The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Short Releases of 2016

Posted in Features on December 30th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 20 short releases

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.

Yeah, I know I said as much when the Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016 went up, but I take it back: this is the hardest list to put together. And to be honest, there’s a part of me that’s hesitant even to post it because I know as soon as I do someone’s going to be like, “No way you dick your entire existence is shit because you forgot Release X,” and very likely they’ll be right. Up to the very moment this post is going live, I’ve been making changes, and I expect I’ll continue to do so for a while after it’s out there.

So what’s a “short release?” That’s another issue. Pretty much anything that’s not an album. Singles, digital or physical, as well as EPs, splits, demos, and so on. The category becomes nebulous, but my general rule is if it’s not a full-length, it qualifies as a short release. Sounds simple until you get into things like, “Here’s a track I threw up on Bandcamp,” and “This only came out as a bonus included as a separate LP with the deluxe edition of our album.” I’m telling you, I’ve had a difficult time.

Maybe that’s just me trying to protect myself from impending wrath. This year’s Top 30 albums list provoked some vehement — and, if I may, prickishly-worded — responses, so I might be a bit gunshy here, but on the other hand, I think these outings are worth highlighting, so we’re going forward anyway. If you have something to add, please use the comments below, but remember we’re all friends here and there’s a human being on the other end reading what’s posted. Thanks in advance for that.

And since this is the last list of The Obelisk’s Best-of-2016 coverage, I’ll say thanks for reading as well. More to come in the New Year, of course.

Here we go:

scissorfight chaos county

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Short Releases of 2016

1. Scissorfight, Chaos County EP
2. Earthless / Harsh Toke, Split
3. Mars Red Sky, Providence EP
4. Mos Generator, The Firmament
5. Soldati, Soldati
6. Monolord, Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze EP
7. Wren, Host EP
8. Goya, The Enemy EP
9. The Sweet Heat, Demo
10. River Cult, Demo
11. Stinkeye, Llantera Demos
12. Megaritual, Eclipse EP
13. Ragged Barracudas / Pushy, Split
14. Mindkult, Witchs’ Oath EP
15. Iron Jawed Guru, Mata Hari EP
16. Brume, Donkey
17. Bison Machine / Wild Savages / SLO, Sweet Leaves Vol. 1 Split
18. BoneHawk / Kingnomad, The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter Three Split
19. Wicked Gypsy, EP
20. Love Gang, Love Gang EP

Honorable Mention

An expansive category as ever. In addition to what’s above, the following stood out and no doubt more will be added over the course of the next few days. If you feel something is missing, please let me know.

Presented alphabetically:

Cambrian Explosion, The Moon EP
Candlemass, Death Thy Lover EP
Cultist, Cultist EP
Danava, At Midnight You Die 7″
Dos Malés, Dos Malés EP
Druglord, Deepest Regrets EP
Fu Manchu, Slow Ride 7″
Geezer, A Flagrant Disregard for Happiness 12″
Gorilla vs. Grifter, Split
Holy Smoke, Holy Smoke! It’s a Demo!
Karma to Burn, Mountain Czar
LSD and the Search for God, Heaven is a Place EP
Pallbearer, Fear and Fury
Reign of Zaius, Planet Of…
Sea of Bones / Ramlord, Split
Shallows, The Moon Rises
The Skull, EP
Snowy Dunes, “Atlantis Part I” digital single
Sun Voyager / The Mad Doctors, Split
Valborg, Werwolf 7″


Was it just the raw joy of having Scissorfight back? No, but that was for sure part of it. It was also the brazenness with which the New Hampshire outfit let go of their past, particularly frontman Christopher “Ironlung” Shurtleff, and moved forward unwilling to compromise what they wanted to do that made their Chaos County so respectable in my eyes. Having always flourished in the form, they delivered an EP of classic Scissorfight tunes and issued a stiff middle finger to anyone who would dare call them otherwise. They couldn’t have been more themselves no matter who was in the band.

At the same time, it was a hard choice between that and the Earthless / Harsh Toke split for the top spot. I mean, seriously. It’s Earthless — who at this point are the godfathers of West Coast jamadelica — and Harsh Toke, who are among the style’s most engaging upstart purveyors, each stretching out over a huge and encompassing single track. I couldn’t stop listening to that one if I wanted to, and as the year went on, I found I never wanted to.

I was glad when Mars Red Sky included the title-track of the Providence EP as a bonus cut on their subsequent album, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul), both because it tied the two releases together even further and because it gave me another opportunity to hear it every time I listened to the record. Their short releases have always shown significant character apart from their full-lengths, and this was no exception. I still tear up when I hear “Sapphire Vessel.”

To bounce around a bit: Had to get Mos Generator on the list for the progressive expansion of the live-recorded The Firmament. Stickman was right to put that out on vinyl. Both Monolord and Goya provided quick outings of huge riffs to sate their respective and growing followings, while Megaritual’s Eclipse basked in drone serenity and the debut release from Sergio Ch.’s Soldati provided hard-driving heavy rock with the particular nuance for which the former Los Natas frontman is known. It’s the highest among a slew of first/early outings — see also The Sweet Heat, Wren (Host was their second EP), River Cult’s demo, Stinkeye, Mindkult, Iron Jawed Guru, Brume, Wicked Gypsy and Love Gang.

Ultimately, there were fewer splits on the list this year than last year, but I’ll credit that to happenstance more than any emergent bias against the form or lack of quality in terms of what actually came out. The BoneHawk and Kingnomad release, the Ragged Barracudas and Pushy split, and that heavy rocking onslaught from Bison Machine and company were all certainly welcome by me, and I’ll mention Gorilla vs. Grifter there too again, just because it was awesome.

One more time, thank you for reading, and if you have something to add, please do so in the comments below. Your civility in that regard is appreciated.

This is the last of my lists for 2016, but the Readers Poll results are out Jan. 1 and the New Year hits next week and that brings a whole new round of looking-forward coverage, so stay tuned.

As always, there’s much more to come.

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Quarterly Review: Spiritual Beggars, Øresund Space Collective, Goya, Black Shape of Nexus, Cough, Oranssi Pazuzu, Karma to Burn, Black Mood, Nebula Drag, Ommadon

Posted in Reviews on June 21st, 2016 by JJ Koczan


Day Two of The Obelisk’s Summer 2016 Quarterly Review — that’s an awful lot of capital letters. I’m not sure if it’s quite such a formal occasion, but perhaps that’s just an effect of staring at some of the names in this particular batch, who from classic heavy rock to post-black metal to stoner riffs, drone, doom and beyond offer a pretty vast range and more than a small measure of profile throughout. It’s a substantial swath, is what I’m saying. If you can’t find something here to dig on, well, I’d say look again, but of course there’ll also be another 10 reviews tomorrow, Thursday and Friday, and there were 10 yesterday as well, so I’m sure something will turn up if it hasn’t yet. Here we go.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Spiritual Beggars, Sunrise to Sundown

spiritual beggars sunrise to sundown

More than 20 years on from their self-titled debut, Sweden’s Spiritual Beggars release their ninth LP, Sunrise to Sundown (on Inside Out Music). They seem to have set themselves to the sole task of making the records that one wishes Deep Purple were making, full of righteous organ-laced classic heavy thrust, driven by top tier songwriting and performance on every level. Founding guitarist Michael Amott (also Carcass) has assembled a lineup of masters, and since 2010’s Return to Zero (review here), frontman Apollo Papathanasio (also Firewind) has provided the soaring voice to add to the keyboard majesty of Per Wiberg (ex-Opeth, Candlemass) on songs like “I Turn to Stone.” The album’s 11 cuts are catchy, universally structured, and varied in their feel enough to carry the listener through fluidly, bassist Sharlee D’Angelo (Mercyful Fate) and drummer Ludwig Witt (ex-Firebird) locking in weighted grooves and underscoring the flow of what comes across like an increasingly collaborative songwriting process. Sunrise to Sundown is the sound of a band knowing what they want to do and how they want to do it and then doing precisely that.

Spiritual Beggars on Thee Facebooks

Inside Out Music website


Øresund Space Collective, Ode to a Black Hole

oresund space collective ode to a black hole

How many records does Ode to a Black Hole make it for Danish improve spacelords Øresund Space Collective? I honestly don’t know. Their Bandcamp lists 52 releases. Granted, not all of them are full-length studio LPs, but they jam whether they’re live or in the studio, so after a point it’s kind of moot. However many in the ultimate tally, Ode to a Black Hole is somewhat unique among them, exploring the darker side of the cosmic reaches in a bleaker, droning psychedelia spread across two instrumental tracks put to tape at the same time as 2015’s triple-LP Different Creatures (review here). Of course, it’s Øresund Space Collective, so there is still plenty of synth and effects swirl to be had, but it’s a slower galaxial movement as “Ode to a Black Hole Part 1” feeds directly into “Ode to a Black Hole Part 2.” Whatever their method of getting there, Øresund Space Collective prove once again how apparently boundless their scope has become with nuance of guitar and key flourish beneath the surface of the mix to let the listener know there’s life out in the expanse.

Øresund Space Collective on Thee Facebooks

Øresund Space Collective on Bandcamp


Goya, The Enemy

goya the enemy

Phoenix, Arizona’s Goya continue their forward march with The Enemy EP (on STB Records). Still fair to say Electric Wizard are a primary influence, but as shown on their last full-length, 2015’s charmingly-titled Obelisk (review here), the trio are increasingly able to put more of themselves into their sound. In “The Enemy,” “Last” and “Light Years,” that shows in tighter songwriting, some vocal harmonies on “Light Years,” and a harder overall tonal impact than the tenets of post-Witchcult Today doomery might lead one to expect, reminding in parts of the raw in-room feel that Egypt have come to proffer, burly but more about groove than attitude. The EP closes with a nine-minute take on “The Enemy” itself, adding more harmonies, some screams at the end, and a lengthy midsection jam to flesh out its extra four minutes. Goya have been and still are a bright spot (existentially, if not in mood) in up-and-coming US doom, and The Enemy might be a stopgap coming off of Obelisk, but it reminds listeners of their growth very much still in progress.

Goya on Thee Facebooks

STB Records


Black Shape of Nexus, Carrier

black shape of nexus carrier

In a universe full of pretenders to the throne of Eyehategod, German six-piece Black Shape of Nexus prove there’s room for genuine creativity in sludge. Their fourth offering, Carrier (on Exile on Mainstream), finds them past the 10-year mark and lumbering their way through five varied originals, from the cavernous opener “I Can’t Play It” through the droning “Lift Yourself” and the utter spacecrush that ensues in “Facepunch Transport Layer” before the villainous laughter at the end of “Sachsenheim” leads to a 12-minute take on Hellhammer’s “Triumph of Death,” which closes. It feels like no coincidence that of the Black Shape of Nexus-penned inclusions “Sand Mountain” is the centerpiece; the tortured screaming, claustrophobic riff and blend of rawness and lush depth speak to the originality at the core of their approach. There’s a firm sense of fuckall here, and my understanding is making Carrier was something of a trial, but the results are perhaps only more vicious for that, and thus stronger.

Black Shape of Nexus on Thee Facebooks

Exile on Mainstream Records website


Cough, Still They Pray

cough still they pray

Six years and the ascent of an entire movement of similarly-minded acts later, Cough ooze back to activity with Still They Pray (on Relapse), their dirt-caked third full-length. That movement, by the way, includes fellow Richmonders Windhand, with whom Cough now share bassist Parker Chandler and whose Garrett Morris recorded here along with Jus Oborn of Electric Wizard, who remain a major influence in Cough’s grueling, nodding filth, brought to bear over eight tracks and a purposefully unmanageable 67-minute runtime. Stylistically it’s not so far from where Cough were on 2010’s Ritual Abuse (review here), the bleak anarchistic lurch and tonal immersion still very much at the fore of “Possession,” “Dead Among the Roses” and the organ-inclusive “The Wounding Hours,” but though they can play slow enough to make “Masters of Torture” seem positively thrashy by comparison, they never lose their sense of atmosphere, as the acoustic-led closing title-track makes plain in fashion no less heavy than the punishment meted out before it.

Cough on Thee Facebooks

Relapse Records website


Oranssi Pazuzu, Värähtelijä

oranssi pazuzu varahtelija

It feels factually inaccurate to call something so wilfully charred “vibrant,” but Oranssi Pazuzu’s fourth long-player, Värähtelijä (on Svart and 20 Buck Spin), not only finds light in its overarching darkness, but makes it a pivotal aspect of the album’s 69-minute course. Open structures, an enviable depth of mix between far-off guitar, keys, organ, various layers of screams, etc., songs like 12-minute opener “Saturaatio” and the later 17-minute chaoswirl of “Vasemann Käden Hierarkia” offer stylistic breadth as much prog as they are psychedelia or black metal, perhaps the next phase of the latter’s cosmic wing come to fruition. Relatively speaking, the more straightforward “Havuluu” offers listeners a moment to catch their breadth, but the organ-led experimentalism of 10-minute closer “Valveavaruus” gurgles in an exploration of ambient downward plunge. One of the most adventurous black metal releases of 2016, if you can still even tag a genre to it, which I’m not sure you can. A band doing pivotal and forward-thinking work.

Oranssi Pazuzu on Thee Facebooks

20 Buck Spin webshop

Svart Records webshop


Karma to Burn, Mountain Czar

karma to burn mountain czar

Though they just got off a lengthy US run, the fact that Karma to Burn’s webstore offers their new Mountain Czar EP in euro instead of dollars could easily be taken as a sign of where the band’s general priorities lie. I don’t know if founding guitarist Will Mecum is actually living abroad or remains in West Virginia, but their label, Rodeostar Records, is European, they maintain a close relationship with German artist Alexander Von Wieding, and their tour schedule keeps a definite continental focus. So be it. Mountain Czar brings five new cuts, three by-the-numbers Karma to Burn instrumentals, the highlight of which is patient, jangly-guitar closer “63,” and “Uccidendo un Sogno,” an Italian-language cover of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ down a Dream” sung by guest vocalist Stefanie Savy and featuring Manuel Bissig of Switzerland’s Sons of Morpheus on guitar. Karma to Burn very much remain Karma to Burn throughout, Mecum joined by drummer Evan Devine and bassist Eric Clutter, but they’re changing what that means in interesting ways.

Karma to Burn website

Rodeostar Records


Black Mood, Squalid Garden

black mood squalid garden

Comprised solely of guitarist/vocalist Sleaze and drummer Izz, German Southern metallers Black Mood begin their seven-song sophomore outing, Squalid Garden (on Daredevil Records) with a sample of Cornelius from Planet of the Apes quoting the Lawgiver to “shun the beast man,” and so on. By the time they get around to the chugging and warbling “Ohh, save my soul” in second cut “IWNAR,” the Down/Crowbar vibe has been laid on so thick that it’s unmistakable. It’s been seven years since Black Mood made their self-titled debut in 2009 – they had an EP, Toxic Hippies, out in 2012 – but their chestbeating, dudely vibes are easily sourced, even in faster, more Pantera-style moments in “Reflected,” “100 Squalid Garden” or closer “Side,” making the album ultimately a matter of taste for anyone who’d take it on. For me, some aspects ring derivative, others show flashes of individualism, but it’s a very specific vision of Southern metal at work here, and it’s not going to be for everyone.

Black Mood on Bandcamp

Daredevil Records webshop


Nebula Drag, Nebula Drag


Newcomers Nebula Drag join the ranks of a crowded heavy psych scene in their native San Diego via their self-titled, self-released debut, but the trio distinguish themselves immediately with a solidified underpinning of punkish intent, so that the airy vocals of “Sano” float over an insistent, noisy crunch. That blend is toyed with in one direction or another throughout the release, the five-minute “So Low” finding some middle-ground in grunge push, but as the subsequent “Up and Down”’s Melvins-style roll and the hardcore-style drive of “Lost Time” play out, Nebula Drag seem far less tied to any single approach. It’s a dynamic that serves them well throughout the album’s 10-track/37-minute run, and they maintain a sense of rawness in the almost thrashy breakdown of “I Can Not Explain” that speaks to a lack of pretense to go along with their potential for development. Will be curious to hear if one side or the other wins out in their sound over the long-term, but in a town where so many bands are geared on being the most laid back, it’s refreshing to hear a group with a more forceful tack.

Nebula Drag on Thee Facebooks

Nebula Drag on Bandcamp


Ommadon, Ommadon

ommadon ommadon

After a series of numbered full-lengths, Glasgow consciousness-stompers Ommadon offer their self-titled sixth album through Dry Cough Records, Burning World Records and Medusa Crush Recordings. Doubtless the three labels were needed in order simply lift the 41-minute, single-song release, which is so unspeakably and ridiculously heavy as to warrant comparison to Buried at Sea’s Migration. Its retching lumber is superlative, and in giving it their name, Ommadon signal (and say outright) that it’s the work they’ve been driving toward all along. Fair enough. There is no moment of relenting from the abysmal intentions of “Ommadon” itself, and if this is to be the piece that ultimately defines the band, it’s one worthy of consideration for the outright extremity it brings to doom, sludge and drone, as well as the methodical nature in which it unfolds. Whatever its ultimate impact, Ommadon have pushed themselves forward and crafted an excruciating contribution that feels like a monolith bent to their will.

Ommadon on Thee Facebooks

Dry Cough Records webshop

Burning World Records

Medusa Crush Recordings on Bandcamp


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