The Obelisk Presents: The Top 30 of 2014

Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

the-obelisk-top-30-of-2014

Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.

This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.

I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.

Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.

Okay. Here we go:

30. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss

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Released by Candlelight Records. Reviewed on Nov. 17.

The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.

 

29. Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty

mos-generator-electric-mountain-majesty

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed on March 14.

A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos GeneratorElectric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.

 

28. Pilgrim, II: Void Worship

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Released by Metal Blade Records. Reviewed on April 15.

Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.

 

27. John Garcia, John Garcia

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Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed on July 7.

His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”

 

26. Swans, To be Kind

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Released by Mute/Young God Records. Reviewed on May 9.

An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.

 

25. Alunah, Awakening the Forest

alunah awakening the forest

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Oct. 14.

I initially made this list without Alunah‘s excellent third album and Napalm Records, but when it came down to it, not having the UK four-piece on here haunted me to the point where I had to come back in and swap them out with somebody else. Just couldn’t live with myself for not giving this record its due, which, to be frank, I’m still not since it should be higher on the list than it is. At least it’s here though, so the mistake is somewhat corrected.

 

24. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes

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Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed on April 25.

The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.

 

23. Earth, Primitive and Deadly

earth-primitive-and-deadly

Released by Southern Lord Recordings. Reviewed on Sept. 9.

Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.

 

22. Ogre, The Last Neanderthal

ogre-the-last-neanderthal

Released by Minotauro Records. Reviewed on March 10.

Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.

 

21. The Wounded Kings, Consolamentum

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Released by Candlelight Records. Reviewed on Jan. 30.

Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.

 

20. Floor, Oblation

floor-oblation

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed on April 22.

Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.

 

19. Druglord, Enter Venus

druglord-enter-venus

Released by STB Records. Reviewed on Feb. 14.

Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.

 

18. Ararat, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz

ararat-cabalgata-hacia-la-luz

Released by Oui Oui Records. Reviewed on April 4.

For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.

 

17. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt

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Released by Alive Naturalsound. Reviewed on May 29.

You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.

 

16. Apostle of Solitude, Of Woe and Wounds

apostle-of-solitude-of-woe-and-wounds

Released by Cruz del Sur. Reviewed on Nov. 6.

Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.

 

15. Stubb, Cry of the Ocean

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Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed on Nov. 24.

Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.

 

14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower

brant-bjork-and-the-low-desert-punk-band-black-power-flower

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed on Nov. 10.

Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.

 

13. Dwellers, Pagan Fruit

dwellers-pagan-fruit

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed on May 22.

An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.

 

12. The Golden Grass, The Golden Grass

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Released by Svart Records. Reviewed on March 25.

What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.

 

11. The Well, Samsara

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Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed on Sept. 22.

My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which GrahamAlley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow SeasonThe Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.

 

10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute

montibus-communitas-the-pilgrim-to-the-absolute

Released by Beyond Beyond is Beyond. Reviewed on Dec. 4.

Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.

 

9. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid

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Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed on May 14.

Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew GiacumakisFu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”

 

8. The Skull, For Those Which are Asleep

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Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed on Nov. 5.

Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.

 

7. Blood Farmers, Headless Eyes

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Self-released on CD, LP on PATAC Records. Reviewed on March 24.

Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.

 

6. Lo-Pan, Colossus

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Released by Small Stone. Reviewed on Oct. 7.

A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.

 

5a. All Them Witches, Lightning at the Door

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Self-released. Reviewed on Sept. 25.

What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.

 

5. Witch Mountain, Mobile of Angels

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Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed on Aug. 20.

A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angels that brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.

 

4. Conan, Blood Eagle

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Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed on Jan. 22.

In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon DavisSkyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.

 

3. Wo Fat, The Conjuring

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Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed on June 18.

Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.

 

2. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia

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Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed on March 11.

Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.

 

1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend

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Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed on Sept. 3.

“It’s time to wake up.”

Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend – YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.

 

 

Honorable Mention

First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.

A few other honorable mentions:

MothershipMothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.

Sólstafir, Ótta — They were originally on the list proper but had to be moved to make room for Alunah. I didn’t really get to know this record in 2014 anyway.

Ice DragonSeeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.

TruckfightersUniverse – I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.

SteakSlab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.

GodfleshA World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.

ThouHeathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.

Corrosion of ConformityIX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.

SpidergawdSpidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!

Monster MagnetMilking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.

SlomaticsEstron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.

Electric WizardTime to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.

PallbearerFoundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.

The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.

Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.

Thank you.

More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.

And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.

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Apostle of Solitude, Of Woe and Wounds: Lamentations

Posted in Reviews on November 6th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

apostle-of-solitude-of-woe-and-wounds

Four years after releasing their second album, Last Sunrise (review here), on Profound Lore, Indianapolis doomers arrive at Of Woe and Wounds a much different band than they were their last time out. Their debut for Cruz del SurOf Woe and Wounds is their first full-length to feature Devil to Pay guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak sharing those duties with Chuck Brown, and the first to feature bassist Dan Davidson, who joined last year, rounding out the rhythm section with drummer Corey Webb. New label, new dual-vocal approach, new low-end, Apostle of Solitude aren’t quiet coming out of the gate cold on their third offering, the preceding Demo 2012 (stream/review here) having previewed “Blackest of Times,” which leads off Of Woe and Wounds and “Die Vicar Die,” one of its catchiest hooks, and a demo leaked as well for “Whore’s Wings” (stream here) that showcased some of the album’s promise. Still, none of these quite prepared the listener for the heft Apostle of Solitude would sling this time around, as they mark a decade since their founding in 2004 and six years since they made their debut with 2008’s Sincerest Misery on Eyes Like Snow. With a crisper production — one can hear it in the crunch of the guitars and in Webb‘s hi-hat on “Die Vicar Die” — and the steady interplay of Brown and Janiak‘s vocals, the four-piece come across on these 10 tracks as being in command of their sound and able to work within a variety of downer, thoroughly doomed levels of despondency. Apostle of Solitude have always had an emotional element at work in their material — they were ahead of the game on that — and whether it’s “Push Mortal Coil,” the eight-minute culmination “Luna” or the brooding “Lamentations of a Broken Man,” on which Janiak takes the fore vocally, that remains true, but never has their presentation been more direct.

There are few frills in Apostle of Solitude‘s sound, and that’s always been the case. They are doom. No pretense, no bullshit. Born of the same lineage as The Gates of Slumber, they have never had much use for anything more than drums, guitar, bass and vocals in expressing their particular brand of sorrow, and Of Woe and Wounds drives that impulse even further. A later cut like “This Mania” feels like it’s changing things up for a faster pace than “Push Mortal Coil” before it or the morose “Siren” after, but essentially the methods are the same. BrownJaniakDavidson and Webb don’t really need anything else. The sway of “Siren” and the chugging initial buildup of “Blackest of Times” as it moves out of intro “Distance and the Cold Heart” readily accomplish the weighted task before them, and at nearly 60 minutes long, if Of Woe and Wounds was going to lose track of itself along the way, it would. Opening catchy with “Blackest of Times” and the quicker “Whore’s Wings,” the album instead draws the listener into its dark, spacious sound before reveling in the miseries of “Lamentations of a Broken Man” and “Die Vicar Die,” which pushes subtly toward the eight-minute mark with a long instrumental/solo break in its second half that gracefully pulls back to the chorus to finish out and shift into “Push Mortal Coil,” shorter, faster and more metal-sounding. I guess “more metal” applies to the album as a whole and is a function in part of the production. Produced by Mike Bridavsky, who also worked on Last SunriseOf Woe and Wounds is a long way from the bleed of Sincerest Misery, and though Apostle of Solitude have always had a clear, big sound, they’ve never come across quite as on top of the beat as they do here, and it gives the bulk of the record a more aggressive feel. It’s a long way around to avoiding sonic monotony — which a lot of traditional-style doom doesn’t — but Apostle of Solitude are skillful enough songwriters at this stage to make it work.

apostle-of-solitude

That’s true on “Blackest of Times,” “Die Vicar Die,” and “Whore’s Wings,” which again, have been around for a while, but also “Push Mortal Coil,” the thrust of “This Mania” with which it’s paired, and the aching “Siren,” which follows and leads the way into “Luna,” the album’s longest cut and greatest single achievement in tying together the various sides of Apostle of Solitude‘s sound. In its lurching riffs, smoothly executed vocal harmonies and desolate feel, “Luna” nonetheless manages to convey one of Of Woe and Wounds‘ central hooks, incorporate some of its best guitar interplay and remain one of the most memorable impressions on offer. It’s also, for all intents and purposes, the closer, though “Distance and the Cold Heart (Reprise)” returns to the intro to bookend in suitably mournful fashion, a plodding three-minute instrumental afterthought that’s hypnotic in its long fade, what sounds like backwards guitar set to a slow beat from Webb. You could call it a departure from the straightforward vibe so much of the album elicits, but it’s also how Of Woe and Wounds started, so to say it’s inconsistent would just be factually wrong. One decade and three albums deep, Apostle of Solitude don’t feel like they’ve settled. As much confidence as they display in their doomly approach, particularly in the vocal harmonies and weaving of lead and rhythm guitar tracks, they also set a course for areas of continued growth. I won’t claim to have any idea where they might head sonically, if the metallic vibe on Of Woe and Wounds portends a direction they might pursue from here on out, but as they move into their second decade of existence, the fact that Apostle of Solitude so blatantly refuse stagnation bodes well for their ongoing progression.

Apostle of Solitude, Of Woe and Wounds (2014)

Apostle of Solitude on Thee Facebooks

Of Woe and Wounds on Cruz del Sur’s Bandcamp

Cruz del Sur Music

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GIVEAWAY: Enter to Win Apostle of Solitude’s New CD Of Woe and Wounds

Posted in Features on October 7th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

apostle of solitude

If you’re looking forward to the Nov. 4 release of Apostle of Solitude‘s new album, Of Woe and Wounds (it’s out on Halloween in Europe), here you go. If you enter now by leaving a comment on this post, you can win a copy of the CD before it’s out. I know it’s doom and all, but it’s okay to be stoked.

Of Woe and Wounds is the third full-length from the Indianapolis four-piece, first for Cruz del Sur Music, and their first album with guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also of Devil to Pay) and bassist Dan Davidson in the lineup alongside guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown and drummer Corey Webb. The difference is palpable throughout, Janiak taking lead vocals on “Lamentations of a Broken Man” and harmonizing with Brown on cuts like “Die Vicar Die” and the eight-minute “Luna,” which, in an effort to let you have more of an idea what you’re going to win in this giveaway, you can stream on the player below:

Here’s some info on Of Woe and Wounds, courtesy of Cruz del Sur:

The album was recorded by Mike Bridavsky at Russian Recording in Bloomington, Indiana (USA) in May Apostle of Solitude Of Woe and Wounds2014, and is the first album featuring new members Steve Janiak and Dan Davidson. The addition of Davidson and Janiak has opened the classic Apostle of Solitude sound to new depths, vocal dynamics, and dimensions. Cover artwork for the album is by David Csicsely.

“Of Woe and Wounds” will be AoS third full length studio album after their 2008 release “Sincerest Misery” and “The Last Sunrise” (2010) and will be released in compact disc, vinyl and digital in October 31 (Europe) and November 4 (North America) on Cruz del Sur Music.

*Leave a comment on this post to enter. Winner is chosen one week from today. Please make sure to include your email address in the comment form so I can contact you if you win.

Thanks for entering and for your support!

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The Heavy Company Post Live Video for “Smokey Little Number”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 12th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

the heavy company

Last month, Indianapolis heavy blues trio The Heavy Company released a three-song show recording, Live at the Vogue, which as you might expect was taped at The Vogue in the band’s hometown. The set — and at three jammed-out tracks, I’m pretty sure it was their full set — was made available as a $2 download with the proceeds going to Small Stone Records, which in August suffered a flood that destroyed its office (you may have seen something about it around here, like at the top of the page for the last month), and while it’s definitely a live show recording, it still shows off the continually progressing chemistry of the three-piece, guitarist/vocalist Ian Gerber, bassist Michael Naish and drummer Jeff Kaleth tearing into classic psych blues jams across “Groove a Mile Wide,” “One Big Drag” and “Smokey Little Number,” none of which check in at under seven minutes long.

I can get down with that. Kaleth recorded and edited the performance, and it is an engaging bit of wandering they get up to throughout. Their new live video for the track “Smokey Little Number,” which closed out at over eight minutes, switches back and forth between a couple cameras to show The Heavy Company on a big stage in languid form, effects tripping out an easy groove that lives up to the song’s name. Unlike “Groove a Mile Wide” and “One Big Drag,” both of which come from The Heavy Company‘s 2013 Midwest Electric full-length (review here), “Smokey Little Number” has yet to appear on a studio outing — it seems also to be newer than the 2014 Uno Dose EP — so if it’s a peak at where the band is headed, it would seem they’re just gonna keep on jamming and find out where it takes them. Again, I can get down with that.

Check out the video below for “Smokey Little Number” and then head over to The Heavy Company‘s Bandcamp for the rest:

The Heavy Company, “Smokey Little Number” official video

The Heavy Co. on Thee Facebooks

Live at the Vogue on Bandcamp

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Apostle of Solitude Sign to Cruz del Sur; New Album Of Woe and Wounds Due in Oct.

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Excellent news out of the Midwest today as Indianapolis trad doomers Apostle of Solitude have inked a deal to release their newly-recorded third album, Of Woe and Wounds, on Cruz del Sur Music. This makes the Indy four-piece labelmates with the likes of Vestal Claret and Argus, among many others, and the long-awaited follow-up to their 2010 sophomore outing, Last Sunrise (review here), is set to arrive in October. It will do so preceded by their 2012 Demo (stream/review here), which still gets pretty regular spins around these parts, and the track “Whores Wings,” which premiered here last July. Of Woe and Wounds — not to be confused with the Les Claypool solo outing, Of Whales and Woe – will also mark the first album appearance of guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak, also of Devil to Pay, who joined after the second record was released.

Kudos to the band and the label. Seems like a good fit all around. Apostle of Solitude will also appear at Days of the Doomed IV next month. Poster and info on that follow with the announcement below, which comes via Cruz del Sur:

APOSTLE OF SOLITUDE signs deal with Cruz del Sur Music

Cruz Del Sur Music proudly announces the inking of a deal with US doomsters APOSTLE OF SOLITUDE for the release of their new album “Of Woe and Wounds”.

The album was recorded by Mike Bridavsky at Russian Recording in Bloomington, Indiana (USA) in May 2014, and is the first album featuring new members Steve Janiak and Dan Davidson. The addition of Davidson and Janiak has opened the classic Apostle of Solitude sound to new depths, vocal dynamics, and dimensions. Cover artwork for the album is currently being done by David Csicsely.

“Of Woe and Wounds” will be AoS third full length studio album after their 2008 release “Sincerest Misery” and “The Last Sunrise” (2010) and will be released in compact disc, vinyl and digital in October 2014 on Cruz del Sur Music.

Apostle of Solitude will be performing new songs from the upcoming release at the Days of the Doomed fest IV, in Cudahy, WI (USA) June 20 and 21.

http://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com
http://apostleofsolitude.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/apostleofsolitude
https://www.facebook.com/events/407651189366176/

Apostle of Solitude, 2012 Demo

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The Mound Builders to Release Split with Bo Jackson 5 for Record Store Day

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 17th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Ahead of a forthcoming EP release that will be pressed to CD and include a comic book to coincide with the tracks, Indiana heavy rocking five-piece The Mound Builders have announced a limited split with the cleverly-named Bo Jackson 5 (you see what they did there? They took a reference to a famous person and made two references out of it!) that will be released this weekend in honor of Record Store Day on tape through Failure Records and Tapes in a pressing of just 100 copies.

The striking cover art for the tape can be seen below, and while it festers into your consciousness to haunt your dreams, be sure to peruse the PR wire info that follows. The Mound Builders‘ last offering was 2011’s Strangers in a Strange Land (review here):

The Mound Builders and Bo Jackson 5 cassette tape split to be released on Record Store day!

After two and a half years The Mound Builders are set to release new material on Record Store Day, Saturday April 19th.

The new tunes were recorded over a 3 day period last July at Sonic Iguana Studios by Dan Precision (88 Finger Louie, Rise Against, Set Fire to Reason). 4 songs were completed of which 2, Sport of Crows and Barroom Queen, will be appearing on the split.

This limited edition tape (only 100 copies printed) is being released courtesy of Failure Records and Tapes. Anyone buying a tape will also receive a download card which will allow for a digital download of the songs. Only people buying the tape will have access to the digital download.

After the release of the tape The Mound Builders plan to release all for songs as an EP later this summer. The EP will first be available as a CD release accompanied by a comic book which will visually tell the story of each song on the CD!

Follow The Mound Builders on Facebook for more details on future releases!

https://www.facebook.com/themoundbuilders
http://themoundbuilders.bandcamp.com/

The Mound Builders, Strangers in a Strange Land (2011)

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R.I.P. Jason McCash of The Gates of Slumber

Posted in Features on April 6th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

To those who knew him, he was of course much more, but to the heavy underground, Jason McCash will be best remembered as the foundational low end resonating from The Gates of Slumber’s groundbreaking traditional doom. McCash, who left the trio late last year, reportedly died yesterday, April 5, from causes as yet unknown or unannounced.

McCash joined The Gates of Slumber in 2003, and his partnership with guitarist/vocalist Karl Simon proved pivotal to the band’s ultimate success. Hailing from Indianapolis, Indiana, The Gates of Slumber became a vanguard of Midwestern trad doom. From the band’s 2004 debut, …The Awakening, to their 2011 final full-length, The Wretch, the partnership between McCash and Simon — as well as drummers Chuck Brown, J. Clyde Paradis and Bob Fouts — would develop into one of the most potent in the American underground, pulling in elements from epic classic metal on 2008’s Conqueror and 2009’s Hymns of Blood and Thunder.

The Wretch found The Gates of Slumber returning to a more doomed approach, effectively doing to Saint Vitus what Saint Vitus did to Black Sabbath, creating something original out of homage. Their final release, a Scion A/V-sponsored EP called Stormcrow, was issued last year and continued along similar lines. Already influential both in their native Midwest and beyond, The Gates of Slumber ended when McCash quit, and the members had begun to move forward on other projects. The door to a future reunion seemed open.

Karl Simon had this comment on McCash’s passing:

My best friend died last night. There will be no reunion – no more of TGoS. It’s dead beyond dead, and I’ve lost a brother.

Please be respectful or silent. It’s a small world and I’m still alive. Remember that shit.

On behalf of myself and this site, I offer condolences to Jason McCash’s friends and family. Even those who knew him casually, in bands, or who just appreciated his work know that his loss leaves a void in doom and in the lives of those close to him. His death, far too soon, is a reminder of the importance of community and support in dark times.

A fund has been set up for donations to help the McCash family with their finances in the wake of Jason’s passing. Contributions can be made here: http://www.gofundme.com/mccash-family-fund

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Devil to Pay Added to Days of the Doomed IV

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 31st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Tomorrow is the arrival of the New Year, and among the pagan rituals, hangover-dispersal, Readers Poll results-posting and whatever other day-off-style shenanigans one might get up to, it’s also the on-sale date for Days of the Doomed IV tickets. To mark the occasion and the transition from an already-successful 2013 to a bigger 2014 to come, the festival has announced the addition of Ripple Music heavy rockers Devil to Pay to the lineup.

Devil to Pay, who released one of 2013’s best records in the form of their fourth album, Fate is Your Muse (review here), will make the drive north from their Indianapolis home-base to play Days of the Doomed IV alongside Blackfinger, The Mighty Nimbus, Age of Taurus, Wasted Theory and others. Many more bands are still to be announced, but the fourth installment of the metal-heavy doom outing, set for June 20 and 21, seems to be stepping up its game all around.

Announcement, links and Devil to Pay‘s kickass video for “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife” (which premiered here) follow:

Happy New Year everyone! How about another band announcement For Days Of The Doomed Fest IV? Grab a PBR tallboy and get ready for the jams to kick your ass… from Indianapolis, I give you Ripple Music recording artist and purveyors of all things HEAVY.. Devil To Pay!

Back for its fourth installment June 20th & 21st, 2014! Days Of The Doomed Fest IV promises to bring the heavy! Bands will be announced over the next several months, so stay tuned! Tickets on sale starting 1/1/14 at www.daysofthedoomed.com!

Days of the Doomed fest IV is scheduled for June 20th & 21st, 2014 at The Metal Grill in Cudahy (South Milwaukee), WI. It is the same venue as past fests, but it is under new ownership/management! Stay tuned for more details!

https://www.facebook.com/events/407651189366176/
https://www.facebook.com/deviltopay
http://www.ripple-music.com

Devil to Pay, “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife” official video

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