Posted in Features on January 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan
The poll is closed, the results are counted and the top 20 albums of 2016 have been chosen. Hard to argue with the list as it’s shown up over the course of the past month, so I won’t try. Instead, let me just say thanks to incredible amount of participants who contributed this year.
All told, between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31, 612 people added their picks to the proceedings, compared to 388 in last year’s poll. Considering how much that number blew my mind on Jan. 1, 2016, I’m sure you can imagine how I feel about adding another 200-plus lists to the pot. In short, I’m astounded, deeply humbled and so, so, so grateful. I feel like we got enough of a sampling this year to give a genuinely representative showing for where people’s heads have been at, so thank you if you were a part of it.
Thank you as well as always to Slevin for running the poll’s back end and tabulating the results. As ever, the weighting system is one in which a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. You’ll find that list (plus some honorable mentions) below, followed by the raw-vote tally.
And after the jump, as has become the tradition, are the full lists of everyone who submitted, alphabetized by name. I’m in there too. It’s a huge amount to wade through, and even if you thought you heard everything in 2016, it should be more than enough to keep you busy for the next year.
One last note: I’m no statistician. Please allow for these numbers to change over the next couple days on some small level.
Top 20 of 2016 — Weighted Results
1. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh (375 points)
2. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow (368)
3. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree (324)
4. Asteroid, III (302)
5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil (295)
6. Gozu, Revival (274)
7. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires (253)
8. King Buffalo, Orion (244)
9. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (238)
10. Conan, Revengeance (232)
11. Cough, Still They Pray (228)
12. Holy Grove, Holy Grove (218)
13. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (213)
14. Truckfighters, V (206)
15. Blood Ceremony, Lord of Misrule (200)
16. Khemmis, Hunted (192)
16. Red Fang, Only Ghosts (192)
17. Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows (181)
18. Witchcraft, Nucleus (174)
19. Opeth, Sorceress (173)
20. Church of Misery, And then there Were None (159)
Honorable mention to:
Causa Sui, Return to Sky (157)
Goatess, II: Purgatory Under New Management (157)
Black Mountain, IV (148)
Mos Generator, Abyssinia (144)
Wretch, Wretch (140)
Look at those tallies for number one and two. That race was close all month. Wo Fat kept out front for the most part, but Greenleaf kept it interesting and Elephant Tree’s debut snuck in there at third, which I love to see, both because it’s their first album and because that record was indeed so great. King Buffalo, another debut, also made the top 10, underscoring those two as bands to watch, and though Brant Bjork, Conan, Asteroid, Neurosis, Gozu and Mars Red Sky might be more expected names, they still certainly delivered excellent records, so again, nothing to fight with here. Things flesh out a bit in the 10-20 range, but I don’t think there’s one album on this list you could call is “miss.”
Top 20 of 2016 — Raw Votes
1. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh (109)
2. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow (92)
3. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil (87)
4. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree (82)
5. Asteroid, III (80)
6. Gozu, Revival (76)
7. Conan, Revengeance (73)
8. Cough, Still They Pray (70)
9. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (68)
10. King Buffalo, Orion (67)
11. Truckfighters, V (62)
12. Red Fang, Only Ghosts (61)
13. Khemmis, Hunted (60)
14. Blood Ceremony, Lord of Misrule (59)
14. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (59)
15. Holy Grove, Holy Grove (58)
16. Church of Misery, And then there Were None (53)
17. Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows (49)
17. Witchcraft, Nucleus (49)
18. Opeth, Sorceress (47)
19. Mos Generator, Abyssinia (45)
20. Black Mountain, IV (44)
20. Causa Sui, Return to Sky (44)
20. Wretch, Wretch (44)
Honorable mention to:
Goatess, II: Purgatory Under New Management (43)
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light (43)
Geezer, Geezer (41)
Crowbar, The Serpent Only Lies (41)
Gojira, Magma (37)
Slomatics, Future Echo Returns (36)
Graves at Sea, The Curse that Is… (35)
Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy (33)
Beastmaker, Lusus Naturae (32)
Vokonis, Olde One Ascending (31)
Left a few more honorable mentions in the raw-vote count, just for fun and so you could get more of a feel beyond the top 20 itself, which you’ll notice has a couple ties in it as the raw votes usually do and reorganizes a bit from the weighted results. One and two remain the same, however, and in the same order, and you’ll see Wo Fat was the only album that scored more than 100 votes on its own. As a whole, there were over 2,400 separate entries for albums this year, which is by far the most spread out that the voting has ever been. Frankly, with so many people involved and such a variety of stuff being voted on, I’m amazed anyone managed to agree on anything at all, but of course they did and once again a stellar list is the result.
Well, Happy New Year.
Before I go, thanks again to Slevin for the work put into running the back end of this site and this poll particularly. I show up with the finish lists, but it’s his code that makes it happen, and his efforts are appreciated more than I can say. Dude has never asked me for anything in the nearly eight years I’ve been a constant pain in his ass.
After the jump, you’ll find everybody’s list, alphabetized by name. Please enjoy browsing. I hope you find something awesome, because there’s certainly plenty in there that qualifies, and if you see something that looks like it appears often enough that it should be included in one or both of the counts above, let me know in the comments.
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 26th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Those keeping an eye out have been expecting another round of tour dates from Sweden’s Truckfighters since they made a point to announce ‘Leg 1’ of their US tour (info here) — which will start Jan. 18 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and feature Kings Destroy — but the fact that the West Coast run that begins March 15 features the first US dates that countrymen outfit Greenleaf have ever played seems like an added bonus. Truckfighters of course come over supporting 2016’s V (review here), while Greenleaf break this new ground heralding their Rise Above the Meadow (review here) — both highlights of the year as far as I’m concerned.
We Hunt Buffalo also join in for the Canadian dates, which you can find among the shows listed for both legs below, the tours put on by Tone Deaf. Dig it:
LEG 2/LEG TWO!!! USA/CAN we are doing another bunch of gigs in March, West Coast people etc. This time with our friends in Greenleaf. Also We Hunt Buffalo will join us on the western CAN dates! Hurrah!!! It’s going to be a blast!
Truckfighters with Kings Destroy: 01.18 Somerville MA Once Ballroom 01.19 Montreal QC Bar Leritz 01.21 Ottawa ON House of Targ 01.22 Toronto ON Hard Luck 01.23 Pittsburgh PA Cattivo 01.24 Chicago IL Reggies 01.25 Minneapolis MN 7th St. Entry 01.26 Kansas City MO Riot Room 01.27 Tulsa OK Downtown Lounge 01.28 Dallas TX Curtain Club 01.30 New Orleans LA Siberia 01.31 Atlanta GA Drunken Unicorn 02.01 Richmond VA Strange Matter 02.02 Philadelphia PA Kung Fu Necktie 02.03 Brooklyn NY Goldsounds
Truckfighters with Greenleaf & We Hunt Buffalo: Mar 15 Brick by Brick San Diego, CA Mar 16 Complex LA Los Angeles, CA Mar 19 Ash Street Saloon Portland, OR Mar 20 El Corazon Seattle, WA Mar 21 Rickshaw Theatre Vancouver, Canada* Mar 24 The Starlite Room Edmonton, Canada* Mar 25 Amigos Saskatoon, Canada* Mar 26 The Exchange Regina, Canada* Mar 28 Moon Room Denver, CO Mar 29 Low Spirits Albuquerque, NM Mar 31 Club Red Mesa, AZ * w/ We Hunt Buffalo
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
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.
I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.
Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.
The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.
This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.
Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.
I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:
Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.
Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.
There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.
A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.
Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.
Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.
There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.
Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.
Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.
Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.
For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.
I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, Neurosis‘ Fires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.
Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.
Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.
I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.
Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.
Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.
Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.
Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.
One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.
If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.
In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.
After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.
Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.
7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know
Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.
German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.
A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.
Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Che, Vista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.
What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.
Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.
2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)
It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.
Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.
The Next 20
Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:
31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll
From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.
Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:
Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment
And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:
Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.
In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.
If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.
And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 8th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Swedish fuzz forerunners Truckfighters will return to the US next month for a tour that will find them joined by Brooklyn heavy noise rockers Kings Destroy. The shows, presented by Tone Deaf Touring and Fuzzorama Records, begin Jan. 18 in Somerville, MA, at the Once Ballroom and head into the Midwest and down into the South before looping back up the East Coast to finish at Goldsounds in Brooklyn, NYC.
For both bands, the January touring follows European runs. Truckfighters are currently wrapping an extensive stint supporting their latest full-length and Century Media debut, V (review here), for which they’ve basically been on the road since September. Even then, a US tour was in the works, as bassist/vocalist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm confirmed in an interview conducted at Høstsabbat in Oslo, Norway. It is hardly their first, and judging by the “LEG 1” that appears on the tour poster below, I’m guessing it won’t be their last before the cycle for V comes to a close, probably sometime late in 2017 or in 2018.
You might recall Truckfighters‘ first US tour was in 2011, half a decade ago, and it just so happens that Kings Destroy played the New York stop on it (review here) — a night at the Cake Shop on which a crowd who largely didn’t know what it was in for was handed its collective ass. Five years later, Kings Destroy are recently returned from a European tour of their own, conducted alongside The Skull in November, still heralding their 2015 self-titled third album (review here). They’ll take a break from writing the follow-up to do these shows, which is about as good an excuse as any I can come up with for leaving the rehearsal space. Whether or not they’ll have new material ready for the stage, I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like the least likely thing in the world. I seem to recall some of the songs for the self-titled being thoroughly road-tested.
I’ve been invited on this tour and am hoping to tag along starting either in Kansas City or Tulsa, depending largely on which I can fly into directly and for what cost. We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, here are the dates, which I dutifully transcribed from the poster and turned blue:
Truckfighters with Kings Destroy: 01.18 Somerville MA Once Ballroom 01.19 Montreal QC Bar Leritz 01.21 Ottawa ON House of Targ 01.22 Toronto ON Hard Luck 01.23 Pittsburgh PA Cattivo 01.24 Chicago IL Reggies 01.25 Minneapolis MN 7th St. Entry 01.26 Kansas City MO Riot Room 01.27 Tulsa OK Downtown Lounge 01.28 Dallas TX Curtain Club 01.30 New Orleans LA Siberia 01.31 Atlanta GA Drunken Unicorn 02.01 Richmond VA Strange Matter 02.02 Philadelphia PA Kung Fu Necktie 02.03 Brooklyn NY Goldsounds
Posted in Features on November 25th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Truckfighters‘ ascent to the forefront of European heavy rock is no accident. For over a decade, the Örebro, Sweden, natives have been nearly unparalleled in their efforts both to be heard and to compose and execute material worthy of the attention they’ve demanded for it. Their loyalty to fuzz tones and thick grooves has come packaged with an unflinching dedication to creative growth on the part of the core duo of bassist/vocalist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm and guitarist Niklas “Dango” Källgren, and their live performance remains among the most physically engaged in the genre. More than nearly any other current act, Truckfighters aspire to literally throw themselves into their music.
As their influence has continued to spread — there are an awful lot of bands jumping around Euro club stages these days, it seems — so has the range of their songwriting. This fall, they released V (review here) as their debut in licensed conjunction with Century Media after years working exclusively through their own Fuzzorama Records imprint on prior outings like earlier-2016’s live album, Live in London (review here), 2014’s Universe (review here), 2009’s Mania (review here), 2007’s Phi and their landmark 2005 debut, Gravity X (discussed here), and offered the latest chapter in their ongoing progression. More confident in the sometimes-brooding sensibility that came to fruition on Universe, songs like “Calm Before the Storm,” “The Contract” and “Storyline” nonetheless retained the memorable craftsmanship that has always been at root in Truckfighters‘ work, and only become broader in its emotional and sonic reach.
Like most good things in life, my conversation with Cedermalm happened outside a café in Oslo, Norway. It was the second night of the Høstsabbat festival, which Truckfighters would headline, and the band had finished soundcheck shortly before. We’ve met a few times over the years, but this was my first sit-down with him and I was grateful for the chance to talk about V, some of the controversy that had been stirred by the then-recently-released video for “Calm Before the Storm,” the particulars of the deal with Century Media, their apparent inability to keep a drummer in the lineup, and most importantly, about the creative partnership he shares with Källgren, since that is ultimately what has always been the center of the band.
Fortunately, he was open about all of these things and much more. Seemingly perpetual in their touring ethic, Truckfighters were out through parts of October and earlier this month and are once again on the road to finish off 2016. They’ll continue into 2017 to support V. Here are the remaining current dates:
Truckfighters with Deville & Dot Legacy:
Nov 25 Underground, Koln, Germany
Nov 26 Hublot, Nancy, France
Nov 27 Petit Bain, Paris, France
Nov 28 Le Ferrailleur, Nantes, France
Nov 30 Magasin 4, Brussels, Belgium
Dec 04 Mama Roux’s Birmingham, United Kingdom
Dec 05 King Tuts, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Dec 06 Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Dec 07 Thekla, Bristol, United Kingdom
Dec 08 The Ruby Lounge, Manchester, United Kingdom
Dec 09 Islington Academy, London, United Kingdom
Dec 10 Patterns, Brighton, United Kingdom
Dec 27 Sankt Hell Festival, Hamburg, Germany w/ Orange Goblin, Bullet and more
Full Q&A can be found after the jump. Thanks for reading.
I’ve listened to it front to back and I can honestly say this is the best podcast I’ve made in the last five months. Truth be told, I know there are plenty of people who do podcasts as their primary outlet, talk on them and whatnot (hey, I tried it once and reserve the right to do it again at some point), but if it’s between crossfading feedback from one song to another and writing a review of a new record, well, crossfading falls into the same category as just about everything else: Write first.
Fortunately, a longer span of time between casts makes it that much easier to pick tracks. Existence does not hand you a 45-minute Øresund Space Collective jam every day, so I thought that was worth featuring, and I just got Megaritual’s new vinyl for review, so I thought featuring their more recent single-song EP would work well too.
I’m happy with the blend overall, and with Asteroid setting the tone. Be patient with it. Let it unfold. Even with a rocking start, it gets pretty psychedelic pretty quickly, and only continues to move further out. My advice is go with it and see where you end up.
As always, I hope you enjoy.
Track details follow:
0:00:00 Asteroid, “Them Calling” from III
0:05:02 Stinkeye, “Orange Man” from Llantera Demos
0:08:31 Hornss, “Prince of a Thousand Enemies” from Telepath
0:11:36 Ice Dragon, “Broken Life” from Broken Life
0:16:08 Wasted Theory, “Odyssey of the Electric Warlock” from Defenders of the Riff
0:20:59 Pelander, “True Colour” from Time
0:29:41 The Freeks, “Blow Time Away” from Shattered
0:34:26 Baby Woodrose, “Freedom” from Freedom
0:37:27 Comacozer, “The Mind that Feeds the Eye” from Astra Planeta
0:45:21 Mos Generator, “Outlander” from The Firmament
0:51:13 Megaritual, “Eclipse” from Eclipse
1:16:25 Øresund Space Collective, “Visions Of…” from Visions Of…
Posted in Reviews on October 21st, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Much of Asteroid‘s aptly-titled third album, III, is unassuming. It arrives via Fuzzorama Records with a photo of the band’s gear — artfully shot, but a gear photo — on the front cover, and at seven tracks/36 minutes, it’s quick, almost humble listen. That’s precisely the point. It’s been six years since the Örebro, Sweden, three-piece released II (review here), and while they would’ve been well within their rights to turn III into some grandiose, probably hyper-produced excursion given the occasion, it also would’ve been completely out of character. Asteroid went a much more fitting way, and III benefits from that choice.
Natural vibe, on every level. That’s what the gear shot represents. It’s not about some over-the-top presentation, but about the work that guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen) do in that rehearsal or studio space. It’s their chemistry that shines through, in combination with the unremittingly memorable songcraft of cuts like “Last Days” (premiere here), “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” and so on. And yes, III does build on the accomplishments of II in the direction it takes, since that record — thought to be their swansong, notwithstanding the 2013 7″ single Move a Mountain/One Foot in the Grave (review here), until their reunion was announced here late in 2015 — shifted from the more straight-ahead fuzz rock of their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) toward a more open, bluesier, jammier style.
III pushes further in that direction from the gentle way Campbell‘s drums seem to start opener “Pale Moon” in medias res joined soon by Nilsson‘s inimitable warm bass tone and ambient guitar swirl from Hirse down to the soaring leads and into-the-night howls of closer “Mr. Strange.” There is no song of the seven that doesn’t deliver a standout factor, whether it’s a hook, solo, overall groove, vocal tradeoff between Hirse and Nilsson, and the flow created between the tracks makes III a better return than one could’ve reasonably hoped for from Asteroid.
I say that as a fan of the band, which I acknowledge I am. Nonetheless, to have Asteroid come back in a manner that not only reinforces the work they’ve done before but actively builds on it and pushes it forward almost gives III a spirit of making up for lost time. It was three years between the self-titled and II, and even with the 7″ factored in, they’ve doubled that span between full-lengths. In the interim, Hirse went on to found The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues, and it legitimately seemed Asteroid were done. It was no minor loss to the sphere of European heavy rock and psychedelia, since what Asteroid effectively represent as a band is an alternative in audio organics that doesn’t necessarily need to rely on vintage presentation to get its point across.
In that regard, they pick up where they left off on III and move ahead from there. “Pale Moon,” one of just two inclusions over six minutes long, enters with a jammy feel, winding guitars, a minimal vocal presence, and eases the listener into what follows. No stretch to imagine it came out of the three of them picking up their instruments and playing the first thing that came to mind, whether or not that’s actually the case. Near the end, a wash of effects takes hold and comes forward, and the song ends with a rumble that leads into the opening of “Last Days,” which turns from its rolling introduction into a Beatlesian bounce marked out by Nilsson‘s bassline and some call and response singing underscored by the just-in-case-you-weren’t-thinking-Abbey–Road short instrumental chorus riff.
The verse itself is the hook, and shows the band’s penchant for darker lyrical themes — “Death will come, he always does/For each and every one of us” is a standout line traded between Nilsson and Hirse — that comes up again on “Wolf and Snake” and the penultimate “Them Calling.” “Til Dawn,” which follows immediately with a warmth of shuffle given to fuzzy push, is shorter and somewhat faster, but doesn’t let go of the underlying groove of “Last Days” before it, instead building momentum as it starts and stops fluidly and shoves its way toward what’s probably the end of side A, turning around the 2:30 mark into a denser tone that they ride out for most of the duration, turning back to a cleaner guitar line to finish out in the last few seconds.
If you happen to be listening on a linear format — or if the vinyl side split is elsewhere — that makes the transition into “Wolf and Snake” all the more seamless. The centerpiece and longest track on IIIat a still-manageable 6:31, it’s a classic blues morality play with the standout lyrics in its first verse, “In the end we are the same/Said the wolf to the snake/You and me we’ve been asleep/While everybody else had to stay awake,” and it comes delivered with patience, dynamic shifts in tempo and a chorus that makes it stand among the highlights of the record and Asteroid‘s catalog as a whole.
Emphasizing the turns they’re able to pull off without even a measure’s notice, Hirse‘s layered lead work, and the way in which Nilsson and Campbell sustain cohesive rhythms while bolstering the guitar in classic power trio form. When they get back to the chorus from the solo section near the midpoint, it’s a release in tension, but the real shift comes in the subsequent slowdown — a transition into thickly-fuzzed, peppered-with-ambience riffing instrumental departure that carries them through the bulk of the remainder of the song, until the drums and bass drop out and the guitar lightly strums out the finish for the last minute or so.
At that point, the impact has been made, but just how much “Wolf and Snake” offers in its time serves as a summary of much of what the rest of III has to offer, though the subsequent two tracks, “Silver and Gold” and “Them Calling” are marked points of departure and contrast — at least from each other if not from the style of the band entirely. Rising quietly from the finish of “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold” is the shortest slice of III at 3:11, and from the swirling echoes preceding the first verse onward through the harmonies brought forth by Hirse and Nilsson, it’s the most ambitious vocal arrangement they’ve ever done.
And it marks a shift in approach as well, since so much of their appeal has always been about the tone of the guitar or bass and even the drum sounds, but while the dual-vocals has long been a key element of what they do, “Silver and Gold” is a level of performance and a level of confidence in that performance that’s perhaps the clearest marker of their progression on this album entirely, and reinforces Asteroid‘s fierce commitment to moving forward even as they get their feet under them following their years away. It makes III all the more special, and with a couple far-back hits from Campbell, shifts into a peaceful kind of gallop in its second half, vaguely Western, and topped with more non-lyricized harmonies echoing out over the space created, wrapping with a stretch of silence after the passing of some residual effects.
The role that brief quiet plays is no less pivotal than any of III‘s other transitions, since what it sets up is the outright crash into “Them Calling,” an outright fist-pump fuzz rocker that’s almost all thrust and raises a glass with the lines, “Now I stand at the gates of hell/Waiting for you to arrive/I hear them calling, calling for me/But I want you here by my side,” as it careens through headbang-worthy proto-metallic groove.
Tonally, it’s the densest material on the album, but it hits at just the perfect moment after “Silver and Gold,” and brings Nilsson and Hirse together righteously for the above-noted chorus, and shows that as far out as Asteroid are willing to go, they know the value as well that staying grounded can have. They rightly keep “Them Calling” to a straightforward structure, and in sheer effect, its leanness pushes it well into highlight status even before the solo in the second half gives way to one last bookend runthrough of the chorus and a couple hits to close. A “wow” moment, delightful in how unprecedented it is on III but still not at all a backward step on the part of the band, especially in the context of how it interacts with “Silver and Gold” before it and the closer “Mr. Strange” after.
As much as “Pale Moon” had a clear opening sensibility, “Mr. Strange” feels like it’s winding down — though, admittedly just about anything would with “Them Calling” before it — but as Nilsson takes the lead vocal, the foundation is laid for what will be the final push, complemented by memorable “whoa”s and a nodding lead-topped fuzz that once more casts out a sense of vastness without playing to the need for “sounding huge” or departing from the overarching class that Asteroid have shown all throughout the album to this point. In the end, it’s more active at its finish than “Pale Moon” was at its start, but no less fitting in the unassuming manner in which it rises to its occasion.
That is perhaps the most prevalent impression III leaves behind when it’s over. Asteroid probably could’ve made a “reunion” album. They didn’t. They made a third album, and the songs are stronger and more genuine for it in how they sound and what they signify as the band’s conceptual priorities now and going from here. III is one of 2016’s best, no question, and more over, it reminds of just how crucial Asteroid are and can continue to be as an influence to those who will invariably, hopefully, benefit from following their path. Recommended.
Posted in Reviews on October 17th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
If you want to look at the trajectory of Swedish heavy rockers Truckfighters, it’s easy to read their catalog as a series of forward steps. There is a clear narrative arc to their work that can be traced right to its latest chapter in their new offering, V. Their 2005 debut, Gravity X, boasts a few tracks that even 11 years later tap into a timeless imperative of desert rock. It established them as a noteworthy presence within the sphere of European fuzz and set in motion a touring and promotion ethic that has gone largely unmatched within that sphere.
Working as a four-piece for Phi in 2007, the Örebro-based outfit began to branch out, but it was with 2009’s Mania (review here) that their progressive side really first showed itself as the path they would follow in songwriting. They hit the road hard in the years that followed, released a feature-length documentary, and began a seemingly endless round of changes in lineup, with the core duo of vocalist/bassist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm, guitarist Niklas “Dango” Källgren joined by an ongoing succession of drummers. On 2014’s Universe (review here), which was preceded by the EP The Chairman in 2013 and followed earlier this year by Live in London (review here), it was Andre “Poncho” Kvarnström, now of Blues Pills. For V, it’s Daniel “El Danno” Israelsson of Dexter Jones’ Circus Orchestra taking up the call, though my understanding is he too is already out of the band.
These shifts around Cedermalm and Källgren seem to have done little to ultimately slow the progression or momentum of Truckfighters, who as well as being one of the heavy underground’s most kinetic live acts have established one of its most immediately identifiable sounds — you know when you’re listening to Truckfighters — have taken another step forward in inking a deal with Century Media for the distributing of the seven-track/47-minute V, licensing through their own Fuzzorama Records, which has been home to each of their prior outings. A shift in profile, if not necessarily aesthetic, but noteworthy all the same in showing the multi-tiered evolution of the band, whose songcraft continues to grow as well. To listen to V front to back from opener and longest track (immediate points) “Calm Before the Storm” to the finisher “Storyline,” the larger portion of what the trio does in the span will be recognizable to those who heard Universe.
Certainly, in tone, their penchant for fuzz has remained consistent. It’s what they do with that fuzz that has changed over time, and a steady development in vocal confidence from Cedermalm combined with an increased comfort with complex modes of expression overall, which on the first two albums simply wasn’t there and in hindsight was only beginning to emerge on Mania, that results in such fluidity throughout V. Credit in setting the mood has to go to “Calm Before the Storm” as well. While V has plenty of upbeat moments of push in “Hackshaw,” “The 1,” “Gehenna,” and “Fiend” — and indeed the opener increases thrust as it builds through its hook — “Calm Before the Storm” is an especially bold choice to lead off for its brooding sensibility, which seems to find complement and emphasis even in the most raucous of moments that immediately follow, be it the winding chorus of “Hackshaw” or the thick-fuzzed push that begins “The 1.”
To an extent, this was true of Universe as well, and with half as much time between Universe and V as there was between Mania and Universe, it’s not surprising the two would share some characteristics, whatever Truckfighters have been through over the last couple years. But the scope has once again broadened, and one can hear that in how smoothly centerpiece “Gehenna” ebbs and flows, how the momentum of “The 1” seems to subside only to rise again, in the melodic reach of the chorus to “The Contract,” which might be V‘s standout moment, and in the poise with which Truckfighters claim such breadths and depths as their own. As much of their persona — which is not to say “brand” — is defined by onstage acrobatics, Källgren‘s madman energy running back and forth, jumping up and down, spinning in circles, etc., on record they seem even more daring how deeply they plunge into contemplative stretches.
The verse to “The Contract” is spacious, the bridge in the second half of “Hackshaw” dizzying but precisely executed, and the interplay of acoustic and electric guitar in “Storyline” a new level of emotional crux entirely. That Truckfighters can be patient and that band who are such a force in a live setting, and that they can ultimately do so without contradicting themselves and having their foundation collapse under them, makes them all the more special as a group contributing to the expansion of their genre. Even the subtlety that shows itself in the midsection of “Fiend,” teasing those acoustics that play a more prominent role after the blown-out push that starts “Storyline,” stands as an example of the delicate balance Truckfighters strike.
And though they then seem to delight in stomping all over that balance, it emerges unscathed. It might be fair to call this the triumph within V itself were it not for the level of songwriting Cedermalm and Källgren bring forth. Fifteen years on from their first getting together and with countless miles under their collective belt, they’ve become one of heavy rock’s most crucial teams, and more encouragingly, while they’ve clearly established a working modus, they refuse to sit still from one release to the next, to rest on past laurels, or to give in to the expectations of others. It is a rare band who, five albums in, can remain defined by their forward potential, and Truckfighters have worked hard to hold true to that reality.