The Top 20 of 2018 Year-End Poll — RESULTS!

Posted in Features on January 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

derp

If you’re reading this, congratulations on making it all the way through the existential rollercoaster that was 2018.

I hope you celebrated that year’s end and this year’s beginning in riotous fashion if that’s your thing, and if you’re more the stay-at-home-and-don’t-break-stuff type, I hope that was fun too.

Over the last month, best-of lists have been collected from all around the world and as we move into 2019, it’s time to do the results of the Year-End Poll for 2018.

What a year. As I look back on the lists submitted, of course I can’t help but think how absolutely incredible 2018 was for music. With the world crumbling around, creativity surged, and the quality of output was off the charts. I published my own list last week and was quickly inundated with stuff I forgot or that I missed owing to being robbed earlier this year — I guess I didn’t even realize until the post went up just how much that screwed me — and I’m sure there’s more still out there from what everyone turned in. It’s infinite. It keeps going. Trends change. Sounds change. People change. Creativity flourishes.

But I think if you’re reading this, you know why we’re here. We wound up with somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 discrete releases submitted. That’s more than five for every day of the year. And they came from 547 people, which is amazing. Accordingly, there should be plenty here to keep you busy for a while.

Not exactly suspenseful as to which was the album of the year, but it’s still interesting to see where stuff landed. Just to remind, there are two lists, one of the raw votes, and one in which a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. Thanks as always to Slevin for the help in setting up the back end functionality and compilation scripts.

Let’s go:

Top 20 of 2018 — Weighted Results

sleep the sciences

1. Sleep, The Sciences (1,087 points)
2. YOB, Our Raw Heart (721)
3. High on Fire, Electric Messiah (478)
4. Earthless, Black Heaven (413)
5. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain (408)
6. Windhand, Eternal Return (387)
7. All Them Witches, ATW (373)
8. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland (354)
9. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions (323)
10. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe (315)
11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers (285)
12. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II (274)
13. Graveyard, Peace (225)
14. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman (222)
15. Weedpecker, III (212)
16. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown (197)
17. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker (189)
18. Conan, Existential Void Guardian (188)
19. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark (167)
20. ASG, Survive Sunrise (164)

Honorable Mention:
Messa, Feast for Water (150)
Gozu, Equilibrium (148)
Judas Priest, Firepower (148)
Naxatras, III (148)
Forming the Void, Rift (146)

I’m not saying everyone had to love the Sleep record, but there’s no way it wasn’t the biggest underground heavy release of the year. That top spot was established the first day the poll went up and while YOB caught up as both neared 100 votes, there was no doubt how it would ultimately shake out. It was pretty clear early on what people were passionate about, but there are some interesting differences between the raw vote and the weighted results even high on the list, as you’ll see below.

Top 20 of 2018 — Raw Votes

sleep the sciences

1. Sleep, The Sciences (263 votes)
2. YOB, Our Raw Heart (185)
3. High on Fire, Electric Messiah (141)
4. Windhand, Eternal Return (115)
5. Earthless, Black Heaven (109)
6. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain (102)
7. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland (101)
8. All Them Witches, ATW (95)
8. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions (95)
9. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe (93)
10. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers (77)
10. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II (77)
11. Graveyard, Peace (69)
12. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman (67)
13. Weedpecker, III (63)
14. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker (57)
14. Conan, Existential Void Guardian (57)
15. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown (54)
16. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark (50)
17. ASG, Survive Sunrise (48)
18. Gozu, Equilibrium (46)
19. Forming the Void, Rift (45)
20. Judas Priest, Firepower (43)
20. Khemmis, Bloodletting (43)
20. Mos Generator, Shadowlands (43)
20. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back (43)

Honorable Mention:
Messa, Feast for Water (41)
Domkraft, Flood (40)
Naxatras, III (40)
Thou, Magus (40)

Everything else got fewer than 40 raw votes. Why cap it at 40? I don’t know. Good a place as any. And when a top 20 has 26 releases on it, I don’t imagine there will be too many complaints about not enough stuff being included. One can hope, anyhow. You can see the difference between Sleep and everyone else here as well, a pretty precipitous drop after both them and YOB, and YOB and High on Fire — the top three being well ahead of everyone else in terms of general agreement.

The ‘Respect the Hustle’ Award

Somewhere around the middle of the month, I noticed a massive surge of votes for a band called Entropía and their debut album, Invisible. A bunch of people with lists of 20 just including Entropía. I’ve included them below, you can see them. I didn’t know what was up, whether it was the band spamming the vote or what, so I sent them a message. Turns out they had sent the link to their email list and asked for votes, and that’s how they all got in. Well, okay.

They wound up with well over 750 raw votes (to remind, Sleep got 263), and it didn’t feel representative to have them be album of the year, but hey, I respect the hustle, so they get the award accordingly. Nicely done, folks. I’ve been doing Year-End Polls since like 2010 and that’s never happened before. Their totals were 2,367 points and 777 votes.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading. Whether this is the only post you’ve seen this year or you click ‘Like’ on everything that comes across your Facebook feed, your support is tremendously appreciated. This is the only post that will go up today, but we’ll be back to business as usual tomorrow, and in the meantime, you’ll find everybody’s list included after the jump.

All the best for 2019.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the-top-30-of-2018

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 2018 to that, please do.

It just wouldn’t be a year if it wasn’t completely overwhelming, right?

2018 has certainly met that standard and then some. The swath of output, whether it’s a new generation adopting and adapting established methods or out and out reinventing the stylistic wheel and then pushing it uphill on a seemingly endless barrage of tours, has been staggering, and it’s still happening. There’s a little more than a week to go in the year. You think a band isn’t putting something out today? Of course they are. It’s every day. It’s all the time.

But this year wasn’t just about quantity either. I think one of my biggest struggles in writing about albums in 2018 — and with the last Quarterly Review and various premieres and video posts that were basically album reviews in disguise, let’s estimate we’re somewhere past 300 records reviewed one way or another — was in conveying just how killer so much of the stuff coming through was. How many times can you say the word “awesome?” Well, I’m sure we’ll see it a few more times before this list is over, so there you go.

I say something like this every time I do a list, but please keep in mind these are my picks and I’m one person. But I am a person. I know there’s the whole internet-anonymity thing, but I assure you, I’m a human being (more of a cave troll, really) typing these words. I’m all for everyone sharing their own picks in the comments, and all for passionate advocating, but please, let’s keep it civil and respectful. These things can spiral out of control quickly, but let’s remember that we’re all human beings and worth of basic courtesy, even if some of us are dead wrong about a good many things. You should definitely punch nazis, though.

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

[UPDATE: You’ll notice the inclusion of an ’18a.’ I had Stoned Jesus in my notes as number 18 initially and they got dropped as I was adjusting things along the way. I’ve added them back in, but it didn’t seem fair to bump everyone else down after the post had already been published. That was the best I could come up with for a solution. If you’re pissed about one more killer record being added, please feel free to email me and tell me all about it.]

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Chicago’s The Skull had no small task before them in following up their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) — let alone living up to their pedigree — but their second album demonstrated a creative growth that sacrificed nothing of memorability when it came to songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “All that Remains (Is True).” They got down to work and got the job done, which is what a working band does. 2018 was by any measure a fantastic year for doom, and The Skull were a big part of why.

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

The Dec. 2017 murder of Rev. Jim Forrester was tragic. No other way to say it. Foghound, who were in the midst of making Awaken to Destroy at the time, put together an album that not only features Forrester‘s last recorded performance, but pays respect to his memory while the wound is still raw and manages to kick ass all the while. It’s a record that can’t ever be divorced from its circumstances — just can’t — and so it can be a heavy listen in more than just its tones, but it’s basically Foghound proving they’re unstoppable. And so they are.

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

Who among us here today is not a sucker for Orange Goblin? Come forward an be judged. I mean, really. Nine records deep, the London sceneforgers are nothing less than an institution, beloved by boozehounds, riffhounds, doomhounds, and really, a wide variety of hounds the world over. Also dudes. With its essential title-track hook and highlight cuts in “Ghosts of the Primitives” and “Burn the Ships” — or, you know, any of them — they added to one of heavy’s most unshakable legacies with an album as furious as it is welcoming to its generations-spanning fanbase.

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

fu manchu clone of the universe
Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed Feb. 15.

There are two kinds of people in this world, and they’re both Fu Manchu fans. Clone of the Universe turned heads with a guest appearance from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson on the 18-minute side-B-consuming “Il Mostro Atomico,” but really to focus on that instead of “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” etc., is only seeing half the point of the album in the first place. The long-running lords of fuzz hit a new stride with 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), and Clone of the Universe was in every way a worthy successor.

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain
Released by Svart Records. Reviewed May 16.

It was an unenviable task before Witch Mountain in replacing vocalist Uta Plotkin, but founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson found the right voice in Kayla Dixon and solidified the lineup with her and bassist Justin Brown enough to make a declarative statement in Witch Mountain‘s self-titled LP. That’s the story of it. They pulled it off. Met with what was unquestionably a bummer circumstance, they pushed through and moved their sound forward through a new beginning — and not their first one. Watch out when their next record hits.

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Richmond, Virginia, doomers Windhand‘s second collaboration with producer Jack Endino produced a marked and purposeful expansion of their sound, encompassing classic grunge influences and a heavy psychedelic swirl that added color their previously-greyscale sonic haze. Resonant in tone and emotionalism, Eternal Return readjusted Windhand‘s trajectory in such a manner that, where one might’ve thought they knew where the band were headed in terms of their progression, they’ve made themselves a less predictable outfit on the whole. For that alone, it’s a triumph. Then you have the songs.

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

I don’t even want to admit how long I was waiting for Sun Voyager‘s first long-player to show up, but when it finally did, the New York trio did not disappoint. Catchy, energetic, fuzzed-out tunes with driving rhythms and a heavy psych flourish, they tapped into shoegaze and desert vibes without losing any sense of themselves in the process, and if the extra wait was so they could be so remarkably coherent in their expression on their full-length, then I wouldn’t want it to have shown up any sooner. An easy pick to stand among 2018’s best debut albums. Now to wait for the next one.

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

It should tell you something that after working quickly to produce three albums, Louisiana’s Forming the Void are still defined by their potential. If I had my druthers, I’d put the recent Ripple signees on tour for the bulk of 2019, across the US and in Europe for festivals and support-slot club shows, really give them an opportunity to hammer out who they are as a band and then hit the studio for LP four. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but they’d only be doing the universe a favor by kicking into that gear. As it stands, their progression is palpable in their material and they stand absolutely ready for whatever the next level might be for them.

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

Released by BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed June 29.

Aside from the speed at which Spaceslug have turned around offerings — with Eye the Tide following 2017’s Mountains and Reminiscence EP (review here) and Time Travel Dilemma (review here) full-length and their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here) — the Polish outfit have undertaken significant progression in their sound, moving from pure heavy psychedelic warmth to incorporating elements out of extreme metal as they did on Eye the Tide. Adding to the latest record’s accomplishment is the smoothness with which they brought seemingly opposing sides together, only adding depth to an approach already worthy of oceanic comparison.

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

Conan Existential Void Guardian
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Conan‘s reign of terror has been unfolding for more than a decade now, and each of their albums has become a kind of step along a path of incremental growth. Consider the melody creeping into the shouts of founding guitarist Jon Davis, or the emergence of bassist Chris Fielding as a vocal presence alongside, the two sharing a frontman role more than ever before while welcoming drummer Johnny King to the fold of destructive tonality and doomly extremism. Existential Void Guardian may end up just being another stomp-print on their way to the next thing, but it affirmed the fact that as much as Conan grow each time out, their central violence continues to hold sway.

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

PALE DIVINE S/T
Released by Shadow Kingdom Records. Reviewed Nov. 21.

Look. A new Pale Divine record doesn’t come along every day, so yeah, their self-titled was probably going to be on my list one way or the other, but it definitely helps that not only was it their first outing in six years since 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here), but it had the songs to live up to a half-decade-plus of anticipation. It marked the first studio appearance from bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis alongside guitarist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey — now both of Beelzefuzz as well — and made a strong argument for how much Pale Divine deserve more than 20 years on from their initial demo to be considered classic American doom.

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands
Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed May 11.

The return and rise to prominence of Washington pure heavy rockers Mos Generator might be the underground’s feelgood story of the decade, but it hasn’t by any means been easily won. In addition to rebuilding the band however many albums ago, guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed has put in innumerable hours on tour and worked to actually develop the group creatively in addition to in terms of stage presence. This is shown throughout some of the classic prog elements making their way onto Shadowlands, and perhaps some of the collection’s moodier aspects are born of the aforementioned road time as well. Hard for that kind of thing not to be a slog after a while, but at least they have killer tunes to play.

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

The only safe bet about Stoned Jesus‘ fourth long-player, Pilgrims, was that it was going to sound different than the third. That 2015 outing, The Harvest (review here), preceded the band touring to celebrate the fifth anniversary and after-the-fact success of 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but Pilgrims defied narrative in that instead of incorporating elements from the second record in more of a heavy psych or jam sound, Stoned Jesus instead showcased a tighter, more sureheaded sense of craft than they’ve ever displayed before, and arrived on Napalm Records with a collection of songs that demonstrated the growth and sense of creative will that drives them. While one can take a look at their moniker and think immediately they know what’s coming, Stoned Jesus have made themselves one of the least predictable bands in heavy rock.

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

“Pirate Smile.” “Lines.” “Whatever.” “It Ain’t Right.” “Threes.” “Cinderella.” “Generals.” “Big Enough.” “Alone.” “Lucky. Mike Cummings, Jessica Baker, Erik Larson. Every player, every song, every minute. If you want to know what heart-on-sleeve sounds like, it fucking sounds like Backwoods Payback. In their line from hardcore punk to grunge to heavy rock, they encompass experiences and emotionalism that are both shown in raw form throughout Future Slum, and build all the while on the chemistry they set out in developing with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), when they welcomed Larson to the lineup on drums and revitalized their mission. Also worth noting, they were the best live band I saw this year. Anywhere.

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

No question the excitement of C.O.C. putting out their first record with frontman Pepper Keenan involved since 2005’s In the Arms of God was one of this year’s top stories in heavy. And No Cross No Crown tapped directly into the spirit of 1994’s Deliverance (discussed here) and 1996’s Wiseblood (discussed here) in terms of direction, while updating the band’s style with a four-part 2LP in mind. In some ways, it’ll be their next album that really gives listeners a sense of where they’re at and where they might be headed, but as welcome returns go, having Keenan alongside Mike DeanWoody Weatherman and Reed Mullin is in no way to be understated, and neither is the quality of their output together, then and now.

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It is no simple feat to hypnotize an audience and convey serenity while at the same time holding attention with songcraft, so that the listener isn’t actually so much unconscious as malleable of mood and spirit in such a direction as the band suggests. Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to become experts at this, and their third full-length fosters tonal warmth and jammy progressions with an overarching naturalism that finds them so committed to analog recording that one can buy direct transfers of the tape master of III. Some acts take classic-style practices as an aesthetic choice. With Naxatras, it seems to be the stuff of life, yet their sound is only vibrant and human in a way that, at least one hopes, is even more representative of the future than the past.

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

It was time for Clutch to make a change in producers, and the Maryland overlords of groove seemed to know it. Known as a live band, they went with Vance Powell, who’s known a live band producer. The results on Book of Bad Decisions might not have been so earth-shatteringly different from 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here), which was the too-soon follow-up to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — both helmed by Machine — but the inimitable four-piece indeed succeeded in capturing the electricity of their stage performance and, as ever, treated fans to a collection of songs bearing Clutch‘s unmistakable hallmarks of quirky lyrics, funky rhythms and heavy roll. They may always be a live band, but Clutch‘s studio work is in no way to be discounted, ever, as this record reaffirmed. Plus, crab cakes.

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

After 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), I wasn’t sure Ancestors were going to put out another record. They kicked around word of one for a while, but it wasn’t until the end of last year that it really seemed to congeal into a possibility. And by then, who the hell knew what they might get up to on a full-length? With Suspended in Reflections, in some says, they picked up where they left off in terms of finding a niche for themselves in progressive and melodic heavy, but I think the time showed in the poise of their execution and the control of the material. Suspended in Reflections can’t help but be six years more mature than its predecessor, and that suits its contemplative feel. In tracks like “Gone,” and “The Warm Glow,” they tempered their expansive sound with an efficiency that can only be had with time.

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

The narrative here was hard to beat. Matt Pike spending an album cycle talking about Lemmy Kilmister and paying homage to his dirt-rock forebear and the gods of old? It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Electric Messiah was the third collaboration between High on Fire and producer Kurt Ballou behind 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), and while it seemed after the last record that the formula might be getting stale, the band only sounded more and more lethal throughout the latest offering. Even putting aside their contributions to underground heavy, they’ve become one of the most essential metal bands of their generation. Metal, period. Doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re talking about it. If you’re listening to High on Fire, you know it. Usually because you’ve just been decapitated.

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

You know, if you take the time to separate Yawning Man from their 30-plus-year history and their legacy as one of the foundational acts of what later became desert rock, and you listen to The Revolt Against Tired Noises, you’re still left with basically a dream of an album. Mostly instrumental, as is their wont, they nonetheless had bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) sing this time around on a version of the previously-unreleased “Catamaran,” which Kyuss covered once upon a whenever although Yawning Man had never officially put it to tape. But really, that and all other novelty aside, guitarist Gary Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are a chemistry unto themselves. I don’t know if they’ll ever be as huge as they should be, but every bit of acclaim they get, they’ve earned, and if The Revolt Against Tired Noises helps them get it, all the more so.

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

Swedish heavy rock mavens Greenleaf have become an entirely different band than they once were. No longer a Dozer side-project from guitarist Tommi Holappa with a rotating cast of players, they’re a solidified, road-tested, powerhouse unit, and Hear the Rivers bleeds soul as a result. Holappa, frontman Arvid Hällagård, bassist Hans Fröhlich and drummer Sebastian Olsson sound like they’re absolutely on fire in the album’s tracks, and far from being staid or formulaic as one might expect a sixth long-player to be, Hear the Rivers built on what the band accomplished with 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) and came across as all the more vital and nearly frenetic in their energy. I won’t say Greenleaf has seen their last lineup change, because one never knows, but the band as they are today is the realization of potential I don’t think even Greenleaf knew was there.

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 4.

Five records deep into a career into its second decade, Gozu haven’t had a miss yet. Admittedly, some of their early work can seem formative considering where they are now, but still. And after the 2016 rager, Revival (review here), to have the band return to the same studio — Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where strides producer Dean Baltulonis — for the follow-up allows for the four-piece to directly show how their sound has grown more encompassing in the last couple years. And it has. Equilibrium is a rich and varied listen that holds true to Gozu‘s well-established penchant for soulful vibes and crunching, hard-hitting riffs and groove, but while it shares the directness of approach with Revival, it makes moves that a band could only make moving from one record to the next. I expect nothing less their next time out as well, because a decade later, that’s Gozu‘s proven track record.

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

monster magnet mindfucker
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 23.

The battle for the best album title of 2018 ended early when New Jersey everything-rockers Monster Magnet announced the release of Mindfucker. And what else to call a Monster Magnet LP at this point? They’ve stopped writing to genre. They’re driven by the creative mania of frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf, and they’ve seen psychedelic expanses and commercial success the likes of which would serve the tenure of four lesser bands. What’s left to do but whatever the hell you want? So that’s what Monster Magnet are doing. It just so happens that while they’re doing it, they’re still basically outclassing the entirety of the former planet earth as songwriters. As Monster Magnet fan in 2018, there was nothing more I could’ve asked than what Mindfucker delivered. And if you’re still trying to get your brain around it however many months later, you’re not alone. I think that’s the idea.

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Best doom album of 2018. The combination of craft and passion behind the delivery. The way the dark tones fed into the emotions so clearly on display and sheer presence of it in listening to songs like “Keeping the Lighthouse,” “Ruination by Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here.” Apostle of Solitude never seem to be the highest profile band out there, but their work seems never to be anything less than outstanding, and I refuse to accept them as anything less than among the most pivotal American acts out there making traditional doom. And not just making it, but making it their own, with a sense of new pursuits and individualism that extends to playing style as well as atmosphere. I know doom isn’t exactly in short supply these days — figuratively or literally — but if you miss out on what Apostle of Solitude are doing with it, you’ll only regret it later. I’ll say it one more time: Best doom album of 2018.

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

holy grove ii
Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 31.

Every now and again, anticipating the crap of an album really pays off, and such was the case with Holy Grove II, the Ripple Music debut from the Portland outfit whose 2016 self-titled (review here) seemed like such a herald of excellence to come while also, you know, being killer. Holy Grove II brought the four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis to entirely new levels of composition and execution. In songs like “Blade Born,” the shorter, sharper “Aurora,” the patiently rolling “Valley of the Mystics,” “Solaris” and closer “Cosmos,” which boasted a not-really-necessary-but-definitely-welcome guest vocal appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt, — and oh wait, that’s all of the tracks — Holy Grove entered a different echelon. Anticipation will likewise be high for Holy Grove III, but it’ll be hard to complain with this record to keep company in the meantime.

6. All Them Witches, ATW

all them witches atw
Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Over five All Them Witches albums, the Nashville four-piece have gone from a nascent heavy Americana jam band to one of the most distinct acts in the US underground. Their development in sound is chemistry-driven, so it was a risk when the founding trio of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) and drummer Robby Staebler welcomed new keyboardist Jonathan Draper into the lineup to take the place of Allan van Cleave. Amid a more naturalist production than that of 2017’s Sleeping Through the War (review here), the revamped four-piece flourished in terms of songwriting and conveying their stage-born sonic personae. From the gleeful fuckery of opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” to the memorable moodiness of “Diamond” and the back-end jam “Harvest Feast” en route to the stretched-out end of “Rob’s Dream,” All Them Witches essentially confirmed they could do whatever they wanted and make it work.

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

yob our raw heart
Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed June 7.

Actually, if you want a sample of YOB‘s raw heart, the place to go is probably 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), but whatever the Eugene, Oregon, shapers of cosmic doom might’ve lacked in titular accuracy on their eighth long-player, they made up for in a new, statesman-like posture. Their approach was mature, hammered out to a professionalism working completely on its own terms, and they never sounded so sure of who they are as a band or as confident of their direction. In extended cuts “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and “Our Raw Heart,” they explored new and progressive textures and melodies, and managed to reaffirm their core aspects while finding room for conveying emotion that came across as nothing but ultimately sincere. They have been and still are one of a kind, and as they continue to move forward, they remain a band that makes one feel lucky to be alive to witness their work. Our Raw Heart was perhaps more refined than it let on, but the heart was there for sure, as always.

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t a fan of the (relatively) harder-hitting approach Brant Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band took on 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), but Mankind Woman brought in some more of his soul influences, and whether it was the subtly subversive funk of “Chocolatize” and “Brand New Old Times” or the callout “1968” and laid back vibes of the title-track and “Swagger and Sway,” Bjork — working with guitarist Bubba DuPree on songwriting and production — offered a definitive look at what has made his 20-year solo career so special and demonstrates not only his longevity and his legacy, but his will to continue to progress as an artist honing his craft. His discography is well populated by now to be sure, but Mankind Woman represents a turn from the last couple records, and if it’s in any way portentous of things to come, it bodes well. Bjork is right at home nestled into classic-style grooves, and his legacy as one of the principal architects of desert rock is continually reaffirmed.

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

They’ve been great, not just good, for a long time now, and as forerunners of the San Diego heavy scene, they’re godfathers to an up and coming generation of bands taking their influence — let alone acts from the rest of the world — but Black Heaven is a special moment for them because of its departure. No, it wasn’t not the first time guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sang on an Earthless recording, but it did represent a tip of the balance in that direction for the band on a studio full-length, and that resulted in a special moment. Album opener “Gifted by the Wind” was one of the best songs I heard this year, and while “End to End” and the all-thrust “Volt Rush” affirmed that more traditional songwriting was well within the grasp of Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, they still found space for a sprawling jam or two, keeping their claim on the instrumentalism that’s (largely) fueled their tenure to date. Earthless don’t want for acclaim, but every bit of it is earned, and while their primary impact has always been live, Black Heaven saw them construct a traditional-style LP that still bore the hallmarks of their collective personality. It was the best of all worlds.

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

king buffalo longing to be the mountain
Self-released/released by Stickman Records. Reviewed Sept. 27.

In the dark early hours of 2018, the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson issued the Repeater EP (review here) as a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), so Longing to Be the Mountain didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but even with Repeater preceding its arrival, I don’t think anyone necessary expected King Buffalo‘s second album to have such a scope or to be so engrossing with it. In its melody, patience, atmosphere and heft, it was an absolute joy to behold. Its songs were memorable at the same time they were far-reaching, and while Orion was already my pick for the best debut of 2016, Longing to Be the Mountain realized even more potential than that record had hinted toward. It could be intimate or majestic at its whim, and its dynamic set an individual characterization of heavy psychedelia and blues-style sprawl that the band wholly owned. With production by Ben McLeod of All Them Witches behind them, they worked to serve notice of a progression undertaken the results of which are already staggering and still seem to be looking ahead to the next stage, literally and figuratively. One of the principal standards I use in constructing this list every year is what I listen to most. That’s this record.

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

Obviously, right? To some extent, when Sleep surprise-announced on April 19 they’d release their first album in 15 years the next day, and then did, they took ownership of 2018. Even with records still to come at that point from YOB and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike‘s own High on Fire, there was no way that when the end of the year came around, it wasn’t going to be defined by the advent of a new Sleep record. And even if it sucked, it would probably still be Album of the Year, but fortunately, as Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om) and drummer Jason Roeder (also Neurosis) took their long-running stage reunion to the studio, they brought material that highlighted the best elements from all players. Pike‘s wild soloing, Cisneros‘ meditative vocals and Roeder‘s intricate but smooth style of roll all came together in older pieces like “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Sonic Titan” and newer highlights “Giza Butler” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” and aside from the excitement at their existence, they showed the mastery of form that Sleep had been demonstrating live since 2009 and which they hinted toward in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here). A new Sleep full-length was something long-discussed, long-rumored and long-considered, but when it finally happened, I think the results vaporized expectation in a way no one could’ve anticipated. There’s a reason Sleep are Sleep. Having The Sciences as a reminder of that brought about the defining moment of 2018.

The Next 20

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a Top 30 at all if it didn’t go to 50. Don’t try to make sense of it, just look at the records.

31. Atavismo, Valdeinfierno
32. Grayceon, IV
33. Clamfight, III
34. Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique
35. Megaton Leviathan, Mage
36. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland
37. Arcadian Child, Superfonica
38. Freedom Hawk, Beast Remains
39. The Machine, Faceshift
40. Messa, Feast for Water
41. Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium
42. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Science Fiction
43. Domkraft, Flood
44. Träden, Träden
45. Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
46. Samavayo, Vatan
47. Foehammer, Second Sight
48. Bongripper, Terminal
49. Mansion, First Death of the Lutheran
50. Sunnata, Outlands
51. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Come and Chutney

Believe me when I tell you, I sweated over this section more than I did the actual top 30. Mansion should be higher. So should Chubby Thunderous, though something in me thought they might like being #50 on a list of 30. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Clamfight, Black Rainbows, Foehammer, Seedy Jeezus, Messa, Domkraft. All of these were fucking awesome. And there are more (we’ll get there). Eventually numbers add up. I won’t say a bad word about any of these. That’s it.

Honorable Mention

This section always winds up expanded as other people point out things I missed and so on, but here’s what I’ve got in the immediate, alphabetically:

  • Alms, Act One
  • Ape Machine, Darker Seas
  • Belzebong, Light the Dankness
  • Black Moon Circle, Psychedelic Spacelord
  • Blackwater Holylight, Blackwater Holylight
  • Bong, Thought and Existence
  • Carpet, About Rooms and Elephants
  • Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery
  • Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree
  • Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need
  • Death Alley, Superbia
  • Drug Cult, Drug Cult
  • Dunbarrow, II
  • Electric Citizen, Helltown
  • Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn
  • Evoken, Hypnagogia
  • Funeral Horse, Psalms for the Mourning
  • Fuzz Evil, High on You
  • Graven, Heirs of Discord
  • Graveyard, Peace
  • Green Dragon, Green Dragon
  • Green Druid, Ashen Blood
  • Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing
  • High Priestess, High Priestess
  • Horehound, Holocene
  • IAH, II
  • JIRM, Surge ex Monumentis
  • Killer Boogie, Acid Cream
  • Lonely Kamel, Death’s Head Hawkmoth
  • MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure
  • Moab, Trough
  • Mountain Dust, Seven Storms
  • Mouth, Floating
  • Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence
  • T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid
  • Onségen Ensemble, Duel
  • Orango, Evergreen
  • Owl, Nights in Distortion
  • Pushy, Hard Wish
  • Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground/Meditation
  • River Cult, Halcyon Daze
  • Rotor, Sechs
  • Somali Yacht Club, The Sea
  • Sumac, Love in Shadow
  • Sundrifter, Visitations
  • Svvamp, Svvamp II
  • Thou, Magus
  • Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse
  • Weedpecker, III

Special Note

Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to include these in the list proper because they’re not really underground releases, but there were two more records I especially wanted to highlight for their quality:

  • Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
  • Judas Priest, Firepower

Best Short Release of the Year

Normally I’d do this as a separate post, but as a result of being robbed earlier this year, I feel like my list is woefully incomplete. If you have any demos, EPs, splits, singles, etc., to add to it, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Still, the top pick was clear:

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Rarely do two bands work in such coherent tandem to their mutual benefit. Here are a few other essential short releases for 2018, alphabetically:

  • All Them Witches, Lost and Found
  • Alunah, Amber & Gold
  • Canyon, Mk II
  • Demon Head, The Resistence
  • Destroyer of Light, Hopeless
  • Ecstatic Vision, Under the Influence
  • Godmaker & Somnuri, Split
  • Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul
  • King Buffalo, Repeater
  • Minsk & Zatokrev, Split
  • Sleep, Leagues Beneath
  • Stonus, Lunar Eclipse
  • Sundecay, Gale

Looking Forward

A good many albums have already been announced or hinted at for 2019. I in no way claim this to be a complete roundup of what’s coming, but here’s what I have in my notes so far, in absolutely no order:

Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Cities of Mars, Heavy Temple, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan (LP), Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Om.

Okay, That’s It

Yeah, no, I’m serious. List is done. Everybody go back to your lives. Your families miss you.

Really though, while this is by no means my last post of 2018, I can’t let it pass without saying thank you so much to everyone for checking out the site this year, or for just digging into this, or for sending me music, or hitting me up on social media, sharing a link, anything. Thank you. Thank you. I could never have imagined when it started out where it would be now. Or that I’d still be doing it. Your support means more to me than I can say, and I thank you so much for being a part of this with me.

So thanks.

If you have something to add to the list, please do so by leaving a comment below, but keep in mind as well the above note requesting civility. Please don’t make me feel stupid because I forgot your favorite record. I forgot a lot of people’s favorite records. I’m one dude. I’m doing my best.

And please keep in mind if you’ve got a list together that the Year-End Poll is open and results will be out Jan. 1.

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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Review & Track Premiere: Holy Grove, II

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 31st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

holy grove ii

[Click play above to stream the premiere of Holy Grove’s ‘Valley of the Mystics’ from Holy Grove II. Album is out Nov. 9 on Ripple Music.]

If Holy Grove II was an action figure, it would be one-per-case. If it was coffee, it would be run through the digestive tract of Peruvian bats before brewing. If it was a mushroom, it would only grow on the Western slope of one mountain in the Alps and would only be obtainable by one family who’ve harvested it for 700 years using specially trained dogs. And yes, it would be hallucinogenic. It is, in other words, a rare album. Not so much in pressing — Ripple Music has numbered versions, but those who want it can get it — but in form. It’s a coalescing of influences into something new and of marked individual character. Holy Grove aren’t necessarily out of step with the heavy hotbed that’s swelled in their native Portland, Oregon, over the course of this decade, but as that generation of acts becomes more mature, they’re engaged in an obvious commitment to move their sound to new places.

The reasons Holy Grove II, which comprises five tracks in 44 minutes and boats a much-ballyhooed guest appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt alongside Holy Grove vocalist Andrea Vidal on 12-minute closer “Cosmos,” are plenty: timing, performance, production, songwriting, presence. It’s the right album at the right time — we’re coming up on the end of that decade in Portland heavy; something new is welcome. The performances of Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis are energized, soulful and creative, and captured with a master’s hand by Billy Anderson, who if he hasn’t yet started writing the book on heavy production methods should probably get to work on that. A special kind of presence can be heard in Jacobs‘ leads at the end of the penultimate “Solaris” as well as in Vidal‘s vocals that run concurrent with it leading to a classic metal surge that’s organ-inclusive and full-sounding and lands with all the more impact for its sudden end, and the entire proceeding is memorable precisely because of the songwriting work that’s gone into it.

Vidal follows in a line of Oregonian vocalists that includes few others — the aforementioned Mike Scheidt is one, former Witch Mountain singer Uta Plotkin was another — who are able to bring such soul to a heavy context. From the swinging beginning minutes of opener “Blade Born” onward, she steps forward and is in utter command of the material in a way that even two and a half years ago on Holy Grove‘s self-titled debut (review here) just wasn’t possible. Part of that is easy to read as a comfort factor, and it applies to the entire band. Travis is a more recent acquisition, and he makes his presence known from that first swing onward through the second-half rollout slowdown of “Blade Born” and into the cowbell shuffle and tom runs of straight-up rocker “Aurora” that follows and is by far the shortest inclusion on the album at 3:51, but in Emley‘s low end and Jacobs‘ riffing and leads, there’s never a sense that Holy Grove are rushed or playing in any other way than they want to be.

Holy Grove 2018 press photography for "Holy Grove II" album release.

It is a poised collection, but not pointedly so. That is, with the time they spent on tour domestically and abroad, Holy Grove have very clearly found who they are as a group and set themselves to presenting that in these songs. It works. And whether a listener wants to put that narrative to it and think of Holy Grove II in the context of its predecessor or if it’s someone’s first experience with the band, it doesn’t matter. The way the album unfolds is welcoming regardless, and as “Aurora” boogies directly into launching chug of near-11-minute side A capper/album centerpiece “Valley of the Mystics,” the emphasis becomes not on stylization as a means of exclusivity — they’re not tapping into classic and/or traditional doom impulses to show off their taste — but on doing what works best for the song itself. As the opener hinted and both “Solaris” and “Cosmos” affirm on side B, Holy Grove are well suited to these longer forms. That’s not to take away from “Aurora,” which serves a vital function here and is kickass all the while, just to note that given the space to soar, Holy Grove do so.

“Valley of the Mystics” recedes to let Vidal take forward position in a Dio Sabbath-style verse before resuming the roll for a chorus that boasts self-harmonies — more please — and trades again quiet and loud before shifting into the traditionalist metallurgy already noted, and rings out at its finish to conclude the side as “Solaris” fades in on amp noise before crashing through an intro huge and darker-edged en route to a plodding, nodding progression of its own. Organ helps “Solaris” evoke a grand feel, and keyboard plays a central role in “Cosmos” as well, as the two are paired smoothly in the second half of the record. The sudden end of “Solaris” brings a quiet start to the closer, which again pulls back instrumentally to a quieter verse, this one part of a linear build rife with sonic details in the keys, guitar noise and so on. At 3:28, keyboard/Mellotron takes a central position that might otherwise go to the guitar, but the two intertwine smoothly ahead of another chorus, a solo, an almost complete drop to silence, and the setting of the stage for Scheidt‘s arrival, first with atmospheric growls deep in the mix, then with a clean line that emerges from that mass of tone surrounding.

I’m not going to say a bad word about Scheidt‘s appearance — he’s always welcome as far as I’m concerned — but there is a part of me that doesn’t want Holy Grove to share the apex of their second long-player. It’s theirs. They earned it. Bringing in someone else doesn’t necessarily take away from that, but it does change the form of it, and as Travis‘ drums roll and crash to an end of residual amp noise and echoing voice, the highlight of Holy Grove II remains the album itself and the clear process it’s begun in terms of hammering out the potential that the four-piece showed on their debut. Their flair for dramatic turns instrumentally and vocally is writ large here, but they never lose sight of songcraft, and even as Vidal and Scheidt carry through the crescendo of “Cosmos” together, it’s still the entirety of Holy Grove that’s leaving such a resonant impression. There are who will hear it and those who won’t, but this band is casting their influence out over doom with this record, and I’d be surprised if others didn’t catch it and work from it in the future. And they’re not done growing either, because as exciting as Holy Grove II is, it’s already worth looking forward to Holy Grove III. Recommended.

Holy Grove on Thee Facebooks

Holy Grove on Instagram

Holy Grove on Twitter

Holy Grove on Bandcamp

Ripple Music website

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

Ripple Music on Thee Facebooks

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Holy Grove Unveil Cover Art for Holy Grove II

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 25th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

holy grove ii full cover

I usually try to keep it reasonable as regards file sizes around here, mostly because I have a voice in my head that sounds a lot like Slevin (who built the site) berating me for not doing so, but every now and again you gotta just give a piece of art its due. Accordingly, click the image above to greatly enlarge the full two-sided cover for Holy Grove II, the impending second album and Ripple Music debut from Portland, Oregon’s Holy Grove. The art, of course, is by Adam Burke.

The striking artwork was a factor as well on Holy Grove‘s 2016 self-titled debut (review here), released by Heavy Psych Sounds, and like producer Billy Anderson, Adam Burke is a returning party in adding his visuals alongside Holy Grove‘s tracks. I haven’t heard the record yet — it’s a Nov. 9 release date, so we might be a while before we get there — but the band previously announced the tracklisting and offer some more comment about the record, and because one likes to be thorough, you’ll see the front-cover version of the art below, complete with a fancy Holy Grove logo that seems just about ready to become my new favorite t-shirt.

More on Holy Grove‘s Holy Grove II as I hear it (and hopefully I hear it soon — ha.), but for now here’s what I’ve got:

holy grove ii

Holy Grove on Holy Grove II:

For us this record represents a rebirth of sorts…we went through a trying few years where the future of the band was in doubt and making another record seemed like it may never happen. We continued on, believing that we had more to accomplish. This record is a result of that belief, as well as a lot of hard work. We’re all very proud of it, and are looking forward to sharing it.

Holy Grove II tracklisting:
Blade Born
Aurora
Valley of The Mystics
Solaris
Cosmos

Holy Grove is:
Andrea Vidal – Vocals
Trent Jacobs – Guitar
Gregg Emley – Bass
Eben Travis – Drums

https://www.facebook.com/holygroveband/
https://twitter.com/holygroveband
http://holygrove.bandcamp.com/
http://www.ripple-music.com
https://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com
https://www.facebook.com/theripplemusic/

Holy Grove, Live at the Tonic Lounge, Portland, OR 03.26.18

Holy Grove, Holy Grove (2016)

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Holy Grove Finish Work on New Album Holy Grove II

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Portland, Oregon, heavy rockers Holy Grove announce the completion of their second full-length. The four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis already toured the West Coast this year after announcing in January they’d signed to Ripple Music for the follow-up to their 2016 self-titled debut (review here), which was released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Like that record, the new one was tracked with Billy Anderson, but it’s immediately apparent Holy Grove aren’t looking to repeat themselves this time out.

In the update/announcement that follows here, Holy Grove talk about coming together as a band as a result of touring — that’s how it happens — and working out the material both on the road and in their rehearsal space. I look forward to hearing the record not just for its special guest appearance from a checkered-shoe doomer who gets to remain nameless, or for Anderson‘s production, but to hear where Holy Grove‘s songwriting has carried them in the wake of the self-titled being so well received and offering such a string of memorable tracks. Going by what I read in the update below, it seems like they’ve genuinely put the effort forward to make the best album possible at this time. If you can find an argument against that, I’d be interested to hear it. Except not really.

I’ll hope to have much more to come as we continue to move closer to the release, but for today, cheers to Holy Grove on finishing Holy Grove II and here’s to the anticipation of actually digging in.

Photos by Alyssa Herrman, an update from the band, and the album’s tracklisting all follow here:

holy grove 1 (Photo Alyssa Herrman)

We started tracking basically the day after we returned from our West Coast tour in April, and spent about four days tracking at Hallowed Halls in Portland. We then spent an additional couple of days tracking at Everything Hz. We really enjoyed being back in the studio. We felt prepared, focused and really excited about the new material, especially after playing the songs live nightly for a few weeks on tour. Billy (Anderson, engine-ear supreme) was fired up and invested and inspired us to push ourselves in getting the takes we wanted, and obviously crucial in getting the sounds we wanted on tape.

This time around we were able to demo the songs as a band in our practice space. We put a lot of effort into revising and massaging songs to get them to sound the way we heard them in our heads. Demoing allowed the four of us to work through all our ideas and make the necessary changes before heading into the studio, so we went in with a clear picture of what we hoped to achieve. The second biggest difference was being able to tour the record beforehand. Prior to Eben joining in June of 2017, we were rarely in a position where we could tour. In March we embarked on our first West Coast tour and spent the entire time becoming more comfortable with the songs, working out kinks and figuring out what was working and what wasn’t. Knowing the material and being able to hammer it out in a live setting allowed us to bottle that energy and bring it to the studio.

To us, the album to represents turning a page and crossing a threshold musically and emotionally that wasn’t available or apparent before. We’re a different band then we were when we made the first record and it was important to us to reflect that in the songs. We made it a point to listen to our gut during the entire writing and recording process, but still allowed the songs take on a life of their own and let them dictate where to go with them, if that makes sense… The songs are darker, more epic (there are five songs on this record but the overall runtime is longer than our first album, which had seven), and more emotionally reflective of what the band has been through in the last 3-4 years. Andrea’s vocals are more emotive and powerful and her lyrics darker and more personal. Trent immersed himself in his playing and has evolved immensely as a player. Eben and Gregg have become the rhythm section they both always wanted to be a part of. It’s a pretty exciting time for all of us, and we’re excited to see what the future holds.

Holy Grove II tracklisting:
Blade Born
Aurora
Valley of The Mystics
Solaris
Cosmos

Holy Grove is:
Andrea Vidal – Vocals
Trent Jacobs – Guitar
Gregg Emley – Bass
Eben Travis – Drums

https://www.facebook.com/holygroveband/
https://twitter.com/holygroveband
http://holygrove.bandcamp.com/
http://www.ripple-music.com
https://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com
https://www.facebook.com/theripplemusic/

Holy Grove, Holy Grove (2016)

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Holy Grove Announce West Coast Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 5th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

holy grove foto phortress

Holy Grove are hitting the road once again. Word comes down of the West Coast trek less than a month after the soulful Portland four-piece announced signing to Ripple Music to release their second full-length later this year, and ahead of an appearance this coming Spring as part of a bill at Stumpfest VII that also includes Windhand, Black Mare, Ruby the Hatchet and Dead Meadow, among others.

If you’re thinking this might be a release tour for the new long-player — I had the thought too — the band aren’t quite there yet. Rather, this seems to be the trip by which they’ll tighten up the new songs before hitting the studio to lay everything down. Certainly a great time to see them either way, and they’ll be keeping some good company as well. Check it out:

holy grove tour

We’re headed out on a little West Coast tour before we go in the studio to record our 2nd record. We’re going to playing a bunch of places we’ve never played before. We’re playing with some great bands, check out the poster for details. We’d love to see you. Tell your friends, we’d love to see them too.

Thanks to Martin Ontiveros for the poster!

Holy Grove live:
03/15 Bellingham WA The Shakedown w/ Crystal Myth
03/16 Seattle WA Substation w/ Into the Storm
03/17 Astoria OR Charlie’s Chop House w/ Void Realm
03/18 Eugene OR Old Nick’s Pub w/ Elephant Gun, Coyote
03/19 Reno NV Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor w/ TBD
03/20 Las Vegas NV Dive Bar w/ Sonolith, Plague Doctor
03/21 San Diego CA Tower Bar w/ War Cloud
03/22 Los Angeles CA 5 Star Bar w/ War Cloud
03/23 San Jose CA The Caravan w/ ZED, KOOK
03/24 Nevada City CA Cooper’s Ale Works w/ War Cloud
03/25 Sacramento CA Blue Lamp w/ Royal Thunder, Pinkish Black, Brume
03/26 Portland OR Tonic Lounge w/ Royal Thunder, Pinkish Black
04/20 Portland OR Stumpfest VII

Holy Grove is:
Andrea Vidal – Vocals
Trent Jacobs – Guitar
Gregg Emley – Bass
Eben Travis – Drums

https://www.facebook.com/holygroveband/
https://twitter.com/holygroveband
http://holygrove.bandcamp.com/
http://www.ripple-music.com
https://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com
https://www.facebook.com/theripplemusic/

Holy Grove, Holy Grove (2016)

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Holy Grove Sign to Ripple Music; New Album out This Year

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Portland, Oregon’s Holy Grove have signed to Ripple Music and will release their second full-length through the label this year. Of course, the four-piece made their debut with their self-titled (review here) via Heavy Psych Sounds in 2016, and especially after touring the US and Europe to support it, the prospect of a follow-up outing has intrigued since it was first discussed here last fall.

Obviously there’s no audio or anything like that to go on yet from the new record, but presumably we’ll get there. Holy Grove‘s first outing for Ripple, however, will be a reissue of the debut that’s also being positioned as its first North American release. Seems fair to think Holy Grove will hit the road at some point this year as well either at home or abroad, though I’d imagine a lot depends on the issue date that winds up being slated for the album, and as we all know, Ripple‘s calendar is pretty full these days. Nonetheless, I’m excited to see how it plays out. Kudos to the band and to the label on joining forces. Seems like a win for everyone involved.

The announcement was short and sweet:

holy grove ripple music

Please welcome with open arms. Holy Grove to the Ripple Family.

“Holy Grove have already proven to be one of the rising forces in the doom scene, with their atmospheric yet crushingly heavy sound,” says Ripple’s Todd Severin. “Thrilled to welcome them into the family and do our best to spread their music around the world.”

Says the band: “When it came time for us to plan the release of our second record, we had a list of labels we wanted to work with, and Ripple was at the top. We are extremely proud to be a part of the Ripple family and looking forward to everyone hearing our new record this year!”

Portland, Oregon’s Holy Grove walks in the long footsteps of tradition, pitting soulful vocals, searing guitar solos, and swinging grooves into its own Bic-flicking dinosaur stomp.

Together they have made waves on stage in the company of Uli Jon Roth, Jucifer, and Lord Dying, as well as at festivals like Psycho Las Vegas, the Malt Ball, Hoverfest, Ceremony of Sludge, and PDXPOPNOW!

Holy Grove live:
Mar 23 Caravan Lounge San Jose, CA
Mar 24 Eli’s Mile High Club Oakland, CA

Holy Grove is:
Andrea Vidal – Vocals
Trent Jacobs – Guitar
Gregg Emley – Bass
Eben Travis – Drums

https://www.facebook.com/holygroveband/
https://twitter.com/holygroveband
http://holygrove.bandcamp.com/
http://www.ripple-music.com
https://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com
https://www.facebook.com/theripplemusic/

Holy Grove, Holy Grove (2016)

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Six Dumb Questions with Holy Grove

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on September 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

holy-grove-photo-by-Foto-Phortress

This coming weekend, Sept. 16, Portland, Oregon’s Holy Grove are set to appear at Epicenter Music Fest in San Francisco, California. In that endeavor, the soulful riff rollers join the considerable ranks of High on Fire, Big Business, Mos Generator and others (full lineup here), and after appearances at Psycho Las Vegas in 2016, making their debut run through Europe alongside Boston’s Gozu, and offering one of last year’s finest debuts in their Heavy Psych Sounds-released and Billy Anderson-helmed self-titled (review here), it would seem to be the finishing stamp on the cycle for their first outing as they get ready to move on toward the writing and recording of the second.

Anyone who’s heard cuts like “Nix” and “Holy Grove” doesn’t need me to say that’s good news. Topped off as it was by some of the most striking cover art Adam Burke has ever produced (which is saying something), Holy Grove‘s Holy Grove offered modern tones and classic groove in kind, vocalist Andrea Vidal establishing a commanding presence amid the righteous lead work of guitarist Trent Jacobs and the full low end push from bassist Gregg Emley. They’ve worked with a succession of drummers already since founder Craig Bradford recorded with them, and they just recently welcomed Eben Travis to the fold as at least the fourth in that line, hopefully settling the issue once and for all.

As we move into Fall and begin to look ahead toward some of 2018’s most anticipated releases, it’s only fair to include an impending sophomore outing from Holy Grove on that list. The level of bluesy stylistic cohesion and songwriting they brought to the driving, swinging “Huntress” and to the nodding, semi-metallic expanses of “Hanged Man” would demand no less. Just how will the four-piece, now including Travis as a (fingers crossed) permanent member, begin to move forward and expand their sound in the New Year? And will they hit the road again with the same fury they did behind the self-titled? Sounds to me like it’s time to check in with Vidal for a full update.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

epicenter-music-festival

Six Dumb Questions with Andrea Vidal of Holy Grove

We’re about 18 months out from the self-titled release at this point. Looking back on your first album, how do you feel about how the songs came out? What is your favorite thing about it and what is your favorite memory of the recording process?

I think overall, we’re pretty satisfied with how the songs are represented on the record. We knew going into the recording process that we wanted to create studio versions of the songs, and have the live versions be their own thing. To that end, I think we were successful. It served the purpose of introducing people outside of Portland to the songs. My favorite memory of the recording process was the day we finished mixing at Everything Hz (Billy‘s studio). We literally finished up mixing the last song, and then listened to the whole thing from beginning to end. It was definitely one of “those moments.”

What’s the status of new material? Do you have a recording plan yet and a ballpark release date? How have the new songs started to come together?

New material is progressing nicely. Even while we were down a drummer, the three of us continued to show up to practice to work on new material with the intent to have songs basically finished and ready to start working on as soon as we found a drummer. We played two new ones at our first show back which felt great. We have a few more nearing completion and a large backlog of riffs and ideas that we’ll start pouring over in the next few months to get a new record written and recorded by early next year.

Is there anything in particular you want the new songs to build on from the self-titled? Anything you want to change in the band’s sound or a new way to challenge yourself or the band as a whole? Something new you just want to try out in the studio, maybe?

I think the idea for the new batch of songs is to push ourselves to take the tunes to the next logical level. I wouldn’t say there is anything we want to change or reinvent particularly, but we do want to amplify everything that we did on the first record. More swing, more groove, more power, more riffs!

Tell me about bringing Eben Travis into the band. What was it about him that let you know he was right to take on the drummer position? What were you looking for in someone new?

We basically knew as soon as Eben started playing that he was “the one.” We really wanted someone who understood the feel of the tunes without us having to explain it, someone who hit the drums fucking hard, and was someone who we could welcome in to the band on a personal friendship type level… someone we could also be pals with, basically. Thankfully Eben was that guy. Dude is the total package.

You toured in the US and in Europe for the self-titled. How do you feel about the way the band has been received on the whole, in terms of the record and live? Can you sense a difference at shows between now and before the album came out?

We’re all pretty flattered and humbled by the response to the band and record. I think after we played Psycho Las Vegas in 2016 and got a positive response that we realized we had a chance to make a mark outside of Portland. Having the record out means that when we play people are familiar with the tunes a bit more, and Psycho was the first time I looked out and saw people in the crowd singing along, which was really a special moment for me personally.

You’ve got Epicenter fest Sept. 16. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

First and foremost, we can’t thank everybody enough for the support. It truly means the world to us. After we get back from Epicenter, we have a few local shows with The Obsessed, then the plan is to finish up writing the new record, get it recorded and hit the road. We’re in the early planning stages of getting a European tour planned for 2018, which is something we are all really looking forward to. More shows, more music!

Holy Grove, Holy Grove (2016)

Holy Grove on Thee Facebooks

Holy Grove on Bandcamp

Holy Grove at Heavy Psych Sounds

Heavy Psych Sounds on Thee Facebooks

Epicenter Music Festival 2017 event page

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