Roadburn 2018 Day One: Gifted by the Wind

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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04.19.18 – 11:33PM CET – Thursday Night – Hotel Mercure Rm. 224

Long day. Great day. I saw more bands than I photographed, which was among my most essential goals for Roadburn 2018: Just watch music. Just enjoy it. Don’t sweat getting down the front. Don’t sweat anything. This is a good time.

That whole “not sweating” part? Pretty much impossible. It’s apparently Global Warming Week in the Netherlands, so while Waste of Space Orchestra — the first of the weekend’s two commissioned projects, with members involved from Finnish fest-veteran outfits Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising — were tearing the Main Hall to shreds with their avantdelic blackened swirl, outside the sun was shining brightly in a conceptual contrast that, to be perfectly honest, was almost too much to take. waste of space orchestra (Photo by JJ Koczan)Outside, the cafes of Weirdo Canyon were packed to the hilt with libation quaffers. Inside, the goal seemed to be who could be first to prove the human soul exists and then tear it apart.

Hyperbole, you say. Fucking a right. How’s this for hyperbole? Waste of Space Orchestra‘s set might have been some of the most forward-thinking music I’ve heard since BorisFlood. Maybe. I’d have to hear it recorded, which hopefully will happen in a Live at Roadburn-style context, if not an actual studio album — it seems to me the substance there is too great to be left as a one-time-thing-and-gone experience. The ebbs and flows from almost-nothing drones to full-intensity, dual-drummed madness set a scope worthy of its dream-based concept, and there did not seem to be a moment of it that departed from the central mission of exploration. The gorgeous derived from the hideous and vice versa. A laugh in the face of anyone’s expectations, my own included. A first “holy shit” moment for a span of days that promises many.

My brain already so much goo only kept from leaking out of my skull by my earplugs blocking the way, I galumphed in that American-with-a-sore-back kind of way over to Het Patronaat to watch Colorado’s Khemmis play their first European show ever. Imagine that. Your first show on the continent, and it’s at Roadburn. I hope anything else on the tour measures up, because they absolutely packed out the church, and the assembled congregation bid them much welcome once they got going following a moment of turns-out-this-isn’t-plugged-in technical difficulties. That is to say, the crowd knew them and knew their two albums, 2016’s Hunted (review here) and 2015’s Absolution (review here), so there was none of that awkward getting-to-know-you phase. Everyone dove right in.

In fact, that seemed to be the way it went all around, not just for Khemmis or even Waste of Space Orchestra. Sometimes it takes a day khemmis (Photo by JJ Koczan)or two for Roadburn to really dig in. Not this year. From the moment Sannhet started in the Green Room, the vibe was set. Whether they were inside watching the bands or standing in the open air having a smoke of this or that — did you know Europeans put tobacco in their joints? I’ve been coming to the Netherlands for a decade and that’s some shit I just found out today, which I guess tells you how concerned I am generally with the matter. Still, fascinating.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, the vibe. The vibe was right on. I don’t know if it was starting off the Main Stage with such a landmark performance, or the sense of gratitude that Khemmis had from the beginning of their set on, or just all these super-laid-back West Coast dudes walking around, but it was quick immersion in and about the 013 venue. The good times were immediate. The rooms were jammed right from the beginning, and in the best way possible, it felt way more like day three than day one. Again, I did my best to take it easy and just enjoy it, soak in everything I could.

That’s not to say there wasn’t a bit of back and forth to the evening. Plenty, actually, but I knew that Earthless were on my must-see list for the day. The forerunners of San Diego’s heavy rock boom are wrapping a European tour here supporting their new album, Black Heaven (review here). They had a decent portion of acolytes rocking out at the side of the stage, and guitarist Isaiah Mitchell casually noted that it had been 10 years since the first time they played the fest, which of course resulted in the now-legendary LP, Live at Roadburn (discussed here). He wished everyone a great weekend. My big question going into their Main Stage set was how their new material, specifically that with his vocals, would fit alongside the three-piece’s longform instrumentalism.

The answer couldn’t possibly be dumber:earthless 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan) It just does. It’s the same band. It absolutely works. After about 20 minutes of their set, and further, as they moved into “End to End” and “Gifted by the Wind,” I began to wonder exactly what the hell I thought was going to happen, like all of a sudden Mitchell would start singing and bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba would stop and be like, “Dude, what’re you doing?” in the middle of a song. It’s a big transition they’ve made with Black Heaven, but they 100 percent pulled it off on the record, and they did likewise live. Once they started playing, there was no doubt. They absolutely owned the stage and owned the room, the dynamic between each member of the band and the others making all of them utterly essential to the whole; a classic power trio with boogie enough to move thousands. I know. I saw it happen.

And while we’re on the subject, bonus points to Rubalcaba for wearing a t-shirt representing their tourmates Comet Control, who play tomorrow at Cul de Sac and are my absolute must-see band for the day. Like, not staying the whole time for Crowbar, missing Supersonic Blues‘ covers set, Panopticon and Kikagaku Moyo to see them. That’s how fucking essential I consider that. I also hope to get my own shirt.

My intended next stop after Earthless was Insect Ark, at Cul de Sac. I ran back to the hotel room to throw water on my face and drop off the issues I’d snagged of Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, but got back to the venue in Weirdo Canyon itself 20 minutes early and probably about 10 too late to get a spot down front. They went on and I stood in back nursing my regrets and my umpteenth espresso for the day that I picked up from the machine in the hotel lobby, then tweedledummed my way back to the Main Stage toearthless 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan) watch some of Converge playing last November’s The Dusk in Us.

I made it in time to catch the title-track, which frontman and Roadburn 2018 curator Jacob Bannon took a moment to explain was about depression and that if anyone “could relate,” the most important thing to do was survive. “Nothing is more important than you,” he said. I had to stop for minute as the song got going with its slow build and dramatic semi-spoken lyrics and realize that I’ve never felt that to be less true. I don’t begrudge Bannon the sentiment, but yeah. Not a chance, bro.

Harder to argue with Converge‘s on-stage delivery, though. They’ve been at it for nearly 30 years, and while I can’t claim to have seen them in 1990, the passion seems not to have dulled in the slightest. My stop in the Main Hall was temporary though, as I knew I wanted to head to the Green Room to catch Ex Eye, about whom I’ve been hearing more or less since I got to Tilburg yesterday. And actually much longer than that.

Somewhat telling that I walked into the Green Room with more than half an hour to go before the New York-based four-piece took the stage — they were soundchecking at the time — and still couldn’t get a spot to take a semi-decent photo. When they actually rolled in, Ex Eye represented the league of hyperprog better than anyone I’ve seen in a good long while. Guitar, sax, Moog, drums — though no shortage of low end. Instrumental experimentation turning metal into jazz and jazz into metal in a way that would have Cynic blushing and Colin Marston breaking out his Warr guitar to try and get in on the fun. Now I know what people who saw Blind Idiot God in 1989 must’ve felt like.

And I guess by that I mean outclassed by a decade or two. I’d never heard Ex Eye before — look at me, trying new things! — and they were as opaque as they were breathtaking, but it was clear they were on their own wavelength.ex eye (Photo by JJ Koczan) Is extreme prog a thing? If it is or it isn’t, they are.

Having some time before my last stop for the night, I popped up to the merch area to see what was what for shirts and CDs and the like. Part of my annual sojourn in the past has been catching up on Nasoni Records releases by buying a host of CDs, but there were none to be had. I consoled myself with some treasures from Svart — Talmud BeachGarden of WormKimi Kärki‘s solo record, Hallatar — and an old compilation on Hellhound that I’d never seen around before. Distros had a lot of vinyl, same as everywhere, and I usually allot myself one piece of it before the weekend is out. I may yet, but didn’t this time. I’m sure I’ll get there.

But as to that last stop for the day, it was Mirror Queen back at the Cul de Sac. A bit of New York to wrap up a day that spanned even more broadly in terms of style than I could’ve planned had I actually circled names on the schedule. If I could end every night of this fest with some good old fashioned heavy rock and roll, I think I could only call it a win. Mirror Queen brought exactly that: wholesome ’70s flavor with not an ounce of pretense to be found. They’d been on tour for a week alongside Lonely Kamel and were tight enough to make one believe it, and they pulled a good crowd supporting their new single “Inviolate” (video premiere here) and last year’s full-length, Verdigris (review here), which was likewise rife with classic heavy charm and a naturalist modern presentation.

Not my first time seeing them by any stretch, but in my experience there’s always a difference between seeing a band at Roadburn and seeing them anywhere else. Plus, this was my first time watching them play with guitarist Morgan McDaniel in the lineup alongside founding guitarist/vocalist Kenny Sehgal, drummer Jeremy O’Brien and bassist James Corallo. I saw McDaniel here a couple years back when he played bass in The Golden Grass, but he can and did shred on lead guitar and it was a pleasure to watch. He fit right in that band in a way that made me hope he stays.

After taking pictures down front, I made my way to the back of the room for a mirror queen (Photo by JJ Koczan)bit to catch my breath prior to heading out. It had been, as I noted at the outset, a long, great day, but the get-back-to-the-hotel-and-start-writing-you-jerk itch was making itself felt, so I eventually departed the boogie proceedings and lumped it down Weirdo Canyon and back here, where I remain, somewhat stunned by the news that Sleep are apparently releasing a previously-unannounced album tomorrow, on April 20. I would be very surprised if some clever venue DJ doesn’t have it playing somewhere here this weekend. What a way to end day one.

Up in the morning early to work on the ‘zine again, so I’ll leave it there for now. I’ve got some more pictures up after the jump if you get the chance to check them out. Thanks for reading either way. More to come.

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Mirror Queen Premiere “Inviolate” Video; European Tour Starts Tonight

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 13th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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This very evening, New York classic heavy/progressive rockers Mirror Queen head out on the European tour that will bring them to Roadburn 2018 after a string of other gigs in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. They go ostensibly supporting their 2017 full-length, Verdigris (review here), with frontman Kenny Sehgal joined (I believe) by guitarist Morgan McDaniel (ex-The Golden Grass), bassist James Corallo and drummer Jeremy O’Brien. However, even as they caught their flight the other day — presumably from JFK — and headed across the Atlantic, they went knowing they were about to unveil the new single “Inviolate,” which I’m thrilled to premiere in the video below by Simona Prives.

What will surely and probably shortly wind up as a 7″ single with its B-side, a cover of Scorpions‘ “This is My Song” from 1974’s Fly to the Rainbow, seems to be something of a turn from most of the material on Verdigris. Sure, that record had no shortage of lower-register moments, as on “Sorrow’s End/Dark Kiss of the Sun,” and an undercurrent of proto-metal has never been too far from Mirror Queen‘s sound — the crunch of New York concrete manifest in guitar tones, at least to some degree; it’s not like we’re talking about Unsane here or anything — but “Inviolate” takes a different approach. One can hear it in Sehgal‘s vocals as well, and while I think the heavy ’70s will likely always be where their heart lies, there’s a definitive ’90s-style alt rock spirit to it as well. Not quite grunge, not quite not grunge, the catchy four-and-a-half-minute piece nonetheless manages to avoid aping ’90s-era stoner rock, but the even the slight shift in balance when it comes to decades of influence makes it an immediate standout.

Also, is that a Swedish accent Sehgal is singing in?

Either way, the point is the song is worthy of focus as a single, and its accompaniment underlines the band’s continuing affinity for the titan of early heavy rock. Mirror Queen‘s take on “This is My Song” doesn’t stray that far from the original, but the hippie lyrics and call for universal love certainly take on a new context these 44 years later in the current climate of who-the-hell-knows-what as a general state of being.

Again, I’m pretty sure “Inviolate” will be pressed up for public consumption in good time, so keep an eye out for that, and in the meantime, you can dig into Simona Prives‘ awesome-looking video for the track below, followed by more info and dates off the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Mirror Queen, “Inviolate” official video premiere

Mirror Queen is proud to unveil the new song ”Inviolate”! The accompanying video was created by NYC based mixed media artist Simona Prives, whose collagist abstractions match the expansive, dreamy, and gritty music; imagery and impressions plucked from the streets of New York and the landscapes of our evermore cluttered minds. The B-Side is a reverent, revved-up version of The Scorpions’ brilliant “This Is My Song”. Release details TBA.

Mirror Queen European tour:
13/4 Onsabrück, DE Westwerk
14/4 Siegen, DE Vortex
15/4 Brussels, BE Magasin 04
16/4 Nijmegen, NL Merleyn
17/4 Tilburg, NL Little Devil
19/4 Tilburg, NL Roadburn Festival @ Cul de Sac

Mirror Queen live:
May 2nd St Vitus, BK, NY w/ Rawhide and Pyrolatrous
June 22 Doomed & Stoned Fest @ Kingsland BK, NY w/ Heavy Temple, Bang, Corky Laing

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Tee Pee Records on Thee Facebooks

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Roadburn 2018 Announces Cul de Sac Lineup with Bison, Comet Control, Mirror Queen, Hair of the Dog and More

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 15th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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And so we see Roadburn 2018 once again open its gaping maw of righteousness to hurl forth another barrage of acts to its long-since-completely-overwhelming lineup. You know how many distinct acts are discussed in the press release below? 32 by my count. And granted, I’ve never been much for counting, and a couple of them were previously announced and are playing additional sets, etc., but do you see my point?

My point is this: Roadburn 2018 makes an announcement for its smallest venue — the get-there-super-early-no-earlier-than-that Cul de Sac — and tightens up a few other odds and ends, and all of a sudden you’ve basically got an entire other festival being announced. 30 bands? That’s a fest. Roadburn throws it all out there like, “Oh it’s nothing. We do this every year.” And they do.

So who’s my absolute gotta-see on this list? If you read the names below and have been hanging around here for a bit, you can probably already guess it’s Comet Control. I was hoping they’d be added since they’re touring with Earthless and still supporting 2016’s much-loved Center of the Maze (review here). I’ll be there for them for sure — scheduling conflicts be damned. If it means there’s a chance I might get to watch that band play “Artificial Light,” I don’t care if I have to set up a tent in the middle of the Cul de Sac floor. I’m not missing it.

Here’s the update from the PR wire:

Roadburn 2018: Cul de Sac bands, pre-show party & more!

Roadburn’s artistic director, Walter Hoeijmakers comments:
“The sales of day tickets alongside weekend passes have surpassed our expectations and we’re on course for another sell out year at Roadburn. We couldn’t be happier as we dive headlong into putting the finishing touches to the 2018 edition.

“We still have the side programme to announce, and of course, the all important schedules, but for now, we think there’s plenty for you to sink your teeth into with this announcement. The depth and variety of talent on show here is truly stunning.”

CUL DE SAC
The Cul de Sac may be Roadburn’s smallest venue, but each year a hell of a lot of talent is packed into it’s confines. 2018 is no different with a stellar line up of bands both big and small who will be squeezing into the diminutive space and packing an enormous punch.

THURSDAY will see Une Misère reprise their performance with a second set. They’ll be joined by instrumental duo Insect Ark, hard rockin’ New Yorkers Mirror Queen, Dutch force of nature – Black Decades, the droning riffs of Galg, plus your personal soundtrack to the end of times courtesy of Sum of R.

FRIDAY has Earthless’ tour mates, Comet Control preparing for lift off, extreme metallers Départe from Down Under, Danish export Hexis, Dutch death metal darlings, Ulsect and a second set from Worship that promises some special surprises.

SATURDAY will see Planning for Burial perform again, mining his back catalogue for gems. Hair of the Dog will return to Roadburn, and be joined by fellow 2016 alumni Concatenatus, plus Mania’s mix of doom and black metal, and Phantom Winter’s suffocating sludge.

SUNDAY sees tour mates Bison and LLNN roll into Tilburg in an uncompromising fashion. They will be joined by the progressive sounds of Hidden Trails, a dual pronged Dutch attack in the form of Dystopia and Nefast, and visceral Italians, Syk.

SAN DIEGO TAKE OVER
Good news for fans of psychedelic riffs! There are new additions to the San Diego Take Over, and they’re sure to bend your mind further into previously unknown directions. Unraveling the threads that run between the family of bands that make up the SDTO would require a headspace much clearer than anyone involved is quite capable of, but suffice to say that the pedigree running through the bands is of the standard you have come to expect.

RED OCTOPUS mix influences such as early Sabbath, Hawkwind and Can into a psychedelic wonderland.

ARCTIC is a California power trio steeped in the roots of early 70’s blues/psych, á la Blue Cheer and Band of Gypsies, while drawing elements of modern heavy, reminiscent of early Sleep. Heavy, sludgy, stoner psych played with a slow, driving energy. The band features three pro skaters, Figgy on guitar, Frecks on drums and Nuge on bass.

VOLCANO is a soundtrack for an ancient apocalypse. Primordial rhythm and afro-inspired melodies fill their grooves. The rumble in the distance grows, the forest falls silent. Let their trance fuel the dance, while theres still time. Let the lava flow…

PHARLEE was forged in the middle of the white-hot psychedelic jam scene in San Diego, California from members of Harsh Toke, Sacri Monti and Joy. But don’t let their geographical origin and associated acts mislead you. Pharlee walks their own path on scorched-earth. Forgoing the weed-fuelled jams of their counterparts for full-on the speed-ruled riffage. Partying off the sounds of Priest, Motorhead, Betty Davis and ACID, Pharlee create a new shrilling sound.

The San Diego Takeover is supported by the Performing Arts Fund NL.

TOBY DRIVER & ZVI
These two component parts of Kayo Dot will be making their presence felt at Roadburn 2018 as they perform (separately) on Thursday, 19 April.

As a solo performer, on guitar, keyboard, and voice, Toby Driver has been exploring dark, austere neofolk akin to Grouper, Talk Talk, Current 93, and others, with a subtle progressive and unsettling edge, featured in his recent release, Madonnawhore (The Flenser, 2017). Along with songs from Madonnawhore, he will also be performing pieces from his forthcoming solo album, They Are The Shield, and additionally, a few left turns are of course to be expected.

Zvi is guitarist / vocalist Ron Varod (Kayo Dot, Sabbath Assembly, Psalm Zero, Myrkur) performing and recording solo since 2004. During the 40 minute run time of Zvi’s 2016’s Death Stops Us All, Varod gently wakes us up with a whispered vocal over nylon string guitar, pummels us with throbbing noise and lulls us back to sleep with droned out suspended clusters and Talk Talk-esque clean guitars.

RRRAGS
Formed by singer / drummer Rob Martin (formerly of Bliksem), guitarist Ron Van Herpen (Astrosoniq, ex-The Devil’s Blood) and Rob Zim (bass, Lords of Altamont), RRRags emulates the sounds and styles of power trio’s such as Grand Funk, Blue Cheer and James Gang. But in addition to their fuzzed-out and soulful approach, there are also touches of psychedelica and psyfunk, which sets the band apart from the current crop of Sabbath worshipers, or old school hardrock devotees.

HARD ROCK HIDEOUT
Roadburn’s annual pre-party returns! For those in Tilburg on Wednesday evening, before the festival kicks off “proper”, we welcome Roadburners to the city in style! This year we have teamed up with Babylon Doom Cult Records in Belgium to present speed metallers Bütcher, and Speed Queen, plus genre-crossing Witch Trail.

The Hard Rock Hideout is FREE and will take place at the Cul de Sac.

As with last year, the festival’s wristband exchange will be open on Wednesday, April 18 between 18.30-23.00 for early arrivals to pick up their passes in advance of Roadburn kicking off on Thursday.

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Roadburn 2018 Cul-de-Sac Announcement Video

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2017

Posted in Features on December 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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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.

We’re almost at the finish line for 2017, and if I’m honest, it’s not a minute too soon. I think if one more record comes out this year my head is going to explode.

A perpetual onslaught of cool music is, of course, nothing to complain about. It just seemed like every time I thought I had a handle on where the year was going, some other announcement came through and knocked me on my ass. What’s that? The Obsessed are putting out their first album in more than two decades? Oh and Monolord have a new one coming? Radio Moscow just signed to Century Media? Arc of Ascent are back? Samsara Blues Experiment are back? Causa Sui are putting out a live album and a studio album? Sasquatch are going to Europe and sneaking a record along with them? All of a sudden I’m out of breath feeling like I just ran a lap.

It’s been madness this year. Between an emergent neo-psych movement in the wake of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and others, and the ongoing and constant reshaping of doom and heavy rock from practitioners new and old, I don’t know how anyone could ever claim to keep up with any of it.

You know I do the best I can, so when you look through this list, please keep in mind that these are my picks and the result of applying my own standard, which if you’ve ever seen a list on this site before you probably already know is a combination of things like what I view as being important on a critical level and things like what kept me coming back as a listener. What were the year’s biggest releases and what couldn’t I get enough of? Sometimes those two things come together around one record and it’s beautiful. That’s usually your album of the year, or close to, anyhow.

No sense in delaying further. I hope if you haven’t heard some of this stuff you’ll give it a shot, and if you have something you felt strongly about it, you’ll let me know in the comments. Thanks in advance for keeping it civil, and of course for reading.

Here goes:

30. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
geezer psychoriffadelia

Released by Kozmik Artifactz and STB Records. Reviewed May 16.

Coming off of what was their strongest album to-date in their 2016 self-titled (review here), New York heavy psych blues trio Geezer decided it was time to take the groove for a walk. And so they did. Psychoriffadelia is the result — a looser collection of jams and willfully unrefined heavy blues, reveling in the politically incorrect on “Dirty Penny” only after basking in the post-Monster Magnet hypnosis of “Red Hook” and the earlier roll of the more straightforward “Hair of the Dog” and “Stressknots.” Everything Geezer has done to this point has pushed their sound to new places. Psychoriffadelia is no exception.

29. Orango, The Mules of Nana

orango the mules of nana

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed March 27.

More than a touch of twang on opener “Heartland” sets a tone of Americana-infusion for Orango‘s sixth LP, The Mules of Nana, but the 10-tracker is ultimately much more about harmony-laced classic heavy smoothness than playing to prairie-minded sensibilities, though roots spread wide through a natural, dirty blues just the same. However they get there, “Hazy Chain of Mountains,” the softshoe-ready funk of “Head on Down” and the peacefully progressive finish of “Ghost Rider” bring ’70s-style thrills in songwriting and their precise, gorgeous execution. Underrated record from an underappreciated band.

28. Radio Moscow, New Beginnings

radio moscow new beginnings

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Oct. 6.

Cali boogie kingpins and all-around marvelous frenetic bastards Radio Moscow were in top form on their Century Media debut, and if it was a new beginning they were searching for, they met it head on with a sound as classic and organic as ever. Arguably the most powerful power trio in their game, they tore through cuts like “No One Knows Where They’ve Been” and “Deceiver” while offering flourish in the trip-out “Woodrose Morning” and subdued blues-psych on the penultimate “Pick up the Pieces.” Very much to form, but cast of a form that still manages to outclass all challengers.

27. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma

spaceslug time travel dilemma

Released by Southcave Records, BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

And so here we have the first of what will no doubt be several records about which I’m going to say they should be higher on the list. Poland’s Spaceslug have emerged from the moist ground created by their own tonality and on their sophomore full-length, they proffered warm depth of fuzz and a corresponding melodic and psychedelic reach that was resonant even before they brought in ex-Sungrazer bassist Sander Haagmans for a guest spot on the title-track. It’s been out for 10 months and still delivers every time I put it on, which is often.

26. Mothership, High Strangeness

mothership high strangeness
Released by Ripple Music and Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed March 7.

Three albums into a tenure marked by hard-driving riffs, scorching solos and relentless road work, there’s little Texas trio Mothership need to do at this point to prove themselves to their audience. At the same time, High Strangeness brought considerable expansion to their range overall, whether it was the exploratory “Eternal Trip” or the semi-metallic insistence behind “Midnight Express,” while staying tied together with lyrical and instrumental hooks. High Strangeness set a new standard for Mothership, plain and simple, and easily surpassed the considerable accomplishments of their 2012 self-titled debut (review here) and 2014’s Mothership II (review here).

25. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days

eternal black bleed the days

Released by Obsidian Sky Records. Reviewed Aug. 1.

There was a lot about Eternal Black‘s Bleed the Days that chugged its way into the post-Wino oeuvre of US-style trad doom, but the gruff, lumbering and impeccably riffed outing was nonetheless one of 2017’s best debut full-lengths, and it was the songwriting that got it there. Already sounding sure in the vibe captured, cuts like the plodding brooder “Sea of Graves” and “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun” showed potential in mood and atmosphere as much as sheer sonic heft — though of course there was plenty of that to go around as well. Doomers missed it at their peril.

24. Kadavar, Rough Times

kadavar rough times

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Sept. 6.

It kind of feels like a slight to have Berlin trio Kadavar appear anywhere outside of at least a top 10 on any kind of list whatsoever, ever, but that’s not my intention at all. Rather, their fourth album and third for Nuclear Blast found them at an important stage in their progression — past the novelty of the vintage feel in their early work, after having proven their songwriting could translate to a modern context, and embarking on a process of expanding their sound. Rough Times, which was as current as current could be, met that goal and beat it easily with a barrage of memorable choruses and a dark streak one could only consider suitable for our age.

23. Shroud Eater, Strike the Sun

shroud eater strike the sun

Released by STB Records. Reviewed June 28.

The biggest surprise about Shroud Eater‘s long-awaited sophomore long-player was also its most encouraging aspect — namely how it found the Miami trio bringing together various impulses shown on a number of shorter releases over the course of the six years since their debut, ThunderNoise (review here), came out in 2011, and still managed to utterly crush when it so chose. With a swath from sludge to drone and back again, this was no minor feat, and that the songs they brought to bear were so memorable at their heart as well makes me hope all the more it’s not 2023 before their third album arrives.

22. Enslaved, E

enslaved e

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 4.

What’s left to say about Norwegian progressive black metal innovators Enslaved 14 records into their career? Plenty as it turns out. The introduction of new keyboardist/vocalist Håkon Vinje in place of Herbrand Larsen brought a new twist on a signature element of Enslaved‘s approach. Vinje utterly owned his role, and his performance alongside guitarist Ivar Bjørnson, bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson, guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal and drummer Cato Bekkevold resulted in a fresh urgency that made the band’s sound even more potent and set their ongoing creative evolution on a new branch of its self-directed path.

21. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical

arc-of-ascent-realms-of-the-metaphysical

Released by Astral Projection and Clostridium Records. Reviewed April 6.

Some five years on from 2012’s The Higher Key (review here) and seven out from their debut, Circle of the Sun (review here), and with bassist/vocalist Craig Williamson firmly entrenched in his always excellent Lamp of the Universe psych-drone-folk solo-project, I wasn’t sure there would be another offering from New Zealand heavy psych-rock trio Arc of Ascent, but Realms of the Metaphysical took shape from an ether of riffs and echoes atop resilient underlying structures and revitalized the group with new drummer Mark McGeady in the lineup with Williamson and guitarist Matt Cole-Baker. Remains to be seen if this marks a priority shift for Williamson or it’s a one-off, but its arrival was welcome either way.

20. Causa Sui, Vibraciones Doradas

causa sui vibraciones doradas

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

With the various glories already offered in 2017 on the Live in Copenhagen (review here) 3LP, one didn’t necessarily expect a new studio outing from Danish instrumental psych masters Causa Sui, but Vibraciones Doradas found them as vibrant as ever, bringing forth a surprising amount of tonal weight on songs like “El Fuego,” warm fuzz for the basking on opener “The Drop” and spaciousness on the closing title-track. Somewhat more straight-ahead in its rocking groove than 2016’s Return to Sky (review here), the five-track/38-minute long-player showed yet again why Causa Sui are always welcome and that any news of a new release from them, live, studio, whatever, is good news. This was the kind of record that could make your day if you let it.

19. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable

telekinetic yeti abominable

Released by Sump Pump Records. Reviewed April 10.

The Iowa-based duo of guitarist/vocalist Alex Baumann and drummer Anthony Dreyer, operating as Telekinetic Yeti, released what I considered to be the debut of the year, both for the fullness of its tonality and the accomplishment in songcraft it already showed. Powered by cuts like its lumbering title-track and the gloriously fuzzed runner “Stoned and Feathered,” it could’ve been another band’s second or third record for the level of cohesion on display and the obvious awareness on the part of the band of what they wanted to do with their sound and the just-as-obvious result of their bringing it to life.

18. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust

cloud catcher trails of kozmic dust

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Dec. 9, 2016.

While I admit I’m still not 100 percent certain on whether to spell “kozmic” in the title with a ‘k’ or with a ‘c’ on the end, that question did nothing ultimately to diminish enjoyment of Denver emergents Cloud Catcher‘s sophomore outing. Topped off by one of the best album covers of the year, the follow-up to their 2015 debut, Enlightened Beyond Existence (discussed here), took the progressive casting of that record to a place entirely more raw and rock-driven, willfully roughing up the edges even as it showed marked creative growth on a relatively quick turnaround. The must-hear bass tone of “Beyond the Electric Sun” and “Super Acid Magick” was icing on a cake of choice riffing and Hendrixian lead swirl, and the shuffle they elicited was enough to make even the most stubborn of asses (i.e. mine) think about moving.

17. Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child

ruby the hatchet planetary space child

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 29.

After the neo-garage manifestations of their 2015 sophomore outing, Valley of the Snake (review here), it was clear Philly psych rockers Ruby the Hatchet were a force when it came to songwriting. What was less obvious was what they’d do with that going forward. On Planetary Space Child, at least, the answer is they’ll take it to Freaktown. The melody-happy, organ-laced swirlmasters conjured presence kosmiche enough to justify the album’s title, and around the cast-in-moon-rock structures of the swinging “Pagan Ritual” and the playfully doomed “Symphony of the Night,” Ruby the Hatchet built a multifaceted weirdoist triumph the likes of which simply doesn’t come along every year, establishing themselves as more reliable and less predictable than ever: an absolute win.

16. Alunah, Solennial

alunah solennial

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 1.

It’s been the case more or less all along with UK forest rockers Alunah that their nature-minded material and heavy rolling grooves have had their haunting aspects, but with the production of Conan‘s Chris Fielding behind it, Solennial — their fourth LP and first on Svart — brought this to new levels entirely. The songs, memorable like footprints in the woods, are somewhat bittersweet in context now, since founding guitarist/vocalist Sophie Day announced in September she was leaving the band, but as the group will move forward led by guitarist Dave Day and recently acquired new singer Siân Greenaway, intrigue remains high at what the future might bring and the impact of Solennial is undiminished.

15. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream

mindkult-lucifers-dream

Released by Transcending Obscurity Records and Caligari Records.

Virginia-based doomgazing garage cult solo-project Mindkult has thus far managed to keep some of the mystique around its sole inhabitant, Fowst, which is admirable in a way. As the multi-instrmentalist, vocalist and producer this year answered the promise of last year’s Witch’s Oath (review here) debut, he did so around a swath of purposeful miseries, loose devil worship and other dark thematics, casting an atmospheric darkness matched head-on by the tonal murk of his riffs. Through this, however, the songwriting was no less memorable than on the first offering, and as the project moves forward, one can only hope that Fowst will continue to use that as the core aspect buried six feet under his other, formidable stylistic achievements. That certainly was how it worked out on Lucifer’s Dream.

14. Argus, From Fields of Fire

argus from fields of fire
Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Sept. 1.

Behold ye perhaps the most underrated band in heavy metal. Regardless of subgenre, style, strata, whatever, it’s hard to listen to From Fields of Fire and think of Pittsburgh’s Argus as anything else. The five-piece’s fourth album continued to owe part of its sound to doom, but was much more encompassing than simply that, touching on aspects of classic metal with a command that left one wondering how they hadn’t yet been tapped to open for Judas Priest on that band’s next tour. Victory abounds on a per-song basis throughout the nine-tracker, and whether it was the emotional crux of “Hour of Longing” or the catchy fistpump righteousness of “Devils of Your Time” or the 11-minute progressive reach of “Infinite Lives/Infinite Doors,” Argus once again crafted a work nigh-unmatched in poise and class.

13. Uffe Lorenzen, Galmandsværk

Uffe-Lorenzen-Galmandsvaerk

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

For the first outing ever to be issued under his real name, Denmark’s Uffe Lorenzen — aka Lorenzo Woodrose of garage-psych pioneers Baby Woodrose — danced between acid folk singer-songwriterisms like “Flippertøs” and more expansive jamming on “På Kanten Af Verden,” all the while retaining his distinct structural and arrangement sensibilities and creating a flowing vibe that was nothing less than a pure joy of classic-form psychedelia. The most serene and pastoral freakout one was likely to witness in 2017, easily, Galmandsværk resounded in the Mellotron-laced “Høj Som Et Højhus” and was no less at home in the acoustic spaciousness of the earlier “Remits Tyranni,” able to wander where it pleased and find steady ground in molten surroundings.

12. The Flying Eyes, Burning of the Season

the flying eyes burning of the season

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 11.

A welcome return from a viciously underappreciated band, The Flying EyesBurning of the Season marked the Baltimore four-piece’s first offering for Ripple Music and first since 2013’s Lowlands (review here), a four-year stretch during which the band kept busy touring Europe and South America, the latter also being where they recorded these songs with Gabriel Zander at Estudio Superfuzz in Brazil. The tonal depth resulting from that process was enough to make the collection a highlight, but it was the songs themselves that most stood out, benefiting from the band’s expanded reach and legitimate, hard-won maturity. Especially for a group who’ve done so much work on the road over their years — to be fair, the US has been pretty low priority in that regard — they remain a secret kept too well.

11. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper

bell witch mirror reaper

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Dec. 27.

Doomed extremity simply unmatched in its scope. The song of the year for 2017. An accomplishment the likes of which is prone to happen maybe once or twice in a generation. None of this seems to really speak to the entirety of the achievement that is Bell Witch‘s Mirror Reaper — the single-song, 83-minute full-length issued by the Seattle duo like a challenge in the face of mortality itself. Beautiful, devastating and weighted like the grave, its sprawl utterly consumed the listener, and I firmly believe it will be years before its depths are fully processed. Some offerings are bigger than the year in which they’re released. Mirror Reaper would seem to function on a scale of its own, and though it could easily be read as a litmus test for audience punishment, the truth of the listening experience is both more emotionally complex and more fulfilling than simple hyperbole can capture.

10. Monolord, Rust

monolord rust

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Oct. 26.

The story all along with Gothenburg’s Monolord has been tone. Tone tone tone. Crush crush crush. Riffs riffs riffs. Nothing wrong with any of that, but their third album, Rust, proves once and for all that there’s more to the trio than “cool riffs bro” and post-Electric Wizard nod. Catchy cuts like “Dear Lucifer” and rolling opener “Where Death Meets the Sea” brought a sense of space leading to the later sprawl of “Forgotten Lands” and “At Niceae,” and the band settled into an individualized, lumbering psychedelia that moved forward from 2015’s Vænir (review here), not leaving behind the heft that earned them their reputation, but not at all being limited by it either in scope or overall approach. Three records in, Rust brought forth Monolord‘s greatest sonic expansion yet and gave rise to the feeling that their true potential was just starting to come to fruition. Also, crush crush crush. Cool riffs, bro.

9. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn

vokonis-the-sunken-djinn

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 5.

The Sunken Djinn is Vokonis‘ second full-length in as many years, and in addition to serving as their Ripple debut where 2016’s Olde One Ascending (review here) landed via Ozium Records, it was a feast for hungry riff hounds. In defiance of its quick turnaround, it showed a firm evolution taking place within the upstart Swedish trio of guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, bassist/backing vocalist Jonte Johansson and drummer Emil Larsson, whose range overall was greater in tracks like “Rapturous” and the torrential “Blood Vortex” while nonetheless controlled in its delivery. Their Sleep-y origins still a factor sound-wise, Vokonis were able just the same to push themselves ahead into new sonic ground in fittingly lumbering fashion, and the character they brought to “The Sunken Djinn,” “Calling from the Core” and the noise-caked “Maelstroem” seemed to speak to a burgeoning sense of atmospheric focus taking hold as well. Still so much potential here.

8. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals

electric moon stardust rituals

Released by Sulatron Records. Reviewed April 7.

Do I even need to remotely justify having Electric Moon‘s first studio album in six years on this list? Was it not just like a love-letter issued by the cosmos itself? What more explanation could possibly be necessary? Not that the German trio haven’t dropped copious, glorious live outings all the while, but to have Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, “Komet Lulu” Neudeck and Marcus Schnitzler follow-up 2011’s The Doomsday Machine (review here) with four cuts culminating in the 22-minute sprawl of “(You Will) Live Forever Now” was high on the list of the year’s most satisfying psychedelic journeys. Constantly exploring, their methods always seem geared toward finding the molten essence of space rock itself, and though the songs on Stardust Rituals were a little more crafted than some of their straight-up improv jams, they nonetheless showed there are many avenues one might take to get to the heart of the sun.

7. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us

sun-blood-stories-it-runs-around-the-room-with-us

Self-released. Reviewed May 1.

This one is personal, and by that I mean I love this fucking band. Similar to my experience with their 2015 sophomore outing, Twilight Midnight Morning (review here), the third record by Boise-based trio of Ben Kirby (vocals, guitar, synth, percussion), Amber Pollard (vocals, guitar, theremin, percussion) and Jon Fust (drums, keys, percussion, noise) was one that I simply could not put down. Even now, seeing the name of the record is all I need to have songs like “The Great Destroyer” and the immersive midsection in “Come Like Rain” and “Time Like Smoke” stuck in my head, let alone the ultra-brazen, searingly-pissed “Burn” noise assault that finished the album and in the span of 90 seconds turned all the psychedelic warmth and serenity on its face with a visceral anger completely unforeseen and jarring, turning it from a depth-laden execution of adventurous neo-psych and indie into a project of conceptual artistry with all the efficiency of the chemical reaction it sought to portray. If you missed it, your loss.

6. The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field

the-atomic-bitchwax-force-field

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Dec. 7.

Songs like “Alaskan Thunder Fuck,” “Humble Brag” and “Earth Shaker (Which Doobie U Be?)” assured that the defining character of Force Field, the sixth album from New Jersey’s The Atomic Bitchwax, was pure scorch. That made the 12-cut outing a more than worthy follow-up for 2015’s  Gravitron (review here), which introduced this more speed-rock-minded, aggressive delivery from the tight-as-nails trio, and while they proved they could still lock in a slower groove on the organ-topped finisher “Liv a Little,” head-spinners like the instrumental “Fried, Dyed and Layin’ to the Side” and “Houndstooth” came across like the fruit of the band pushing themselves to the limits of their physical ability in terms of tempo, and their ride along the edge of that line brought thrills at every turn. And make no mistake, there were a lot of turns. Fortunately, bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella seemingly had a corresponding hook in their pocket for each one of them. This band is a national treasure.

5. Atavismo, Inerte

atavismo inerte

Released by Temple of Torturous. Reviewed Feb. 21.

Warm, fuzzy tones, rhythmic shifts right out of classic progressive rock, melodic intricacy and periodic excursions into glorious psychedelic drift: I’m not sure what wasn’t to like about Inerte, Atavismo‘s second full-length behind 2014’s Desintegración (review here). Comprising five tracks of unmistakable flow and jam-laden fluidity, it was immersive with landmarks along the way to keep the listener from getting too lost, and whether or not one spoke Spanish, the three-piece of Jose “Poti” Moreno (ex-Viaje a 800Mind!), bassist/vocalist Mateo and drummer/vocalist Sandri Pow (also ex-Mind!) made it easy to follow along their purposefully meandering path, offering guidance no less skillful on the 11-minute fuzz-freaker “El Sueño” than the dream-toned linear build of “Belleza Cuatro.” There were very, very few albums I listened to more this year than this one, which is precisely why it is where it is on this list.

4. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe

samsara-blues-experiment-one-with-the-universe

Released by Electric Magic Records and Abraxas Records. Reviewed May 4.

Four years between records isn’t at all an unheard of stretch. It’s not the longest on this list by any means. But with Berlin heavy psych rockers Samsara Blues Experiment, it really seemed like the band was done, so to have them come back with such force on One with the Universe was, as I know I said at several points throughout the last 12 months, one of the year’s total highlights. Tracked by former bassist Richard Behrens, the group’s fourth album answered the extended-track spread of 2013’s Waiting for the Flood (review here) with a deeper sense of sonic variety, and while the 15-minute title-cut and opener “Vispassana” still had plenty of room for jamming out and even six-minute centerpiece “Glorious Daze” found room for some flourish of organ and sitar, guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, drummer Thomas Vedder and bassist Hans Eiselt rightly featured the chemistry they’ve built as a trio live and brought to the songs a renewed sense of vigor, sounding — and hopefully being — truly inspired. Waiting for the Flood capped a period of marked productivity across several years. Fingers crossed One with the Universe begins that cycle anew.

3. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World

Elder-Reflections-of-a-Floating-World

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed May 23.

You just can’t consider Elder‘s Reflections of a Floating World outside the context of the progressive achievement that was their prior outing, 2015’s Lore (review here). Where the trio — based now between Massachusetts and Berlin, Germany — took their first two outings, 2008’s self-titled debut (discussed here) and 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), to find their sound, which they began to showcase on the 2012 Spires Burn/Release EP (review here), it was Lore that brought to fruition the potential that had always been waiting to be unleashed by the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto, and Reflections of a Floating World had the daunting task of being the next further step from that landmark moment. To say the band rose to the occasion is perhaps to undersell the cohesion at work in consuming-but-cohesive pieces like opener “Sanctuary” or “Blind” or “Staving off the Truth,” which brought together clear-headed psychedelia around a wash that seemed to stem as much from rhythm as melody. As they’ve matured stylistically and become a major touring presence, Elder have made themselves perhaps the most pivotal American heavy rock act going, and Reflections of a Floating World brings them to the discovery of yet another apex while at the same time giving zero indication it will be the last one they find.

2. Colour Haze, In Her Garden

colour haze in her garden

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed March 9.

Of course, the bonus of writing about Colour Haze in just about any context is that you get to put Colour Haze on while you’re doing it, and in the case of the 12th LP from these Munich heavy psych forebears, that’s an even more appealing prospect. After stripping down some of the arrangement flourish with 2014’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), the 13-track/73-minute 2LP In Her Garden brought a revitalized sonic expansion, but as ever, it wasn’t just the horns or the strings or the blend of keys and acoustics that made In Her Garden the unbridled joy that it was and continues to be — it was the underlying performance from guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald that gave the album the stem on which its garden grew. That’s not to say Jan Faszbender‘s work on modular synth, Rhodes, and Hammond or the arrangements of strings, tuba, bass-clarinet and trombone throughout hurt anything, just that as Colour Haze have grown into incorporating these elements into their groundbreaking aesthetic, they haven’t left behind the organic chemistry and necessary live feel that has helped them influence a generation of followers over their more than 20-year career. One came through as much as the other on In Her Garden, and that balance gave the overarching warmth of their self-recorded tonality yet another level on which to engage their audience. I’ll be a sucker for Colour Haze for as long as I live, and I have absolutely no problem admitting to and owning that.

1. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War

all them witches sleeping through the war

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Jan. 27.

It was clear early on that Nashville four-piece All Them Witches were contending hard for Album of the Year with Sleeping Through the War, their fourth long-player and second for New West following the mellow vibes of 2015’s Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (review here). What finally sealed it? The songs. Working with producer Dave Cobb, the each-member-essential lineup of bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, key-specialist Allan van Cleave (Rhodes, Mellotron, piano, organ, etc.) and drummer/graphic artist Robby Staebler solidified their approach in exciting new ways on early cuts like the grunge-crunching “Don’t Bring Me Coffee” and the shuffling “Bruce Lee,” which hit in succession following the fluid lead-in of opener “Bulls,” an introduction of the organic psychedelia and heavy blues that the loose-swinging of “3-5-7″‘s nigh-on-gospel chorus and subsequent, almost maddeningly catchy “Am I Going Up?” would continue to push outward, thereby setting a linear course into a consciousness-capturing side B with “Alabaster” and the jammier “Cowboy Kirk” and “Internet” playing between melodic nuance and mindful, go-with-it drift. The unflinching strength of the material was matched perhaps only by the understatement of its delivery, which was the more staggering considering how easily the arrangements of background vocals on “Am I Going Up?” or  “3-5-7” could have come through as overblown or self-indulgent, and by the time they got down to the light weirdo-bluesy stomp of “Internet” — the key lyric and hook being, “Guess I’ll go live on the internet” — there was no doubting the genuine nature of the realization Sleeping Through the War represented for All Them Witches. Coupling that feeling of achievement with the sheer repeatability of the listening experience itself left no doubt that 2017 belonged to these tracks and the marvelous way the band wove between them, and that whatever other sounds All Them Witches may go on to explore and whatever else they may accomplish as a result, Sleeping Through the War was a truly special moment in their evolution that, as with the best of offerings in any year, will continue to resonate long after the calendar page has turned.

The Next 20

You know, I used to feel like once you got past a top 20, the numbers were arbitrary. Then I felt that way about the top 30. This year, I think I agonized more about what to include in numbers 31-50 than I did between 30 and the album of the year. Put that in your “go figure” file while you chew on these picks:

31. Cities of Mars, Temporal Rifts
32. The Midnight Ghost Train, Cypress Ave.
33. Snowy Dunes, Atlantis
34. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
35. PH, Eternal Hayden
36. Sasquatch, Maneuvers
37. Young Hunter, Dayhiker
38. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
39. Ufomammut, 8
40. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
41. Paradise Lost, Medusa
42. Beastmaker, Inside the Skull
43. Arduini / Balich, Dawn of Ages
44. Primitive Man, Caustic
45. Motorpsycho, The Tower
46. Arbouretum, Song of the Rose
47. Hymn, Perish
48. Youngblood Supercult, The Great American Death Rattle
49. Pallbearer, Heartless
50. Dool, Here Now There Then

There’s so, so much good stuff here. So much. The Cities of Mars debut was a treasure and the only reason it wasn’t on my top debuts list was because I haven’t had the chance to go back in and put it on. The Young Hunter record? Some of their best work yet. Hell, that Arduini / Balich album alone! Then you’ve got huge releases by Pallbearer, Ufomammut, Paradise Lost, Primitive Man, on and on. Like I said at the outset, one more album and my head was gonna explode this year. Way too much to ever hope to keep up with. One thing though I felt like I really wanted to emphasize including was Dool. They’re in the last spot, but make no mistake, in atmosphere and songwriting that album was something really special and loaded with potential. It’s not there because it came in last. It’s there to highlight the point of how much it should be on this list.

What’s that? More records? Okay…

Honorable Mentions

In case you also weren’t completely overwhelmed this year, maybe another batch of records will do the trick. Here’s some presented alphabetically:

Anathema, The Optimist
Blackfinger, When Colors Fade Away
Child, Blueside
Cortez, The Depths Below
Demon Eye, Prophecies and Lies
Elbrus, Elbrus
Electric Wizard, Wizard Bloody Wizard
Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury
Five Horse Johnson, Jake Leg Boogie
Mirror Queen, Verdigris
The Obsessed, Sacred
T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain
Outsideinside, Sniff a Hot Rock
Queens of the Stone Age, Villains
Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace
Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
Steak, No God to Save
Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light
Valborg, Endstrand
With the Dead, Love from With the Dead

Plus: Abronia, Lewis and the Strange Magics, Iron Monkey, Band of Spice, Puta Volcano, Galley Beggar, Heavy Traffic, Coltsblood, REZN, Green Meteor, Demon Head, Lord, Grigax, The Raynbow, Carpet, Norska, Les Lekin, Slow, Ixion, and I’m sure more that I’ll add as the names continue to pop into my head.

I did this back in June as well, but I also want to draw attention to a swath of quality live albums that came out this year. The top pick should be no surprise if you’ve been hanging around the site of late:

Live Albums:
1. SubRosa, Subdued Live at Roadburn
2. Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen
3. Slomatics, Futurians Live at Roadburn
4. My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
5. Wight, Fusion Rock Invasion
5. Death Alley, Live at Roadburn

Thank You

It’s been a hell of a year, obviously. Musically and otherwise. As always, I cannot possibly come close to thanking you enough for your incredible and ongoing support of The Obelisk, of what this site is, what it’s become over its nearly nine-year run, what it will continue to become going forward from here. It is astounding to me and deeply humbling that you would possibly take time out of your busy day and your busy life to check out what’s going on here, and words fail me continually when it comes to feeling like I can properly convey my appreciation for that. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Tattoo it on my forehead.

Thank you to The Patient Mrs. for understanding how much I need to be doing this, to Slevin for keeping the site running on the technical end, to Behrang Alavi for taking over hosting earlier this year, to my family for their ongoing support, to The Pecan for sleeping late some mornings and giving me time to write, and to everyone who ever shared a link on social media or made a comment on a post or anything like that. To long-time readers and to newcomers alike — thank you so much. This year has seen a fair share of ups and downs, but the support this site gets sustains me in ways I never expected it could, and that would be impossible without you. Please know how crucial that is to me.

Well, that should do it. I know there are probably disagreements about where things landed on the list, what was included, what was left out, etc., as there always are. All comments are of course welcome — only thing I’d ask is you please keep it civil and respectful of the opinions of others. Otherwise, have at it. Please.

And one more time, thank you for reading.

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Mirror Queen, Verdigris

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 25th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

mirror-queen-verdigris

[Click play above to stream Mirror Queen’s Verdigris in its entirety. Album is out this Friday, Oct. 27, via Tee Pee Records.]

The two years since Mirror Queen issued their 2015 outing, Scaffolds of the Sky (review here), the New York-based classic heavy rockers have traded out guitarist Phi Moon for former The Golden Grass bassist Morgan McDaniel, been back to Europe to tour and continued to proffer an underrated blend of early ’70s progressive rock and six-string-driven NWOBHM-isms. Led as ever by founding guitarist/vocalist Kenny Sehgal, who traces the band’s roots back to his prior outfit Kreisor, the four-piece offer with their third long-player, Verdigris, a more patient and lush take on their titular cut while also bringing quality hooks to bear on tracks like opener “Poignard” and its bouncing side B counterpart, “Starliner” (premiered here), which was previously issued as a limited 7″ single earlier this year.

Comprised of six total songs for a crisp 41-minute LP and issued through Tee Pee RecordsVerdigris finds a natural fluidity building from the early metallic gallop of “Poignard” as the eight-minute pairing of “Flying Eyes” and “Sorrow’s End/Dark Kiss of the Sun” take hold, with SehgalMcDaniel, and the rhythm section of bassist James Corallo and drummer Jeremy O’Brien shining through in balancing their influences almost on a per-part basis while the vocals drive a more confident feel overall through the flowing “Flying Eyes” and add a sense of command to the side A finale that helps carry across the molten and malleable stylistic vibe. Make no mistake, there is a metallic edge to Mirror Queen‘s aesthetic, but it arrives presented in a context of heavy rock groove, so that even as “Poignard” starts Verdigris off with its most fervent charge or “Sorrow’s End/Dark Kiss of the Sun” meets the lush “Flying Eyes” with a moodier, lower-toned take, the affect on the listener is more like those moments where Deep Purple lock into a forward groove than when Iron Maiden do likewise, however much it more it may actually be inspired by the latter than the former.

Indeed, it’s worth emphasizing that that measure is something with which Mirror Queen toy throughout Verdigris. The Thin Lizzy-style turns that start “Starliner” at the outset of side B hit into organic-feeling fuzz and brim with a core vitality that adds force to their punch. As much as the guitars shine throughout — and Swans guitarist Norman Westberg contributes here in that regard as well — and as much as Sehgal‘s vocals establish a presence particularly once “Flying Eyes” kicks into gear, it is of course O’Brien and Corallo who provide the crucial foundation on which the songs rest. Even with two guitars, Mirror Queen set up their dynamic like that of a classic power trio, with the six-stringers free to roam around and between the basslines and drum progressions, which are held together with unquestionable solidity.

mirror queen photo john fell

This can be heard especially in the lush companionship that “Verdigris” offers to “Flying Eyes” before it, but it’s no less true of the less outwardly psychedelic material as well, whether that’s “Poignard” and “Starliner” or “Sorrow’s End/Dark Kiss of the Sun” and the closer “Curse the Night” mirroring each other in their thrust, the latter also hearkening back to “Poignard”‘s sense of forward motion at the outset — O’Brien even sneaks in a little double-kick; blink and you’ll miss it — and ending the album with one final dual-guitar solo and memorable hook, shades of MaidenDio and Priest finding their way into what, again and still, is ostensibly heavy rock and roll in its tone and delivery. It might be worth noting that “Curse the Night” is also the shortest song since the sub-four-minute “Poignard,” but it, “Starliner” and “Verdigris” all over around the seven-minute mark, whereas the side A launch is 3:51 and its two companions each top eight minutes, making for a more stark contrast between them.

That might have a hand in driving the overarching flow that emerges as the record plays out, but the divide between sides A and B is a significant marker for how that process happens. For those listening to a linear form — CD or digital — Verdigris still works smoothly, and that’s a credit to Mirror Queen overall, but no question their intent was toward vinyl structure. Fitting enough given their classic vibe overall, and if the successful manifestation thereof in the songcraft is what makes the A/B split so prevalent, then it only proves all the more how well composed the album actually is.

And it is. Mirror Queen lose none of their energy or memorability as “Starliner” takes hold, and “Verdigris” and “Curse the Night” continue to unfold a broader stylistic range without letting go either of the foundation in craft or the underlying quality of performance, which, while Verdigris is less focused on a “live” sound than some, what with its layered vocal arrangements and studio-born clarity of recording, nonetheless shines through in a manner befitting the band’s maturity, both going back to Sehgal and O’Brien‘s days in Kreisor and to Mirror Queen‘s own work across what’s now a trio of underrated LPs. They have been and remain a better band than people know, but for those who’ve discovered their output, the sonic niche they occupy has proven time and again to be rich ground for exploration.

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Mirror Queen Announce New LP Verdigris Due Oct. 27

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

mirror-queen-photo-john-fell

Earlier this year, NYC-based heavy classic progressive rockers Mirror Queen issued a seven-inch single Starliner (premiered here) that came prior to their summer tour with Tee Pee Records labelmates The Atomic Bitchwax. The song was a first glimpse at the follow-up to 2015’s Scaffolds of the Sky (review here), which has now been announced with the title Verdigris and an Oct. 27 release date. If you didn’t hear it at the time, I’ve embedded the track below for convenience’s sake, and whether or not it’s the same recording at that which will appear on the six-long LP next month, it speaks well of Mirror Queen‘s particular and longstanding meld between driving ’70s rock and more nuanced and progressive impulses.

Curious to hear what Swans guitarist Norman Westberg adds to that mix on Verdigris, as well as to hear the album in general. Led as always by guitarist/vocalist Kenny Sehgal — aka Kenny Kreisor in honor of the outfit from which Mirror Queen evolved prior to their debut in 2011 — Mirror Queen remain a secret kept too well by NYC’s heavy underground.

Album art and details from the PR wire, which gets extra credit in my book for using the phrase “street level” to describe part of Mirror Queen‘s sound. Nicely done there:

mirror-queen-verdigris

Mirror Queen to Release New Album, ‘Verdigris’. October 27

NYC volume dealers MIRROR QUEEN will release their new album, Verdigris, on October 27 via Tee Pee Records. A masterclass of riff-driven melodic hard rock, the LP is the follow-up to the band’s 2015’s LP, Scaffolds of the Sky.

Combining edgy, street-level rock ‘n’ roll with more cerebral elements of poetry and literature, MIRROR QUEEN rides hard and loud, kicking out the jams at every opportunity. Here the songs are expansive and lush in their textures, with ethereal songwriting full of crossing guitar lines and an insistent, demanding rhythmic throb. Featuring additional guitars from SWANS six-stringer Norman Westberg, Verdigris is a rock monolith, all dark delight and sinister pleasure, that demands headbanging and fists raised to the sky.

A mainstay in the NYC hard rock scene, MIRROR QUEEN has shared the stage with heavyweight peers such as Earthless and The Shrine and toured Europe with legends such as Uli Jon Roth and UFO. The group’s driving music accelerates at the distinct point where NWOBHM and heavy Prog Rock intersect; a direct and definite delineation of an era when urgent metallic sound was the order of the day.

Track listing:

1.) Poignard
2.) Flying Eyes
3.) Sorrow’s End / Dark Kiss of the Sun
4.) Starliner
5.) Verdigris
6.) Curse the Night

MIRROR QUEEN features Kenny Kreisor (guitar, vocals), Jeremy O’Brien (drums), Morgan McDaniel (guitar) and James Corallo (bass).

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The Atomic Bitchwax and Mirror Queen Touring the East Coast in July

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Current understanding is that both The Atomic Bitchwax and Mirror Queen will have new records out this Fall. Therefore it seems entirely likely the Tee Pee Records labelmates might bring some recent compositions out for road-testing on this upcoming East Coast tour, set to begin in Boston on July 13 — where they’ll be joined by fellow Tee Pee denizens Worshipper as well as Hey Zeus — and make its way north into Canada before swinging back through Pittsburgh and looping south once again.

Whether or not they’re playing new stuff, The Atomic Bitchwax‘s most recent outing, 2015’s Gravitron (review here), and Mirror Queen‘s recently-unveiled “Starliner” single (premiered here) are just about all the excuse a band might need to get out and stretch for a bit, if they need an excuse at all. Which, particularly in this case, they probably don’t, what with all the generally kicking ass and whatnot.

Dates and portends of things to come, courtesy of the PR wire:

the atomic bitchwax tour

The Atomic Bitchwax to Launch North American Headlining Tour July 13

Legendary New Jersey Rock Band Featuring Monster Magnet Members Set to Light Up the East Coast; NYC’s Mirror Queen to Support

New Jersey super stoner rock band THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX will kick off a North American headlining tour run on July 13 in Boston, MA. Featuring core MONSTER MAGNET members Chris Kosnik (bass, vocals) and Bob Pantella (drums) alongside guitarist Finn Ryan, THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX (aka TAB) play music that combines 60’s psychedelic rock, and 70’s riff rock with modern day progressive rock influences. The Tee Pee Records-powered tour will run through July 23 and feature support from NYC space rockers and TAB label mates MIRROR QUEEN.

Since its formation in 1993, THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX has inspired hundreds of developing rock and metal bands, but no group of musicians has come close to matching TAB’s unique style of fun, frenetic and formidable rock and roll. Over the course of six full-length albums and multiple world tours, the band has perfected its unique style of NYC hard rock that High Times appropriately tagged, “thunder-boogie”. THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX is currently prepping the follow-up to its celebrated 2016 release, Gravitron. A fall release date is expected.

THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX w/ MIRROR QUEEN tour dates:
July 13 Boston, MA Great Scott
July 14 Montreal, QC Turbo Haus
July 15 Toronto, ON Hard Luck
July 16 Pittsburgh, PA Cattivo
July 18 Asheville, NC Mothlight
July 19 Atlanta, GA Star Bar
July 20 Richmond, VA Strange Matter
July 22 Philadelphia, PA Kung Fu Necktie
July 23 Brooklyn, NY Knitting Factory

A mainstay in the NYC hard rock scene, MIRROR QUEEN has shared the stage with heavyweight peers such as Earthless and The Shrine and toured Europe with legends such as Uli Jon Roth and UFO. The group’s driving music accelerates at the distinct point where NWOBHM and heavy Prog Rock intersect; a direct and definite delineation of an era when urgent metallic sound was the order of the day. MIRROR QUEEN’s as-yet-untitled new LP is expected to see release this October.

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The Atomic Bitchwax, “No Way Man” official video

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Mirror Queen Premiere “Starliner”; New Album Due this Fall

Posted in audiObelisk on March 24th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

mirror queen at the saint vitus bar

New York City heavy rockers Mirror Queen have a new single out ahead of a full-length currently being finalized for an October release on Tee Pee Records. Ever true to their city-dwelling roots, the band tracked the Starliner b/w Career of Evil 7″ in the midst of Times Square chaos, at Terminus Studios. It’s hard to imagine a more frenetic or overwhelming environment, but if that’s the setting in which “Starliner” takes place, one would hardly know it in listening to the track itself. As did their last album, 2015’s Scaffolds of the Sky (review here), the new track finds peace in a cohesive blend of progressive and classic heavy inspirations, filtering them through a modern production style — and yeah, just an edge of Manhattan crunch — to take full ownership of its sound. With a Blue Öyster Cult cover as the B-side that features formidable guest spots from Per Wiberg (Spiritual Beggars, Candlemass, Opeth, etc.) and Harald Fossberg, formerly of Turbonegro, they’d hardly be accused of not owning up to their influences, but neither are they beholden to them, the band emerging with an independent streak that is as much a conceptual part of who they are as it is crucial to their aesthetic.

mirror queen starlinerVery New York, in other words. And not necessarily the new New York either. Mirror Queen are a bit grittier than that. Tracing their lineage back to guitarist/vocalist Kenny Sehgal‘s former outfit, Kreisor, and further beyond that to that band’s predecessor, Aytobach Kreisor, the lineup of Mirror Queen may be regularly subject to some flux — “Starliner” marks the studio debut of former The Golden Grass bassist Morgan McDaniel on guitar alongside Sehgal, bassist James Corallo and drummer Jeremy O’Brien — the band’s purpose has remained steady even as their approach has progressed. Scaffolds of the Sky did not shy away from its proggier aspects, and the new outing being finished at Flux in the East Village will reportedly follow suit (including an extended take on “Starliner”), but Mirror Queen never seem to forget the necessity of an underlying structure to their songwriting, and as they eye up the prospects of East Coast and European tours for this summer and fall, respectively, that should only continue to serve them well on every stage they hit.

Sehgal credits Robin Trower and Swervedriver specifically when it comes to “Starliner,” and you can take a listen below and hear that come to fruition for yourself. With a limited edition mirror cover and an included patch, the Starliner b/w Career of Evil 7″ can be ordered direct from Tee Pee at the link at the bottom of this post.

Hope you enjoy:

Trower inspired A-side, Starliner, features new Mirror Queen guitarist Morgan McDaniel (ex-Golden Grass). The B-side, Blue Öyster Cult’s “Career of Evil”, also has musical contributions from keyboardist Per Wiberg (Spiritual Beggars, Opeth) and Harald Fossberg (ex-Turbonegro). Premium mirror sleeve and pressed on black vinyl. Comes with embroidered sew-on Mirror Queen patch.

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