Posted in Whathaveyou on July 24th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
German heavy psych four-piece Sonora Ritual have announced that their sophomore outing, to be titled Dust Monument, is currently in progress. That could mean any number of things, really, from the earliest writing sessions to mixing and mastering, but the point is that they’re somewhere in the process and that’s better than nothing. Their warm-toned psychedelia was last heard from on their 2013 debut long-player, Worship the Sun, and they have done shows along the way with Wight and Bushfire and appeared at the Stoned from the Underground festival in their native Germany.
The debut earned a pretty fervent response, and reasonably so. It was enough either way to get Sonora Ritual picked up by Kozmik Artifactz, who first announced their signing last year and has had a vinyl release for Worship the Sun listed as coming soon more or less since. No word on whether Dust Monument will be issued through the label as well, but Sonora Ritual were featured on Kozmik Artifactz‘s Home of the Good Sounds Vol. 2 comp (streamed here) last month, so presumably they’re looking to continue the association past this upcoming issue of their first release.
Word was quick from the band, but the cover art has also been revealed, and it looks like this:
We’d like to announce our new album we are working on. It’s called ‘Dust Monument’ and is going to be some sort of concept sequel. Join the hermit once again continuing his journey. Stay tuned for tracklisting, artworks and other stuff.
Sonora Ritual is a band of different influences and styles of heavy music. No overblown adjectives that describe the sound of these guys. It’s up to you, to make your own opinion.
Grab a beer and enjoy the ride.
Fartface Johnson – Lead Vocals/Guitar Franklin D. Boozewell – Bass Wifebeater McKenzie – Guitar Snuffy O’Brian – Drums
Posted in Whathaveyou on July 24th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Germany’s Iguana are kind of a well-kept secret at this point. Heading into their second full-length, Cult of Helios, which is the follow-up to their 2012 debut, Get the City Love You (review here), they’ve done a decent amount of touring around Europe, and played several fests along the way as one might, but I feel like they’re still waiting to have people really catch on to what they do. Cult of Helios is out as of today, and they’re hitting the road with Brant Bjork next week, so it seems likely they’ll come back having turned a few more heads than when they left.
The news is abundant, and under it you’ll find their brand new video for the song “A Deadlock Situation,” which is well worth your time:
IGUANA are going to release their brand new record “Cult Of Helios” at the end of July, right on time for their tour with Brant Bjork. It contains 4 songs in 32min of finest Psych-Desert-Post-Whatever-Rock. The record is a portrait of IGUANA’s contemporary songwriting and sweetens up the time, waiting for the next full length album.
IGUANA are holding on to their distinct Desert-Session-Psychedelic-Rock. But they managed to sound even more heavy, raw, fuzzy and genuine this time, which mostly is a result of the full-band-live-recordings of „Cult Of Helios” at the band’s own studio. „Cult Of Helios” provides old-school Desert Rock – rough, psychedelic, melodious, but, above all, multi-faceted. The 4 songs represent different tunes in finest Desert-Session-Rock without even relating to any desert-clichés: sometimes instrumental, sometimes just straight, and then laidback again. Somewhere between Doom, Psychedelic, Noise and the Desert Sessions. “Cult Of Helios” is the soundtrack for your summer and will be released as a special-tour-edition during their upcoming shows. It also will be available via Itunes, Spotify and so on.
IGUANA performs a sincere, versatile, heavy and progressive kind of Fuzz Rock at its best. Although still being deep-seated with this genre they have moved on to develop their own vision of a deep, melodic and wistful Hard Rock music. It’s some kind of Desert-Psychedelic-Doom-Post-whatever in the broadest sense. However, the band is full of stylistic variability, packed with hooks as well as accompanied by crazily arranged instrumental gimmickries. IGUANA is sick of trends, the mainstream and, above all, the dos and don’ts of Rock’n’Roll. It’s addicted to music – nothing more and nothing less! An outcome made for the stage to unfold its unbridled power. That’s what it has been and always will be!
Besides releasing music, IGUANA is dead keen on playing live! IGUANA are touring Europe for some years now in the good old manner of DIY. IGUANA have already had 140 gigs and they have hit the stage of dozens of festivals and clubshows together with bands such as Saint Vitus, Brant Bjork, Los Natas, Kadavar, Blues Pills, The Atomic Bitchwax, Dozer, Spidergwad, Dyse, Colour Haze and many many ingenious acts more. Not just old hand doom legend Wino Weinrich knows that these boys are killer. Numerous club-shows in Europe and of course in the German scene’s most appreciated live hot-spots (Stoned From The Underground, Void Fest, Keep It Low Fest) proved that IGUANA embodies the never-ending story of live celebrated love to chunky riffing, psychedelic jamming and rhythms that are out-of-the-ordinary! Look forward to the sound of former desert sessions along with instrumental gimmickries and stoner-doom attacks yet charmingly and a little crazily wrapped up.
IGUANA are going to release their brand new record “Cult Of Helios” at the end of July 2015, right on time for their tour with Brant Bjork. It contains 4 songs in 32min of finest Psych-Desert-Post-Whatever-Rock. The record is a portrait of IGUANA’s contemporary songwriting and sweetens up the time, waiting for the next full length album. “Cult Of Helios” is the soundtrack for your summer and will be released as a special-touredition during their upcoming shows. It also will be available via Itunes, Spotify and so on.
Discographie: •“Iguana – Cult Of Helios” special tour release “Sweet Home Records” 2015 •“Iguana – Get The City Love You” full lenght debut album on “Sweet Home Records” 2012 •“Iguana – B|L|U|E|S”extended reissue on “Sweet Home Records” 2011 •“Iguana – B|L|U|E|S” on “Sweet Home Records” 2008 •“Iguana – Wheeler Dealer” on “Sweet Home Records” 2006
Released to mark a month-long tour together earlier this year, the Setalight Records split 10″ between Berlin heavy rockers Samavayo and Russian genrenauts The Grand Astoria holds a few surprises along the way. Pressed to black vinyl, it’s a follow-up to Samavayo‘s 2014 joint release with One Possible Option, and for The Grand Astoria, who’ve worked with Setalight in the past on 2014’s La Belle Epoque (review here), as well as 2013’s Punkadelica Supreme (review here) and several other short releases along the way.
Though on paper it might seem like an awkward pairing — come to think of it, just about anybody paired with The Grand Astoria is kind of awkward on paper; their sound is expansive, and they’re more than capable songwriters, but you never quite know what they’re going to do next — they mesh pretty well, and with a side split between them, both bands give a quick glimpse at where they’re at stylistically without completely losing a thread going one into the other.
One might notice The Grand Astoria‘s skull-headed mascot on the cover art by Sophia Miroedova walking away from a temple — or maybe having his portrait painted in front of it? — over which Samavayo‘s sun-style logo resides in the sky. Both acts, then, are represented, one perhaps more subtly than the other. It’s much the same way with the music. On side A, Samavayo offer two tracks: “Intergalactic Hunt” (4:03) and “Soul out of Control” (8:06), while on side B, The Grand Astoria reaffirm their shift toward progressive rock with “Kobaïa Express” (11:30).
Each cut is distinct from those around it, one way or another, and “Intergalactic Hunt” stands out for its immediate sense of movement, the guitar of Behrang Alavi (also vocals) setting a tight rhythm that drummer/backing vocalist Stephan Voland and bassist/backing vocalist Andreas Voland match both in groove and nuance, building and releasing tension in the instrumental verses and chorus of the first half before shifting in the second to a bridge that gradually leads them back to where they started, the guitar line that started it all serving also as the leadout. Fitting somehow for Samavayo in terms of showing their range that they should go from an entirely instrumental track to one centered almost completely on its vocal hook.
Well, “almost completely” is a stretch. “Soul out of Control” still has its riff — a more laid back chug over which Alavi calls to mind any number of ’90s alt melodies — and at eight minutes, there’s plenty of room for Samavayo to give the song a sense of space. They do precisely that, even slowing down over the last two minutes to march the way out, but “Soul out of Control” remains a deceptively quick listen for topping eight minutes, and that too suits Samavayo well, their songwriting always at the core no matter how expansive a given track may or may not be.
And speaking of expansive, The Grand Astoria‘s “Kobaïa Express” takes its name from the fictional planet created by Magma drummer Christian Vander — or at least from the train that presumably gets you there with the minimum of stops en route — and is presented in the accompanying alien language, a morass of syllables sometimes closer to Italian, sometimes more Slavic depending on where the music is going in any particular movement. And it does go. Recorded as the six-piece of Kamille Sharapodinov (vocals, electric and acoustic guitar), Danila Danilov (vocals, keys, flute), Eugene Korolkov (bass), Vladimir Zinoviev (drums), and Igor Suvorov (lead guitar) with Ravil Azizov on clarinet, “Kobaïa Express” is nigh on visionary progressive metal, at times operatic and at times grinding, but always precise, heavy and intricately constructed.
The Grand Astoria have already followed this split up with a two-song full-length titled The Mighty Few on which each track tops 20 minutes, so we know it’s not as far as they’ll push into fleshing out arrangements and the like, but “Kobaïa Express” thrills nonetheless for its direct Magma-ism and the poise the band demonstrates throughout, and Samavayo‘s inclusions, both of which were recorded at the end of last year, bode well for what they might do on their own next outing. If nothing else, the moral of the story with their split would seem to be that that must have been one hell of a tour. Even though it’s long since over, the scope both bands show here does justice to the fact that they got together in the first place and unites in unexpected ways across a bridge of progressive stylization and heavy craftsmanship.
Posted in Whathaveyou on July 21st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
At the start of 2015, I included the next Wight album — whatever they decide to call it — on my list of the year’s most anticipated records. I stand by that. It’s been three years now since their second offering, Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here), came out and the sheer amount of progression the German outfit showed from their 2011 debut, Wight Weedy Wight (review here), not to mention the songwriting on its own level, has made the appeal enduring for all that time. Still, they’re due, and with the acquisition of a fourth player in the form of percussionist Steffen Kirchpfening, who joins guitarist/vocalist René Hofmann, bassist Peter-Philipp Schierhorn and Thomas Kurek, the prospect of another step forward is enticing.
I don’t know if Wight‘s third will be out before the end of 2015 — last I heard they were in the mixing stage — but they’re headed out on the road next month into Sept., and as they say, they’ve put the last album to rest in their minds, so it seems fair to expect new material to surface soon, even if just on tour.
Dates and a recent update from the band follow:
+++ FUSION ROCK INVASION EUROPEAN TOUR 2015 +++
A year ago, we performed “Through The Woods Into Deep Water” live in the Odenwald (Odin’s Forest), next to our hometown. For us, that was the conclusion of the chapter “Through The Woods”. Since that time many things happened, which are impossible to “share” in social media. We wrote songs, recorded, a fourth musicians joined the band, we toured and we will play even more next month. We are looking forward to show you the new “book of Wight” soon… Paper doesn’t blush.
Wight touring Germany, Netherlands, UK Friday 21.08.2015 – Biesenthal/B Camp Tipsy Saturday 22.08.2015 – Cologne Underground Cologne Tuesday 25.08.2015 – Hamburg Bar 227 – Jack Daniel’s Pilgerstätte Wednesday 26.08.2015 – Tilburg Little Devil Thursday 27.08.2015 – Plymouth The Junction Friday 28.08.2015 – London The Black Heart Saturday 29.09.2015 – Leicester Sumo Bar Leicester Sunday 30.08.2015 – Cardiff The Moon Club Tuesday 01.09.2015 – TBA Wednesday 02.09.2015 – TBA Thursday 03.09.2015 – Munich Feierwerk Friday 04.09.2015 – Darmstadt „Theater im Pädagog TIP“ Saturday 05.09.2015 – TBA
Posted in Whathaveyou on July 10th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
By way of being completely honest, I knew My Sleeping Karma were being added to the third Keep it Low festival, which is set for Oct. 16 and 17 in Munich. I know because I asked. I’ve been giving some pretty serious thought — now that I have an income again — toward getting on a plane and making my way out for the two-day event, whose lineup is nigh-on-unfuckwithable, what with Causa Sui, Colour Haze, Fatso Jetson, Samsara Blues Experiment, and so on, but the chance to see My Sleeping Karma was something that I knew would put it over the edge in my mind. And so the confirmation of their appearance has done precisely that. I’m going to do everything in my power to make it happen. Flights will be booked.
Steak, Sgt. Sunshine — stop and imagine seeing Sgt. Sunshine live for just a minute; I mean, seriously — and A Great River in the Sky were also confirmed for the lineup. It goes like this:
New announcement! 4 more bands confirmed for Keep It Low – Festival 2015: – German mind-blowing sonic quartet MY SLEEPING KARMA – the British fuzzed-out sandy rock tornado Steak – Swedish heavy psych jammers Sgt.Sunshine – and the new psychedelic outfit A Great River In The Sky.
95% of the line-up has now been unveiled, and KEEP IT LOW VOL I & II had been sold out in advance, so to be part of the big family happening with Beergarden, Skatepark and the coolest bands, better get your ticket now! Limited Hardtickets and online/print-at-home tickets can be ordered onwww.keepitlow.de/tickets(55€ + shipping/taxes). Rock on!
MY SLEEPING KARMA is a German Instrumental quartet that takes you into a mind-blowing sonic experience. They are no beginners, no amateurs, and when they hop on stage they make you forget about everything around you: they take you by the hand into the deepest and hidden corners of your very soul.
MY SLEEPING KARMA combines the organic aspect of psychedelic groove rock with emotional shades of aphasian landscapes.With ‘Moskha’, their fifth album released in the Spring 2015, MY SLEEPING KARMA achieved their strongest record to date. The sound and tone of the album perfectly fits into the Instrumental Progressive – and Ambient Post Rock realms. From the start the listener is kidnapped by the spherical sound, between enormous atmospheric compositions with pure rock riffs and psychedelic melodies perfectly intertwined into this scenery.
Immerse yourself, both with the risk of completely losing yourself in this brand new masterpiece, because you might not be able to emerge again.
STEAK are from London, UK. Gritz lovin, whore hoppin’ mud slingin’, if you want fuzzed up stoner grooves, then you want a piece of STEAK…
Within four years, STEAK have established themselves as one of the British stoner rock scene’s most satisfying acts. Following the sandy steps of their American elders Fu Manchu or Kyuss, STEAK’s enthusiastic stoner rock sound is driven by ballsy riffs and contagious grooves, sparingly tinged with moments of pure cosmic escapism.
After two critically acclaimed EPs ‘Disastronaught’ and ‘Corned Beef Colossus’, and a serie of successful gigs across Spain, France, Switzerland and the UK, STEAK released last year their debut album ‘Slab City’ via Napalm Records. Just listen to that psychedelic purr, it will surely make you lift off and soar through the sky!
SGT. SUNSHINE is a three piece rock band formed in Malmoe, Sweden by the guitarist and lead singer Eduardo Fernandez, bass player Pär Hallgren and Christian Lundberg on drums. They recorded some demos around 1998-99 that placed them amongst one of the leading underground rock bands of the time.
For over 15 years, Swedish rockers have released 3 albums (2002?s Sgt. Sunshine – an album that many years later still rings in the ears of those who were fortunate enough to hear it – 2007?s Black Hole and 2013?s III), carving out a potent and sparkling blend of desert groove and heavy psych jamming.
Currently signed on Heavy Psych Sounds Records, SGT. SUNSHINE is working on their new album that will be released beginning of 2016. We might have new songs to listen @ Keep It Low!
Posted in Reviews on July 8th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Listening to Theory of Mind, I’m not sure German trio Electric Moon ever need to set foot in a studio again. One imagines that at some point they will, but the vibrancy and the fullness of tone they’re able to capture from the stage — added to the fact that their extended, flowing, sprawling jams are instrumental and at least in part improvised — makes the idea of them stepping in to record to a board, without an audience there, seem incorrect on some fundamental level. On stage is where they should be, where pieces like those included on Theory of Mind should come from. They are, in other words, in their element.
The raw chemistry that has grown up over the last several years (and really before that, in different bands) between guitarist/synthesist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, bassist/sometimes vocalist/cover artist Komet Lulu and drummer Marcus Schnitzler is readily on display in the four cuts of this Sulatron Records CD/2LP, arranged one per side in the order of “Hypnotika” (16:04), “Theory of Mind” (19:05), “The Picture” (14:32) and “Aerosoul” (14:28), the trance coming on early in “Hypnotika” as it unfolds gradually over its first three minutes and twisting here and there, getting heavy at the end of the title-track and finding “The Picture” as perhaps the most riff-based jam Electric Moon have proffered in their time together, before “Aerosoul” ups the swirl and wah quotient to finish the show with a full on crest-and-recede process, Lulu underscoring a wash of guitar and crashing drums that lead to a last-minute swirlout.
An assembled audience — there is one — is pretty low in the mix, and were it not for the eruptions that occur as each piece draws to its conclusion and periodically within the jams as well, Theory of Mind would be an easy sell as a studio LP. Recorded to give a full tonal breadth, one can hear the separation between the guitar and bass, but not in the choppy soundboard manner that might result on a bootleg. Of course, Electric Moon have put out enough live albums at this point to know how it’s done, so maybe it’s not a surprise that “Hypnotika”‘s initial build-up would sound so completely fluid as it deftly shifts via Schnitzler‘s drumming into its next movement of heavier Krautrock stylizations, but that doesn’t make the release any less enjoyable.
Rather, knowing that Schmidt, Lulu and Schnitzler are going to provide their trademark exploratory sense in just about everything they do only enhances the appeal of their prolific output. It’s not quite like watching them play in-person, but it’s the next best thing, and the chance to hear the 19-minute breadth of “Theory of Mind” itself is something special, the song moving from another taking-its-time beginning into wah and bass bliss over liquefied cymbal work before emerging with a classic howl of a solo and evolving naturally into a heavier and heavier push, Lulu‘s bassline hypnotic all the while beneath, the track dynamically rising, falling, rising again momentarily and then pulling itself downward to make room for “The Picture,” its Sleepy initial progression striking in how firmly preconceived it seems to be. Possible that Sula or Lulu thought of that riff off the cuff, but it sounds like one from home brought to the stage for show-and-tell, and they put it to excellent use over the course of “The Picture”‘s 14-minute roll.
All the better to have “The Picture” directly in front of “Aerosoul,” then, because while the closer does have a build playing out over its own 14 minutes, it’s the most improvised-sounding of the four tracks on Theory of Mind. Now, it’s entirely possible that “Aerosoul” was thought out beforehand and “The Picture” made up on the spot — I’m only going by how I hear it — but what’s more important than when or how Electric Moon came up with this stuff is the fact that, even as they seem to be constantly pushing into new cosmic terrain, they’re also branching out into different modes of exploration, taking varied paths to accomplish the work of raw creativity.
By the time its crescendo takes hold circa eight minutes in, “Aerosul” has stretched itself out over a vast expanse of heavy psychedelia, and it only becomes more hypnotic as it pushes that groove forward and moves deeper into who the hell knows where Electric Moon are ultimately headed. Their jams have grown more and more engaging as their time has gone on, and with Lulu and Sula Bassana now also taking part in Krautzone and the reunited Zone Six, it seems like the scope has widened and will keep widening. Not something to complain about, because it seems like no matter where Electric Moon might go with their sound, they always keep the core mission of exploration central to what they do. As a live record like Theory of Mind proves, their approach is among the most vital of heavy psychedelic outfits active today, and one hopes it continues to develop as organically as it has to this point.
Posted in Reviews on July 7th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
German trio Kadavar set a formidable standard with their self-titled 2012 debut (discussed here), released on Tee Pee and This Charming Man to a swath of multi-continental acclaim and seeming to take on immediate influence particularly in the European underground. When Abra Kadavar (review here) arrived in just the next year as their Nuclear Blast label debut, it rightly thrust the band into another echelon of heavy rock acts worldwide. Touring commenced and continued heavily, and it’s in the context of Kadavar as a substantial international act that Berlin — their third full-length, second for Nuclear Blast and first to feature bassist Simon “Dragon” Bouteloup alongside guitarist/vocalist Lupus Lindemann and drummer Tiger — arrives. An 11- or 12-track collection that runs 45 or 52 minutes depending on which version you get, Berlin is hands down the best thing Kadavar have done to-date.
A sure-fire top-tenner that gets down to the business of boogie immediately with opener “Lord of the Sky,” it never seems to relinquish the hold that cut takes, Lindemann‘s leads careening as memorable hooks on the standout third track “Thousand Miles away from Home” — which follows the irresistible riffy bounce of “Last Living Dinosaur” — as well as on “Pale Blue Eyes,” “The Old Man,” “Spanish Wild Rose” and “Circles in My Mind,” while elsewhere “See the World with Your Own Eyes” kicks into a megachorus of its own, closer “Into the Night” fuels classic proto-metallic street-strut vibes, “Stolen Dreams” launches from full-on shimmy into a jet-engine of a breakdown in its second half and “Filthy Illusion” stomps like a single-guitar Thin Lizzy with standout basslines from Bouteloup.
Granted, that’s jumping around a bit through the running order, but taken front to back, there isn’t one song in the bunch that feels like a comedown from the track before it. Even the bonus track, which is a comparatively subdued, near-seven-minute cover of Nico‘s “Reich Der Träume” (“realm of dreams”), boasts keyboard flourish from Tiger that serves to distinguish it from the pack preceding. Nothing about Berlin comes across as forced, the songs are stuck in your head almost before you realize it, and while swing and ’70s-style fuzz are central to Kadavar‘s approach here as they were on their last two albums, the sense of presentation, confidence and chemistry the band fought for and obviously won on the road bleeds through a songwriting method varied enough to produce the wash and farther-back echo in the verse of “Last Living Dinosaur” and the unabashed good times of “Pale Blue Eyes,” only bolstered by a production less outwardly dedicated to a vintage sound than on either of their prior LPs.
That’s not to say Kadavar‘s methods have shifted away from ’70s heavy loyalism — quite the opposite — just that they’ve hit a point where they clearly feel they can carry across the spirit without directly aping the sound. They’re right. Entirely possible Berlin was recorded analog, in fact I wouldn’t doubt it, but it’s a clearer production, and it serves the material well, allowing a song like “Lord of the Sky” to concentrate on nailing Berlin‘s initial momentum or the chills-up-the-spine hook of “See the World with Your Own Eyes” to be utterly propelled by a build in Tiger‘s drums, or “Last Living Dinosaur” to highlight Lindemann‘s growth as a vocalist, switching register between verse and chorus as fluidly as the track soon enough shifts instrumentally into its rolling finish.
As with their last two outings, Berlin is an easy album to be excited about, and no doubt many will be. Its upbeat movement and vividness are infectious. What distinguishes Kadavar‘s work up to this point, however, is that the quality of the songs stands up after the record’s freshness gives way. Multiple listens to Berlin only make it sound richer, only reveal it to be a more complex outing than its brainwashing choruses at first declare. Subtle moments like the Rolling Stones-style noodling at the start of “Thousand Miles away from Home,” the way “Stolen Dreams” seems to echo the push of “Lord of the Sky” while doing something of its own as well, or how Lindemann‘s voice echoes when he says “night” in the title-line of “Into the Night” and the light Sabbathian touch in that song’s finish make Berlin all the more special.
Not just because they show attention to detail on the part of the band, but because they — like the tones, pacing, melodies and rhythm of the album overall — sound natural, grown out from Kadavar and Abra Kadavar but seeing the world with their own eyes (I just made that up; no idea where I might have gotten it from), the band’s progression evident in both the style they present on the surface and the substance that acts as the foundation beneath. The native-language bonus track makes a suitable finale even as it undercuts a prevailing hopeful sentiment, however, because its somewhat otherworldly melancholy reminds both of Kadavar‘s psychedelic side — something touched on elsewhere but not widely represented — and that at the best of times very often a downturn awaits. Going back to the start to give Berlin another go, one hopes that turn never comes and that, as much as Kadavar have found a new peak and captured a defining moment with these songs, there’s another around the next corner.
Posted in Features on July 6th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
If 2015 ended tomorrow, I think you’d still have to say it was a pretty good year for heavy rock. Doom veered into a swath extremes — its own subgenres emerging almost one by one in a growing splinter that nonetheless continues to draw water from its roots — while the neo-stoner ignition of the West Coast continued its boom of new acts proffering classic groove. The East reveled in a progressive vision just waiting to be picked up by others, and in Europe, the ’70s traditionalist movement spread ever wider, essentially defining a modern sound in organic sounding, sometimes-vintage elements. Whether you’re going for crushing, oppressive barbarism or cosmos-bound blissouts, it is, in short, a good time to be alive.
Of course, 2015 doesn’t end tomorrow, and there’s still a whole lot of year to come. About half, as it happens. So, as has been the tradition around here for the last half-decade — and seems to be the tradition in a growing number of outlets; not taking credit or claiming to have invented anything, just noting a proliferation — it’s time to count down the best records of the year so far. There have been more than a handful of gems, and since in December I’m planning on doing a top 30, we’ll mark half the year with a top 15. Seems only fair.
Please note that this isn’t purely a critical evaluation, but a personal list, and that what I’ve put on most is as crucial a factor in my ranking as how important I think a given record is. You know the drill by now. Let’s go:
Kiev three-piece Stoned Jesus have a varied stylistic history, and their third outing, The Harvest was ultimately a success in large part because of its complete refusal to be defined. Atop a foundation of quality songcraft, the trio proffered a sound that was not necessarily experimental in terms of anti-structure noise or effects onslaughts, but bold in each of its forays outward from its heavy rock underpinnings.
It has consistently taken me a while to get a hold on what Freedom Hawk are up to. The steady elements in their sound are held to so firmly that on the first couple listens, it seems to just be more of the same. But the more one digs in, the more there is to be found, and with Into Your Mind, the Virginia Beach trio overcome losing a member to create their most progressive outing to date, flourishes of psychedelia melding easily with their signature style of sunshiny riffing.
Five albums deep, Germany’s My Sleeping Karma are an act unto themselves. Their progress has been natural, fueled by a clear, varied sense of exploratory will, and the results on this year’s Moksha were nothing short of stunning. Branching out their arrangements might not be new to them, but the inclusion of horns, drones, percussion, etc., amid the central guitar, bass, keys and drums lent an almost orchestral feel to the flow between the tracks, and one can only hope they continue on their current path, because it is unquestionably the right one.
So much potential, so much vitality at the heart of this debut from Death Alley. The Amsterdam-based four-piece (interview here) stormed out of the gate with a ripper of a debut, and just when you seemed to have it all figured out, they hit the ignition on a 12-minute full-impulse space rock thrust, a guest vocal appearance from Farida Lemouchi (a former bandmate of Death Alley guitarist Oeds Beydals in The Devil’s Blood) adding both mystique and emotional resonance to what was already a stunning track. With all the riotousness preceding, Black Magick Boogieland readily lived up to its righteous title.
Midwestern-turned-West-Coast heavy psych rockers Mondo Drag may have taken their time in releasing their self-titled sophomore outing, which followed their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), and was recorded in 2012, but it’s easy to imagine that’s because they wanted the circumstances to be as special as the album itself, recorded with a fleeting five-piece lineup that included the one-time rhythm section of Radio Moscow who wound up leaving to further their then-nascent project, Blues Pills. Even without that lineup shift as a factor, the late ’60s vibe Mondo Drag brought out across the release proved eminently listenable and has held up on repeat visits.
A gorgeous, shimmering and melodically resonant debut from the Dutch four-piece Cigale, their self-titled gracefully maintained tonal presence and warmth while also enacting a psychedelic sprawl and grooving serenity that acted like the landscape in which the songs took place. It was a rich, bright vibe, and an utter joy to behold, tracks like “Harvest Begun,” “Feel the Heat” and “Eyes Wide Shut” proving as memorable as they were inviting. Having two former members of the much-missed fuzz rock outfit Sungrazer may have initially turned some heads in their direction, but Cigale‘s first album proved they’re an outfit with their own personality, their own development to undertake, and already much to offer.
The awaited return of The Machine brought the band’s fifth album and a further-refined sense of maturity in their processes, as well as intrigue as to where they might be headed, two dual modes of open-ended jamming and more structured songwriting playing off each other in the extended “Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and “Come to Light” and the more verse/chorus stylizations of “Dry End” and “Off Course.” To be perfectly honest, I doubt The Machine will ultimately pick one side over another, since if Offblast! proved anything it’s that they can easily handle either or both, but as they continue to grow, it’s encouraging to have their style establish itself as so multi-faceted.
First time I pressed play on Gravitron was a real “oh shit!” moment. The last release from NJ stalwarts The Atomic Bitchwax was 2011’s The Local Fuzz (review here), a single-song full-length instrumental riff onslaught that had its charm but was inherently divorced from the appeal of the band’s songwriting. Not only does Gravitron re-factor that in with songs like “Roseland,” “It’s Alright,” “Coming in Hot” and “Ice Age Hey Baby,” among others, but it hits with kick-in-the-ass production force and an all-out heaviness that 2008’s TAB4 showed the three-piece steering directly away from. Just a killer record. Utterly void of pretense. No bullshit. No need to rely on anything more than chemistry, and with the Bitchwax, that’s plenty.
7. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
Right now, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth are my band to beat for Debut of the Year, and I’m quite frankly not sure how anyone is going to be able to do it, so if list time comes in Dec. and you see Tad Doyle‘s trio marked out as such, know that it’s been that way in my head for some time. The three-piece of Doyle, bassist Peggy “Pegadeth” Tully and drummer Dave French arrived with a roar, and even when their self-titled let up sonically, the atmosphere remained viscerally heavy. Six years having passed since the release of their first demo (review here), I wasn’t sure there was ever going to be an album, but then to have Brothers of the Sonic Cloth show up and enact such thorough demolition only made it more impressive.
It can’t possibly be a surprise to have Luminiferous show up somewhere on this list. The seventh long-player by High on Fire had all the rage and bombast in “Slave the Hive” and “The Black Plot” that have become the band’s hallmarks over their 17 years together, but branched out progressively as well in songs like “The Cave” and “The Falconist,” the latter of which was brazenly catchy and about as emotionally direct as the band has ever gotten, their general modus being — and in that song too, just to a lesser extent — a metaphor-laced lyrical approach. That song was a triumph and so was the album as a whole; the second collaboration with producer Kurt Ballou building on the rampaging victories of 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis (review here) while also showing growth on the part of one of modern metal’s most pivotal bands.
Hitting more or less concurrent with a vinyl release of their prior album, 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy is not at all coincidentally titled. Over the course of now three full-lengths, the New York five-piece — about whom I feign no impartiality, let it be noted — have distinguished themselves with a sound neither noise, nor doom, nor heavy rock, but drawing on elements of all three when it suits their purposes with chemistry built from years of being in bands together of various stripes and in various genres. What stands the self-titled out from their past work, in part, is that it is the closest they’ve yet come to capturing their live sound in the studio, and accordingly, it’s a volatile kind of heavy that bends aesthetic to its will rather than capitulating to expectations of any sort. I don’t think they’re done growing by any stretch, but Kings Destroy feels like an arrival front-to-back.
This one was almost a sneak-attack. German heavy psych forerunners Colour Haze released To the Highest Gods We Know, their 11th full-length, in Dec. 2014 on CD (the vinyl was in 2015, which is what we’re counting in this instance), with very, very little fanfare of any sort. There was a track premiere here that came shortly after the album was announced, but I think it was officially out less than a month after its existence was made public, which for a band of Colour Haze‘s stature and influence was surprising. Less devoted to grandeur than 2012’s 2CD She Said (review here), it nonetheless pushed the band’s sound forward and found them experimenting in their studio, particularly on the string-quartet-inclusive finale title-track, which offset jams like “Überall” and the laid back highlight “Call” with a rhythmic oddness that was somehow still Colour Haze‘s own. I couldn’t help but wonder where it was leading, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t masterful in its own right.
Goatsnake didn’t have it easy going into their third album. It had been 15 years since their sophomore outing, Flower of Disease, 11 since their last EP, and five since they first started playing shows again. Expectations? Through the roof. Among heavy rock heads, a new Goatsnake was like seeing the mountaintop. I mean, a big fucking deal and then some. Then the record hits, and there’s just about no way it can live up to the anticipation, but god damn if Goatsnake not only finally put out a third album, but one that was better than I think anyone could’ve hoped for. Hearing Pete Stahl with however many backup singers he had on “Another River to Cross” et. al. was like finding an animal in its native habitat, and between his soul, Greg Anderson‘s riffs, bassist Scott Renner‘s low end rumble and drummer Greg Rogers‘ roll, Black Age Blues won almost immediately and then spent the rest of its 47 minutes throwing itself a victory party. “Elevated Man,” “House of the Moon,” “Jimi’s Gone,” “Grandpa Jones,” almost on a per-track basis, Goatsnake added to the reasons they’ve been so heralded despite a decade-plus’ absence from the studio.
On the level of achievement alone, Elder‘s Lore will be the album of the year for many, and there are times (such as right now) when I listen to it and question whether or not it isn’t also my pick for that honor, but wherever it falls on whatever list, far more important is what the Massachusetts/Rhode Island/New York trio manage to accomplish across their third LP’s formidable five-track/59-minute span, songs like “Compendium” and “Deadweight” bridging a rarely approached gap between heavy and progressive rocks while maintaining a flow consistent with the psychedelic vibing of 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) but grown outward in another aesthetic direction and no sooner setting foot on the ground than seeming to master it in a flurry of blinding turns, sprawling soundscapes and clarity of mind that found perhaps its greatest expression in the centerpiece title-track, the 15-minute “Lore” itself, which I’ve no doubt will stand among if not atop the best songs of 2015 when the year is over and encapsulates the ambition and the corresponding breadth of Elder‘s songwriting, the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan, and drummer Matt Couto rising as one of the East Coast’s most pivotal acts, with a sound completely their own.
1. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
I use the word “molten” pretty regularly to describe an album or song that seems to just ooze its way out of the speakers or shift seamlessly between its songs, but Acid King set an entirely new standard for the term with Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere. Their first outing for Svart and their first release in a decade, its 55 minutes were a riff-rolling nirvana of lurching fuzz and tonal excellence, the guitar of Lori S. at the fore accompanied by Mark Lamb‘s bass and Joey Osbourne‘s drums, the swing of which propelled a highlight track like “Coming down from Outer Space” right back into it, while elsewhere on the record, “Silent Pictures,” “Red River” and “Infinite Skies” torched stoner conventions into a new space-biker rock, culminating in the heavy psych of “Center of Everywhere,” which seemed to emanate from the place it was describing, at once empty and full. More than just a welcome return after a long dearth of releases, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere found Acid King progressed even beyond where they were with 2005’s III, though more than anything else, what makes it my top pick for the year so far is the fact that I can’t seem to walk away from it for too long before going back, and ultimately, that’s what it all comes down to with his kind of thing. I’ve yet to find a standard to which these songs don’t live up.
A few others worth noting. The Sun Blood Stories album (streamed here) continues to resonate. Also Monolord, Valkyrie, Lamp of the Universe, Garden of Worm, Wo Fat‘s live record, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s Cold was the Ground and Ufomammut‘s Ecate. The Black Rainbows was a joy, as was Spidergawd‘s second LP, and while I still feel like I haven’t given it its due, the Sumac won many over and should get a mention. Steve Von Till‘s solo outing and the latest from Enslaved are worth seeking out as well for anyone who hasn’t heard them yet.
More to Come:
The year’s only half over, which is kind of a scary thought but true nonetheless. Watch out in the coming months for new stuff from Bloodcow, All Them Witches, Clutch, Graveyard, Zun, Sacri Monti (if that one’s not already out), Snail, Uncle Acid, and Kind. The new Kadavar is a sure-fire top tenner, and between that, the potential for a new Neurosis album and stuff like Magnetic Eye Records‘ Electric Ladyland [Redux], there’s no way the book is written on the best of 2015.
So stay tuned.
And if I’ve still got your attention, thanks for reading.