High Fighter Add Dates to Summer Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 1st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

high fighter (Photo by Peter Kupfer)

Seems to me that every time I write about Germany’s High Fighter I use a different genre tag. That’s a pretty good sign. Some bands you go “stoner” and you’re done. The Hamburg-based five-piece make it a little more of a challenge. When they announced a string of UK dates last month supporting their 2016 debut album, Scars and Crosses (review here), I used “sludge metallers.” Not exactly wrong, but meh. Way general. I must’ve been in a hurry. Today I’m feeling more like something along the lines of “metallic sludgecore” when it comes to summing up their sound. It’s metallic in its aggression, -core in its charge and sludge in its tonality and focus on riffs. I feel pretty good about that one. Will I still next time around? Most likely not. Maybe next time I’ll add “progressive” to the mix to highlight the thoughtful nature of their craft. Progressive metallic sludgecore. Sounds like fun.

High Fighter have added dates to the previously announced run, and you’ll find the update below, courtesy of the PR wire:

high fighter summer tour poster

HIGH FIGHTER ANNOUNCE MORE UPCOMING SUMMER TOUR DATES!

Hamburg-based Sludge & Stoner Metal band HIGH FIGHTER, who just recently announced to return to the UK this summer with support from special guests TUSKAR and MY DIABLO, have added a bunch of new dates around their UK summer run! Beside gigs at Bolton’s Riff Fest and more UK cities, HIGH FIGHTER added some upcoming shows in France as well as Luxembourg.

It’s been three years since the band toured the United Kingdom while on their first European tour ever back in early 2015. This August, HIGH FIGHTER will bring their latest record ‘Scars & Crosses’ as well as some brand new material live on stage. It will be one of the last tours HIGH FIGHTER are going to play this year and before they will release their second full length album in early 2019. If you’re looking for a highly polished band then look elsewhere as HIGH FIGHTER play mean and dirty Blues, Stoner, Doom & Sludgy riffs to fuel your appetite with, make sure to catch them live on the following dates this year:

23.08.18 NL – Tilburg / Little Devil
24.08.18 UK – Bournemouth / The Anvil
25.08.18 UK – Bolton / Riff Fest
26.08.18 UK – Edinburgh / Bannerman’s
27.08.18 UK – Bristol / The Old England
28.08.18 UK – Milton Keynes / The Craufurd Arms
29.08.18 UK – London / The Devonshire Arms
30.08.18 FR – Lille / Bobble Café
31.08.18 FR – Paris / Rigoletto
01.09.18 LUX – Belval / Mix n Kawa

More upcoming HIGH FIGHTER dates:
14.09.18 DE – Hannover / Subkultur
20.10.18 DE – München / Keep It Low Festival

Born in the summer of 2014 by former band members of A Million Miles, Buffalo Hump and Pyogenesis, this band is a volatile cocktail of heavy as hell riffs! Add a heavy dose of the blues and these deadly schizophrenic vocals and HIGH FIGHTER offer something new to the Sludge, Stoner, Doom & Metal Scene. After their critically acclaimed debut EP ‘The Goat Ritual’ released end of 2014, followed by numerous shows all over Europe, including festivals such as Wacken Open Air, Summer Breeze, Desertfest Berlin & Antwerp, Sonic Blast, Up In Smoke and many more, as well as several gigs with bands alike Ahab, Conan, Crowbar, Mantar, Corrosion of Conformity, Elder, Downfall of Gaia, Mammoth Storm, Brant Bjork, The Midnight Ghost Train and Earth Ship to name just a few, HIGH FIGHTER released their first full length album ‘Scars & Crosses’ in June 2016 with Svart Records. The band’s second studio album will see the light of day in early 2019.

HIGH FIGHTER are:
Mona Miluski – Vocals
Christian Pappas – Guitar
Ingwer Boysen – Guitar
Constantin Wüst – Bass
Thomas Wildelau – Drums / Backing Vocals

www.highfighter.de
www.facebook.com/highfighter
www.instagram.com/highfighter_official
www.highfighter.bandcamp.com
www.svartrecords.com

High Fighter, “Darkest Days” official video

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Keep it Low 2018 Adds High Fighter & The Devil and the Almighty Blues

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 3rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

The lineup for Keep it Low 2018, which already feels like a birthday present with the likes of Colour HazeAcid KingElderLowriderWo FatSasquatch and Child on the bill — among others — continues to get even richer. Two more bands have been newly added between German aggro sludge metallers High Fighter and Norwegian heavy blues purveyors The Devil and the Almighty Blues, and as distinct as the two acts’ sounds are, they each have a foothold in the capital-H ‘Heavy’ that unites them with each other and with the rest of Keep it Low‘s lineup, which might be the strongest I’ve yet seen from the festival in its six incarnations. And I don’t think they’re done adding bands, either.

High Fighter recently announced a string of UK dates for August supporting their visceral 2016 Svart Records debut, Scars and Crosses (review here), while The Devil and the Almighty Blues issued their second album, II (review here), last year via Blues for the Red Sun Records. I’m not sure if either appearance at Keep it Low 2018 will be part of larger touring plans, but it certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility for either act.

Keep it Low 2018 is presented by Sound of Liberation and is set for Oct. 19 and 20. The latest announcement follows:

keep it low 2018 poster

Keepers,

As promised, here are 2 new bands confirmed for Keep It Low Festival 2018: Heavy-Blues Rockers The Devil And The Almighty Blues that we are thrilled to have back in Munich on Oct. 19th after the incredible show they played at Feierwerk in May; and the ferocious High Fighter to fuel your appetite with mean and dirty Blues, Stoner, Doom & Sludgy riffs on Oct. 20th!

Tickets are selling fast (2-day passes already gone), so do not wait too long to grab yours !
https://www.keepitlow.de/tickets-keep-it-low

https://www.facebook.com/keepitlowfestival/
https://www.facebook.com/events/300578407135232/
https://www.facebook.com/Soundofliberation/
https://www.soundofliberation.com/news

High Fighter, “Darkest Days” official video

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High Fighter Announce UK Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 26th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

High Fighter (Photo by Rob Birdman)

German sludge metallers High Fighter — for whom that genre tag is woefully insufficient — are heading to the UK for a quick week of shows in August. They’re continuing to support their Svart-delivered 2016 debut album, Scars and Crosses (review here), but will reportedly have new material out with them on the road. A second long-player from the Hamburg-based is an intriguing prospect given the atmospheric elements that made their way into the first one despite an overriding outward intensity that defined much of its impression. Early 2019 release? Right on. Into the notes it goes with hopes for more to come before it’s out.

The UK tour — the topic at hand, recall — kicks off on Aug. 24 and is presented by Buried in Smoke Promo. Dates came down the PR wire as follows:

high fighter tour poster

HIGH FIGHTER ANNOUNCE UK SUMMER TOUR!

Hamburg-based Sludge & Stoner Metal band HIGH FIGHTER have announced to return to the UK this summer! Alongside British heavyweights TUSKAR and MY DIABLO, the band will be hitting the UK roads for 6 dates in August, including a festival show at Bolton’s Riff Fest.

Born in the summer of 2014 by former band members of A Million Miles, Buffalo Hump and Pyogenesis, this band is a volatile cocktail of heavy as hell riffs! Add a heavy dose of the blues and these deadly schizophrenic vocals and HIGH FIGHTER offer something new to the Sludge, Stoner, Doom & Metal Scene to fuel your appetize with. After their ciritically acclaimed debut EP ‘The Goat Ritual’ released end of 2014, followed by numerous shows all over Europe including festivals such as Wacken Open Air, Summer Breeze, Desertfest Berlin & Antwerp, Stoned From The Underground, Sonic Blast, Up In Smoke and many more, as well as several gigs and tours with bands alike Ahab, Conan, Crowbar, Corrosion of Conformity, Elder, Downfall of Gaia, Mammoth Storm, Brant Bjork, The Midnight Ghost Train, Mantar or Earth Ship to name just a few, HIGH FIGHTER released their first full length album ‘Scars & Crosses’ in June 2016 with Svart Records.

It’s been three years ago since the band toured the United Kingdom while on their first European tour ever back in early 2015. This August, HIGH FIGHTER will bring their latest record ‘Scars & Crosses’ as well as some brand new material live on stage. Beside some current dates with Mantar in Germany this summer, it will be one of the last tours HIGH FIGHTER will play this year and before they are going to release their second full length album in early 2019.

Make sure to catch the band live on the following UK summer dates, with support from TUSKAR & MY DIABLO, and presented by Buried In Smoke Promotions:

24.08.18 Bournemouth / The Anvil
25.08.18 Bolton / Riff Fest (*High Fighter only)
26.08.18 Edinburgh / Bannerman’s
27.08.18 Bristol / The Old England
28.08.18 Milton Keynes / The Craufurd Arms
29.08.18 London / The Devonshire Arms

www.highfighter.de
www.facebook.com/highfighter
www.instagram.com/highfighter_official
www.highfighter.bandcamp.com
www.svartrecords.com

High Fighter, “Darkest Days” official video

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Downfall of Gaia, High Fighter & Hexer on Tour Now

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

You know what it means when I put a post up that says “on tour now” in the headline? It means I’m probably behind on shit. Such is most definitely the case when it comes to the fact that High Fighter, who’ve been around Europe a few times now supporting their 2016 debut LP, Scars and Crosses (review here), which was released by Svart Records, are out with Downfall of Gaia and Hexer on a run that’s already done two nights in Germany and is in Switzerland this evening, which, frankly, sounds lovely. In any case, to answer something personal you’ve never wondered about me: yes, I am exactly the type of guy to take it to heart and cry a bit when I don’t get an email, but this one came through the second time around, so it was a quick emotional turnaround. Quite a rollercoaster.

The PR wire has it all like this:

downfall of gaia high fighter hexer tour

DOWNFALL OF GAIA TO KICK OFF EUROPEAN TOUR WITH HIGH FIGHTER & HEXER THIS WEEK!

Only a few days left until Post-Black & Sludge Doom Metal outfit DOWNFALL OF GAIA will kick off the second leg of their ‘Atrophy’ European tour this week. Again the band has teamed up with friends and special guests HIGH FIGHTER, which they already toured with back in March 2017. Support will be coming from atmospheric Doom & Black Metal stonerheads HEXER!

With their dark wall of sounds, DOWNFALL OF GAIA are moving forward relentlessly, enveloping the listener, absorbing one’s spirit to take one into the realm of the band’s potent sound. Founded in 2008, and although the group’s roots lie within the DIY / Crust scene, they have become more closely associated with a sound that rather corresponds to the impact of an avalanche made from black earth, rock, and dirty sludge, while their lyrics poetically describe the dark side of living.

The band never intended to stagnate, and naturally their sound underwent significant changes: Nowadays DOWNFALL OF GAIA drifted away from fast crust punk, which influenced their early work, towards longer and more intense material that became the more massive with black metal, doom and sludge elements. DOWNFALL OF GAIA hit the studio in June 2016 and released their recent and critically acclaimed record ‘Atrophy’ via Metal Blade Records in November 2016, followed by numerous shows and tours all over Europe to support the album live. Teaming up with very special guests HIGH FIGHTER and HEXER will round of DOWNFALL OF GAIA’s ‘Atrophy Tour’ perfectly:

„Today we are glad to announce the second leg of our European Tour for April and we are very happy to announce that for this time we will have our very good friends in High Fighter and Hexer as special guests with us!“ DOWNFALL OF GAIA comments. „The straight forward sound from High Fighter and the atmospheric walls of sound from Hexer will make this one a diverse and interesting package. We’re really glad to have them on board and hope to see you in April! Looking forward to this one!“

With HIGH FIGHTER on the bill, DOWNFALL OF GAIA will not just meet old and close friends, but also a band that already left its stamp in the current Stoner, Doom & Sludge Metal scene. Formed in 2014 as a total new project by former band members of A Million Miles, Buffalo Hump and Pyogenesis, this band is a volatile cocktail of heavy as hell riffs fuelled by beer and the mighty weedian riffs. Add a heavy dose of the blues and these deadly schizophrenic vocals and HIGH FIGHTER offer something new to the Sludge, Stoner, Doom & Metal Scene.

After their critically acclaimed debut EP ‘The Goat Ritual’ released end of 2014, followed by numerous shows all over Europe and the UK, including festivals such as Wacken Open Air, Desertfest Berlin & Antwerp, Stoned from the Underground, Summer Breeze & many more, as well as having shared the stages with bands like Ahab, Mammoth Storm, Crowbar, Corrosion of Conformity, Conan, Downfall of Gaia, Greenleaf, The Midnight Ghost Train, Brant Bjork or Earth Ship, HIGH FIGHTER released their first full length album ‘Scars & Crosses’ in the summer of 2016 with Svart Records.

HEXER is a four-piece outfit from Germany, combining doom, black and stoner with oriental tunes, repetetive riffs, drone and atmospheric soundscapes. Weird tuned strings and heavy low end, create a meditative yet ominous atmosphere. After recording a live EP in late 2015, HEXER played shows all over Germany and released their full length debut ‘Cosmic Doom Ritual’ in April 2017 on Berlin-based label Vendetta Records. Their live performances are loud and dark rituals, covering the audience in sub-bass,incense and black light, the artists fully painted in shamanic body paint.

06.04.18 CH – Winterthur / Gaswerk *Downfall of Gaia ONLY
06.04.18 DE – Darmstadt / Knabenschule **High Fighter + Hexer ONLY
07.04.18 CH – Luzern / Treibhaus
09.04.18 IT – Milano / Circolo Svolta
10.04.18 AT – Graz / Explosiv
11.04.18 AT – Salzburg / Rockhouse
12.04.18 CZ – Prague / 007 Strahov
13.04.18 CZ – Brno / Kabinet Múz
14.04.18 DE – Leipzig / UT Connewitz

www.downfallofgaia.com
www.facebook.com/DownfallofGaia
www.highfighter.de
www.facebook.com/highfighter
www.hexerdoom.bandcamp.com
www.facebook.com/hexerdoom

High Fighter, Scars and Crosses (2016)

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Desertfest Belgium 2017 Completes Lineup; High Fighter, King Hiss & More Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Certainly by the time Oct. 13 got here and the fest actually started, but Desertfest Belgium 2017 beat that mark considerably in completing its lineup announcements for the year. Stop me if you’ve heard me say so 50 times already, but the lineup is pretty gosh darn staggering this time around, and last-minute additions of High FighterDÿse, Steak Number EightKing Hiss and A Supernaut, while not necessarily packing the star power of Graveyard or the Melvins invariably do as headliners, only make the proceedings that much fuller, giving show-goers even more exposure to some of the finest wares the heavy underground has to offer. I mean, really, look at this fricking bill.

Imagine spending three days doing this? I can’t wait to see how the schedule breaks down. Until then, kudos to the fest on rounding out the following assemblage:

desertfest-belgium-2017-full-lineup

DF Antwerp 2017: The Last of the Line-Up – Dyse, King Hiss & More

Our last update that completes the line-up for Desertfest Antwerp 2017 is more than just a matter of “filling in the gaps”.

We’ve always tried to offer our very international crowd a taste of what’s good and heavy right here in Belgium, so in closing we want to introduce you to three bands that have been making waves in the national scene for years now. Steak Number Eight and King Hiss are both high profile rock bands that are in high demand at the country’s clubs and festivals, yet their sound remains uncompromising and pounding as fuck. A Supernaut from Brussels serves up more of a loud boogie sound, but the influence of the melting pot town they hail from shines through regardless.

And to close off: Dÿse and High Fighter from Germany are two remarkable bands that we feel you must urgently discover, if you haven’t already.

With all the good news that has been coming, there was bound to be some setbacks as well. Luckily, this year we’ve only encountered one – and here it is: due to unforeseen circumstances, White Hills has been forced to cancel their appearance at the fest.

So there you go, we’d say we’re all set for another killer edition of Desertfest Belgium. We have the headliners, we have the scene favorites, we have the undiscovered gems… now all we need is a crowd and that means YOU! Thank you all so much for your continued support, and we’ll see you in Antwerp, just a little over a month from now!

DYSE

As intricate as Dÿse sound on record, the German noise-rock duo really shines on the stage. For almost 15 years now, Jari and André have been honing their skills and perfecting their music, never losing sight of a keen sense of humour and just the right amount of experiment. If you don’t know them yet, get ready to be surprised!

STEAK NUMBER EIGHT

One of the most respected heavy bands in Belgium, Steak Number Eight landed in the spotlight while still in their teenage years, earning first place in the country’s most notorious rock contest. A decade later, and they manage to bring postmetal and noise to a wider audience while still making no compromises on their sound. A spot at Desertfest only serves them right.

KING HISS

Another mainstay of the national underground rock scene, any Belgian who hasn’t yet seen ’em live must be living under a rock. Sold-out clubs? Check! Festivals, both big and small? Check! Features in all the relevant magazines, off- and online? Check! The new album ‘Mastosaurus’ not only revives the idea of the concept album, it is also a marvelous feat that offers no compromises, no pulling punches. Just 10 times TKO causing maximum damage.

A SUPERNAUT

What is A Supernaut? It’s Rock, it’s soul, it’s Psychedelia and it’s pure love. It’s beautiful, it shakes you up, it reminds you of ZZ Top without the beards, or GrandFunk Railroad that’s slightly derailed. But above all, it’s Brussels – city of their untamed rock ‘n roller hearts, and their music serves as a dark and magic homage to their hometown.

HIGH FIGHTER

High Fighter was formed in the summer of 2014 by former band members of A Million Miles, Buffalo Hump and Pyogenesis. They offer a volatile cocktail of heavy as hell riffs fuelled by beer and the mighty weedian riffs. Add a heavy dose of the blues as well as some deadly schizophrenic vocals, and it is clear why the band got thumbs up by John Garcia and Conan!

http://www.desertfest.be/tickets
https://www.facebook.com/desertfestbelgium/
https://www.facebook.com/events/264364590656095/
https://twitter.com/DesertfestBE

High Fighter, Scars and Crosses (2016)

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016

Posted in Features on December 15th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 20 debut albums of 2016

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.

Of all the lists I do to wrap up or start any given year, this is the hardest. As someone obviously more concerned with first impressions than I am and thus probably better-dressed once said, you only get one chance at them. For bands, that can be a vicious bite in the ass on multiple levels.

To wit, you put out a great debut, fine, but there’s a whole segment of your listeners who’re bound to think you’ll never live up to it again. You put out a meh debut, you sell yourself short. Or maybe your debut is awesome but doesn’t really represent where you want to be as a band, so it’s a really good first impression, but a mistaken one. There are so many things that can go wrong or go right with any LP, but with debuts, the stakes are that much higher because it’s the only time you’ll get the chance to engage your audience for the first time. That matters.

And when it comes to putting together a list of the best debuts of the year, how does one begin to judge? True, some of these acts have done EPs and singles and splits and things like that before, and that’s at least something to go on, but can one really be expected to measure an act’s potential based on a single collection of songs? Is that fair to anyone involved? Or on the other side, is it even possible to take a debut entirely on its own merits, without any consideration for where it might lead the band in question going forward? I know that’s not something I’ve ever been able to do, certainly. Or particularly interested in doing. I like context.

Still, one presses on. I guess the point is that, like picking any kind of prospects, some will pan out and some won’t. I’ve done this for enough years now that I’ve seen groups flame or fade out while others have risen to new heights with each subsequent release. It’s always a mix. But at the same time, it’s important to step back and say that, as of today, this is where it’s at.

And so it is:

KING BUFFALO ORION

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016

1. King Buffalo, Orion
2. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree
3. Heavy Temple, Chassit
4. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
5. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
6. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
7. Wretch, Wretch
8. Year of the Cobra, In the Shadows Below
9. BigPig, Grande Puerco
10. Fuzz Evil, Fuzz Evil
11. Bright Curse, Before the Shore
12. Conclave, Sins of the Elders
13. Pale Grey Lore, Pale Grey Lore
14. High Fighter, Scars and Crosses
15. Spirit Adrift, Chained to Oblivion
16. Bellringer, Jettison
17. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Is Satan Real?
18. Merchant, Suzerain
19. Beastmaker, Lusus Naturae
20. King Dead, Woe and Judgment

Honorable Mention

There are many. First, the self-titled from Pooty Owldom, which had so much weirdo charm it made my head want to explode. And Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun‘s acoustic solo record was technically a debut. And Atala‘s record. And Horehound. And Mother Mooch. And Domkraft. And Spaceslug. And Graves at Sea? Shit. More than a decade after their demo, they finally put out a debut album. And Second Grave‘s full-length would turn out to be their swansong, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the thing. There were a lot of records to consider in putting this list together. As always, it could’ve been a much longer list.

For example, here are 20 more: Swan Valley Heights, Arctic, Blues Funeral, Teacher, Psychedelic Witchcraft, Nonsun, Duel, Banquet, Floodlore, Mindkult‘s EP, Mountain Dust, Red LamaRed Wizard, Limestone Whale, Dunbarrow, Comacozer, Sinister Haze, Pants Exploder, Akasava, Katla and No Man’s Valley. That’s not even the end of it. I could go on.

Notes

It was a fight to the finish. There’s always one, and as late as yesterday I could be found kicking back and forth between King Buffalo and Elephant Tree in the top spot. What was it that finally put King Buffalo‘s Orion over Elephant Tree‘s self-titled? I don’t know. Ask me tomorrow and the answer might be completely different.

They had a lot in common. Not necessarily in terms of style — King Buffalo basked in spacious Americana-infused heavy psych jams while Elephant Tree proffered more earthbound riffing and melodies — but each executed memorable songs across its span in a way that would be unfair to ask of a debut. The potential for what both bands can turn into down the line played a part in the picks, but something else they share between them is that the quality of the work they’re doing now warrants the top spots. Orion and Elephant Tree were great albums, not just great first albums.

From there, we see a wide swath of next-generation encouragement for the future of heavy rock, whether it’s coming from Sweden’s Vokonis or Philadelphia’s Heavy Temple, or London’s Bright Curse, or Los Angeles duo BigPig. The latter act’s punkish fuzz definitely benefited from guitarist/vocalist Dino von Lalli‘s experience playing in Fatso Jetson, but one hopes that as the years go on his own multifaceted songwriting style will continue to grow as well.

A few offerings weren’t necessarily unexpected but still lived up to the anticipation. High Fighter‘s EP prefaced their aggro sludgecore well. Ditto that for the grueling death-sludge of Massachusetts natives Conclave. The aforementioned Bright Curse, Merchant, Fuzz Evil, Atala, Bellringer, Holy Grove, Wretch and Worshipper all had offerings of one sort or another prior to their full-length debuts — in the case of Bellringer, it was just a series of videos, while Wretch had the entire The Gates of Slumber catalog to fall back on — but each of those albums offered surprises nonetheless.

It would’ve been hard not to be taken by the songwriting on display from the likes of Holy Grove, Year of the Cobra, Pale Grey Lore and Beastmaker, who between them covered a pretty broad variety of atmosphere but found ways to deliver high-quality crafted material in that. Those albums were a pleasure to hear. Put Boston’s Worshipper in that category as well, though they were just as much a standout from the pack in terms of their performance as what they were performing. Speaking of performance, the lush melodies from Church of the Cosmic Skull and classic progressive flourish were enough to make me a believer. Simply gorgeous. And one-man outfit Spirit Adrift shined, if in that matte-black doom kind of way, on an encouraging collection of modern melancholic heavy that seemed to hint at sprawl to come.

As we get down to the bottom of the list we find Pennsylvania ambient heavy post-rockers King Dead. Their Woe and Judgment was released digitally last year (2015) but the LP came out earlier this year, so I wasn’t quite sure where to place them ultimately. I know they got some mention on the 2015 lists somewhere, but while they’re an act who’ve flown under a lot of people’s radar as yet, I have good feelings about how they might continue to dig into their sound and the balance of bleakness and psychedelic color they bring to their material. They’re slated for a follow-up in 2017, so this won’t be the last list on which they appear in the next few weeks.

Like I said at the outset, putting out a debut album is a special moment for any band. Not everyone gets to that point and not everyone gets beyond it, so while a list like this is inherently bound to have some element of speculation, it’s still a worthy endeavor to celebrate the accomplishments of those who hit that crucial moment in their creative development. Hopefully these acts continue to grow, flourish, and build on what they’ve thus far been able to realize sonically. That’s the ideal.

And before I go, once again, let me reinforce the notion that I recognize this is just a fraction of the whole. I’d like it to be the start of a conversation. If there was a debut album that kicked your ass this year and you don’t see it here, please drop a note in the comments below. I’m sure I’ll be adding more honorable mentions and whatnot over the next couple days, so if you see glaring omissions, let’s have ’em.

Thanks for reading.

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The Obelisk Presents: 12 of 2016’s Best Album Covers

Posted in Features, Visual Evidence on December 12th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

This list could easily go to 20. Or 30. Or 50. The democratization of media and the flourishing of aesthetic thanks to wide-open digital interaction across national and cultural borders has meant that bands in Texas can get artwork from Spain easily — something we’ve come to take for granted in this age of messages flying through space in indeterminate instants. There’s a lot of art out there. A lot of it is very, very good. Not all, but a lot.

In the particular realm of heavy rock and doom, I’ve spent a lot of time this year being discouraged at the continued and apparently flourishing objectification of women. Cartoon tits. Get out of here with that shit. You’ll notice none of the covers on this list go that route. It’s boring, it’s easy and it’s sexist. If you want to establish your masculine dominance, go pull your dick out at the mall and see how that does for you. Putting other people down to make yourself feel bigger is for kindergarten. As human beings, we should be past it.

Nonetheless — and I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t also note the lack of women on this list — there is a ton of interesting and forward-moving work being done around the world and I think that’s worth taking a couple minutes to celebrate even just a fraction of it. Hopefully you agree, and if you have some favorite art you’d like to add to the list, please hit up the comments.

Ordered alphabetically by artist

Sourvein, Aquatic Occult

sourvein aquatic occult

Cover by Jordan Barlow. Artist website.

Sourvein‘s Aquatic Occult (review here) was a dense, multi-faceted work, and one imagines that for Jordan Barlow of New Orleans’ Abracadabra Tattoo, part of the challenge was in either finding or creating a design that coincided with that without coming across as confused or off-theme. This bevvy of undersea elements gives us a central figure in a frustrated Neptune with a shark-teeth crown, a human presence in the two diver helmets (is anyone in there?) and highlights the dangers of the ocean with its hammerheads and threatening-looking seahorse, as well as what seems to be a whirlpool and another swirl in opposite top corners. All told, the deep blue and green tones complement the morass of Sourvein‘s sound, raw and natural as it is, and provide moody intrigue to coincide with the wide variety of songwriting on display. Like the album, it is defined in no small part by its haze.

Holy Grove, Holy Grove

holy grove holy grove

Cover by Adam Burke. Artist website.

Portland-based Adam Burke is something of a repeat offender when it comes to badass artwork. He regularly posts works in progress on social media and the lushness of his technique astounds me nearly every time out. Holy Grove‘s self-titled debut (review here) was far from the only piece of his a band used this year, but what stood it out most was the balance between nighttime — as seen in the stars and the darkness of the sky and trees — and the aurora borealis that offered such a rich, otherworldly feel. Beautiful, immediately recognizable as Burke‘s, and it pays subtle homage to his and the band’s Cascadian home region with the shapes of the tall evergreens in the foreground, speaking all the more to the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and the classic soul fused into the record itself.

Duel, Fears of the Dead

duel fears of the dead

Cover by Pol Abran Cantador. Artist website.

How could one not look at the cover of Duel‘s debut album, Fears of the Dead (review here), and not immediately think of the Misfits? And yet, Barcelona-based Pol Abran Cantador, operating under the banner of Branca Studio, brings a freshness to the striking, landmark skull design. The face is off-center, the eyes looking outward. While there’s little doubt as to the visual reference being made, it’s just that — a reference, not an emulation. Treading that balance would be admirable enough for inclusion here, but impact of the piece becomes greater with the distressed look and the deep blood red surrounding, giving dimension as a backdrop, reinforcing the perspective of the figure, and providing Duel with a horror-cinema vibe that begs the question of just what those eyes are staring at.

Brutus, Wandering Blind

brutus wandering blind

Cover by Maarten Donders. Artist website.

Sometimes something just stays with you. On the surface, Dutch artist Maarten Donders brings forward a pretty simple idea for Norwegian boogie rockers Brutus‘ third album, Wandering Blind (review here). Images from ’60s-style psychedelic pulp horror come to mind — the bat, the spiderwebs, the blank stare on the face, the flowing hair through the open mouth of the skull, the monster eyeballs, the purposefully hand-drawn logo — but at the same time, the execution of these things is so intricate. Look at the bags under those eyes, the black holes where the teeth of that skull should be, the weird bubbles by the eyeballs, and the comic-style lettering of the album title itself, which switches back and forth between capitalized and lowercase letters. Look at the shadowed impression of a vinyl record that encircles the design but lets the chin of the skull and the band’s logo protrude. It’s so immediate but so deceptive, hiding its devils in its details.

Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts

tranquonauts seedy jeezus isaiah mitchell
Cover by Mr. Frumpy. Artist website.

While it’s true that for this collaboration between Earthless guitarist Isaiah Mitchell and Melbourne heavy psych rockers Seedy Jeezus, the front cover only tells half the story of the full Tranquonauts (review here) gatefold, even 50 percent is enough to justify inclusion here. Put together by Mr. Frumpy Frumpedia, aka Seedy Jeezus guitarist Lex Waterreus, it was one of several artworks this year to feature smaller figures against a grand backdrop — Geezer‘s self-titled and Sunnata‘s Zorya, featured below, come to mind immediately, as well as the last Fu Manchu — but it was the openness of the space itself that Waterreus captured, both on the ground and in the sky, and the atmosphere that brought to the instrumental, jammed-put proceedings on the LP’s two sides, that made it work so well. The humanoid figures — maybe the total four-piece of the lineup? — are so utterly overwhelmed by their surroundings, and yet they seem more than ready to make their journey through them, finding life along what seems to be a barren path.

Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Cover by Sebastian Jerke. Artist website.

Sebastian Jerke has kind of become Napalm Records‘ go-to artist over the last couple years, as his past and upcoming work for the likes of My Sleeping Karma, monkey3, Ahab, The Answer and others can attest, but the strangeness of the natural world, the three-dimensional protrusion of the trees, the layered depths, and the commanding presence of the bear, owl, snake and winged insects standing above it all made his work for Greenleaf‘s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) my favorite album cover of the year. It’s very much in his painterly, somewhat classical style, but the way the light seems to come from the band’s logo and behind the planet, the use of shadow and shading on the trees, and the monstrously blank eyes of the bear and owl give it a depth and narrative that remains nothing short of breathtaking. Clearly a labor of love.

Beastwars, The Death of all Things

beastwars the death of all things

Cover by Nick Keller. Artist website.

My only question was whether it was the cover for The Death of all Things (review here) I’d include or Keller‘s piece that was used for Child‘s new album, Blueside (review here), but with the context of this very likely being the final offering from New Zealand sludgecrushers Beastwars, the answer was plain. Either way, Keller‘s sense of scale and scope remains immense and he continues to bring a feel of the epic to his work here as he did to his two prior covers for Beastwars, on 2013’s Blood Becomes Fire (review here) and the band’s 2011 self-titled debut (review here), resulting in a more than suitable pairing of visual representation and impact of sound. Rarely does one find an artist and a band so much on the same page.

Goatess, II: Purgatory Under New Management

goatess ii purgatory under new management

Cover by Göran Nilsson. Artist website.

Charm goes a long way in my book, always, and Göran Nilsson‘s cover for the second outing by Swedish doomers GoatessII: Purgatory Under New Management (review here), has it in bulk supply. The underlying mischief of depicting the four-piece as medieval-esque saints painted on wood like something out of the Middle Ages — their faces grim with a seriousness of purpose not at all letting on to the tongue-in-cheek nature of the record’s title — with halos behind their heads and scripture in tow, well, it’s got a humor that most doom wouldn’t dare go near for fear of losing the edge of its miseries. For Goatess, however, it works perfectly in conveying an essential piece of where the band is coming from, in that their output in the first place seems to be as much about getting together and celebrating the act of writing songs as a unit as it is worshiping the traditions of the style.

Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids

Cover by Eli Quinn. Artist website.

While a jpeg of the cover alone doesn’t quite do justice to the full presentation of Eli Quinn‘s artwork for Droids Attacks‘ Sci-Fi or Die (review here), which went so far as to print the title of the record in gold ink on the CD case, feature even more detailed work inside and even go so far as to create an entirely separate artwork scheme for a bonus track hidden on a mini-CD under the back tray under the disc for the album (detailed here), I still find the image of the launching South American-style pyramid as a full diamond taking off — especially with the lights beaming out the bottom — among the most striking of 2016. Reminiscent of Arik Roper‘s detailed style, Quinn‘s cover added depth and purpose to the band’s never-tighter songcraft while also speaking to the love of science-fiction storytelling that drove them to use the title in the first place. Hard not to win with ancient aliens.

Sunnata, Zorya

sunnata zorya

Cover by Jeffrey Smith. Artist website.

Derived it would seem at least in part from a piece called “Erosion of Self,” or at very least of a kin to it, like a lot of Smith‘s work, his art for Zorya (review here) by Polish heavy rockers Sunnata treats light with a religious reverence. Like a Kubrick shot, the sun is dead-center of the painting itself, framed and encircled by gaseous-looking clouds, and as the dawn seems to break over this landscape (or is it sunset?), it becomes difficult to tell where the robed monks end and the rocky protrusions begin. Our eyes are drawn immediately toward the light, and it’s the light that ultimately defines the story here, the way the beams of light shoot outward and turn the desert floor white so that it almost reminds of a body of water as much as a place where nothing seems to grow. Stark but consuming.

High Fighter, Scars and Crosses

high fighter scars and crosses

Cover by Dominic Sohor. Artist website.

This one was so dark, so malevolent, with such a violent bend in its prominent central figure, that it seemed to encapsulate the underlying threat that always seemed to loom over High Fighter‘s Svart Records debut album, Scars and Crosses (review here). Because the faceless blue skin and hanging, stringy hair are so reminiscent of Japanese horror films, and because the heart  in the right hand stands out so much in its silvery tone and because the pattern on the dress/cowl is so intricate, you almost don’t notice at first that it’s blood shooting out of that figure’s left wrist filled with upside-down and rightside-up crosses or that it seems to be veins in the top left corner acting as puppet strings, propping up the entire play. But it definitely is, and that only furthers the horrific, nightmarish imagery surrounding, where even the shaded background seems to want to lure you in with no hope of escape.

Bridesmaid, International House of Mancakes

bridesmaid international house of mancakes

Cover by W. Ralph Walters. Artist website.

Come on. So you mean to tell me you went ahead an reinvented KISS‘ cover for Destroyer with Ohio heavy rockers Bridesmaid dressed as the Village People? Be still my beating heart. The art for International House of Mancakes (review here) offers subversive humor without judgment, winking at the homoeroticism that has always been and likely will always be a part of rock and roll, and ultimately mocks the ridiculousness of the denial of that same homoeroticism. From the hands raised in triumph on either side (an element pulled right from the original KISS cover) to the stacks of pancakes the instrumental outfit is standing on, it functioned as artwork to say so much about the band and was perhaps all the more effective in conveying its message and their message since there were no lyrics to pull in other directions. It’s all right there in your face; bright and brilliant.

Because I can’t seem to get out of one of these lists without a series of honorable mentions, I’ll say too that 2016 offerings from Borracho, SubRosa, Inter Arma, Mars Red Sky, Vokonis, Elephant Tree, EYE, Slomatics, Gozu and Black Moon Circle managed to strike on one level or another.

Thanks for reading. Like I said at the outset, this is barely a fraction of the amazing art that came down the line this year. If you’ve got something to add, please hit up the comments.

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Conan Announce March 2017 European Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 28th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Conan‘s third album has taken them around the world. They’ve done Europe, North America, Australia. Have they been to Japan yet? If not, they’re sure to go at some point, and early 2016’s Revengeance (review here) is a powerful vehicle to propel them, showcasing the raw assault that’s always been and one suspects will always be at the core of their sound while also emphasizing growth within their aesthetic that’s an underrated but ever-present facet of what they do. They’ve got a good track record by now of releases in even years, so I wouldn’t necessarily expect to hear something new from them in 2017 at least in terms of a complete LP — though one never knows — but when they get around to their fourth outing, look out.

They’ll continue to support Revengeance into the New Year, as the PR wire brings word of another European run, this one headlining alongside Downfall of GaiaHark and High Fighter. Dig it:

conan-tour-poster-700

CONAN – To Tour Europe In March 2017!

England’s heaviest and finest doom export CONAN never stands still. After their 3rd successful studio release ‘Revengeance’ (2016, Napalm Records), it seems the 3-piece band is constantly touring the world, and for a good reason, already left their stamp in nowadays doom and metal scene. Now CONAN have announced an extensive European headlining tour for March 2017! They will be joined by special guests DOWNFALL OF GAIA, Welsh progressive-power-sludge band HARK as well as Hamburg’s finest sludge, heavy stoner and doom outfit HIGH FIGHTER!

“We are looking forward to getting on the road again to cast forth a swarm of riffs at mainland Europe! Allied with our friends in Hark, Downfall of Gaia and High Fighter we will defeat all of your end of level bosses.“ CONAN comments about the upcoming tour.

A tour steamroller which will indeed make every doom heart and beyond its genre beat faster. Make sure to catch this exciting and heavy band package live and on the following dates!

CONAN, DOWNFALL OF GAIA, HARK & HIGH FIGHTER LIVE:
08.03.2017 DE, Wiesbaden – Schlachthof
09.03.2017 DE, Weinheim – Café Central
10.03.2017 CZ, Prague – 007
11.03.2017 PL, Warsaw – Poglos
12.03.2017 DE, Dresden – Puschkin
13.03.2017 DE, München – Feierwerk
14.03.2017 HU, Budapest – Durer Kert
15.03.2017 AT, Vienna – Arena
16.03.2017 CH, Olten – Coq D’Or
17.03.2017 FR, Lyon – TBA
18.03.2017 ESP, Barcelona – TBA
19.03.2017 ESP, Madrid – Caracol
20.03.2017 FR, Toulouse – Rex
21.03.2017 FR, Nantes – Le Ferrailleur
22.03.2017 FR, Paris – Boule Noire
23.03.2017 NL, Rotterdam – Baroeg
24.03.2017 DE, Köln – MTC
25.03.2017 BE, Brussel – Magasin 4
26.03.2017 NL, Arnhem – Willemeen

www.hailconan.com/
www.facebook.com/conandoom
http://conanusamerch.bigcartel.com/
napalmrecords.com

Conan, “Throne of Fire” official video

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