The Electric Highway 2020: Full Lineup & Pre-Party Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 12th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the electric highway poster

Last time, when The Electric Highway 2020 called out its preliminary lineup, I decided to roll with calling it the inaugural-ish edition of the Calgary-based festival, as it’s grown out of the 420 Music & Arts Festival of years prior, but still, there’s no question they’re doing it up for the occasion of the new name and presentation. Poster art by none other than David Paul Seymour has been unveiled, Mothership have joined on with Sasquatch, Wo Fat and Duel near the top of a Texas-dominant lineup — Sasquatch being the outlier geographically — and a pre-show has been announced with Seattle’s Year of the Cobra crossing the border to headline. These updates would seem to complete the proceedings as they’ll proceed, but of course April’s still a couple months out and you know, subject to change and all that. Still, it looks like a pretty badass time if you can make it.

Info came down the PR wire:

Festival Line-Up Announced! All Roads Lead To The Electric Highway In Calgary, AB, Canada!

Buckle up for The Electric Highway Festival, two days of killer bands, rad artists and fuzzy vibes April 17 & 18, 2020 at the historic Royal Canadian Legion #1 in downtown Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

The Electric Highway Festival has completed its lineup with the addition of the mighty Mothership from Dallas, Texas. The Supersonic Intergalactic Heavy Rock trio’s goal from the beginning has been to carry on the tradition of the classic rock style of the ’70s, updated and amped up for the modern-day. Mothership have created a unique sound that satisfies like a steaming hot stew of UFO and Iron Maiden, blended with the southern swagger of Molly Hatchet and ZZ Top, paired with a deadly chalice of Black Sabbath. Do not miss this chance to hop on board and join Mothership as they tear across the Universal Cosmos!

The Electric Highway Festival has also added Vancouver’s Empress to the lineup. Both Mothership and Empress will be performing at the festival on Saturday, April 18, 2020. That brings the total number of bands performing during the festival to 22.

The Electric Highway Festival is excited to release its official artwork created by the renowned dark surreal artist David Paul Seymour. David Paul Seymour is an internationally known illustrator based in Minneapolis, MN who has created artwork for Municipal Waste, Conan, Mastodon as well as Shadow Weaver and Wo Fat who are both performing at The Electric Highway Festival in 2020. David Paul Seymour is also a driving force behind The Planet of Doom, an Animated Tale of Metal and Art and the creator of the Kumasan comic series.

The rest of the 2020 lineup brings an electric offering of North American bands featuring headliners Sasquatch and Wo Fat laying down their brand of fuzzy, kick-ass Desert Rock & Heavy Psych. Duel from Austin, Texas will be playing Canada for the 1st time at The Electric Highway Festival along with Hippie Death Cult & LáGoon both from Portland, Oregon. Festival favorites La Chinga return from Vancouver for their 4th appearance and Calgary’s Gone Cosmic & Buzzard from Victoria, BC are just a few more of the wicked bands that will be playing on two stages over the two days of The Electric Highway Festival, the full lineup below.

The Electric Highway Official Lineup:
Sasquatch (Los Angeles, CA)
Wo Fat (Dallas, TX)
Mothership (Dallas, TX)
Duel (Austin, TX)
La Chinga (Vancouver, BC)
Gone Cosmic (Calgary, AB)
Hippie Death Cult (Portland, OR)
LáGoon (Portland, OR)
Buzzard (Victoria, BC)
Chunkasaurus (Victoria, BC)
Bazaraba (Calgary, AB)
Shadow Weaver (Calgary, AB)
Father Moon (Calgary, AB)
Set & Stoned (Crossfield, AB)
Row of Giants (Calgary, AB)
Hemptress (Kamloops, BC)
Pink Cocoon (Montreal, QC)
The Sleeping Legion (Winnipeg, MB)
The Basement Paintings (Saskatoon, SK)
Empress (Vancouver, BC)
Locutus (Calgary, AB)
The Worst (Calgary, AB)

The Electric Highway Festival is also getting the whole thing started with a Kick-Off Party on Thursday, April 16th, 2020 at The Palomino Smokehouse & Social Club. This killer line up features Seattle powerhouse psychedelic doom duo Year of the Cobra as they return to Calgary. They will be joined by Calgary’s Bloated Pig, Outlaws of Ravenhurst, and newcomers Falcotron along with Red Deer’s Smoothsayer.

2 Day Festival Pass holders can pick up their wristbands a day early at The Electric Highway Festival Kick-Off Party. This event will be free for festival pass holders or $13 at the door for non-pass holders. (Space is limited so make sure to get their early!) Pre-order merch sales will also be available for pick up at this event too. Beat the lineup and come for some bands, beer & BBQ at the Pal!

The Electric Highway 2020 —> www.facebook.com/events/1346173098884903/
The Electric Highway Kickoff Party—> www.facebook.com/events/809469542830729/
The Electric Highway Pinball Tournament —> www.facebook.com/events/2408742202725992/
The Electric Highway Arts Expo & Market —> www.facebook.com/events/476224713238363/

“All Roads Lead to the Electric Highway”

www.facebook.com/ElectricHighwayFestival/
www.instagram.com/TheElectricHighway
www.TheElectricHighway.ca

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Monolith on the Mesa 2020 Lineup Update: Khemmis, Mondo Drag, Heavy Temple & More Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 2nd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

I’ll be 100 percent honest with you and say I don’t know how recent the lineup additions are here, but I’m trying basically to keep up with Monolith on the Mesa 2020 and there are names listed below that weren’t included in the last lineup update I got from the PR wire, so if I’m a month behind, I’m sorry. It’s been a busy month. Some of those additions are significant as well, from Warhorse, Heavy Temple and Yatra making the trek from the East Coast to Mondo Drag coming from San Diego, Khemmis from Denver and Distances from the relatively nearby Albuquerque. All these and the others listed below will convene at the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership for what’s the second Monolith on the Mesa Festival, which I have very little doubt is precisely the kind of party it looks like on paper. To wit, it looks like quite a party.

I went to the fest’s website and cut and pasted the lineup. That’s what I did. Swiped the logo while I was there too. Full confession.

With dreams of the desert in Springtime:

 

MONOLITH ON THE MESA 2020 logo

Monolith on the Mesa 2020

May 28-30, 2020 at Taos Mesa Brewing

Monolith on the Mesa, a “High” Desert Experience, is an independent three-day festival entering its second year in 2020. The festival takes place at the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, and on the grounds of Hotel Luna Mystica, just outside of Taos, New Mexico. The festival is focused on heavy riff-rock acts from across multiple sub-genres including stoner rock, heavy psych, doom metal, sludge, drone, and retro rock. The festival includes interactive art installations and visual projections throughout the grounds to compliment the mind bending sounds of the bands. Festival capacity is limited to 1,500 to provide an intimate experience. Bands perform on the club-style indoor stage, and the scenic “earthship” outdoor amphitheater stage.

Bands Playing at Monolith on the Mesa:
Black Maria
Destroyer of Light
distances
Duel
Earthride
Fatso Jetson
Great Electric Quest
Heavy Temple
Khemmis
Love Gang
Magic Castles
Mark Deutrom
Mars Red Sky
Mondo Drag
Mondo Generator
Mountain of Smoke
Nebula
Prism Bitch
Ruby the Hatchet
Sons of Otis
Sun Dog
Warhorse
Wo Fat
Yatra
Yawning Man
Year of the Cobra

DATES AND TIMES:
Box office opens at 9 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
May 28th doors at 4 pm til 1:30 am
May 29th doors at 12 noon; outside stage til midnight; indoor stage til 1:30 am
May 30th doors at 12 noon; outdoor stage til midnight; indoor stage til 1:30 am

VENUE INFORMATION:
Taos Mesa Brewing: The Mothership
20 ABC Mesa Rd.
El Prado, New Mexico 89529
https://www.taosmesabrewing.com/

TICKET INFORMATION:
Rain or shine event! No refunds!
https://tickets.holdmyticket.com/tickets/344140

https://www.monolithonthemesa.com
https://www.facebook.com/monolithonthemesa
https://www.instagram.com/monolithonthemesa

Monolith on the Mesa 2020 promo

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2019

Posted in Features on December 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk best of 2019

[PLEASE NOTE: These are not the results of the year-end poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t contributed your list to the cause yet, please do so here.]

Make no mistake, my friends. 2019 was the year it went off the rails.

Every 12-month period brings a lot of records, and they all seem overwhelming, but this was the first year I’ve ever felt quite so helpless when it came time to sit down and actually make my list. Of course, I keep running notes all year long, but even so, ordering everything, bringing it all together? What a mess.

I almost thought of breaking it down into smaller lists in addition to the big one, subgrouped by style. But then, where does doom end and sludge begin? What about psych and heavy rock? Should prog get its own list? And what the hell counts as prog?

In the end, that didn’t seem like it would be doing me any favors, so we’ll stick with the one big list and then others for debut releases and another for EPs, splits, demos and so on. You know, the usual.

Pretty sure I say this every year too, but it bears repeating: if you read any of the below — and thanks if you do — and have a response, be nice. If I’ve forgotten something — and yes, I have; I’m sure of it — that you think needs to be included, and you want to leave a comment that says so, please, by all means. But keep it civil. I know people are passionate about this stuff and so am I, but consider there are probably over 200 offerings covered here by the time you get through all the lists and honorable mentions, and I’m one person. I’m doing my best, and though I try not to, I tend to take being called a dumbass personally. So yeah, chill out and please be constructive in calling me a dumbass. Words matter.

A few hard choices here, most especially for album of the year. I was back and forth with each of the top three in the top spot for a good long while, and it might change again between now and when this post goes up. But it’s been that kind of year. In 2018, there was no question. It was Sleep all the way. The question was what came after that. This year has been different without that kind of duh, punch-in-the-face obvious pick. Relative parity isn’t a bad thing though.

Enough delay. The usual parameters apply. These are a combo of my personal listening habits and what I think are the most important records/achievements of the year, critical importance, etc.

Here we go:

The Top 50 Albums of 2019

#50-31

50. Hazemaze, Hymns of the Damned
49. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
48. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Grandmother
47. PH, Osiris Hayden
46. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
45. Abrahma, In Time for the Last Rays of Light
44. Uffe Lorenzen, Triprapport
43. Swallow the Sun, When a Shadow is Forced into the Light
42. Caustic Casanova, God How I Envy the Deaf
41. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Tre
40. SÂVER, They Came With Sunlight
39. Ogre, Thrice as Strong
38. Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension
37. Vokonis, Grasping Time
36. Sacri Monti, Waiting Room for the Magic Hour
35. Across Tundras, The Rugged Ranges of Curbs and Broken Minds
34. Duel, Valley of Shadows
33. Orodruin, Ruins of Eternity
32. Zaum, Divination
31. Inter Arma, Sulphur English

Notes: Honestly, if this had been the top 20 of the year, I’d still call 2019 a win. Aside from the fact that I somehow thought Caustic Casanova would enjoy coming in a number 42, the sheer quality of this stuff should tell you what kind of year 2019 was. Inter Arma’s Sulphur English was a significant achievement in genre melding, and Orodruin’s return after more than a decade since their last LP was a masterclass in doom worship. Debut albums from SÂVER and Thunderbird Divine and Lightning Born showed marked promise of things to come — and there’s more on them below as well — while Zaum’s, Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree’s and Lamp of the Universe’s meditations, Vokonis’ noise, Abrahma’s emotive progressivisim, Swallow the Sun’s melodic melancholy, Sacri Monti’s boogie, and whatever the hell PH were doing on Osiris Hayden remind just how much the word “heavy” can encompass. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Duel and Uffe Lorenzen and Hazemaze were musts here, and Ogre are perennial favorites whose work always brings a doomly grin. Don’t sleep on any of it.

30. Sun Blood Stories, Haunt Yourself

sun blood stories haunt yourself

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 6.

Until they put out a complementary follow-up record of such fare, one might’ve accused Idaho three-piece Sun Blood Stories of becoming less experimentalist/droned-out/noisy on Haunt Yourself, but they seem to have met their quota one way or the other with the Oct. 2019 advent of Static Sessions Vol. 1. Still, it’s melody, heavy post-rock/psychedelic drift and emotive soul that rule the day on the crushing and enriching Haunt Yourself, and no complaints from me on that.

29. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Everybody’s Going to Die

Church of the Cosmic Skull Everybodys Going to Die

Released by Septaphonic Records. Reviewed Dec. 10.

I don’t have to do anything more than read the name of the album to have the chorus of the title-track stuck in my head, and it’s a reminder that although the Nottingham troupe put so much into their progressive style and vocal harmonies and arrangements, and a more conceptual theme in the case of Everybody’s Going to Die — their answer to 2018’s excellent Science Fiction (review here) — their roots are in songcraft, and it’s the foundation of songcraft that lets them soar. Would be higher on the list if it weren’t so new.

28. Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

devil to pay forever never or whenever

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 4.

With their sixth album, Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay collect 10 tracks of unpretentious-almost-to-a-fault of straightforward heavy rock songwriting that continues to be woefully underappreciated. They have become utterly reliable in that regard — you know, to a certain extent, what’s coming — but the vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (also Apostle of Solitude) and some more metallic turns to the riffing give Forever, Never or Whenever a subtlety that holds up all the more on repeat visits. I don’t know if Devil to Pay will ever get their due, but suffice it to say, they’re due.

27. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds

howling giant the space between worlds

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Oct. 11.

If you’re of a certain age, you remember when the first Playstation came out and everyone looked around at their Nintendos and Segas like, “What the hell am I messing around with Mario Golf for? I could be playing Resident Evil!” That’s kind of what Howling Giant are as compared to “regular” rock bands. They’re the Playstation of heavy: that next progressive step forward carrying an inhuman amount of swagger and personality while still delivering a stepped-up product from their would-be peers. The scariest thing about The Space Between Worlds is it’s their first LP. One looks forward to the next generation.

26. Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

saint vitus saint vitus

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 19.

I know for a fact that bassist Pat Bruders and drummer Henry Vasquez had a hand in writing some of the material on Saint Vitus’ second self-titled LP, and yet the album so much bears the indelible mark of guitarist Dave Chandler that it’s hard not to think of it all as his. The album marked their first release with original singer Scott Reagers since 1995’s Die Healing (discussed here) and featured among their trademark low-tuned slog, an actual punk song, which showed the grinning glee that underlies all they do. Four decades on, Saint Vitus sound like they’re having fun. How is that not a win?

25. Ealdor Bealu, Spirit of the Lonely Places

ealdor bealu spirit of the lonely places

Self-released. Reviewed July 10.

Woodsy Rocky Mountain psychedelia abounded on Boise foursome Ealdor Bealu’s second full-length, and their blend of landscape meditations and grounded heavy progressive melodicism made Spirit of the Lonely Places as much about impact as about space, though of course the real joy was the experience of the entirety. Very much a sophomore album, it learned lessons from 2017’s Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain (review here) that one only hopes the band will continue to push forward in scope as they so gracefully did here.

24. Yatra, Death Ritual

yatra death ritual

Released through Grimoire Records. Discussed Nov. 13, 2018..

Though hard- and to-date quick-working Maryland trio Yatra have already moved on and are looking ahead to releasing their second album, Blood of the Night (review here), their Grimoire-delivered debut, Death Ritual, is impossible to ignore for the impact it had on reminding listeners of the impact that primeval extreme sludge can have. Another couple tours and some bigger label — Relapse, Prosthetic, eOne, Season of Mist, whoever — will decide they’re “ready,” whatever that means, and then sign them and I won’t be cool enough to do track premieres for them anymore, but as far as accolades go, Yatra earn whatever they get and Death Ritual stands among 2019’s most landmark debuts. They’ve already outdone it, but it’s a stunner just the same.

23. Ecstatic Vision, For the Masses

ecstatic vision for the masses

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 17.

Ecstatic Vision frontman Doug Sabolik has cast himself in the mold of Arthur Brown or Dave Wyndorf or probably seven or eight dudes who were in Hawkwind at some point as a manic-but-stoned space rock preacher with as he and his band behind him plunge headfirst-or-feetfirst-it-doesn’t-matter-because-your-body-is-an-illusion-man into the molten multicolor void. For the Masses. The ‘masses,’ such as they are, should be so lucky, but the double-meaning is the real tell for where the Philly unit are coming from. Their shows are the masses — gatherings of spirit and song to give praise to the willful expansion of mind. If you can’t get behind that, you might as well go get a job or something. This ain’t no lightweight party for squares and dabblers. This is a high-potency happening for werewolves on motorcycles and freaks of all stripes. Get weird stay weird. Ecstatic Vision are one mostly-mellow 15-minute “Spine of God”-style psych-epic away from perfection.

22. Beastwars, IV

beastwars iv

Released by Destroy Records. Reviewed June 27.

But for the circumstances that brought it about — i.e. Beastwars vocalist Matt Hyde’s cancer — the unexpected fourth installment in the Beastwars trilogy was nothing if not welcome. An grand-feeling sense of largesse was nothing new to the New Zealand four-piece, but after breaking up and getting back together to make the album, the grim sincerity with which they presented this exploration of mortality and betrayal by one’s own body was no less palpable than the undulating riffs that threatened, as ever, to consume all in their path. I don’t know their future plans in terms of continuing to write and/or record, but there are reports of touring beyond Aus/NZ for 2020, so one way or another, stay tuned for more from them. Whether or not they do anything else, IV was a triumph in spirit and execution.

21. Eternal Black, Slow Burn Suicide

eternal black slow burn suicide

Self-released. Reviewed June 7.

With the nine songs of Slow Burn Suicide, Brooklyn’s Eternal Black began to unveil the true depth of their project. Their 2017 debut, Bleed the Days (review here), was well received, and rightly so, but operated more in a straight-ahead doom sphere. The second outing, by contrast, delved into a particular vision of the style informed by the crunch of peak-era New York noise and crossover hardcore, and it succeeded not just because it did this, but because it did so around a conjuration of memorable riffs and tracks building on accomplishments carried over from its predecessor. Is this an awaited arrival of next-generation ‘New York doom’? Will theirs be a blueprint others will follow? It’s impossible to know now, and their next album will be telling either way, but the course they’ve set is significant.

20. Candlemass, The Door to Doom

candlemass the door to doom

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 22.

It may have been the Tony Iommi guest appearance that got Swedish doom legends Candlemass — the world’s earliest and foremost purveyors of doom both classic and epic — their recent Grammy nomination, but it was the long-overdue reunion with original vocalist Johan Längquist that made the album as a whole as powerful as it was. Pairing Längquist’s theatrical and vital approach with founding bassist Leif Edling’s second-to-none doomcraft, The Door to Doom was a catapult not to the bygone days of the band’s landmark debut, 1986’s Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, but an inspired look at not just what might’ve been had Längquist remained with the band longer, but what might still be if he does this time around. Candlemass have been through their share of singers, but as fresh as The Door to Doom sounded, it’s hard not to hope for something more than a one-off with he who got there first. The songs, the spirit, the sheer heart poured into Candlemass’ doom some 35 years past the band’s start only emphasizes how special they have always been.

19. Nebula, Holy Shit

nebula holy shit

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed June 13.

Anyone who might’ve predicted Nebula getting into the studio and making a new album was either in the room when it happened or talking out their ass. And speaking of, was Nebula’s Holy Shit named for the shock one might’ve felt at its existence, or the surprise at how good it actually sounded when you put it on? I don’t know. I probably won’t ever know. It was the best title I saw all year, but more than that, it was a Nebula record, fueled by the classic riffing and unmitigated desert punk soul of founding/guitarist Eddie Glass, whose absence from the heavy underground for the last decade left a void only too many others whiffed on filling. Holy Shit showed just how singular a player Glass was and is, and how much character there is in his style, particularly in solos, but also in rhythmic changes, and so on. I won’t discount the work of bassist Tom Davies and drummer Mike Amster in making Nebula what they are in this incarnation — they’re essential, obviously — but there’s simply no denying that presence at the band’s core.

18. Valley of the Sun, Old Gods

valley of the sun old gods

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed May 21.

This was a heavy rock record that had everything. Everything. It had songs, style, ups, down, purples, greens, ins, outs, all kinds of whathaveyou. Riffs forever. Valley of the Sun should keep their eyes on Sasquatch, because if they want it, that path is theirs. I know the Cincinnati outfit have had trouble keeping lineups together, but if they can hold onto one, and maybe after their next record start touring more, domestically and abroad — not at all a minor ask, I know — then people will catch on. Old Gods is evidence of the fact that they genuinely have something to offer, and frankly, it’s not at all the first such effective case they’ve made in their career. But they’ve never put anything out that wasn’t a step forward, and yet they’ve never lost sight of the roots of their initial inspiration. And they’ve never sacrificed the song for the riff, which so many do. They’ve only ever gotten better. Let Old Gods be a step toward them getting attention they’ve long since deserved.

17. Kadavar, For the Dead Travel Fast

Kadavar For the Dead Travel Fast

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 28.

In style and production, For the Dead Travel Fast is the most vintage-sounding offering Berlin trio Kadavar have made in over a half decade, yet neither is it looking backward wistfully toward 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) or giving up the modern clarity of 2017’s Rough Times (review here) or 2015’s Berlin (review here). Instead, it strikes a balance with a more sinister edge à la Uncle Acid in songs like “Children of the Night” and “Demons in My Mind” — both singles — and makes a home for itself between proto-metal and garage doom. Whatever genre tag you want to give it — and that might vary from track to track, mind you — it’s unmistakably Kadavar, with the signature hooks and memorable craftsmanship that have made them one of the decade’s most pivotal heavy bands. The real challenge at this point in their career is not to take for granted that Kadavar will produce material of such quality, because, frankly, that’s all they’ve ever done.

16. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Yn Ol I Annwn

mammoth weed wizard bastard yn ol i annwn

Released by New Heavy Sounds. Reviewed Feb. 7.

Welsh sci-fi cosmic doomers Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard billed Yn Ol I Annwn as the final installment of a trilogy that includes their two prior LPs, 2015’s Noeth Ac Anoeth (review here) and 2016’s Y Proffwyd Dwyll (review here), and while that may be true thematically, there’s also no question the third is a marked step forward from anything they’ve done before. They’re one foot out of the airlock and into space as their synth-laden longform riffing and melodies take them to places they’ve not yet gone, explorations of sight as much as sound, aural translation of colors humans aren’t gifted to see. Their songs across the 65-minute span unfold with the grace of a gravity spiral, pulling the listener deeper into the proceedings with each new phase that emerges until, what, obliteration? Stellar genesis? I’m not sure. They’ve reportedly got one more record to make and then they’re done. If that’s true, they’ll be missed then they’re gone.

15. Magic Circle, Departed Souls

magic circle departed souls

Released by 20 Buck Spin. Reviewed April 3.

They’ve found their way to die, and it’s upon an altar of classic metal and doom. And honestly, they make a pretty good case for it. Departed Souls is the third full-length from the Boston unit and their most stylistically realized work yet, with vocalist Brendan Radigan giving a standout performance alongside the guitars of Chris Corry and Renato Montenegro, the bass of Justin DeTore and Michael “Q” Quartulli’s drums, as the entire band taps into vibes from mid-’70s Black Sabbath and brings them to bear with an energy that is unlike anything in Magic Circle’s history. 2015’s Journey Blind (review here) brought in NWOBHM flash in the guitar work, sure enough, but Departed Souls doesn’t so much carry the torch of classic metal as it does use it to burn down the whole village and rebuild it in the five-piece’s image. From their doomed beginnings on their 2013 self-titled debut (review here) to now, they’re an act who’ve genuinely earned cult status. If you can find a backpatch, buy it.

14. Spaceslug, Reign of the Orion

Spaceslug Reign of the Orion cover

Released by BSFD Records. Reviewed Nov. 22.

Controversy! Drama! Well, probably not, but at very least some respectful disagreement on my part. You see, Poland’s Spaceslug have stated publicly that their latest release, the late-2019 surprise Reign of the Orion is an EP. Their albums regularly top 50 minutes, and at 36 minutes, I guess relative to that, you can see where they’re coming from. However, with the flow of these five songs and the ease with which they carry the listener from front-to-back through the listening experience, I’m sticking to my guns and calling Reign of the Orion an album. Sorry guys. True, it’s shorter than the other full-lengths, but it’s got everything you could ask an album to have in terms of how tracks like “Spacerunner” and the shouty “Half-Moon Burns” play into each other, and the fluidity of the outing on the whole is inarguable. An LP by any other name? Whatever you or they want to call it, there’s no question in my mind Reign of the Orion is one of 2019’s best records. If they insist on it being an EP, then it’s the best one of the year, but I still say it belongs in another category altogether, so here it is.

13. Green Lung, Woodland Rites

green lung woodland rites

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Jan. 28.

As hyper-crowded as London is with bands at this moment in history, there continue to be acts who sneak through with an individualized and intriguing perspective on doom and heavy rock, and Green Lung are a perfect example, learning from fellow Brits like Alunah and Elephant Tree and incorporating folk and forest goth vibes to their debut album, Woodland Rites. Laced with organ and stuck-in-the-head choruses like “Let the Devil In” and the creeper “Templar Dawn,” the record also pushed into drifting verses on “Into the Wild,” setting up future experimentation with atmospheric variety and genre manipulation. If part of any first album’s appeal is the potential it represents, Green Lung’s offers plenty, but wherever their subsequent course may or may not take them, their accomplishments here shouldn’t be overlooked. Woodland Rites is nothing less than the heavy rock debut album of the year, and though they emerge from a packed field, the work they do to stand themselves out already carries their mark and an apparent will toward progression. They’re on their way.

12. Lo-Pan, Subtle

lo-pan subtle

Released by Aqualamb Records. Reviewed May 9.

My head immediately goes to the hooks of “Ten Days” and “Ascension Day” and “Savage Heart,” but the up-down surges of guitar in “Old News/New Fire” and the midtempo soulfulness in “A Thousand Miles” are no less resonant when it comes to the actual listening experience of the fifth Lo-Pan LP. Subtle, when it came to living up to its name, as much wasn’t as it was. Flourishes of harmony in the vocals of Jeff Martin, the pops in Jesse Bartz’s snare punctuating and propelling in kind, turns in Scott Thompson’s bass work twisting around the guitar of Chris Thompson, a relative newcomer to the fold making his debut with the band and showing no apparent trouble fitting in. I don’t imagine Lo-Pan is an easy band to join, especially at this point. They thrive on personality clash and, through years of touring, have a chemistry they’ve built between them that comes through even on their recordings. Nonetheless, Subtle is their clearest, sharpest-edged work yet, and as tight as their songwriting has become, they still groove and groove mightily. They are a treasure of American heavy rock and roll. Believe it.

11. Roadsaw, Tinnitus the Night

roadsaw tinnitus the night

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 12.

While members of Roadsaw have spent the intervening years in projects like Kind, White Dynomite, Sasquatch and Murcielago, the Boston heavy rock kingpins have indeed been missed, and Tinnitus the Night works quickly to show why. It’s been well over 20 years since their first LP — hell, it’s been eight since they put out their 2011 self-titled (review here) — but their craft is at its own level, and Tinnitus the Night comes barreling through with “Shake” and “Along for the Ride” and “Final Phase” before opening up to broader fare on side B with “Find What You Need,” “Under the Devil’s Thumb” and “Midazolam” ahead of the subdued finale “Silence,” and the result is nothing less than a classic heavy rock LP structure as befitting what is itself a classic heavy rock LP. What’s Roadsaw’s future? I don’t know. It took them the better part of a decade to make this one happen, so take from that what you will, but to me, all it says is there’s even more reason to be grateful they got it done and out. To say the songs deserve that is putting it mildly.

10. Worshipper, Light in the Wire

worshipper light in the wire

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 24.

I’m not doing a ‘song of the year’ post, but if I was, Worshipper’s “Coming Through” might be it. The opening track from the Boston four-piece’s second album, Light in the Wire, marries classic pop drama in its melody with careening progressive riffing, and sets the tone for a record that is of both future and past, twistingly complex and yet immediately accessible, immersive as an entirety and still comprised of standout moments. These aren’t contradictions in Worshipper’s skillful hands, but the stuff of what’s already becoming their own take on rock. Tied together through melody, skillful rhythmic intricacy and solid structural foundations, “Light in the Wires,” “Visions from Beyond,” “Wither on the Vine” and others throughout post their own triumphs en route to enhancing the album as a whole, while “Nobody Else” and closer “Arise” underscore the emotive basis from which the perspective of the whole LP emanates. There are a lot of “next-gen” heavy rock bands out there weaving prog elements and traditional riffing together to some degree or other. Few, if any, can write a song like Worshipper can. I mean it. This band is something special.

9. Solace, The Brink

solace the brink

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Nov. 21.

What is there to say about Solace? A band who, nine years after revealing the expectation-slaughtering masterpiece A.D. (review here), return with three-fifths of a swapped-out lineup and simply do it again? This band is explosive. Really. Like, they might explode at any minute. It’s a miracle The Brink ever happened. I’ll be honest, I had my doubts. But Solace are a force like nothing else I’ve ever encountered in music. They take metallic aggression, hardcore’s sense of self-righteousness and heavy rock’s groove, set it all to a doomly swing and they play it in such a way as to leave you utterly dumbfounded by what you just experienced. Here’s a challenge though, for the band personally. From me to them. Do another one. Go ahead. Put out another album. You don’t even have to do it in 2020. Do it 2021. Write the songs and give me a no-holds-barred 45-minute LP of the tightest, meanest shit you’ve ever written. Because massive as the accomplishments are on The Brink, it’s the potential to build from them that resonates most here. So do it, guys. Step up and take advantage of the moment. Call me greedy if you want, I don’t care. Give me another Solace record. I dare you.

8. Brume, Rabbits

brume rabbits

Released by Doom Stew Records & DHU Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

Simply a case of a band wildly outdoing themselves. Easy story, yeah? In some ways, maybe, but the truth of what Brume achieve on Rabbits. Their second long-player behind 2017’s Rooster (review here), the five-track offering sees the San Francisco three-piece of vocalist/bassist Susie McMullan, guitarist/vocalist Jamie McCathie and drummer Jordan Perkins-Lewis working with producer Billy Anderson to bring theatricality and emotionalism together in a flowing post-heavy context that’s neither derivative nor working at cross purposes. Instead, it is a gorgeous and blooming undertaking across its 43-minute span, working in its own light/dark spectrum and bringing not just the sense of trapped fragility evoked by the cover art, but a corresponding sureness of intent to its ascendant heavy surges. Like Rooster before it, it is loaded with potential, but in “Scurry” and “Lament” and “Despondence” and “Blue Jay and “Autocrat’s Fool,” there’s a patience and command that absolutely does not waver. So yes, a band outdoing themselves. But so much more too.

7. Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal

mars red sky the task eternal

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Sept. 20.

This may forever be known as the Mars Red Sky album they wrote in a cave, but the Bordeaux three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matieu “Matgaz” Gazeau nonetheless plunged forward along the progressive course they charted back on 2014’s sophomore outing, Stranded in Arcadia (review here), and continued to manifest in 2016’s Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here). Their blend of melody and tonal heft has become a hallmark of their work to this stage in their career, but The Task Eternal continues to add a sense of breadth to the proceedings, giving their sound a full three-dimensional pull that feels tailor-made for headphones and is consuming in its entirety. With experiments in structure like the pairing of “Recast” and “Reacts,” and the rushing sweep of melody in “Hollow King,” Mars Red Sky’s latest is, as ever, their finest. Outdoing themselves would seem to be the task from which the record derives its title. Fine. Just keep going. Please.

6. Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 15.

Every time I think I understand where Kings Destroy want to go as a band, they pull the rug out. That’s what Fantasma Nera is. After their 2015 self-titled (review here) third LP seemed to declare them once and for all in a space between doom and noise rooted in their respective hardcore pasts, the Brooklynite five-piece hooked up with producer David Bottrill (Tool, etc.) and composed a rock album. A real live rock album! With progressive undertones in the guitar work and the most accomplished melodicism of their career, Kings Destroy put everything they had into making Fantasma Nera and one need look no further than the title-track to hear the result of that monumental effort. It is the realization of a band challenging themselves to go so far out of their comfort zone as to be only recognizable in the most rudimentary of ways, and to say it as plainly as I can, “Dead Before” on its own is enough of an accomplishment — and enough of a full-length, at all of 4:25 — to make this list on its own, whatever surrounds it. Song of the year. I’ll say every time I’m a Kings Destroy fan, but I’ve never been gladder to say it than I am in talking about Fantasma Nera.

5. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Dec. 3.

If you’re saying to yourself, “Ah come on, Colour Haze are always on the list when they put out records,” I have two answers. One, you’re right, and two, if you have a problem with that, blow it out your ass. The Munich forefathers of the European heavy psychedelic underground — yup — marked their 25th anniversary this year, and did so not just by putting out an album, but by putting out We Are, which introduces a full-fledged fourth member to what’s been a three-piece since 1998. Granted, it’s not the first time guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald have worked with organist/keyboardist/synthesist Jan Faszbender, but never has the presence of keys been so integral to their work, and never has the dynamic between players shifted in the way it does on tracks like “The Real” and “Life” and “I’m With You,” with keys fleshing out melodies and enriching the bass and guitar. Add to that the Spanish-style guitar on centerpiece “Material Drive” or the operatic flash in the penultimate “Be With Me,” and it’s one more example of one of the best bands on earth refusing to rest on their laurels. Which, as it happens, is why they’re one of the best bands on earth. So hell yes, they’re on all my lists. Fact is my lists are lucky to have them.

4. Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter

blackwater holylight veils of winter

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Sept. 26.

Like nothing else I heard in 2019, Veils of Winter had repeat listenability. It was the album that, most often, when I was choosing something I actually wanted to hear, I went back to time and again. Its dark, moody psychedelic and heavy vibe stands alone among the year’s releases, and is a stylistic milestone that one only hopes other artists will pick up on. Toying with pop melodies on tracks like “Death Realms” and bringing hypnosis and clarity in kind to the subtly traditionalist winding riff of “Moonlit” — would it have been out of place on the first Witchcraft LP? — the Portland, Oregon, five-piece worked on a speedy turnaround and squashed even the significant expectations I had after their self-titled debut (review here) last year. They’ve begun to tour, so I don’t know if another full-length is in the works for 2020, but their craft is enviable in its flow and their songs are shimmering in tone and cohesion alike. Given how bold a step forward Veils of Winter is, I hear nothing in their material to this point to make me think their momentum won’t continue to carry them forward. But, you know, if not, I’d also take about six or seven records just like this one. That’d be fine too. Whatever they want, really.

3. Slomatics, Canyons

Slomatics Canyons

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed May 15.

Belfast, Northern Ireland, three-piece Slomatics — guitarists David Marjury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/synthesist Marty Harvey — finished a narrative trilogy with 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here), and though the storyline was always vague throughout that and the preceding two offerings, the question of how they would proceed nonetheless hung over Canyons prior to its release. The answer is in the songs themselves. From the sci-fi majesty of lumbering, rolling groove in opener and longest track “Gears of Despair” — oh, they grind — through the mega-stomp of “Telemachus, My Son” and the righteously synth-laden wash that consumes “Mind Fortresses on Theia,” Slomatics bring together concept and execution with a readiness that highlights the fact of their 15th anniversary. They are mature in their approach, yes, but the fact is their approach is so much their own and so given to their particular mode of progression that it almost can’t help but feel fresh. How could something so utterly crushing also feel rejuvenating? As they plod through finale “Organic Caverns II” ending with more waves of synth and tectonic guitar — no bass, remember — they are as restorative as they are punishing, and they stand astride that duality with neither mercy nor pretense. Canyons, whether it’s setting up a new story, building from the old, or doing something completely different, stands on its own.

2. Year of the Cobra, Ash and Dust

year of the cobra ash and dust

Released by Prophecy Productions. Reviewed Oct. 24.

My anticipation for and expectations of Year of the Cobra’s second long-player were high most especially after 2017’s Burn Your Dead EP (review here), which along with the dead, set alight the notion that the Seattle duo of bassist/vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith and drummer Jon Barrysmith were simply a heavy/doom band. With elements of post-punk, psych wash, minimalist stretches and propulsive gallop, Ash and Dust cast itself out over an aesthetic range that set a new standard not just for Year of the Cobra, but for anyone who’d dare match them at their own game — and that list will grow with time, absolutely. As their first outing through Prophecy Productions, Ash and Dust threw itself into the very melting pot of its own ambition and emerged with songs that didn’t just bring together disparate ideas, but made them flourish and engage and challenge the listener while still proving consistent in tone and underlying groove. For a two-person, two-instrument outfit (not counting voice, though I should), they proved more malleable than many with more than twice the number of hands on deck, and pushed the notion of what heavy rock is and does forward without stopping to look back or ask for permission. They just did it, and maybe Ash and Dust is the aftermath of all that burning.

2019 Album of the Year

1. Monolord, No Comfort

monolord no comfort

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Look back over the course of this list, and you will find no shortage of bands and releases that surpassed the group in question’s past work. With Gothenburg, Sweden’s Monolord, it wasn’t just about No Comfort — their debut on Relapse, fourth full-length overall — being better than 2017’s Rust (review here), because that was pretty jolly gosh darn enjoyable, but about the band reaching a moment of transcendence to which Rust and all their prior work across 2015’s Vænir (review here) and 2014’s Empress Rising has been leading. With the six tracks of No Comfort, guitarist/vocalist Thomas Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and drummer Esben Willems not only overcome the influences that launched them — taking full ownership of their sound and defending that claim with the sheer quality of their songwriting — and they not only become as identifiable as those influences themselves, but they overcome themselves. No Comfort means no comfort. Monolord take the simplicity that once fueled their riffing, the willful primitivism of their earliest work, and with songs like “Larvae” and “The Bastard Son” and the closing title-track use it as the foundation it was apparently always intended to be. Monolord have toured plenty and certainly their studio output has shown an increasing complexity from one LP to the next, so progression isn’t unexpected, but the manner in which Monolord have executed that progression has been. Even on “The Last Leaf,” which is arguably the most straightforward fare on the album, one hears it as them rather than the manifestation of the acts that inspired them. The same holds for “Skywards” later on, and for the immersion that takes hold as the mournful “Alone Together” plays into “No Comfort” itself. Monolord take their place among the best bands on the planet, and deliver an Album of the Year for 2019 that, like the absolute best, will have an impact lasting much longer than any period of 12 months might convey.

The Top 50 Albums of 2019: Honorable Mention

You didn’t think we’d stop at 50, did you? Come on. You know me better than that. The fact is that the list itself, humongous as it is, is just the start of the tip of an iceberg attached to a glacier that’s somewhere on an entire planet constructed of ice.

Honorable mentions, you say? Yeah, a few. Here they are in no order whatsoever:

Lord Vicar, Goatess, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, Zone Six, Lykantropi, Earth, White Manna, Atala, Tia Carrera, Merlin, WEEED, Híbrido, Cities of Mars, Stone Machine Electric, Bretus, Blackwolfgoat, The Black Wizards, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Alunah, V, Pale Grey Lore, Leeds Point, Sons of Alpha Centauri, Spidergawd, Bus, Death Hawks, BBF, Vessel of Light, Crypt Trip, The Pilgrim, Uffe Lorenzen, Brant Bjork, Doomstress, Black Lung, Kandodo3, Monkey3, Bask, Horseburner, Zed, Bright Curse, Spillage, Sigils, Papir, Dune Sea, Destroyer of Light, Mastiff, Warp, Centrum, Varego, Lord Dying, Volcano, Saint Karloff, Firebreather, High Reeper, Bible of the Devil, Obsidian Sea, Torche, Motorpsycho, Sunn O))), Deadbird, Russian Circles, El Supremo, Pyramidal, Holy Serpent, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Demon Head, Red Beard Wall, Onhou, Kamchatka, Iguana, Arrowhead, The Whims of the Great Magnet, Serial Hawk, Scissorfight, Monte Luna, Lingua Ignota, Valborg, Sageness, Ruff Majik, The Giraffes, High Fighter, Comacozer, Burning Gloom, Swan Valley Heights, Mark Deutrom, Cable, AVER, Superlynx, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Old Mexico, Skraeckoedlan, Godsleep, Øresund Space Collective Meets Black Moon Circle.

Seems cruel to leave it to you to sort through those, but I’m tempted to do just that. You might notice some bigger names there in bands like Earth, Russian Circles, Torche and Sunn O))). Nothing against those bands, but I think we’re seeing a moment where a different group of artists are taking point in terms of innovating heavy styles across an entire swath of microgenres. Either way it’s not a slight that something is here instead of above. And of course, there are plenty of up and coming groups here as well, with Ruff Majik, Elizabeth Colour Wheel — who I’m sure would be a top 30 if I knew the record better than I do — Pale Grey Lore, Monte Luna, Papir, Destroyer of Light, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Skraeckoedlan, and so on, but hell’s bells, there’s already a list of 50 and I’m only one man. How high is the list supposed to go and still be a list?

Bottom line: Music is as endless as space and has as much beauty in it for those willing to hear. Do more digging.

The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2019

green lung woodland rites

1. Green Lung, Woodland Rites
2. Yatra, Death Ritual
3. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds
4. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
5. SÂVER, They Came with Sunlight
6. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
7. Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Nocebo
8. The Pilgrim, Walking into the Forest
9. Sigils, You Build the Altar You Lit the Leaves
10. E-L-R, Maenad
11. Hey Zeus, X
12. Bellrope, You Must Relax
13. Asthma Castle, Mount Crushmore
14. Thronehammer, Usurper of Oaken Throne
15. Inner Altar, Vol. III
16. Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember
17. Hippie Death Cult, 111
18. Faerie Ring, The Clearing
19. Gone Cosmic, Sideways in Time
20. Haze Mage, Chronicles

Honorable Mention: Warp, Pelegrin, Lucy in Blue, Volcano, The Sabbathian, Red Eye Tales, Dune Sea, Dury Dava, Pharlee, Giant Dwarf, Ghost:Hello, Surya, Workshed, Children of the Sün, Burning Gloom, Temple of the Fuzz Witch.

Notes: As ever, I consider a band’s debut album something unique and separate from everything else they’ll ever do, and so worthy of highlighting in its own category. It’s a different standard in my mind, one that takes into account what a group might accomplish going forward as well as what they do on the record itself. Plus, putting out an album is hard. Getting two, three, four, five or more people to agree on anything is an accomplishment. Making a cohesive album? Come on. So yes. We see some crossover from the main list above, but I want to draw attention to Howling Giant, Thunderbird Divine and SÂVER particularly here. There’s a swath of genres represented and I feel like a couple of these releases — Sigils, Bellrope, Thronehammer, Inner Altar, Faerie Ring, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember — didn’t get their due attention. It’s a busy year, I get it. But if you’re skimming through looking for stuff to check out, DON’T IGNORE THIS LIST. Aside from whatever line about the best of tomorrow you want to trot out, there’s important work being done by these acts today. As somebody who’s constantly behind the times, I urge you not to

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2019

geezer spiral fires

1. Geezer, Spiral Fires
2. Ufomammut, XX
3. All Them Witches, 1×1
4. Mount Saturn, Mount Saturn
5. Dopelord, Weedpecker, Major Kong & Spaceslug, 4-Way Split
6. Horehound, Weight
7. Molasses, Mourning Haze
8. Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Split
9. Here Lies Man, No Ground to Walk Upon
10. The Golden Grass, 100 Arrows
11. Mount Atlas, Mistress
12. Midas, Solid Gold Heavy Metal
13. Glory in the Shadows, Glory in the Shadows
14. Hot Breath, Hot Breath
15. Crystal Spiders, Demo
16. Red Wizard, Ogami
17. Thermic Boogie, Fracture
18. Pinto Graham, Dos
19. High Priest, Sanctum
20. Set Fire, Traya
21. Seedium, Awake

Honorable Mention: Love Gang & Smokey Mirror Split, Forebode, Land Mammal, Very Paranoia, Plague of Carcosa, Daal Dazed, Komodor, Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge Split, High on Fire, Mount Soma.

Notes: This is probably the least complete of the lists, because it’s the hardest category for me to keep up with. EPs, singles, demos, splits and basically anything else that isn’t an album, all lumped together. Still, I stand by the picks here, and I don’t think anyone who takes on any of them will regret doing so, whether it’s All Them Witches’ surprisingly weighted first single as a trio, Mount Saturn’s debut release, or Geezer’s cosmic jams. Felt a little like cheating putting Ufomammut on there, since technically XX wasn’t new material so much as reworked stuff captured live, but if you want to call me out on it, my own listening habits also factor in, and I’ve spent plenty of time with those reimagined tracks. But anyway, I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff that hasn’t been included here, so please feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll work accordingly.

Postwax

I haven’t felt comfortable with the idea of writing about it editorially, since I’ve been involved in discussions about it since before it came together and since I did the liner notes for each of the six releases (plus one to come), but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible work done on the Postwax vinyl subscription series by Blues Funeral Recordings. Label head Jadd Shickler and design specialist Peder Bergstrand (also of Lowrider) put together six offerings that came out in the span of this year and when you hold the LPs in your hand, you can feel the passion that went into making them, from the artists in question to those curating the series in the first place. I hear tell there’s going to be a Postwax Year Two, and I don’t know if I’ll be involved or not, but I’m proud of my miniscule part in the work that went into making these and wanted to bring them to your particular attention. They are something special for those who got to partake:

  • Elder, The Gold and Silver Sessions
  • Daxma, Ruins Upon Ruins
  • Besvärjelsen, Frost
  • Big Scenic Nowhere, Dying on the Mountain
  • Domkraft, Slow Fidelity
  • Lowrider, Refractions

And while we’re talking about projects I was proud to be involved with, I also did liner notes for Acrimony’s The Chronicles of Wode box set from Burning World Records and was honored to do so. Thanks to any and everyone in question for having me involved and dealing with me blowing past deadlines one after the next. It is humbling.

Looking Ahead to 2020

A few names and nothing more about what definitely is and/or might be in the works for next year. Woefully incomplete, so feel free to add to it:

1000mods, Wolves in the Throne Room, Deathwhite, Mondo Drag, Drug Cult, Ocean Chief, Soldati, Sergio Ch., Mitochondrial Sun, Geezer, Mirror Queen, Mondo Generator, The Otolith, Asteroid, Yatra, Vestal Claret, Farer, Ryte, Shadow Witch, Six Organs of Admittance, Naxatras, Wolftooth, Snail, Elder, Pale Divine, Grey Skies Fallen, Ruby the Hatchet, Yuri Gagarin, Sasquatch, Godthrymm, Wo Fat, Red Mesa, CB3, Onsegen Ensemble, Insect Ark, Acid Mammoth, Ritual King, Ulls, Om.

Thank You

Thank you for reading, and please, if you have a thought or something you want to share in the comments, please remember to be kind to each other. We are all human beings behind our phones and keyboards, and while we’ll disagree, often in some ways and some cases, a basic level of respect is always appreciated. At least by me.

I am not so deluded as to think anyone might still be reading, but I want it on record how much I appreciate you being a part of this site and a part of my experience in making it. I’ve been ruminating all year since marking the 10th anniversary back in January about how much The Obelisk has become a part of who I am, and it’s utterly essential to my every day. The way I continue to think about it — and myself, as it happens — is a work in progress, and that would not be possible without you. One more time. Thank you. Always. Always thank you. Thank you.

More to come.

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 25

Posted in Radio on December 6th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

As this is the final episode of The Obelisk Show… of the year — ha! gotcha — as well as being the 25th episode, it seemed only fair to make it a special one. As such, it’s a recap of Some of a Little Bit of the Best of 2019. Barely a snippet, really, but a digestible snippet as compared to, say, the full Top However Many list that’ll go up around here in the coming weeks.

This was a fun one to put together, and, frankly, easy. Yeah, I keep a running tally of what I think are any given year’s best records as the year plays out, but I pulled most of these just off the top of my head. Some are more recent, post-June, and some are from earlier in the year, but it’s all high-quality stuff, and though it by no means represents everything awesome that’s come my way — let alone all the stuff I’ve missed; Boris walks by and waves (on their way to the next Quarterly Review, anyhow) — it’s a fun look at some of a little bit of it. Hence the silly title.

I’ll be truthful and say I kind of miss doing this every other week, but it’s been once a month now for a couple months and I guess that’s fine. Gimme Radio has a couple other heavy rock-minded shows — John Brookhouse from Worshipper, Matt Bacon come to mind — but I’m still a little out there from that stuff, and I kind of like it that way. It’d be dishonest otherwise.

In any case, show’s on at 1PM today, and if you get to listen, I certainly appreciate it. Airs at http://gimmeradio.com

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 12.06.19

Nebula Let’s Get Lost Holy Shit
Monolord The Last Leaf No Comfort
Slomatics Telemachus, My Son Canyons
BREAK
Mars Red Sky Hollow King The Task Eternal
Blackwater Holylight Seeping Secrets Veils of Winter
Earth An Unnatural Carousel Full Upon Her Burning Lips
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard The Spaceships of Ezekiel Yn Ol I Annwn
Roadsaw Along for the Ride Tinnitus the Night
Lo-Pan Ascension Day Subtle
BREAK
Saint Vitus Remains Saint Vitus
Orodruin Letter of Life’s Regret Ruins of Eternity
Destroyer of Light Dissolution Mors Aeterna
Lord Vicar The Temple in the Bedrock The Black Powder
Goatess Goddess Blood and Wine
Yatra Smoke is Rising Death Ritual
BREAK
Inter Arma The Atavist’s Meridian Sulphur English

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every first Friday of the month at 1PM Eastern, with replays every Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next show is Jan. 3, I think. Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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The Electric Highway Announces Inaugural Lineup with Wo Fat, Sasquatch, Nebula & More

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 6th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

A little bit of Cali, a little bit of Texas, a little bit of Portland, Oregon, and a whole lot of locals — the first lineup for The Electric Highway has been unveiled and the Calgary-based festival’s mission would seem to be directed toward kickass heavy and stoner rock. Thus, Sasquatch and Wo Fat headlining with Nebula and Duel also on board. And hey man, if you threw any kind of heavy rock and roll party in the entire nation of Canada — and Canada if frickin’ huge — and you didn’t at least invite La Chinga let alone actually have them play, your ass would just be negligent. That’s a band that’s never gonna do anything but make a strong rock bill stronger.

Calling this the inaugural The Electric Highway is fair enough, since it seems to be working under its own concept — pinball tournament! — but it formerly operated under the banner of the 420 Music and Arts Festival, and had a few years to its credit in that form. Still, a new name is a new name, so alright. Maybe “inaugural” with an asterisk. “Inaugural-ish.”

The PR wire has details. The fest has a hashtag that’s probably good advice anyway:

the electric highway poster

All Roads Lead To The Electric Highway Festival In Calgary, AB, Canada!

#BuckleUp baby, The Electric Highway is excited to announce our inaugural lineup! We wanted to put something special together for our first trip on the Highway and with over 20 bands in two daze, we think we have done exactly that…

Day One, Friday, April 17th Wo Fat from Dallas, Texas will be returning with their brand of Psychedelic Heavy Blues to headline night one, and we are flying in their bro’s in DUEL to share the stage with them that night too! Also laying waste to Friday night are BC’s Buzzard & CHUNKASAURUS, coming all the way from Portland, Oregon we have Hippie Death Cult & LáGoon, joining us from Montreal is PINK COCOON, and representing our amazing local scene will be Father Moon, Locutus, Row of Giants and The WORST.

Then on Day Two, Saturday, April 18th bringing the fuzz from California, we are STOKED AF to welcome back the mighty Sasquatch to headline our whole party and are psyched to have their buds Nebula along for the ride! As for the rest of Saturday, it just wouldn’t be a party without Vancouver’s La Chinga on the bill, along with local faves Gone Cosmic, Bazaraba, and Shadow Weaver from Calgary, Crossfield, Alberta’s Set & Stoned, Hemptress from Kamloops, BC, The Sleeping Legion from Winnipeg and rounding out our first lineup, from Saskatoon, The Basement Paintings.

The Electric Highway is taking place at the Royal Canadian Legion #1 in downtown Calgary, AB, Canada on April 17 & 18, 2020. Tickets go on sale at 10am MDT on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 at https://theelectrichighway.ecwid.com/.

The Electric Highway Official Lineup:
Sasquatch (Los Angeles, CA)
Wo Fat (Dallas, TX)
Nebula (Los Angeles, CA)
Duel (Austin, TX)
La Chinga (Vancouver, BC)
Gone Cosmic (Calgary, AB)
Hippie Death Cult (Portland, OR)
LáGoon (Portland, OR)
Buzzard (Victoria, BC)
Chunkasaurus (Victoria, BC)
Bazaraba (Calgary, AB)
Shadow Weaver (Calgary, AB)
Father Moon (Calgary, AB)
Set & Stoned (Crossfield, AB)
Row of Giants (Calgary, AB)
Hemptress (Kamloops, BC)
Pink Cocoon (Montreal, QC)
The Sleeping Legion (Winnipeg, MB)
The Basement Paintings (Saskatoon, SK)
Locutus (Calgary, AB)
The Worst (Calgary, AB)

The Electric Highway 2020 —> www.facebook.com/events/1346173098884903/
The Electric Highway Kickoff Party—> www.facebook.com/events/809469542830729/
The Electric Highway Pinball Tournament —> www.facebook.com/events/2408742202725992/
The Electric Highway Arts Expo & Market —> www.facebook.com/events/476224713238363/

#BuckleUp

“All Roads Lead to the Electric Highway”

www.facebook.com/ElectricHighwayFestival/
www.instagram.com/TheElectricHighway
www.TheElectricHighway.ca

Sasquatch, Live at Ace of Cups, Columbus, Ohio, Sept. 8, 2019

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Live Review: Nebula, Sasquatch, Mirror Queen & Geezer in Brooklyn, 09.07.19

Posted in Reviews on September 9th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Nebula (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It had all the makings of a classic Saturday night at Saint Vitus Bar, including a few classics along the way from the bands playing. I was trying to remember the last time I saw either Nebula or Sasquatch, and I know that at least in the case of the former, it was well before the fabled Brooklyn venue opened in 2011 — they haven’t toured widely since, what, 2010, for the LP version of Heavy Psych (review here)? — and I think as regards Sasquatch, it might’ve been when they were supporting their second album, II (discussed here). That came out in 2006, so definitely a long time. Now that I think about it, it’s been a couple years since I last saw Geezer as well, and only Mirror Queen, who played Desertfest NYC (review here) this past April, can I say it hasn’t been an absurdly long time.

There were reportedly a bunch of relevant shows happening in Brooklyn at the same time, from The Budos Band to Siege, but whatever. I knew where I wanted to be, and I knew I wanted to be there early. I actually got to the Vitus in time to catch the end of Geezer‘s soundcheck, and it was a quick reminder of why I was so excited to see them again in the first place. The Kingston, NY, trio have new recordings currently in progress, and unless I’m missing something — as I said, it’s been a while — the bulk of what they played was new. They finished out with “Charley Reefer” from earlier 2019’s Spiral Fires EP (review here), but beyond that and maybe one or two others the riffs to which called out their origins, the point of it having been too damn long was underscored by how fresh Geezer‘s material was, rife with ride-this-groove slow-motion boogie and an engagingly jammy soul from guitarist Pat Harrington, bassist Richie Touseull and drummer Steve Markota. The first bottom line is they were on earlier than they probably should’ve been — hazards of a four-band bill and an 11PM curfew, I suppose — and they killed it just the same, the smoothness of their roll easing those there in time to see them into what was already working on being a great night.

Mirror Queen, long since an NYC staple whose current incarnation features — in addition to founding guitarist/vocalist Kenny Sehgal, also of Tee Pee Records fame — guitarist Morgan “Can’t Help but Boogie” McDaniel, who held down low-end for a time in The Golden Grass, alongside bassist James Corallo and drummer Jeremy O’Brien, also had a swath of new material to showcase. I don’t know their recording plans, but they’re embracing classic progressive heavy rock in a big way and by all appearances even more than they did on 2017’s Verdigris (review here), their most recent LP. They played one song from that in opener “Poignard” and the title-track from 2015’s Scaffolds of the Sky (review here) before launching into new songs “Inside an Icy Light,” “A Rider on the Rain” and “The Devil Seeks Control” and a take on “Stairway to the Stars” by Blue Öyster Cult that would not be the last set-closing cover of the night. As with Geezer before them, their new stuff only made me look forward to what the New Year might bring, and though they had some technical trouble with a persistent buzz and some crackling this-or-that, their bouncing rhythms seemed to make up for whatever time they lost sorting it all out. Kind of know what to expect from them at this point, but that does nothing to lessen the appeal, as far as I’m concerned.

I’ll admit there have been chances — not many, but at least two — for me to see Sasquatch in the last couple years, and for whatever reason I haven’t been able to make it work. Their lineup, with Roadsaw‘s Craig Riggs on drums/sometimes-vocals, guitarist/vocalist Keith Gibbs and bassist Jason “Cas” Casanova, was unstoppable. Front-to-back energy of the kind where you can tell each of the players is challenging the others to keep up. Around hyper-memorable songs like “More Than You’ll Ever Be,” “Rational Woman” and “Bringing Me Down” from 2017’s Maneuvers (review here) and the much-appreciated “Chemical Lady” from their 2004 self-titled debut and “New Disguise” from 2010’s III (review here), they seemed to have some new songs in tow as well — “It Lies Beyond the Bay,” if I’m reading the setlist right? — but either way, if you could get kicked in the ass by a breath of fresh air that somehow also kind of smells like motor oil, that would be like seeing Sasquatch live. Yes. It is an experience of mixed-metaphor hyperbole-worthy heavy rock and roll of the kind that makes you want to believe not only that we live in a gilded age for the genre, but that future generations of those with any clue whatsoever will some day come up to those who were there and ask what it was like to see that band in their day. And if you’re wondering, this most certainly was their day. New album next year? That’d be just fine by me.

Speaking of new albums, did I ever think Nebula would put out another record? I wouldn’t have called it impossible, but until they got back together for Desertfest in 2018 — credit where it’s due — I don’t think I’d have considered it overly likely. However, they gave 2019’s aptly-titled Holy Shit (review here) its fair outing, with “Messiah,” “Witching Hour,” the Luciferian “Man’s Best Friend,” “Let’s Get Lost” and “The Cry of a Tortured World” aired alongside classics like “Fall of Icarus,” “Aphrodite” — which opened; my god — and the ultra-languid-and-still-somehow-aggro “Anything from You” and “To the Center,” which only brought out the spirit of how much Nebula are a punk band even if one that’s been left out in the California sun to bake until, well, baked. Guitarist/vocalist Eddie Glass‘ return feels triumphant, and not just because the record rules, and he and bassist/backing vocalist Tom Davies and drummer Mike Amster — who seems to have become desert rock’s drummer of choice, as he’s also now joined Mondo Generator; his adaptable style and obvious power behind the kit make it hard to think of a band from out that way in which he wouldn’t mesh — brought out the tech they referred to only as Ranch from the stage to play second guitar, which only filled out the sound further.

Under rainbow-hued lights, they demonstrated not only why it’s proper to think of them more than 20 years later as a classic band, but why Nebula are a band that underground heavy rock needs now, at a time when shut-the-fuck-up-and-chill seems to be in such short supply. Late in the set they included a version of “Out of Your Head” that made me want to go back and get to know 2003’s Atomic Ritual all over again, and the jammy “Sonic Titan” was more than welcome as well. I could’ve done with “Down the Highway,” but you can’t have everything. As it was, there was an event scheduled for after the show — a Smiths/Morrissey party or something like that — and so Nebula were scheduled to be done circa 10:45. They played for another 10 minutes and, in true punker fashion, threw in a cover of The Stooges‘ “Search and Destroy” to close the night, playing it with conviction enough that it felt like the song should’ve thanked them afterward. Righteous, it was. A righteous blowout.

Also classic? The traffic I hit heading back to Jersey. Midnight on a Saturday at the Lincoln Tunnel? Yeah, your trip’s gonna take twice as long as it otherwise might. Still, I got back to my ancestral homestead around 12:30 — the Morrissey party was probably in full swing — and crashed out in short order, ready to call the night a complete win as few could hope to be. Nebula and Sasquatch head west from here en route to Northwest Hesh Fest later this month and a capstone gig in San Francisco thereafter, but whether it’s now or next time, if you have the opportunity, take it. I can’t say it any simpler than that.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 18

Posted in Radio on June 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

Before I get started, I want to say thanks to Mark Kitchens from Stone Machine Electric for the artwork above. He did the platypus design and I added the blue background and yellow text kind of thinking it would be like one of those old title cards from David Letterman or something. I love it, so yeah. Thanks, Mark.

Like the prior episode, this one was themed around a playlist of some of the best of 2019 so far. I actually didn’t get to hear the whole show because I was at Maryland Doom Fest this past weekend, but I did check in on it while doing other stuff in Frederick. One way or the other, the playlist starts with Holy Grove and has Yawning ManMagic CircleDuelNebulaRoadsawEarth and Across Tundras on it, so you know it’s going to be killer. Really, the only thing I’d have listened for was to make sure I didn’t ruin it with my own derpy derp derp.

I wanted to include some lesser-known stuff here too, so check out the Cosmic Fall, SÂVEREaldor Bealu and Mount Saturn tracks if you haven’t, and that Centrum at the end I really dig a lot. Hell, the whole thing is great. You really can’t go wrong when your operating theme is “stuff that’s awesome.”

Thanks if you got to check it out.

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 06.21.19

Holy Grove Valley of the Mystics Holy Grove II 0:10:37
Duel Drifting Alone Valley of Shadows 0:04:27
The Well Death Song Death and Consolation 0:04:48
BREAK
Across Tundras The Rugged Ranges of Curbs & Broken Minds The Rugged Ranges of Curbs & Broken Minds 0:06:58
Yawning Man I Make Weird Choices Macedonian Lines 0:07:21
Cosmic Fall Lackland Lackland 0:08:32
Lamp of the Universe Rite of the Spheres Align in the Fourth Dimension 0:05:12
SÂVER Dissolve to Ashes They Came with Sunlight 0:07:43
Atala Upon the Altar The Bearer of Light 0:06:06
Magic Circle I’ve Found My Way to Die Departed Souls 0:05:11
BREAK
Mount Saturn Idol Hands Kiss the Ring 0:04:11
Nebula Man’s Best Friend Holy Shit 0:04:56
Ruff Majik Seasoning the Witch Tårn 0:06:31
Earth An Unnatural Carousel Full Upon Her Burning Lips 0:06:51
Ealdor Bealu Smoke Signals Spirit of the Lonely Places 0:07:32
BREAK
Roadsaw Under the Devil’s Thumb Tinnitus the Night 0:03:54
Centrum Sjön För Meditation 0:08:39

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Friday at 1PM Eastern, with replays every Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next show is July 5. Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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Nebula, Holy Shit: Yeah, That About Covers It

Posted in Reviews on June 13th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

nebula holy shit

If nothing else, they gave it the right name. Nebula‘s reunion and new album, their sixth and first for Heavy Psych Sounds, have been a genuine surprise. Their legacy has remained intact over the decade since they released the Heavy Psych (review here) LP in 2009 on Tee Pee Records, growing by social media word of mouth to a new generation of listeners — maybe not as much as if they were touring the whole time, but still — and their unexpected comeback born on stage and reissues of their past work would seem to culminate in Holy Shit, a new full-length of nine songs and 43 minutes that is both a shock and an inevitability. Of course Nebula were going to do another record. Once the reunion happened, another record was bound to follow — shit, even Eyehategod put out an album eventually — the real question was whether or not it would sound like Nebula.

The Los Angeles outfit led by guitarist/vocalist Eddie Glass always had a looser sound than many of their contemporaries. Looser than Fu Manchu from whom they split off originally, looser than Kyuss/Queens of the Stone AgeMonster Magnet, or any number of Euro bands of the era one might want to namedrop. They took their Stooges influence that much more to heart, and it manifest in their sound in a real sense of danger that the whole thing would come apart, and then they took it further, and when it fell apart, they let it. It was a truer vision of stoner rock than most other purveyors of heavy riffs could conjure, and Holy Shit — recorded with the current lineup of Glass, bassist/backing vocalist Tom Davies and drummer Mike Amster (also AbramsBlaak Heat) with Matt Lynch of Snail at the helm of Mysterious Mammal Studios — plays out like a revival for that sensibility. The initial thrust of “Man’s Best Friend” feels like a callout to The Atomic Bitchwax, but it crashes at the halfway point to layered wah-solos and only makes its way into lyrics in its last minute, letting the audience know immediately to toss expectation out the airlock. Nebula are back.

“Messiah” follows and runs a thread of backing effects behind denser fuzz and repeated lines before turning to more of a shuffle, slowing again and then taking off in stoner-punk fashion en route to a fade and the bass and effects at the beginning of “It’s All Over,” which emphasizes that drift in its verse and digs in more for the title-line hook and then gets more brash in a freakout ahead of the final chorus. The subsequent “Witching Hour” would seem to play out in more straightforward fashion, but that might just be Stockholm syndrome to Nebula‘s quick turns and fuzz-drenched rhythmical nuance as the song resolves in a dramatic course of crashes and a plotted lead then shifts back into the central riff to end and bring about the 1:48 centerpiece “Fistful of Pills,” a Western jangle and chorus chant clearly intended as an interlude or otherwise just a departure from the proceedings thus far. It’s telling that the first four cuts on Holy Shit are all within the four-to-five-minute range and nothing on side B save for the penultimate “Let’s Get Lost” follows that pattern.

nebula

It’s not just about putting the rock songs up front, since GlassDavies and Amster get plenty weird in the opening salvo, but the palette would seem to expand nonetheless in the languid “Tomorrow Never Comes,” which is one of two songs over seven minutes long in kind with closer “The Cry of a Tortured World.” Between them, “Gates of Eden” reimagines sunshine psychedelia as motorcycle werewolves ravaging some desert town, and “Let’s Get Lost” resounds like a Black Flag moral judgment with Glass‘ rough vocal in an addled preach atop a bounding groove — again loose, again dangerous. He drawls over a highlight solo in the ultimate show of fuckall, and the song seems to fade out as the jam was coming to a natural conclusion anyway, their point well made in the 4:41 run that would seem to be the willful opposite of “Messiah” early — angel and devil perched on opposite shoulders, and so on. I’m not sure who ultimately wins that argument, if anyone.

Nebula‘s ability to make plotted parts sound like off-the-cuff exercises in vibe runs rampant throughout Holy Shit, and that’s much to the credit of the band itself as well as to Lynch as the producer capturing it. The dynamic between Davies and Glass is long-established — the bassist joined in 2003, following the release of Atomic Ritual — but Amster is new in the lineup as of this revitalization, which began in 2017, and one of the questions coming into the album was how his style would mesh with the guitar and bass. One can hear on “The Cry of a Tortured World” as the band sort of desert-dooms out in the chorus and pits acoustics and electric guitars against each other in the verses that the drums are very much the responsible party in terms of holding it together. The key though is to not have that conflict with the strings, and it doesn’t. Amster is a technique drummer, adaptable to different styles, but he balances precision and swing well in this material and Nebula only sounds like Nebula as a result.

In the meantime, Glass and Davies seem to be that much freer to explore effects, noisemaking and melodies as they will. It’s the stuff of classic power trios, so again, very much in Nebula‘s wheelhouse. I didn’t see another Nebula record coming. I’ll admit that. Amid years of rumors of rough addiction and fallouts and whatever else, I just didn’t think Nebula would happen again, but the fact of the matter is they were one of the most essential bands to shape what’s now considered heavy and/or desert rock, and their influence has spread not only over international borders, but over another generation of listeners who’ve emerged since they’ve been gone. They were a special band and they remain one. Whatever Holy Shit might lead to, if they do another record or just tour forever, or break up, or who knows, the fact that it exists only speaks to the band’s utter unpredictability, which has always been one of their greatest assets. You never knew what was coming from Nebula. You still don’t. That’s why it’s fun.

Nebula, “Man’s Best Friend” official video

Nebula, Holy Shit (2019)

Nebula on Thee Facebooks

Nebula on Instagram

Heavy Psych Sounds on Bandcamp

Heavy Psych Sounds website

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