The Obelisk All-Dayer — THANK YOU!

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on August 22nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

the-obelisk-all-dayer-thanks

I honestly can’t remember the last time I was so tired. Pure physical and mental exhaustion. By the end of the day I could barely stand up, keep my head up, or down one last cup of coffee while watching Mars Red Sky close out the show. It’s been three days. I’m still not sure I have the mental faculties to write this post.

I hereby dub the first-ever The Obelisk All-Dayer a success.

The day started with The Patient Mrs.’ car breaking down on I-95 in Connecticut on the way south to Brooklyn and continued through flash floods, the first two bands running late (both got there on time, but my nerves were already frayed from being late myself), my camera breaking – again – during Funeral Horse, Death Alley blowing a tire on their way up from Philly, and so on, but there were tacos, the day ultimately ran on time, and everybody killed.

Absolutely killed. I mean it. Front to back. What a show.

From Heavy Temple bringing it for an early 2:30 start through Mars Red Sky dipping back to their first record for a rendition of “Strong Reflection” that nearly brought a tear to my eye, and everything in between. King Buffalo? Funeral Horse? Fucking EYE? Kings Destroy? Snail? Death Alley’s absolute ownership of the room? There wasn’t a dud in the bunch.

Most importantly, it seemed like everybody there had a good time. The tacos went. We wound up with about 170 people in the door, not counting bands and guests, and with the professionalism of the Saint Vitus Bar staff, the show ran smoothly the whole time, changeovers were easy, and my sincere hope is that everyone who came felt welcome, because they absolutely were.

On that note, I’ll say that I’m not going to review the show. Just doesn’t feel right. But I did want to say thank you to a few people who helped make the day so incredibly special.

First to The Patient Mrs., who not only handled money at the end of the night, but sold posters and patches, kept me sane as we stood on the side of the highway and waited for the tow truck, reminded me to eat, and got me that aforementioned last cup of coffee to get me through the last part of the show. She was there (almost) the whole day and it was deeply meaningful to me to have her around.

Thanks to Walter Roadburn, who left the comforts of home to come and co-DJ the afterparty, sat in traffic with The Patient Mrs. and I on the trip from Boston to Connecticut, Connecticut to Brooklyn, and back again. The time we got to spend talking about music, about what he does with his festival, and his insights on the show are memories that I imagine I will continue to treasure for as long as I can remember anything at all. Highlight of the weekend, without question. And thanks to Esther, who convinced him to come.

Thanks to David Castillo, George Souleidis, Sound Guy Jeff and the staff at the Saint Vitus Bar, which leaves absolutely nothing to question as to why it has the reputation it has. The generosity they showed in welcoming the All-Dayer into their rightly-hallowed space, the accommodation of the weird schedule, and just the sheer slog of the hours put in – all handled with professionalism beyond enviable. Other venues should aspire to run such a ship. It was staggering to see it from the end of someone organizing a show. Thank you so much.

Thank you to Steve Murphy for the endless, thoroughly unjustified belief in my being able to pull this whole thing off, for the tacos and for the support across the board. Thank you for your friendship, your kindness, and for your threat to print up bootleg Obelisk t-shirts to give away at random. I hope that works out.

Thanks to the bands. Mars Red Sky coming from France to play, Death Alley from the Netherlands, Snail from the West Coast, Kings Destroy giving New York due representation with a special set – “Planet XXY?” who knew? – EYE from Ohio, Funeral Horse from Houston, King Buffalo from Rochester and Heavy Temple from Philly. And to Walter and Adam Otracina for helming the afterparty. Whether they were coming from near or far, it really felt like everybody put something extra into the show and I was continually humbled and blown away by what I saw and heard all day and into the night. People loaning each other gear, making adjustments on the fly, starting and ending on time, everything came together better than I could’ve hoped, and it was just wonderful to see. I am deeply grateful.

Thanks to Jaime Traba for recording the audio of the sets. More on that hopefully soon. Thanks to Frank Huang for capturing video. Steve Truglio, Randy Blood, Harry Booth and others for getting photos. Like I said, my camera died, so knowing that there were plenty of others around was a great comfort.

Thanks to Skillit for the amazing poster and logo design, and to Dave from Made in Brooklyn for printing the patches. Thanks to my family, Suze Wright, Andy Wright and Rob Jones, for coming and helping sell merch. Thanks to Slevin and Ralph. Thanks to Liz and Dave from Earsplit and Becky Laverty for the plugs. Thanks to Postman Dan for buying tickets even though he couldn’t make it. Thanks to Randy and Laura Blood, Juan Lopez, Jen Hendrix-Johnson, Kenny Sehgal, Phil Moon, Adam Sawford, Nico Liengme and Laurel Jane May, Earl Walker Lundy, Seibert Lowe, Paul John Shaft, Lisa Hass, Melanie Streko, Ron, Jill Lavilette, Brian Schmidt, Ross Colombo, Alex Jakstas, Natasha Padilla, Tad Proshansky, Zack Kurland, Greg Aramini, and many, many others who came out, everyone who had a kind word about the site, the band selection, my book, everything. I’m quite sure I’ll add to this list as I regain even my usual limited use of my mental faculties, but this is for starters and please know that whether you were there in-person or if you shared a link or saw a post about it and liked it or bought tickets in advance or just read the site generally. Thank you. Thank you all so much. Thank you.

Thank you.

I’m going to take a couple weeks and really think about whether this is something I want to do again, but if I do, I know it won’t be an annual thing. Whatever happens moving forward, I want you to know how unbelievable this night was for me and I hope for everyone who attended as well. One more time, thank you.

I don’t have photos of my own, Steve Truglio was kind enough to send me shots of each band who played, and you’ll find them after the jump.

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The Obelisk All-Dayer Countdown: Kings Destroy, “Old Yeller” Live in Sweden

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Features, The Obelisk Presents on August 11th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

the obelisk all-dayer

The Obelisk All-Dayer tickets

I wasn’t there to see it, of course, but I happen to know that this particular show has become something of a legend within Kings Destroy. It was the Getaway Rockfestival in Sweden, part of their 2012 European tour. They’d wind up hanging out with Weedeater — and by hanging out I mean stealing a forklift — and playing on what you can see in the video below is a massive stage to a likewise massive audience. Looks like it was an absolute blast.

Since even before Kings Destroy released their first album through this site’s short-lived record label wing, the New York outfit have been among my favorite bands to write about. They’ve consistently defied expectation — mine for sure, and I think their own as well — and have over the last five years become a highly individualized blend of noise rock, heavier sludge impulses and anti-genre fuckall.

On stage they’re confrontational in a way that was once a staple of their hometown. I’ve been fortunate enough to tour with them twice, and on the East Coast and the West, they’ve left audiences dumbfounded and won over in like proportion. Their third and latest record, Kings Destroy (review here), came out last year on War Crime Recordings and is a triumph of how far into their own they’ve come, full of memorable songs that have made for some genuinely ridiculous live shows. People have been kicked. By other people. On stage. Frequently.

There was basically no way I was going to put on The Obelisk All-Dayer — which is Aug. 20 at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn (get tickets) — and not have them involved. I’m glad they said yes. They’ll be the lone New York band on the bill, which they’re sharing with Mars Red Sky, Death Alley, Snail, Eye, Funeral Horse, King Buffalo and Heavy Temple. It’s going to be incredible.

With visions of forklifts in your head, enjoy “Old Yeller” below:

Kings Destroy, “Old Yeller” Live in Sweden

The Obelisk All-Dayer tickets

Kings Destroy on Thee Facebooks

Saint Vitus Bar website

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THE OBELISK ALL-DAYER: Official Poster & Runtimes Revealed

Posted in The Obelisk Presents, Visual Evidence on June 30th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

the obelisk all-dayer poster skillit

Buy Tickets Here

Gaze upon its countenance and realize just how fucking awesome this show is going to be.

Aug. 20 at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn marks the first-ever The Obelisk All-Dayer, a one-of-a-kind celebration of things heavy, noisy, psychedelic, progressive, and weird. In addition to being the first New York appearances for French heavy psych mavens Mars Red Sky, Amsterdam-based motor-rockers Death Alley, West Coast riff-rollers Snail and bizarro Texas punks Funeral Horse, The Obelisk All-Dayer will feature food on-hand, full and recorded sets, limited-edition posters and other merch, and an afterparty with DJ Adzo (aka Adam Kriney of Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass) and Walter Roadburn (the man behind the internationally renowned Roadburn festival).

Today the official poster, which will be available at the Vitus Bar in a limited and one-time run of 50, has been revealed. Art is by Los Angeles-based designer Sean “Skillit” McEleny, who has worked with numerous acts across both coasts as well as the header for this site and perfectly captures the strange awe and wonder that the show is certain to elicit front-to-back.

Following the revelation earlier this month of the complete lineup, the set runtimes are now also available:

the obelisk all-dayer logo skillit-700

Mars Red Sky* 10:10-11:40
Death Alley* 8:50-9:50
Snail* 7:30-8:30
Kings Destroy 6:30-7:10
EYE 5:30-6:10
Funeral Horse* 4:30-5:10
King Buffalo 3:30-4:10
Heavy Temple 2:30-3:10
(Afterparty with DJ Adzo & Walter Roadburn* 12-2AM)
* Debut appearance in NYC

Set times are firm. The Obelisk All-Dayer is proud to be giving these bands enough time to flesh out their performances, as opposed to rushing one into the next in a festival. The intent is that the day will be a laid-back party more than a festival, from the start of Heavy Temple‘s cult-worthy riffing through the psych-blues bliss of King Buffalo, the possibly-cape-inclusive doings of Funeral HorseEYE‘s lush progressive rock, locals Kings Destroy‘s aggro noise push and the one-two-three punch of SnailDeath Alley and Mars Red Sky, none of whom has ever played New York before.

Get your tickets immediately.

The Obelisk All-Dayer tickets

The Obelisk All-Dayer event page

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KINGS DESTROY and HEAVY TEMPLE Confirmed for The Obelisk All-Dayer, Aug. 20 at Saint Vitus Bar

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on May 26th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

the obelisk all-dayer

Buy Tickets Here

The first-ever The Obelisk All-Dayer is set for Aug. 20, 2016, at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, NY. So far the announced lineup includes Mars Red Sky for their first East Coast appearance, Snail for their first East Coast appearance, Ohio’s EYE supporting their new album, Funeral Horse for their first East Coast appearance and King Buffalo, who’ll be playing the last night of their release tour.

I’m proud and thrilled today to add Kings Destroy and Heavy Temple to the bill.

I can’t say enough about what each of these bands brings to the show, and I couldn’t be more stoked to have them involved. One thing I’ve been trying to do all along is build a genuine flow to the day that I think will make sense as one set leads to the next. It’ll make sense once the full running order is posted, but for the time being, let me just say that both these bands hold a special place in the lineup.

Here’s more on each:

Kings Destroy

kings destroy
There isn’t a band today I feel closer to than Brooklyn’s Kings Destroy. If you read this site at all, you probably already know that. I’ve been a nerd for these cats since their first 7″ and I’m fortunate today to consider them as friends and the bottom line is there’s just no way in hell I’d put on this show and not have them involved. They were out on tour earlier this year with Black Cobra, Lo-Pan and Bongzilla supporting their 2015 self-titled third album, for which they’ve already started writing the follow-up. They have a new 15-minute song that last I heard was about half done and they don’t know it yet, but I’m calling them out to play it at this show. The gauntlet is thrown down, gentlemen.

Heavy Temple

heavy temple
Oh my god, the new Heavy Temple is so good. Don’t get me wrong, I knew before I heard it that I wanted them on this bill — I’ve known it since Vultures of Volume last year, but the Philly trio have a new EP in the can and it’s absolutely stellar. They’ll open the show hopefully playing tracks from it and I expect by the time August comes around, there will be some official announcement as to the release, but even if you don’t know it yet, you’re in for a treat as they kick things off at The Obelisk All-Dayer. I shouldn’t have to tell you to get there early — looking like a 2:30PM start — but I will anyway, just to reinforce the importance of the issue. Get there early.

The Obelisk All-Dayer is Aug. 20, 2016, at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, New York, and will feature full sets, after-show DJs, food truck on-hand, live recordings, limited edition merch and much more. One more band to be announced in June, along with DJs and the running order.

The Obelisk All-Dayer tickets

The Obelisk All-Dayer event page

Kings Destroy on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Temple on Thee Facebooks

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Live Review: Bongzilla, Black Cobra, Kings Destroy and Lo-Pan in Somerville, MA, 04.02.16

Posted in Reviews on April 4th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

bongzilla show 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The bill pushed the envelope of ridiculous. As part of their ongoing reunion, Wisconsin sludgers Bongzilla have been on tour since late February with nomadic thrashers Black Cobra and only-slightly-less-nomadic heavy rockers Lo-Pan. They met up with New York’s Kings Destroy — freshly back from their Australian run with Radio Moscow — at SXSW last month, and have continued along the Eastern Seaboard since. Friday night was a sold-out show at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, and Saturday was ONCE Ballroom in Somerville, Massachusetts, for a show that was put on by Grayskull Booking and presented in part by this site.

It was my first time at ONCE Ballroom, but I’d like to extend personal gratitude to whoever decided to leave the lights on while the bands played. The P.A. was formidable, and it was a night that would push its limits, and the layout like the kind of place you might rent for a wedding reception. That’s not a dig on it — actually the room was quite nice — it’s just the first thing that came to my oh-so-domestic mind. There was a dance floor in front of the stage and carpeted floor space all around, bar to the side and another bar upstairs in kind of a lounge with a pool table Addams Family pinball machine and so on. To the best of my knowledge, they haven’t been doing shows there long, which explains how the carpet wasn’t completely disgusting or otherwise gone, but for the most part, the evening ran smoothly.

Here’s how it went down:

Lo-Pan

lo-pan 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I don’t know how many shows the Ohio four-piece have done with Black Cobra over the years, and in fact I doubt it’s a figure even they could quote at this point, but to understate it, I’d say they’re well past the range of “several.” It had been nearly a full 12 months since last time I saw them, which was at Roadburn 2015 (review here). To be blunt, they were missed. I was particularly interested to see a year later how guitarist Adrian Zambrano had continued to fit in the band after joining late in 2014 the lineup with vocalist Jeff Martin, bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz, who was positioned, as ever, at the front of the stage. Most of what they played was new, and in terms of where they’re at in progressing from the high-impact delivery of their 2014 fourth album, Colossus (review here), they seemed not at all to have taken a step back, but to have integrated Zambrano‘s energy into their own. And the guitarist had plenty to integrate, stepping up to lead songs with riffs or space out just a bit in two quieter cuts. They reportedly have some new recordings in the can, which I’m dying to hear, and the last song of their set, “Pathfinder,” might be the best thing I’ve ever heard them play. I’d never heard the song before but was taken in completely by its flow, by Martin‘s out-of-this-world vocals, by Bartz‘s signature crashes, the swing in Thompson‘s bass and the dynamic volume switches in Zambrano‘s guitar. They’ve been on the road for a month, so I figured they’d be tight, but Lo-Pan served voluminous reminder of their place among the US’ finest heavy rock acts. Keeping my fingers crossed it’s not another year until I see them again.

Kings Destroy

kings destroy 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Another case of been-too-long. Kings Destroy are very nearly a year out from the release of their self-titled third full-length (review here), and the last time I caught them was at the release show (review here) for it, which, yeah, is too damn long for my preferences. They played a six-song set, and the change in vibe from Lo-Pan was immediate. Each of the bands on this tour offers something different from the others, but I hadn’t really considered how smoothly the acts — especially the first three, but Bongzilla as well — would flow between them, Lo-Pan starting off with a charged-fuzz boot to the ass, Kings Destroy turning that more aggressive, Black Cobra hitting with unmatched intensity, and finally, Bongzilla finishing out with a mass of tone. For being disparate in their sound, Kings Destroy followed Lo-Pan well. They had a fill-in bassist in Mike Moebius (also producer for Pilgrim, Kings Destroy, The Munsens and others) holding down Aaron Bumpus‘ usual spot next to drummer Rob Sefcik and guitarist Chris Skowronski, and while Skowronski didn’t run across the stage to kick fellow guitarist Carl Porcaro, so I can’t call it the most raucous Kings Destroy set I’ve ever seen, they showed themselves plainly to be ready to move forward from the last record. This tour hasn’t been quite back to back with the aforementioned Australian stint, but close enough to it that when it’s over I wouldn’t be surprised if they hunkered down for a while and set to finishing material for their fourth LP. Whatever their plans, it was great to bang my head again to “Mr. O” and “Smokey Robinson,” to groove on the catchy creeper vibes of “The Mountie” and to hear vocalist Steve Murphy‘s changed cadence in the hook of “Blood of Recompense,” which finished out. I’m hardly impartial on the subject, but I’ve really missed these guys.

Black Cobra

black cobra 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

What can you do when Black Cobra take the stage other than bow to their utter supremacy? I don’t know. The San Fran (now) twosome of guitarist/vocalist Jason Landrian and drummer Rafa Martinez hit the 15-year mark in 2016, a decade since their first album, Bestial, was released, and their assault has only gotten more and more vicious. Their newly-issued Season of Mist debut, Imperium Simulacra (review here), made its primary impression — or at least a complementary one to their omnipresent fury — in an expansion of their capacity for atmosphere, in Landrian‘s willingness to drone out in contrast to the thrashing riffery that has become the band’s signature, and I was pleased to find them bring that sensibility to the stage as well. I’m not going to take away from the joy of watching Martinez blast the hell out of an all-out cut like “Obsolete,” slamming his floor tom in place of a double-kick, or the unmitigated tension of “Challenger Deep,” but to hear them hit the brakes even momentarily to ride out a rolling groove or to have Landrian create an excruciating soundscape of drone before the next wave of the attack was launched made the experience of watching them that much richer. They are a live band and always have been, and anyone who has heard their records but not seen them only has half the story, but the fact that the growth that was so clearly signaled on the record showed up so plainly on stage as well is emblematic of their all-around progression. I won’t say it’s a question of maturity, since I’d argue Black Cobra hit that stride with 2011’s Invernal, but perhaps of how they’re putting that maturity to use, deepening their approach. It’s a thrill to watch Black Cobra break the rules they’ve set for themselves, and one hopes that the explorations of Imperium Simulacra are a sign of things to come.

Bongzilla

bongzilla 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’ve been wracking my brains for the last couple weeks trying to remember if I’d seen Bongzilla before and I’ve finally decided that the answer is no, because if I had caught them at some point during their initial run, which ended after their 2005 album, Amerijuanican, on Relapse, I’d remember it. The ultra-weedian four-piece of guitarist/vocalist Muleboy, guitarist Spanky, bassist Cooter Brown and drummer Magma stacked their amps high — everything was high — and were loud enough in their early going that, I think in their third song, the power cut out. Not like they blew an amp, like they blew a fuse. It was an unexpected break in the set, during which the band encouraged everyone to go out and smoke weed — because weed — but seemed somehow fitting for the band’s legacy of over-the-top, crusty-as-hell sludge that the room simply couldn’t take it. I learned later they’d plugged a bunch of their amps into a single surge protector, and I guess that’d do it if that’s how it happened, but they got everything back up and running sooner or later and the crowd was right back into the set as they had been all along, the reefer-obsessed anti-hits rolling out in a slow-motion barrage of consuming tonal density. On a couple levels, one knew what to expect going into the show — Bongzilla have never been in danger of being subtle — but those expectations were delivered on thoroughly, and with the response they’ve gotten all along on this tour, and the one before it, and the one before that, I had to wonder how long it might be before they embark on a new record to follow-up on the series of reissues that Relapse and Hydro-Phonic have done over the past years. Wouldn’t want to make any hasty predictions or anything, but I bet whenever they do come out with a fifth record, it’ll have a song or two about weed on it. No complaints. In life, you gotta follow where your passion takes you.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading, and once again, thanks to Grayskull Booking for having me as a presenter on this show. Check out their Thee Facebooks for more dates coming up.

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The Obelisk Presents: Bongzilla, Black Cobra, Kings Destroy and Lo-Pan at ONCE Ballroom, Somerville, MA, 04.02.16

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on March 29th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

bongzilla black cobra lo pan kings destroy poster

Holy crap that’s a stacked bill. Show is this Saturday, April 2, at the all-caps ONCE Ballroom in Somerville, Massachusetts, and it’s a stop on the second full-US reunion run from Wisconsin sludge megastoners Bongzilla. They hit Massachusetts for the second time since getting back together, having rolled through nearby Allston with Spirit Caravan, Dirty Streets and local destroyers Rozamov supporting last fall. The lineup this time — Bongzilla, Black Cobra, Kings Destroy and Lo-Pan — brings together four acts who each deliver a different take on heaviness, and four acts whose reputation for killing it should at this point precede them.

This tour began more than a month ago, on Feb. 28, with a hometown Madison, WI, show for Bongzilla, and has continued forth since. They covered the West Coast with Against the Grain before a stop at Heavy Metal Parking Lot 3 at SXSW found that band and New York’s Kings Destroy swapping out, and head east with the promise of locked-in furies and massive tones to come, Black Cobra raging in support of their new album, Imperium Simulacra (review here), as both Lo-Pan and Kings Destroy herald new material from yet-unannounced next albums. Simply put, it’s the kind of gig you’d much rather be at than not be at.

Deep thanks to Grayskull Booking for having me involved and giving me the chance to talk about it, as well as, you know, for putting it on. And just so we’re all on the up and up, the tour is sponsored by Cvlt Nation and I’m not trying to bite a piece off anyone’s contractual anything. Show info follows:

The Obelisk Presents:
BONGZILLA
BLACK COBRA
KINGS DESTROY
LO-PAN

April 2nd, 2016
ONCE Ballroom
156 Highland Ave
Somerville, MA

18+ Doors at 7:30pm, show starts at 8:30pm
$18 adv – $22 dos

Tickets here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2478127

Bongzilla at ONCE Ballroom teaser

Event page on Thee Facebooks

Grayskull Booking

Bongzilla on Bandcamp

Black Cobra website

Kings Destroy website

Lo-Pan website

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Heavy Metal Parking Lot 3: Two-Day SXSW Event Lineup Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 14th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

The formidable likes of PentagramWeedeaterBongzillaBlack CobraKings DestroyLo-Pan, Mondo DragVenomous MaximusToday is the Day and many more will take part in Heavy Metal Parking Lot 3 this March in Austin, Texas, as part of SXSW. A two-day event clustered in the madness that is the Texan capitol that week, Heavy Metal Parking Lot 3 is set for March 18 and 19 at The Lost Well, just north of 7th St., and far enough off 6th that if you happen to be in town for SXSW, it’s an easily-enough justified walk (stumble) by the righteousness of those on the bill. You might as well just camp outside the venue to be sure you get back there on the second day.

Or, you know, fall asleep in the gutter, because that’s kind of how it goes at SXSW, or at least it was the last time I was there. Though you can’t deny the wide reach of Heavy Metal Parking Lot 3 in bringing in its headliners from around the Midwest and East and West Coasts, it’s worth pointing out the particular attention paid to supporting local acts, among them Texan outfits like Venomous Maximus — who reportedly have a new album coming this year — as well as BanquetSweat LodgeDestroyer of LightFrom Beyond and so on. Cheers to American Icon Presents for making sure all sides are represented.

Lineup follows here, in case you’d like to drool or book a flight or book me a flight, you know, whatever:

heavy metal parking lot 3 poster

HEAVY METAL PARKING LOT 3

Day 1 -Fri Mar 18
WEEDEATER ( Exclusive Performance )
BONGZILLA
Kings Destroy
Black Cobra
Author and Punisher
Today is the Day
Lord Dying
Lo Pan
Against the Grain
Widower
Slurr
Thunderkief

Day 2 – Sat Mar 19
PENTAGRAM ( Exclusive Performance)
Mondo Drag
Venomous Maximus
Sweat Lodge
The Blood Royale
Tower
Sabbath Crow

SPECIAL GUESTS
Destroyer of Light
Banquet
From Beyond
Greenbeard

Day 1 and Day 2 tickets Purchased Separately
Sponsored by American Icon Records (A.I.R)

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/heavy-metal-parking-lot-3-day-1-weedeater-bongzilla-tickets-20491750377
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/heavy-metal-parking-lot-3-day-2-pentagram-tickets-19813562900
https://www.facebook.com/events/430113890521968/
https://www.facebook.com/AmericanIconpresents/
https://www.facebook.com/AmericanIconRecords/

Pentagram, “When the Screams Come” live at A.I.R. Expo

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2015

Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

top 30 albums of 2015 1

Please note: This list is not culled in any way from the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2015 to that, please do.

It’s damn near impossible to start one of these posts without some derivation of, “Whew! What a year it’s been!” The truth is that, since 2014, I’ve been keeping a list of the best releases of 2015, and the list has just grown and grown and grown over the last 12 months. Could have been a top 40, easy. Could have been a top 50, 60, whatever. It was complete inundation.

If you’ve been checking in on any of the lists that have gone up so far, you might notice that some of these records have appeared elsewhere, and possibly in a different order. How does an album end up ahead of another on one list and not on another? Different criteria. Different basis of judgment. As always, the big year-end list (this one) is derived both from what I think are the most important offerings of the year plus what I listened to the most, because while I believe deeply in the critical value of a given work, I also believe there’s value in the kind of record you just can’t put down.

Basically, I believe records have value. Stay tuned for more daring adventures in understatement.

A few emergent factors for 2015 to note: The increasing expansion of subgenres. Psychedelia and what I’ve come to call the heavy ’10s sound finding further root as prominent styles of the day, as well as a budding of emotive doom in the post-Pallbearer vein. At the same time, a more straightforward heavy rock is also making a return, and look for that to continue as new listeners discover past landmarks and modern plays thereupon. Everything is cyclical, and I’m interested to see what the next two or three years bring, both as Millennials hit 30 (and beyond) and as younger kids come up and fuzz out.

But that’s a conversation for a different time, and before we get there, it’s time to take a look back at the best full-lengths of 2015. I hope if I’ve left something out, you’ll let me know about it in the comments, but until then, here we go:

30. High on Fire, Luminiferous

high on fire luminiferous

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed June 15.

Going by some of the results I’ve seen from the Readers Poll, I’m guessing there will be some disagreement on the placement of High on Fire‘s seventh full-length, third for eOne and second to be produced by Kurt Ballou behind 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), but for me it came down to what I went back to more. The brilliant “The Falconist” would be enough on its own for Luminiferous to be included on this list, and taken as a whole, the record affirmed the trio as pivotal heavy metal marauders, an act whose devastation is undulled by the wear they’ve put on it touring the world over and again.

29. CHRCH, Unanswered Hymns

chrch unanswered hymns

Released by Battleground Records. Reviewed June 30.

Undaunted by a name change from Church to CHRCH, the Sacramento five-piece unleashed rare doom extremity on their debut album, but peppered that with a stylistic nuance that many in the pummel-pummel-pummel game cast off, whether it was psychedelic flourish in the guitar or some eerie atmospheric. Among the post potential-filled debut offerings of the year, that’s not a guarantee they’ll find future success on the same level, but it does mean that if you didn’t hear the 19-minute “Dawning,” you missed out.

28. Golden Void, Berkana

golden void berkana

Released by Thrill Jockey Records. Reviewed Sept. 22.

Coherent bliss. The second full-length from the four-piece Golden Void was a logical step forward from the band’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), but that was precisely what it needed to be. With an emerging dynamic of dual vocals between guitarist Isaiah Mitchell (also Earthless) and keyboardist Camilla Saufley-Mitchell on cuts like “Astral Plane” and “Silent Season,” Berkana was less adherent to space rock overall than its predecessor, but gave a more individualized take and was all the richer for it.

27. Stoned Jesus, The Harvest

stoned jesus the harvest

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Probably should have a higher number. Part of the enduring appeal for The Harvest for me is not only how Ukrainian three-piece Stoned Jesus so absolutely pushed back from the album before it, 2012’s sophomore outing, Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but how much reasoning they put behind the moves they made on the six included tracks. Each song had its purpose and place in the overarching flow, and The Harvest continues to deliver something new on thoroughly-earned repeat listens. Perhaps most encouraging of all, I have no idea what they’ll do next.

26. Graveyard, Innocence and Decadence

graveyard innocence and decadence

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 7.

Swedish retro forerunners are hands-down one of the most influential European heavy rock acts of their generation. The ’70s revivalism they helped spearhead on their first, second and third LPs has given them rich ground to develop, and they still managed to bring something new to their sound with the soulfulness of Innocence and Decadence, as well as increasing command and diversity in the vocals. Drummer Axel Sjöberg turned in a career performance, and although there are heaps upon heaps of bands out there indulging in post-Graveyard boogie, they showed once again that they’re able to stand both out from the crowd and well above it. Plus, any swing-rocking album that dares to break out soul-singer backing vocals and blastbeats, and pull both off without blinking deserves respect, no matter what else it might have going on.

25. Death Hawks, Sun Future Moon

death hawks sun future moon

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Nov. 3

It felt so good to put on Death HawksSun Future Moon for the first time and be completely blindsided by its serene psychedelic ritualizing. The Finnish four-piece reveled in classic progressive methods, and where it would’ve been so easy for songs like “Hey Ya Sun Ra” or “Dream Life, Waking Life” to come across as pretentious, the naturalism in the recording gave the band’s third album such a liquefied flow that it was impossible not to be swept up by it until, at last, “Friend of Joy” launched into and beyond a peaceful stratosphere in spaced-out ambience. My first exposure to the group and their first outing for Svart, it’s a record so textural and so graceful that it seems to unfurl itself more each time through.

24. Spidergawd, II

spidergawd ii

Released by Stickman Records and Crispin Glover Records. Reviewed Jan. 5.

A quick and strong turnaround from this Norwegian sax-inclusive foursome, who might seem to come out of nowhere were it not for the pedigree of Kenneth Kapstad and Bent Sæther in long-running progressives Motorpsycho. Together with Per Borten and Rolf Martin Snustad, Spidergawd spoke to more primal rock instincts — their two LPs to-date and soon to be three are testaments to the ability of music to move, to shove, and to shake; or as they put it, “Get Physical” — but as there is breadth as well, as the psychedelic “Caereulean Caribou” demonstrated. Anchored by the hook of “Fixing to Die Blues,” Spidergawd‘s second wandered far and wide, but welcomed listeners along for each step of the journey.

23. The Midnight Ghost Train, Cold was the Ground

the midnight ghost train cold was the ground

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 26.

As the title promised, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s third offering and Napalm Records debut delivered harsh truths. They came at breakneck speed and delivered with stage-hewn chemistry by the Midwestern power trio, whose years of road-dogging were brought to bear in the gruff, gravel-throated voice of guitarist Steve Moss, who led drummer Brandon Burghart and newcomer bassist Mike Boyne across nigh-unparalled riff torrents, with all the boogie of any number of ’70s-style sidewinders, but also with a tonal thickness that seemed a miracle it could move at all. Not without its adventurous side in the quieter “The Little Sparrow,” Cold was the Ground brimmed with intensity that brought the band to new levels in every conceivable fashion.

22. Leeches of Lore, Motel of Infinity

leeches of lore motel of infinity

Released by Lorchestral Recording Company. Reviewed Sept. 15.

Blessed art the weirdos, whose records might be few and far between, who might not tour, but whose bold fits and starts span genres easily and whose work truly stands alone. Leeches of Lore‘s Toshi Kasai-produced Motel of Infinity was a godsend in the enduring battle against normality. It was a grinding, grooving anti-punk stampede, at times frenetic and at other times whatever the opposite of frenetic is, and to-date, it’s the Albuquirky outit’s masterpiece, from the low-end buzzsaw, gang-shout and falsetto of “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” through the bass and organ bounce of “Noah’s Soul (is Burning).” They have been and still are a band unto themselves, and the we-do-this-every-day confidence of their execution across Motel of Infinity‘s run only emphasizes how utterly necessary they are.

21. With the Dead, With the Dead

with the dead self titled

Released by Rise Above Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

With the Dead vocalist Lee Dorrian (also head of Rise Above Records, also ex-Cathedral) basically laid it all out there in the interview here when he said, “We wanted to make the most skull-crushing record we possibly could.” That’s precisely what With the Dead‘s self-titled debut is. It’s as heavy as possible, as filthy as possible, all the way through. In some ways very much the sum of its elements with Dorrian on vocals, Tim Bagshaw on guitar/bass and Mark Greening on drums (both ex-Ramesses), it was also of course more than just that, and while so much of their story has yet to be told as they move into their initial live appearances in 2016, their opening salvo was nothing if not as destructive as its intent.

20. Clutch, Psychic Warfare

clutch psychic warfare

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Oct. 6.

How could anyone possibly have even remotely reasonable expectations for a Clutch record after 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here). I won’t say the Maryland stalwarts didn’t deliver with Psychic Warfare, and I doubt any fan of the band who’s dug into “X-Ray Visions,” “A Quick Death in Texas” or “Noble Savage” would, but their returning to producer Machine for the second time in a row made it almost too easy to compare Clutch‘s 10th and 11th long-players. Four years between albums was shortened to just two, and that may have had something to do with it as well, but while the songs were there and I’ve no doubt that Psychic Warfare will endure over the long term — ask me sometime how long it took me to get into Pure Rock Fury — in the moment of its release, Psychic Warfare seemed to stand in the shadow of its predecessor rather than in its own light.

19. Mondo Drag, Mondo Drag

mondo drag self-titled

Released by Kozmik Artifactz and RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Jan. 8.

An awaited return for Midwestern-turned-West-Coast psychedelic rockers Mondo Drag, their self-titled sophomore outing had three years between its recording and release, and was made in 2012 with a shortlived incarnation of the band with bassist Zack Anderson and drummer Cory Berry, both formerly of Radio Moscow and then-soon to be of Blues Pills. Unsurprisingly, the grooves were tight, but even better, Mondo Drag blew past the peaceful headtrippery of their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), toward more expansive and proggy fare. They’ll look to continue that thread on their third outing, The Occultation of Light, in 2016, but the self-titled captured a special moment worthy of celebration, still rife with the classic-minded ethereal spirit of the first outing, but clearly bent on defining its own sonic dogma in hooks and synthy vibes.

18. Lamp of the Universe, The Inner Light of Revelation

lamp of the universe the inner light of revelation

Released by Clostridium Records and Astral Projection. Reviewed April 27.

At the risk of sounding biased, just about any new release from New Zealand tantric psych outfit Lamp of the Universe is going to be welcome by me. Comprised solely of Craig Williamson (also Arc of Ascent), the long-running project nonetheless casts out gorgeously textured meditative psychedelia, at times delving into drone or Eastern folk, but always marking out its own sonic space, whether in the more rock-minded groove of “God of One” or the drumless acoustic swirl of “Ancient Path.” Lamp of the Universe is a rare band — as much as it is a band — that covers a swath of ground stylistically and manages to sound like nothing but itself as it does so, and Williamson‘s commitment to his cosmic mantras remains firm and creatively fertile as the seeds he planted early on continue to bear fruit in complex arrangements that never distract from the central, spiritual purpose of the music.

17. Mammatus, Sparkling Waters

mammatus sparkling waters

Released by Spiritual Pajamas. Reviewed Nov. 9.

Even with its title-track broken into two 20-plus-minute side-consuming halves, it was abundantly plain to hear that Sparkling Waters was the most realized Mammatus outing yet. The four-song, 75-minute offering brimmed with a clarity that even their late-2013 third album, Heady Mental (review here), could only partially claim, leaving behind the fuzz and fog of their earlier work almost entirely while remaining open to employing sonic heft when suitable to their more complex motives. Most effective about Mammatus at this stage was the way they eased into and through varied parts while tying together a coherent whole piece, the builds and cascades of “Sparkling Waters Part One” setting up an expectation of fluidity that held firm even through the more jagged buzz in the early going of closer “Ornia,” the grand finale of which resonates as a cacophony without letting itself actually lose control.

16. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, The Night Creeper

uncle acid the night creeper

Released by Rise Above Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

UK ladykillers Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats have emerged as one of the most essential bands of the ’10s. The Night Creeper is their fourth album and it takes the defining eeriness of their melodies and roughs it up with a mostly-live recording job — something which, now that they’re a touring act, they can do — for their grittiest, dirtiest-sounding offering yet. Songs like “Melody Lane,” “Pusher Man” and opener “Waiting for Blood” speak to what’s let their methodology spread so widely in the first place, the VHS grain of their guitars and vocals resting over classic swing and proliferating maddening hooks with lethal intent. Between the nine-minute gruel of “Slow Death” and the hidden acoustic track “Black Motorcade,” The Night Creeper wasn’t without its element of sonic progress, but with Uncle Acid, it’s still the combination of threat, swing and memorable songwriting that brings listeners back to their dark alleyways for another taste.

15. Death Alley, Black Magick Boogieland

death alley black magick boogieland

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 8.

Easily one of 2015’s most encouraging debuts. Making its opening salvo with the propulsion of Motörhead-derived heavy rock in songs like “Over Under” and “Black Magick Boogieland,” the first outing from Amsterdam-based foursome Death Alley touched on classic ideals without going retro on “Bewildered Eyes,” nodded toward psychedelic melodicism and more patient intentions in “Golden Fields of Love,” and portrayed its punker roots in “Dead Man’s Bones” — all before the 12:40 space rock extravaganza that took hold with closer “Supernatural Predator.” It was a lot of territory to cover, but Death Alley not only made it sound cohesive, they made it rock and they made it a good time. In just about 41 minutes, Black Magick Boogieland was not only a voyage well worth taking, it was a potential-filled, headbang-worthy ripper of an album from an outfit who deserves every bit of attention they seem to be shouting for. Hope they don’t wait long for a follow-up.

14. The Machine, Offblast!

the machine offblast

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed May 28.

Five records in, Dutch trio The Machine have found a niche for themselves between heavy psych rock, desert fuzz and exploratory jamming. Offblast!, with a title that seemed more reminiscent of Europunker speed rock, was as spacious as it was driving, and whether it was the more structured material like “Dry End” or “Coda Sun” or the two extended cuts, 16-minute opener ““Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and 12-minute closer “Come to Light,” their dynamic remained natural and held firm to a spontaneous sensibility, like at any turn, any part might take off for an eight-minute ride to who knows where. That that didn’t always happen only made Offblast! a richer listening experience, its varied ideas coming through consistent tonality to affect a more than satisfying front-to-back flow that toyed with momentum even as it built more and more of it. Was a while in the making, coming three years after 2012’s Calmer than You Are (review here), but easily worth the wait.

13. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth

brothers of the sonic cloth self titled

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed March 3.

There were moments where the self-titled debut from Brothers of the Sonic Cloth was almost too much to take in one sitting. By the time the Tad Doyle-led trio got around to the 11-minute “La Mano Poderosa,” sometimes I felt like I needed a second to catch my breath before diving further, always further, into the smoldering abyss their tones, growls and lurch seemed to create. Six years after their demo (review here) served notice like a tectonic rumble in the distance, the album arrived with comet-into-planet heft, and its oppression was as much about atmosphere as it was sheer aural assault. Imagine an arm reaching down your throat, grabbing your lungs, and forcibly deflating them one at a time. Is that hyperbole? Absolutely, and well earned. Every bit the debut of the year.

12. Kind, Rocket Science

kind rocket science

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Dec. 2.

No, Boston supergroup Kind aren’t so high on this list just because they called a song “Pastrami Blaster.” Granted, that didn’t hurt, but ultimately it was the blend of cavernous psychedelics and heavy rumble that made Rocket Science so infectious. Comprised of vocalist Craig Riggs (Roadsaw), guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, The Scimitar, etc.), bassist Tom Corino (Rozamov) and drummer Matt Couto (Elder), Kind earned immediate interest for their pedigree, but it was more the breadth of jams like “Hordeolum” and “The Angry Undertaker” that defined their first outing, various impulses toward structure and open-endedness not so much pushing against each other as working in tandem to craft something that drew from the best of both mindsets. Obviously these are busy guys, but hopefully Kind doesn’t all by the wayside for other ongoing projects. Rocket Science was unmistakable in its demonstration that they have much to offer.

11. Bloodcow, Crystals and Lasers

bloodcow crystals and lasers

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 4.

Iowa five-piece Bloodcow hadn’t put out a record since 2007’s Bloodcow III: Hail Xenu, but that didn’t stop Crystals and Lasers from being their best work yet. As much punk as metal as heavy rock, it wasn’t for everybody, but it was most definitely for me. With a constant thread of satire in songs like “Ultra Super Sexual,” “Sock,” “Dick for Days” and the oh-shit-I’m-middle-aged-how-the-fuck-did-this-happen (not saying I relate or anything, but holy shit I can relate) “After Party,” it was nonetheless a stylistically varied and universally professional-sounding 13-track collection, offering weirdo quirk in “Blood and Guts,” “Exploding Head” and “Little Chromosome” and finding room for a bit of scathing social commentary in its title-track and “HIVampyre.” If they’re working at an eight-year pace, I don’t know that we’ll get another Bloodcow record, but they very clearly put everything they had into Crystals and Lasers and the result was a defining statement.

10. Kadavar, Berlin

kadavar berlin

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed July 7.

After two wallops in the form of 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) and 2012’s self-titled debut (discussed here), German trio Kadavar continued to prove the effectiveness of their songwriting on Berlin, a return that front-to-back brimmed with vitality and bounce rare enough for heavy rock generally more content to be downtrodden or attempting to feign bluesy substance. Unabashedly poppy at times, Berlin was the party that brought everyone along who was up for taking the ride, and whether it was the hook of “Lord of the Sky” showing how just a tiny melodic turn could make a track infectious or cuts like “Thousand Miles Away from Home,” “Filthy Illusion,” “Stolen Dreams,” “Spanish Wild Rose,” “See the World with Your Own Eyes” — all of them, really — working their way into the consciousness, Berlin felt like it was primed to be the soundtrack of many summers to come. They moved away from the retro style of their first two outings, but in so doing took fuller command of their sound and put it to remarkable use.

9. Goatsnake, Black Age Blues

goatsnake black age blues

Released by Southern Lord. Reviewed May 19.

Picking up right where Flower of Disease closer “The River” left off with “Another River to Cross,” Goatsnake‘s third full-length arrived a full 15 years after its predecessor, and as one might expect that brought some considerable changes in the band’s sound. Oh, they still rolled the hell out of a riff, guitarist Greg Anderson (he of SunnO))) and Southern Lord Recordings) very much at the fore tonally, but a bluesy inflection from vocalist Pete Stahl (also earthlings?) and some well-placed backing vocals added personality in a daring and unexpected fashion. Songs like “Jimi’s Gone,” “Elevated Man” and “Grandpa Jones” sat comfortably in the band’s influential pantheon of heft, but it was how Black Age Blues pushed beyond what Goatsnake did in their initial run that made it so satisfying. For a record that arrived five years after they got back together, it could have easily been disaster, but Black Age Blues built on what Goatsnake was without detracting from the legacy that has influenced a generation of heavy rock.

8. Kings Destroy, Kings Destroy

kings destroy self titled

Released by War Crime Recordings. Reviewed April 15.

I’m proud to call the members of Kings Destroy friends and I won’t attempt to feign impartiality when it comes to considering their work as a band, but I felt in listening to their self-titled third LP that they had finally gotten to the point where they were bringing the onstage confrontationalism of their live show to the studio. Yeah, “Mr. O” was upbeat and catchy and gave side A some thrust, but even in chugging opener “Smokey Robinson” or the moody “Mytho” and “Embers,” Kings Destroy not only came further into their own in terms of style, building on the anti-genre defiant stance of 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), but did so with a clearheaded progressivism, a better sense of who they are musically and what they want the band to be. I wouldn’t trade seeing them play “Embers” or “W2” as many times as I have for anything, but even unto the gang-shout half-speed hardcore of “Time for War,” Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy made no bones about how it wound up with the eponymous title. It’s them through and through.

7. Cigale, Cigale

cigale self titled

Self-released. Reviewed May 4.

It may never be possible to listen to the self-titled debut from Cigale outside the context of the death of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets (ex-Sungrazer). That loss casts a dark shadow over a collection that otherwise radiates colorful sweetness and serenity, the peaceful depth beginning with “Grey Owl” and only broadening as it turns and weaves through “Steeplechase,” “Feel the Heat,” “Harvest Begun” and so on, but the record remains a gorgeous, engrossing wash of resonant melody and underlying presence. Not without its moments of melancholy, the more overarching impression was of beauty not tied to any notion of playing to genre or style, and while I don’t know what the future will hold for the band, if they’ll keep moving forward or not or if they’re even in a place yet to consider such things, they helped broaden the context of European heavy psychedelia with their first album, and that is no minor achievement.

6. Sun Blood Stories, Twilight Midnight Morning

sun blood stories twilight midnight morning

Self-released. Reviewed June 19.

Another one that just kind of smacked me in the face. Idahoan heavy psych explorers Sun Blood Stories‘ second album, Twilight Midnight Morning was soaked in vibe and moved fluidly between experimentalist noisemaking and patient, memorable songwriting. Tracks like “West the Sun,” “Witch Wind” and “Found Reasons Found Out” never raged, exactly, but had enough weight to their rhythm to let you know they were there and interested in groove, while later pieces “Time Like Smoke,” “Moon Song: Waxing” and “Misery is Nebulous” drew exponentially from earlier freakout impulses and shifted into a dronier and more ambient approach. The combination of the two — semi-structure up front, open expansion in the back — made the three-part Twilight Midnight Morning engaging and hypnotic in kind, and though I hope they get weirder and experiment and develop the atmospheric side of their sound, I’ve also got my fingers crossed they hold firm to their more grounded aspects, since its the range between the two that gives their sophomore outing its defining fluidity.

5a. Colour Haze, To the Highest Gods We Know

colour haze to the highest gods we know

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Jan. 6.

I’ll cite precedent in last year’s list for including a “5a.” The intent in doing so is to convey the idea that Colour Haze‘s latest outing, To the Highest Gods We Know, is worthy of top five consideration, but its release date was split between 2014 (CD) and 2015 (LP), so it was a little unclear where to put it. As the album is basically a year old at this point, it seems fair to say it’s held up, drawing back from the grandiose vision of 2012’s She Said (review here) without losing sight of the progressive elements that have taken root in the German trio’s sound. Their work has been and remains essential to the development of heavy psychedelic rock in Europe and beyond, and even though To the Highest Gods We Know felt like something of a reset — a stripping down of arrangements in places and getting back to a trio-in-a-room feel — it still stepped forward in its title-track and in songs like “Überall” and “Call” and showed that even when it seems Colour Haze have pushed their approach as far as it can go, there’s always new ground to explore, and their pull to do so is undiminished.

5. The Atomic Bitchwax, Gravitron

the atomic bitchwax gravitron

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 20.

Doesn’t exactly seem like giving away state secrets to note that a record with songs like “Sexecutioner” and “Fuck Face” is aggressive, but it’s particularly interesting in light of the past work of New Jersey trio The Atomic Bitchwax, who I don’t think sounded as barn-burning as they do on Gravitron even in their earliest going. The trio of bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella kept their signature winding riff style intact — demonstrated most expansively over 2011’s single-song full-length instrumental The Local Fuzz (review here) — but while their turns were as blinding as ever, their tones were more pointed and Pantella‘s snare more upfront on the beat, which gave Gravitron a newfound sense of urgency. It worked. Even poppier songs like “Roseland” or the closing “Ice Age Hey Baby” benefited from the additional thrust, and the album overall felt lean, mean and ready to be taken on the road, which of course is exactly what they did with it. Six albums in, The Atomic Bitchwax were at their most vital yet.

4. All Them Witches, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker

all them witches dying surfer meets his maker

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

Nashville four-piece All Them Witches probably could’ve gone into the studio, churned out a record of crunchy riffs with a quiet part or two for flavor and positioned themselves at the forefront of American heavy rock with their New West Records debut and third full-length overall, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. Instead, they defied expectation boldly and brought their growing audience into the room with them and producer Mikey Allred as they captured the album, which finds its most affecting moments not in tonal weight, but emotional resonance, the melody at the midpoint of “Talisman” or the string arrangement gracefully tucked into “Open Passageways.” There’s still the push of “Dirt Preachers,” and entrancing closer “Blood and Sand – Milk and Endless Waters” has its heft as well, but All Them Witches‘ success ultimately came from being the album they wanted to make, built from the dynamic that’s developed on stage between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeodAllan Van Cleave on Fender Rhodes/strings, and drummer Robby Staebler, and alive in its feeling of exploration. I won’t predict what they might do from here, but I’m willing to say outright it’ll be worth hearing one way or another.

3. Snail, Feral

snail feral

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Oct. 13.

My expectations for Snail‘s third post-reunion full-length and Small Stone label debut, Feral, were pretty high. Not unreasonably so, though. Their 2012 outing, Terminus (review here), built on the blend of heavy psych riffs, laid back roll and melodicism that 2009’s Blood (review here) established as the band’s working modus, but Feral was going to be a different beast from the start because it was the West Coast outfit’s first full-length as a trio since they made their self-titled debut (reissue review here) in 1993 before splitting up the next year. Whatever my expectations were, however, Snail shattered them almost immediately. In the progression of their songwriting as shown across the strong opening salvo of “Building a Haunted House,” “Smoke the Deathless” and “A Mustard Seed” through one of the year’s best songs in the expansive and crushing “Thou Art That,” the three-piece showcased a breadth unlike anything they’d conjured before, and it only continued through “Born in Captivity,” the catchy “Derail,” “Psilocybe” and the soul-infused wah leads that peppered the pleading closer “Come Home.” Where Terminus offered intensity, Feral offered patience in its execution, and the atmosphere it created suited the band’s sound as well as the Seldon Hunt cover art seemed to summarize the alternate reality in which the music took place. Everything about how it came together worked just right, and even as a fan of the band’s work since they got together again, I was taken aback by the unflinching quality of Feral front to back.

2. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere

acid king middle of nowhere center of everywhere

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 19.

Ten years is a long, long time. Especially in music. The prospect of a fourth Acid King record has been tossed around for at least the last six of those 10 years, but to finally have it realized was something else entirely. Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere was without a doubt my most-listened-to album of the year, and its combination of tonal haze, low-end heft and spacious atmosphere was perfect. There’s just no other way to say it. It was perfect. From “Silent Pictures” and “Coming down from Outer Space” through “Red River,” “Infinite Skies” and the sprawling “Center of Everywhere” itself, guitarist/vocalist Lori S., bassist Mark Lamb and drummer Joey Osbourne crafted an absolutely perfect heavy psych record. How many bands walking the earth could even get away with calling a track “Laser Headlights,” let alone make it kick ass? Yeah, Goatsnake came back this year, and that was great, but for me, the return of Acid King to their throne of nod was even more the story of the year. Together with producer Billy Anderson, they offered a depth of tone that was simply unmatched, and without an ounce of pretense, they unveiled a roll that continues to resound. I’m a big fan of getting lost in a record, and Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere eased the listener in with its “Intro,” pulled reality apart from with “Silent Pictures” and set about doing the universe a favor by remaking the cosmos as the kind of place where one might find a wizard riding a tiger past the craters of the moon, until, at last, it deposited you back where you started. Best trip of 2015, no question.

1. Elder, Lore

elder lore

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed Feb. 19.

Make no mistake, 2015 was Elder‘s year. We were all just living in it. Truth be told, I’ve been back and forth between Elder and Acid King in the top spot for the last couple months (you might recall in July they were reversed), but when it finally came to it, there was no way I could feasibly call anything other than Lore the album of the year. From the gorgeous Adrian Dexter artwork (discussed here), through the progressive clarion of “Compendium”‘s noodling guitar line and into the massive scope of the title-track (discussed here), Lore was the moment in which Elder — guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto — tore down the walls of genre, whether it was heavy rock, psychedelia or anything else, and emerged with their own approach and complex, varied modus of songwriting. They’ve been turning heads since their self-titled debut arrived in 2008, but with 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), they began to demonstrate the potential for really adding something to the patchwork of underground heavy. In moving forward by making clarity a hallmark both of their sound and of their purpose, Elder came into their own with these five tracks, and do not at all be surprised a couple years from now when bands start showing up aping DiSalvo‘s style of riffing, since such a bold and successful foray of individualism can only be influential in the longer run. At nearly an hour long, Lore was not a minor undertaking, but each song seemed to set up its own atmosphere, feeding not only its own singular focus, but that of the album overall. Its turns blinding, its impact forceful and its affect drawing from the best of the sonic personalities of all three players, Elder‘s Lore reaped wide acclaim and earned it every step of the way. Its progressive vision has only begun to be digested.

Honorable Mention

Killer Boogie, Detroit – Impressive debut from the retro-minded offshoot of Black Rainbows brought ’70s boogie to Italy. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a quick turnaround, but either way, their first outing knew its audience and spoke directly to it.

My Sleeping Karma, Moksha – This one was on various incarnations of the list. Very interested to see where the German heavy prog outfit wind up in terms of expanding their arrangements, but Moksha was a satisfying step forward in that process.

Egypt, Endless Flight – Should probably have a number, but the fact is it’s only been out for like two weeks, so it hasn’t really been given the test of time at this point. Still, Egypt always deliver and this was no exception.

Valkyrie, Shadows – An awaited third full-length from Virginia’s Valkyrie and also their Relapse Records debut offered enough blazing guitar work to meet any quota, and was a welcome return after a long absence.

Magic Circle, Journey’s End – The second LP from this Massachusetts outfit pushed beyond doomly confines into more traditional metallurgy but held its eerie atmospherics intact, and the combination suited them remarkably well.

Monolord, Vænir – This was my go-to for 2015 when nothing else seemed quite crushing enough. The Swedish trio have very quickly stomped their way into the hearts and minds of the international underground, and rightfully so.

Freedom Hawk, Into Your Mind – After making a transition from a four-piece to a trio, this Virginian outfit proceeded to take a few stylistic risks on their second Small Stone long-player, and they paid off.

TombstonesVargariis – Fourth full-length from this Norwegian trio pushed them outside of doom’s confines into a darker and more extreme version of heaviness that pulled from death and black metals in addition to its sludgy underpinnings. The meld was punishing and lost nothing of its groove, wherever it went at any given moment.

Faces of Bayon, Ash and Dust Have no Dominion – I guess my only hesitation with including Faces of Bayon‘s second outing in any kind of year-end fare is I’m not sure if the album has actually been released yet. Even if not, they’re easily worth a mention.

Ice Dragon, A Beacon on the Barrow – Kind of a down year from Ice Dragon in terms of overall productivity, but if the quantity was down compared to some, A Beacon on the Barrow was quality enough to carry them through. In a way, I think the album actually benefited from the band giving listeners time to take it in.

Arenna, Given to Emptiness – Ah, so good. The Spanish heavy psych troupe dug in deep on Given to Emptiness and conjured sonic and emotional resonance on their second full-length. It’s one that still gets repeat listens.

Monster Magnet, Cobras and Fire – The long-running New Jersey outfit’s reworking of their 2010 album Mastermind was excellent, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t seem fair to list it when they’re working mostly from already-released source material. But still, if you haven’t heard it, go find it.

Various Artists, Electric Ladyland [Redux] – Even if the results hadn’t been so spectacular, Electric Ladyland [Redux] would deserve a mention for the sheer scope and logistical nightmare that the project must have been. Kudos to Magnetic Eye Records all around.

There are so many others: Abrahma, GoyaSun and Sail Club, DevilleSacri MontiDirty StreetsUfomammutWo Fat‘s live album, Mirror Queen, PentagramTorcheSumacGarden of WormBlack RainbowsHoly SerpentMinskBaronWeedpeckerElectric MoonFuzzBell WitchWindhand, Niche, We Lost the SeaSeremoniaSunderDomovoyd, The Heavy EyesDemon HeadFoggStars that MoveEnslavedRuby the Hatchet, on and on and on. That’s not even to mention the stuff I didn’t hear — Baroness will be on many people’s lists, no doubt, as well as Mutoid Man, Ghost and Kylesa — so yeah, I could pretty much keep going ad infinitum.

I, however, cannot. It’s been an absolute pleasure trying to keep up with 2015’s barrage the last 12 months, and I expect 2016 will only bring more. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading or that you’re able to get some use out of this post, whatever that might mean, and I thank you deeply, from the bottom of my heart, for your time and for reading. It means more to me than I can say that you might check out even any portion of this site or be involved, whether it’s sharing a link, leaving a comment to let me know who I forgot to mention or correct my spelling, signing up for the forum, listening to the radio, whatever it might be.

Thank you for an amazing 2015. And please stay tuned, because of course, there’s much more to come.

 

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