We all know it’s a special moment in the life of a band when they hit the road for the first time. Often it’s not more than a tentative weekender, maybe hitting a couple different towns over subsequent nights before going back to work on Monday, the 48-hour rock star in a packed van. Inside jokes, lousy food, plenty of volume — those are good times. Cheers to Athens trio Green Yeti on getting out for a few nights and making it happen. They’re hooked up with Total Volume Agency supporting their 2016 debut, The Yeti has Landed — streaming below — so I get the feeling that the five-night run they’ve got booked for early May won’t be their last, but only one tour can be your first tour, and I hope theirs is awesome.
Dates and the David Paul Seymour poster came in from the PR wire:
Green Yeti – Mini Tour 2017
Brace yourselves! The Yeti is about to leave its cave and make a short trip to explore new, unforeseen lands!
Hailing from the feral wilderness of the Athenian underground, Green Yeti descended to the world of man three years ago, in order to spew out their savage psychedelic riffage. Featuring members of Brotherhood of Sleep, Reversed Nature, Stonenrow and Spacement, they have shared the stage with the likes of Stoned Jesus, Egypt, Dopelord and The Re-Stoned. Yeti’s full-length debut: “The Yeti Has Landed” launched last year; making its way fast to many 2016 best-of lists!
The heavy psych three-piece, is about to embark on its first Eastern European outing this May, on a mini tour organized by Total Volume, home of bands like Nightstalker, Egypt, Valley of the Sun and more. If monster riffs, bleak atmospheres, spaced out vocals and foggy psychedelia is your thing; then you’ve hit bullseye!
Starting tomorrow, Greek heavy rock forerunners 1000mods hit the road in Europe. Big time. The four-piece from Chiliomodi will be on tour for more than the next month supporting their excellent late-2016 outing, Repeated Exposure To… (review here), which seems only to have picked up momentum following its release and is sure to continue to do so as the band hand-delivers it to cities across the continent, making stops along the way at Riff Ritual Fest, Desertfest London, Desertfest Berlin and Tubecult Festival for good measure.
To mark their going, 1000mods have a new video for the song “Electric Carve” that, rife with clips of wind-surfing, skating, the band rocking out on a suitably-rocky beach, etc., captures the easy-grooving vibe they’re going for that seems to have caught on in such a huge way across Europe. Greece has produced some killer acts across this now-waning decade and has emerged with one of Europe’s most enviable scenes along with Italy (and of course the mainstays: Germany and Sweden), but I don’t know if anyone from the Hellenic Republic has made quite the same kind of impact as 1000mods, and as they’ve done it on a foundation of quality songwriting and regularly breaking their collective ass on tours like the one they’re about to start, it’s hard to argue with the warm reception they’re getting at this point as being anything other than well-earned.
Bottom line? Keep kicking ass, gents.
The run starts in Bulgaria and finishes in Italy and you can see the complete list of dates under the “Electric Carve” clip below, which I hope you’ll enjoy:
1000mods, “Electric Carve” official video
This is our first video clip!
In collaboration with Jagged Melon Productions and G.N.P. Productions, we want to pay our tribute to all the riders who employ our music throughout these years. Electric carve is dedicated to you!
So grab your board, put your headphones on and hit the road, catch the wind, carve the mountains and the sea! Cheers to all the riders that participated in the video!
CREDITS Directed by / Themistocles Lambridis Produced by / Jagged Melon Productions Assistant Producer / Alex Masmanidis Filmed by / Steve Kekis, Alex Masmanidis, Konstantinos Kalavrezos, Dimitris Lambridis, Themistocles Lambridis, Meletis Vaxevanidis, Spiros Badios
\ Riders / Spiros Badios, Stelios Danourdis, Nikos Matsourdelis, Meletis Vaxevanidis, Petros Martinos, Vasilis Glitsis, Lykourgos Neofotistos, Steve Kekis, Alex Masmanidis, Soulis, Dirty South Crew.
Sound of Liberation and Ouga Booga & the Mighty Oug Touring present:
1000mods – Repeated and Exposed To – European Tour 2017 23/03/2017 – SOFIA, BG | MIXTAPE5 24/03/2017 – BUCHAREST, RO | FABRICA 25/03/2017 – CLUJ NAPOCA, RO | SHELTER ((SOLD OUT)) 26/03/2017 – TIMISOARA, RO | DAOS CLUB 28/03/2017 – BEOGRAD, RS | ELEKTROPIONIR 29/03/2017 – NOVI SAD, RS | THE QUARTER 30/03/2017 – ZUPANJA, HR | MKC 31/03/2017 – TBA 01/04/2017 – MUNICH, DE | UNDER THE BLACK MOON 02/04/2017 – LEIPSIG, DE | WERK 2 03/04/2017 – PRAGUE, CZ | KLUB 007 04/04/2017 – BUDAPEST, HU | DURER KERT 05/04/2017 – ZAGREB, HR | VINTAGE INDUSTRIAL BAR 06/04/2017 – INNSBRUCK, AT | PMK 07/04/2017 – NUREMBERG, DE | MUZ 08/04/2017 – CHEMNITZ, DE | AJZ 09/04/2017 – OSNABRUCK, DE | BASTARD CLUB 10/04/2017 – HAMBURG, DE | HAFFENKANG 11/04/2017 – AMSTERDAM, NL | WINSTON KINGDOM 12/04/2017 – KARLSRUHE, DE | ALTE HACKEREI 13/04/2017 – FREIBURG, DE | SLOW CLUB 14/04/2017 – OLTEN, CH | COC d’OR 15/04/2017 – WINTERTHUR, CH | GASWERK 17/04/2017 – SAN SEBASTIAN, ES | DABADABA 18/04/2017 – GIJON, ES | SALA ACAPOULCO 19/04/2017 – PORTO, PT | CAVE45 20/04/2017 – LISBON, PT | RCA CLUB 21/04/2017 – MADRID, ES | WURLITZER BALLROOM 22/04/2017 – BARCELONA, ES | RIFF RITUAL FEST 23/04/2017 – MONTPELLIER, FR | BLACK SHEEP 24/04/2017 – GENEVE, CH | KALVINGRAD 25/04/2017 – COLMAR, FR | GRILLEN 26/04/2017 – TBA 27/04/2017 – PARIS, FR | PETIT BAIN 28/04/2017 – LONDON, UK | DESERTFEST LONDON 29/04/2017 – DEVENTER, NL | BURGERWEESHUIS 30/04/2017 – BERLIN, DE | DESERTFEST BERLIN 03/05/2017 – TRIESTE, IT | TETRIS 04/05/2017 – TORINO, IT | BLAH BLAH 05/05/2017 – PISA, IT | ALBATROSS 06/05/2017 – PESCARA, IT | TUBECULT FESTIVAL 07/05/2017 – BARI, IT | ARCI OPEN SOURCE
100mods is: Dani G. / Bass & Vox Giannis S. / Guitars George T. / Guitars Labros G. / Drums
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
It was half a decade between releases before Greek heavy rockers Nightstalker unveiled their seventh album, As Above, So Below (review here), late last year. They’re wasting precious little time in getting out to support it. This Spring, the Athens-based outfit will head out for slots at Riffolution, Hell Over Esslingen and Soundart festivals over the course of March, April and May, and around those appearances, they’ll spend a good amount of their days touring. I don’t know when the last time the veteran four-piece hit the road was, but they’re covering a good amount of ground across Europe this time, and it seems likely more dates will follow for later in 2017.
Shows are presented by Total Volume Agency, who sent the following along the PR wire:
Nightstalker – European Tour 2017
It’s the original superfreaks Nightstalker – louder than ever!
There’s not much to say about Nightstalker. The three decades on heavy rock duty, the countless hours on stage, as well as the worldwide praise and respect speak for themselves. With last-year’s nifty “As Above, So Below” in their luggage, the legendary Greek four-piece will bring its smoked up ter-RIFF-ic grooves to no less that 12 countries across Europe, in a massive tour organised by Total Volume.
Check the dates, find a town near you, grab a beer and come say high!
Dates: 25/3 – Manchester (UK) @ Riffolution Festival 01/4 – Sofia (BG) @ Live N Loud 02/4 – Bucharest (RO) @ Quantic 05/4 – Cluj (RO) @ The Shelter 06/4 – Timisoara (RO) @ Daos Club 07/4 – Novi Sad (RS) @ The Quarter 08/4 – Graz (AT) @ Club Wakuum 10/4 – Vienna (AT) @ Das Bach 12/4 – Regensburg (DE) @ Alte Mazerei 13/4 – Berlin (DE) @ Wild At Heart 15/4 – Copenhagen (DK) @ Beta2300 19/4 – Cologne (DE) @ Limes 20/4 – Arnhem (NL) @ Willemeen 21/4 – Oldenburg (DE) @ Cadillac 22/4 – Munster (DE) @ Rare Guitar 25/4 – Paris (FR) @ Le Batofar 26/4 – Lucerne (CH) @ Bruch Brothers 28/4 – Linz (AT) @ Ann And Pat 29/4 – Frankfurt (DE) @ Yachtklub 30/4 – Esslingen (DE) @ Hell Over Esslingen Festival 01/5 – Erba (IT) @ Centrale Rock 03/5 – Zagreb (HR) @ Vintage Industrial Bar 06/5 – Bucharest (RO) @ Soundart Festival
Nightstalker is: Argy (Vocals) Andreas Lagios (Bass) Tolis Motsios (Guitars) Dinos Roulos (Drums)
We — you and I — have seen over the last couple years the rising of the Greek heavy underground. From the fuzz-fueled riffs of 1000mods to Bus‘ heavy blues to the there’s-something-special-happening-here jams proffered by Thessaloniki trio Naxatras, not only is it a boom of bands coming out, but one distinguished in quality and variety. Some are new, some have been around a while, but as Greece becomes more of a hotbed for heavy rock — it has its own Desertfest, which just by way of an example the US does not — it has thus far been able to sustain a multi-faceted thrust to sate different kinds of listeners; essential for any scene, large or small, to survive.
As regards Naxatras, whose first official video, “Pulsar 4000,” you can see below — it might as well come with a hand-written invitation to space the hell out for its seven minutes — the psychedelic explorers, as noted, have set themselves on a path of capturing something special. Europe has a long tradition of progressive jamming, and indeed, the three-piece of bassist/vocalist John Vagenas, guitarist John Delias and drummer Kostas Harizanis would seem to have learned some crucial lessons from their northern stylistic forebears in outfits like Causa Sui, Electric Moon and Colour Haze, but their live-recorded, analog-tracked material has managed to resonate with listeners in and out of their home country precisely because of the individuality of its tones and the personal aspects of its presentation — the natural chemistry between the three players, the easy flow they conjure up in their songs, etc.
“Pulsar 4000” comes from their 2016 EP (discussed here), which followed their 2015 self-titled debut full-length and was a precursor to last year’s II (review here). Quick as their ascent to the fore of Greece’s representative exports has seemed, I think this track sums up a lot of what has allowed them to take such firm hold of their audience’s imagination — a process they seem to acknowledge directly in the video, as it happens — and even with the drastic sonic turn it takes circa the five-minute mark, Naxatras have conjured such an open vibe that they’ve basically given themselves permission to wander where they please. We — you and I — can only hope they continue to do so.
Video credits and a couple tour dates follow the clip below.
Naxatras, “Pulsar 4000” official video
Taken from our 2016 “EP”, recorded at Magnetic Fidelity. Directed by Elena Kontela Director Of Photograpy: Anastasis Kontostergios Camera Operation: Alex Vilaras Animated by Haris Kountouris Edited by Nikolas Kanellopoulos Producer: Aris Antivachis Starring Fay Vevi www.midnightpictures.eu Artwork design by Skitsos and Chris RW.
Naxatras Spring Break!! 30.3 – Cafe Santan , Volos 31.3 – Stage Club , Larissa 1.4 – Eightball Club , Thessaloniki
More to be announced soon….
Naxatras is: John Delias – Guitar Kostas Harizanis – Drums John Vagenas – Bass & Vocals
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 31st, 2017 by JJ Koczan
I consider anything over three weeks a long tour. 1000mods will nearly double that standard beginning on Thursday, March 23, as they head out on a massive round of European tour dates supporting last year’s Repeated Exposure To… (review here). Their third album, it was a watershed moment for them as well as for Greece’s heavy rock scene, which has become among the most vibrant in the Euro underground, with 1000mods very much at the fore as a lead for other groups to follow. The band spent much of last fall bouncing between fests, and they’ll do likewise this time around, hitting Desertfest London 2017, Desertfest Berlin 2017, Under the Black Moon and Riff Ritual along their way, as you can see in the update below.
One really hopes these guys enjoy spending time together, because they’re going to be doing a lot of it. Too bad they already put out an album called Super Van Vacation (it was in 2011; review here), because a tour like this seems like a prime opportunity to make a live record and that’s the perfect title for one.
Shows are presented by Sound of Liberation. Dig:
1000mods – Repeated and Exposed Tour 2017
As promised: We are getting back on the European roads for a headline tour this time, in order to promote our latest album “Repeated exposure to…”.
We are really happy to visit a lot of cities for the first time and some cities that we haven’t visited since 2014. We are also proud to include a lot of amazing festivals like Desertfest London, DesertFest Berlin, Under The Black Moon 2017 in Munich and Riff Ritual Festival in Barcelona.
Dates: 23.03 – Sofia, BG 24.03 – Bucharest, RO 25.03 – Cluj, RO 26.03 – Timisoara, RO 28.03 – Beograd, RS 29.03 – Novisad, RS 01.04 – Munich, DE 02.04 – Leipzig, DE 03.04 – Prague, CZ 04.04 – Budapest, HU 05.04 – Zagreb, HR 06.04 – Innsbruck, AT 07.04 – Nuremberg, DE 08.04 – Chemnitz, DE 09.04 – Osnabruck, DE 10.04 – TBA 11.04 – Amsterdam, NL 12.04 – Karlsruhe, DE 13.04 – Freiburg, DE 14.04 – Olten, CH 15.04 – Winterthur, CH 17.04 – San Sebastian, ES 18.04 – Gijon, ES 19.04 – Porto, PT 20.04 – Lisbon, PT 21.04 – Madrid, ES 22.04 – Barcelona, ES 23.04 – TBA 24.04 – Geneve, CH 25.04 – Cojmar, FR 26.04 – TBA 27.04 – Paris, FR 28.04 – London, UK 29.04 – Deventer, NL 30.04 – Berlin, DE 03.05 – Trieste,IT 04.05 – Torino, IT 05.05 – Pisa, IT 06.05 – Pescara, IT 07.05 – Bari, IT
Some more dates to be announced soon! Powered by Sound of Liberation UG and Ouga Booga & the Mighty Oug
100mods is: Dani G. / Bass & Vox Giannis S. / Guitars George T. / Guitars Labros G. / Drums
Posted in Reviews on December 28th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Today is the day the Quarterly Review passes the halfway point. This will be 21-30 of the total 60 for the six days, so there’s still a ways to go — you might say 50 percent — but it’s a milestone nonetheless. Once again it’s another roundup of cool stuff, kind of all over the place a little more than the last two days were, but as we go further along with these things, it’s good to mix it up after a while. There’s only so many times you can throw the word “lysergic” around and talk about jamming. That said, you’re getting some of that today as well from Portugal, so when it pops up, don’t be surprised. Much to do, so no need to delay.
Quarterly Review #21-30:
Bus, The Unknown Secretary
Athenian double-guitar four-piece Bus execute a stylistically cohesive, crisp debut with The Unknown Secretary (on Twin Earth Records), presenting classic heavy rock elements without going full-retro in their sound itself and marking songs like “Masteroid” as immediately distinct through the harmonized vocals of guitarist Bill City, joined in the band by guitarist Johnnie Chez, bassist Chob D’oh and drummer Aris. Together they run through a clean two sides that play back and forth between proto-metallic and doom shading – “Don’t Fear Your Demon” touches on slower Pentagram – while sounding perhaps most comfortable in rockers like “Withered Thorn” or the earlier stomper “New Black Volume,” which puts its two guitars to excellent use ahead of and between unabashedly poppy (not sure a full Ghost comparison is warranted) verse, and craft a highlight in the 7:38 arena-ready thrust of “Rockerbus” prior to the surprisingly nodding finale of “Jimi.” A strikingly efficient and clear-headed first full-length that would seem to hold much promise of things to come from yet another player in Greece’s emergent heavy scene.
With the start-stop riff of opener “As Fangs in Stone,” a mastering job by Mathias Schneeberger and the breadth of pop melodicism in cuts that one, the swinging “Made of Ghosts,” and the more percussive “Through the Sun,” Italian four-piece Them Bulls make a pretty strong beeline for early-Queens of the Stone Age-style heavy desert rock. Their self-titled Small Stone debut isn’t without individualized flourish, but the 10-track/41-minute offering makes it clear from the start what its intentions are and then sets about living up to them, whether on the careening Songs for the Deaf-ery of “Pot Gun” or the penultimate “We Must Live Up” itself. Vocal interplay from guitarists Daniele Pollio and Franscesco Pasi – joined by the rhythm section of bassist Paolo Baldini and drummer Giampaolo Farnedi – provides an opportunity for future growth, but it’s worth noting that for a band to take on such a specific stylization, their songwriting needs to be in check, and Them Bulls’ is.
What seems to be Stinkeye’s debut recording, Llantera Demos, arrives as a free download of four tracks and 16 minutes rife with thickened boogie and dense mecha-stoner fuzz, reminding of Dead Meadow immediately in the echoing vocals and rhythmic bounce of “Orange Man” but moving into some shuffle on the subsequent “Fink Ployd” and “Llantera,” the latter a well-earned showcase of bass tone. While out on the coast, ‘70s vibes reign supreme, the Phoenix, Arizona, trio are on a different tip, looser in their swing and apparently more prone to drift. For what it’s worth, they call it “hash rock,” and fair enough as “Pink Clam,” which closes Llantera Demos, rides more of a grunge-laden nod to an immersive but still relatively quick five-minute finish, building after three minutes in to a satisfying final instrumental push. Loaded with potential in tone, execution, vibe and dynamic between the three-piece, Llantera Demos immediately marks Stinkeye out as a band to watch and is just begging for the right person to come along and press it to tape.
Want to grab attention with your debut long-player? Calling a song “Louder than God” might be a good way to go. That track, at seven minutes, is the longest on Connecticut five-piece Buzzard Canyon’s Hellfire and Whiskey (on Salt of the Earth), and following a quiet initial stretch, it launches into Down-style Southern chug, the dual vocals of Amber Leigh and guitarist Aaron Lewis (the latter also of When the Deadbolt Breaks) veering into and out of more metallic impulses to build on the initial momentum established on the earlier “Highway Run” and “SomaBitch.” The two-minute “For the End” basks in some nightmarish vision of rockabilly, while “Red Beards Massacre” and “Wyoming” dig into more straightforward stylistic patterning, but if Buzzard Canyon want to get a little weird either here or going forward, that’s clearly not about to hurt them. Closer “Not My Cross” hints at some darker visions to come in how it moves into and out of a droning interlude, adding yet more intrigue to their deceptively multifaceted foundation.
Though “Atomic Rodeo” dips into some Queens of the Stone Age-style groove, Motherbrain’s third album, Voodoo Nasty (on Setalight Records), comes across as more defined by its nasty than its voodoo as the Berlin four-piece demonstrate a penchant for incorporating harsher sludge tendencies, especially in vocal shouts peppered in amid the otherwise not-unfriendly proceedings. That gives the nine-song/48-minute offering a meaner edge but does little ultimately to take away from the groove on offer in the opening title-track or “Ghoul of Kolkata,” and though it retains its raw spirit, Voodoo Nasty digs into some more complex fare later in longer cuts like “Baptism of Fire” and “Half Past Human,” having found a place in centerpiece “Dismantling God” where blown-out noise aggression and semi-psychedelic swirl can coexist, if not peacefully then at least for a while until Motherbrain decide it’s time to give Kyuss-style desert rock another kick in its ass, as on “Sons of Kong,” which, yes, does proclaim a lineage.
Sludge-rolling five-piece Elder Druid riff forth with their debut studio offering, the five-song/33-minute Magicka EP, which one might be tempted to tag as a demo were it not for a few prior live-tracked short releases that appear to have served that purpose, the latest of which, The Attic Sessions (discussed here), came out in Jan. 2016. The experience of putting that together as well as their prior singles clearly benefited the Northern Irish outfit on Magicka, and while they retain a shouty spirit on opener “Rogue Mystic,” middle cut “The Warlock” offers nod that reminds of The Kings of Frog Island’s “Welcome to the Void,” and that’s about all I ever need. Ever. Served up with bloated tones and geared toward establishing a blend of gruff vocals and consuming fuzz, Elder Druid’s first studio recording has a solid footing in what it wants to accomplish sound-wise and plainly showcases that, and while they have some growing to do and patience to learn in their songcraft, nothing I hear on Magicka argues against their getting there in time.
The Crazy Left Experience, Bill’s 108th Space Odyssey
The Crazy Left Experience – the moniker seeming to refer to the side of the brain at work in their processes – present Bill’s 108th Space Odyssey almost as an album within an album. The framework from the at-least-party-improvised Portuguese cosmic jammers on the seven-track/56-minute outing centers around William Millarc, who in 1955 was documented while taking part in LSD experiments. Samples of Millarc are peppered into opener “Subject Bill,” the later “Funky Meteor Drop” and the closing duo “Bill Sided Flashback” and “God of the Outer Rings,” but between the opener and the latter trio of cuts comes “Unarius,” a three-part excursion listed as “Part V” through “Part VII” that presumably is the representation of when our friend Bill has left his body behind. So be it. One can hardly call that departure incongruous either sonically or in terms of The Crazy Left Experience’s chosen theme – though there are some unrelated samples spliced into “Unarius – Part VII (Space Brothers)” that are somewhat jarring – and the entire flow of the record is so hypnotic that the band can basically go wherever they want, which of course they do.
Were it not for the context of knowing that vocalist Tim Narducci and bassist Cornbread hail from SpiralArms and White Witch Canyon, drummer Carter Kennedy from Orchid and guitarist Jeremy Von Eppic from Black Gates, the Sabbath Highway debut EP (on Ripple Music) from California’s The Watchers would be almost impossibly coherent for a first outing. Classic in form but modern in its presentation, the five-tracker – four plus the church-organ interlude “Requiem” between the opening title-cut (video here) and “Call the Priest” – makes the most of Narducci’s ‘70s-style vocal push, reminding of one-time Ripple troupe Stone Axe in his oldschool feel, but as “Today” (premiered here) makes plain, The Watchers are much more focused on learning from the past than repeating it. The straightforward songwriting and all-we’re-here-to-do-is-kick-ass sentiment behind Sabbath Highway might well prove formative compared to what The Watchers do next – presumably that’s a full-length, but one never knows; they sound ready to get down to business – but it makes its ambitions plain in its hooks and swiftly delivers on its promises.
I can’t speak to the present status of California’s Of the Horizon, since last I heard bassist Kayt Vigil was in Italy working with Sonic Wolves, but their self-titled five-track debut full-length arrives via Kozmik Artifactz no less switched on for the half-decade that has passed since it was recorded. Guitarist Mike Hanne howls out throaty incantations to suit the post-Sleep riffing of opener “3 Feet” and drummer Shig pushes the roll of “Caravan” forward into its final crashing slowdown effectively as Vigil ensures the subsequent centerpiece “Unknown” is duly thick beneath its spacious, jammy strum. The two longest slabs hit at the end in “Gladhander” (8:55) and the righteously lumbering “Hall of the Drunken King” (10:31) and feel somewhat like an album unto themselves, but when/if Of the Horizon make a return, they’ve established a working modus on this first full-length that should well satisfy the nod-converted and that demonstrates the timelessness of well-executed tonal onslaught.
Though it’s fair enough in terms of runtime, it almost seems like Milano sludge-rollers Raj (also written stylized in all-caps: RAJ) do the six tracks of their 20-minute self-titled debut EP a disservice by cramming them onto a single LP side. Not that one gets lost or the band fails to make an impression – far from it – but just that sounds so geared toward largesse and spaciousness beg for more room to flesh out. That, perhaps, is the interesting duality in Raj’s Raj, since even the massive plod of closer “Iron Matrix” lumbers through its course in a relatively short 4:45, never mind the speedier “Magic Wand” (2:47) or drone interlude “Black Mumbai” (1:51) – gone in a flash. The release moves through these, the earlier “Omegagame” and “Eurasia” and the penultimate “Kaluza” with marked fluidity and efficiency, giving Raj a mini-album feel, and with the atmosphere in “Black Mumbai” and in the surrounding material, their rumble sets up a dynamic that seems primed for further exploration.
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.
Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.
The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.
This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.
Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.
I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:
Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.
Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.
There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.
A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.
Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.
Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.
There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.
Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.
Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.
Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.
For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.
I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, Neurosis‘ Fires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.
Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.
Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.
I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.
Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.
Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.
Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.
Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.
One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.
If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.
In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.
After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.
Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.
7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know
Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.
German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.
A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.
Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Che, Vista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.
What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.
Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.
2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)
It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.
Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.
The Next 20
Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:
31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll
From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.
Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:
Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment
And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:
Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.
In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.
If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.
And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.
Sometimes life is weird. Like the parts of it when you listen to the noise-jazz psychedelic wash of Athenian outfit Kooba Tercu. Those are definitely some strange times. The band, who may or may not represent themselves in the entirety of a single character — referenced below as the disaffected Johnny Tercu — released their self-titled debut album last year in a vinyl edition of 250 LPs, and operated immediately in a wide swath of sonic influences, from jagged indie to worldly percussive tendencies and well beyond into a number of approaches to psychedelia. I’m not sure all of it was completely under control, but neither am I sure it was supposed to be.
What Kooba Tercu made most plain in their debut — a track from which was featured in a podcast here — was that there’s very little that’s off the table, rhythmically, melodically or otherwise in their arrangements. Yet to listen to the skronk bounce of opener “Ukunta” or the later punker blast of “Spit Bucket,” the album doesn’t sound overbaked or overthought. Part of that might stem from the band recording (mostly) live, but as one watches the vague imagery take cohesive form much like the song itself in their new video for “Batman,” I think it makes an eerie kind of sense within the context they establish. And by that I basically mean it makes no sense but the problem is expecting that it would. Free your mind. Then hit play.
Then, if you’re so inclined, you can hit up Kooba Tercu‘s Bandcamp (linked below), where the album is currently a name-your-price download. Don’t expect “Batman,” which is mostly instrumental, to speak for the entirety of the record, because it won’t, but it does encapsulate some of the anti-genre mentality, and the blown-out fuzz that comes to dominate later in the track is worth the price of admission on its own. What, if anything, it has to do with the DC Comics character, I haven’t a clue, but if you’ve heard them before or if you haven’t, I hope you dig it.
Have at you:
Kooba Tercu, “Batman” official video
Johnny Tercu and his crew spend time in a moist, rat & cockroach infested basement playing something loud and heavy. He ventures pointlessly into nothingness with the same sense of no future as most people in Athens these days.
After endless hours of jamming, Kooba Tercu has distilled the ideas developed over a couple of years in ten songs resulting in something that sounds incredibly familiar but maybe not quite like anything you’ve heard before.