Holy Grove Present Road Songs Playlist; Tour Starts Aug. 28; Benefit Live Album out Now

Posted in audiObelisk on August 7th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

holy grove

So, in basically the last week-plus, Portland, Oregon’s Holy Grove have announced their latest string of West Coast tour dates and released a live album captured at this year’s Ceremony of Sludge to benefit a three-year-old with leukemia. Get that here at name-your-price and pay handsomely for it. Here are the tour dates:

Holy Grove on tour:
8/28 – Tacoma, WA @ Spanish Ballroom
8/29 – Bellingham, WA @ The Shakedown
8/30 – Vancouver, BC @ SBC
8/31 – Seattle, WA @ Substation
9/1 – Boise, ID @ The Shredder
9/2 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
9/3 – Denver, CO @ Tooey’s Off Colfax
9/4 – Albuquerque, NM @ The Launchpad
9/5 – Tempe, AZ @ Yucca Taproom
9/6 – Los Angeles, CA – 5 Star Bar
9/7 – Oakland, CA – Elbo Room Jack London
9/8 – Cupertino, CA – X Bar
9/9 – Sacramento, CA – Blue Lamp

I’ve still never had the good fortune to see Holy Grove live, and especially after the release of Holy Grove II (review here) last November — the four-piece’s debut on Ripple Music that followed their 2016 self-titled debut (review here) on Heavy Psych Sounds — I feel like I’m genuinely missing out. Sadly, I won’t be anywhere they’re going on this tour — always wanted to hit Vancouver, and Albuquerque seemed like a cool town when I was there — but a bit of insight into what the touring experience is like for Holy Grove is most certainly welcome.

So, here are some road songs. You know, what they play when they’re in the van going from one show to another on those long drives where inside-jokes are made and the bonds between bandmates are formed. Also, you should know that when I was typing that last sentence just now, I first wrote “bongs” instead of “bonds,” so take whatever you will from that. Either way, those times can be drags or they can be great, but they’re an essential part of the touring experience.

As Holy Grove prepare to head out again, they were kind enough to put together a selection of some of their favorite tunes to take with them, and bassist Gregg Emley — joined in the band by vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs and drummer Eben Travis — also gives some background on their choices.

Please enjoy:

holy grove tour dates

One of the best things about playing in a band is going on tour. Seeing new places and playing your music for new people is always exciting. One of the best things about going on tour for me is spending time with your band mates in the van. This is where all sorts of band bonding occurs. Inside jokes are formed, laughs are had, stories are told. It’s truly the best. Something else I love about touring is getting to spend time on those long drives listening to tunes and turning your band mates on to something they may not have heard before.

Here’s a playlist of some songs we like, and we encourage you to crank ’em on your next road trip.

Popul Vuh – Kleiner Krieger: Sublime little instrumental from my favorite PV record to start things off. Sounds like the beginning of a journey to me.

Led Zeppelin – Achilles Last Stand: Why screw around? Perhaps the most epic band’s most epic song.

BÖC – Joan Crawford: Apparently, she’s risen from the grave. The hook in this one is huge and fun to sing along with in a van full of buds late at night.

ZZ Top – Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings: My favorite song from one of the best road trip bands ever. That riff, that feel. No one does it better.

Roky Erikson – Two-Headed Dog: This is a recent discovery for me, courtesy of Trent (our guitar player). He played the whole record on our last tour and I was hooked. I remember having headphones on listening to a podcast or something, hearing this and immediately taking my headphones off, asking who it was and listening to the record. It’s been in my rotation since.

Diagonal – Semi-Permeble Menbrain: Diagonal is (maybe was?) a great neo-prog band from the UK with shades of Camel, King Crimson, and UK. They never really did much in the US, but both records rule all the way through.

Opeth – Hjartat Vet Vad Handen Gor: As a prog guy, I wasn’t THAT upset when Opeth ditched the death growls and went full on prog. There has definitely been a bit of stumbling as they perfect their new thing, but if this song is any indication, they may have done it with this upcoming new record.

Cult of Luna – Finland: This band rules. They seem to get overlooked when people talk about the Neurosis/ISIS school of heavy rock, but I think they’re among the best. All of their records evoke a feel and place for me, and as this one comes from Somewhere Along the Highway, it makes sense to me that it would evoke staring out a van window watching the miles roll by. Oh, and those riffs.

Melvins – A History of Bad Men: the Big Biz version of the Melvins lineup is/was unstoppable. One of the greatest live shows I’ve ever witnessed. This is my favorite song from that era of the band. We opened for them two nights in a row in May, and they crushed which was to be expected, but still great to see from a band entering its 4th decade still destroying.

Iron Maiden – The Wicker Man: I remember when this record came out, and really steeling myself to be disappointed. It just didn’t seem possible that they would be able to release something as good as any of the “classic”-era records after Bruce being gone for a few years and the super bummer “Hey…that’s not Bruce!” years. I was wrong. This song was all I needed to hear to know I had nothing to worry about. If your fist isn’t in the air by the time the chorus hits, check yer pulse.

Metallica – Escape: If there is such a thing as an “underrated” Metallica song from the first four, this would have to be it.

Judas Priest – Hell Patrol: Just another great fist pumper about some sort of evil force ripping down the highway (I think?).

High on Fire – Death is This Communion: This band means a whole lot to all of us. Growing up in San Jose, I was lucky enough to be turned on to Sleep around the time Holy Mountain came out. They played the sound I heard in my head. Black Sabbath was my favorite band, and they were doing it. It was a revelation. When Sleep broke up, I was extremely bummed, especially because I had heard about this one epic song they were working on at the time, that I figured would never see the light of day. When I heard that Matt from Sleep had a new band with George from San Jose legends Dear Deceased on bass, my friends and I scoured the Bay Area weekly papers waiting for their name to show up. I must have seen them five or six times before the 12th Records demo came out. All of this to say, this band is in my blood. Getting to open for them in May was a dream come true for all of us.

Crowbar – The Lasting Dose: Riffs. Big giant crushing riffs. ‘Nuff said.

Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance: Modern Death Metal sounding like old Death Metal is pretty hip right now, and I’m 100% OK with that. These dudes do it right, caveman riffs and a VHS horror atmosphere. Last year’s Manor of Infinite Forms was my favorite DM release of the year, but I think I’m digging this new one even more. This is the title track.

Woe – Carried By Waves To Remorseless Shores Of The Truth: I love how this band combines elements of classic heavy metal, like guitar harmony parts, slower chugging riffs and anthemic choruses into this big swirling aggressive black metal stew.

Ludicra – Truth Won’t Set You Free: My favorite song from Ludicra’s final record, The Tenant. I love how this band incorporates so many different elements to create something distinctly Ludicra. My favorite USBM band ever and they’re sorely missed.

Krallice – Monolith of Possession: Have we been driving for two hours or has it been 19 minutes? Who knows, pretty sure we opened a portal to another dimension. Enjoy.

Torche – Tarpit Carnivore: Monumentally heavy.

John Carpenter – Escape from New York (main title): We’re all huge JC fans. This sounds like the end of a journey to me. Roll credits.

Clarence Carter – Patches: Not sure how this ended up as our band inside joke, but it did. If you’re not smiling by the time the chorus hits, well then I feel bad for you, son.

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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Wolf Blood, II: Beyond Cultistry

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

wolf blood ii

It’s a markedly outside-genre approach that Wolf Blood seem to be taking on their second album, II, and the only question one is left with when they’re done is who’s going to sign them. Because especially if they tour at all, it’s going to need to be someone, as their work is simply too engaging in its individualism to leave hanging out there on Bandcamp with the limited self-pressings it’s gotten. At times reminiscent of Kylesa, as in the dual vocals between guitarist Mindy Johnson and bassist Adam Rucinski — drummer Jake Paulsrud also contributes — during “Kumate,” their winding moments are able to conjure modern prog or even out to the straight-ahead drive of black metal as they will, with Johnson and fellow guitarist Mike Messina leading arrangements like that of the penultimate “Drowning Man,” which doesn’t offer much beyond the assumed guitar, bass, drums and vocals and yet manifests a resonant sense of atmosphere thanks to the patience of the delivery and the richness of the tones involved, the echoes seeming to rise from the guitar and bass lines like so much distant smoke.

With a pervasive sense of melody to coincide, Wolf Blood emerge five years after their self-titled debut (review here) with a six-song/41-minute LP that refuses to do anything other than stand on its own. The Duluth, Minnesota-based four-piece have clearly worked to discover who they are as players in the intervening half-decade from one release to the next — they also brought in Rucinski as a new member — but the manner in which they succeed across II‘s varied-of-intent-but-united-in-mood span is thrilling and immersive at the same time, even unto the post-Sleep march of 11-minute closer “Tsunami,” the louder parts of which live up to the name in tidal undulations of riffing ahead of quieter verses, creating a push-pull tension that, as one would hope, pays off in a fervent thrust to cap the album as a whole. That is just one more example of the ways in which Wolf Blood‘s II feels strikingly complete, as that last push carries some reminder of the outset of “Lesion” back at the start of the record.

Indeed, those opening seconds that introduce the opener and return as a bridge between verses at the beginning of II are a crucial nod to extreme metal that add an element of danger to everything Wolf Blood do subsequent to them, an undercurrent of volatility belying even the calmest of stretches. With Paulsrud blasting away on drums, “Lesion” revels in that elemental extremity, and that only makes the swinging groove of “Slaughterhouse” all the more satisfying as the vocal harmonies arrive in thoughtfully composed fashion over a push that’s more subtle than that of the opener but finds Rucinski — or Paulsrud — stepping forward in order to take a soaring chorus in an effective changeup of their approach to that point. A guitar solo leads to full-on instrumental charge as “Slaughterhouse” pushes into the aforementioned “Kumate” (a misspelled Bloodsport reference, perhaps?), the finisher for side A and the longest and most outwardly dynamic song yet, though frankly, neither of the preceding tracks wanted anything for dynamic.

WOLF BLOOD

The fluidity with which Wolf Blood are able to shift from churn to charge isn’t to be understated, and it’s almost before the listener realizes what has happened that a given song has taken off in one direction or the other. Like the blastbeats in “Lesion” the effect this has is to make the album overall less predictable and more exciting, and as the four-piece leave a trail of memorable parts behind, whether that’s the chorus in “Kumate” or the more rocking two-minute “Opium” that follows at the start of side B, topped with growls amid a cacophonous assault that would be post-metal were it not essentially a transmogrified desert rock riff put to inventive use. It’s not that Wolf Blood are doing anything at a given moment that’s willfully weird or over the top in terms of making a show of their “unique” aspects — there’s no check-us-out-we’re-weird-and-hyper-performative happening here — but the way they combine stylistic pieces to create the ambience of “Drowning Man” or “Slaughterhouse,” or even “Lesion” and “Opium,” is unquestionably their own.

And the thoughtfulness of their composition extends to the arrangement of the album itself, with each side running from its shortest track to its longest, though admittedly this is more noticeable on side B, where the difference is more stark. That Wolf Blood should so thrive in the longer “Drowning Man” and “Tsunami” isn’t necessarily a surprise, but the manner in which Wolf Blood execute the end of II reinforces the engagement that’s been happening all along and affirms their clearheadedness about who they are and what they want to be doing, be that the interplay of screams and clean vocals in “Drowning Man” or the already-noted rousing all-go at the end of “Tsunami.” With these moments and a full record’s worth of others, Wolf Blood seem to be skirting the line of sonic progressivism, not really willing to be so indulgent as to fully dive in, but neither content to simplify their impulses.

It’s hard to tell in II if this is a balance finding its way or the output of competing ideologies of craft, one of which will win out over the other in the longer term. And what does the longer term mean when a band takes five years between their first and second LPs, anyway? I said at the outset that some label or other needs to get behind II for wider release, and I genuinely believe it, but I don’t think Wolf Blood are finished growing, either. This, ultimately, makes them all the more vital as they continue to develop their approach, but the big question that needs to be answered is where they’ll take that from here and what their intentions are for all the potential shown in these tracks, because as much as they represent a realization of the band’s collective aesthetic ideals, they seem to speak to a forward-thinking mentality that will require its own manifestation. They have work to do, but that shouldn’t take away from the important steps made throughout II, which no matter what Wolf Blood come up with next will continue to stand as the moment they first hinted how much they truly had to offer.

Wolf Blood, II (2019)

Wolf Blood on Bandcamp

Wolf Blood on Thee Facebooks

Wolf Blood on Instagram

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IAH Announce First-Ever European Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 15th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

iah

Argentinian progressive heavy rock three-piece IAH are about to take their doings to-date to a new level by embarking on their first-ever stint in Europe. That’s enough of a landmark for, you know, a European band, let alone one coming from South America, but IAH‘s two outings thus far have both been well received, with the second of them, II (review here), particularly so. The band will begin their run at Lake of Fire in Austria, which if you’ve ever seen photos from that festival — the stage is actually in a lake, of water, but still; one imagines that makes the photo pit somewhat untenable — you’ll know is quite a way to start any tour, and they’ll continue through with dates in France, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Italy and Germany, playing other fests along the way and club shows as well as they make their initial incursion to Europe. Hard to imagine that, barring some outside circumstance, they won’t be back.

Maybe come festival season next year?

Either way, this is a special moment for the band, and safe travels and all of that kind of thing.

Here are the dates, as posted on thee social medias and run through a translation matrix:

iah euro tour

Less than a month away of fulfilling a lifelong dream… Setting foot on Europe… Sharing the stage with great bands… See you soon!

AUG 03 – AT – Lake on Fire – Waldhausen
AUG 06 – FR – Supersonic – Paris
AUG 08 – FR – L’elastic Bar – Strasbourg
AUG 09 – CZ – Živá ulice – Plzen
AUG 11 – CH – PALP festival – Val de Bagnes
AUG 15 – IT – Frantic Fest / Francavilla al Mare – Abruzzo
AUG 17 – GER – TIEF – Berlin
AUG 18 – GER – MS Stubnitz – Hamburg

Gracias Rob Zim, HEADZ UP, Sophie Steff, No Vulture, Rob Fuentes, Audrey Uderya Camino, FURIO Camino, Flo Kaleidyscope, Kozmik Artifactz, Below the Sun, and to all those who helped us in this dream!

Poster by Jvan Machado

IAH is:
Juan Pablo Lucco Borlera: Bass
Mauricio Condon: Guitar
José Landín: Drums

https://www.facebook.com/IAHBanda/
https://iahbanda.bandcamp.com/

IAH, II (2018)

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Holy Grove Announce West Coast Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

holy grove

Portland, Oregon, four-piece Holy Grove will head out this summer on a West Coast run supporting their second album and first for Ripple Music, II (review here), a record that for its landmark rocking ways has earned the nickname “The Big Dos.” Actually, I just made that up, but even so, the album was fantastic when it was released last year and it remains very much that way now. And hey, it’s super-duper that Holy Grove are getting out again to bring the rock to the people like some kind of collective of riffy tentpreachers. Really, my only gripe here is the word “West” when describing the coastal location of the tour. Surely we could change that to “East” and be fine, right? Come on, guys. It’s just the other side of the continent. You can make that happen at the drop of a hat, for sure. That seems like a totally reasonable expectation to me.

But, uh, are you holy groved? Have you ever been Holy Groved? Well… I haven’t, but I hear good things.

Speaking of good things, stream the album below and just make your day a little bit better, because that’s what it’s all about here. Love and volume.

Dates via social media:

holy grove tour

We’re hitting the road this summer. Hope to see you there.

More details soon.

Art by Alex Matus.

Holy Grove live:
08/28 Tacoma WA Spanish Ballroom
08/29 Bellingham WA The Shakedown
08/30 Vancouver BC SBC
08/31 Seattle WA Substation
09/01 Boise ID The Shredder
09/02 Salt Lake City UT Kilby Court
09/03 Denver CO Tooey’s Off Colfax
09/04 Albuquerque NM Launchpad
09/05 Tempe AZ Yucca Tap Room
09/06 Los Angeles CA 5 Star Bar
09/07 Oakland CA Elbo Room Jack London
09/08 Cupertino CA X Bar
09/09 Sacramento CA Blue Lamp
09/21 Portland OR Dante’s

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, II (2018)

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Quarterly Review: 11PARANOIAS, Robot Lords of Tokyo, The Riven, High Reeper, Brujas del Sol, Dead Witches, Automaton, Llord, Sweet Jonny, Warp

Posted in Reviews on March 20th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-spring-2019

Day three. Cruisin’. Oh, another 10 reviews to write? Yeah, no problem. I’m on it.

Okay, maybe a little less that and a little more be banging my head against the wall of sound, but the point is we — you and I — move forward anyhow. The Quarterly Review continues today with the third batch, which at the end will bring us to the halfway point, 30 of the total 60 records done, and that always feels like an occasion. Also helps that it’s a pretty good batch of stuff, so let’s not waste time with formalities, right?

Quarterly Review #21-30:

11PARANOIAS, Asterismal

11paranoias asterismal

It’s a freakout, but not the good kind. More like a panic attack happening in slow motion on another dimensional plane. The masters of murk, 11PARANOIAS return through their own Ritual Productions imprint with Asterismal, collecting/conjuring upwards of nine tracks and 73 minutes of material depending on in which format one encounters it. The core of the outing is the six-song/45-minute vinyl edition, and that’s plenty fucked enough, to be honest, as bassist/vocalist Adam Richardson (Ramesses), guitarist Mike Vest (Bong) and drummer Nathan Perrier (ex-Capricorns) unfurl a grim psychedelic fog across songs like opener “Loss Portal” and tap into The Heads-style swirl on “Bloodless Crush” only to turn it malevolent in the process. The 12-minute “Quantitative Immortalities” finds Vest in the forward position as it summarizes the stretch of doom, psych, and bizarre atmosphere that’s utterly 11PARANOIAS‘ own, and that’s before you get into the experimental and sometimes caustic work on the CD/digital-only “Acoustic Mirror” (10:35) and “Acoustic Mirror II” (15:08), which both rise from minimalist bass to become a willful test of endurance only a select few will pass. All the better.

11PARANOIAS on Thee Facebooks

Ritual Productions website

 

Robot Lords of Tokyo, Rise Robot Rise

Robot Lords of Tokyo Rise Robot Rise

Was there ever any doubt Robot Lords of Tokyo could do it on their own? Not if you ever listened to Robot Lords of Tokyo, there wasn’t. The Columbus, Ohio-based outfit built a reputation in the earlier part of the decade by bringing guests onto their records, but their new EP and first outing in half a decade, Rise Robot Rise, features five songs of just the band itself, with founders Rick Ritzler (drums) and Paul Jones (vocals) joined by bassist Joe Viers and guitarists Steve Theado and Beau VanBibber. Their last outing was the 2013 full-length Virtue and Vice (review here), but they seem in “In the Shadows” and “Looking for the Sun” to come into their own with Jones bringing a John Bush-type edge to the hook of “Looking for the Sun” and echoing out a bit on centerpiece “Hell Camino,” which boasts not the band’s first nod to Clutch. With opener “In the Shadows” setting the tone for an undercurrent of metal, “My Aching Eyes” and “Terminus” pay that off without losing their rock edge and thereby highlight just how much force has always been in the core lineup to start with.

Robot Lords of Tokyo on Thee Facebooks

Robot Lords of Tokyo at CDBaby

 

The Riven, The Riven

The Riven The Riven

Issued by The Sign Records, the self-titled debut from Sweden’s The Riven (also discussed here) hones in on classic heavy rock but never actually quite tips all the way into vintage-ism. It sounds like a minor distinction until you put the record on and hear the acoustic guitar lines deep in the mix of “Far Beyond” or the echoing vocal layers in the second half of the later “Fortune Teller” and realize that The Riven are outright refusing to sacrifice audio fidelity for aesthetic. There’s no shortage of shuffle to be had, rest assured, but The Riven are less concerned with aping traditionalism than updating it, and while they’re not the first to do so, the fact that on their first record they’re already working to put their stamp on the established genre parameters bodes well, as does the bluesy float of “I Remember” and the mellow vibing early in “Finnish Woods.”

The Riven on Thee Facebooks

The Sign Records on Bandcamp

 

High Reeper, Higher Reeper

high reeper higher reeper

Philadelphia exports High Reeper offer their second full-length through Heavy Psych Sounds in Higher Reeper, upping the stakes from their 2017 self-titled debut (review here) in more than just title. In the intervening two years, the five-piece have toured extensively, and it shows in the pacing and general craft of the eight songs/38 minutes here, from the perfectly-timed nod at the end of “Buried Alive” to the face-slap proto-trash riff that starts the subsequent “Bring the Dead,” from the mountaintop echoes of “Obsidian Peaks” (note the “Hole in the Sky” riff rearing its head) to the howling roll through “Plague Hag” and into six-minute closer “Barbarian,” as High Reeper hone elements of doom to go with their biker rock sleaze. Stellar guitar is a running theme beginning with opener “Eternal Leviathan,” and Higher Reeper quickly proves that if you thought the debut had potential, you were right.

High Reeper on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Brujas del Sol, II

brujas del sol ii

if the 6:40 album opener “Teenage Hitchhiker” from Brujas del Sol‘s Kozmik Artifactz-delivered II makes anything plain, it’s that the songs that follow on the seven-track/43-minute outing are going to pay attention to texture. Still about half-instrumental, the Columbus, Ohio, four-piece veer from that modus with “Sisterlace,” the New Wave-y “Fringe of Senility,” the delightfully dream-toned “White Lights,” and the final Floydian section of closer “Spiritus,” adding vocals for the first time and leaving one wondering what took them so long. Nonetheless, the winding lines and later subtly furious drums of “Sea Rage” and the scorching leads of the penultimate “Polara” bring the proggy mindset of the band that much more forward, and if II is transitional, well, it was going to be anyway, because a band like this never stops growing or challenging themselves. They certainly do here, and the results are an accomplishment more than worth continuing to build upon.

Brujas del Sol on Thee Facebooks

Kozmik Artifactz website

 

Dead Witches, The Final Exorcism

dead witches the final exorcism

The centerpiece of Dead Witches‘ sophomore album, The Final Exorcism, is a play on ’60s psych-garage-folk that asks “When Do the Dead See the Sun?,” and the rest of the LP that surrounds provides the answer: The sun isn’t showing up anytime soon, for the dead or otherwise. After issuing their first full-length, Ouija (discussed here), in 2017, the multinational horror-cinema doomers brought aboard vocalist Soozi Chameleone alongside drummer Mark Greening (Ramesses, ex-Electric Wizard), bassist Carl Geary and guitarist Oliver Irongiant, and one might be tempted to think of The Final Exorcism as a kind of second debut were it not for the fact that it’s so cohesive in its approach. With Greening‘s swinging march at the foundation, cuts like the title-track and “The Church by the Sea” stomp out thick-toned and grainy organic creep, plundering through the cacophonous “Lay Demon” en route to the abyssal plod of “Fear the Priest” at the end, fearsome in purpose and realization and hopefully not at all “final.” Like any good horror franchise, there’s always room for another sequel.

Dead Witches on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Automaton, TALOS

automaton talos

It was hard to know where Automaton were headed after they remixed their debut EP, Echoes of Mount Ida (review here), and released it in LP format with two additional tracks. The original version was raw and weighted, the remix spacious and psychedelic. With TALOS, their first proper long-player (on Sound Effect Records), they answer the question with seven songs/48 minutes of expansive and richly atmospheric post-metal, seeming to take from all sides and shift their focus between crushing with dense tones on 11-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “Trapped in Darkness,” as well as the frantically drummed “Automaton Marching,” “The Punisher” or the end stage of “Talos Awakens” and honing more of a varied and atmospheric approach throughout the sample-laced “Giant of Steel,” the drifting “Submerged Again” and the minimalist acoustic-led closer “Epilogue,” all the while donning both an overarching concept and a new level of production value to bolster their presentation. It is a significant step forward on multiple fronts.

Automaton website

Sound Effect Records website

 

Llord, Cumbria

llord cumbria

Raging and experimental, the rumble-laden Barcelona duo Llord make their full-length debut on Féretro Records with Cumbria, which culls together five punishing-but-still-atmospheric tracks of plod and drive as bassist Aris and drummer David share vocal duties and bludgeoning responsibilities alike. Ill-intentioned from the get-go with the two-minute “Adtrita Sententia,” Cumbria unfurls its 29-minute run like a descent into low-end madness, varying speed and the amount of samples involved and bringing in some guest gralla on “Brega” and closer “Kendal/Crewe,” but finding itself in a consistent tonal mire all the same, shouts reverberating upward from it as through trying to claw their way up during the collapse of earth beneath their feet. It is brutal — an extreme vision of atmospheric sludge that makes the concept of a guitar riffing overtop seem like an indulgence that would only dull the impact of the proceedings as they are, which is formidable.

Llord on Bandcamp

Féretro Records on Bandcamp

 

Sweet Jonny, Sweet Jonny

sweet jonny sweet jonny

I can’t claim to be an expert on the ways of Britpunk classic or modern, but UK swagger-purveyors Sweet Jonny weave a heaping dose of snearing attitude into their self-titled, self-release debut album’s 12 tracks, and it comes set up next to a garage rock fuckall that isn’t necessarily contradicted by the actual tightness of the songwriting, given the context in which they’re working. “American Psycho,” well, that’s about American Psycho. “Sick in the Summer?” Well, guess that could be taken multiple ways, but somebody’s sick in any case. You see where this is going, but Sweet Jonny bring character and addled-punk charm to their storytelling lyrics and barebones arrangements of fucked-up guitar, bass and drums. I don’t know what the punkers are into these days, but the vibe here is rude in the classic sense and they bring a good time feel to “Superpunch” and “It Matters Not” — which stretches past the four-minute mark(!) — so what the hell? I’m up for something different.

Sweet Jonny on Thee Facebooks

Sweet Jonny website

 

Warp, Warp

warp warp

If the approval stamp of Nasoni Records isn’t enough to get you on board — and it should be, frankly — the Sabbathian lowercase-‘g’ ghost rock Warp proffer on their self-titled debut is bound to turn heads among the converted. The Tel Aviv-based outfit tear through eight tracks in a crisp, bitingly fuzzed 28 minutes, taking on classic boogie and doom alike before they’re even through opener “Wretched.” They get bonus points for calling their noise interlude “‘Confusion Will Be My Epitaph’ Will Be My Epitaph,’ as well as for the shuffle of “Gone Man” that precedes it and the stomp of “Intoxication” that comes after, the latter a rhythmic complement to the central progression of second cut “Into My Life,” which only departs that snare-snare-snare to soar for a dual-layered solo. Hard not to dig the space-punk edge of “Hey Little Rich Boy II” and the throttled-back stoner nod of closer “Enter the Void,” which is done in under five minutes and still finds room for the album’s best stop-and-crash. Fucking a.

Warp on Bandcamp

Nasoni Records webstore

 

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Wolf Blood Set June 1 Release for Wolf Blood II

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

I only have one question when it comes to Wolf Blood releasing their second album, Wolf Blood II, and it’s this: How much does the title of that album sound like an ’80s action movie? Like, “Dude, I saw Wolf Blood I and it was totally gnarly but Wolf Blood II is beyond rad!” Who stars in that movie? It’s gotta be Van Damme, right? And somehow he does a completely nonsequitor split that allows him to, I guess, take a human life without any consequence? Let’s face it, if that movie existed — and I’m not 100 percent sure it doesn’t — you would call it a classic.

You may well do the same when Wolf Blood II — the album — arrives on June 1 through Riff Merchant Records. Preorders start May 1 and the band will be at Chicago Doomed & Stoned and Maryland Doom Fest around the release.

As the PR wire informs:

wolf blood

WOLF BLOOD “II” release, Festival dates & East Coast Tour

Minneapolis, MN band WOLF BLOOD announce the release of their long awaited sophomore LP titled “II” out June 1st. “II” will be the first release on Syracuse, NY label Riff Merchant Records. Pre-orders start May 1st at wolfblood666.bandcamp.com. As a thank you to supportive fans “II” includes the crushing song “Tsunami” from their 2018 digital only release.

In support of the release they will make their debut at the CHICAGO DOOMED & STONED festival June 1st and will hit the road for a week culminating in a performance at the MARYLAND DOOMFEST on June 23rd.

June Tour Dates
June 1st Chicago, IL @ Chicago Doomed & Stoned
June 13th Minneapolis, MN @ Mortimers Vinyl Release
June 18th Chicago, IL @ Live Wire w/Sacred Monster
June 19th Cleveland, OH @ Symposium W/Frayle
June 20th Montclair, NJ @ Meatlocker
June 21st Philadelphia, PA @ TBA
June 22nd Lancaster, PA @ Lizard Lounge
June 23rd Frederick, MD @ Maryland Doomfest
Mon. 24th. Louisville, KY @Highland Taproom Metal Monday’s

Formed in a dank basement during one of the coldest winters on record in Duluth, Minnesota, guitarist Mike Messina and drummer Jakob Paulsrud (Dad’s Acid) started writing psycho-sludge experiments that sounded too stoned to be metal, and too baneful to be indie-rock. They recruited local renown hard-core guitar sorceress Mindy Johnson (The Keep Aways) and the newest addition of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Adam Rucinski (STRANGE) to flesh-out their menacing sound.

Their first album sold out within days, and caught the attention of Burning World Records who reissued it on Vinyl. After multiple cross country tours they settled in to record their long awaited follow up . “II” will be released June 1st 2019 on Riff Merchant Records, followed by a East Coast tour with appearances at CHICAGO DOOMED & STONED festival and The MARYLAND DOOMFEST.

Wolf Blood is:
Mike Messina – guitar
Jake Paulsrud – drums/vocals
Mindy Johnson – guitar/vocals
Adam Rucinski – bass/vocals

Wolfblood666.bandcamp.com
Facebook.com/wbminneapolis
instagram.com/wolfbloodmn
Twitter.com/wolfbloodmn

Wolf Blood, Tsunami / Home (2018)

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KOOK Premiere “Escape Velocity” Lyric Video; KOOK II out March 26

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

kook

Man, get ready for a trip. Due out March 25, II is the aptly-named second full-length from likewise aptly-named San Jose desert-style noise kooks KOOK, and it’s a far-out blower with an underpinning of the bizarre, earthy psychedelia born of Californian sands with just a bit of urbane crunch to its tones. Like if Queens of the Stone Age moved to Oakland, kept their edge and got weird, or if Fatso Jetson nixed the boogie and added more angry and a bit of Faith No More at their least predictable. The six-tracker runs 44 minutes and seems destined to be A research subject for years to come on the relative potency of edibles. Delivered through Glory or Death Records, it commences with “Escape Velocity,” which serves as an eight-minute barrage of you in the future asking what the hell just happened, and only ups the volatility factor with “Chains” and “Left Behind,” which offsets its languid groove and hook with a sense that at any moment it might haul off and punch you upside the head. Does it? Yeah, and a suitable reeling racket of noise follows as though KOOK also need to recover.

They don’t, but you might. Those three tracks are side A of the thing and they’re beastly in their scope and conjuring of ’90s bizarro threat rock and under-influence suggestion. “Escape Velocity” seems to tip hat to the Melvins in Karl Larson‘s guitar and the out-for-a-walk bassline of Jeff Wilson, but kook iithe punctuation of Erik Wilkins‘ drumming makes for sharper corners, and Troy Aschenbrenner‘s vocals are way out there on another plane, covered in hair, if you know what I mean. Still, they hold together this first of two cuts on II over eight minutes long — “Left Behind” is the other one, and it’s just a bit longer — and with the aggro strut of “Chains,” they preface the fuzzed swing of “Human Container” at the setoff of side B, which turns beastly in a second-half slowdown that devolves into a noise wash sustained in effects on a long fuckall fade ahead of “Frequency 8,” which underscores the you-are-not-in-control-but-they-might-be vibe while casting another assault of tone and coming out of it somehow making sense en route to closer “Chased by Monsters,” where they line up tense chug and subsequently tap into their inner Primus carnival manifestation. Shit gets wild. Shit starts wild, and then gets wilder. And then they end by thrashing out because fucking of course they do.

Being a gentleman of a certain age, I remember when the Heaven’s Gate cult warned that Planet Earth was about to be recycled and the only way to avoid that grim fate was to hitch a ride on the UFO hiding behind the passing comet Hale-Bopp. KOOK sample audio and imagery from Heaven’s Gate’s leader, Do — whose writings you can still find online, if you’re up for falling down a hole — and the somewhat futuristic but also completely off the rails thematic could hardly suit them better. It’s high time someone took on the subject matter, and KOOK would seem to be the perfect band to do it. It’s a riotously colorful niche of cultism.

Ahead of the official release next month, KOOK hit the road (they’ll have copies of the album at the merch table) and play alongside many righteous bands in and around appearances at SXSW, the stoner revival of which has not gone unnoticed. Nonetheless, it’s a schedule busy enough to suit KOOK‘s sound, and before they go, they’re giving another glimpse at the weirdo triumphs II has in store. Preorders for the record are up if that’s your thing, and you can check out the “Escape Velocity” lyric video below, with all the Hale-Bopp you need and some dizzying rocket footage to boot.

Dig and enjoy:

Kook, “Escape Velocity” lyric video premiere

The third lyric video and song released from KOOK’s upcoming album, II, available (digital, vinyl, tape, and CD) via Glory or Death Records 3/26/29 at http://wearekook.bandcamp.com. A song for those who follow the blind into the unknown and find only darkness.

Headed out to Texas this March to play some shows at SXSW and touring to California to celebrate the release of our second album, II. Playing with amazing bands along the way we can’t list them all, but come see a show if we pass near you!

kook tourKOOK live:
MAR 14 Austin, TX Spider House Cafe and Ballroom Wicked Bad Stoner Jam
MAR 14 San Antonio, TX The Mix
MAR 15 Arlington, TX Division Brewing
MAR 16 Austin, TX Kick Butt Café Gravity Fest
MAR 17 El Paso, TX The Rockin’ Cigar Bar & Grill
MAR 18 Albuquerque, NM Moonlight Lounge
MAR 20 Tempe, AZ Palo Verde Lounge
MAR 21 San Diego, CA The Bancroft
MAR 22 Los Angeles, CA 5 Star Bar
MAR 23 El Monte, CA Silver Dollar Saloon

KOOK is:
Karl Larson-Guitar
Troy Aschenbrenner-Vocals
Eric Wilkins-Drums
Jeff Wilson- Bass

KOOK, II (2019)

KOOK on Thee Facebooks

KOOK on Instagram

KOOK website

Glory or Death Records on Thee Facebooks

Glory or Death Records on Instagram

Glory or Death Records on Bandcamp

Glory or Death Records webstore

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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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