Posted in Reviews on March 9th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was the release show for Elder‘s third album, Lore (review here), put out and put on by Armageddon Shop, but also the launch for the Massachusetts trio’s tour with Mos Generator, bringing a new incarnation of the long-running West Coast heavy rock outfit east for the first time. With Magic Circle taking a break from recording their forthcoming second album to open the show with plenty of material of their own to unveil, newness was a sort of running theme for the night. Parking near AS220, however, was not. After chickening out on a spot in front of a hydrant — kudos to whoever took it — I wound up in a pay lot before making my way into Providence’s foremost tour-stop for the first time.
Sandwich orders named for playing cards — Jack of Clubs, Queen of this or that, etc. — were shouted out from a counter opposite the bar, and the place was packed. It sold out, but I was early and managed to get in. Doors opened at 9PM and already there was a decent amount of people who showed up. Magic Circle can be pretty elusive, and by that I mean they’re not on Thee Facebooks, so the chance to see them on such a sans-filler bill wasn’t one to pass up. Armageddon Shop labelmates of Elder‘s, though much more entrenched in doom, they got going maybe a little after 9:30 and it was easy enough to see why AS220 was the kind of place where out-of-towners play. It’s a decent-sized room that still gives an impression of intimacy, with a wide stage, lights if you want them — Magic Circle frontman Brendan Ratigan asked almost immediately that they be turned down — and what seemed like full sound going through the house P.A. Standing in front, I wasn’t in the best place to judge the latter, but the two guitars of Magic Circle came across well if that’s anything to go by.
Their 2013 self-titled debut (review here) brooked little argument in cuts like “Winter Light,” “Rapture” and “Scream Evil,” which were aired, and since the last time I managed to see them was their first show, just over three years prior, their presence on stage had evolved markedly, Ratigan‘s theatrical movements timed to the changes from drummer Q and bassist Justin DeTore, or the riffing of guitarists Chris Corry and Dan Ducas, which seems to have gotten even more in line with traditional/classic metal on their newer songs. They didn’t give a name for the second record, but “The Damned Man,” “Lightning Cage” and set opener “Journey Blind” were distinguished by faster tempos offsetting doomed riffs and an aggressive — in the case of “Lightning Cage,” almost thrashing — rendering. That might have been a symptom of the live setting, or it might be Magic Circle tapping into their Boston hardcore roots. In any case, they made it work and having gotten a taste, I’m even more intrigued to find out what the whole of their sophomore outing will bring upon its arrival later this year.
They had new material. Mos Generator had a new band. Founding guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed swapped out drummer Shawn Johnson and bassist Scooter Haslip for Scotty VanDweller and Sean Booth, respectively, earlier this year, and as I understand it, at least part of the reason why was to facilitate touring. Reed announced from the stage that it was Mos Generator‘s first time on the East Coast in many years, and AS220 gave them due welcome as they ran through songs mostly from 2012’s Nomads (review here) and last year’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), making highlights of “Beyond the Whip,” the slower “Early Mourning” and the title-track of the latter, which offered the evening’s most unabashed boogie. “Lonely One Kenobi” and set-finale “This is the Gift of Nature” featured from Nomads and provided a fitting showcase for the burgeoning dynamic between Reed, Booth and VanDweller. They had been playing more or less nightly since the middle of February, and if I’m not mistaken, had driven two days from Minneapolis to Providence for this gig, so while one might’ve gotten the sense of this version of the band being a recent advent — and mind you, if I didn’t know that going in, I’m not sure I would have — they’d already had a couple weeks to start smoothing rough edges, and it showed.
And since it’s worth specifically pointing out, I stood in front of Booth‘s bass amp for the set and his tone was an absolute delight. VanDweller had more than enough swing to carry across Mos Generator‘s classic influences, and Reed made a charismatic frontman — the only other time I’ve seen him on stage was with Stone Axe, in which he played guitar and handled backup vocals — goading the crowd after each song and reminding the room “We’re working hard up here!” before laughing at how long he’s used that line, but in true West Coast form, Booth fed his bass through a Verellen Meat Smoke preamp, and at least from where I was positioned, there was a good part of the set that played out like a commercial for the thing. Obviously that’s not all there is to developing a tone, but it certainly didn’t hurt. Mos Generator will be back on the Eastern Seaboard this summer for the Eye of the Stoned Goat 5 after finishing out this tour and, if I’m not mistaken, hitting Europe, and I’ll look forward to checking out how the intervening time on the road has brought them together.
So we’ve gone from new material to new band, and with Elder, it’s a new album. Lore turned plenty of heads in the weeks leading up to its Feb. 24 release through Armageddon Shop (Stickman Records in Europe), and positioned as the evening’s headliner, drummer Matt Couto, bassist Jack Donovan and guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo gave the album its due, playing it front to back for the packed-out AS220. No doubt the room would’ve been more familiar with the record a little further down the line, but it’s hard to call it a release show two months later, and “Compendium,” “Legend,” “Lore,” “Deadweight” and “Spirit at Aphelion” had no trouble winning the crowd over. Though it was upwards of 20 degrees and still very much winter outside as the sheets of ice and piles of dirty frozen snow on the sidewalk could attest, up near the stage it was broiling hot, and it’s not exactly as if Elder‘s winding riffs are simple or like the spiraling prog-rock apex of “Legend” requires little effort. Like Reed and company before them, Elder were also working hard up there.
For a good cause, though. Elder will spend most of the rest of this month on tour, hitting SXSW, the Midwest and of course the East Coast, and while they’ve done strings of dates in Europe before, and while they’ll play Psycho California this May ensuring at least a little time out west, their arrival as a “touring band” feels due. They could complete this run, do the Psycho CA fest, and not book anything else for the rest of the year. That’s entirely possible, but I don’t think it’s the way things are going to play out, and the vitality they showed on stage looked sustainable. That is to say, Elder seemed ready at AS220 for the task they’d set for themselves. Their sound has progressed from the stoner roots of their 2008 self-titled through 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) and the subsequent 2012 EP, Spires Burn/Release (streamed here), and Lore is a fitting snapshot of where their creative evolution is now: Clear-headed, crisp in its delivery and the beneficiary of some of the best elements of their prior work. I missed the extra Mellotron-esque guitar layers in what on the record is the highlight moment of the title-track, I’ll be honest, and there were some kinks to iron out in changes elsewhere, but their enjoyment of the songs felt earnest, and they played like a band hitting their stride, which is more than one could feasibly ask for the first night of a tour.
One could see it even in the visual continuity on stage between DiSalvo, Couto and Donovan, their comfort with each other’s style. Right down to how they stood, with Donovan turning to face the others, completing a sort of semi-circle with DiSalvo also angled slightly inwards and Couto in the middle, facing out, they looked like a professional band who had sorted out what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it. Their sound was the same way, and though they’d played for an hour, when they were done and the house lights came up, people were still shouting for more. Rightfully so. On a night where each act had something fresh to offer the room, Elder not only presented their third album to mark the occasion of its release, but stood on the precipice of a new era for themselves, and jumped, loudly, into its beginning.
More pics after the jump. Thanks to you for reading, to John Pegoraro for the company and to Fred Struckholz for the poster.
Tickets go on sale March 6 for Eye of the Stoned Goat 5, set to take place June 12-13 at Amityville Music Hall, on Long Island. The Golden Grass and Mos Generator will headline, and the lineup has been finalized to include acts from the East Coast, the West Coast and in between — Lord Fowl, Wounded Giant and Brimstone Coven, if you need an example of each — in what’s without a doubt the most expansive Stoned Goat festival yet.
The poster for this year’s Stoned Goat is by Joe Mruk, and you can see the final version below (click to make it even larger) followed by the official lineup announcement from the fest:
‘Eye of the Stoned Goat 5’ announces official lineup for summer festival!
Snake Charmer Booking is pleased to announce the final artist lineup for the annual celebration of stoner-psychedelic rock and doom-heavy metal known as The Eye of the Stoned Goat Festival—now in its 5th year. The two-day fest, featuring some of the most exciting talent of the Mid-Atlantic, East and West Coast, will take place June 12th and 13th 2015 at the Amityville Music Hall in Long Island, New York.
Headlining the Friday night opener on June 12th are Brooklyn, New York trio The Golden Grass (Svart Records), whose catchy progressive psychedelic self-titled debut received numerous accolades as the “Best of 2014.” Another band that has received copious amounts of praise from rock blogs and music rags alike are none other than Long Island’s long-running rock outfit John Wilkes Booth, whose album ‘Useless Lucy’ was mentioned in many journalists “Best of 2014” lists. Also joining the bill from Long Island territory, those wildly eclectic heavy rockers Moon Tooth, who Metal Injection recently named one of “10 Awesome Underground Bands You Need in Your Life!”
Naturally, it wouldn’t be a ‘Stoned Goat’ show without giving attendees a healthy dose of band from the excellent Small Stone Records label. This year’s elite selection includes three bands that are simply a treat to bring to the stage: Boston’s master craftsmen and 2014 Desertfest alums, Gozu; local New York natives It’s Not Night: It’s Space; and returning ‘Stoned Goat’ retro rockers Lord Fowl, currently working on the follow-up to their 2012 riff encyclopedia, Moon Queen.
More contenders for total rock domination include Ripple Music stalwarts White Dynomite, composed of former members of such fine acts as Roadsaw, Lamont, and Wrecking Crew, to name a few. Also on the Ripple Music roster, from Frederick, Maryland: Weed is Weed, featuring Dave Sherman and Gary Isom of Pentagram, Earthride and Spirit Caravan fame. Additionally, hailing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, fans will experience the infectious “sludge n’ space rock” vibe of Supervoid, who will be heading into the studio in February to record their follow-up to 2013’s Filaments.
For the first time, Seattle Washington’s own rising stars Wounded Giant will be bringing their blistering, monstrous, signature sound to this year’s festival. Also spearheading the volume-dealing campaign from STB Records is Connecticut’s Curse The Son, who’s latest offering Psychache (2014) was widely heralded as “the best of its kind in 2014” by The Sludgelord and other critics. Another band traveling a good distance to bring their doomy, occult craft to the east coast is Metal Blade Records’ newest acquisition, Brimstone Coven, who are currently working on their much anticipated next album for the label. Speaking of travelling a long distances, the festival will witness the U.S. debut of Toronto, Canada’s demonic stoner-blues rockers Ol’ Time Moonshine. Alongside this already hefty bill, ESG5 has decided to treat festival goers to the atmospheric retro-doom stylings of Totem Cat Records’ own Doctor Smoke.
One band that has been tenaciously trekking through the rock scene for over a decade now is Philadelphia’s working class groove dealers, Kingsnake. The four boys of Kingsnake have had the honor of performing alongside such acts as Clutch, The Sword, Scorpion Child, The Skull, and Vista Chino, to name a few. Also on board for the 5th installment of the festival, Long Island locals Borgo Pass—a popular act that has developed quite an impressive loyal following.
Last, but not least, officially closing out this year’s Eye of the Stoned Goat festival is none other than Port Orchard, Washington’s stoner rock torch-bearer’s Mos Generator. This marks the band’s first ever performance in New York. Mos Generator have released 5 studio albums, a retrospective album, numerous splits, and a live album, attracting such labels as Roadburn, Small Stone, Ripple, Nasoni, and Lay Bare. For charismatic singer/guitarist Tony Reed and crew, touring has been just as important to the profile of the band as making records. Over the years, Mos Generator has shared the stage with many great heavy rock bands, and in March of 2013 joined a 26-date European tour with Saint Vitus, earning a whole new fan base to their fuzzy, energetic sound. On stage, Mos Generator embodies the word “chemistry,” revolving their sound around swagger and groove, while improvising just enough to keep the songs feeling fresh from night to night—often with delightful results.
Tickets for ‘Eye of the Stoned Goat 5’ will officially go on sale on March 6th 2015. The Event will be 21+ with I.D. Tickets will be $15 per night, or $25 for a weekend pass. For more information on the Eye of the Stoned Goat festival, visitwww.TheEyeoftheStonedGoat.com
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 10th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
The fact that Mos Generator are headlining Eye of the Stoned Goat 5 is good news for those of us on the East Coast, but I have the feeling this also means that the Feb./March tour the Port Orchard, Washington, trio are heading out on starting Friday night in Seattle won’t be their only round of US dates this year. As announced last week, the long-running heavy rock outfit have a new lineup around guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed that includes bassist Sean Booth and drummer Scotty VanDweller, and it’s with that band that Mos will take their place a the top of the Stoned Goat bill. When and if other show announcements follow, I’ll obviously be posting. Word of a European run is expected any minute now.
In the meantime, Mos Generator will put out the live collection, In Concert: 2007-2014 via Listenable Records on March 23 (track stream here), and word has also come out that the band’s original lineup has a split 7″ due in April through H42 Records that finds Mos Generator taking on the track “Vol. IV” by their one-time Washington compatriots, Golden Pig Electric Blues Band. That outfit shares a lineage with Reed going back to mid-’90s death metallers Woodrot, and released two albums in their time (discussed here). “Vol. IV” comes from their 2003 self-titled debut, and a snippet of Mos‘ version can be heard via H42‘s Bandcamp below, following the announcement from Eye of the Stoned Goat 5 and their current tour dates:
We are proud to present to you the FINAL band appearing at Eye of the Stoned Goat 5 is none other than Mos Generator!!! This is a HUGE honor as this will be Mos Generator’s first time ever in New York. Come out and show them a time they will never forget!
MOS GENERATOR on tour: 2/13 Seattle, Wa @ Columbia City Theater 2/14 Port Angeles, Wa @ Coo Coo’s Nest 2/18 Fort Worth, Tx @ The Grotto 2/19 Austin, Tx @ The Lost Well 2/20 El Paso, Tx @ Low Brow Palace 2/21 Tuscon, Az @ The Rock (Borderland Fuzz Fiesta) 2/23 TBA 2/24 TBA 2/25 TBA 2/26 Grants Pass OR @ G Street Bar 2/27 Eugene, Or @ Black Forest 2/28 Portland, Or @ World Famous Kenton Club 3/3 TBA 3/4 TBA w/Elder* 3/6 Providence, RI @ As220* 3/7 Peterborough, Nh @ The Wreck Room* 3/8 Rochester, Ny @ Bug Jar* 3/9 Pittsburgh, Pa @ Gooski’s* 3/10 Columbus, Oh @ Ace of Cups* 3/11 Indianapolis, In @ 5th Quarter* 3/12 Chicago, Il @ Reggie’s* 3/13 Texarkana, @ Silver Dollar* 3/14 Dallas, Tx @ Double Wide* 3/16 Corpus Christi, Tx @ Boneshakers 3/17 Austin, Tx @ The Lost Well 3/18 Houston, Tx @ White Swan 3/20 Tulsa, Ok @ Downtown Lounge 3/21 TBA 3/23 Anahiem, CA @ The Doll Hut 3/24 San Diego, Ca @ The Merrow 3/25 Sacramento, Ca @ The Press Club 3/26 San Jose, Ca @ The Caravan 3/27 Oakland, Ca @ The Golden Bull (Ripple fest) 3/28 Arcata, Ca @ The Alibi 6/13 Amityville, Ny @ Eye of the Stoned Goat 5
Posted in audiObelisk on February 4th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Though it shares a basic cover design and a partial title with it, Mos Generator‘s upcoming Listenable Records live album, In Concert: 2007-2014 – out March 23 — isn’t to be confused with the 2013 In Concert (review here) on Lay Bare Recordings. That outing was one concert, captured on the Port Orchard, Washington, trio’s European tour with Saint Vitus, whereas the new release, as its title hints, is more of a compilation of material culled from years of gigs around the world, as early as Roadburn in 2008 and as recent as Freak Valley last year. Founding guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed explains it in the quote below.
Says Tony Reed:
“This release is compiled from five different shows over seven years and is a great representation of what we have sounded like live. It has at least one song from each of our albums and also showcases jams and the evolution of song arrangements from studio to stage. It was a challenge to mix these recording from different shows together to make it seem like one live experience but i think the result captures the energy and chemistry that was happening between the three of us on stage during these years. A few of our finest moments were captured here including songs from Roadburn Festival in 2008 and Freak Valley Festival in 2014. It’s also cool that this will be coming out just in time for our European tour in April of 2015 to get everybody in the spirit for live MOS GENERATOR.”
What Reed doesn’t mention there is that In Concert: 2007-2014 also serves as the capstone for an ending era of the band. In the wake of 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here) and with a desire to tour more than they have in years past, Reed has parted ways with drummer Shawn Johnson and bassist Scooter Haslip, bringing on board the rhythm section of bassist Sean Booth and drummer Scotty VanDweller (a touring name if e’er was one). Accordingly, Reed, Booth and VanDweller have Mos Generator‘s first full-US tour booked and set to begin this month, and after that, the plan is to head to Europe and make their presence felt there.
It’s entirely possible that at the end of 2015, one might think of Mos Generator as a completely different band than, say, the one that made such a righteous comeback in 2012 with the Nomads (review here) full-length on Ripple Music, but if anything’s certain at this point it’s that this is a year of change for the stalwart heavy rock specialists, and that the new lineup are meeting that change and the challenges it might bring head on. As a fan of the band and of Reed‘s work in general, I’m looking forward to finally getting the chance to see these songs played live.
If you’re in a similar boat, Listenable has offered up “Beyond the Whip” from In Concert: 2007-2014 for your streaming pleasure. As it was the opening track on Electric Mountain Majesty, presumably this comes from last year’s stop at Freak Valley, and it sounds like a damn good time. Please find it on the player below, followed by the live album tracklisting, the announcement from Reed about the new lineup and the tour and the dates for the US run.
Mos Generator, In Concert: 2007-2014 Tracklisting : 1. Lumbo Rock 2. Cosmic Ark 3. Lonely One Kenobi 4. Silver Olympus 5. On The Eve 6. Godhand Iommi 7. This Is The Gift Of Nature 8. Beyond The Whip 9. Step Up / Jam 10. Acapulco Gold 11. Breaker 12. Sleeping Your Way To The Middle / Jam 13. Dyin’ Blues 14. Electric Mountain Majesty
We’ve got a few big announcements coming at ya today. First off we have a nice run of U.S. tour dates coming up and we have posted the dates and a few fun posters to help promote the tour. We would like to thank all of the promoters and bands that have helped us book many of these dates and we would also like to thank Elder and Tone Deaf Touring for bringing us along on what will be the first ever east coast tour for Mos Generator. Plans are in the works for more touring in the U.S. and Europe during the first half of 2015. We would like to make it out to see all of you this year.
The second announcement doesn’t come easy for me. After 14 years, 8 albums and hundreds of shows together I have had to part with the original rhythm section of Shawn Johnson and Scooter Haslip. Touring is imperative to the success and public awareness of any band and we couldn’t do the work that it takes to rise above the countless bands out there putting their passion to the test. We made amazing music together, but that is not enough, not for me anyway. I want to show it to the world. Mos Generator will never be the same in the absence of Shawn and Scooter but challenge and growth are also a musician’s nature and with that I announce Sean Booth (Bass) and Scotty VanDweller (Drums). Sean and Scotty have spent years attending Mos Generator shows and admiring the playing of their respective instrumentalists. That respect and understanding will help us perform the older material with much of the energy and power as it had with the original band and soon we will be writing and taking the sound of Mos Generator to new and interesting levels. That is something I am truly looking forward to.
Cheers TR – Feb. 2015
MOS GENERATOR US Tour Feb/March 2015 2/13 Seattle, Wa @ Columbia City Theater 2/14 Port Angeles, Wa @ Coo Coo’s Nest 2/18 Fort Worth, Tx @ The Grotto 2/19 Austin, Tx @ The Lost Well 2/20 El Paso, Tx @ Low Brow Palace 2/21 Tuscon, Az @ The Rock (Borderland Fuzz Fiesta) 2/23 TBA 2/24 TBA 2/25 TBA 2/26 Grants Pass OR @ G Street Bar 2/27 Eugene, Or @ Black Forest 2/28 Portland, Or @ World Famous Kenton Club 3/3 TBA 3/4 TBA w/Elder* 3/6 Providence, RI @ As220* 3/7 Peterborough, Nh @ The Wreck Room* 3/8 Rochester, Ny @ Bug Jar* 3/9 Pittsburgh, Pa @ Gooski’s* 3/10 Columbus, Oh @ Ace of Cups* 3/11 Indianapolis, In @ 5th Quarter* 3/12 Chicago, Il @ Reggie’s* 3/13 Texarkana, @ Silver Dollar* 3/14 Dallas, Tx @ Double Wide* 3/16 Corpus Christi, Tx @ Boneshakers 3/17 Austin, Tx @ The Lost Well 3/18 Houston, Tx @ White Swan 3/20 Tulsa, Ok @ Downtown Lounge 3/21 TBA 3/23 Anahiem, CA @ The Doll Hut 3/24 San Diego, Ca @ The Merrow 3/25 Sacramento, Ca @ The Press Club 3/26 San Jose, Ca @ The Caravan 3/27 Oakland, Ca @ The Golden Bull (Ripple fest) 3/28 Arcata, Ca @ The Alibi
Posted in Features on January 2nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was close for a long time, but in the last week or so, one record pulled ahead to stake a definitive claim on the top spot. Even so, more than the 2013 poll, this was a fun one to watch, three albums duking it out, trading back and forth in the raw votes depending on who happened to submit a list at any given time. In the end, 355 people participated in this year’s poll, which is an average of over 11 per day — there was a significant push at the end — and up from 2013, which now that it’s 2015 will no doubt soon feel like ancient history.
To that end, Happy New Year and huge, huge thanks to everyone who took the time to contribute a list to the poll. Even if it was one or two records, the simple fact that you felt it was worth your time to type out the names of bands and albums and take part in this thing is unbelievably gratifying to me. I do a lot of the talking around here, apart from comments and the forum, so to have your participation in this really means a lot to me. It’s nice knowing you give enough of a crap to take part.
You’ll find two lists below. The first, measured in points, is the weighted tally. A 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. After that comes the raw votes, a measure of what caught the most attention along the way.
After the jump, you’ll also find all the lists contributed to the poll — including my own, which seemed fair since I do a lot of reading on this site, mostly to experience shame at the typos and correct them hoping no one else noticed — presented in the order in which they were received. Thank you all again.
Top 20 of 2014 — Weighted Results
1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend (560 points)
2. Wo Fat, The Conjuring (404)
3. Electric Wizard, Time to Die (367)
4. Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden (334)
5. Conan, Blood Eagle (275)
6. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss (254)
7. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes (240)
8. Truckfighters, Universe (237)
9. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower (235)
10. Earth, Primitive and Deadly (230)
11. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid (225)
12. Blues Pills, Blues Pills (211)
13. Lo-Pan, Colossus (202)
14. Eyehategod, Eyehategod (198)
15. Monolord, Empress Rising (190)
16. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (188)
17. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia (161)
18. John Garcia, John Garcia (156)
19. Bongripper, Miserable (141)
20. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt (127)
Honorable mention to:
Goat, Commune (126)
Swans, To be Kind (117)
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars (116)
Blood Farmers, Headless Eyes (105)
Floor, Oblation (104)
Mothership, II (104)
Stubb, Elephant Tree, Thou and plenty of others also did very well in the voting, but everything else I could find was less than 100 points. Again, it was close for a while between Wo Fat, Electric Wizard and YOB — and Pallbearer wasn’t so far behind them, either — but YOB pulled it out in the end and jumped way in front of everyone else. A lot of number-one votes for Clearing the Path to Ascend, which I can understand completely, since I happened to agree with the position.
On to the raw votes:
Top 20 of 2014 — Raw Votes
1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend (138 votes)
2. Wo Fat, The Conjuring (111)
3. Electric Wizard, Time to Die (104)
4. Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden (89)
5. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss (78)
6. Conan, Blood Eagle (72)
7. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid (71)
8. Truckfighters, Universe (66)
9. Earth, Primitive and Deadly (65)
10. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes (64)
11. Blues Pills, Blues Pills (63)
12. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower (60)
13. Lo-Pan, Colossus (58)
14. Eyehategod, Eyehategod (55)
15. Monolord, Empress Rising (52)
16. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia (48)
16. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (48)
17. John Garcia, John Garcia (47)
18. Bongripper, Miserable (41)
18. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt (41)
19. Goat, Commune (37)
19. Mothership, II (37)
20. Swans, To be Kind (32)
And some honorable mentions:
Dwellers, Pagan Fruit (31)
Floor, Oblation (31)
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars (31)
Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty (30)
Thou, Heathen (30)
The Well, Samsara (30)
A couple ties here make the raw votes list a little more inclusive, and since it’s not like we’re giving out olympic medals, it didn’t seem fair to count out ties and sacrifice other numbers. The top 20 has 23 entries? Yeah, sounds about right. Again, not much mystery ultimately to who came out on top, but it was a more thrilling race than the final numbers might suggest. Cool to see some differences in placement emerge between the two lists as well, Greenleaf and Brant Bjork doing really well in the weighted results since they obviously inspire some strong support, and a couple of others working their way into the raw votes top 20. I’m not really a numbers guy, but it’s been cool putting this together.
About not being a numbers guy: All the lists that came in appear after the jump below. If you find some glaring error in my math, or something seems like it really got enough votes to be included in one or the other, it’s possible I just missed it. I hope you’ll point it out in the comments so that if there is a mistake, I can get on correcting it as soon as possible. Your vigilance is sincerely appreciated.
And thank you again so much for being a part of this readers poll. It’s been a really great experience and I look forward to doing it again come Dec. 2015.
Please find everybody’s list after the jump, and have fun browsing:
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 29th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Sharing a base of operations with the Southwest Terror Fest in Tucson, Arizona, the upcoming Borderland Fuzz Fiesta will make its initial showing in 2015 an impressive round of acts including Fireball Ministry – as seen on Motörhead‘s Motörboat above, with none other than Scott Reeder on bass — Wo Fat, Mos Generator, Powered Wig Machine and plenty of others, plus a light show from the venerable Mad Alchemy to add visual psychedelia to what’s sure to be a well-distorted evening Feb. 21 at The Rock. Not a bad way to start out, if you’re starting out.
Put together by Wayne and Joseph Rudell of Powered Wig Machine, the whole deal was announced via the PR wire as follows:
BORDERLAND FUZZ FIESTA: Tucson, Arizona’s First Annual Riff Party Reveals 2015 Lineup Including FIREBALL MINISTRY, WO FAT, MOS GENERATOR & More
The desert city of Tucson, AZ is host to a wide array of annual events in the musical realm and this coming February will see the addition of a still another: The Borderland Fuzz Fiesta. Conceived and curated by the Rudell brothers of regional desert rockers Powered Wig Machine and Fuzz Evil, the inaugural show will take place on February 21st at The Rock.
Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2015 Official Lineup:
Fireball Ministry Wo Fat Mos Generator Powered Wig Machine Goatroper Skulldron Asimov Yeti Ender Conqueror Worm Methra
When: February 21, 2015 Where: The Rock, 136 North Park Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85719
“My brother and I have always wanted to put together a stoner rock themed fest and we’re definitely excited about this first year’s lineup,” comments an enthusiastic Wayne Rudell. The bill for the event certainly serves up ample helpings of the stoner genre with its fine mix of bands from the Southwest region and beyond, including Fireball Ministry, Wo Fat, Mos Generator, Powered Wig Machine, Skulldron, Asimov, Goatroper, Yeti Ender, Conquerer Worm, Methra and the Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show.
While the lineup is definitely under the wider umbrella of the stoner rock genre, there is a great diversity of sounds among the bands, from sprinklings of the psychedelic to slabs of doom and scorching thrash riffs, or pretty much something for every pair of ears inclined towards heavy music. Mr. Rudell certainly believes so: “We really feel that fans of this music would appreciate this event and will hopefully get behind it in the time to come, we’re going to be striving to make the Borderland Fuzz Fiesta bigger and better every year.”
Tickets for Borderland Fuzz Fiesta are $15 in advance, $20 at the door, and are available nowRIGHT HERE.
Sponsored by Eminence Speakers, Lace Pickups, Hovercraft Amplifiers, Greeson Custom Guitars, Tucson Maidens of Metal, Electric Beard of Doom, Radio, Sludged.com, and Wildcat Screen Repair.
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Since I don’t do theme podcasts or anything, the thoroughly unofficial subtitle of this latest one is “SOME of the Best of 2014.” Truth be told, it’s four hours long and I feel like I barely scratched the surface, so definitely the emphasis should be on “some.” By no means is it meant to be comprehensive, or am I claiming that it’s all the best and the rest sucked or anything like that. But some of the best stuff is here, so, you know, I hope you enjoy.
My intent was to make it three hours long, and then I got there and it just didn’t feel done without another hour’s worth of extended psych jams. That’s an odd habit to have. Could be worse. For what it’s worth, I was thinking of this as a companion for some of the year-end coverage that’s already been posted and is still to come. Some of this was inspired by picks from the Readers Poll, the submissions for which are still open. If you haven’t added your list yet, I’d greatly appreciate it.
And once again, hope you dig it:
YOB, “Nothing to Win” from Clearing the Path to Ascend
Fu Manchu, “Radio Source Sagittarius” from Gigantoid
Radio Moscow, “Death of a Queen” from Magical Dirt
The Golden Grass, “Stuck on a Mountain” from The Golden Grass
Monster Magnet, “No Paradise for Me” from Milking the Stars: A Reimagining of Last Patrol
Pallbearer, “The Ghost I Used to Be” from Foundations of Burden
The Skull, “Sick of it All” from For Those Which are Asleep
Electric Wizard, “Time to Die” from Time to Die
Orange Goblin, “The Devil’s Whip” from Back from the Abyss
Moab, “No Soul” from Billow
Sleep, “The Clarity” from The Clarity 12”
Mars Red Sky, “Hovering Satellites” from Stranded in Arcadia
Floor, “Rocinante” from Oblation
Slomatics, “And Yet it Moves” from Estron
Conan, “Foehammer” from Blood Eagle
Druglord, “Feast on the Eye” from Enter Venus
Apostle of Solitude, “Die Vicar Die” from Of Woe and Wounds
Pilgrim, “Away from Here” from II: Void Worship
Blood Farmers, “The Road Leads to Nowhere” from Headless Eyes
Lo-Pan, “Regulus” from Colossus
Elephant Tree, “Vlaakith” from Theia
The Well, “Mortal Bones” from Samsara
Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds, “Counting Time” from The Shining One
Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, “Stokely up Now” from Black Power Flower
Joy, “Driving Me Insane” from Under the Spell of Joy
Greenleaf, “Depth of the Sun” from Trails and Passes
Mothership, “Priestess of the Moon” from Mothership II
Truckfighters, “Get Lifted” from Universe
Mos Generator, “Enter the Fire” from Electric Mountain Majesty
Mammatus, “Brain Drain” from Heady Mental
Øresund Space Collective, “Beardlandia” from Music for Pogonologists
My Brother the Wind, “Garden of Delights” from Once There was a Time When Time and Space were One
The Cosmic Dead, “Fukahyoocastulah” from Split with Mugstar
Montibus Communitas, “The Pilgrim to the Absolute” from The Pilgrim to the Absolute
Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.
I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.
Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.
The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.
A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.
Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.
His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”
An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.
I initially made this list without Alunah‘s excellent third album and Napalm Records, but when it came down to it, not having the UK four-piece on here haunted me to the point where I had to come back in and swap them out with somebody else. Just couldn’t live with myself for not giving this record its due, which, to be frank, I’m still not since it should be higher on the list than it is. At least it’s here though, so the mistake is somewhat corrected.
The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.
Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.
Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.
Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.
Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.
Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.
For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.
You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.
Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.
Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.
14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower
Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.
An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.
What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.
My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which Graham, Alley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow Season, The Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.
10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute
Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.
Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew Giacumakis — Fu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”
Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.
Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.
A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.
What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.
A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angelsthat brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.
In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis‘ Skyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.
Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.
Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.
Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend – YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.
First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.
A few other honorable mentions:
Mothership, Mothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.
Sólstafir, Ótta — They were originally on the list proper but had to be moved to make room for Alunah. I didn’t really get to know this record in 2014 anyway.
Ice Dragon, Seeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.
Truckfighters, Universe – I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.
Steak, Slab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.
Godflesh, A World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.
Thou, Heathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.
Corrosion of Conformity, IX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.
Spidergawd, Spidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.
Slomatics, Estron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.
Electric Wizard, Time to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.
Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.
The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.
Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.
More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.
And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.