The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

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

the-top-30-of-2018

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2018 to that, please do.

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

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

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

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

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

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

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

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

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

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

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

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

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

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

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

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

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

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

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

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

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

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

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

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

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

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

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

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

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

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

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

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

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

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

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

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

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

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

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

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

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

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

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

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

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

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

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

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

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

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

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

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

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

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

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

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

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

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

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

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

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

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

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

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

6. All Them Witches, ATW

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

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

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

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

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

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

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

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

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

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

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

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

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

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

The Next 20

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

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

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

Honorable Mention

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

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

Special Note

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

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

Best Short Release of the Year

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

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

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

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

Looking Forward

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

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

Okay, That’s It

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

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

So thanks.

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

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

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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Review & Track Premiere: Fuzz Evil, High on You

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 7th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

fuzz evil high on you

[Click play above to stream ‘High on You’ from Fuzz Evil’s new album of the same name. It’s out Sept. 14 and Fuzz Evil begin a West Coast tour that night. Click here for the poster with dates.]

Not every underground band can make a professional, commercial-style production work, but Fuzz Evil do. The Sierra Vista, Arizona, three-piece recorded their second album, High on You, with Paul Fig (Alice in Chains, Deftones, Fireball Ministry, and many others) at Studio 606, which is owned by Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters, and the material accordingly sounds not only ironed out in its sound, crisp and clear, but still weighted in tone and groove, but like someone was actively pushing the band to outdo themselves on each take. To wit, the self-aware start-stops and melodic turns of “The Strut” late in the record are air-tight, as drummer Orgo Martinez swaps toms out for crash-cymbal timekeeping in the verses and chorus, which is among several standout hooks on the ultra-manageable seven-song/34-minute release.

That runtime further speaks to an element of professionalism on the part of the band — Martinez as well as brothers Wayne Rudell (guitar/vocals) and Joey Rudell (bass/vocals) — who’ve made the decision to leave their audience wanting more rather than overwhelm with a glut of material, though recording time may have also had something to do with it as they had two days at Studio 606 to bust through all the songs and nail at least the basic tracks before doing overdubs back with Fig, but if that crunch shows itself at all in the songs, it’s in a sense of urgency in the material, whether it’s the speedy second cut “You Can Take Her Away,” which seems to reference Clutch‘s “Spleen Merchant” at the outset before unfolding another memorable hook, this one multi-tiered with Joey backing Wayne‘s lead vocals and an effective guitar solo in the second half of a purposeful three-and-a-half-minute run.

But that’s only after “Get it Together” hints at harmonies between the Rudells in an initial audience-engagement of funk-tinged swing drums, and a building verse that shifts easily into the soaring chorus. The impression that Fuzz Evil are stepping up their game even from what it was on their 2016 self-titled debut (review here) is immediate and resonant, and with fuzz-drenched riffs and leads, a thick and steady groove and an energetic delivery, the three-piece use “Get it Together” to set the tone for everything that follows. Tempos are fluid but by and large not too slow or fast — they kick into a couple speedy parts now and then, mostly to make a point, but maintain fervent control over the rush — and the overarching feel remains welcoming as “You Can Take Her Away” transitions smoothly into the slowdown of “Ribbons and Kills.”

fuzz evil

Spacious with a somewhat darker feel, “Ribbons and Kills” flows with the bass at its foundation and the creeping vocal line overtop. In some ways it’s a direct contrast to “You Can Take Her Away” before it, but that’s the point, and the two do sit well next to each other ahead of the centerpiece “If You Know,” which sets forth its riff at the start and picks up patiently from there. Finding a middle pace between Fuzz Evil‘s faster and slower speeds, its nod is a central factor in its success, and it helps keep the momentum going that the band has thus far built, giving High on You all the more of a full-album feel that, as they move deeper into the second half of the record, nothing diminishes. Further, it emphasizes the point of Fuzz Evil‘s songwriting, which is what serves as the heart of High on You. That’s not to diminish any aspect of their performance or the energy with which they play, but that energy is clearly directed in service to the songs themselves, which given the quality of their output here is probably how it should be anyhow.

“If You Know” caps with more soloing and a return to the chorus for good measure and gives way to “The Strut,” which may or may not be about the same fancy-walking individual as the KISS song — it’s easy to see the Fuzz Evil as potential fans, with their shared penchant for hooks and classic-style structures — and is one of the shorter pieces at just 3:33. It’s noteworthy for that since they pair it with the 6:31 title-track immediately following, which is the longest piece and uses its time wisely in a slower doomly crawl and open vocal with Wayne‘s voice over open space between drum thuds and far-back low end. The chorus of “High on You” is worth naming the record after, and while one might think they’d make up the difference in runtime with a jam or something like that, they don’t really. There’s a noisy solo in the second half, but by and large, “High on You” is longer because it’s that much slower than what surrounds.

It gives the album a somewhat moodier feel, and thereby all the more breadth of expression, and turns to the closer “Are You in or Out” with an introduction from the drums before the swaying guitar line enters and gives the listener the center around which the finale will work. Sure enough, “Are You in or Out” brings one last vital surge from the band, with the title line repeated in such a way as to seem to ask the audience if it’s gotten on board with what Fuzz Evil put together in the tracks prior. They have, of course, made a solid argument for themselves, and while listeners will ultimately have to decide on their own whether they are in or out, there’s no denying Fuzz Evil lay it on the line in asking. Just as likely, though, the question is directed inward. It is no minor commitment in time, finance or effort to put together an album like High on You, so it could well be that “Are You in or Out” is the band talking itself into pushing forward with what they thought would lead them to make the best album possible. Whether that’s the case or not, their choice was correct. They’re in.

Fuzz Evil on Thee Facebooks

Fuzz Evil on Bandcamp

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Fuzz Evil to Enter Studio to Record New Album High on You

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 23rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Fuzz Evil, since making their first appearance in 2014 by sharing a split release with fellow Arizonans Chiefs (review here), have kept a steady clip of releases. They’re not Hawkwind-prolific, but they’ve managed to keep forward momentum on their side with a string of outings including a digital single (streamed here) in 2015, their 2016 self-titled full-length debut (review here), a couple of lyric videos for the tracks from that (posted here and here), and most recently, their taking part in Ripple Music‘s ongoing series, The Second Coming of Heavy, sharing the Chapter Seven LP (review here) with Switchblade Jesus. They’ve also toured with Dandy Brown from Hermano, thrown the Borderlands Fuzz Fiesta, and generally kept a solid presence in the forefront of their audience’s minds.

The news? They’re keeping it up. Next week they hit the studio to begin recording their second full-length, which they’ve given the title High on You. The three-piece will work with producer Paul Figueroa and a release is expected later this year. Since the self-titled came out on now-defunct Battleground Records, that may or may not make Fuzz Evil free agents, but I can’t imagine it’ll be too long before an announcement is made in that regard. Maybe like six minutes after the record is done, if I had to guess.

In the meantime, they sent the following down the PR wire:

fuzz evil

Fuzz Evil will be heading into the studio next week to record their fourth release, titled ‘High on You.’ Fuzz Evil have teamed up with producer Paul Figueroa (Alice in Chains, Slipknot) to record their new seven track record at David Grohl’s Studio 606.

Says guitarist/vocalist Wayne Rudell: “We are all very proud of these songs. They have been a journey for us. To be able to record these specific songs on such a legendary counsel is exciting and humbling. This is the first album Orgo Martinez our new drummer wrote and played on. I feel that these songs are the most dynamic we have written. I feel the band has really matured since the Chiefs split back in 2014. There is a slight departure from what we have done before. This album we did a lot of exploring. We also decided to carry over ‘If Know You’ from the Ripple split.”

The album is expected to be released in mid to late 2018.

‘High on You’ tracklisting:
The Strut
You Can Take Here Away
High On You
Get It Together
If You Know
Ribbons and Kills
Are you In or Out

Fuzz Evil is:
Wayne Rudell – guitar/vocals
Joey Rudell – bass/vocals
Orgo Martinez – drums

https://www.facebook.com/FuzzEvil/
https://fuzzevil.bandcamp.com/

Fuzz Evil, The Second Coming of Heavy Chapter Seven (Split with Switchblade Jesus) (2017)

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Switchblade Jesus & Fuzz Evil, The Second Coming of Heavy – Chapter Seven: Mountains and Cupids

Posted in Reviews on December 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

switchblade jesus fuzz evil second coming of heavy chapter seven

Ripple Music‘s ongoing series of split releases, The Second Coming of Heavy, has become an essential documentary project on the state of (mostly American) heavy rock and roll. Though cumbersomely and — arguably — historically inaccurately named, in pairing acts together on vinyl like Geezer and Borracho (review here), Supervoid and Red Desert (review here), Kingnomad and BoneHawk (review here), Red Mesa and Blue Snaggletooth (review here), Chiefs and Desert Suns (discussed here), and Kayleth and Favequaid (review pending), the label has not only given its own acts a chance to shine in a special showcase, but expanded its reach and broadened its audience base while furthering the development of a straightforward heavy rock aesthetic that has helped define not only the imprint’s path, but that of many acts as well working under their influence.

For The Second Coming of Heavy – Chapter Seven, Texas and Arizona trios Switchblade Jesus and Fuzz Evil are added to this esteemed cadre of groups, each one bringing new material to mark the occasion. In the case of Switchblade Jesus, who released their self-titled debut (review here) in 2013, only to have it snagged first in 2014 for vinyl release via Bilocation Records and then a reissue by Ripple in 2015, it’s been somewhat longer than it might seem since they had anything out and they’ve been through enough changes to prove it. For Fuzz Evil, the Sierra Vista, AZ, three-piece made their own self-titled debut (review here) through Battleground Records in the second half of 2016, the turnaround is somewhat quicker, but they too have had a lineup change, bringing in Orgo Martinez, who is at least their third drummer in the last three years.

Those shifts notwithstanding, what is even more remarkable about The Second Coming of Heavy – Chapter Seven, and indeed about the series as a whole, is the diversity of sound between the two groups, both of whom function without question under the umbrella category of “heavy rock.” With three cuts from Switchblade Jesus and four from Fuzz Evil, each band gets about 20 minutes to showcase their wares on a vinyl side, and though the samplings are quick, the point of sonic variety is underscored.

It’s not that they don’t fit together — quite the opposite; they make a surprisingly complementary pair — but that they represent starkly different interpretations of what “heavy” is and does. In “Snakes and Lions,” “Wet Lungs” and the highlight chorus and chug of “Heavy is the Mountain,” Switchblade Jesus present a dudely, burly vision of riff-led semi-metallic vibing, with guitarist Eric Calvert taking over the role of vocalist and proffering an approach very much in the spirit of Orange Goblin‘s Ben Ward.

With bassist Chris Black and drummer Jon Elizondo, what was once a five-piece is now a power trio, and their sound is duly crisp as “Snakes and Lions” (5:17) leans into the forward momentum it will build over the course of its first minute. “Snakes and Lions” is ultimately Switchblade Jesus‘ most straight-ahead inclusion, and “Wet Lungs,” which is the longest track on The Second Coming of Heavy – Chapter Seven at 9:42, begins with samples of, among other things, The Louvin Brothers‘ “Satan is Real,” takes a more patient and rolling route, riding its riff comfortably while relying less on its hook than its immediate predecessor.

switchblade jesus fuzz evil

That leaves “Heavy is the Mountain” (7:38) as the proverbial just-right bowl of riffly porridge, which is just what it turns out to be. Taking the slick, well-paced nod of “Wet Lungs” and giving it just a bit of the energy “Snakes and Lions” brought to bear, as well as the most memorable chorus of the release as a whole — the title-line shouted upward from the mix amid suitable largesse for the subject matter — it’s enough to make one anticipate a future outing from Switchblade Jesus in this incarnation on its own, never mind the album-style flow the band conjures across just these three tracks and the fluidity with which they nestle into that groove.

The Rudell brothers — Wayne (vocals/guitar) and Joseph (bass/vocals/graphics) — who, again, aren’t that far removed from their debut album, continue forward in the spirit of that release across their four tracks, beginning with the post-Songs for the Deaf push of “Better off Alone,” which gives “Heavy is the Mountain” a run for its money in terms of the strength of its hook while also completely revamping the direction of the release overall, pulling away from whiskey-drenched dudery and more toward traditionalist desert fuzz.

But for jammier closer “Flighty Woman,” which reaches over the six-minute mark, Fuzz Evil‘s inclusions are shorter and more upfront in their structures, though still plenty weighted as “Better off Alone” gives way to the bass at the start of “Graves and Cupids.” Some talkbox/wah makes an appearance in Wayne‘s lead as they head toward the midsection and surfaces again in the second half, standing the track out even more than its chorus already did owing to the confidence in its vocal delivery and the flourish of soul emergent there.

Comprising the last 10-plus minutes of the outing between them, “If You Know” and “Flighty Woman” round out with a due focus on songcraft, calling to mind the sense of individually-focused tracks that one found on their self-titled as well — each piece standing out on its own rather than feeding as directly into an overarching whole as, say, Switchblade Jesus do on side A here. That disparity of style is no less a distinction for Switchblade Jesus and Fuzz Evil than the burl vs. the fuzz, but as the insistent rhythm of “If You Know” shifts into the thickened boogie of “Flighty Woman,” Wayne‘s vocals echoing out just a bit in a trippier fashion before the jam really takes hold and Fuzz Evil go exploring, there’s little to argue that either tack doesn’t produce success here.

As has been the case all along with The Second Coming of Heavy, this latest chapter serves this essential function in demonstrating just how far heavy rock and roll has come and the many forms it can take and still find a path to righteousness. With two separate takes, Switchblade Jesus and Fuzz Evil both resound with potential in their songwriting and in the execution of their material, and one is only left hoping it won’t be long before either is heard from again. The mission is accomplished and the mission, no doubt, will continue. Right on.

Switchblade Jesus & Fuzz Evil, The Second Coming of Heavy – Chapter Seven (2017)

Switchblade Jesus on Thee Facebooks

Switchblade Jesus on Twitter

Switchblade Jesus on Bandcamp

Fuzz Evil on Thee Facebooks

Fuzz Evil on YouTube

Fuzz Evil on Bandcamp

Ripple Music on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music website

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Fuzz Evil and Switchblade Jesus Team up for The Second Coming of Heavy – Chapter Seven

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

This news came in and I realized that somewhere in there I missed a chapter of Ripple Music‘s ongoing The Second Coming of Heavy series of splits. I’ve done my best to cover all of them — been late on almost every one, but still, I’ve gotten there eventually — but when I saw word that Chapter Seven was set to feature Fuzz Evil and Switchblade Jesus my joy at the prospect of some quality rock and roll was tempered by the question nagging at the back of my mind: Hey wait a second, what happened to Chapter Six?

I don’t have the promo for it in my email, which is kind of a bummer, but I’ll assume I did at one point or another or that it got lost in the transition between laptops from the one I called Ol’ Dusty to the one I use now, Big Red. In any case, if I can, I might try to sneak that Kayleth and Favequaid shared offering in at some point while also doing my best to cover Switchblade Jesus and Fuzz Evil, whose installment is set to arrive on Dec. 8, of course on Ripple.

The PR wire has it like this:

the second coming of heavy chapter 7

Switchblade Jesus / Fuzz Evil “Chapter 7: The Second Coming of Heavy” out on December 8 via Ripple Music

Ripple Music sets December 8th, 2017 as official release date for Switchblade Jesus / Fuzz Evil “Chapter 7: The Second Coming of Heavy” split!

Formed in 2014, Fuzz Evil is a chug-heavy 3 Piece that tames the fuzziest guitar and bass tones on the planet and wields them to blast a monolithic speaker-ripping fuzzapocaplyse for your ears and soul. Raw and dirty in “Stooges-like” fashion with soaring soulful vocals. Fuzz Evil released their first single, “Glitterbones” on a 7” split with the California trio Chiefs on Battleground records in 2014. In 2016 they followed up the single with a full self-titled debut release on Battleground records. In the past few year they have gone through a few line-up changes.. The current line-up is Orgo Martinez on drums, Wayne Rudell on guitar and vocals, and his brother Joey Rudell on bass and vocals.

From the depths of Texas, Switchblade Jesus returns with a heaviness and deep grooves that succeed their previous recordings. Mixing southwestern boogie, desert-worn blues, retro-metal assault and fierce rocking into a sound that screams Texas–at times sanguine and starkly beautiful, at others full of damn sexy groove and assaulting violence can only describe the music of Texan power rocking, fuzzed out stoner blues trio, Switchblade Jesus.

Consisting of Eric Calvert (Vox/Guitar) Jon Elizondo (Drums) and new comer Chris Black (bass) to the fold to create a new chapter in Switchblade Jesus, more Doom and Gloom but no lack of the groove that the Texan’s brought in the beginning.

https://www.facebook.com/theripplemusic/
http://www.ripple-music.com

Kayleth & Favequaid, The Second Coming of Heavy Chapter Six (2017)

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Fuzz Evil Post “Black Dread” Video; Tour with Dandy Brown Starts this Weekend

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

fuzz evil

Ah, the public domain. Someday the greedy, soulless, oligarchical bastards who run our lives will take away that most human of notions — that something created and put into a public sphere belongs, after a time, to that sphere more than to its creator — because royalty checks, but while we’ve still got it, it’s nice to see it being put to good use. “Black Dread” is the second DIY video from Fuzz Evil‘s 2016 Battleground Records self-titled debut (review here) to cull its footage from such sources behind a lyric clip that surfaced in Nov. for “Killing the Sun” (posted here), and it uses creative editing to give a psychedelic impression from old educational cartoons filled with gloriously outdated science about atoms, space and the threat of nuclear annihilation. My mother tells stories about being told to “duck and cover” if the bomb got dropped. I’d say it was a horrifying time to be alive, but when wasn’t?

Anyhoozle, the song “Black Dread,” the title of which refers to one of Aegon Targaryen’s dragons in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire — Balerion, if you’re wondering — may or may not have anything to do with the structure of atoms or humanity’s thanatos drive, but it was one of my favorite tracks on Fuzz Evil‘s Fuzz Evil, so I’m happy for the chance to revisit it. More laid back than the bulk of the record, which found the trio of guitarist/vocalist Wayne Rudell, bassist Joseph Rudell and drummer Marlin Tuttle (the latter since replaced by Daniel Graves) dug into the crisp execution of sans-frills fuzz rockers like “Good Medicine” and “My Fuzz,” it was both the longest track at nearly seven minutes and the finale of that sub-half-hour outing, leaving the audience with a dreamier impression and perhaps a sign of sonic expansion and progression to come from the Arizona-based three-piece, whose desert vibes were writ large one way or another over each groove and the laid back, unpretentious atmosphere of the record as a whole.

Fuzz Evil, it just so happens, head out this coming weekend on a run to support the self-titled, going alongside Hermano‘s Dandy Brown and his band for shows in the Southern Californian desert and in Phoenix and their hometown of Sierra Vista, AZ. You can find those dates included under the video for “Black Dread” below, which it’s my pleasure to host for your streaming enjoyment.

So please, enjoy:

Fuzz Evil, “Black Dread” official video

Music by: Fuzz Evil
Edited by: Joseph Rudell of Fuzz evil

Music written, recorded, and owned by Fuzz Evil
All Footage from The archive.org and in the public domain.

Footage from:
–“Principles of Electricity” – Published 1945 – Usage Public Domain
–“Duck and Cover” by Archer Productions, Inc. – Published 1951 – Usage Public Domain
— “Drug Addiction” by Encyclopaedia Britannica Films, Inc. – Published 1951 – Usage Public Domain
— “A is for Atom” by Sutherland (John) Productions – Published 1953 – Usage Public Domain

Fuzz Evil live w/ Dandy Brown:
Saturday – 4/15 – San Diego, CA – Tower Bar
Monday – 4/17 – Riverside, CA
Tuesday – 4/18 – Joshua Tree, CA – The Beatnik Lounge
Wednesday – 4/19 – Palm Desert, CA – The Red Barn
Thursday – 4/20 – Pheonix, AZ – Yucca Tap Room
Friday – 4/21 – Sierra Vista, AZ – The Horned Toad

Fuzz Evil on Thee Facebooks

Fuzz Evil on YouTube

Fuzz Evil on Bandcamp

LP order page at Battleground Records

Battleground Records on Thee Facebooks

Battleground Records on Bandcamp

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016

Posted in Features on December 15th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 20 debut albums of 2016

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.

Of all the lists I do to wrap up or start any given year, this is the hardest. As someone obviously more concerned with first impressions than I am and thus probably better-dressed once said, you only get one chance at them. For bands, that can be a vicious bite in the ass on multiple levels.

To wit, you put out a great debut, fine, but there’s a whole segment of your listeners who’re bound to think you’ll never live up to it again. You put out a meh debut, you sell yourself short. Or maybe your debut is awesome but doesn’t really represent where you want to be as a band, so it’s a really good first impression, but a mistaken one. There are so many things that can go wrong or go right with any LP, but with debuts, the stakes are that much higher because it’s the only time you’ll get the chance to engage your audience for the first time. That matters.

And when it comes to putting together a list of the best debuts of the year, how does one begin to judge? True, some of these acts have done EPs and singles and splits and things like that before, and that’s at least something to go on, but can one really be expected to measure an act’s potential based on a single collection of songs? Is that fair to anyone involved? Or on the other side, is it even possible to take a debut entirely on its own merits, without any consideration for where it might lead the band in question going forward? I know that’s not something I’ve ever been able to do, certainly. Or particularly interested in doing. I like context.

Still, one presses on. I guess the point is that, like picking any kind of prospects, some will pan out and some won’t. I’ve done this for enough years now that I’ve seen groups flame or fade out while others have risen to new heights with each subsequent release. It’s always a mix. But at the same time, it’s important to step back and say that, as of today, this is where it’s at.

And so it is:

KING BUFFALO ORION

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016

1. King Buffalo, Orion
2. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree
3. Heavy Temple, Chassit
4. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
5. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
6. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
7. Wretch, Wretch
8. Year of the Cobra, In the Shadows Below
9. BigPig, Grande Puerco
10. Fuzz Evil, Fuzz Evil
11. Bright Curse, Before the Shore
12. Conclave, Sins of the Elders
13. Pale Grey Lore, Pale Grey Lore
14. High Fighter, Scars and Crosses
15. Spirit Adrift, Chained to Oblivion
16. Bellringer, Jettison
17. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Is Satan Real?
18. Merchant, Suzerain
19. Beastmaker, Lusus Naturae
20. King Dead, Woe and Judgment

Honorable Mention

There are many. First, the self-titled from Pooty Owldom, which had so much weirdo charm it made my head want to explode. And Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun‘s acoustic solo record was technically a debut. And Atala‘s record. And Horehound. And Mother Mooch. And Domkraft. And Spaceslug. And Graves at Sea? Shit. More than a decade after their demo, they finally put out a debut album. And Second Grave‘s full-length would turn out to be their swansong, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the thing. There were a lot of records to consider in putting this list together. As always, it could’ve been a much longer list.

For example, here are 20 more: Swan Valley Heights, Arctic, Blues Funeral, Teacher, Psychedelic Witchcraft, Nonsun, Duel, Banquet, Floodlore, Mindkult‘s EP, Mountain Dust, Red LamaRed Wizard, Limestone Whale, Dunbarrow, Comacozer, Sinister Haze, Pants Exploder, Akasava, Katla and No Man’s Valley. That’s not even the end of it. I could go on.

Notes

It was a fight to the finish. There’s always one, and as late as yesterday I could be found kicking back and forth between King Buffalo and Elephant Tree in the top spot. What was it that finally put King Buffalo‘s Orion over Elephant Tree‘s self-titled? I don’t know. Ask me tomorrow and the answer might be completely different.

They had a lot in common. Not necessarily in terms of style — King Buffalo basked in spacious Americana-infused heavy psych jams while Elephant Tree proffered more earthbound riffing and melodies — but each executed memorable songs across its span in a way that would be unfair to ask of a debut. The potential for what both bands can turn into down the line played a part in the picks, but something else they share between them is that the quality of the work they’re doing now warrants the top spots. Orion and Elephant Tree were great albums, not just great first albums.

From there, we see a wide swath of next-generation encouragement for the future of heavy rock, whether it’s coming from Sweden’s Vokonis or Philadelphia’s Heavy Temple, or London’s Bright Curse, or Los Angeles duo BigPig. The latter act’s punkish fuzz definitely benefited from guitarist/vocalist Dino von Lalli‘s experience playing in Fatso Jetson, but one hopes that as the years go on his own multifaceted songwriting style will continue to grow as well.

A few offerings weren’t necessarily unexpected but still lived up to the anticipation. High Fighter‘s EP prefaced their aggro sludgecore well. Ditto that for the grueling death-sludge of Massachusetts natives Conclave. The aforementioned Bright Curse, Merchant, Fuzz Evil, Atala, Bellringer, Holy Grove, Wretch and Worshipper all had offerings of one sort or another prior to their full-length debuts — in the case of Bellringer, it was just a series of videos, while Wretch had the entire The Gates of Slumber catalog to fall back on — but each of those albums offered surprises nonetheless.

It would’ve been hard not to be taken by the songwriting on display from the likes of Holy Grove, Year of the Cobra, Pale Grey Lore and Beastmaker, who between them covered a pretty broad variety of atmosphere but found ways to deliver high-quality crafted material in that. Those albums were a pleasure to hear. Put Boston’s Worshipper in that category as well, though they were just as much a standout from the pack in terms of their performance as what they were performing. Speaking of performance, the lush melodies from Church of the Cosmic Skull and classic progressive flourish were enough to make me a believer. Simply gorgeous. And one-man outfit Spirit Adrift shined, if in that matte-black doom kind of way, on an encouraging collection of modern melancholic heavy that seemed to hint at sprawl to come.

As we get down to the bottom of the list we find Pennsylvania ambient heavy post-rockers King Dead. Their Woe and Judgment was released digitally last year (2015) but the LP came out earlier this year, so I wasn’t quite sure where to place them ultimately. I know they got some mention on the 2015 lists somewhere, but while they’re an act who’ve flown under a lot of people’s radar as yet, I have good feelings about how they might continue to dig into their sound and the balance of bleakness and psychedelic color they bring to their material. They’re slated for a follow-up in 2017, so this won’t be the last list on which they appear in the next few weeks.

Like I said at the outset, putting out a debut album is a special moment for any band. Not everyone gets to that point and not everyone gets beyond it, so while a list like this is inherently bound to have some element of speculation, it’s still a worthy endeavor to celebrate the accomplishments of those who hit that crucial moment in their creative development. Hopefully these acts continue to grow, flourish, and build on what they’ve thus far been able to realize sonically. That’s the ideal.

And before I go, once again, let me reinforce the notion that I recognize this is just a fraction of the whole. I’d like it to be the start of a conversation. If there was a debut album that kicked your ass this year and you don’t see it here, please drop a note in the comments below. I’m sure I’ll be adding more honorable mentions and whatnot over the next couple days, so if you see glaring omissions, let’s have ’em.

Thanks for reading.

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Fuzz Evil Begin Lyric Video Series with “Killing the Sun”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 2nd, 2016 by JJ Koczan

fuzz evil

A righteous hook is never a bad place to start, and Arizona heavy rock trio Fuzz Evil certainly have that working in their favor as they begin a new series of lyric videos from their self-titled debut (review here). My understanding is that it’s their intent to create a clip to coincide with each of the six tracks on the album, which came out on Battleground Records at the end of September, and they begin with the catchy and uptempo “Killing the Sun.” Among the cuts surrounding, it’s one of the more purely desert rock in theme and execution, and it finds the Sierra Vista three-piece neck-deep in the classic-style chemistry shared between the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Wayne Rudell, bassist Joey Rudell and drummer Marlin Tuttle, since replaced by Daniel Graves.

Joey Rudell took on the responsibility for putting together the lyric video himself, snagging an awesome public domain space cartoon from archive.org and setting the text to it with some creative, rhythmic editing and a retro font to keep the look consistent. The Rudells have shown a genuine DIY streak over the last couple years, in Fuzz Evil and their other outfit, Powered Wig Machine, as well as in their helming the Borderland Fuzz Fiesta festival, so to find them diving into a task of promoting their first Fuzz Evil album with what will (theoretically at this point; sometimes plans change) basically result in a video for each track seems about consistent to their general operating modus. If you haven’t yet been introduced to the LP, the clip is a charming means of accomplishing that, and if nothing else, think of it as an excuse to pay another visit to a cool track from the record. Not that you really need one, but still.

Credits and links follow the video below.

Enjoy:

Fuzz Evil, “Killing the Sun” lyric video

Credits:
Song From: Fuzz Evil 2016 release “Fuzz Evil”
Written, and owned by Fuzz Evil

Footage: “from Destination Earth”
Downloaded from https://archive.org/
by Sutherland (John) Productions
Published 1956
Usage Public Domain
Sponsor American Petroleum Institute
Audio/Visual Sd, C

Edited by: Joseph Rudell

Fuzz Evil on Thee Facebooks

Fuzz Evil on YouTube

Fuzz Evil on Bandcamp

LP order page at Battleground Records

Battleground Records on Thee Facebooks

Battleground Records on Bandcamp

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