The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Short Releases of 2017

Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 20 short releases

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 2017 to that, please do.

This is the hardest list to put together, no question. Don’t get me wrong, I put way too much thought into all of them, but this one is damn near impossible to keep up with. Every digital single, every demo, every EP, every 7″, 10″ one-sided 12″, whatever it is. There’s just too much. I’m not going to claim to have heard everything. Hell, that’s what the comments are for. Let me know what I missed. Invariably, something.

So while the headers might look similar, assuming I can ever remember which fonts I use from one to the next, this list has a much different personality than, say, the one that went up earlier this week with the top 20 debuts of 2017. Not that I heard everyone’s first record either, but we’re talking relative ratios here. The bottom line is please just understand I’ve done my best to hear as much as possible. I’m only one person, and there are only so many hours in the day. Eventually your brain turns into riffy mush.

With that caveat out of the way, I’m happy to present the following roundup of some of what I thought were 2017’s best short releases. That’s EPs, singles, demos, splits — pretty much anything that wasn’t a full-length album, and maybe one or two things that were right on the border of being one. As between genres, the lines are blurry these days. That’s part of what makes it fun.

Okay, enough dawdling. Here we go:

lo-pan-in-tensions

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Short Releases of 2017

1. Lo-Pan, In Tensions
2. Godhunter, Codex Narco
3. Year of the Cobra, Burn Your Dead
4. Shroud Eater, Three Curses
5. Stubb, Burning Moon
6. Canyon, Canyon
7. Solace, Bird of Ill Omen
8. Kings Destroy, None More
9. Tarpit Boogie, Couldn’t Handle… The Heavy Jam
10. Supersonic Blues, Supersonic Blues Theme
11. Come to Grief, The Worst of Times EP
12. Rope Trick, Red Tape
13. Eternal Black, Live at WFMU
14. IAH, IAH
15. Bong Wish, Bong Wish EP
16. Rattlesnake, Outlaw Boogie Demo
17. Hollow Leg, Murder
18. Mars Red Sky, Myramyd
19. Avon, Six Wheeled Action Man Tank 7″
20. Wretch, Bastards Born

Honorable Mention

Across Tundras, Blood for the Sun / Hearts for the Rain
The Discussion, Tour EP
Fungus Hill, Creatures
Switchblade Jesus & Fuzz Evil, The Second Coming of Heavy – Chapter Seven
The Grand Astoria, The Fuzz of Destiny
Test Meat, Demo
Blood Mist, Blood Mist
Sweat Lodge, Tokens for Hell
Dautha, Den Foerste
Scuzzy Yeti, Scuzzy Yeti
Howling Giant, Black Hole Space Wizard Part 2
Decasia, The Lord is Gone
Bible of the Devil/Leeches of Lore, Split 7″

I can’t imagine I won’t add a name or two or five to this section over the next few days as I think of other things and people remind me of stuff and so on, so keep an eye out, but the point is there’s way more than just what made the top 20. That Across Tundras single would probably be on the list proper just on principle, but I heard it like a week ago and it doesn’t seem fair. Speaking of unfair, The Discussion, Howling Giant, The Grand Astoria and the Bible of the Devil/Leeches of Lore split all deserve numbered placement easily. I might have to make this a top 30 in 2018, just to assuage my own guilt at not being able to include everything I want to include. For now though, yeah, this is just the tip of the doomberg.

Notes

To be totally honest with you, that Lo-Pan EP came out Jan. 13 and pretty much had the year wrapped up in my head from that point on. It was going to be hard for anything to top In Tensions, and the Godhunter swansong EP came close for the sense of stylistic adventurousness it wrought alone, and ditto that for Year of the Cobra’s bold aesthetic expansions on Burn Your Dead and Shroud Eater’s droning Three Cvrses, but every time I heard Jeff Martin singing “Pathfinder,” I knew it was Lo-Pan’s year and all doubt left my mind. Of course, for the Ohio four-piece, In Tensions is something of a one-off with the departure already of guitarist Adrian Zambrano, but I still have high hopes for their next record. It would be hard not to.

The top five is rounded out by Stubb’s extended jam/single “Burning Moon,” which was a spacey delight and new ground for them to cover. The self-titled debut EP from Philly psych rockers Canyon, which they’ve already followed up, is next. I haven’t had the chance to hear the new one yet, but Canyon hit a sweet spot of psychedelia and heavy garage that made me look forward to how they might develop, so I’ll get there sooner or later. Solace’s return was nothing to balk at with their cassingle “Bird of Ill Omen” and the Sabbath cover with which they paired it, and though Kings Destroy weirded out suitably on the 14-minute single-song EP None More, I hear even greater departures are in store with their impending fourth LP, currently in progress.

A couple former bandmates of mine feature in Tarpit Boogie in guitarist George Pierro and bassist John Eager, and both are top dudes to be sure, but even if we didn’t have that history, it would be hard to ignore the tonal statement they made on their Couldn’t Handle… The Heavy Jam EP. If you didn’t hear it, go chase it down on Bandcamp. Speaking of statements, Supersonic Blues’ Supersonic Blues Theme 7″ was a hell of an opening salvo of classic boogie that I considered to be one of the most potential-laden offerings of the year. Really. Such warmth to their sound, but still brimming with energy in the most encouraging of ways. Another one that has to be heard to be believed.

The dudes are hardly newcomers, but Grief offshoot Come to Grief sounded pretty fresh — and raw — on their The Worst of Times EP, and the Massachusetts extremists check in right ahead of fellow New Englangers Rope Trick, who are an offshoot themselves of drone experimentalists Queen Elephantine. Red Tape was a demo in the demo tradition, and pretty formative sounding, but seemed to give them plenty of ground on which to develop their aesthetic going forward, and I wouldn’t ask more of it than that.

Eternal Black gave a much-appreciated preview of their Bleed the Days debut long-player with Live at WFMU and earned bonus points for recording it at my favorite radio station, while Argentine trio IAH probably went under a lot of people’s radar with their self-titled EP but sent a fervent reminder that that country’s heavy scene is as vibrant as ever. Boston-based psych/indie folk outfit Bong Wish were just the right combination of strange, melodic and acid-washed to keep me coming back to their self-titled EP on Beyond Beyond is Beyond, and as Adam Kriney of The Golden Grass debuted his new project Rattlesnake with the Outlaw Boogie demo, the consistency of his songcraft continued to deliver a classic feel. Another one to watch out for going into the New Year.

I wasn’t sure if it was fair to include Hollow Leg’s Murder or not since it wound up getting paired with a special release of their latest album, but figured screw it, dudes do good work and no one’s likely to yell about their inclusion here. If you want to quibble, shoot me a comment and quibble away. Mars Red Sky only released Myramyd on vinyl — no CD, no digital — and I never got one, but heard a private stream at one point and dug that enough to include them here anyway. They remain perennial favorites.

Avon, who have a new record out early in 2018 on Heavy Psych Sounds, delivered one of the year’s catchiest tracks with the “Six Wheeled Action Man Tank” single. I feel like I’ve had that song stuck in my head for the last two months, mostly because I have. And Wretch may or may not be defunct at this point — I saw word that drummer Chris Gordon was leaving the band but post that seems to have disappeared now, so the situation may be in flux — but their three-songer Bastards Born EP was a welcome arrival either way. They round out the top 20 because, well, doom. Would be awesome to get another LP out of them, but we’ll see I guess.

One hopes that nothing too egregious was left off, but one again, if there’s something you feel like should be here that isn’t, please consider the invitation to leave a comment open and let me know about it. Hell, you know what? Give me your favorites either way, whether you agree with this list or not. It’s list season, do it up. I know there’s the Year-End Poll going, and you should definitely contribute to that if you haven’t, but what was your favorite EP of the year? The top five? Top 10? I’m genuinely curious. Let’s talk about it.

Whether you have a pick or not (and I hope you do), thanks as always for reading. May the assault of short releases continue unabated in 2018 and beyond.

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Kings Destroy, None More: Into Bloody Waters

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on January 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

KINGS DESTROY NONE MORE

[Click play above to stream Kings Destroy’s None More EP in full. It’s out Jan. 13 on War Crime Recordings, and Kings Destroy are on tour with Truckfighters starting Jan. 18 (dates here)]

Brooklyn heavy noise specialists Kings Destroy will release their new EP, None More, on Jan. 13 via War Crime Recordings. Like everything they’ve done up to this point in their seven-year tenure, it’s a departure. It departs from their last album, 2015’s self-titled (review here), and from 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), and certainly from their 2010 debut, And the Rest Will Surely Perish (originally released through this site’s then-existent label, The Maple Forum). “Departure” is pretty much the running theme of everything the five-piece do in one way or another, so it’s all the more intriguing as regards None More — this limited, one-song, 14-minute curio EP pressed to tape with a Mech-battle Josh Graham cover almost two full years after the band’s last record came out and with numerous tours home and abroad behind them — that they should sound so much like themselves on it.

“None More,” the track itself, is presented in five component parts, each with a subtitle: “I. Rise of the Betrayer,” “II. The Blood Waters,” “III. The Battle,” “IV. Requiem,” “V. The Awakening” and “VI. Rise of the Betrayer (Reprise).” It does not feel like some great leap of insight to note the clear narrative at play here, or that “None More” comes full circle at its conclusion — an instrumental move as much as a dramatic turn — or that it’s the grandest scope the lineup of vocalist Steve Murphy, guitarists Carl Porcaro and Chris Skowronski, bassist Aaron Bumpus and drummer Rob Sefcik have enacted in a given piece. More to their credit, None More moves through its extended but brief stretch, it flows not like a disjointed assemblage of parts, but with a careful and patiently executed arc. It’s not the first time Kings Destroy have told a story in their work, but it’s the first time they’ve put so much into the telling.

I alluded to it above but should say outright that Kings Destroy and I have collaborated in the past and I continue to consider myself a fan of what they do and I’m fortunate enough to feel comfortable calling them friends — something I’ll just about never do — so what minuscule impartiality I might otherwise claim is right out the window. If that means this review comes with a grain of salt, so be it. That does nothing to change the level of achievement Kings Destroy have reached as they’ve grown over the course of the last seven-plus years, or the substantial mark in their progression None More signifies. One might be tempted to relate “None More” to “Time for War” from the self-titled, and indeed, the EP track does seem to make a direct predecessor of the last album’s closer.

But true to their commitment to always moving forward, it builds on what that song did, beginning after an initial crash and extended count-in by establishing the nodding, Earth-style riff that will serve as its bookend. In less than a minute they’re into the verse — the sound full and spacious as captured by Mike Moebius at Moonlight Mile (Pilgrim, etc.), whose work with Kings Destroy extends back to their first 7″ single (review here) — and guitar leads mournfully interweave beneath as Murphy begins to set up the storyline. Like “Time for War,” it’s a battle.

truckfighters kings destroy tour

Specifically the Battle of Clontarf, which took place in Ireland in 1014 and pitted the Irish High King Brian Boru against Vikings as well as other Irish forces, and which — though everyone seems to have died in the process, because war — resulted in the first Irish victory over the Vikings and a turning point in Irish culture after nearly 300 years of raids. Murphy‘s telling is way less prog-rock-history-lesson and way more working to convey the impression of the sunrise-to-sunset slaughter. With a shift into a quicker tempo at around 2:45, ‘The Blood Waters’ takes hold and introduces layered-in tight backing vocals, almost chanting, but more grunted. Sefcik‘s drums hold together a torrent of guitar soloing and the band settles in around a faster riff that’s as much classic metal as it is true to the band’s New York hardcore lineage, and as the next movement makes its way in, what seems to be the key line of the whole song is delivered in dual layers for effect: “We will be victorious/The dead will honor all of us.”

From there, they’re in the thick of it. We would seem to have been through ‘The Battle,’ which plays out instrumentally until about six minutes in, but as it should, “None More” gets murkier from there. Some turns are clearer than others — you know it when they hit into the reprise of ‘Rise of the Betrayer,’ for example, at the 11-minute mark — but between ‘The Battle,’ and the subsequent pair of ‘Requiem’ and ‘The Awakening,’ the progression is fluid enough that they essentially bleed into each other. Harmonized guitar lines lead a march punctuated by Sefcik and Bumpus through the midsection in an intricate play of melody and stomp, and by seven and a half minutes, all has come to a halt and what’s probably ‘The Awakening’ has begun. It’s a from-the-ground-up motion, quiet and ultimately shortlived, but it further conveys Kings Destroy‘s growth in its lack of rush to get where it’s going, instead spreading out a kind of hypnotic drift until they crash back in with the more emotional crux of the song, patient and effective. That they can pull it off and not give in to tension or sound like they’re just waiting to pounce is a definitive step.

Again, it’s quick, but telling. The rolling groove that ensues will carry through to ‘Rise of the Betrayer (Reprise),’ with a momentary break between the two sections and then a resumption of the introductory movement, bringing “None More” full circle rhythmically as a guitar solo takes hold at 11:40 and serves as a finishing move topping the nodding fluidity until the drums and bass drop out and feedback holds sway until clicking off just past 14 minutes. That ending conveys an in-the-studio feel that offsets some of the gritty grandeur of “None More” itself, but has the dual effect of jerking the listener back to reality after the band has dug so deep into the track’s final statement, and that would seem to be intentional. In any case, it fits with the narrative of Kings Destroy themselves, which is no less prevalent here than the Battle of Clontarf, and is shown through the dedication to pushing their approach forward in style and performance. None More might prove to be a stopgap en route to a fourth full-length, but it finds Kings Destroy in a crucial moment as a group and presents their story in a metaphor that could hardly be more apt.

Kings Destroy on Thee Facebooks

Kings Destroy website

Kings Destroy on Bandcamp

War Crime Recordings BigCartel store

War Crime Recordings on Thee Facebooks

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