Posted in Whathaveyou on February 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
True to what’s been their mission all along, the lineup thus far unveiled for Shadow Woods Metal Fest 3 offers diversity, extremity of various stripes, and an immediate sense of vibe that feels once again perfectly suited to its outdoor, campground setting in White Hall, Maryland. From Aerial Ruin‘s dark folk to the deathly push of Percussor, to the New England psychedelia of MoMe — previously unknown to me, which seems like dereliction of duty on my part — and beyond with familiar faces like Virginian doomcrushers Foehammer, an acoustic set from Dee Calhoun of Iron Man, North Carolinian sludgers Toke and Philadelphia’s Heavy Temple, it’s got enough intrigue even among the names already announced to have one checking the calendar, and as earlybird tickets go on sale today, they’re only likely to build from here. Kudos, as ever, to Mary Spiro on putting it together.
What info is out is below, as well as the link to where you can get your tickets. If you can do that, you probably should:
Shadow Woods Metal Fest 3
September 14 – September 17
Camp Hidden Valley
White Hall, Maryland 21611
The best weekend of your life is back for a third year with an even more diverse lineup than ever. Nearly 40 bands over three days of camping in the woods. See below for important details!
Schedule: Several acoustic sets on Thursday evening in the Pavilion only. Full production with three alternating stages Friday and Saturday only from noon til approximately midnight each night. No performances on Sunday (as per usual).
BANDS ANNOUNCED SO FAR (MORE TBA) Aerial Ruin – Portland, OR (ritual folk) Amigo the Devil – Spicewood, TX (murderfolk; TWO EXCLUSIVE and DIFFERENT SETS). Castle (San Francisco) Dee Calhoun (Frederick, MD) Bearstorm – Richmond, VA (blackened southern deathprog) Black Table (NY/NJ) Elagabalus – Baltimore, MD (experimental metal 2-piece) Foehammer (Northern Virginia) Green Elder /Paul Ravenwood (Johnson City, TN) Heavy Temple (Philadelphia) Hexis (Copenhagen, Denmark) Human Bodies (Boston) blacked hardcore Mome (Portland, ME) psych rock Panopticon – exclusive performance (KY/MN) Percussor – Philadelphia/Wilmington (old school death metal) Seasick Gladiator – Washington, DC (experimental doom prog) The Owls Are Not What They Seem (York, PA) Toke (Cape Fear, NC) Vastum – one of two East Coast performances (San Francisco) ZUD – black and blues rock and roll (Portland, ME)
IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER: ** Earlybird tickets (which are full Thursday – Sunday passes at a discount over the regular price and include non reserved camping) go on sale at Noon Friday, Feb 17. ** There are NO RESERVED CAMPING AREAS; it is camp where you may in designated areas. ** Cabin bed tickets will be on sale FRIDAY. (The cabins are NOT private; they are bunkhouse summer camp style.) ** We remain at our previous location in White Hall, MD. ** An updated FAQ will appear soon on our website. www.shadowwoodsmetalfest.com ** Once you buy your ticket you will be able to join a private SWMF FB group. READ THE EMAIL THAT CONFIRMS YOUR TICKET PURCHASE FOR DETAILS. ** You may choose how your tickets are delivered to you: WILL CALL (name at the door only); print at home; or physical tickets that will be mailed to you. ** THE EVENT IS 21 and up! ** The event is NOT BYOB. Do not bring outside alcohol. Beer and wine will be for sale. ** Food vendors will be on site ** Marketplace vendors will be in the HALL as usual. If you are interested in vending email Shadow.Woods.LLC@gmail.com with information and links about what you want to sell. ** Thursday night (Sept 14) will feature an acoustic only stage where several groups will perform in an intimate setting. ** On Friday and Saturday (September 15 and 16), the fest will be in full production with three stages running from noon to midnight each day. ** There are NO BANDS on Sunday. That’s the day you pack up and go home.
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Expand or die, right? Certainly the idea isn’t a new one for the crew behind the famed Maryland Deathfest, which already has brand extensions in place in California and the Netherlands, but the newly-announced Days of Darkness Festival — for which early-bird tickets are on sale circa now — feels immediately different. Set for late October at the Rams Head Live, for one thing, it takes place in Baltimore, the home-base of the Maryland Deathfest itself. Second, it abandons the “Deathfest” title, in favor of the less genre-adherent “Darkness.” Third, its lineup seems way more of the doomed/post-metal/psychedelic/classic metal variety than any of the extremity one might find at the other Deathfest-promoted fests. These things make Days of Darkness 2017 distinct. The fact that Neurosis headline and Warning will appear playing Watching from a Distance in its entirety — something they’re also doing at Roadburn this April — means they mean business.
Compared to the core Maryland Deathfest, which runs four days at this point, the two for Days of Darkness feels a bit like testing the waters, and indeed that may be exactly what’s happening, but while a number of heavy festivals have popped up and disappeared after one shot — whither thou, Planet Caravan? — far fewer have the kind of production machine behind them as this one. Accordingly, one looks forward with great anticipation to seeing how Days of Darkness 2017 continues to develop its lineup and set itself apart not only from the central Deathfest brand, but also the slew of heavy fests in what seems to still be a surging US sphere.
More to come, in other words. Here’s the initial word in the meantime:
Maryland Deathfest presents: Days of Darkness Festival
October 28 & 29, 2017 @ Rams Head Live – Baltimore, MD
Lineup: Neurosis Warning (Watching from a Distance set) Manilla Road Elder GosT Unearthly Trance Dälek Bongripper
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 9th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
So what are Clutch up to? A little bit of writing? A little bit of touring? Maybe hosting their own festival? All of the above, as it turns out. The ever-industrious Marylander groovemasters have announced a headlining run for May, starting in Asheville, North Carolina, and ending in Inwood, West Virginia, where they’ll host the first-ever Earth Rocker Festival. Lineup still forthcoming on that, but I’m of course curious to see who’ll be added to the bill and will do my best to keep an eye on it as we get closer.
In the meantime, vocalist Neil Fallon also states below that the band has started to put together material for a follow-up to 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here). He seems pretty realistic when he says it’ll more likely be a 2018 release — that’s about on pace; an album every three years, tour the hell out of it between — but it’s interesting to note the producer is TBA. Their last two outings were helmed by Machine, who also handled 2004’s Blast Tyrant, so more intrigue there as to whether they’ll go back to him or wind up working with someone else. Seems like we’ve got a while before we find out on that one.
The PR wire brings us up to speed:
CLUTCH ANNOUNCE MAY HEADLINE TOUR DATES ALONG WITH FIRST ANNUAL EARTH ROCKER FESTIVAL AT SHILEY ACRES IN INWOOD, WV
Clutch has just announced a string of headline tour dates for May. Supporting the tour will be Lucero and The Sword. The band is also pleased to announce their first annual Earth Rocker Festival at Shiley Acres in Inwood, WV on May 20th. Full line-up to be announced soon. Pre-sale tickets will start at 10am ET Wednesday, public stale starts 10am ET on Friday.
“We did a whole bunch of touring in 2016” states the band’s front man Neil Fallon. “Right now, we’re cooling our heels and starting to kick around some riffs for the next record. We hope to be recording the LP come the end of the year. Where and with whom is yet TBD. At the moment though, we’re really just at the beginning phase of writing and we already have a surplus of ideas.”
“In other news, this Spring we will be hosting the first annual Earth Rocker Festival. It’ll take place in Shiley Acres, West Virginia. We played at Shiley Acres last year and it was a real blast. Our intent is to have a really diverse bill. If all goes as planned, Earth Rocker Festival will continue as an annual event, hopefully growing in scope over the years.”
On Record Store Day this past April 16th Clutch released a limited edition numbered etched vinyl 12 inch that included two previously unreleased tracks from the Psychic Warfare sessions: “Mad Sidewinder” and “Outland Special Clearance”. Psychic Warfare was produced by longtime producer Machine (Lamb Of God, Every Time I Die).
Clutch, Lucero and The Sword May Tour Dates:
05-10-17 in Asheville, NC at Highland Brewing Company 05-12-17 in Louisville, KY at Palace Theatre 05-13-17 in Grand Rapids, MI at 20 Monroe Live 05-15-17 in Brooklyn, NY at Brooklyn Steel 05-16-17 in Providence, RI at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel 05-17-17 in Port Chester, NY at The Capitol Theatre 05-19-17 in Norfolk, VA at The NorVa 05-20-17 in Inwood, WV at “Earth Rocker Festival” at Shiley Acres
CLUTCH: Neil Fallon – Vocals/Guitar Tim Sult – Guitar Dan Maines – Bass Jean-Paul Gaster – Drums/Percussion
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan
You should’ve seen me the other day. I was a pouting mess. Could’ve cried. Thinking to myself there was a new Arbouretum record that had been announced for nearly two weeks and I’d missed out. “No one told me,” and all sad. I felt really down about it, because the truth is I still go back to their last album, 2013’s Coming out of the Fog (review here), on the regular. I can’t even tell you how many phone-culls it has survived where other records have been removed to make use of the limited storage space. It’s an album I refuse to travel without. Not that the band would know that, or it would matter, but it mattered to me that the news had come through and I hadn’t gotten to see it. I even dug frontman Dave Heumann‘s solo record, Here in the Deep (review here), when that came out last year. I’ve been dying for news on a new Arbourteum.
Well, here’s me getting caught up. Thrill Jockey will issue Song of the Rose — the much-anticipated new studio full-length from Baltimore’s Arbouretum — on March 24. Preorders are available now. No audio yet. Presumably some will start to surface soon. Needless to say, I’ve got an eye out.
Details from the preorder page:
Arbouretum – Song of the Rose
Arbouretum has been called “the best of the millennial classic rock bands, a guitar-fuzzed powerhouse.” The band, founded by guitarist and vocalist Dave Heumann, effortlessly weaves its melodies and guitar solos with often hypnotic rhythms of bassist Corey Allender and drummer Brian Carey around the deliberate keyboard of Matthew Pierce to lift the vocals. The results are a full sounds delivered with a striking sense of intimacy. Throughout their time together, the Baltimore-based band have been praised for their ability to weave elaborate vocal lines, and guitar solos that often unravel into extended improvisation, but never with as much finesse as on Song of the Rose. In less practiced hands, these ideas could easily fall into contrivance, but on Song of the Rose, Arbouretum use these elements to perfect their craft of storytelling in song, both lyrically and sonically.
Arbouretum recorded Song of the Rose with Steve Wright at Wrightway Studios. While previous records were recorded in a matter of days, Song of the Rose took weeks. Attention to production details augment their time-tested emphasis on capturing the energy of performance. Song of the Rose is the first time the band has mixed with Kyle Spence at his studios in Athens Ga. (Kurt Vile, Luke Roberts, Harvey Milk.)
At their root, the songs and compositions of Song of the Rose is the concept of balance. As is true for the movements of Tai Chi, of which Dave Heumann is an avid practitioner, each motion both musical and lyrical has an equal but opposite motion, that works together harmoniously. “Woke Up On The Move” pores over nature’s beauty as much as it heeds the warning of humankind’s destructive potential. The variations that result from the constant push and pull throughout Song of the Rose make Arbouretum’s music as arresting as it is thoughtful. The lyrical imagery makes it masterful.
Arbouretum’s lyrics explore elements of philosophy, mysticism, redemption, and the implications of human “progress”. Songs are written in poetic form as Heumann, Arbouretum’s lyricist, prefers stories remain abstract and open rather than a more typical storytelling format, all within a more traditional song structure. Titular track “Song of the Rose” completes a trilogy of songs from past records, calling back to “Song of the Nile” and “Song of the Pearl,” which have their roots in examining Taoist and Gnostic mythic traditions. Fittingly “Rose” is also a nod to Heumann’s ancestor Richard Lovelace, a 17th century poet who penned “The Rose.” The driving “Absolution Song,” featuring the albums only instrumental guest appearance by Drums of Life, is a contemplation of the idea of writing and thereby absolving oneself of all wrongdoings, through the creative act, in this case, using poetic imagery. Arbouretum music takes these philosophical ideas and transforms them into a sonic experience that is at once contemplative and emotionally affecting.
Tracklisting: 1. Call Upon the Fire 2. Comanche Moon 3. Song of the Rose 4. Absolution Song 5. Dirt Trails 6. Fall From an Eyrie 7. Mind Awake, Body Asleep 8. Woke Up on the Move
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 24th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
I’ll admit I had to look up which Klingon it was that Captain Kirk told to ‘go to the devil.’ It was Kang. As I recall it was a censorship thing, because in 1968, when that episode of the original Star Trek aired, you couldn’t tell someone to go to hell on network television. I don’t know if Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun had Trek specifically in mind when he picked Go to the Devil as the working title of his soon-to-be-recorded second solo full-length, but it was certainly where my brain went in terms of the reference. Not everyone will have the same response, I suppose.
Whatever it’s ultimately called, Calhoun‘s sophomore outing, which as noted below will also feature Iron Man bassist Louis Strachan, will arrive at a quick turnaround from last year’s Rotgut (review here). That record was among 2016’s best debuts, so it’s only fair to say the follow-up will arrive with some anticipation behind it. After seeing the two perform together at Maryland Doom Fest last year (review here), I’ll look forward to hearing what Strachan brings to the studio material as well.
I could go on. Here’s the news:
DEE CALHOUN announces second solo album; to include Louis Strachan (Iron Man)
Argonauta Records is happy to announce that Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun will soon begin production on his sophomore solo album, the follow-up to 2016’s “Rotgut.” Recording will commence in late winter, mostly at Dee’s home studio The Dustbuster.
“The response to ‘Rotgut’ was so amazing, much more than I had ever hoped for,” Dee said. “People identified with the album’s honest simplicity, the honest messages within each song. Those good vibes kept the creativity flowing, and this follow-up will be the result.”
On this album, tentatively titled “Go to the Devil,” Dee will be joined by his Iron Man bandmate Louis Strachan, who will be handling bass guitar duties. “Lou is such a positive force, and has been such a great addition to live shows, it is a no-brainer to have him play on this CD” Dee said. “The material will still have the raw, stripped-down feel that the songs on ‘Rotgut’ had, only with the addition of those great, bouncy bass lines underneath.” Dee also indicates that the album’s themes will continue to follow his “I write what I feel” approach, mixed in with some storytelling elements.
“Go to the Devil” (again, the tentative title) is targeted for a late 2017 release.
Posted in Reviews on January 6th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
[Click play above to stream Mangog’s Mangog Awakens in full. Album is out Jan. 9 on Argonauta Records.]
For those off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, Maryland doom must seem like a curious animal. It’s angry, but restrained, sad, but grooved, melodic and still weighted down by a particular disaffection. Over the last three decades, it’s also become one of the longest-lasting and prolific regional sources for heavy output, and as Mangog‘s Argonauta Records debut album, Mangog Awakens, demonstrates, it remains a sound that is growing and shaping itself. As rigid as its tenets can sometimes seem in post-The Obsessed riffing and Sabbathian loyalism, there’s room in the Chesapeake State for a breadth of atmospheres, and Mangog take advantage of this while staying grounded in deeply human experiences of loss and betrayal on “Ab Intra” and “A Tongue Full of Lies,” and still having a bit of fun in a cut like “Meld,” which from its opening lines, “Your thoughts to my thoughts/My mind to your mind,” through the inclusion of “It is a good day to die” in the chorus was bound to win over my Star Trek-loving heart.
Granted that cut is a long way from “Walk in my shoes/Feel the abuse” and “Chase the dream then you die” from “Modern Day Concubine,” but it fits sound-wise with Mangog‘s straightforward, semi-metallized take, marked out by the rumbling basslines of Darby Cox (Major Company), the thickened riffing of Bert Hall, Jr. (also bass in Beelzefuzz, ex-Revelation, the snarl in the vocals of Myke Wells (ex-Final Answer) and the dead-ahead push drumming of Mike Rix (ex-Iron Man). In any case, a bit of thematic variety doesn’t hurt, especially when so much of Mangog Awakens basks in the emotionally grim.
Welcome to doom, chief. I’ve said many times over the years that repetition and that grueling feeling that sometimes emerges from bands in the style are key markers for doom, and Mangog do a fair bit to play into that, but from Mangog Awakens‘ opening salvo of “Time is a Prison,” the aforementioned “Meld” and “Ab Intra,” they seem intent likewise on finding a niche for themselves within the sphere’s overarching lack of pretense. “Meld” is shorter, but “Time is a Prison” hits seven minutes and “Ab Intra” tops eight, so there’s an apparent drive toward immersing the listener quickly in the album’s moody vibes, and if they haven’t already done it by then, the creeping start of “Ab Intra” assures the task is complete. Compare that to the ticking clock that begins the lumbering “Time is a Prison” and the sounding alarm at the end that still jars every time I hear it and Mangog are clearly pushing deeper as they go, but both “Time is a Prison” and “Ab Intra” rely on strong hooks to help get their point across, and that root of classic-style songcraft is important as the rest of the album continues to build fro this beginning.
“Ab Intra” is one of the three songs from Mangog‘s 2015 debut EP, Daydreams Within Nightmares, to be included on the full-length alongside “Of Your Deceit” immediately following and “Daydreams Within Nightmares,” placed here as the penultimate track before “Eyes Wide Shut” closes, but there’s no discernible interruption in flow between previously-released material, despite the band having worked with a slew of engineers — Jason Blevins and Mike Franklin, Mike Engel, and Drew Mazurek — on the recordings. The crawl-paced plod of “Of Your Deceit” might be preaching to the converted, but one wouldn’t accuse it at all of being incongruous in doing so. If nothing else, Mangog Awakens makes plain that the four-piece know the sound they’re shooting for.
Fine. The question then becomes whether they get there. From “Of Your Deceit” into the sub-three-minute tempo kick of “Into Infamy” and onward to the chug of “Modern Day Concubine,” the answer would seem to be yes. These are not rookie players, and while this is their first outing together in this incarnation, they sound comfortable in the mode of expression, going so far as to have Wells branch out a bit into a more rhythmic vocal patterning on “Modern Day Concubine” with just a hint of growl layered in. “A Tongue Full of Lies” offers more languid flow after that aggro moment, but has a build of its own that comes to a head in its second half, leading into the more upbeat shove of “Daydreams Within Nightmares,” the lyrics of which nod toward political turmoil — one might say “Into Infamy” did so earlier as well; both working in a general way relatively open to interpretation — as a choice riff churns around a hook that seems to reorient the listener moving into Mangog Awakens‘ final statement.
That comes with “Eyes Wide Shut,” which at 5:41 doesn’t touch “Time is a Prison” or “Ab Intra” in terms of runtime, but in its layered vocal harmonies — either Wells on his own or Wells with backing from Hall — and ultra-slow initial rollout punctuated by Rix‘s snare, it’s nodding enough to give the impression of being longer than it actually is and atmospheric after the fashion of classic Pentagram. Once again, Mangog bring their own stamp to the proceedings, adding a speedier, metallized bridge in the second half of the track before returning to the lumber to end out, not quite paying off the full record, but at very least assuring their audience there’s more to come. That may well be true, and at this point one might only speculate where Mangog might go after this “awakening.” What the band establishes, though, is the core of songwriting that will hopefully continue to be fleshed out from here and a strong awareness of where they’re coming from that will allow them to grow as they move forward.
Call it a flair for the epic, but as Baltimorean five-piece Blood Mist make their debut Feb. 10 on Grimoire Records with their self-titled five-track EP, the pattern of classic metal grandiosity and swinging-mug heavy rock groove can’t be missed. Across the 25-minute outing, the relative newcomers show marked cohesion of purpose in taking cues from early, pre-self-parody Danzig as well as Candlemass, but even with those names as core influences, I wouldn’t necessarily tag them as only being a doom band. Certainly those elements are there, as one can hear by the chugging slowdown that finishes opener “Burn the Trees” as much as the foreboding guitar and cymbal wash interplay that begins the subsequent “Blood Mist,” but guitarists Kevin Considine and Nick Jewett, vocalist Matt Casella, bassist Scott Brenner and drummer John de Campos (also artwork) pick up into near-High on Fire onslaught later in their eponymous cut. With the sense of drama that Casella brings to his approach, in places calling to mind Scott Reagers as well as the likes of Witchfinder General and others from the NWOBHM, everything Blood Mist do on this offering just feels that much bigger.
Blood Mist hits its most fervent nod in righteously-titled centerpiece “Goblin Overload,” pulling back on the tempo, upping the fuzz and giving Casella and the lead guitar all the more room to flesh out what were already impressive performances, some of the shoutier vocals recalling King Giant, but ultimately winding up less burly as they set up a transition into speedier fare circa the four-minute mark, de Campos taking point in pushing the song to its break, when it snaps back into a mid-paced revisit of its chorus to end with what seems to be a well-earned big rock finish. Dueling leads start the shorter, faster “As the Crow,” which highlights its hook as it courses through like something that might’ve opened a Dio-era Sabbath record en route to what seems to be a companion piece in closer “My Lord.” The finale is the only song included under four minutes long, but the impression it leaves is brash and substantial in kind, setting up its last minute as a build into a final thrust that comes topped with more stellar guitar soloing and righteous crash for an ending that, to be perfectly honest, probably could’ve ridden out its groove for another two or three minutes at least if it wanted to. Maybe next time.
Take that “maybe next time” as evidence of a desire to hear more from Blood Mist. The band treads on some dangerous ground in providing a next-gen take on traditionalism of sound coming from where they do — Baltimore has some very definite ideas about what makes a doom or otherwise heavy record — but frankly, that’s how innovation happens. Like all of Grimoire‘s fare, the EP was recorded by Noel Mueller, who gives ample space to each instrument (vocals included) while bringing them together all the more as a unit priming themselves to develop the potential to capture hearts and minds of heshers and weirdos alike. As with many early releases, debut EPs, etc., it’s hard to guess where Blood Mist might go from here — “Blood Mist” and “My Lord” are very different tracks, may have been written over a greater span of time, and so on, and while they sound like they’re all-in from the start of “Burn the Trees,” there’s yet no context for assessing what their sonic intent will be over the longer term. However, Blood Mist excite with the possibility of what their metallically-tinged heavy could become on this initial collection and already showcase a will to distinguish themselves from their surroundings. Do it loudly enough and someone’s bound to pay attention.
Today I have the pleasure of hosting “Goblin Overload” as a track premiere ahead of Blood Mist‘s Feb. 10 arrival. Please find it on the player below, followed by the release announcement courtesy of Grimoire, and enjoy:
Formed in 2015 and hitting the stage in March of 2016 Blood Mist has been on a tear of performances sharing the stage with acts such as Valient Thorr, Black Lung, Gateway to Hell and others. This culminated in Blood Mist being invited to record with local metal label Grimiore Records and producing their self titled debut release with label head Noel Mueller.
The self-titled 5 song EP features meaty, stoner rock riffs, hard hitting drumming, ripping guitar solos, and over-the-top theatrical vocals. “Blood Mist” is only the beginning of the epic tale set to unfold. What evil power birthed the blood mist? Who will survive the roaming, rolling cloud of madness? The answers are found in the pounding, guitar driven, hazed musical metal maelstroms crafted by the now battle tested Blood Mist. Don’t miss out on the first chapter as we journey into the thick fog of destruction.
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.
Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.
The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.
This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.
Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.
I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:
Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.
Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.
There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.
A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.
Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.
Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.
There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.
Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.
Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.
Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.
For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.
I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, Neurosis‘ Fires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.
Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.
Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.
I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.
Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.
Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.
Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.
Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.
One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.
If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.
In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.
After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.
Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.
7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know
Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.
German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.
A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.
Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Che, Vista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.
What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.
Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.
2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)
It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.
Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.
The Next 20
Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:
31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll
From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.
Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:
Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment
And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:
Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.
In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.
If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.
And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.