Review & Full Album Stream: Bismut, Schwerpunkt

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 22nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

bismut schwerpunkt

[Click play above to stream Bismut’s Schwerpunkt in its entirety. Album is available to preorder from Lay Bare Recordings here.]

Nijmegen trio Bismut bill themselves as ‘instrumental psych desert metal,’ and unsurprisingly, there’s a bit to unpack there. They’re a relatively new entity, having just formed in 2016 with guitarist Nik Linders, bassist Huibert der Weduwen and drummer Peter Dragt, and their first album is Schwerpunkt, a four-song/41-minute collection offered up on vinyl through Lay Bare Recordings (Pink Tank Records seems to have had some manner of involvement as well). Instrumental is pretty self-explanatory. Sure enough, they’re a sans-vocals operation. And fair enough. 14-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “Borgerskapet” makes it pretty clear from the outset that the kinds of expanded structures with which Bismut are working throughout the release wouldn’t really support vocals anyway. And what are you going to do, shout over the 10-minute side B leadoff “Gewapende-Magte?” Then you’d just have noise rock, and I don’t see that listed anywhere in the above.

After instrumental comes psych. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but if we’re talking heavy psychedelic rock of the European order with drifting airy guitars and a presentation coated in effects, the descriptor simply doesn’t apply. As regards Schwerpunkt, which was recorded live in its entirety and mixed by the band with mastering by Pieter Kloos, there is a spacious motion in the back half of closer “Czar” before the tense chugging of the song’s apex, but it’s more of the post-metallic sort. That is, more methodical than exploratory — Bismut have a direction in mind and are working to get there. It’s not just about hypnotizing the listener with repetition, but about the heavier context in which that movement happens. Second cut “Stórborg” has a bit more effects in its early going, though this resolves itself by the song’s midpoint into a tense, winding progression and finally into a slowdown of Melvinsian riffmaking. And sure, one can hear some Earthless in “Borgerskapet” if the ear is twisted just so. So psychedelic? Maybe here and there.

Let’s assume “desert” is a stand-in for capital-‘h’ Heavy — because that certainly applies — or tossed in the way some bands still use the designation “stoner” or “riff” as a designation for their rock. To me, desert rock — regardless of its geographic origin or the actual terrain in that place — is a question of melding tonal fullness with a root punk influence. Sabbath might be a factor but they’re by no means the only one. Bismut don’t really play desert rock in the Kyuss/Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson sense of the subgenre, but if one considers the age of expanded definition in which we live, then there’s really no reason the “desert” really has to be anything more than a dogwhistle for an affiliation with underground heavy. And that’s mostly how it functions. Listening to Schwerpunkt — the title of which translates to “main focus” or “center of gravity” — the prevailing sensibility is most certainly heavy, but there’s a fluidity to the rhythmic play and the swaps in tempo that makes “desert” feel a little like it’s cheating the actual complexity of what’s playing out in the flow of “Gewapende-Magte” or “Stórborg,” with its final push of churning plod.

bismut

The upshot is that while there are loyalists, “desert” can mean any number of things at this point, and it usually does. If Bismut had gone with “heavy” instead, it might be more accurate, but it would confuse the use of “metal,” since of course heavy metal has a context all its own. And metal is perhaps second in accuracy only to “instrumental” when it comes to the band’s presumably-self-imposed sound tag, because it considers in a way that “psych” or even “desert” does not the aggression with which Bismut underscore and execute their material. It’s not metal in the chestbeating, dude-for-dudes kneejerk abrasive sense of the word, but there’s a purpose and a charge to what Bismut do, and whether it’s the fluidity in “Borgerskapet” or the snare-and-chug in “Gewapende-Magte,” the band plays with purpose and conviction on their debut album. If that makes them metal, then so be it. Metal it is.

A missing word in all of this is “progressive,” since the one thing Bismut don’t seem to account for in their sound at least as it appears on Schwerpunkt is the consideration in each song of where that song is going. I don’t know how much of each song was left up to happy accidents in the recording — the bass bounce of “Czar,” maybe, and some of the swirl in “Stórborg” — but even those inherently off-the-cuff moments that happen as a result of a band performing live in the studio are brought into the underlying mission behind the album, and are made purposeful simply by their inclusion and the fact that by being there, they play a crucial role in Bismut‘s intent for what their first album should be. One might also consider “atmospheric” an both an acknowledgement of the post-metallic aspects in “Czar” and the general affecting nature of the songwriting as a whole. It’s not just an album about mood, but even through the energetic live recording there can be heard a budding sense of patience in their execution that may or may not come further toward fruition on subsequent outings.

Maybe “raw atmospheric heavy” as a revised descriptor? “Raw” acknowledges the priority of capturing the three of them in the room together, the stage-ready element of their sound. “Atmospheric” brings in the purposeful nature of their sonic reach, and “heavy” functions as a characterization of tone and mindset alike. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. Whatever Bismut decide to call themselves in the longer term, while indicative of how they think about the music they’re making, is of course ultimately secondary to the making of that music. Perhaps most importantly, they give their audience with Schwerpunkt something to dig into and elicit a response and engagement on the part of the listener. They’ve been building a reputation in the Netherlands — enough to attract the attention of Lay Bare, which is bound to serve as positive reinforcement — and listening to the album, it’s easy to hear why. Even in this “raw” modus, with the emphasis put on basic performance rather than a lush studio construction, Bismut show themselves as opening a conversation on Schwerpunkt instrumentally with themselves — which indeed might be their center of gravity — and with their audience, whose interaction, regardless of the interpretative quibbles they might bring to it, is a triumph in itself.

Bismut on Thee Facebooks

Bismut on Instagram

Bismut on Bandcamp

Bismut website

Lay Bare Recordings on Thee Facebooks

Lay Bare Recordings on Instagram

Lay Bare Recordings website

 

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Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique: Light in the Sun’s Eye

Posted in Reviews on July 4th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

SEEDY JEEZUS POLARIS OBLIQUE

Theirs is a sound built on headphone-worthy psychedelia and 8-track-ready classic heavy rock groove, and when Seedy Jeezus made their self-titled debut in 2015, they seemed to know it. Based in Melbourne, the Aussie three-piece would go on later that year to release a standalone single titled Echoes in the Sky (discussed here), and would follow it with the 2016 live album, Live in Netphen: Freak Valley 2015 (discussed here), a 2016 collaboration with guitarist Isaiah Mitchell of Earthless and Golden Void called Tranquonauts (review here) and a 2017 single covering Led Zeppelin‘s “Communication Breakdown” (video premiered here). All of this has come alongside a healthy amount of touring, and word early on of a second LP in progress. With support in Europe from Lay Bare Recordings for the domestic Blown Music release, Polaris Oblique arrives as that sophomore full-length, with nine tracks and 41 minutes of classic-gone-modern heavy rock that brings all the bluesy thrust of Lucifer’s Friend and Black Sabbath and brings it into a now-style context; not at all retro, but strongly influenced.

The songs themselves — the longest of which is is 6:41 mellow groover “3 Million Light Years” — are rife with the chemistry between guitarist/vocalist Lex “Mr. Frumpy” Waterreus, bassist Paul Crick and drummer Mark Sibson and show a dynamic range that reaches from the unmitigated scorch of “Oh Lord (Part One)” to the subdued balladry of “My Gods are Stone,” which boasts a guest guitar appearance from the aforementioned Isaiah Mitchell, to the Floydian weaving of acoustics and electrics on the methodically-paced “Dripping from the Eye of the Sun.” Waterreus as a singer is capable of carrying across the variety of moods these tracks and the rest, and I won’t take away from the contributions of Crick and Sibson in terms of rhythm and enhancing the changes and deepening the execution overall, but at its heart, Polaris Oblique is very much a guitar album. Its foundation is in the riffs, and the recording — by Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed, who also adds lead guitar to “Oh Lord (Part Two)” — highlights lead work as a crucial element even as side B moves into its farthest-out in the penultimate nodder “Treading Water.”

Seedy Jeezus wouldn’t be the first heavy rock act to put the emphasis on guitar by any means, but the character in Waterreus‘ playing is a defining element here as well — so it’s both what he plays and how he plays it, whether it’s the swaggering rip and shuffle of opener “Intro – Polaris Oblique” or the laid back riding of the bassline he does in “3 Million Lives” following the post-Stooges shove of “Everything Will be Alright.” Add to this a remarkable sense of flow across the entire release, and Polaris Oblique almost feels like a song unto itself. Not that it was written that way — it’s definitely a collection of individual pieces, just that the way it moves between them almost follows a similar pattern of a classic structure. There are the initial rockers in “Intro – Polaris Oblique” and “Everything Will Be Alright,” a wistful departure in “3 Million Lives” and a dug in mellow groove on “My Gods Are Stone” before “Oh Lord (Part One)” kicks everything in the ass and the trilogy of “Oh Lord (Part Two),” “Dripping from the Eye of the Sun” and “Treading Water” dive deeper into psych-prog nuance and “Barefoot Travelin’ Man” closes out by returning to the earthbound vibrancy of the opening segment.

seedy jeezus photo barry c douglas

The whole album reads as a well-structured piece, with individual parts of what whole making their own impressions along the way, tied together by their focus around the guitar even as they express varying ideas and sensibilities. And it’s an added bit of intrigue that Waterreus would bring in Mitchell and Reed to play guitar. Sure, Seedy Jeezus has collaborated with both before — Reed also recorded the debut, and there was the already-noted Tranquonauts with Mitchell — but it’s clearly more of a personal choice. The band wanted those guys to be a part of their album. Listening to Waterreus shred to pieces on “Oh Lord (Part One)” and match wits with Reed on the subsequent “Part Two” it’s not like he can’t hold his own when it comes to tearing into a solo. It’s not like they’re covering for his not being up to the task by bringing in these players. One suspects it was as much about wanting to hang out in the studio with MitchellReed was obviously already there — as it was anything else. The results are striking either way.

One might say the same of the album in general. It’s not overly showy in terms of technical hijinks, but it does have a precise aspect to its personality, and it makes abundantly clear that Seedy Jeezus know what they want to get out of each track included, up to and including the raucous finish they provide with “Barefoot Travelin’ Man,” which smoothly brings Polaris Oblique to its finish by delving one more time into heavier blues pulsations and a fervent heavy ’70s groove, propelled by Sibson‘s drums, which are worthy in sound and delivery of a comparison to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. In fact, as much as Polaris Oblique puts the guitar at the center, it’s Crick and Sibson both who actively allow that to be the case. One gets the sense that either would be comfortable leading the charge, but that they’re well at home in the pocket as it is, swinging away and offering moments of flourish like that which Crick brings to the midsection of “3 Million Lives,” matching step with Waterreus‘ guitar ahead of a turn to speedy shuffle that nearly hits The Atomic Bitchwax levels of head-spin before resuming the song’s core slower tempo.

This dynamic too is emblematic of a classic power trio, and it works well in accordance with Seedy Jeezus‘ methods overall. In their aesthetic, craft and performance, they bring a traditionalist feel, and yet Reed‘s production is nothing if not shimmering with a modern clarity. Ultimately, this interaction is less of a push-pull than it is a rare alignment, and taken in consideration with the fluidity in and between the songs the whole way through, Polaris Oblique is a marked achievement when it comes to further establishing Seedy Jeezus as a presence of note in the international underground sphere. Whether you listen on headphones, on blaring speakers, on vinyl, CD or digital, there’s much to dig into and much to dig across the record’s thoroughly unpretentious, welcoming span.

Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique (2018)

Seedy Jeezus website

Seedy Jeezus on Thee Facebooks

Lay Bare Recordings website

Ripple Music website

Blown Music website

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Frayle to Release The White Witch EP on Vinyl & CD

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

frayle

Cleveland doom rockers Frayle have announced two physical pressings for their debut EP, The White Witch. The four-songer is available now for preorder on vinyl through Lay Bare Recordings, and Seeing Red Records will also have it out on CD. Originally released in April, it’s a sharp-edged first sampling of the band’s wares, competent and aware of aesthetic and the genre it’s playing toward, but also clearly working to establish its own presence and that of the band.

The CD version seems to be out now I’d assume the vinyl is soon to follow as well.

Her’es info and background from the PR wire:

frayle the white witch

Lay Bare Recordings is excited to present the White Witch EP from Frayle on white vinyl.

Self-released on the 1st of April, FRAYLE have been turning a lot of heads with their unique approach of Witch Doom. Lay Bare Recordings (vinyl) and Seeing Red Records (cd) are excited to collaborate on releasing this EP in physical format.

Vinyl pre-order from 22th June 2018

Bio:

Doom/Stoner Duo Frayle was formed in Cleveland in 2017 by Sean Bilovecky and Gwyn Strang. Frayle’s “lullabies over chaos” approach to songwriting allows them the freedom to explore what is possible with heavy music. They strive to balance the heaviest of riffs with the approachability of Gwyn’s haunting vocal melodies. Complex layering and tone stacking is a hallmark of their music. Each musical element is thoughtfully composed resulting in a unique combination of midrange-heavy guitars, syncopated rhythms, and unexpected vocal progressions.

Gwyn tells stories of heart break, anger, hypocrisy and resolution, asking the audience for empathy, and in turn inspiring vulnerability. Frayle will embark on a European tour in October. In support of this ep and the 1st full length record which is recorded as we write this news letter. Some days are booked and will be revealed in due time.

Tracklisting:
1. Let The Darkness In
2. The White Witch
3. Wandering Star
4. Things That Makes Us Bleed

https://www.facebook.com/frayleband/
https://frayle.bandcamp.com/releases
https://www.facebook.com/laybarerecordings/
https://twitter.com/laybarerecs
https://laybarerecordings.com/release/the-white-witch-by-frayle-lbr020

Frayle, The White Witch EP (2018)

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Seedy Jeezus: Polaris Oblique Preorders Available

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 22nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

seedy jeezus photo barry c douglas

There’s no exact release date listed below for Seedy Jeezus‘ impending second album, Polaris Oblique, but I’d imagine it’ll be out before or around the time the Melbourne three-piece hit the road in Europe — with Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed on bass no less — this coming July, and since “June” was the original timeframe floated for it, yeah, that makes sense. Either way, it’s coming and you can preorder it as of now from Lay Bare Reccordings which will handle the European release. It’ll also be out through Ripple Music distribution in the US and Blown Music in the band’s native Australia.

Of course, the vinyl’s limited and all that. Details follow, courtesy of the PR wire:

SEEDY JEEZUS POLARIS OBLIQUE

Seedy Jeezus – Polaris Oblique

In 2015 Seedy Jeezus released their 1st record on Lay Bare Recordings; in 2018 the 2nd record is ready to shatter your music spine. Called Polaris Oblique and on presale Monday 21st of May, 7am CET.

The band has evolved from the first album, but has retained their bite and bark. There are crazy jams and heavy riffs with a dose of 70’s influences that has always bubbled under in the bands sound since its formation. Many who followed the band since the first album will know where the band is at musically. There is a maturity in the band’s sound and songs. When they get mellow is an almost Floydian world you’re looking into and when they hit the heavy, you know it’s on. Strap yourself in and just wait….it’s coming

‘Polaris Oblique’ comes in a release of 500 pcs, of which 100 pcs are a DELUXE Version.
Each 100 pcs have a different color.

The European edition is LIMITED to 90 pcs. only and has its own unique color.
Exclusively available in Europe via Lay Bare Recordings.
– Gatefold
– Metallic Foil Artwork
– 150gr. vinyl
– Colored version

Click here for the pre-order:
?https://laybarerecordings.com/release/polaris-oblique-by-seedy-jeezus-lbr019

US & Canadian orders for the STANDARD version are advised to go here to save on shipping: http://heavyripples.bigcartel.com

Seedy Jeezus is:
Mark Sibson – Drums
Lex Waterreus – Guitar/Vocals
Paul Crick – Bass/Noises

http://www.seedyjeezus.com
https://www.facebook.com/seedyjeezuspage/
https://laybarerecordings.com/
Ripple Music website
Blown Music website

Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique album teaser

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Seedy Jeezus to Tour Europe in July with Tony Reed on Bass; Polaris Oblique Due in June

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 12th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Looking like a busy summer ahead for Aussie heavy psych rockers Seedy Jeezus. Their second album, titled Polaris Oblique, is due out in June via Blown Music in Australia, Lay Bare Recordings in Europe and Ripple Music‘s distribution in the US — what? no Abraxas to cover South America? — and the following month, they’ll take off on a European tour for which they’ll be joined by none other than Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed, taking on the bassist role in place of Paul Crick, who’s unable to make the trip.

Reed is as natural a fit for the position as anyone could possibly be. He’s recorded both of Seedy Jeezus‘ full-lengths, and he guests on the new album as well — so too does Isaiah Mitchell of Earthless, with whom Seedy Jeezus previously collaborated as Tranquonauts (review here) in 2016 — so Reed is about as close as anyone can get to the band without actually being a member, which I suppose he will be now, at least for a time.

The dates are still coming together for that run — if you want Seedy Jeezus to play by you, hit them up and make it happen — but there’s plenty of time between now and June/July, so keep an eye out for updates. In the meantime, there’s a teaser video for Polaris Oblique that the band put up recently that gives a little sampling of some new music, and the sounds bode well. Either way, more to come.

Dig it:

seedy jeezus europe 2018

Tony Reed is playing bass on the tour for us as Paul can’t tour due to commitments. SO Tony who has recorded and produced both of our albums has offered to jump in and play bass for Paul on the tour. Tony Reed is like the 4th member of the band. We trust his instincts and ears when working with him, and he knows the music better than anyone outside the band…so his offer was an easy one to accept.

We are still looking to fill some dates on the tour, so if you have a hookup and wanna get Seedy Jeezus to your town, hit us up… we wanna gig, and share the love.

The teaser for the new Seedy Jeezus album ‘Polaris Oblique’. The album will be out in June, available via Lay Bare Recordings in Europe, and Ripple Distribution in the USA, as well as Blown Music here in Australia.!!

Video footage by Barry C Douglas.

Seedy Jeezus is:
Mark Sibson – Drums
Lex Waterreus – Guitar/Vocals
Paul Crick – Bass/Noises

http://www.seedyjeezus.com
https://www.facebook.com/seedyjeezuspage/
https://laybarerecordings.com/
Ripple Music website
Blown Music website

Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique album teaser

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Wrapping up #VinylDay2017

Posted in Features on July 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Grooves and platters galore. My motivation behind doing Vinyl Day 2017 was simple: I felt like listening to records and sharing that process. It was kind of an off-the-cuff thing. Just an idea I had and ran with it. I figure it doesn’t need to be anything more than that, right? Isn’t putting on an album its own excuse for putting on an album? I tend to think so.

And yeah, I made it a hashtag. Because it’s the future, and hashtags. Instagrammaphone and whatnot. I’m a novice at best when it comes to the social medias, but it seems to me that if you’re going to share a full day’s worth of what you’re listening to, that’s the way to do it. So that’s what I did. If I clogged up your feed or whatever and it pissed you off, sorry.

For anyone who might’ve missed it, it turned out to be nine records of various sorts. Here they are, complete with accompanying audio when I could get it, because it’s the age of instant gratification:

There you have it. Had to be Sleep to end it. Pretty awesome day of music on the whole, and whatever was on your playlist yesterday, if it was this stuff or anything else, I hope you enjoyed. I’m gonna call Vinyl Day 2017 a definite win. Thanks for reading.

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audiObelisk Transmission 060

Posted in Podcasts on December 22nd, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk podcast 60

Click Here to Download

 

Consider this your usual disclaimer that, like any of this site’s coverage of year-end whatnottery, this podcast is by no means attempting to capture all of 2016’s best tracks. It is, however, over four hours long, and frankly that seems like enough to ask. If you decide to take it on and sample what I found to be some of the best material to come down the line over the last 12 months, please know you have my thanks in advance. For what it’s worth, it was a lot of fun to put together, and that’s not always the case with these.

But about the length. I’ve done double-sized year-end specials for a while now. It’s always just seemed a fair way to go. And the last few at least have been posted the week of the Xmas holiday as well, which for me is of dual significance since it just so happens four hours is right about what it takes to drive from where I live to where my family lives, so when I look at this massive slew of 34 acts, from the riff-led righteousness of Wo Fat and Curse the Son to the crush of Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and SubRosa to the psychedelic reaches of Zun and Øresund Space Collective (who probably show up in podcasts more than anyone, oddly enough), I also think of going to see my family, which has become my favorite part of the holidays.

Whatever associations you might draw with it, I very much hope you enjoy listening. Thanks for taking the time.

Track details follow:

First Hour:

0:00:00 Wo Fat, “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind” from Midnight Cometh
0:09:35 Greenleaf, “Howl” from Rise Above the Meadow
0:14:57 Elephant Tree, “Aphotic Blues” from Elephant Tree
0:20:49 Brant Bjork, “The Gree Heen” from Tao of the Devil
0:26:27 Sergio Ch., “El Herrero” from Aurora
0:29:44 Child, “Blue Side of the Collar” from Blueside
0:35:31 Geezer, “Bi-Polar Vortex” from Geezer
0:43:59 Zun, “Come Through the Water” from Burial Sunrise
0:49:27 Baby Woodrose, “Mind Control Machine” from Freedom
0:54:11 Curse the Son, “Hull Crush Depth” from Isolator
0:59:31 Borracho, “Shot down, Banged up, Fade Away” from Atacama

Second Hour:

1:05:50 Scissorfight, “Nature’s Cruelest Mistake” from Chaos County
1:09:19 Truckfighters, “The Contract” from V
1:16:30 Spidergawd, “El Corazon del Sol” from III
1:21:24 Fatso Jetson, “Royal Family” from Idle Hands
1:26:13 Worshipper, “Step Behind” from Shadow Hymns
1:30:57 Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, “Y Proffwyd Dwyll” from Y Proffwyd Dwyll
1:39:42 Druglord, “Regret to Dismember” from Deepest Regrets
1:46:34 Moon Coven, “New Season” from Moon Coven
1:52:03 Gozu, “Tin Chicken” from Revival
1:59:49 Year of the Cobra, “Vision of Three” from …In the Shadows Below

Third Hour:

2:06:53 The Munsens, “Abbey Rose” from Abbey Rose
2:14:56 Lamp of the Universe, “Mu” from Hidden Knowledge
2:21:26 1000mods, “On a Stone” from Repeated Exposure To…
2:26:45 Church of the Cosmic Skull, “Watch it Grow” from Is Satan Real?
2:30:43 Vokonis, “Acid Pilgrim” from Olde One Ascending
2:37:35 Slomatics, “Electric Breath” from Future Echo Returns
2:43:02 Droids Attack, “Sci-Fi or Die” from Sci-Fi or Die
2:47:20 King Buffalo, “Drinking from the River Rising” from Orion
2:56:51 Comet Control, “Artificial Light” from Center of the Maze

Fourth Hour:

3:06:37 Øresund Space Collective, “Above the Corner” from Visions Of…
3:22:51 Naxatras, “Garden of the Senses” from II
3:33:14 SubRosa, “Black Majesty” from For this We Fought the Battle of Ages
3:48:23 Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, “Escape Through the Rift” from Tranquonauts

Total running time: 4:07:32

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 060

 

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2016

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 30

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.

I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.

Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.

The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.

This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.

Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.

I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:

30. Talmud Beach, Chief

talmud beach chief

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.

29. Comet Control, Center of the Maze

comet control center of the maze

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 22.

Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.

28. Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids attack sci-fi or die

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 17.

There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.

27. Beelzefuzz, The Righteous Bloom

beelzefuzz the righteous bloom

Released by Restricted Release and The Church Within. Reviewed Aug. 2.

A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.

26. Foghound, The World Unseen

foghound the world unseen

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed July 6.

Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.

25a. Egypt, Endless Flight

egypt endless flight

Released by Doomentia Records. Reviewed Dec. 11, 2015.

Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.

25. 1000mods, Repeated Exposure To…

1000mods repeated exposure to

Released by Ouga Booga and the Mighty Oug Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 20.

There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.

24. Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy

black rainbows stellar prophecy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 11.

Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.

23. Borracho, Atacama

borracho atacama

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Nov. 14.

Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.

22. The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again

the golden grass coming back again

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed April 26.

Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.

21. Curse the Son, Isolator

curse the son isolator

Released by Snake Charmer Coalition and The Company Records. Reviewed March 1.

For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.

20. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires

neurosis fires within fires

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 21.

I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, NeurosisFires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.

19. Conan, Revengeance

conan revengeance

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 19.

Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.

18. Baby Woodrose, Freedom

baby woodrose freedom

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Aug. 18.

Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.

17. Geezer, Geezer

geezer geezer

Released by Ripple Music and STB Records. Reviewed Nov. 10.

I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.

16. EYE, Vision and the Ageless Light

eye vision and the ageless light

Released by The Laser’s Edge. Reviewed Nov. 17.

Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.

15. Fatso Jetson, Idle Hands

fatso jetson idle hands

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.

14. Hexvessel, When We are Death

hexvessel when we are death

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Feb. 5.

Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.

13. Zun, Burial Sunrise

zun burial sunrise

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Feb. 16.

Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.

12. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree

elephant tree elephant tree

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Jan. 29.

One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.

11. Mos Generator, Abyssinia

mos generator abyssinia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed July 12.

If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.

10. Slomatics, Future Echo Returns

slomatics future echo returns

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed June 29.

In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.

9. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh

wo fat midnight cometh

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 21.

After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.

8. King Buffalo, Orion

king buffalo orion

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed July 29.

Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.

7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know

wight love is not only what you know

Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.

German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.

6. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 18.

A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.

5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil

brant bjork tao of the devil

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 15.

Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in KyussFu ManchuCheVista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.

4. Asteroid, III

asteroid iii

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed Oct. 21.

What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.

3. Gozu, Revival

gozu revival

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 19.

Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.

2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)

mars red sky apex iii praise for the burning soul

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.

1. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages

subrosa for this we fought the battle of ages

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Aug. 26.

Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.

The Next 20

Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:

31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll

From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.

Honorable Mentions

Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:

Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
Spidergawd, III
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment

And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:

Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.

Thank You

In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.

If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.

One more time: Thank you.

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