to sneak out a new release. Over the last few years, that’s been a succession of singles, but Passage of Mind is their first LP since 2015’s A Beacon on the Barrow (review here), and though they’ll always in some part be thought of as a doom band, the unassuming organic psychedelia of “Don’t Know Much but the Road” reminds more of Chris Goss‘ work with Masters of Reality in its acoustic/fuzz blend and melody. The experimentalism-prone outfit have been down this avenue before as well, and it suits them, even as members have moved on to other projects (Brass Hearse among them), with the seven-minute “One of These Days” basing itself around willfully simplistic-sounding intertwining lines of higher and lower fuzz. There are moments of serenity, like closer “Dream About You” and “Sun in My Eyes,” but “The Sound the Rain Makes” is more of a blowout, and even the darker vibe of “Delirium’s Tears” holds hits melody as top priority. Hey guess what? Here’s an Ice Dragon album that deserves more attention than it’s gotten. I think it’s the 12th one.

Ice Dragon on Thee Facebooks

Ice Dragon on Bandcamp

 

Saint Karloff, Interstellar Voodoo

Saint Karloff Interstellar Voodoo

Oslo’s Saint Karloff squash the high standard they set for themselves on their 2018 debut, All Heed the Black God (review here), with the 41-minute single-song long-player Interstellar Voodoo, basking in bluesy Sabbathian grandeur and keeping a spirit of progressive adventuring beneath without giving over entirely to self-indulgent impulses any more than one could as they careen from one movement to the next in the multi-stage work. With vinyl through Majestic Mountain Records, tape on Stoner Witch Records and CD through Ozium Records, they’re nothing if not well represented, and rightly so, as they veer in and out of psychedelic terrain in exciting and periodically elephantine fashion, still making room for classic Scandi-folk boogie on side A before the second half of the track stomps all over everything that’s come before it en route to its own organ-laced jammy meandering, Iommi shuffle and circa-’74 howl. As a new generation of doom rock begins to take shape, Saint Karloff position themselves well as earlier pursuers of an individualist spirit while still drawing of course on classic sources of inspiration. The first record was encouraging. The second is more so. The third will be the real tell of who they are as a band.

Saint Karloff on Thee Facebooks

Majestic Mountain Records webstore

 

Witch Trail, The Sun Has Left the Hill

witch trail the sun has left the hill

The jangling guitar strum in centerpiece “Lucid” on Witch Trail‘s The Sun Has Left the Hill (Consouling Sounds) has the indelible mark of classic rock and roll freedom to it. One wonders if Pete Townshend would recognize it, or if it’s too far blasted into oblivion by the Belgian trio’s aesthetic treatment across The Sun Has Left the Hill‘s convention-challenging 29-minute span, comprising seven tracks that bring together a heavy alternative rock and post-black metal vision marked by spacious echoes and cavern screams that are likewise tortured and self-assured. That is to say, there’s no mistaking the intent here. In the early intensity of “Watcher” or the shimmering and more patiently unfolding “Silent Running,” the Ghent three-piece mark out their stylistic terrain between bursts of noisy chaotic wash and clearheaded execution. The six-minute “Afloat” hisses like a lost demo that would’ve rewritten genre history some 25 years ago, and even in closer “Residue,” one can’t help but feel like Witch Trail are indeed looking to leave some lasting effect behind them with such forward-thinking craft. Sure to be a shock for those who take it on with no idea of what to expect.

Witch Trail on Thee Facebooks

Consouling Sounds website

 

Love Gang, Dead Man’s Game

love gang dead mans game

Shortly before Love Gang are halfway through the opening title-track of their debut album, Dead Man’s Game, just when you think you might have their blend of organ-laced Radio Moscow and Motörhead figured out, that’s when Leo Muñoz breaks out the flute and the whole thing takes a turn for the unexpected. Surprises abound from the Denver foursome of Muñoz (who also handles organ and sax), guitarist/vocalist Kam Wentworth, bassist Grady O’Donnell and drummer Shaun Goodwin, who find room for psychedelic airiness amidst the gallop of “Addiction,” which doesn’t seem coincidentally paired with “Break Free,” though the two don’t run together. Love Gang‘s 2016 self-titled EP (review here) had a cleaner production and less aggro throb, and there’s some of that on Dead Man’s Game in the peaceful melody of “Interlude,” but even seven-minute closer “Endless Road” makes a point of finishing at a rush, and that’s ultimately what defines the album. No complaints. Love Gang wield momentum as another element of inventive arrangement on this encouraging first long-player.

Love Gang on Thee Facebooks

Love Gang on Thee Facebooks

 

Firebreather, Under a Blood Moon

firebreather under a blood moon

‘Tis the stuff of battle axes and severed limbs, but it’s worth noting that three of the six inclusions on Firebreather‘s second LP and first for RidingEasy Records, Under a Blood Moon, have some reference to fire in their title. The follow-up to their brazen 2017 self-titled debut (review here) starts with its longest track (immediate points) in the nine-minute “Dancing Flames,” then follows immediately with “Our Souls, They Burn” and launches side B with the eponymous “Firebreather,” as the Gothenburg trio of Mattias Nööjd, Kyle Pitcher and Axel Wittbeck launch their riffy, destructive assault with urgency that earns all that scarred land left in its wake. The High on Fire comparison remains inevitable, perhaps most of all on “Firebreather” itself, but Firebreather have grown thicker in tone, meaner in approach and do nothing to shy away from the largesse that such a sound might let them convey, as “Our Souls, They Burn” and in the volume surges of closer “The Siren.” Under a Blood Moon is a definite forward step from the first LP, showing an evolving sound and burgeoning individuality that one hopes Firebreather continue to hunt down with such vigilance.

Firebreather on Thee Facebooks

RidingEasy Records on Bandcamp

 

Karkara, Crystal Gazer

karkara crystal gazer

Presented through Stolen Body Records, the debut long-player from French trio Karkara purports to be “Oriental psych rock,” which accounts for an Eastern influence in the overall sound of its seven-track/41-minute run, but there are perhaps some geographical questions to be undertaken there, as “Camel Rider” and others show a distinctive Mideastern flair. Whatever works, I guess. At its core, Crystal Gazer is a work of psychedelic space rock, brought to bear with a duly open sensibility by guitarist/vocalist Karim Rihani (also didgeridoo), bassist Hugo Olive and drummer/vocalist Maxime Marouani as seemingly the beginning stages of a broader sonic adventure. That is to say, the stylistic aspects at play here — and they are very much “at play” — feel purposefully used, but like the foundation of what will be future growth on the part of Karkara as a unit. Will they progress along a more patient and meditative path, as “The Way” hints in some of its early roll, or will the frenetic winding of closer “Jedid” set their course for subsequent freakouts? I don’t know, but Karkara strike as a band who won’t see any point to standing still creatively any more than they do to doing so rhythmically.

Karkara on Thee Facebooks

Stolen Body Records website

 

Circle of Sighs, Desolate

circle of sighs desolate

Information is limited on Circle of Sighs, and by that I primarily mean I don’t have any. They list their point of origin as Los Angeles, so there’s that, but as to the whos and whats, wheres and so on, it’s a mystery. Something tells me that suits the band, whose four-track debut EP, Desolate, gracefully executes a blend of melodic downerism with more extreme elements at play, melodic vocal arrangements offset by screams in the closing title-track after the prior rolling groove of “Burden of the Flesh” offered a progressive and synth-laden take on Pallbearer-style emotive doom. Acoustics, keyboard, and a clear use of multiple singers give Circle of Sighs‘ first outing a kitchen-sink feel, but one can only admire them for trying something new at their (presumed) outset, and the catchy chug of “Hold Me, Lucifer” speaks to more complex aesthetic origins than the simplistic subject matter might lead one to believe. The outlier is the penultimate nine-minute cut “Kukeri,” which broods across its first three minutes in a manner that would make Patrick Walker proud before unfolding the breadth of its lumber and arrangement, harmonies and screams and the first real showcase of more extreme impulses taking hold in its second half — plus strings, maybe — which “Desolate” itself will build upon after a bookending acoustic close. There’s some sorting out to do in terms of sound, but already they show a readiness to push in their own direction, and that’s more than it would seem reasonable to ask.

Circle of Sighs on Thee Facebooks

Circle of Sighs on Bandcamp

 

Floral Fauna, Pink and Blue

floral fauna pink and blue

Way out west, Chris Allison of the band Lord Loud is taking on psychedelic shimmer under the ostensible solo moniker of Floral Fauna, but the situation of the project’s 11-tracker debut LP, Pink and Blue is more complicated in personnel and style than that, melding fuzzy presence, classic ’60s surf-tone, rampant hooky melody and ready-to-go-anywhere-as-long-as-it-works pop experimentalism together in a steaming lysergic cauldron of neo-yourface-ism that’s ether blissed enough to tie funk and ancient R&B to cosmic flow together in a manner that feels like an utter tossoff, like, hey, yeah man, this kind of thing just happens all the time here. You know, no big deal on this wavelength. Mellow dreams in “Great White Silence,” a spacey ramble in “Velvet and Jade” and the echoing leadwork of “Red Anxiety” continue the color theme from the opening title-track, and the record caps with “Herds of Jellyfish,” which at last brings forward the vocal harmony that the whole album seems to have been begging for. Cool debut? Shit, man. It’s 36 minutes of straight-up psych joy just waiting to bring you on board. Legal psilocybin now.

Floral Fauna on Thee Facebooks

King Volume Records on Bandcamp

 

Vvlva, Silhouettes

vvlva silhouettes

There are a couple things you can figure on in this wacky universe, and one of them is that German imprint World in Sound knows what it’s doing when it picks up a classic heavy rock band. Silhouettes is the second long-player the label has released from woefully-monikered Aschaffenburg-based four-piece Vvlva, and indeed in the upfront boogie of “Cosmic Pilgrim” or the more progressive unfolding of pieces like “Tales Told by a Gray Man,” the centerpiece “Gomorrah,” or the longer “Night by Night/The Choir” and “Dance of the Heathens,” which seem to bring the two sides together, there’s enough vintage influence to make the case once again. Like the more forward thinking of their contemporaries, Vvlva have brought this modus into the present when it comes to production value and clarity, and rather than sound like it’s 1973, they would seem to be making 1973 sound like them. Whether one dives in for the early hooks in “Cosmic Pilgrim” or “What Do I Stand For?” or the fuzzy interplay between the solo and organ in the maddeningly bouncing “Hobos,” there’s plenty in Silhouettes to demonstrate the vitality and continued evolution of the style.

Vvlva on Thee Facebooks

World in Sound website

 

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2019

Posted in Features on December 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk best of 2019

[PLEASE NOTE: These are not the results of the year-end poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t contributed your list to the cause yet, please do so here.]

Make no mistake, my friends. 2019 was the year it went off the rails.

Every 12-month period brings a lot of records, and they all seem overwhelming, but this was the first year I’ve ever felt quite so helpless when it came time to sit down and actually make my list. Of course, I keep running notes all year long, but even so, ordering everything, bringing it all together? What a mess.

I almost thought of breaking it down into smaller lists in addition to the big one, subgrouped by style. But then, where does doom end and sludge begin? What about psych and heavy rock? Should prog get its own list? And what the hell counts as prog?

In the end, that didn’t seem like it would be doing me any favors, so we’ll stick with the one big list and then others for debut releases and another for EPs, splits, demos and so on. You know, the usual.

Pretty sure I say this every year too, but it bears repeating: if you read any of the below — and thanks if you do — and have a response, be nice. If I’ve forgotten something — and yes, I have; I’m sure of it — that you think needs to be included, and you want to leave a comment that says so, please, by all means. But keep it civil. I know people are passionate about this stuff and so am I, but consider there are probably over 200 offerings covered here by the time you get through all the lists and honorable mentions, and I’m one person. I’m doing my best, and though I try not to, I tend to take being called a dumbass personally. So yeah, chill out and please be constructive in calling me a dumbass. Words matter.

A few hard choices here, most especially for album of the year. I was back and forth with each of the top three in the top spot for a good long while, and it might change again between now and when this post goes up. But it’s been that kind of year. In 2018, there was no question. It was Sleep all the way. The question was what came after that. This year has been different without that kind of duh, punch-in-the-face obvious pick. Relative parity isn’t a bad thing though.

Enough delay. The usual parameters apply. These are a combo of my personal listening habits and what I think are the most important records/achievements of the year, critical importance, etc.

Here we go:

The Top 50 Albums of 2019

#50-31

50. Hazemaze, Hymns of the Damned
49. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
48. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Grandmother
47. PH, Osiris Hayden
46. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
45. Abrahma, In Time for the Last Rays of Light
44. Uffe Lorenzen, Triprapport
43. Swallow the Sun, When a Shadow is Forced into the Light
42. Caustic Casanova, God How I Envy the Deaf
41. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Tre
40. SÂVER, They Came With Sunlight
39. Ogre, Thrice as Strong
38. Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension
37. Vokonis, Grasping Time
36. Sacri Monti, Waiting Room for the Magic Hour
35. Across Tundras, The Rugged Ranges of Curbs and Broken Minds
34. Duel, Valley of Shadows
33. Orodruin, Ruins of Eternity
32. Zaum, Divination
31. Inter Arma, Sulphur English

Notes: Honestly, if this had been the top 20 of the year, I’d still call 2019 a win. Aside from the fact that I somehow thought Caustic Casanova would enjoy coming in a number 42, the sheer quality of this stuff should tell you what kind of year 2019 was. Inter Arma’s Sulphur English was a significant achievement in genre melding, and Orodruin’s return after more than a decade since their last LP was a masterclass in doom worship. Debut albums from SÂVER and Thunderbird Divine and Lightning Born showed marked promise of things to come — and there’s more on them below as well — while Zaum’s, Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree’s and Lamp of the Universe’s meditations, Vokonis’ noise, Abrahma’s emotive progressivisim, Swallow the Sun’s melodic melancholy, Sacri Monti’s boogie, and whatever the hell PH were doing on Osiris Hayden remind just how much the word “heavy” can encompass. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Duel and Uffe Lorenzen and Hazemaze were musts here, and Ogre are perennial favorites whose work always brings a doomly grin. Don’t sleep on any of it.

30. Sun Blood Stories, Haunt Yourself

sun blood stories haunt yourself

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 6.

Until they put out a complementary follow-up record of such fare, one might’ve accused Idaho three-piece Sun Blood Stories of becoming less experimentalist/droned-out/noisy on Haunt Yourself, but they seem to have met their quota one way or the other with the Oct. 2019 advent of Static Sessions Vol. 1. Still, it’s melody, heavy post-rock/psychedelic drift and emotive soul that rule the day on the crushing and enriching Haunt Yourself, and no complaints from me on that.

29. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Everybody’s Going to Die

Church of the Cosmic Skull Everybodys Going to Die

Released by Septaphonic Records. Reviewed Dec. 10.

I don’t have to do anything more than read the name of the album to have the chorus of the title-track stuck in my head, and it’s a reminder that although the Nottingham troupe put so much into their progressive style and vocal harmonies and arrangements, and a more conceptual theme in the case of Everybody’s Going to Die — their answer to 2018’s excellent Science Fiction (review here) — their roots are in songcraft, and it’s the foundation of songcraft that lets them soar. Would be higher on the list if it weren’t so new.

28. Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

devil to pay forever never or whenever

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 4.

With their sixth album, Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay collect 10 tracks of unpretentious-almost-to-a-fault of straightforward heavy rock songwriting that continues to be woefully underappreciated. They have become utterly reliable in that regard — you know, to a certain extent, what’s coming — but the vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (also Apostle of Solitude) and some more metallic turns to the riffing give Forever, Never or Whenever a subtlety that holds up all the more on repeat visits. I don’t know if Devil to Pay will ever get their due, but suffice it to say, they’re due.

27. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds

howling giant the space between worlds

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Oct. 11.

If you’re of a certain age, you remember when the first Playstation came out and everyone looked around at their Nintendos and Segas like, “What the hell am I messing around with Mario Golf for? I could be playing Resident Evil!” That’s kind of what Howling Giant are as compared to “regular” rock bands. They’re the Playstation of heavy: that next progressive step forward carrying an inhuman amount of swagger and personality while still delivering a stepped-up product from their would-be peers. The scariest thing about The Space Between Worlds is it’s their first LP. One looks forward to the next generation.

26. Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

saint vitus saint vitus

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 19.

I know for a fact that bassist Pat Bruders and drummer Henry Vasquez had a hand in writing some of the material on Saint Vitus’ second self-titled LP, and yet the album so much bears the indelible mark of guitarist Dave Chandler that it’s hard not to think of it all as his. The album marked their first release with original singer Scott Reagers since 1995’s Die Healing (discussed here) and featured among their trademark low-tuned slog, an actual punk song, which showed the grinning glee that underlies all they do. Four decades on, Saint Vitus sound like they’re having fun. How is that not a win?

25. Ealdor Bealu, Spirit of the Lonely Places

ealdor bealu spirit of the lonely places

Self-released. Reviewed July 10.

Woodsy Rocky Mountain psychedelia abounded on Boise foursome Ealdor Bealu’s second full-length, and their blend of landscape meditations and grounded heavy progressive melodicism made Spirit of the Lonely Places as much about impact as about space, though of course the real joy was the experience of the entirety. Very much a sophomore album, it learned lessons from 2017’s Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain (review here) that one only hopes the band will continue to push forward in scope as they so gracefully did here.

24. Yatra, Death Ritual

yatra death ritual

Released through Grimoire Records. Discussed Nov. 13, 2018..

Though hard- and to-date quick-working Maryland trio Yatra have already moved on and are looking ahead to releasing their second album, Blood of the Night (review here), their Grimoire-delivered debut, Death Ritual, is impossible to ignore for the impact it had on reminding listeners of the impact that primeval extreme sludge can have. Another couple tours and some bigger label — Relapse, Prosthetic, eOne, Season of Mist, whoever — will decide they’re “ready,” whatever that means, and then sign them and I won’t be cool enough to do track premieres for them anymore, but as far as accolades go, Yatra earn whatever they get and Death Ritual stands among 2019’s most landmark debuts. They’ve already outdone it, but it’s a stunner just the same.

23. Ecstatic Vision, For the Masses

ecstatic vision for the masses

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 17.

Ecstatic Vision frontman Doug Sabolik has cast himself in the mold of Arthur Brown or Dave Wyndorf or probably seven or eight dudes who were in Hawkwind at some point as a manic-but-stoned space rock preacher with as he and his band behind him plunge headfirst-or-feetfirst-it-doesn’t-matter-because-your-body-is-an-illusion-man into the molten multicolor void. For the Masses. The ‘masses,’ such as they are, should be so lucky, but the double-meaning is the real tell for where the Philly unit are coming from. Their shows are the masses — gatherings of spirit and song to give praise to the willful expansion of mind. If you can’t get behind that, you might as well go get a job or something. This ain’t no lightweight party for squares and dabblers. This is a high-potency happening for werewolves on motorcycles and freaks of all stripes. Get weird stay weird. Ecstatic Vision are one mostly-mellow 15-minute “Spine of God”-style psych-epic away from perfection.

22. Beastwars, IV

beastwars iv

Released by Destroy Records. Reviewed June 27.

But for the circumstances that brought it about — i.e. Beastwars vocalist Matt Hyde’s cancer — the unexpected fourth installment in the Beastwars trilogy was nothing if not welcome. An grand-feeling sense of largesse was nothing new to the New Zealand four-piece, but after breaking up and getting back together to make the album, the grim sincerity with which they presented this exploration of mortality and betrayal by one’s own body was no less palpable than the undulating riffs that threatened, as ever, to consume all in their path. I don’t know their future plans in terms of continuing to write and/or record, but there are reports of touring beyond Aus/NZ for 2020, so one way or another, stay tuned for more from them. Whether or not they do anything else, IV was a triumph in spirit and execution.

21. Eternal Black, Slow Burn Suicide

eternal black slow burn suicide

Self-released. Reviewed June 7.

With the nine songs of Slow Burn Suicide, Brooklyn’s Eternal Black began to unveil the true depth of their project. Their 2017 debut, Bleed the Days (review here), was well received, and rightly so, but operated more in a straight-ahead doom sphere. The second outing, by contrast, delved into a particular vision of the style informed by the crunch of peak-era New York noise and crossover hardcore, and it succeeded not just because it did this, but because it did so around a conjuration of memorable riffs and tracks building on accomplishments carried over from its predecessor. Is this an awaited arrival of next-generation ‘New York doom’? Will theirs be a blueprint others will follow? It’s impossible to know now, and their next album will be telling either way, but the course they’ve set is significant.

20. Candlemass, The Door to Doom

candlemass the door to doom

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 22.

It may have been the Tony Iommi guest appearance that got Swedish doom legends Candlemass — the world’s earliest and foremost purveyors of doom both classic and epic — their recent Grammy nomination, but it was the long-overdue reunion with original vocalist Johan Längquist that made the album as a whole as powerful as it was. Pairing Längquist’s theatrical and vital approach with founding bassist Leif Edling’s second-to-none doomcraft, The Door to Doom was a catapult not to the bygone days of the band’s landmark debut, 1986’s Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, but an inspired look at not just what might’ve been had Längquist remained with the band longer, but what might still be if he does this time around. Candlemass have been through their share of singers, but as fresh as The Door to Doom sounded, it’s hard not to hope for something more than a one-off with he who got there first. The songs, the spirit, the sheer heart poured into Candlemass’ doom some 35 years past the band’s start only emphasizes how special they have always been.

19. Nebula, Holy Shit

nebula holy shit

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed June 13.

Anyone who might’ve predicted Nebula getting into the studio and making a new album was either in the room when it happened or talking out their ass. And speaking of, was Nebula’s Holy Shit named for the shock one might’ve felt at its existence, or the surprise at how good it actually sounded when you put it on? I don’t know. I probably won’t ever know. It was the best title I saw all year, but more than that, it was a Nebula record, fueled by the classic riffing and unmitigated desert punk soul of founding/guitarist Eddie Glass, whose absence from the heavy underground for the last decade left a void only too many others whiffed on filling. Holy Shit showed just how singular a player Glass was and is, and how much character there is in his style, particularly in solos, but also in rhythmic changes, and so on. I won’t discount the work of bassist Tom Davies and drummer Mike Amster in making Nebula what they are in this incarnation — they’re essential, obviously — but there’s simply no denying that presence at the band’s core.

18. Valley of the Sun, Old Gods

valley of the sun old gods

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed May 21.

This was a heavy rock record that had everything. Everything. It had songs, style, ups, down, purples, greens, ins, outs, all kinds of whathaveyou. Riffs forever. Valley of the Sun should keep their eyes on Sasquatch, because if they want it, that path is theirs. I know the Cincinnati outfit have had trouble keeping lineups together, but if they can hold onto one, and maybe after their next record start touring more, domestically and abroad — not at all a minor ask, I know — then people will catch on. Old Gods is evidence of the fact that they genuinely have something to offer, and frankly, it’s not at all the first such effective case they’ve made in their career. But they’ve never put anything out that wasn’t a step forward, and yet they’ve never lost sight of the roots of their initial inspiration. And they’ve never sacrificed the song for the riff, which so many do. They’ve only ever gotten better. Let Old Gods be a step toward them getting attention they’ve long since deserved.

17. Kadavar, For the Dead Travel Fast

Kadavar For the Dead Travel Fast

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 28.

In style and production, For the Dead Travel Fast is the most vintage-sounding offering Berlin trio Kadavar have made in over a half decade, yet neither is it looking backward wistfully toward 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) or giving up the modern clarity of 2017’s Rough Times (review here) or 2015’s Berlin (review here). Instead, it strikes a balance with a more sinister edge à la Uncle Acid in songs like “Children of the Night” and “Demons in My Mind” — both singles — and makes a home for itself between proto-metal and garage doom. Whatever genre tag you want to give it — and that might vary from track to track, mind you — it’s unmistakably Kadavar, with the signature hooks and memorable craftsmanship that have made them one of the decade’s most pivotal heavy bands. The real challenge at this point in their career is not to take for granted that Kadavar will produce material of such quality, because, frankly, that’s all they’ve ever done.

16. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Yn Ol I Annwn

mammoth weed wizard bastard yn ol i annwn

Released by New Heavy Sounds. Reviewed Feb. 7.

Welsh sci-fi cosmic doomers Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard billed Yn Ol I Annwn as the final installment of a trilogy that includes their two prior LPs, 2015’s Noeth Ac Anoeth (review here) and 2016’s Y Proffwyd Dwyll (review here), and while that may be true thematically, there’s also no question the third is a marked step forward from anything they’ve done before. They’re one foot out of the airlock and into space as their synth-laden longform riffing and melodies take them to places they’ve not yet gone, explorations of sight as much as sound, aural translation of colors humans aren’t gifted to see. Their songs across the 65-minute span unfold with the grace of a gravity spiral, pulling the listener deeper into the proceedings with each new phase that emerges until, what, obliteration? Stellar genesis? I’m not sure. They’ve reportedly got one more record to make and then they’re done. If that’s true, they’ll be missed then they’re gone.

15. Magic Circle, Departed Souls

magic circle departed souls

Released by 20 Buck Spin. Reviewed April 3.

They’ve found their way to die, and it’s upon an altar of classic metal and doom. And honestly, they make a pretty good case for it. Departed Souls is the third full-length from the Boston unit and their most stylistically realized work yet, with vocalist Brendan Radigan giving a standout performance alongside the guitars of Chris Corry and Renato Montenegro, the bass of Justin DeTore and Michael “Q” Quartulli’s drums, as the entire band taps into vibes from mid-’70s Black Sabbath and brings them to bear with an energy that is unlike anything in Magic Circle’s history. 2015’s Journey Blind (review here) brought in NWOBHM flash in the guitar work, sure enough, but Departed Souls doesn’t so much carry the torch of classic metal as it does use it to burn down the whole village and rebuild it in the five-piece’s image. From their doomed beginnings on their 2013 self-titled debut (review here) to now, they’re an act who’ve genuinely earned cult status. If you can find a backpatch, buy it.

14. Spaceslug, Reign of the Orion

Spaceslug Reign of the Orion cover

Released by BSFD Records. Reviewed Nov. 22.

Controversy! Drama! Well, probably not, but at very least some respectful disagreement on my part. You see, Poland’s Spaceslug have stated publicly that their latest release, the late-2019 surprise Reign of the Orion is an EP. Their albums regularly top 50 minutes, and at 36 minutes, I guess relative to that, you can see where they’re coming from. However, with the flow of these five songs and the ease with which they carry the listener from front-to-back through the listening experience, I’m sticking to my guns and calling Reign of the Orion an album. Sorry guys. True, it’s shorter than the other full-lengths, but it’s got everything you could ask an album to have in terms of how tracks like “Spacerunner” and the shouty “Half-Moon Burns” play into each other, and the fluidity of the outing on the whole is inarguable. An LP by any other name? Whatever you or they want to call it, there’s no question in my mind Reign of the Orion is one of 2019’s best records. If they insist on it being an EP, then it’s the best one of the year, but I still say it belongs in another category altogether, so here it is.

13. Green Lung, Woodland Rites

green lung woodland rites

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Jan. 28.

As hyper-crowded as London is with bands at this moment in history, there continue to be acts who sneak through with an individualized and intriguing perspective on doom and heavy rock, and Green Lung are a perfect example, learning from fellow Brits like Alunah and Elephant Tree and incorporating folk and forest goth vibes to their debut album, Woodland Rites. Laced with organ and stuck-in-the-head choruses like “Let the Devil In” and the creeper “Templar Dawn,” the record also pushed into drifting verses on “Into the Wild,” setting up future experimentation with atmospheric variety and genre manipulation. If part of any first album’s appeal is the potential it represents, Green Lung’s offers plenty, but wherever their subsequent course may or may not take them, their accomplishments here shouldn’t be overlooked. Woodland Rites is nothing less than the heavy rock debut album of the year, and though they emerge from a packed field, the work they do to stand themselves out already carries their mark and an apparent will toward progression. They’re on their way.

12. Lo-Pan, Subtle

lo-pan subtle

Released by Aqualamb Records. Reviewed May 9.

My head immediately goes to the hooks of “Ten Days” and “Ascension Day” and “Savage Heart,” but the up-down surges of guitar in “Old News/New Fire” and the midtempo soulfulness in “A Thousand Miles” are no less resonant when it comes to the actual listening experience of the fifth Lo-Pan LP. Subtle, when it came to living up to its name, as much wasn’t as it was. Flourishes of harmony in the vocals of Jeff Martin, the pops in Jesse Bartz’s snare punctuating and propelling in kind, turns in Scott Thompson’s bass work twisting around the guitar of Chris Thompson, a relative newcomer to the fold making his debut with the band and showing no apparent trouble fitting in. I don’t imagine Lo-Pan is an easy band to join, especially at this point. They thrive on personality clash and, through years of touring, have a chemistry they’ve built between them that comes through even on their recordings. Nonetheless, Subtle is their clearest, sharpest-edged work yet, and as tight as their songwriting has become, they still groove and groove mightily. They are a treasure of American heavy rock and roll. Believe it.

11. Roadsaw, Tinnitus the Night

roadsaw tinnitus the night

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 12.

While members of Roadsaw have spent the intervening years in projects like Kind, White Dynomite, Sasquatch and Murcielago, the Boston heavy rock kingpins have indeed been missed, and Tinnitus the Night works quickly to show why. It’s been well over 20 years since their first LP — hell, it’s been eight since they put out their 2011 self-titled (review here) — but their craft is at its own level, and Tinnitus the Night comes barreling through with “Shake” and “Along for the Ride” and “Final Phase” before opening up to broader fare on side B with “Find What You Need,” “Under the Devil’s Thumb” and “Midazolam” ahead of the subdued finale “Silence,” and the result is nothing less than a classic heavy rock LP structure as befitting what is itself a classic heavy rock LP. What’s Roadsaw’s future? I don’t know. It took them the better part of a decade to make this one happen, so take from that what you will, but to me, all it says is there’s even more reason to be grateful they got it done and out. To say the songs deserve that is putting it mildly.

10. Worshipper, Light in the Wire

worshipper light in the wire

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 24.

I’m not doing a ‘song of the year’ post, but if I was, Worshipper’s “Coming Through” might be it. The opening track from the Boston four-piece’s second album, Light in the Wire, marries classic pop drama in its melody with careening progressive riffing, and sets the tone for a record that is of both future and past, twistingly complex and yet immediately accessible, immersive as an entirety and still comprised of standout moments. These aren’t contradictions in Worshipper’s skillful hands, but the stuff of what’s already becoming their own take on rock. Tied together through melody, skillful rhythmic intricacy and solid structural foundations, “Light in the Wires,” “Visions from Beyond,” “Wither on the Vine” and others throughout post their own triumphs en route to enhancing the album as a whole, while “Nobody Else” and closer “Arise” underscore the emotive basis from which the perspective of the whole LP emanates. There are a lot of “next-gen” heavy rock bands out there weaving prog elements and traditional riffing together to some degree or other. Few, if any, can write a song like Worshipper can. I mean it. This band is something special.

9. Solace, The Brink

solace the brink

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Nov. 21.

What is there to say about Solace? A band who, nine years after revealing the expectation-slaughtering masterpiece A.D. (review here), return with three-fifths of a swapped-out lineup and simply do it again? This band is explosive. Really. Like, they might explode at any minute. It’s a miracle The Brink ever happened. I’ll be honest, I had my doubts. But Solace are a force like nothing else I’ve ever encountered in music. They take metallic aggression, hardcore’s sense of self-righteousness and heavy rock’s groove, set it all to a doomly swing and they play it in such a way as to leave you utterly dumbfounded by what you just experienced. Here’s a challenge though, for the band personally. From me to them. Do another one. Go ahead. Put out another album. You don’t even have to do it in 2020. Do it 2021. Write the songs and give me a no-holds-barred 45-minute LP of the tightest, meanest shit you’ve ever written. Because massive as the accomplishments are on The Brink, it’s the potential to build from them that resonates most here. So do it, guys. Step up and take advantage of the moment. Call me greedy if you want, I don’t care. Give me another Solace record. I dare you.

8. Brume, Rabbits

brume rabbits

Released by Doom Stew Records & DHU Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

Simply a case of a band wildly outdoing themselves. Easy story, yeah? In some ways, maybe, but the truth of what Brume achieve on Rabbits. Their second long-player behind 2017’s Rooster (review here), the five-track offering sees the San Francisco three-piece of vocalist/bassist Susie McMullan, guitarist/vocalist Jamie McCathie and drummer Jordan Perkins-Lewis working with producer Billy Anderson to bring theatricality and emotionalism together in a flowing post-heavy context that’s neither derivative nor working at cross purposes. Instead, it is a gorgeous and blooming undertaking across its 43-minute span, working in its own light/dark spectrum and bringing not just the sense of trapped fragility evoked by the cover art, but a corresponding sureness of intent to its ascendant heavy surges. Like Rooster before it, it is loaded with potential, but in “Scurry” and “Lament” and “Despondence” and “Blue Jay and “Autocrat’s Fool,” there’s a patience and command that absolutely does not waver. So yes, a band outdoing themselves. But so much more too.

7. Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal

mars red sky the task eternal

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Sept. 20.

This may forever be known as the Mars Red Sky album they wrote in a cave, but the Bordeaux three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matieu “Matgaz” Gazeau nonetheless plunged forward along the progressive course they charted back on 2014’s sophomore outing, Stranded in Arcadia (review here), and continued to manifest in 2016’s Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here). Their blend of melody and tonal heft has become a hallmark of their work to this stage in their career, but The Task Eternal continues to add a sense of breadth to the proceedings, giving their sound a full three-dimensional pull that feels tailor-made for headphones and is consuming in its entirety. With experiments in structure like the pairing of “Recast” and “Reacts,” and the rushing sweep of melody in “Hollow King,” Mars Red Sky’s latest is, as ever, their finest. Outdoing themselves would seem to be the task from which the record derives its title. Fine. Just keep going. Please.

6. Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 15.

Every time I think I understand where Kings Destroy want to go as a band, they pull the rug out. That’s what Fantasma Nera is. After their 2015 self-titled (review here) third LP seemed to declare them once and for all in a space between doom and noise rooted in their respective hardcore pasts, the Brooklynite five-piece hooked up with producer David Bottrill (Tool, etc.) and composed a rock album. A real live rock album! With progressive undertones in the guitar work and the most accomplished melodicism of their career, Kings Destroy put everything they had into making Fantasma Nera and one need look no further than the title-track to hear the result of that monumental effort. It is the realization of a band challenging themselves to go so far out of their comfort zone as to be only recognizable in the most rudimentary of ways, and to say it as plainly as I can, “Dead Before” on its own is enough of an accomplishment — and enough of a full-length, at all of 4:25 — to make this list on its own, whatever surrounds it. Song of the year. I’ll say every time I’m a Kings Destroy fan, but I’ve never been gladder to say it than I am in talking about Fantasma Nera.

5. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Dec. 3.

If you’re saying to yourself, “Ah come on, Colour Haze are always on the list when they put out records,” I have two answers. One, you’re right, and two, if you have a problem with that, blow it out your ass. The Munich forefathers of the European heavy psychedelic underground — yup — marked their 25th anniversary this year, and did so not just by putting out an album, but by putting out We Are, which introduces a full-fledged fourth member to what’s been a three-piece since 1998. Granted, it’s not the first time guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald have worked with organist/keyboardist/synthesist Jan Faszbender, but never has the presence of keys been so integral to their work, and never has the dynamic between players shifted in the way it does on tracks like “The Real” and “Life” and “I’m With You,” with keys fleshing out melodies and enriching the bass and guitar. Add to that the Spanish-style guitar on centerpiece “Material Drive” or the operatic flash in the penultimate “Be With Me,” and it’s one more example of one of the best bands on earth refusing to rest on their laurels. Which, as it happens, is why they’re one of the best bands on earth. So hell yes, they’re on all my lists. Fact is my lists are lucky to have them.

4. Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter

blackwater holylight veils of winter

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Sept. 26.

Like nothing else I heard in 2019, Veils of Winter had repeat listenability. It was the album that, most often, when I was choosing something I actually wanted to hear, I went back to time and again. Its dark, moody psychedelic and heavy vibe stands alone among the year’s releases, and is a stylistic milestone that one only hopes other artists will pick up on. Toying with pop melodies on tracks like “Death Realms” and bringing hypnosis and clarity in kind to the subtly traditionalist winding riff of “Moonlit” — would it have been out of place on the first Witchcraft LP? — the Portland, Oregon, five-piece worked on a speedy turnaround and squashed even the significant expectations I had after their self-titled debut (review here) last year. They’ve begun to tour, so I don’t know if another full-length is in the works for 2020, but their craft is enviable in its flow and their songs are shimmering in tone and cohesion alike. Given how bold a step forward Veils of Winter is, I hear nothing in their material to this point to make me think their momentum won’t continue to carry them forward. But, you know, if not, I’d also take about six or seven records just like this one. That’d be fine too. Whatever they want, really.

3. Slomatics, Canyons

Slomatics Canyons

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed May 15.

Belfast, Northern Ireland, three-piece Slomatics — guitarists David Marjury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/synthesist Marty Harvey — finished a narrative trilogy with 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here), and though the storyline was always vague throughout that and the preceding two offerings, the question of how they would proceed nonetheless hung over Canyons prior to its release. The answer is in the songs themselves. From the sci-fi majesty of lumbering, rolling groove in opener and longest track “Gears of Despair” — oh, they grind — through the mega-stomp of “Telemachus, My Son” and the righteously synth-laden wash that consumes “Mind Fortresses on Theia,” Slomatics bring together concept and execution with a readiness that highlights the fact of their 15th anniversary. They are mature in their approach, yes, but the fact is their approach is so much their own and so given to their particular mode of progression that it almost can’t help but feel fresh. How could something so utterly crushing also feel rejuvenating? As they plod through finale “Organic Caverns II” ending with more waves of synth and tectonic guitar — no bass, remember — they are as restorative as they are punishing, and they stand astride that duality with neither mercy nor pretense. Canyons, whether it’s setting up a new story, building from the old, or doing something completely different, stands on its own.

2. Year of the Cobra, Ash and Dust

year of the cobra ash and dust

Released by Prophecy Productions. Reviewed Oct. 24.

My anticipation for and expectations of Year of the Cobra’s second long-player were high most especially after 2017’s Burn Your Dead EP (review here), which along with the dead, set alight the notion that the Seattle duo of bassist/vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith and drummer Jon Barrysmith were simply a heavy/doom band. With elements of post-punk, psych wash, minimalist stretches and propulsive gallop, Ash and Dust cast itself out over an aesthetic range that set a new standard not just for Year of the Cobra, but for anyone who’d dare match them at their own game — and that list will grow with time, absolutely. As their first outing through Prophecy Productions, Ash and Dust threw itself into the very melting pot of its own ambition and emerged with songs that didn’t just bring together disparate ideas, but made them flourish and engage and challenge the listener while still proving consistent in tone and underlying groove. For a two-person, two-instrument outfit (not counting voice, though I should), they proved more malleable than many with more than twice the number of hands on deck, and pushed the notion of what heavy rock is and does forward without stopping to look back or ask for permission. They just did it, and maybe Ash and Dust is the aftermath of all that burning.

2019 Album of the Year

1. Monolord, No Comfort

monolord no comfort

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Look back over the course of this list, and you will find no shortage of bands and releases that surpassed the group in question’s past work. With Gothenburg, Sweden’s Monolord, it wasn’t just about No Comfort — their debut on Relapse, fourth full-length overall — being better than 2017’s Rust (review here), because that was pretty jolly gosh darn enjoyable, but about the band reaching a moment of transcendence to which Rust and all their prior work across 2015’s Vænir (review here) and 2014’s Empress Rising has been leading. With the six tracks of No Comfort, guitarist/vocalist Thomas Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and drummer Esben Willems not only overcome the influences that launched them — taking full ownership of their sound and defending that claim with the sheer quality of their songwriting — and they not only become as identifiable as those influences themselves, but they overcome themselves. No Comfort means no comfort. Monolord take the simplicity that once fueled their riffing, the willful primitivism of their earliest work, and with songs like “Larvae” and “The Bastard Son” and the closing title-track use it as the foundation it was apparently always intended to be. Monolord have toured plenty and certainly their studio output has shown an increasing complexity from one LP to the next, so progression isn’t unexpected, but the manner in which Monolord have executed that progression has been. Even on “The Last Leaf,” which is arguably the most straightforward fare on the album, one hears it as them rather than the manifestation of the acts that inspired them. The same holds for “Skywards” later on, and for the immersion that takes hold as the mournful “Alone Together” plays into “No Comfort” itself. Monolord take their place among the best bands on the planet, and deliver an Album of the Year for 2019 that, like the absolute best, will have an impact lasting much longer than any period of 12 months might convey.

The Top 50 Albums of 2019: Honorable Mention

You didn’t think we’d stop at 50, did you? Come on. You know me better than that. The fact is that the list itself, humongous as it is, is just the start of the tip of an iceberg attached to a glacier that’s somewhere on an entire planet constructed of ice.

Honorable mentions, you say? Yeah, a few. Here they are in no order whatsoever:

Lord Vicar, Goatess, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, Zone Six, Lykantropi, Earth, White Manna, Atala, Tia Carrera, Merlin, WEEED, Híbrido, Cities of Mars, Stone Machine Electric, Bretus, Blackwolfgoat, The Black Wizards, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Alunah, V, Pale Grey Lore, Leeds Point, Sons of Alpha Centauri, Spidergawd, Bus, Death Hawks, BBF, Vessel of Light, Crypt Trip, The Pilgrim, Uffe Lorenzen, Brant Bjork, Doomstress, Black Lung, Kandodo3, Monkey3, Bask, Horseburner, Zed, Bright Curse, Spillage, Sigils, Papir, Dune Sea, Destroyer of Light, Mastiff, Warp, Centrum, Varego, Lord Dying, Volcano, Saint Karloff, Firebreather, High Reeper, Bible of the Devil, Obsidian Sea, Torche, Motorpsycho, Sunn O))), Deadbird, Russian Circles, El Supremo, Pyramidal, Holy Serpent, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Demon Head, Red Beard Wall, Onhou, Kamchatka, Iguana, Arrowhead, The Whims of the Great Magnet, Serial Hawk, Scissorfight, Monte Luna, Lingua Ignota, Valborg, Sageness, Ruff Majik, The Giraffes, High Fighter, Comacozer, Burning Gloom, Swan Valley Heights, Mark Deutrom, Cable, AVER, Superlynx, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Old Mexico, Skraeckoedlan, Godsleep, Øresund Space Collective Meets Black Moon Circle.

Seems cruel to leave it to you to sort through those, but I’m tempted to do just that. You might notice some bigger names there in bands like Earth, Russian Circles, Torche and Sunn O))). Nothing against those bands, but I think we’re seeing a moment where a different group of artists are taking point in terms of innovating heavy styles across an entire swath of microgenres. Either way it’s not a slight that something is here instead of above. And of course, there are plenty of up and coming groups here as well, with Ruff Majik, Elizabeth Colour Wheel — who I’m sure would be a top 30 if I knew the record better than I do — Pale Grey Lore, Monte Luna, Papir, Destroyer of Light, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Skraeckoedlan, and so on, but hell’s bells, there’s already a list of 50 and I’m only one man. How high is the list supposed to go and still be a list?

Bottom line: Music is as endless as space and has as much beauty in it for those willing to hear. Do more digging.

The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2019

green lung woodland rites

1. Green Lung, Woodland Rites
2. Yatra, Death Ritual
3. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds
4. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
5. SÂVER, They Came with Sunlight
6. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
7. Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Nocebo
8. The Pilgrim, Walking into the Forest
9. Sigils, You Build the Altar You Lit the Leaves
10. E-L-R, Maenad
11. Hey Zeus, X
12. Bellrope, You Must Relax
13. Asthma Castle, Mount Crushmore
14. Thronehammer, Usurper of Oaken Throne
15. Inner Altar, Vol. III
16. Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember
17. Hippie Death Cult, 111
18. Faerie Ring, The Clearing
19. Gone Cosmic, Sideways in Time
20. Haze Mage, Chronicles

Honorable Mention: Warp, Pelegrin, Lucy in Blue, Volcano, The Sabbathian, Red Eye Tales, Dune Sea, Dury Dava, Pharlee, Giant Dwarf, Ghost:Hello, Surya, Workshed, Children of the Sün, Burning Gloom, Temple of the Fuzz Witch.

Notes: As ever, I consider a band’s debut album something unique and separate from everything else they’ll ever do, and so worthy of highlighting in its own category. It’s a different standard in my mind, one that takes into account what a group might accomplish going forward as well as what they do on the record itself. Plus, putting out an album is hard. Getting two, three, four, five or more people to agree on anything is an accomplishment. Making a cohesive album? Come on. So yes. We see some crossover from the main list above, but I want to draw attention to Howling Giant, Thunderbird Divine and SÂVER particularly here. There’s a swath of genres represented and I feel like a couple of these releases — Sigils, Bellrope, Thronehammer, Inner Altar, Faerie Ring, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember — didn’t get their due attention. It’s a busy year, I get it. But if you’re skimming through looking for stuff to check out, DON’T IGNORE THIS LIST. Aside from whatever line about the best of tomorrow you want to trot out, there’s important work being done by these acts today. As somebody who’s constantly behind the times, I urge you not to

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2019

geezer spiral fires

1. Geezer, Spiral Fires
2. Ufomammut, XX
3. All Them Witches, 1×1
4. Mount Saturn, Mount Saturn
5. Dopelord, Weedpecker, Major Kong & Spaceslug, 4-Way Split
6. Horehound, Weight
7. Molasses, Mourning Haze
8. Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Split
9. Here Lies Man, No Ground to Walk Upon
10. The Golden Grass, 100 Arrows
11. Mount Atlas, Mistress
12. Midas, Solid Gold Heavy Metal
13. Glory in the Shadows, Glory in the Shadows
14. Hot Breath, Hot Breath
15. Crystal Spiders, Demo
16. Red Wizard, Ogami
17. Thermic Boogie, Fracture
18. Pinto Graham, Dos
19. High Priest, Sanctum
20. Set Fire, Traya
21. Seedium, Awake

Honorable Mention: Love Gang & Smokey Mirror Split, Forebode, Land Mammal, Very Paranoia, Plague of Carcosa, Daal Dazed, Komodor, Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge Split, High on Fire, Mount Soma.

Notes: This is probably the least complete of the lists, because it’s the hardest category for me to keep up with. EPs, singles, demos, splits and basically anything else that isn’t an album, all lumped together. Still, I stand by the picks here, and I don’t think anyone who takes on any of them will regret doing so, whether it’s All Them Witches’ surprisingly weighted first single as a trio, Mount Saturn’s debut release, or Geezer’s cosmic jams. Felt a little like cheating putting Ufomammut on there, since technically XX wasn’t new material so much as reworked stuff captured live, but if you want to call me out on it, my own listening habits also factor in, and I’ve spent plenty of time with those reimagined tracks. But anyway, I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff that hasn’t been included here, so please feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll work accordingly.

Postwax

I haven’t felt comfortable with the idea of writing about it editorially, since I’ve been involved in discussions about it since before it came together and since I did the liner notes for each of the six releases (plus one to come), but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible work done on the Postwax vinyl subscription series by Blues Funeral Recordings. Label head Jadd Shickler and design specialist Peder Bergstrand (also of Lowrider) put together six offerings that came out in the span of this year and when you hold the LPs in your hand, you can feel the passion that went into making them, from the artists in question to those curating the series in the first place. I hear tell there’s going to be a Postwax Year Two, and I don’t know if I’ll be involved or not, but I’m proud of my miniscule part in the work that went into making these and wanted to bring them to your particular attention. They are something special for those who got to partake:

  • Elder, The Gold and Silver Sessions
  • Daxma, Ruins Upon Ruins
  • Besvärjelsen, Frost
  • Big Scenic Nowhere, Dying on the Mountain
  • Domkraft, Slow Fidelity
  • Lowrider, Refractions

And while we’re talking about projects I was proud to be involved with, I also did liner notes for Acrimony’s The Chronicles of Wode box set from Burning World Records and was honored to do so. Thanks to any and everyone in question for having me involved and dealing with me blowing past deadlines one after the next. It is humbling.

Looking Ahead to 2020

A few names and nothing more about what definitely is and/or might be in the works for next year. Woefully incomplete, so feel free to add to it:

1000mods, Wolves in the Throne Room, Deathwhite, Mondo Drag, Drug Cult, Ocean Chief, Soldati, Sergio Ch., Mitochondrial Sun, Geezer, Mirror Queen, Mondo Generator, The Otolith, Asteroid, Yatra, Vestal Claret, Farer, Ryte, Shadow Witch, Six Organs of Admittance, Naxatras, Wolftooth, Snail, Elder, Pale Divine, Grey Skies Fallen, Ruby the Hatchet, Yuri Gagarin, Sasquatch, Godthrymm, Wo Fat, Red Mesa, CB3, Onsegen Ensemble, Insect Ark, Acid Mammoth, Ritual King, Ulls, Om.

Thank You

Thank you for reading, and please, if you have a thought or something you want to share in the comments, please remember to be kind to each other. We are all human beings behind our phones and keyboards, and while we’ll disagree, often in some ways and some cases, a basic level of respect is always appreciated. At least by me.

I am not so deluded as to think anyone might still be reading, but I want it on record how much I appreciate you being a part of this site and a part of my experience in making it. I’ve been ruminating all year since marking the 10th anniversary back in January about how much The Obelisk has become a part of who I am, and it’s utterly essential to my every day. The way I continue to think about it — and myself, as it happens — is a work in progress, and that would not be possible without you. One more time. Thank you. Always. Always thank you. Thank you.

More to come.

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Denizen Premiere Video for “Shadow Dancer” from High Winds Preacher; Album out Nov. 29

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 14th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

denizen

Later this month, French heavy rockers Denizen will release their third album and second on Argonauta Records, High Winds Preacher. After more than 15 years together, the band have been long enough set on a path toward individuality that it doesn’t seem unreasonable going into their latest work with some measure of expectation, and from the initial push of “Shadow Dancer” through the thicker-toned roll of “Among the Trees” and the let’s-make-the-riff-even-bigger “Ears Wide Opened” before the pure Orange Goblinery of “Chasing the Guru,” they take a familiar but distinct shape in following up their 2017 Songs from the Kraken: The Georges Sessions EP, and their two full-lengths, 2015’s Troubled Waters (review here) and 2011’s Whispering Wild Stories (review here), and the bulk of High Winds Preacher feels dedicated more toward conjuring those high winds via all-out thrust than doing much by way of preaching.

Either way, they do what they do in full awareness of what they’re doing while they do it. To wit, after the bit of slowdown in “Mandrake is Everywhere,” which follows the high-gear “The Beast,” the four-piece are back off and running denizen high winds preacheras they careen through “White Flamingo,” “Deaf Taint,” “Punch Out” and closer “Tomahawk” on what would be the vinyl side B, culminating — of course — in a big, big, big ol’ haymaker of a riff in the finale. Their style is playing to genre, let there be no doubt, but their songs make an impression just the same, and it’s through the sheer energy of their execution that much of that impression comes. Calisthenics as songwriting is a post-Truckfighters European specialty, but any number of bands can sound like they might jump around on stage. Denizen sound like they might jump around in the studio as well, and the fact that that’s the case after over a decade and a half is not a consideration to be taken lightly.

Reinventing the wheel? Nope. Fixing what ain’t broken? Nope. Asking to be anything more than the complement and maybe even some motivating fuel for your good time? Nope. Run with it. They are.

Again, “Shadow Dancer” kicks off the record, and you can see the video for it premiering below. Please note that a sample of the film clip that starts the video is actually in the audio version of the song as well, so kudos the Denizen cats on striving for accuracy.

High Winds Preacher is out Nov. 29.

Enjoy:

Denizen, “Shadow Dancer” official video premiere

DENIZEN formed in the south of France between Montpellier and Sète in 2003. After their demo debut Far From Common Strategy (2006), released on Prototype Records, the band participated in a split tribute to Black Sabbath with the bands Illtemper and Stuntman.

Following their first full length album, Snatches Into Uproar in 2009, DENIZEN moved towards a more rock groove with heavy sludge and stoner influences. With their 2011- release, Whispering Wild Stories, DENIZEN’s Classic Rock influences became assertive: 70’s typed riffing, the wah-wah and melodic vocals, took the band on higher levels and to tour Europe with acts alike Steak or Black Rainbows. The highly acclaimed, third album Troubled Waters (2014 on Argonauta Records) unleashed a heavy rock feeling with a healthy dose of the blues, but the band’s main concern has always been focused on the riff. DENIZEN’s brand new record, High Winds Preacher, will definitely preach the almighty riff again!

Recorded and mixed by Colin Trognée at Studio Mordor
Except drums, recorded at Buèges Valley Recording Service by Simon Pillard & Colin Trognée

Mastered by Kent Stump at Crystal Clear Sound

Artwork by Brice Cossu

DENIZEN is:
Fabien Aletto – Vocals
Yann Chinette – Guitars
Andreas Goumy – Drums
Colin Trognée – Bass

Denizen on Thee Facebooks

Denizen on Bandcamp

Argonauta Records website

Argonauta Records on Thee Facebooks

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Video Premiere: Electric Jaguar Baby, “Witch I Love” from Self-Titled LP

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 9th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

electric jaguar baby

The Oct. 25 release of Electric Jaguar Baby‘s self-titled debut long-player follows behind an impressive string of three EPs issued over two years. Obviously the Parisian duo are on the same page when it comes to songwriting. Their output would seem to manifest that as well, listening to the advance single “Witch I Love.” They had previously streamed the track as a teaser for the album to come — and fair enough so, it’s catchy as hell — but have now backed that up with a video to really make their case. Again, fair enough. With the full-length so impending, the zero-nonsense strut of “Witch I Love” feels all the more urgent in its post-Queens of the Stone Age style of riffing and vocal patterning. Frank D. and Antonio D. comprise the outfit and employ a range of guests across the album’s nine-track span, but their sound is ultimately only further distinguished and bolstered by the inherent rawness of recording as a duo, and that comes through in “Witch I Love” as well.

But the primary impression, of course, is in the whole affect of the song itself, and by that I mean the clarity of intention behind it. Think later Homme, not so much Songs for the Deaf or even Lullabies to Paralyze, but the QOTSA sound thereafter and the sidestep of Them Crooked Vultures, and you’ll get a sense of where the production is coming from, but more than that, listening to “Witch I Love,” the structure is air-tight. There’s a swift build in momentum over a clean 3:44 run in the video, and the hook, as noted, is right on, but listen to the track as you make your way through and ask yourself what you would leave out? What would you cut? Nothing, right? It’s not that it’s spare in any way — I’m sorry, but you just don’t call your band Electric Jaguar Baby if you’re not a style-conscious individual or group — but they absolutely nail the balance between sounding natural and conveying attitude while also having this super-strong underlying foundation of verses and chorus. It’s a classic formula, certainly, but put to good use here for sure.

As to the rest of the record, I haven’t heard it and would have to wonder what the purported “fuzz rap” of “Storm (Me Against Me)” with Mark Northey of Watkins and 7 Days Before might sound like — though I’ll admit some trepidation in finding out — but there’s no substitute for a quality single, and Electric Jaguar Baby seem to know they have one.

The video is likewise pretty straightforward: a performance clip run through a filter of analog pops to make it look like a warped tape, but well lit and edited and pro-shop generally, so dig in below. Credits follow as posted by the band.

Please enjoy:

Electric Jaguar Baby, “Witch I Love” official video premiere

NEW SINGLE 2019 ! Parisian fuzzers Debut album out October 25th !
Vinyls out via Slice of Wax Records in 3 limited editions : 3 colors and 3 screeprinted covers !
CD & K7 tapes out via El Diablo Records.

Bandcamp: https://electricjaguarbaby.bandcamp.com/merch

Video by :
Réalisation : Aurelia Authome ( @aureliaa18 )
Cadrage/assistant réal : Renaud Tilman ( @renaudtilman )
Shoot @ Mains D’oeuvres (93400 ST Ouen).

Electric Jaguar Baby on Thee Facebooks

Electric Jaguar Baby on Instagram

Electric Jaguar Baby website

Electric Jaguar Baby on Bandcamp

Slice of Wax Records on Thee Facebooks

Slice of Wax Records on Bandcamp

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Karkara to Release Crystal Gazer Oct. 25

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

karkara

Here’s the simplest post I’m going to put together today. The info for this album came down the PR wire. I skimmed through it in that way I do when I’m most likely three-quarters asleep — which is most of the time these days — said to myself, “well that might be cool,” put it on, it was, so I’m posting about it. Done. It could not possibly be easier or more straightforward than that.

A cosmic trio based in Toulouse, France, Karkara will release their debut album, Crystal Gazer, on Oct. 25 through Stolen Body Records. They’ve got opening track “Proxima Centaury” streaming now, and it’s both a spiritual and a sonic gateway into the rest of the LP that follows. Take my word for it or don’t, but know that I wouldn’t try to purposefully steer you wrong or mess with your day — or at least not do so surreptitiously; there’s some stuff that gets posted around here very much intent on messing with your day — and rather that I’m putting this here for the opposite purpose.

Have at it:

Karkara ‘Crystal Gazer’ (Stolen Body Records)

Explosive power trio that furiously mixes garage / fuzz and middle eastern sounds, KARKARA is an unprecedented project that takes the gamble of glueing together the East and the West sound in a common goal: transcendence. Created in 2017 in Toulouse – France- under the idea of the guitarist and the bassist and inspired by the psychedelic rock scene of the Middle East and the Maghreb of the 60s and 70s, the band combines its traditional inspirations with a visceral taste for the shattering sounds of garage fuzz and contemporary krautrock.

Even going so far as to use their favorite atypical instrument – the didgeridoo – the three members of KARKARA, like desert wizards, take pleasure in pushing the boundaries of the genre further and take their audience into a mystical and indomitable world.

Their debut album «Crystal Gazer», recorded at Swampland studio and mastered by the American producer Jim Diamond, who had recorded and collaborated with the White Stripes in Detroit under Ghetto Records in the 90’s, is a hypnotic musical production inspired by the mystical folklores all around the middle eastern countries. With the collaboration of the illustrator Dead Flag who was an additional source of imagination, this 7 tracks LP of 41 minutes is a deafening psychedelic flood where the desert and the tribal atmosphere is omnipresent.The lyrics take the form of a mystical and narratives incantations that draw the thread of an epic journey that unfolds throughout all the album.

Tracklisting:
1. Proxima Centaury
2. The Way
3. Camel Rider
4. Into Orchard
5. Crystal Gazer
6. Zarathoustra
7. Jedid

KARKARA is:
Karim Rihani – guitar / didgeridoo / vocals
Hugo Olive – bass
Maxime Marouani – drums / vocals

https://www.facebook.com/karkararock/
https://www.instagram.com/karkara_band/
https://karkara.bandcamp.com/
https://stolenbodyrecords.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/stolenbodyrecords/
https://www.instagram.com/stolenbodyrecords/

Karkara, Crystal Gazer (2019)

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Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal: On Proving Grounds

Posted in Reviews on September 20th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

mars red sky the task eternal

The approach of Bordeaux, France’s Mars Red Sky continues to grow richer on their fourth long-player, The Task Eternal. Also their third outing for Listenable Records, it comprises an eight-track/49-minute run that digs into many of what have become the trio’s signature elements — fragile melodies, tonal heft, nod and march, etc. — while playing toward a wider atmospheric breadth than even 2016’s Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here) could offer. As ever, the new album was led into by an EP, in this case the short self-release Collector (discussed here) earlier this year, and what was the title-track there shows up early here as well, following opener and longest cut (immediate points) “The Proving Grounds” on side A. Whatever patterns it has followed along the way, Mars Red Sky‘s progression has been steady from release to release, with perhaps the most major jump being from the sweet melodies and hooky bounce of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) to the second album, 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here), which even with a 2012 split with Year of No Light (discussed here) and 2013’s Be My Guide EP (review here) between them was the point when the band signaled the proggier intent that their subsequent outings have allowed to flourish in their songwriting.

Notable that it was around that same time that the lineup solidified with Matieu “Matgaz” Gazeau on drums alongside founding guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist/sometimes vocalist Jimmy Kinast, since as they moved through Stranded in Arcadia, 2016’s Providence EP (review here), Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul), 2017’s Myramyd EP (discussed here) and Collector — touring all the while — their chemistry has only become more palpable. That rings true throughout The Task Eternal as well as the band provides their listenership with much to dig into in laid back tempos, some surprisingly aggro lyrics on “The Proving Grounds” and an expansive vision of heavy psychedelia that sees them toying with even their own conventions of songcraft as the paired tracks “Recast” and “Reacts” play one into the next with the latter using the former as a launch point for a plotted instrumental jam that winds up longer than the song that birthed it.

Largesse of tone is nothing new for Mars Red Sky, and as ever, they bring a warmth to the guitar and bass that is engaging to the point of hypnosis as the opener shifts from its initial roll into a section of shimmering guitar-led drift as it oozes into the second half. The stop and return of the marching bassline is sudden and wants to be, but Pras tops it with obscure vocal lines that become part of the melodic wash and the effect is gorgeous as “The Proving Grounds” — you might recall Apex III began with the intro “Alien Grounds,” so clearly the band are conscious of their starting points — fades to silence ahead of the rumble at the outset of “Collector.” At 4:13, “Collector” is shorter even than the closing acoustic outro “A Far Cry” — the band essentially swapping the method of putting the longest track last and the lead-in track first; it works much to the album’s advantage — and something of a return to earth structurally after the relative sprawl of “The Proving Grounds,” still working in deeply mixed layers but doing so around a central chorus and never departing too far from it. That ends up all the more appreciable as “Recast” begins with a quiet sway ahead of unveiling its howling wah over the slow, graceful movement that is unfurled.

mars red sky

Subtle angularity and subtler speed in the riff adds presence and urgency to the verse, but the overarching vibe is still soothing as “Recast” heads in linear fashion toward its chugging crescendo — Gazeau giving nods toward extreme metal in the drums — before the same riff returns at the start of “Reacts,” and becomes the foundation on which that instrumental exploration is built. It’s fitting that “Reacts” should be so utterly entrancing, as it’s tucked at the end of side A, but as it lumbers toward and through its halfway point, it pulls back on the residual energy leftover from “Recast” and instead moves into a sleepy roll, which Pras eventually meets with a solo followed by a section of ethereal vocals (thinking at 5:00, or maybe I’m just hearing things) that quiets down again and rebuilds, ending with a short section of noise as the first half of the album is complete.

One has to consider the possibility that The Task Eternal, the title itself, is referring to the ongoing evolution of the band, and that the task in question is their process of chasing down whatever vision of sound they’re ultimately trying to represent at any given time. A roving target, perhaps. It seems only fair, then, that they’d put “Soldier On” before “A Far Cry” at the album’s conclusion, but before they get there, “Crazy Hearth” and “Hollow King” give something of an effect like “Collector” in their relative return to ground after the float of “Reacts.” Sure, “Hollow King” has plenty of spread in the guitar of its second half and sweeping final chorus, but that comes complemented with a solidified rhythm and that chorus stands among the most memorable throughout The Task Eternal. Particularly following “Crazy Hearth,” it’s a chance for Mars Red Sky to emphasize their well-honed ability to create spaciousness within set sonic and structural ideas.

They reserve a final showcase of swing for “Soldier On,” which also featured on Collector in two versions, and shift into the second half with a quiet stretch before reviving the shove onward toward the last chorus and delivery of the title lines, a theme of persistence emerging between “Soldier On” and “The Proving Grounds” upon which “A Far Cry” allows a moment to reflect with its acoustic and electric lines and emergent effects, smoothly building to a wash so that even after most of it cuts out, there’s still enough left to carry The Task Eternal to its serene conclusion. From the intricacy of its layers to the nuance in how it’s actually put together in terms of where the tracks are and how they play off each other, Mars Red Sky‘s latest is a triumph in what’s becoming a tradition thereof. As they resume the chase next time, it may only be another step along the way, but as only a mature band can, Mars Red Sky know their strengths and how to bring them to light in ways that are as exciting as they are individualized. I’ll readily admit to being a fan, but simply put, they are something special. If you don’t hear that in The Task Eternal, it’s your loss.

Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal (2019)

Mars Red Sky on Thee Facebooks

Mars Red Sky website

Listenable Records website

Listenable Records on Thee Facebooks

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Pelegrin, Al-Mahruqa

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 9th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

pelegrin al-mahruqa

[Click play above to stream Pelegrin’s Al-Mahruqa in full. Album is out Friday, Sept. 13.]

The fluidity Parisian three-piece Pelegrin conjure throughout their self-released debut album, Al-Mahruqa, finds them easily crossing lines between styles like post-rock, prog and heavy psychedelia, and as their first outing, it blends them with marked poise. Comprised of five tracks running a total of 40 minutes, it is a purposefully immersive listen, drawing its audience in throughout the nine-plus minutes of opener “Majoun” — named for a Moroccan fruit and nut confection often used as a hash jam edible — and moving with grace through “Farewell,” “The Coldest Night,” “Dying Light” and the closing title-track, each one adding to the story arc of the album as a whole while creating a sense of journeying further through its psych-infused desert expanse. The title Al-Mahruqa seems to be taken from the name of a Syrian village, and given some of the sonic influences at play throughout, that seems a fair enough place for guitarist/vocalist François Roze, bassist Jason Recoing and drummer Antoine Ebel to end up, though of course one has to consider the civil war that’s raged in Syria since 2011.

Whether that’s taken into account on Al-Mahruqa — one would wonder how it couldn’t be — the French trio do well in establishing the voyage early in “Majoun,” which opens with a smattering of voices and a percussion-laden departure over winding, ebow-style guitar in Middle Eastern minor key. An immediate touchstone on paper would be Om, and perhaps in some way they’ve been a conceptual influence, but the actual experience of Al-Mahruqa shares little in common with that Al Cisneros outfit, other than perhaps a gaze directed at the region and an overarching interest in the mystique surrounding desert spiritualism. “Majoun” unfolds in heavy rolling fashion with deceptive smoothness, almost catching one off guard by the time it’s made its full impact, a drop-out after five minutes causing reflection on how far one has already come, and indeed how far there still is to go through the energy buildup that follows and pays off in a hard-hitting shove only to give way to a call to prayer that leads directly into the drifting guitar at the outset of “Farewell.”

Already, Pelegrin have made their intention plain. Al-Mahruqa is not at all lacking for character, but neither is it simply letting things happen. I have no doubt some of these parts and stretches were born in the studio or rehearsal space in off-the-cuff fashion — Roze recorded and mixed, while Wo Fat‘s Kent Stump mastered — but whether it’s the louder post-rocking sun-bake-into-desert-triumph that marks the early crescendo in “Farewell” or the more patient and masterful roll that ensues when the cycle comes around again, no single element feels haphazard. Even when the effects seem to create a wash, that wash has a purpose serving the overall song the album of which it’s a part. Given that general level of consideration, it’s perhaps less of a surprise to see it extend to the structure of the record as well, which alternates between longer and shorter tracks in such a way as to maximize the flow between them without the listener getting too caught up in one expectation or the other.

With “The Coldest Night” as the centerpiece, Pelegrin embark on a pivotal stage in their travels with a due sense of increased heft, rightly considering their interaction with those making the trip along with them as they thicken the fuzz in Roze‘s guitar and the thud in Ebel‘s drumming — Recoing‘s bass isn’t lacking weight either, since we’re on the subject. Still, it’s the floating lead over top that takes hold just before the eight-minute mark that lets one know they’ve gotten to where they’re going, and it’s that lead guitar that remains floating on the fade after the rest of the layers have made their way out. And when that goes? Footsteps. How could it possibly be anything else? Pelegrin have made the point thoroughly by the time “The Coldest Night” is through that they’re going from one place to another, taking the listener from one place to another, but those footsteps only reinforce it.

And as the penultimate “Dying Light” touches on a post-metallic march with a still-gentle verse overtop that takes off into a solo, there’s a somewhat more aggressive undertone — it’s in the drumming as well as the 5:21 song nears its midpoint — but the atmosphere stays consistent with “The Coldest Night” and the material preceding both through its measured pace and through its melodic insight. These are no less prevalent as themes through Al-Mahruqa than the concept that bears out across its tracks, but of course less explicitly stated. “Dying Light” caps with lead and rhythm layers of guitar in conversation with a formidable nod of a groove, drifting at their finish into what sounds like a field recording of ritual chanting and percussion, in turn giving way almost immediately to “Al-Mahruqa” itself.

As the only cut to top 10 minutes, the closer earns immediate distinction among the rest of the album — not to mention it’s the title-track — and with additional percussion alongside the drums and a more uptempo initial stretch, it holds to that sense of ritual that closed “Dying Light.” They slow it down soon enough and play back and forth across volume shifts and across an instrumental hypnosis that works well in crafting an otherworldly vibe, but it’s ultimately a heavy, crashing march that rounds out the capstone of Al-Mahruqa, that terrestrial ending followed by the sound of a rainstorm and then a noise that could either be water going down a drain or a door closing scraping on rock. Something concluding, whatever it is. Pelegrin leave a likewise heavy silence when “Al-Mahruqa” is done, giving a due reminder that in fact their journey is only beginning — this is their first album. What it might lead to, I couldn’t say, but the collision of elements and styles at play throughout is only loaded with potential for future expansion of style, arrangements, and general reach, though even if nothing of the sort takes shape, it remains plenty full-sounding as is. Still though, something here makes one think that perhaps Pelegrin are a band with a clear progression in mind. An effect of all that journeying, perhaps.

Pelegrin, Al-Mahruqa (2019)

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