One of the most underrated albums of this decade, hands down. Aside from boasting cellist/vocalist Jackie Perez Gratz — whose formidable CV includes entries for Neurosis and Om guest spots in addition to her own other bands, Amber Asylum and Giant Squid among them — Grayceon‘s 2011 third outing, All We Destroy (review here) offered a richness of scope, progressive complexity and vibrant emotionalism across its span that from where I sit you can just about count on one hand the records that have come along in the last half-decade that can stand up to it. I was a fan of it at the time too, and in the years since it’s one of those albums to which I’ve returned over and again, some memory pushing forward in my consciousness that leads me back to it. As with the best of anything, it has lasted through this test of time and continues to resonate even now, where so many others have fallen by the wayside since.
Released through Profound Lore, All We Destroy comprises six tracks — interestingly the Bandcamp stream switches “Dreamer Deceived” and “Shellmounds” at the open — and lasts a substantial pre-vinyl-explosion 50 minutes, but it’s the grandeur of the thing that’s ultimately so striking, its blend of classicism and extremity, and the fluidity with which Grayceon are able to shift from one side to the other, here thrashing mad before the first galloping verse of “Shellmounds” and there quiet and folkish to gracefully unfold the start of “Once a Shadow.” Together with guitarist/vocalist Max Doyle and drummer Zack Farwell, Gratz courses gracefully along a path that’s doom and yet very much not at the same time in “Dreamer Deceived,” the song’s interplay of guitar and cello given firm foundation through the drums, though truth be told, it’s all viciously creative. It just also happens to be that Grayceon are able to hold the material together even as they seem to be spinning off in different directions at various points, toward blackened screams, multi-layered cello solos, or crushing sludge riffs. Oh yeah, and all that happens in about 30 seconds too.
I won’t take away from “A Road Less Traveled” or “War’s End” as the closing duo or “Once a Shadow”‘s weary melancholy, or the frantic mournfulness of “Shellmounds,” but All We Destroy‘s crowning achievement is undoubtedly “We Can,” a 17-minute album-unto-itself that pulls together the best of what works in all Grayceon‘s other tracks and executes a flawless tiered build through distinct movements, each of which flows into the next, but all of which make a memorable impression. It was my pick for the best song of 2011, and that’s something I stand by five years later. For an record that seems to have war as its underlying theme, All We Destroy has so much life in it, and “We Can” envisions a distinctly feminine struggle at the center of the record in a manner both insightful and emotionally gripping — the play of screams back and forth, “We can — build — nothing,” a brilliant reverse reminder of the album’s title.
All We Destroy followed Grayceon‘s 2008 sophomore album, This Grand Show, and their 2007 self-titled debut, as well as a split with Giant Squid (2007’s The West) and was answered in 2013 with an EP, Pearl and the End of Days. As of January 2015, they were at work on a fourth full-length, but I haven’t seen any word of further progress than that. Doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen or that it is, just that it hasn’t been announced. Maybe by the time it shows up I’ll have finished digesting this record, though somehow I doubt it.
It’s limited to 300 copies. If you pick one up, I hope you dig it. And thank you.
That alone would be enough to make this a busy week, but add in stuff like the Wo Fat review yesterday, making the podcast that went up a bit ago, and that Wren stream today, it was pretty packed even before you consider book releases and/or the big comedown after being at Roadburn last weekend, traveling all day Monday, the development of the annual post-Roadburn cold, announcing EYE for the All-Dayer, job stuff, and everything else that life presents in its assault. It was madness, to be honest with you. I’m very, very tired.
Almost through the day though and looking forward to a phone call in a bit and then a hopefully laid back weekend in Connecticut. Two hours to get there, two hours to get back, but screw it, that’s worth that trip and the DayQuil will kick in sooner or later and I’ll be grooving.
Next week looks like this so far: Monday a live video premiere of some new Atavismo — awesome — and a track premiere/review of new Samavayo. Tuesday a show announcement from Gozu. Wednesday a video premiere from Stone Machine Electric and full-album stream from Joy. Thursday not sure yet but I sure would like to review that Beastwars record or the Supervoid and Red Desert split, but we’ll see what time allows. Also have a Crypt Sermon interview waiting to be posted, so that’ll be up sometime in there as well. Maybe next Friday.
That’s how it’s in the notes now, though of course any of that could change between today and when we get there.
I’ve also started planning the next Quarterly Review — just in case you were wondering how much time actually goes into those things. The answer is a lot. It’ll start at the end of June/beginning of July.
Thank you for reading.
And please have a great and safe weekend.
And please check out the forum and the radio stream.
Mostly around here I concentrate on albums. Best albums of the year. Best albums of the decade. Still, kind of on a whim this morning I was thinking about the shape of heavy of the last half-decade — or rather, the shapes of it.
Different scenes moving in various directions, the emergence of the Pacific Northwest as a hotbed, the growth of West Coast psych and how in-conversation that seems to be both with California’s skater past and the current European market, itself branched out between heavy psych and ’70s traditionalism, which has also begun to take root throughout the US while, at the same time, a new generation has come up to embrace full-on stoner riffing and/or desert rock ideals.
While I have my album lists going back six years to refer to, this time around, I was wondering specifically about individual songs from the same era. What are the best songs from the last five years?
It’s not always the best album that has the best single piece of work on it, so it seemed worth asking the question separately.
Me, I go in for epics: YOB‘s “Marrow” (2014), Ancestors‘ “First Light” (2012), Colour Haze‘s “Grace” (2012), Hypnos 69‘s “The Great Work” (2011), Witch Mountain‘s “Can’t Settle” (2014), Elder‘s “Lore” (2015) definitely is worth having in the conversation, Solace‘s “From Below” (2010), Grayceon‘s “We Can” (2011), and so on.
But then you have Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ “I’ll Cut You Down,” which has had a massive influence since it came out in 2011. And what about a cut like Clutch‘s “D.C. Sound Attack,” or Goatsnake‘s “Grandpa Jones,” or Graveyard‘s “Ain’t Fit to Live Here,” or Mars Red Sky‘s “Strong Reflection?” Does a track have to be long to make an impact? What if there’s a perfectly-executed two-minute verse/chorus trade? Shouldn’t that also be considered?
I guess that’s the question.
We haven’t done one of these in a while, so I’m hoping you’ll take the time to add your answers and picks for the best songs of the last five years 2010-2015 in the comments to this post. I know we’re not through 2015 yet, but we’re just trying to have some fun anyway.
Thanks to all who take the time to leave a note in the comments below.
Posted in Features on January 6th, 2014 by JJ Koczan
Some of these, I just don’t have an excuse. Others, I have an excuse but it’s pretty lame. The basic fact of the matter is that the recently-departed 2013 brought an onslaught of gotta-hear-it-gotta-get-it records and I don’t care if it’s your full-time job and you actually get paid to do it, there’s no way you heard it all. I know I certainly didn’t.
I’m only one dude. I sit in front of this keyboard more or less all day, Monday to Friday each week, and I think the volume of output from this site and the fact that it’s just me (Hi, my name is JJ) putting it out speak for themselves. Maybe they don’t and that’s why I feel compelled to say it. Whatever.
Point is I do the best I can, but whether it’s my general and increasingly visceral disdain for digital promos or not being cool enough to be on somebody’s radar — or hell, even just the time factor, as in “there’s only so much of it” — some probably-killer stuff just slipped through the cracks. This list is me apologizing for not being everywhere at once and for having a limited record-buying budget. Again, I do the best I can.
List is alphabetical because it’s not like I can really rank them. Here goes:
1. Carcass, Surgical Steel
Man, Carcass kick ass. I know their early stuff is grind gospel, but even their last two records, 1993’s Heartworkand 1996’s Swansong, are fantastic. Why the hell wouldn’t I want to get on board with a new Carcass album? I don’t know. I guess I didn’t want to download it, like it a lot, put time into reviewing it and then go out and have to buy it like a punk. Easier not to listen, so that’s what I did. Carcass on Thee Facebooks.
2. Carlton Melton, Always Even
When Carlton Melton got added to Roadburn 2014, I took a sampling of their wares and it sounded like really interesting stuff. Synth-driven kraut-psych with a touch of West Coast spaceout gets a hearty “right on” in my book. Mostly a budget concern as to why I didn’t dig further. I could’ve YouTube’d it, but that’s no way to get to know an album if you’re actually interested in listening to music. Carlton Melton’s website.
3. Causa Sui, Euporie Tide
I was actually given this as an Xmas present after having it on my Amazon wishlist and it’s fucking fantastic. Really, really, really good. I imagine at some point I’ll probably put together a Buried Treasure post that more or less touts the virtues of Euporie Tide‘s desert tones and progressive explorations, but I didn’t get there before the end of 2013, so here it is anyway. But seriously, wow. El Paraiso Records on Thee Facebooks.
4. Deafheaven, Sunbather
There was so much hype around Deafheaven‘s Sunbather that I was just completely turned off. Not much more to it than that. I probably could’ve chased down a promo download if I’d been so inclined, but what’s the point? The whole world’s already up its ass, I’d rather spend my limited-as-hell time not adding my voice to a chorus of hyperbole. Maybe it’s really cool. Okay. Deafheaven on Bandcamp.
5. Fuzz, Fuzz
In a bizarre twist, turns out I have heard Fuzz‘s Fuzz, the self-titled heavy psych debut from indie darling Ty Segall. It’s the reason I wound up ending last week with the Witch self-titled, because I think the two albums work in a very similar fashion. Cool release either way, something like a dirtier Radio Moscow. I probably won’t review it at this point, but it’s on my shopping list for next time I happen to have two cents to my name. Ty Segall on Thee Facebooks.
6. Ghost, Infestissumam
The single most misspelled title in the Readers Poll. My feeling on Ghost at this point is as follows: “Yeah, so?” You’re a costumed pop-cult act with insanely catchy songs and a massive promotional machine behind you. So what? I wound up ambivalent about the first Ghost album and I guess when it came to this there wasn’t anything Ghost was going to deliver that I couldn’t get in a more substantive package from Uncle Acid. Ghost’s website.
7. Grayceon, Pearl and the End of Days
If there’s anything on this list that I’m actually pissed off at myself for not having heard, it’s probably Grayceon‘s Pearl and the End of Days. Technically it’s an EP and this is a list of albums, but either way, I wound up loving their 2011 full-length, All We Destroy (unabashed fawning here), so I can only consider missing the subsequent release the result of some deep-seated character flaw on my part. It came out in February! I had all year! What a jerk.
8. Mammatus, Heady Mental
Didn’t even know this one existed until Spiritual Pajamas put it out in November. Nobody told me, and I guess it had been a while since I last checked in on the Santa Cruz County space jammers to see about a follow-up to 2007’s The Coast Explodes. Still hope to hear Heady Mental at some point. The sooner the better, since it’s another band whose work I’ve legitimately enjoyed in the past. Mammatus on Thee Faceboooks.
9. Purson, The Circle and the Blue Door
No question Rise Above puts out some of the best underground heavy the world over. Not an issue that’s up for debate at this point, and they’ve found a decent niche to mine through with cult rock that seems to resonate with their audience. All well and good. I guess when it came to Purson, everything was just a little too perfect, just a little too aligned for me to be interested. Maybe I’ll stumble on it at some point and regret having passed it up initially. Purson on Thee Facebooks.
10. True Widow, Circumambulation
Circumambulation is the same story as a lot of these. I had promo mp3s and they just sat there. If I’ve got people in Japan and Australia who are willing to mail me a CD or LP out of their own pocket, I have a hard time arguing with myself as to why I should bother with others who don’t care enough about my opinion to send the work they want to have evaluated. If I’ve missed out on good music in the process, well, I’m still alive,which is more than I can say for the fucking music industry. True Widow on Bandcamp.
There we have it. If there’s a takeaway from all of this downer cynicism, it’s how unbearably lucky we are to live in an age where (one) I could immediately access the music on any one of these albums if I really wanted to or immediately shell out for hard copies if I had the funds. I know I really missed out on some of these, but it’s also worth pointing out just how many incredible albums are out there that I could let some of these pass and still live with myself.
This is the last of the 2013 wrap-ups, so thanks for checking it all out.
Posted in Features on December 9th, 2011 by JJ Koczan
Please note: This list is made up of my personal picks, not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing — if you haven’t added your top 11 to that yet, please do.
It was an impossible task to keep up with everything that came out this year. I’ll say flat out that I didn’t. There are records that I just didn’t get to hear, and I should note at the outset that this list is mine. It’s based on my personal opinions, what I listened to the most this year and what I think 2011’s most crucial releases have been.
I’ve spent the better part of this week (and last, if brain-time counts) constructing this list, and I finally got it to a point where I feel comfortable sharing. Since last December, I’ve kept a Post-It of names, and all year, I’ve logged bands I’d want to consider for the final top 20. In the end, there were 78 bands and more that I didn’t get to write down for whatever reason. 2011 was nothing if it wasn’t overwhelming.
But here we are, anyway, and it’s done. Let’s get to it:
This is nothing if not a sentimental pick. Last year, I put Electric Wizard in the #20 spot because the record wasn’t out yet, and this year, I’m putting Suplecs (interview with bassist Danny Nick here) in just because I couldn’t imagine this list without them. Until literally a few minutes before I clicked “Publish” on this post, there was someone else in this spot, but ultimately, it had to be them. The New Orleans trio’s first record in half a decade wasn’t what I listened to most in 2011, it wasn’t the best album, or the most important, or career-defining, but when it came right down to it, god damn, I was just happy to have Suplecs back. It had been too long.
After a while, I was kind of shocked to find myself continuing to listen to Favourite State of Mind, the second album by Polish rockers Elvis Deluxe. The record’s dynamics didn’t immediately open up to me, but once I dug into the songs, I was wowed by their balance of catchy hooks and substantial-sounding riffs. The album was genre-relevant without being genre-minded, with vocal changes, organ, atmospheric shifts and a whole host of moods and turns. After hearing their 2007 debut, Lazy, I wasn’t expecting much out of the norm from Favourite State of Mind, and I’m still thrilled by just how wrong I was, and “Take it Slow” is among my favorite single songs of the year.
The gloomy opening statement from former Warning guitarist/vocalist Patrick Walker turned heads around the world with its unabashed emotional conviction, which was so much the central focus of the record as to be made a novelty by those who don’t usually consider doom an emotionally relevant genre (the widespread arguments against that notion I’ll leave for another time). What most stood out to me about The Inside Room was how the sentimentality translated into a gorgeous melodic sensibility and resulted in a lonely mood that was engrossing. On that level, it was easily among 2011’s most effective releases. It made you feel what it seemed to be feeling.
It was an album that lived up to its name. Return to Earth marked the remaking of one of heavy rocks most stoned outfits: Acrimony. But, as Sigiriya (interview with drummer Darren Ivey here), the four-piece (down from five) would show that the years since the demise of their former band had found them progressing as musicians, resulting in a sound less directly stoner, more modern, more earthy. The songs, however, were what made it. It’s still a rare day that goes by that I don’t hum at least part of the chorus of “Mountain Goat” to myself, and if Return to Earth was a new beginning for these players, I can’t wait to see where they go next.
In addition to being Totimoshi‘s first album for At a Loss following the end of their deal with Volcom, Avenger was the first Totimoshi record since 2003’s ¿Mysterioso? not to be produced by Page Hamilton, and where 2006’s Ladrón and 2008’s Milagrosa moved away from some of the noisy crunch in the guitar of Tony Aguilar (interview here), Avenger managed to be both a return to form and a progression of the band’s melodicism. It seems, as ever, to have flown under most radars, but Totimoshi continue to refine their songwriting and have become one of the heavy underground’s most formidable and least classifiable bands.
With their 2010 EP release, upstart British trio Grifter informed us that The Simplicity of the Riff is Key, and on their self-titled Ripple Music debut, they put that ethic to excellent use, resulting in straightforward, catchy songs that were as high-octane as they were low-bullshit. The ultra-catchy “Good Day for Bad News” showed Grifter at the top of their form, and with a dose of humor thrown in, Grifter was the drunken stoner rock party you always wanted to be invited to and, of course, finally were. Now if only I could get Skype to work and get that interview with Ollie Stygall moving, I’d be happy to tell him personally he put out one of 2011’s most kickass rock records.
I don’t know what’s most impressive about The Book of Knots‘ Garden of Fainting Stars — the songs themselves or that they were able to make any songs at all. With upwards of 20 guest spots around the core four-piece, the third in a purported trilogy of records from the avant rock originalists was an epic in every listen. Songs like “Microgravity” and the Mike Watt spoken word “Yeager’s Approach” pushed the limits of both genre and expectation, and miraculously, Garden of Fainting Stars was cohesive and enthralling in its narrative aspect. If it really was their last album, it was triumphant in a manner befitting its expanding-universe thematics.
Had it been a full-length, Invisible White would be higher on this list. Many out there who were enamored of Ancestors‘ 2008 Neptune with Fire debut have gone on to bemoan the Californian collective’s shift away from extended sections of heavy riffing and tales of sea monsters and other things that go “doom” in the night. I’m not one of them. The Invisible White EP was a brave step along a fascinating progression, and as Crippled Black Phoenix didn’t release a new album in 2011, I was glad to have Ancestors there to fill that morose, contemplative void, and I look forward to seeing how they expand on the ideas presented on Invisible White (if they decide to stick to this direction) for their next full-length.
Speaking of shifting approaches, still-young Massachusetts trio Elder also moved away from the Sleep-centric methods of their 2008 self-titled debut on the follow-up, Dead Roots Stirring. Still based very much around the guitar work of Nick DiSalvo (interview here), Elder songs like “Gemini” and the über-soloed “The End” pushed an influence of European heavy psych into the band’s aesthetic, and the result was both grippingly heavy and blown of mind. As an album long delayed by mixing and business concerns, when Dead Roots Stirring finally arrived, it was a relief to hear that Elder, though they’d varied the path, were still headed in the right direction.
Hands down the year’s best traditional doom release. The Wretch so gleefully and so earnestly employed the conventions of ’80s-style doom — most especially those of Saint Vitus and Trouble — that even though the lyrical and musical content was miserable, I couldn’t help but smile as I listened. Songs like “Bastards Born” and “The Scovrge ov Drvnkenness” pushed The Gates of Slumber away from the barbarism the Indianapolis outfit had been touting on their last couple albums, including 2008’s Conqueror breakthrough, in favor of a more purely Chandlerian plod. “To the Rack with Them” remains a standout favorite and a line often referenced in my workplace dealings.
I don’t know what you say to someone at this point who doesn’t like Weedeater. It just seems like a terrible way to go through life, without the madman ranting of “Dixie” Dave Collins (interview here) echoing perpetually in your ears, or never having witnessed their ultra-viscous fuzz in person. Jason… the Dragon was one of the earliest landmark releases of 2011, and practically the whole year later, it retains its hold, whether it’s the stomping fury of “Mancoon,” the lumbering groove of “Long Gone” or the surprisingly melodic “Homecoming.” The hard-touring, hard-hitting band did right in recording with Steve Albini to capture their live sound, and Jason… the Dragon was their strongest outing yet in terms of both songwriting and that unmistakable quality that makes Weedeater records Weedeater records.
I was surprised to see Rwake crack the top 10. Not because their first album in four years, the Sanford Parker-produced Rest, wasn’t superb, but because of how much the songs on the album stayed with me after listening. The Arkansas band’s last outing, Voices of Omens, was heavy and dark and had a lot going for it, but Rest upped the songwriting on every level and together with frontman CT (interview here) adopting a more decipherable shout over most of the record’s four main extended tracks, Rwake felt like a band reborn, and theirs was a highlight among several 2011 albums that showed there’s still room for individual growth and stylistic nuance within the sphere of post-metal.
It was back and forth, nine and eight, between Rwake and Hull for a while, but when all was said and done, the fantastic scope of Beyond the Lightless Sky gave the Brooklyn triple-guitar masters the edge. With a narrative structure behind it and a breadth of ambience and crushing, post-doomly riffing, Beyond the Lightless Sky was the defining moment that those who’ve followed Hull since their Viking Funeral demo have been waiting for. In concept, in performance, in sound and structure and heft, it absolutely floored me, and of all the heavy records I’ve heard with the tag applied to them in 2011, Hull‘s second full-length seems most to earn the tag “progressive.” A stunning and groundbreaking achievement.
One of 2011’s most fascinating developments has been the boom in European heavy psychedelia, and the self-titled debut from French band Mars Red Sky was among the best releases to blend a jam-based sensibility with thick, warm fuzz and memorable riffs. Together with the sweet-hued vocals of Julien Pras (interview here), those riffs made for some of the most infectious hooks I heard all year on songs like “Strong Reflection” and “Way to Rome,” and where other bands jammed their way into psychedelic oblivion, Mars Red Sky were able to balance their focus on crafting quality songs, so that although they sounded spontaneous, the material was never self-indulgent or lacking accessibility. One just hopes they don’t lose sight of that musical humility their next time out.
There was a point earlier this year at which I had forgotten about All We Destroy. After reviewing it in March, I simply moved on to the next thing on my list, and the thing after, and the thing after. But before I knew it, in my head was the voice of Jackie Perez Gratz, singing the line “As I live and breathe” over her own cello, the guitar of Max Doyle and Max Doyle‘s drums. It got so persistent that, eventually, I went out and bought the record, because the mp3s I’d been given to review simply weren’t enough. That was probably July, and I don’t think I’ve gone a week since without listening to Grayceon. So although I classify it in the same league as Rwake and Hull in terms of what it accomplishes in and for its genre, All We Destroy gets the extra nod for the fact that I simply haven’t been able to let it go. And though I’ve come to further appreciate “Shellmounds,” “Once a Shadow” and “A Road Less Traveled,” the 17-minute “We Can” — from which the above-noted lyric is taken — remains the best single song I heard in 2011.
On paper, this one should’ve flopped: Band with minor buzz and a cool video hooks up with indie rock dude to record an album of dopey riffs and beardo bombast. Instead, Red Fang‘s second album and Relapse debut became the 2011 vanguard release for the Portland heavy underground, which is arguably the most fertile scene in the US right now. They toured the record widely, and made another killer video for the mega-single “Wires,” but the reason Murder the Mountains is top five material is because it’s lasted. It was February that I reviewed this record, and March that I interviewed guitarist/vocalist Bryan Giles, and I still can’t get “Into the Eye” and “Hank is Dead” and “Number Thirteen” (especially the latter) out of my head. When it came down to it, the songs on Murder the Mountains lived up to any hype the album received, and I’m a sucker for quality songwriting. I mean, seriously. That key change late into “Number Thirteen?” It’s the stuff of the gods.
I wasn’t particularly a fan of Swedish rockers Graveyard‘s 2008 self-titled debut. Even watching them at Roadburn in 2010, I was underwhelmed. But when I heard Hisingen Blues and was able to get a feel for what the retro-minded foursome were getting at stylistically — and most of all, that they were acknowledging that they were doing it without being glib or ironic about it — I found the material irresistible. We’re getting into seriously indispensable records now; ones that I’ve been unwilling to leave home without since they came, in, and Graveyard‘s Hisingen Blues has been a constant feature in heavy rotation. Everything from the devilish testimony of the title-track to the wiry guitars of the chorus to “Ungrateful are the Dead,” to the Skynyrd-ified solo capping “Uncomfortably Numb”: It’s been a year of revelry in all of it, and since they overcame my prejudice to impress on such a level, Graveyard (interview with drummer Axel Sjöberg here) are all the more deserving of their spot on this list.
What I hear in the second album from Dutch trio Sungrazer is the heralding of a new generation of fuzz rock. Taking influence from their forebears in Colour Haze and Kyuss, the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets (interview here), bassist/vocalist Sander Haagmans and drummer Hans Mulders followed and surpassed their stellar 2010 debut on every level, playing heavy riffs on expansive psychedelic jams and still finding room for some of 2011’s most memorable choruses in songs like “Sea” and “Goldstrike.” In so doing, Sungrazer affirmed the character of next-gen European fuzz and placed themselves at the fore of their scene, with touring and festival appearances to support. For their warmth of tone and for the fact that I spent the better part of the summer streaming the record through the Dutch website 3voor12, there was no way they were going to be left out of the top 20. It wasn’t until I sat down and actually put the numbers together, though, that I realized how vital Mirador actually was.
I was lucky enough to be sent some rough listening mixes of Ohio outfit Lo-Pan‘s Small Stone Records debut (following a reworked reissue of their Sasquanaut sophomore full-length), and in my email back to label head Scott Hamilton, I told him I thought he had a genuine classic on his hands. A year, I don’t even know how many Lo-Pan gigs and listens through Salvador later, I still feel that way 100 percent. If you were from another planet, and we got to talking at a bar, and you asked me what rock and roll should sound like in the place where I’m from, I’d hand you Salvador. I still think they should’ve started the album with “Generations,” but if that’s my biggest gripe, they’re clearly doing alright. “Bird of Prey” was the best live song I saw all year, and I saw it plenty, and cuts like “Bleeding Out” and “Struck Match” set the standard by which I’ll judge American heavy rock for a long time to come. Like the best of any class, Salvador is bigger than just the year in which it was released, and at this point, I don’t know what else to say about it.
This is as good as it gets, and by “it,” I mean life. YOB‘s last album, 2009’s The Great Cessation, was my album of the year that year as well, and I knew from the second I heard the self-produced Atma that nothing to come this year would top it. Like Ufomammut‘s Eve in 2010, Atma brings the entire genre of doom along with it on the new ground it breaks, refining what’s fast becoming YOB‘s signature approach even as it pushes ever forward. I still have to stop whatever I’m doing (not exactly good for productivity) whenever “Prepare the Ground” comes on, and songs like “Adrift in the Ocean” and “Before We Dreamed of Two” were humbling. Seriously. Humbling. Listening to them was like looking at those photographs from the Hubble that cover trillions of miles that we’ll never know and reveal gorgeous colors where our naked eyes only see black. If that sounds hyperbolic, thanks for getting it. YOB guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt (interview here) is, almost in spite of himself, one of American doom’s most crucial contributors, and with Atma, he and the rhythm section of bassist Aaron Reiseberg and drummer Travis Foster released what is without a doubt the best album of 2011.
A few quick housekeeping items and we’ll call it quits. First, honorable mentions. If this list went to 25, also included would be The Wounded Kings, Earth, Larman Clamor, Olde Growth and The Atlas Moth. Roadsaw were also in heavy consideration, so they’re worth noting, as are many others.
Obviously, I couldn’t include them, but two of my favorite releases in 2011 also came from Blackwolfgoat and HeavyPink, and I’m thrilled and honored to have helped put them out in the small way I did.
And as I said above, there are records I didn’t hear. I haven’t heard the new Black Pyramid yet. Or Orchid. Or a bunch more that I could go on listing. I’m only one man and this is only my list, for better or worse. Again, I really do hope you’ll contribute yours to the group poll, the results of which will be out Jan. 1.
I’ll probably have some more to wrap up 2011 as the month winds down, but until then, thank you so much for reading this and the rest of the wordy nonsense I’ve put up the whole year long. Your support and encouragement means more than I’m able to tell. Here’s to 2012 to come.
Moments ago, as I was trying to think of a headline for this post, I recalled that I’d visited Redscroll Records in Wallingford, Connecticut, last year around this time. Creature of habit that I am, the date on that post is Oct. 25, 2010. Here we are, a year and three days later and I’m chronicling pretty much the same trip. Surprisingly, there was no band overlap. Small favors, I guess.
It had been or at least felt like a while since I did a good round of caution-and-common-sense-to-the-wind record shopping, which I find is good for the soul, and especially since my prior visit to the store had come up empty, I was stoked to make out pretty good this time. You can probably see the stack in the picture above, but in case you don’t feel like clicking to enlarge it, here’s the rundown:
Aldebaran, Buried Beneath Aeons Cable, Cable Desert Sessions, Vol. I/Vol. II Desert Sessions, Vol. III/Vol. IV Dove, Dove Grayceon, All We Destroy Orange Goblin, Time Travelling Blues Patton Oswalt, Finest Hour Reverend Bizarre, Death is Glory… Now! Sunride, Magnetizer
VA, Judge Not… Wooden Shjips, Dos Wolves in the Throne Room, Celestial Lineage
Of those, I already own the Desert Sessions, Dove and Orange Goblin records — but I still have my reasons for buying each. The Orange Goblin was used, and as I looked at it on the shelf, I discovered it was the Japanese version of the record, with their cover of Trouble‘s “Black Shapes of Doom” for a bonus track. That cover originally appeared on the Bastards Will Pay tribute, and since I’ve never had any luck tracking down a copy of that (it’s in my canon of daily eBay searches), I figured all the more excuse to get the import on the cheap.
The Dove, on the other hand, is probably the least reasonable of the repeat offenses. Where the Desert Sessions stuff was priced new, it was also like $12 a pop, and screw it, if I’m already spending money, I’ll hit that up. I looked so hard for those CDs the first time around, I don’t mind having doubles. For the Dove disc, though, there really is no argument. It was there, it was used, and I bought it. It’s out of print, and I might use it in a trade or something at some point — hey, if anyone wants to switch it for that Trouble tribute, drop a line — but beyond that, it was an impulse and an excuse to revisit the album from the Floor offshoot, which I hadn’t heard in years.
Grayceon was one of two discs I knew I wanted to pick up going into the trip — the other was Rwake, which Redscroll was out of — and since I’ve had those songs stuck in my head for the last month, I was glad to have the full version of the album to sate that. That wasn’t used, but it is now. The Wolves in the Throne Room is also their latest record, which I had every intent of reviewing but never got around to, but only had a disc and top liner for. There’s always one or two tracks on their albums that justifies a purchase, and now I can take my time finding out which ones those are on Celestial Lineage. I don’t feel as bad for not reviewing it if I go out and buy the record.
I bought Sunride‘s Magnetizer (1998, Boundless Records) because of a discussion on the forum of the worst stoner rock albums ever. Not that it’s mentioned in there, but Sea of Green is, and I got the names mixed up in my head. I had wanted to buy it just to hear what the worst stoner rock ever sounded like. As Magnetizer isn’t even close to the worst stoner rock I’ve ever heard, I can’t help but feel like I inadvertently won out.
The Wooden Shjips I got because I need to review their new album, West, for work and wanted something to compare it to. It was used, as was the Underdogma Records compilation, Judge Not…, which proved yet again that I don’t like comps until they’re out of print and desirable for their obscurity. I don’t remember the last time I heard Ironboss (guns don’t kill people, they do), so I’ll take it, and with Gammera, Pale Divine, early The Quill and Puny Human on there, all the better. Two discs of heavy rock I didn’t own prior. Six bucks.
Buying Cable in Connecticut had some oddball novelty to me, and the 1997 comp of their early tracks was used and is raw as hell, so that was a yes, and I didn’t even know Patton Oswalt had a new record, but there it was. Since on his last special, he was talking all about his wife being pregnant, I figured this would be his “I have a kid now” material (every comic has it), and sure enough, it is. Still good. The Reverend Bizarre and Aldebaran discs were impulse buys — I grabbed the Aldebaran with all the forethought of snatching a pack of Reese’s on the way out of the grocery store — but reckless abandon is no fun if it’s not actually reckless, so there you go.
The Patient Mrs. — bless her heart — had come in a few moments prior to collect me so we could make our way back south to Jersey, but as we were leaving, the dudes behind the counter informed that they’ll be doing a special Black Friday sale post-Thanksgiving, opening at 6AM with markdowns on new and used CDs and vinyl — which, at this point, takes up a good deal of the room they have. Turns out I’ll be up that way for the holiday, so if I’m not all drowned out in vino and tryptophan, I may just make that happen for myself. Seems like it could be fun, anyway.
More info on that and the store is here, if you’re interested. I’ll spare you the lecture on preserving independent record-buying culture, because I think you probably know it by now, but anyway, they do good work.
Tonight I was supposed to go to the ball game in hopes of seeing a certain shortstop get his 3,000th hit (being a numbers guy myself, I can appreciate that), but it got rained out. My backup was to catch Sourvein and Kings Destroy in Brooklyn, but by the time I’d driven back to Jersey from The Bronx, well, I’d already driven to The Bronx and back, and Brooklyn‘s even harder to get to, so my motivation was pretty much dead. I’ve no doubt all parties will survive and the show will go/has gone on despite my absence. If you went, I hope you had a good time. I hung around the house and failed at several endeavors in succession. Most you lose. Some you win.
I wanted to close out this week with something modern, melodically satisfying and heavy as all hell, and the 17-minute “We Can” from Grayceon‘s All We Destroy fits all those bills perfectly. In the interest of honesty, I’ll confess that I’m not listening to it as I write this — as is my usual habit — instead streaming the new Sungrazer album for the umpteenth time on the Dutch 3voor12 site, which you might recognize as being where all those Roadburn audio links lead.
Yesterday I talked with guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt from YOB — whose new album, Atma, was reviewed Wednesday — for about 50 minutes, from which I’ll put a Q&A together hopefully in the next week or two. The plan is to take pictures at their NYC show Tuesday and use them with the feature, but you never know, a piano might fall on my head. If one does, the interview’s done anyway. It was killer.
Next week, I’ll have a review of that show, plus new albums from Ramesses and Borgo Pass, among others. Next Friday is also the Truckfighters gig at the Cake Shop in NYC where if you tell them you read The Obelisk, you get in for free. More info on that is here, but the short version is it’s a pretty sweet deal, and I hope one you’ll take advantage of if you’re in the area. Next week I’m also going to go back and revisit the top albums list from last year and see how it holds up. That’ll be fun. Maybe just for me, but fun all the same.
Alright, now the Sungrazer‘s over and I’m listening to Grayceon. No regrets. Wherever you are, have a great and safe weekend. See you on the forum and back here Monday with a track from The Brought Low‘s new EP and other goodies.
It was four years ago, so you’ll have to forgive me if I can’t remember just what it was that struck me as so problematic about cello-laden San Francisco three-piece Grayceon’s 2007 self-titled first album. I vaguely recall thinking the band were too smart for their own good, taking the tropes of doom and exploiting them while also somehow pretentiously positioning themselves above them intellectually. Or maybe I’m making that up and I just thought the songs sucked. I really don’t know. Whatever it was, it was enough to keep me away from 2008’s This Grand Show (released, like the first record, on Vendlus), and as Grayceon make their Profound Lore label debut with All We Destroy, and I revisit the trio’s sound – obviously developed some in the intervening time – it’s a mixture both intriguing and tight-knit. The cello of Jackie Perez Gratz (who has guested for Agalloch, Neurosis and Cattle Decapitation, and who also plays in Giant Squid) features heavily, counterbalanced by the guitar of Max Doyle and drums of Zack Farwell, both also of the thrash outfit Walken.
Gratz and Doyle contribute vocals to All We Destroy, though mostly the former, and Grayceon moves into and through different modes of heaviness as the six tracks play out. Second cut “Shellmounds” finds Farwell ripping through black metal blastbeats (cleverly mixed so as to not dominate Gratz’s overlying vocals), and opener “Dreamer Deceived” takes churning post-metal riffage and puts the onus on a vocal narrative and the varying atmosphere of the cello to stand Grayceon out, which, to the band’s credit, it does. Short cuts to quiet passages, interludes or whatever you’d want to call them, provide some respite from the crash, but there’s a tension in “Dreamer Deceived” that sets the tone for much of All We Destroy, and as Gratz and Doyle’s voices come together for combined semi-melodic chants, the experience is less that of a song than a performance. The diverse structures of the material – chorus-based but not necessarily chorus-dependent – feed that idea as well. Some background screaming (another black metal element to go with the drumming on “Shellmounds”) adds a glimpse of extremity, and the overall impression of the first two tracks is that while Grayceon have their feet in a variety of sounds, they feel no need to commit to one over the other. If you’re looking to pigeonhole them – as perhaps I was when I encountered their debut – they don’t make it easy.
“Shellmounds” has a satisfying linear build, made all the more effective by Doyle’s angular riff-work, but there’s no question that the meat of All We Destroy comes on with the staggering 17-minute “We Can.” Though it meanders some (how could it not?) with the metallic guitar at around eight minutes in, it’s Gratz’s most memorable vocal – the lines “As I live and breathe/You can’t save me” being especially chilling – and the point on All We Destroy where the band’s dynamic range most shines. An interplay of screams past the 10-minute mark reminds some of earlier Kylesa, but here, Grayceon are in territory all their own, and two minutes later, when they return to the huge central figure riff – the massive fucking plod of it – it’s as satisfying as the album gets, outshining the even-slower section that follows, Gratz running counter to Doyle and adding, true to the nature of her instrument, a melancholy and thoughtful feel to the song’s close. Honestly, “We Can” probably could have been the album itself and I’d still feel like I got my listen’s worth.