I was curious to know how long it’d been since the last time Devil to Pay premiered a video around here. The date? Feb. 7. So, almost two months ago. That was “Kobold in the Breadbasket” (posted here), and I know I’ve said this before — because I went back and looked at the post where I said it; ha — but when it comes to the Indianapolis four-piece, I’ve got no regrets whatsoever. They keep making them I’m glad to keep posting them. I wasn’t too into the cover art for their latest album for Ripple Music, 2016’s A Bend Through Space and Time (review here), but beyond that (and it certainly wasn’t a technique issue), Devil to Pay remain a band for whom I’ve got tremendous respect.
To wit, ace songwriters who hit the road on the regular and put out record after record of air-tight heavy rock and roll? Oh, and they’ve been doing it for 15 years. I ask you, what’s not to dig about that?
This time around, it’s “The Demons Come Home to Roost” premiering a new video. It’s the last track on A Bend Through Space and Time, so after the hooks of “On and On (In Your Mind),” the brooding sleek of the aforementioned “Kobold in the Breadbasket,” the thrust and sharp turns of “Recommended Daily Dosage” and the worthy homage of “Your Inner Lemmy,” the four-piece of guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak, guitarist Rob Hough, bassist/backing vocalist Matt Stokes and drummer Chad Profigle dig into the seven-plus minutes of their finale. As a standout closer, “The Demons Come Home to Roost” has a bit of all of that going on, as well as a gallop all its own that starts early and arrives again late, the band smoothly nestling into a slower groove at around the halfway point only to finish at full boar with a crisp edge worthy of the craftsmanship on display throughout the album preceding.
Devil to Pay head out next month on a West Coast tour playing with some killer acts along the way — House of Broken Promises, Ripple labelmates Zed and Mothership, etc. — and you can find those dates under the video below, the weirdo combination of old movie and live footage of which already has me looking forward to the next one.
As always, I hope you enjoy:
Devil to Pay, “The Demons Come Home to Roost” official video
DEVIL TO PAY’S “DON’T GIVE AWAY THE WEST TOUR 2017” 4/13 – Indianapolis, IN – 5th Quarter Lounge w Mothership, Astral Mass 4/20 – Chicago, IL – Reggies w Blunt, Sacred Monster 4/21 – Omaha, NE – Lookout Lounge for Stormfest 2017 4/22 – Denver, CO – Bar Bar w Chieftian, Green Druid, Never Kenezzard 4/24 – Spokane, WA – The Pin w tba 4/25 – Seattle, WA – Tim’s Tavern w KLAW, Skypenis 4/26 – Portland, OR – High Water Mark w Sleer, Heavy Baang Staang, Skulldozer 4/28 – Sacramento, CA – On the Y w Crimson Eye, Zed 4/29 – San Francisco, CA – Neck of the Woods w Zed, Lowcaster 4/30 – West Hollywood, CA – Viper Room w House of Broken Promises, High Priestess 5/01 – Las Vegas, NV – Beauty Bar w Spiritual Shepherd, Plague Doctor 5/04 – Tempe, AZ – Yucca Tap Room w Malo De Dentro, Dead Canyon 5/05 – San Angelo, TX – The Deadhorse w tba 5/06 – Oklahoma City, OK – Blue Note Lounge w Crobone, Get Fired
Devil to Pay’s music video for “the Demons Come Home to Roost.” Live performance video filmed at: the 5th Quarter Lounge, Indianapolis, IN, Radio Radio, Indianapolis, IN, the Melody Inn, Indianapolis, IN, the Pond, Franklin, TN, the Nick, Birmingham, AL. From the album “A Bend Through Space and Time” on the Ripple Music label www.ripple-music.com
Recorded & Mixed by Mike Bridavsky at Russian Recording, Bloomington IN August 2015. Mastered by Mike Bridavsky at Russian Recording.
Devil to Pay is: Steve Janiak – guitars/vocals Matt Stokes – bass Chad Prifogle – drums Rob Hough – guitars
Indianapolis doomers Wretch head overseas next month, and after taking part in Roadburn 2017 in the Netherlands, they’ll hook up with UK outfit Iron Void for a run through England and Scotland that begins at the warm-up gig for Desertfest London 2017 at the righteous digs of The Black Heart in Camden Town. From there, the two acts will make their way north toward and past Iron Void‘s hometown in Wakefield, and round out in Newcastle on May 2.
Wretch go, of course, supporting their 2016 self-titled LP (review here), which was among the year’s finest debuts, to be sure. Iron Void, meanwhile, released their second album, Doomsday, in 2015 on Doomanoid Records, and you can hear it, as well as a new Motörhead cover by Wretch from a Bad Omen Records label compilation, at the bottom of this post.
Do I even need to tell you to doom on? Nah, you already know:
Wretch / Iron Void UK tour
Lest we forget, doom metal stands for much more than merely a collection of Sabbathian riffs, funereal tempos and enormous amp-stacks. It’s a form of music that issues forth from the heart, the soul, and the gut. It can be an alchemical force that functions as a process of catharsis in times of need. What’s more, few know more about the power of this music than Karl Simon, formerly of the titanic and much-respected The Gates Of Slumber, and now of WRETCH, whose debut carries on valiantly with the mission he began some eighteen years ago.
The making of this self-titled album marked both a renaissance and a crucial tonic for Simon himself – in the wake of the death of his close friend and The Gates Of Slumber bandmate Jason McCash, he was forced to make sense of a profound loss, and the making of this debut formed a crucial part of this process.
The new power-trio he formed with drummer Chris Gordon and bassist Bryce Clarke rose above their circumstances to issue forth a fearsome salvo of cast-iron riffage and heartfelt traditional metal heraldry, shot through with a steely conviction instilled by the experiences of recent days. “It is a new beginning, but I am what I am. I don’t set out to write a style of music.” notes Simon, “This is what happens when I pick up a guitar.”
IRON VOID was originally formed by Sealey way back in November 1998 in order to create an old-school Doom Metal band. The band reformed in 2007 and released their Debut EP, entitled ‘Spell of Ruin’, in 2010. Their self-titled debut album was released on CD in 2014 on the Barbarian Wrath label. Their second album ‘Doomsday’ is out now on Doomanoid Records.
Wretch & Iron Void UK Tour – April / May 2017 Thursday 27th April – The Black Heart, London (Desertfest Warm Up) Friday 28th April – The Gryphon, Bristol Saturday 29th April – The Lughole, Sheffield Sunday 30th April – The Snooty Fox Club, Wakefield w/ Earthen Ritual Monday 1st May – Bannerman’s Bar, Edinburgh w/ Skeleton Gong & Psychotic Depression Tuesday 2nd May – Trillians Rock Bar, Newcastle
Official tour poster designed by Pol Abran of Branca Studio.
By my admittedly fallible count, this is the third premiere I’ve done for a video from Indianapolis heavy rockers Devil to Pay‘s latest album. And if the band’s plans for the next couple months pan out as intended, it might not be the last. No regrets. The four-piece issued their fifth full-length, A Bend Through Space and Time (review here), last year via Ripple Music, and in following up clips for “Your Inner Lemmy” (premiered here) and “On and On (In Your Mind)” (premiered here), they take to the woods for the moody “Kobold in the Breadbasket,” a somewhat slower, more languid and ultimately darker track that was nonetheless a standout from the record.
Guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak — joined in the band by guitarist Rob Hough, bassist/backing vocalist Matt Stokes and drummer Chad Profigle — calls it Sabbath-esque, and I’m not inclined to argue, but it is distinctly Devil to Pay‘s own as well, as one can hear in the brooding sensibility of his own singing and in the impression left by its chorus. The overarching groove is a nodder — as opposed to the all-out thrust of “Your Inner Lemmy,” say — but as ever, the songwriting chops ring through Devil to Pay‘s work as the defining element. It’s the nodder you’ll have stuck in your head for the rest of the day, in other words. And that’s only going to make your day better.
Devil to Pay are currently solidifying a tour set to start April 20 which Janiak notes in a quote under the video itself below. I’ll hope to have follow-up info on that — and more videos — as it and they come together, but in the meantime, if you haven’t yet checked out A Bend Through Space and Time, “Kobold in the Breadbasket” makes a considerable argument in the album’s favor and the band’s more generally, their approach to heavy rock/doom remaining underappreciated for its unwavering quality as well as its longevity — they mark their 15th anniversary as a group this month.
Bottom line? More to come from Devil to Pay in 2017, so stay tuned.
And please, enjoy:
Devil to Pay, “Kobold in the Breadbasket” official video
Steve Janiak on “Kobold in the Breadbasket”:
‘Kobold in the Breadbasket’ is our little mythological lament, a fairy tale where a farmer in another time and place inadvertently curses himself and his family. It was intended as a metaphor for mankind’s disregard for nature and penchant for ecological disaster. In keeping with the nature theme, we filmed the video in Brown County, Indiana, at the edge of a man-made lake with our good friend Jay Rich.
Our upcoming West Coast tour is currently in the works. It starts 4/20 and will be our first trip back to the coast since 2006.
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.
Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.
The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.
This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.
Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.
I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:
Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.
Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.
There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.
A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.
Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.
Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.
There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.
Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.
Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.
Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.
For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.
I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, Neurosis‘ Fires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.
Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.
Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.
I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.
Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.
Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.
Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.
Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.
One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.
If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.
In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.
After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.
Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.
7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know
Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.
German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.
A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.
Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Che, Vista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.
What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.
Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.
2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)
It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.
Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.
The Next 20
Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:
31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll
From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.
Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:
Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment
And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:
Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.
In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.
If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.
And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.
Posted in Features on December 15th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
Of all the lists I do to wrap up or start any given year, this is the hardest. As someone obviously more concerned with first impressions than I am and thus probably better-dressed once said, you only get one chance at them. For bands, that can be a vicious bite in the ass on multiple levels.
To wit, you put out a great debut, fine, but there’s a whole segment of your listeners who’re bound to think you’ll never live up to it again. You put out a meh debut, you sell yourself short. Or maybe your debut is awesome but doesn’t really represent where you want to be as a band, so it’s a really good first impression, but a mistaken one. There are so many things that can go wrong or go right with any LP, but with debuts, the stakes are that much higher because it’s the only time you’ll get the chance to engage your audience for the first time. That matters.
And when it comes to putting together a list of the best debuts of the year, how does one begin to judge? True, some of these acts have done EPs and singles and splits and things like that before, and that’s at least something to go on, but can one really be expected to measure an act’s potential based on a single collection of songs? Is that fair to anyone involved? Or on the other side, is it even possible to take a debut entirely on its own merits, without any consideration for where it might lead the band in question going forward? I know that’s not something I’ve ever been able to do, certainly. Or particularly interested in doing. I like context.
Still, one presses on. I guess the point is that, like picking any kind of prospects, some will pan out and some won’t. I’ve done this for enough years now that I’ve seen groups flame or fade out while others have risen to new heights with each subsequent release. It’s always a mix. But at the same time, it’s important to step back and say that, as of today, this is where it’s at.
And so it is:
The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016
1. King Buffalo, Orion
2. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree
3. Heavy Temple, Chassit
4. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
5. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
6. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
7. Wretch, Wretch
8. Year of the Cobra, In the Shadows Below
9. BigPig, Grande Puerco
10. Fuzz Evil, Fuzz Evil
11. Bright Curse, Before the Shore
12. Conclave, Sins of the Elders
13. Pale Grey Lore, Pale Grey Lore
14. High Fighter, Scars and Crosses
15. Spirit Adrift, Chained to Oblivion
16. Bellringer, Jettison
17. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Is Satan Real?
18. Merchant, Suzerain
19. Beastmaker, Lusus Naturae
20. King Dead, Woe and Judgment
There are many. First, the self-titled from Pooty Owldom, which had so much weirdo charm it made my head want to explode. And Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun‘s acoustic solo record was technically a debut. And Atala‘s record. And Horehound. And Mother Mooch. And Domkraft. And Spaceslug. And Graves at Sea? Shit. More than a decade after their demo, they finally put out a debut album. And Second Grave‘s full-length would turn out to be their swansong, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the thing. There were a lot of records to consider in putting this list together. As always, it could’ve been a much longer list.
For example, here are 20 more: Swan Valley Heights, Arctic, Blues Funeral, Teacher, Psychedelic Witchcraft, Nonsun, Duel, Banquet, Floodlore, Mindkult‘s EP, Mountain Dust, Red Lama, Red Wizard, Limestone Whale, Dunbarrow, Comacozer, Sinister Haze, Pants Exploder, Akasava, Katla and No Man’s Valley. That’s not even the end of it. I could go on.
It was a fight to the finish. There’s always one, and as late as yesterday I could be found kicking back and forth between King Buffalo and Elephant Tree in the top spot. What was it that finally put King Buffalo‘s Orion over Elephant Tree‘s self-titled? I don’t know. Ask me tomorrow and the answer might be completely different.
They had a lot in common. Not necessarily in terms of style — King Buffalo basked in spacious Americana-infused heavy psych jams while Elephant Tree proffered more earthbound riffing and melodies — but each executed memorable songs across its span in a way that would be unfair to ask of a debut. The potential for what both bands can turn into down the line played a part in the picks, but something else they share between them is that the quality of the work they’re doing now warrants the top spots. Orion and Elephant Tree were great albums, not just great first albums.
From there, we see a wide swath of next-generation encouragement for the future of heavy rock, whether it’s coming from Sweden’s Vokonis or Philadelphia’s Heavy Temple, or London’s Bright Curse, or Los Angeles duo BigPig. The latter act’s punkish fuzz definitely benefited from guitarist/vocalist Dino von Lalli‘s experience playing in Fatso Jetson, but one hopes that as the years go on his own multifaceted songwriting style will continue to grow as well.
A few offerings weren’t necessarily unexpected but still lived up to the anticipation. High Fighter‘s EP prefaced their aggro sludgecore well. Ditto that for the grueling death-sludge of Massachusetts natives Conclave. The aforementioned Bright Curse, Merchant, Fuzz Evil, Atala, Bellringer, Holy Grove, Wretch and Worshipper all had offerings of one sort or another prior to their full-length debuts — in the case of Bellringer, it was just a series of videos, while Wretch had the entire The Gates of Slumber catalog to fall back on — but each of those albums offered surprises nonetheless.
It would’ve been hard not to be taken by the songwriting on display from the likes of Holy Grove, Year of the Cobra, Pale Grey Lore and Beastmaker, who between them covered a pretty broad variety of atmosphere but found ways to deliver high-quality crafted material in that. Those albums were a pleasure to hear. Put Boston’s Worshipper in that category as well, though they were just as much a standout from the pack in terms of their performance as what they were performing. Speaking of performance, the lush melodies from Church of the Cosmic Skull and classic progressive flourish were enough to make me a believer. Simply gorgeous. And one-man outfit Spirit Adrift shined, if in that matte-black doom kind of way, on an encouraging collection of modern melancholic heavy that seemed to hint at sprawl to come.
As we get down to the bottom of the list we find Pennsylvania ambient heavy post-rockers King Dead. Their Woe and Judgment was released digitally last year (2015) but the LP came out earlier this year, so I wasn’t quite sure where to place them ultimately. I know they got some mention on the 2015 lists somewhere, but while they’re an act who’ve flown under a lot of people’s radar as yet, I have good feelings about how they might continue to dig into their sound and the balance of bleakness and psychedelic color they bring to their material. They’re slated for a follow-up in 2017, so this won’t be the last list on which they appear in the next few weeks.
Like I said at the outset, putting out a debut album is a special moment for any band. Not everyone gets to that point and not everyone gets beyond it, so while a list like this is inherently bound to have some element of speculation, it’s still a worthy endeavor to celebrate the accomplishments of those who hit that crucial moment in their creative development. Hopefully these acts continue to grow, flourish, and build on what they’ve thus far been able to realize sonically. That’s the ideal.
And before I go, once again, let me reinforce the notion that I recognize this is just a fraction of the whole. I’d like it to be the start of a conversation. If there was a debut album that kicked your ass this year and you don’t see it here, please drop a note in the comments below. I’m sure I’ll be adding more honorable mentions and whatnot over the next couple days, so if you see glaring omissions, let’s have ’em.
Posted in Reviews on October 25th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
“[Note: Devil to Pay’s Oct. 2016 tour dates used in place of the NSFW cover for A Bend Through Space and Time. To view the art, click here.]
The top feature of Devil to Pay‘s work has always been the songwriting. Certainly the Indianapolis-based four-piece have evolved in sound since they made their debut 12 years ago with Thirty Pieces of Silver, and found a niche for themselves in a style following two guitars that play metal and heavy rock elements off each other fluidly, but even that has always come at the service to a notion of craft. Consistency and reliability, without redundancy, can be hard to come by over time, but as Devil to Pay showed on 2013’s Ripple Music debut, Fate is Your Muse (review here), they were still moving forward as a band. A Bend Through Space and Time is their second offering through Ripple and fifth overall, and underscores similar growth.
Its 10-track/43-minute span comes encased in well-painted/politically-debatable art from W. Ralph Walters and feels more efficient than its predecessor, leaner and crisper in its style, as guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak, guitarist Rob Hough, bassist/backing vocalist Matt Stokes and drummer Chad Profigle continue to refine their methods, but a big shift can be heard in the production value throughout. Janiak, of course, splits his time in doomers Apostle of Solitude, and so a recording/mix/master job by Mike Bridavsky at Russian Recording in Bloomington, Indiana, should be recognizable to those who caught that band’s 2014 album, Of Woe and Wounds (review here), and one can hear a similar sense of room in side A’s “Laughingstock” here, as well as a likeness in the presentation of the drums.
All told, Bridavsky‘s contributions become part of the story of A Bend Through Space and Time, along with the fleet-footed jumps between different sides of the band’s stylistic meld. Bend breaks evenly into two vinyl sides, and each one starts off with a raucous, fast punch — “On and On (In Your Mind)” (video here) opening the first half with an insistent push while still maintaining a sense of atmosphere through the layered harmonies of Janiak‘s vocals and a grim undertone that will continue to develop shortly in “Kobold in the Breadbasket” and the aforementioned “Laughingstock,” while “Recommended Daily Dosage” gets side B moving at a full-thrash clip, punctuated by cowbell with vocals deeper back in the mix to let the guitars come forward.
Come to think of it, though it cuts in its midsection to a doomier nod, the galloping chug of closer “The Demons Come Home to Roost” is plenty speedy as well, as is the bulk of the penultimate “Your Inner Lemmy” (video here), though that song too shifts in pace, touching on some more strutting fare in its quick and fitting tribute to the late Motörhead frontman, most if not all of its lyrics derived from just some of his many famous quotes — see, “I did it all/Whatever I did/I can’t remember/But I’ll never forget,” and so on.
Through all of this — and even an earlier rocker like second track “Don’t Give Away the World” qualifies, though its focus seems more to be its sing-along-ready hook — Devil to Pay maintain a sense of urgency that Fate is Your Muse touched on but was not defined by, and going back further, to 2009’s Heavily Ever After, one can only conclude that the band have in the years since let go of the trappings of genre concerns and instead set themselves to the goal of making the music they want to make. A Bend Through Space and Time isn’t about heavy rock, doom, thrash or metal — though it offers all of them with a fervent overarching groove. It’s about Devil to Pay writing the songs they want to write and executing them at their highest level to-date. That’s precisely why the album succeeds the way it does.
And though I’ve bounced around the tracklisting a bit, another of A Bend Through Space and Time‘s strengths is the flow it sets up between songs, which can be heard as side A develops following “On and On (In Your Mind)” and makes its way toward the gloomier “Kobold in the Breadbasket” — perhaps the closest moment Devil to Pay and Apostle of Solitude have shared since Janiak joined the latter in 2012 — and “Laughingstock” before the more boogieing “The Meaning of Life” revives both the mood and tempo with a still-spacious adrenaline surge and highlight guitar lead in its back half, rounding out on a relatively positive note and a long fade before the thrust of “Recommended Daily Dosage” blindsides the listener. Side B works similarly, with that opening cut running at a sprint until its finish gives way to the slower chugga-chugga of “Knuckledragger” — a song very clearly and very correctly named after its central riff.
I’ll call it a highlight because that riff is such a standout and so obviously the product of Devil to Pay reveling in a kind of sheer heft in which they don’t generally traffic, but with leads peppered over top of the lumbering thud and the still-prevalent vocal melodies, it doesn’t at all come across as one-dimensional in the way the title might lead one to believe. Because it is a relative pivot in approach, one imagines it was something of a task to place “Knuckledragger” on A Bend Through Space and Time, but five albums in, Devil to Pay are no strangers to structure.
It turns smoothly from “Recommended Daily Dosage” and precedes the also-charmingly-titled “Kerfluffle,” which is more mid-paced and in line with a rocker like “Don’t Give Away the World” earlier, setting up a transition into “Your Inner Lemmy” and “The Demons Come Home to Roost.” As a finale, the latter cut seems to be playing at once to the various sides of Devil to Pay‘s sound. Checking in at 7:42 as the longest inclusion on A Bend Through Space and Time, it uses that run to include shifts between harder and heavier visions of rock.
By no means is it the first time Devil to Pay have sought to execute their stylistic swath as a single idea, but it might be the most effectively they’ve done it yet, and in terms of a look at where their progression might continue to carry it seems reasonable to think further bridging the gaps they’ve explored in these tracks might be at least part of their story. But likely only part, because what has always typified Devil to Pay can only keep doing so for as long as the band exists, and that’s their songwriting. I don’t think they’d have it any other way, and as A Bend Through Space and Time demonstrates, they have the ability to cover a range of ground while keeping that ultra-solid foundation beneath them always.
Devil to Pay, A Bend Through Space and Time (2016)
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Having had the pleasure twice now, I can only recommend checking out Wretch live for anyone who hasn’t and might find themselves in a position to do so. The post-The Gates of Slumber project of guitarist/vocalist Karl Simon released their self-titled debut (review here) back in August through Bad Omen Records, and as you can hear on the full stream below, it captures the classic downtrodden vibes of Simon‘s prior work at its best while expanding on it in new directions, up to and including flourish of psychedelic jams. That’s right, I said it. Psych doom. Check it out and tell me if I’m wrong.
But I’m not. Also noteworthy that Wretch were included in the last round of additions to Roadburn 2017. Info and show dates follow, courtesy of the PR wire:
WRETCH (ex-The Gates of Slumber) Announces U.S. Tour Dates
True Doom Metal Trio to Hit the Road In Support of Celebrated Debut LP
Indianapolis-based doom metal trio, WRETCH, has announced U.S. tour dates in support of its self-titled debut album. The trek will launch on November 8 in Indianapolis, when the band shares the stage with Nik Turner’s Hawkwind. The WRETCH tour will run through November 22 in Chicago, hitting Detroit, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and more, along the way. Released on August 26 via Bad Omen Records, Wretch has met to staunch acclaim.
eaturing vocalist / guitarist Karl Simon, formerly of critically-acclaimed underground legends The Gates of Slumber, alongside drummer Chris Gordon and bassist Bryce Clarke, WRETCH rises from the ashes of the musician’s past project, which ended tragically with the passing of Gates’ bassist Jason McCash in 2014. With WRETCH, Simon carries on valiantly with the musical mission he began some eighteen years ago. In Wretch, the trio has laid down a fearsome salvo of cast-iron riffage and heartfelt traditional metal heraldry, shot through with a steely conviction instilled by the experiences of recent days.
Additionally, WRETCH has been confirmed as one of the featured acts at the 2017 Roadburn Festival, set for April 20-23 in Tilburg, The Netherlands. The band will perform on Thursday, April 20. Read the festival’s official announcement at this location.
WRETCH tour dates: (additional dates TBA) November 8 Indianapolis, IN 5th Quarter Lounge (w/ Nik Turner’s Hawkwind) November 11 Detroit, MI Small’s November 13 Philadelphia, PA Kung Fu Necktie November 14 Pittsburgh, PA Cattivo (w/ Bongzilla and Wizard Rifle) November 16 Brooklyn, NY Saint Vitus Bar November 19 Baltimore, MD Metro Gallery November 22 Chicago, IL Live Wire
Tripping out on home-grown effects while winding their way through deceptively metallic riffing, Indianapolis four-piece Devil to Pay deliver their signature style in their new video. The song, “On and On (in Your Mind),” comes from their fifth and latest album, A Bend Through Space and Time (review pending), which is out on Ripple Music as the follow-up to 2013’s Fate is Your Muse (review here), their label debut, and emphasizes the core songwriting approach that has always been at the very heart of their sound. Devil to Pay have become one of the most reliable acts in the American Midwest when it comes to offering quality craft of light-on-frills rock and roll, and even as they share guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak with the more doomly Apostle of Solitude, that remains unchanged.
I’ve done a number of video premieres for Devil to Pay over the last couple years — including one earlier in 2016 for their Motörhead tribute, “Your Inner Lemmy” (posted here) — but there’s yet to be one I haven’t been happy to host, as the basic fact of the matter is I’m a fan of the band, which is Janiak alongside guitarist Rob Hough, bassist/backing vocalist Matt Stokes and drummer/backing vocalist Chad Profigle. They have tour dates coming up this month which will take them through Kentucky, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Tennessee, where they’ll join several other choice acts along the way — Howling Giant, Destroyer of Light, Kin of Ettins, Orthodox Fuzz, etc. — and one can only imagine they’ll tape a significant portion of those shows, as is their wont, and use it to make their next video, which if the opportunity comes my way, I’d be glad to premiere as well, or even just put up, because, you know, fandom and all that.
You’ll find the complete list of tour dates under the “On and On (in Your Mind)” clip below. I think you’ll find the song all the more aptly-named for how often its hook repeats in your head after you hear it.
Devil to Pay, “On and On (in Your Mind)” official video
Through ten years of soul searching and survival – crawling out from the dank underbelly of the Indianapolis heavy music scene – Devil To Pay eventually established themselves in the underground rock community after signing to Ripple Music to release Fate Is Your Muse in 2013. Recorded in 2015 by Mike Bridavsky at Russian Recording in Bloomington, Indiana, A Bend Through Space and Time picks up where its predecessor left off and further develops Devil To Pay’s songcraft and explorations in heavy, riff-oriented rock and roll. By now, followers of the band should have already heard ‘Your Inner Lemmy’ – the quartet’s fitting tribute to Motörhead legend Lemmy Kilmister and the first track lifted from this new record – released earlier this year.
It serves as just one of many reference points, dotted across a constellation of hard rock influences at play on this, their best album to date. The band hit the road this October on a US tour (see full list of dates below) in support of their new album A Bend Through Space And Time, out now on Ripple Music.
Devil To Pay 2016 Tour: October 14th Indianapolis, IN Melody Inn October 20th Louisville, KY Highlands Taproom w Blind Scryer October 21st Huntsville, AL Coppertop w Parlangua, the Moose October 22nd Birmingham, AL the Nick w Parlangua, Firewater Revival October 23rd New Orleans, LA Parasite Skatepark w Donkey Puncher, AR15, Samm Bones October 24th Houston, TX Dan Electros w Stonework October 25th San Antonio, TX Hi-Tones w Curses, Over the Top October 26th Austin, TX Hotel Vegas w Destroyer of Light, Crypt Trip, Lawman October 27th Dallas, TX The Door w Kin of Ettins, Crop-Dust, Orthodox Fuzz October 28th Memphis, TN Hi Tone Cafe w Glorious Abhor, Hellthrasher October 29th Franklin, TN the Pond w Flummox, Battle Path, Howling Giant