The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2017

Posted in Features on December 18th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top-20-debut-albums

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2017 to that, please do.

Every successive year brings an absolute inundation of underground productivity. Every year, someone new is inspired to pick up a guitar, bass, drums, mic, keyboard, theremin, cello — whatever it might be — and set themselves to the task of manifesting the sounds they hear in their head.

This is unspeakably beautiful in my mind, and as we’ve done in years past, it seems only fair to celebrate the special moment of realization that comes with a band’s first album. The debut full-length. Sometimes it’s a tossed-off thing, constructed from prior EPs or thrown together haphazardly from demo tracks, and sometimes it’s a meticulously picked-over expression of aesthetic — a band coming out of the gate brimming with purpose and desperate to communicate it, whatever it might actually happen to be.

We are deeply fortunate to live in an age (for now) of somewhat democratized access to information. That is, if you want to hear a thing — or if someone wants you to hear a thing — it’s as simple as sharing and/or clicking a link. The strong word of mouth via ubiquitous social media, intuitive recording software, and an ever-burgeoning swath of indie labels and other promotional vehicles means bands can engage an audience immediately if they’re willing to do so, and where once the music industry’s power resided in the hands of a few major record companies, the divide between “listener” and “active participant” has never been more blurred.

Therefore, it is a good — if crowded — time for an act to be making their debut, even if it’s something that happens basically every day, and all the more worth celebrating the accomplishments of these first-albums both on their current merits and on the potential they may represent going forward. Some percent of a best-debuts list is always speculation. That’s part of what makes it so much fun.

As always, I invite you to let me know your favorite picks in the comments (please keep it civil). Here are mine:

telekinetic-yeti-abominable

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2017

1. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable
2. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
3. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream
4. Dool, Here Now There Then
5. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days
6. Arduini/Balich, Dawn of Ages
7. Vinnum Sabbathi, Gravity Works
8. Tuna de Tierra, Tuna de Tierra
9. Brume, Rooster
10. Moon Rats, Highway Lord
11. Thera Roya, Stone and Skin
12. OutsideInside, Sniff a Hot Rock
13. Hymn, Perish
14. Riff Fist, King Tide
15. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Medicine
16. Abronia, Obsidian Visions/Shadowed Lands
17. Book of Wyrms, Sci-Fi Fantasy
18. Firebreather, Firebreather
19. REZN, Let it Burn
20. Ealdor Bealu, Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain

Honorable Mention

Alastor, Black Magic
Devil’s Witches, Velvet Magic
Elbrus, Elbrus
Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun
Grigax, Life Eater
High Plains, Cinderland
Kingnomad, Mapping the Inner Void
Lord Loud, Passé Paranoia
Masterhand, Mind Drifter
The Necromancers, Servants of the Salem Girl
Owlcrusher, Owlcrusher
Petyr, Petyr
The Raynbow, The Cosmic Adventure
Savanah, The Healer
War Cloud, War Cloud
WhiteNails, First Trip

I could keep going with honorable mentions, and no doubt will add a few as people remind me of other things on which I brainfarted or whathaveyou, preferably without calling me an idiot, though I recognize that sometimes that’s a lot to ask. Either way, the point remains that the heavy underground remains flush with fresh infusions of creativity and that as another generation comes to maturity, still another is behind it, pushing boundaries forward or looking back and reinventing what came before them.

Notes

Will try and likely fail to keep this brief, but the thing I find most striking about this list is the variety of it. That was not at all something I planned, but even if you just look at the top five, you’ve got Telekinetic Yeti at the forefront. Abominable is something of a speculative pick on my part for the potential it shows on the part of the Midwestern duo in their songcraft and tonality, but then you follow them with four other wildly different groups in Rozamov, Mindkult, Dool and Eternal Black. There you’ve got extreme sludge from Boston, a Virginian one-man cult garage project, Netherlands-based dark heavy rock with neo-goth flourishes, and crunching traditionalist doom from New York in the vein of The Obsessed.

What I’m trying to say here is that it’s not just about one thing, one scene, one sound, or one idea. It’s a spectrum, and at least from where I sit, the quality of work being done across that spectrum is undeniable. Think of the prog-doom majesty Arduini/Balich brought to their collaborative debut, or the long-awaited groove rollout from Vinnum Sabbathi, or how Italy’s Tuna de Tierra snuck out what I thought was the year’s best desert rock debut seemingly under everybody’s radar. Stylistically and geographically these bands come from different places, and as with Brume and Moon Rats, even when a base of influence is similar, the interpretation thereof can vary widely and often does.

That Moon Rats album wasn’t covered nearly enough. I’m going to put it in the Quarterly Review coming up just to give another look at the songwriting on display, which was maddening in its catchiness. Maddening in its cacophony of noise was Stone and Skin from Brooklyn’s Thera Roya, which found itself right on the cusp of the top 10 with backing from the ’70s heavy rock vibes of the post-Carousel Pittsburgh outfit OutsideInside. Norway’s Hymn thrilled with their bleak atmospheres, while Australia’s Riff Fist showed off a scope they’d barely hinted at previously, and Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree offered surprises of their own in their warm heavy psych tonality and mostly-instrumental immersion. That record caught me almost completely off-guard. I was not at all prepared to dig it as much as I did.

Thrills continue to abound and resound as the Young Hunter-related outfit Abronia made their first offering of progressive, Americana-infused naturalist heavy, while Book of Wyrms dug themselves into an oozing riffy largesse on the other side of the country and Sweden’s Firebreather emerged from the defunct Galvano to gallop forth and claim victory a la early High on Fire. REZN’s Let it Burn got extra points in my book for the unabashed stonerism of it, while it was the ambience of Ealdor Bealu’s Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain that kept me going back to it. An album that was genuinely able to project a sense of mood without being theatrical about it was all the more impressive for it being their first. But that’s how it goes, especially on this list.

There you have it. Those are my picks. I recognize I’m only one person and a decent portion of my year was taken up by personal matters — having, losing a job; pregnancy, childbirth and parenting, etc. — but I did my best to hear as much music as I could in 2017 and I did my best to make as much of it as new as I could.

Still, if there’s something egregious I left out or just an album you’d like to champion, hell yes, count me in. What were some of your favorites? Comments are right down there. Let’s get a discussion going and maybe we can all find even more music to dig into.

Thanks for reading and here’s to 2018 to come and the constant renewal of inspiration and the creative spirit.

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Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Medicine: Walking Trails

Posted in Reviews on July 27th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

bees-made-honey-in-the-vein-tree-medicine

Primarily, Medicine feels like an exploration of depth. Not just in the sense of asking how low they can go in terms of tone, but what kind of distance can they set up between those lows and highs, how far can a song stretch from one end to the other before, like taffy, it is pulled apart. Excitingly, the cumbersomely-named Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree (as opposed, one assumes, to doing so in the lion’s skull, à la Earth) never find out, and their five-song/46-minute first full-length stands among 2017’s strongest — and most weighted — heavy psychedelic releases as a result. The Stuttgart, Germany, four-piece recorded Medicine late in Fall 2016 at Milberg Studios and issued it themselves digitally and on CD in January, but a Pink Tank Records vinyl edition brings it to a well-deserved wider distribution and positions the work of guitarist/vocalist/cover artist Simon Weinreich, guitarist Lucas Dreher, bassist/graphic designer Christopher Popowitsch and drummer/vocalist Marc Dreher (relation to Lucas presumed) as particularly satisfying in its blend of extended, jammed-out instrumental sections and denser tonality.

Without losing sight of their core mission, Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree proffer liquefied flow between and within their tracks, coming across as cohesive and patient as a cut like the 14-minute penultimate “Sail Away I” demonstrates in unfolding lines of intertwining guitar and bass held together by the underlying drums on a steady, immersive build that’s warm, headphone-ready, melodically rich and hypnotic without being meandering. Medicine works quickly in that song’s echoing spaces and those of the 10-minute opener “Every Night I Walk the Same Trail of Thought” to earn a place as one of the best debuts of the year.

One can hear the influence of Colour Haze in some of the more open stretches, and that never hurts, but even more than the Munich-based progenitors of the style, Medicine directly reminds of the 2010 debut from Dutch trio Sungrazer. That’s not a comparison I make lightly, and while some of the fuzz that coats the driving first crescendo (preceding the crashing second one) of “Sail Away I” might draw a sonic line in that direction, it’s one even more about the act of blending heavy rock and psych impulses in a specific way and with an overarching naturalism that becomes a righteously defining element. If I note that Medicine might be the most engaging heavy psych debut I’ve heard since Sungrazer‘s self-titled, it will invariably sound like hyperbole, but I’m hard pressed to think of more than a handful of first offerings that have brought forth the same clearheaded idea of what they wanted to do and realize it in the same way. If nothing else, it sets Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree on a path of becoming a truly special kind of band, and one whose impact, in the tradition of Samsara Blues Experiment or Black Moon Circle or others building memorable songs out of jams, may resonate over a longer term.

bees made honey in the vein tree

Structurally, Medicine benefits greatly from starting its two sides with the longer pieces. “Every Night I Walk the Same Trail of Thought” begins so quietly that at first one might be tempted to double-check that it’s actually playing, and while neither “Burn the Sun” (7:40) nor “Medicine” (6:38) slouches in terms of runtime, there’s a notable departure from the shimmering guitar that sounds the opener’s first notes toward crunchier-riffed push as “Burn the Sun” gets moving. There’s still space for space, to be sure, but even as the guitars air out leads late before turning to the heads-down riff that brings the song to its end, there’s an undercurrent of low-end heft behind them that makes for both counterpoint and complement. Likewise, the title-cut and centerpiece launches open and jammy to foreshadow some of the post-rock elements still to come in closer “Sail Away II” (6:54), but makes its way after the two-minute mark via feedback into a heavier plod that would seem to be the source of the band’s claim on an aspect of doom within their approach. It’s slow and heavy, anyhow. In context, the mood doesn’t necessarily feel down or dark in the way one might expect, but to quibble about self-imposed genre tags feels like missing the point. There’s a fluidity there. Better to go with it.

And Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree make a convincing argument for doing so, which turns out to be one of Medicine‘s great strengths. Its tracks earn the listener’s trust such that following the band along the trail they’re walking becomes an absolute joy rather than something done tentatively, and the jammier vibe of “Sail Away I” and willful delve into post-rocking drift in “Sail Away II” gracefully expand on what side A accomplishes before them, “Sail Away I” resolving itself in blown-out echoing vocals and a nodding apex, and the finale holding to its peaceful guitar progression even as some of Medicine‘s heftiest lumbering plays out beneath. That last emphasis on the two sides meeting head on in Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree‘s work serves to highlight the duality at work across the album’s entirety, but it’s not a staid thing by any means, and it wouldn’t work if it was.

The band are clearly comfortable in adjusting the balance to suit the needs of their material, and whether that’s done consciously in arranging parts and pieces or something that just comes out of different jams, it’s no less crucial to Medicine‘s ultimate success. There’s a telling moment after “Sail Away II” has blissed itself into final lines of fading guitar when we hear a chair creak and what sounds like drum sticks get laid down. It’s over. These quick, last few seconds are an effective acknowledgement that Medicine is intended to convey a live experience — it may well have been recorded live, I don’t know — and Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, who’ve already proliferated such an organic chemistry, seem to hint that along with the exploration of spaciousness at work throughout their material, the corresponding message with that is that the direction in which they’re headed has been plotted naturally, i.e. in an unforced manner. One can only hope they continue to tread the path Medicine lays out before them.

Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Medicine (2017)

Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree on Thee Facebooks

Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree on Bandcamp

Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree at Pink Tank Records

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