Posted in Whathaveyou on May 9th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
My only issue with Neurosis touring Europe is that I’m not there to see them. Other than that, we’re cool. Go get ’em.
The progenitors of post-metal, who remain influential even beyond crafting the blueprint for that subgenre in their wake, continue to support 2012’s Honor Found in Decay(review here). They’ve played pretty steadily since the album’s release, not all-out touring, but making regular live appearances, which they haven’t always done over the course of the last decade-plus. 2015 marks 30 years since they first got together, and though I’ve seen no word yet of how they’ll mark that anniversary, shows and fest slots in the interim is never something to complain about. Six in a row this time.
Honor found on the PR wire:
NEUROSIS Announce European Live Shows This Summer
Neurosis have announced more live shows in Europe this summer, continuing their voyage in support of the staggering album, Honor Found In Decay, and as part of their journey, they shall be heading to places they’ve never played before.
Here is the complete run-down of Neurosis’ European live shows:
June 28th – GRASPOP Festival, Bessel, Belgium June 29th – Tuska Open Air Metal Festival, Helsinki, Finland June 30th – Schlachthof, Wiesbaden, Germany July 1st – Jedinstvo-Pogon, Zagreb, Croatia July 2nd – Astra, Berlin, Germany July 3rd – Fuzz Live Music Club, Athens, Greece
Steve Von Till comments…”We feel very lucky to be able to return to European soil this summer. This brief journey will mark only our second time in Finland, and the first time ever for Neurosis to bring our music to Croatia and Greece. How very fortunate we are to be able to perform there, see new places and meet new people. And of course it is always good to be with friends and family in Germany!”
“What the hell are you going to do with those?” asked The Patient Mrs. when I got back to the car and showed her the two Black Sabbath 8-track tapes I’d bought at the annual “Not Just” Rock Expo outside of Philadelphia this past Friday afternoon. It was a fair question. My answer was somewhat less reasoned: “Set up an altar and worship them as gods, who fucking cares?”
My point, expressed with my usual eloquence, was that it wasn’t about listening to Heaven and Hell and Sabbath‘s 1970 self-titled debut — which I can do at this point on any number of physical media — but just about enjoying owning the albums on this format. And hell, if I wind up with an 8-track player someday, at least I’ll know what to put on first. Whether that came through or not, I was greeted with the usual rolled eyes and a, “Time to go.” Fair enough. We were already running late.
This was the 27th “Not Just” Rock Expo — it’s actually put together by the same dude who does the Second Saturday Record Show in Wayne, NJ, that I’ve enjoyed many times in the past — and it just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Held in Oaks, PA, which is northwest of Philly, this past Friday and Saturday, normally, it’d be well out of my geographic range at this point for a day trip, but The Patient Mrs. and I (also the little dog Dio) spent Thanksgiving in Maryland. Friday found us heading back north to see family in New Jersey, so the “Not Just” Rock Expo was more or less on the way, and that’s just how I sold The Patient Mrs. on the idea of making a stop.
The GPS took us what felt like halfway across PA, but we got there eventually and found the hangar-sized room where the expo was happening. Three long, two-sided rows of vendors were set up, and there was a good crowd there. I recognized a few faces from shows and such, and while it might not have been just rock, there certainly was enough of it. It seemed like almost every table, save perhaps that run by King Fowley of Deceased, had one or another kind of Beatles memorabilia on offer, but there were plenty of other ways to spend money as well. More money than I had, but I did alright. The first place I looked had Death‘s Individual Thought Patterns on tape for like two bucks, so I made that happen, and an original Alternative Tentacles pressing of Neurosis‘ Souls at Zerothat I’ve very much enjoyed revisiting despite a skip or two in “The Web,” as well as Death in 3s by Meatplow, which I picked up essentially because I recognized the name and thought it would be fun. So far that’s worked out.
Across the aisle was a vendor who had an entire section devoted solely to Repertoire Records reissues. Fuck me. But for the ones I already owned, I probably could’ve shelled out $300 on that stuff alone and walked out of the “Not Just” Rock Expo with a smile on my face. I didn’t. Money’s tight, and sooner or later I’d have to buy gas to get back up to Massachusetts, so I nabbed the digipak version of Atomic Rooster‘s In Hearing Ofand left it at that. By then, The Patient Mrs. had adjourned to the car, but I made my way through at what was apparently a leisurely place — when it was over, I seemed to have lost an extra hour in there somewhere — finding other odds and ends along the way like a Nuclear Blast edition of the first Count Raven CD, a full-jewel-case promo (imagine such a thing!) for Russian Circles‘ debut, Enter, and a cheap tape copy of Band of Gypsysthat made the rest of the ride to Jersey a little easier to take, despite traffic.
Toward the end of the last row, a guy who had some other decent stuff as well was selling a copy of the 2007 split between Sons of Otis and Queen Elephantine for $20. I wanted it. I was decently enough past my spending limit, however, so I offered the $13 in my hand, he said no, and I put the disc back. The one that got away. More the fool I, since I can’t seem to find the CD version online anywhere. That’ll show me not to recklessly shell out dollars.
It was a downer note to end on, but overall, I can’t really complain. I hadn’t even known the “Not Just” Rock Expo existed until reading a post about it Thanksgiving night on Thee Facebooks, so considering that and the tri-format haul, I’d say I did alright. They’ve already got the space booked for the 28th installment of the “Not Just” Rock Expo (their website is here), and if you happen to be in the area, it seems like a good way to make yourself late to wherever you might be headed next.
Queen Elephantine, “The Battle of Massacoit/The Weapon of the King of Gods”
Posted in Features on June 27th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
They always say you there’s no going back. I don’t know who they are, but they’re right. As I searched back through posts to find the Top 20 of 2012, I realized it had been way too long since I heard some of these records. It’s so easy to get caught up with what’s current and what’s coming next that sometimes I forget to actually listen to albums I already enjoyed. That happened a couple times along the way.
When a year ends and the lists start coming out, it’s like records as numbered, stocked and then forgotten. I guess I’m guilty of it too. With that in mind, here’s a quick revisit to what I had as my favorites of 2012:
The Top 20 of 2012 Revisited
20. Mos Generator, Nomads
I can’t even look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “Lonely One Kenobi” play in my head. Still a sentimental favorite.
19. Golden Void, Golden Void
Haven’t put it on in a while, but probably should.
18. Wight, Through the Woods into Deep Water
Ditto. This record was great and if I made the list today, it would probably be higher than it is here.
16. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction
I’ve seen them three times so far this year and they’ve delivered each time, but haven’t put on the album itself in a while. Still looking forward to new stuff though.
15. Kadavar, Kadavar
I think I’ve had more fascinating conversations about Kadavar than any other band in the last year. So many opinions, so widely varied. I dig the self-titled, will probably have the follow-up on my list at the end of 2013. Nuclear Blast needs to bring them over to tour, maybe opening for Witchcraft?
14. Stubb, Stubb
Yay fuzz! Catchy songs, easy formula, well structured and impeccably performed.My favorite straight-up heavy rock record of 2012.
13. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned
Hard to fuck with these dudes. The production here was a presence, but the songs still hold up.
12. Ararat, II
No shit, I live in terror of having Ararat release their third album and missing it. Like all of a sudden the album will have been out for three months and I’d have no idea.
11. Ufomammut, Oro
Haven’t listened to Opus Primumor Opus Altersince. Can’t help but think if Oro was released as one record, I’d put it on from time to time.
10. Conan, Monnos
I put this in the top 10 for a reason. Because it’s fucking ridiculously heavy. I stand by my reasoning. Looking forward to their new one.
9. My Sleeping Karma, Soma
An album I couldn’t manage to put down even when I wanted to, and one I still pick up from time to time. Glad I finally gave in an bought a copy to get away from the shitty digital promo version.
8.Graveyard, Lights Out
Maybe I burnt myself out on this? I went on a binge after their show in January for a bit and then put Lights Outaway and that was that.
7. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65
Every time I’m in a record store, flip through the Vitus selectionand see my quote on the sticker on the front of the jewel case of Lillie: F-65, I feel like an entire decade of shitty career decisions is justified. No bullshit.
6. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time
Brilliant. Mostly brilliant for closer “First Light,” but that song was brilliant enough to get this spot on the list anyway.
5. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis
Hard to argue with its intensity. Not much staying power as I would’ve thought, but god damn that’s a heavy record.
4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay
An overwhelming listen. I have to prepare my head for putting it on, but I continue to find it worth the effort.
3. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers
It was the highlight of my year last year to see this material live. Greenleaf have a new lineup now and another album in the works, but if Nest of Vipersis how the last one was going out, they killed it.
2. Om, Advaitic Songs
Sometimes I fantasize about living in a temple where I wake up and Advaitic Songsis playing every day. That is 100 percent true.
1. Colour Haze, She Said
I’d probably listen to it even more if it was on one CD, but god damn, this record is amazing. Another one that’s kind of overwhelming, but it gets regular play as I expect it will continue to do into perpetuity.
All in all, pretty great year. Some stuff that’s fallen by the wayside, but a few landmarks as well that have carried over, and more importantly, some that seem like they’ll continue to carry over and grow in appeal as more time passes. Wight should’ve been higher on the list, but other than that, I’ll take it.
Posted in Reviews on January 21st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I caught the light at just the right time as I was leaving the house to see Neurosis at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, and it wound up being one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen in my humble river valley. Five minutes earlier or five minutes later and I’d have missed it. I took a picture before I got in the car and before I was up the hill out, felt the need to stop the car in the middle of the street and grabanother on my phone. Right place, right time.
The show itself was the same deal. I made it to Brooklyn in what I actually consider a record 85 minutes, and got to the Masonic Temple in time to stand with the early part of the line for a little over an hour. When doors opened, I headed immediately to the merch table, around which the 10 or so people in front of me on line also swarmed, and then made my way to the front, where I planted. For the night. I got a spot in front of one of the speakers and remained there for the night, through openers Carlos Giffoni and James Plotkin & Tim Wyskida and for the whole of Neurosis‘ 90-plus-minute set. So once more, right place, right time.
Giffoni has collaborated with the likes of Merzbow and Thurston Moore, and both Plotkin and Wyskida were in Khanate (though one might more readily recognize Plotkin‘s name as preceded with the phrase “Mastered By,” as a constant stream of albums seem to be), so I expected a barrage of noise and that’s pretty much what both parties delivered. Working on a foldout table across a range of modular synths and manipulators, Giffoni assaulted the early arrivals with a wash of static, beeps, bloops and beats. Plotkin & Wyskida were, relatively speaking, more traditional, with the former running loops on his guitar through a Sunn Beta Bass amp and Wyskida peppering and accenting the improv creations on drums.
It would be a stretch to draw a line between what they were doing and Khanate, but had Alan Dubin taken the stage to start screaming, it might have resulted in a less sparse version of some of the same psychological dysfunction. Hardly a thrilling stage show, but it worked for what it was, and set the course for the evening’s volume level, which would only increase when Neurosis actually took the stage. Masonic Temple gave out free earplugs, if that’s any indicator. I don’t remember if they did the same when Sleep played in 2010, but it was the right call, anyway.
There had been some word lamenting the lack of Josh Graham‘s visuals behind and around the band while they played, and I get where that’s coming from, but really, the once every two, three or four years I might get to see Neurosis do a show, I’m there for the music and the visceral, affecting sounds blasting full bore from the stage. I didn’t feel like anything was missing watching them. Quite the opposite. As a fan, it was interesting to see them play with lights on, and made the songs seem even rawer in their presentation than they otherwise might, which for a set sandwiched by “Eye” and “Locust Star,” both from 1996’s Through Silver in Blood, worked to their benefit.
As expected, the still-fresh 2012 release, Honor Found in Decay(review here), featured heavily, and rightly so. One wouldn’t expect to trod out “the hits” — like Scott Kelly or Steve Von Till is going to stand at the mic and go, “How’s everyone feelin’ tonight? Here’s one off Souls atZero!” — and in fact, neither of them said a word to the crowd the whole night. They began “Eye” without ceremony and ended “Locust Star” in the same, albeit noisier, fashion, with the only real direct contact between band and audience being from drummer Jason Roeder, who clasped his hands and bowed his head in a gesture of thanks on his way off stage. That might have seemed strange to anyone who’d never seen the band before, but it’s how they do, and again, without the visuals, it made even more sense. All there was, was the music, the performance. That’s what you get.
The would-be asterisk point to make here is that Neurosis put more of themselves physically and emotionally into their performance than any band I’ve ever watched on a stage. As influential as their recorded output has been, their live show — immediately made a special occasion for how infrequently one might occur — is entirely their own, and however inhuman(e) the audio might seem upon receipt, their delivery is almost painfully human. This goes to the core of the most prevalent misconception about Neurosis and why no post-metal act in their wake has been able to capture the same sort of power: It’s them.
Whether it’s Dave Edwardson running in circles like a madman, throwing his bass around his body and jumping on mic for an occasional growl that wouldn’t be out of place over Napalm Death at their most classic, or synth/sample specialist Noah Landis swaying to the noise and looking like his head is about to explode with every keystroke, the steady presence of Roeder behind, Kelly‘s grimaced screaming and rhythmic shoulder-banging contortions or Von Till‘s weathered expressiveness in his vocals and guitar, these moments, “cherished and driven,” are wholly their own. It wouldn’t work with anyone else.
Following Honor Found in Decay‘s explosive “My Heart for Deliverance,” the slowly creeping “At the End of the Road” from 2007’s Given to the Risingand the title-track of 1999’s Times of Gracemade for a fitting pair, the former rife with a mounting intensity and the latter paying it off with thrust that even Giffoni‘s low-end pulsations had done little to presage. I wanted to pay particular attention to Landis, whose contributions to the latest album were a standout element throughout, and the tension brought to the drones between songs and within them proved likewise to be a key and previously underappreciated factor in the live experience.
Since most of what Neurosis puts on their albums is captured as live as possible, the arrangement and mix of their stage show is roughly the same. I remember seeing them at Philly’s TLA in 2004, watching “Burn” from that year’s The Eye of Every Stormand saying, “Perfect,” out loud when it was over. It may or may not have been, but either way, I had the order wrong. It’s the records capturing the live show, not the live show mirroring the records. They didn’t play anything off The Eye of Every Storm this time through at the Masonic Temple, returning to Given to the Risingafter “Times of Grace” for the bleak and agonizing “Distill (Watching the Swarm)” — Roeder‘s drums here were a highlight driving the enveloping churn — before the quiet opening of “At the Well” from the new album brought Von Till to the fore vocally.
By then, I’d lost track of time. If you had told me they’d been on for 15 minutes, I’d have believed it, but they were about halfway through their set by the end of “At the Well,” as Von Till and Kelly traded off lead vocal parts and came together periodically. “The Tide” from 2001’s A Sun that Never Setswas a surprise inclusion and something else I couldn’t recall ever seeing them play before along with “Times of Grace,” but its slow build wasn’t out of place between “At the Well” and Honor Found in Decay opener “We all Rage in Gold,” which probably had the most straightforward groove of the night, centered around a strong riff and memorable verse from Kelly, delivered with pull-your-earplugs-out passion.
Landis once again took the lead with the foreboding intro section of “Bleeding the Pigs,” which Von Till used as a bed for tense guitar and more subdued initial vocals before the second half launched into extended pummel enough to justify the song’s position as centerpiece and a high point of Honor Found in Decay, soon brought back to ground by “Given to the Rising,” Kelly leading through the beginning progression into darker ethereal terrain. I’d been keeping tabs with the setlist by the side of Landis‘ setup, so I knew they were almost done and that only earth, sky and “Locust Star” remained. Every now and again, the press of the crowd (I hadn’t turned around in about two hours, but at some point the room filled up to sold-out capacity) was enough to push me into the speaker placed in front of the stage, but I wasn’t going to leave that spot.
When they finished “Given to the Rising,” I put my camera down and just watched “Locust Star.” It was a conscious decision in an attempt to put as little as possible between myself and the song. Like leaving when I did, waiting at the door, the earplugs and getting up front, this too was the right choice. The ringing tones at the start, Roeder‘s drums behind the contemplative guitar, it all exploded about a minute in and there was no turning back. Compared to some of Neurosis‘ compositions over the course of their career, “Locust Star” is a blip at under six minutes, but what they pack into that time has made it one of their most lasting works. If nothing else, the Through Silver in Bloodtrack made for a fitting summation of the set preceding, with Edwardson‘s bass holding powerful sway amid Kelly‘s vocals, the ferociousness of the chorus, the sheer aural push and the sudden stop. The lights stayed low for a couple minutes after they were done, as though the venue itself wasn’t sure the show was actually over.
Likewise, at first I was unwilling to move. Roeder expressed his thanks after everyone else had gone and before long the house lights were up. Before longer, I was outside, and before longest, leaving Brooklyn, relieved, smiling. I’d been anxious before the show, but all the things I worried about not working out exactly as I’d hoped did, and that tension was no match for Neurosis‘ sonic assault. That’s why some people go to church. All the more appropriate the show happened at a temple.
Posted in Features on January 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Happy New Year to everyone around the world. It’s January 1, 2013, and to celebrate the New Year the best way I know how, I got right to work on tabulating the results of the 2012 Readers Poll. I’ve been tracking the results as they’ve come in over the course of December, and as you can see in the list below, it was a tight race for the top spot right up to the end.
Before we run down the finished list, I want to extend gratitude to each and every one of the 296 people who contributed their top 12 so this list could be put together. It’s an amazing response and I was super stoked that so many of you were able to take part. Thank you for that. Right from the first day the form went up, I knew this was going to be awesome, and it wound up exceeding my every expectation. It was a great sendoff to the year. Much appreciated.
Here are the results of the Top 20 of 2012 Readers Poll:
1. Om, Advaitic Songs – 108 votes
2. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis – 106
3. Graveyard, Lights Out – 86
4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay – 65
5. Ufomammut, Oro – 63
5. Witchcraft, Legend – 63
6. Colour Haze, She Said – 56
6. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65 – 56
7. Kadavar, Kadavar – 49
7. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction – 49
8. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned – 46
9. Baroness, Yellow and Green – 39
10. Conan, Monnos – 38
11. Swans, The Seer – 35
12. Astra, The Black Chord – 31
13. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers – 31
13. The Sword, Apocryphon – 31
14. Royal Thunder, CVI – 26
14. Wo Fat, The Black Code – 26
15. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time – 25
16. Torche, Harmonicraft – 23
17. Corrosion of Conformity, Corrosion of Conformity – 22
18. Enslaved, Riitiir – 19
19. Goat, World Music – 18
19. Melvins Lite, Freak Puke – 18
19. Soundgarden, King Animal – 18
20. Amenra, Mass V – 17
20. Samothrace, Reverence to Stone – 17
Witch Mountain, Cauldron of the Wild Rush, Clockwork Angels Stoned Jesus, Seven Thunders Roar Troubled Horse, Step Inside
Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind – 15 Mighty High, Legalize Tre Bags – 15 My Sleeping Karma, Soma – 15
Pretty wild to have Om and High on Fire so close, and they were tied for a long, long time, but Om retained an early lead and managed to pull it out in the end. As you can see, there were a number of releases that tied with others for their position. Seemed only fair to me to include all of them, and I also threw in those with 16 and 15 votes as well, just because it was close. In total, there were an astounding 1,200+ albums entered into consideration.
Once again, thanks to everyone for making this Readers Poll happen and for taking the time to be a part of it. Already looking forward to some fantastic things to come in 2013, so please stay tuned and keep your lists handy.
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 21st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Apparently I missed a few pieces of news while I was spending eight and a half hours putting together my Top 20 yesterday, so in an effort to get caught up, here are the latest additions to Neurosis‘ shows in support of Honor Found in Decay— which, as fate would have it, featured prominently in the aforementioned list. I look forward to nerding out at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple,and if you were fortunate enough to catch them last time they were there, you should too.
The PR wire is wise in the ways of tour dates:
NEUROSIS Authenticates Additional 2013 Live Actions
Details On Vinyl Pressing Of Honor Found In Decay Released
NEUROSIS continues to confirm new live actions in support of the band’s tenth studio opus, Honor Found In Decay.
Following recent announcements on the outfit’s upcoming performances in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle, NEUROSIS have just proclaimed additional 2013 on-stage manifestations, with new shows in Brooklyn and Philadelphia planned for January, as well as Denver and Austin in February. Support acts for these new concerts are all being confirmed now, in addition to even more live performances.
The band has also been confirmed for 2013’s installment of the massive Hellfest festival in Clisson, France. The immense gathering runs from June 21st through 23rd, and will see NEUROSIS sharing the stage with Kiss, ZZ Top, Down, Bad Religion, At The Gates, Kreator and hundreds more.
A release date and further details on the anticipated vinyl edition of Honor Found In Decay have also been disclosed this week. This deluxe 2xLP pressing of the album will be unleashed February 5th in North America, February 8th in Germany/Benelux/Finland and February 11th in the UK/World, via Relapse Records/Neurot Recordings, and will be packaged in a gorgeous Stoughton tip-on gatefold jacket and accompanied by a stunning 16-page LP-sized booklet. The audio was cut directly from the original studio master tapes and pressed on 180-gram vinyl, which will be available in five different colors: 2000 on black, 1000 on translucent smoke grey, 500 on translucent yellow, 500 on translucent orange, and 100 on clear, not available to the public.
Preorders can be placed via Neurot and Relapse now!
NEUROSIS Honor Found In Decay Live Actions: 12/29/2012 The Masquerade – Atlanta, GA w/ Rwake, USX, Primate 12/30/2012 The Metro – Chicago, IL w/ Bloodiest, The Atlas Moth 1/04/2013 Fonda Theatre – Los Angeles, CA w/ Savage Republic, Ides of Gemini 1/05/2013 Showbox at the Market – Seattle, WA w/ Tragedy, Black Breath, Stoneburner 1/19/2013 Brooklyn Masonic Temple – Brooklyn, NY 1/20/2013 Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA 2/16/2013 Summit Music Hall – Denver, CO 2/17/2013 Emo’s East – Austin, TX 6/21/2013 Hellfest – Clisson, France
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This list is my personal picks, not the Readers Poll, which is ongoing — if you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
As ever, I’ve kept a Post-It note on my wall all year long, and as the weeks and months have ticked away, I’ve added names of bands to it in preparation for putting together my Top 20 of 2012. There was a glut of excellent material this year, and I know for a fact I didn’t hear everything, but from bold forays into new sonic territory to triumphant returns to startling debuts, 2012 simply astounded. Even as I type this, I’m getting emails about new, exciting releases. It’s enough to make you lose your breath.
Before we get down to it and start in with the numbers, the hyperbole, etc., I want to underscore the point that this list is mine. I made it. It’s not the Readers Poll results, which will be out early in January. It’s based on how I hear things, how much I listened to each of these records, the impressions they left on me — critical opinion enters into it, because whether or not I want to I can’t help but consider things on that level when I listen to a new album these days — but it’s just as much about what I put on when I wanted to hear a band kick ass as it is about which records carried the most critical significance or import within their respective genres.
Over the last couple years, I’ve come to think of the #20 spot as where I put my sentimental favorite. That was the case with Suplecs last year, and in 2012, the return of Mos Generator earns the spot. The band being led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed, Nomadsmarked a rehifting of Reed‘s priorities from Stone Axe, with whom he’d proffered ’70s worship for several years prior, and wound up as a collection of some of my favorite heavy rock songs of 2012 — tracks like “Cosmic Ark,” “Torches” and “Lonely One Kenobi” were as strong in their hooks as they were thorough in their lack of pretense. But the bottom line is I’m a nerd for Reed‘s songwriting, playing and production (more on that to come), and at this point it’s not really something I can even pretend to judge impartially. Still, the record’s friggin’ awesome and you should hear it as soon as you can.
Seems like it would make sense to say Golden Void would be higher on the list if I’d spent more time with it — written up just a month ago, it’s the most recent review here — but the fact is I’ve sat with Golden Void‘s self-titled debut a lot over the course of the last month-plus, and I’ve been digging the hell out of it. Really, the only reason it’s not further up is because I don’t feel like I have distance enough from it to judge how it holds up over a longer haul, but either way, the Isaiah Mitchell-led outfit’s blend of heavy psych, driving classic rock and retro style gave some hope for beefing up the US’ take on ’70s swagger — usually left to indie bands who, well, suck at it — and also showed Mitchell as a more than capable vocalist where those who knew him from his work in Earthless may only have experienced his instrumental side. A stellar debut, a wonderful surprise, and a band I can’t wait to hear more from in the years to come.
This was basically the soundtrack to my summer. From the catch-you-off-guard aggression in opener “I Spit on Your Grave” to the extended stoneralia of “Master of Nuggets” and the jammy “Southern Comfort and Northern Lights,” the follow-up to Wight‘s self-produced debut Wight Weedy Wight(review here) showed an astonishing amount of growth, and though it had the laid back, loose feel that distinguishes the best of current European heavy psych, Through the Woods into Deep Waterwas also coherent, cohesive and impeccably structured. I thought it was one of the year’s strongest albums when it was released, and its appeal has only endured — as much as I listened to it when it was warm over the summer, now in December I put it on wishing the temperature would change to match. The songs showed remarkable potential from the German three-piece and cast them in an entirely different light than did their first out. Really looking forward to where they might go from here, but in the meantime, I’m nowhere near done with Through the Woods into Deep Wateryet.
“Oh, Moon Queen! Flyin’ down the world on a moonbeam!” Somehow the first lines of the opening title-track to Lord Fowl‘s Moon Queen always seem to wind up stuck in my head. The Connecticut foursome made their debut on Small Stone with the loosely thematic full-length, and touched on a sense of unabashedly grandiose ’70s heavy rock in the process. That said, Moon Queenwasn’t shooting for retro in the slightest — rather, guitarist/vocalists Vechel Jaynes and Mike Pellegrino fronted the band’s classic sensibilities with a wholly modern edge, like something out of an alternate dimension where rock never started to suck. The classic metal guitar in “Streets of Evermore” and the swaying groove from bassist Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman under the wandering leads of “Hollow Horn” made Moon Queenmore stylistically diverse than it might otherwise have been, but at its core, it was a collection of stellar heavy rock songs, unashamed of its hooks and unafraid to put its passions front and center. They packed a lot into a 47-minute runtime, but I’ve yet to dig into Moon Queen and regret having pressed play. Another band to watch out for.
It was impossible not to be swept up in the hype surrounding Pallbearer‘s Profound Lore debut, but one listen to Sorrow and Extinctionand it was clear that its resounding praise was well earned. By blending thickened psychedelic tonality and emotionally resonant melodies, the Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece concocted the single most important American doom release of the year. Their efforts did not go unnoticed, and as they supported the album on tour, the swell of the crowds spoke to the right-idea-right-time moment they were able to capture in songs like the stunning “An Offering of Grief” and “The Legend.” There’s room for growth — I wouldn’t be surprised to find guitarist Brett Campbell‘s vocal range greatly developed next time out — but Pallbearer have already left a mark on doom, and if they can keep the momentum going into wherever they go from here, it won’t be long before they’re being cited as having a significant impact on the genre and influencing others in their wake.
I already singled out Kadavar‘s Kadavaras the 2012 Debut of the Year, so if you need any sense of the reverence I think the German trio earned, take whatever you will from that. There really isn’t much to add — though I could nerd out about Kadavar‘s ultra-effective retroisms all day if you’re up for it — but something I haven’t really touched on yet about the record: When I was out in Philly last weekend, the DJ cleverly mixed Kadavar into a set of early ’70s jams, and it was all but indistinguishable in sound from the actual classics. That in itself is an achievement, but Kadavar‘s level of craft also stands them out among their modern peers, and it was drummer Tiger‘s snare sound that I first recognized in “All Our Thoughts,” so right down to the most intricate details, Kadavar‘s Kadavarwas a gripping and enticing affair that proved there’s still ground to cover in proto-heavy worship.
The fuzz was great — don’t get me wrong, I loved the fuzz — but with Stubb‘s Stubb, it was even more about the songs themselves. Whether it was the interplay between guitarist Jack Dickinson and bassist Peter Holland (also of Trippy Wicked) on vocals for the chorus of “Scale the Mountain” or the thickened shuffle in “Soul Mover” punctuated by drummer Chris West‘s (also Trippy Wicked and Groan) ever-ready fills, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch, and though it’s an album I’ve basically been hearing since the beginning of the year, its appeal has endured throughout and I still find myself going back to it where many others have already been forgotten. With the acoustic “Crosses You Bear” and more laid-bare emotionality of “Crying River,” Stubb showed there was more them than excellence of tone and with the seven-minute finale “Galloping Horses,” they showed they were ready to jam with the best. Truly memorable songs — and also one of the live highlights of my year.
Orange Goblin‘s purpose seemed reborn on their seventh album and Candlelight Records debut, A Eulogy for the Damned. Culling the best elements from their last couple albums, 2007’s Healing Through Fire and 2004’s Thieving from the House of God, the long-running London troublemakers upped the production value and seemed bent from the start on taking hold of the day’s sympathy toward their brand of heavy. With tales of alcoholic regret, classic horrors and a bit of cosmic exploration for good measure, they marked their ascent to the top of the British scene and took well to the role of statesmen, headlining Desertfest and proceeding to smash audiences to pieces around the continent at fests and on tours. Look for them to do the same when they bring the show Stateside in 2013 with Clutch. Their plunder is well earned, and I still rarely go 48 hours without hearing the bridge of “The Fog” in my head. Can’t wait to see them again.
While I still miss Los Natas, my grief for their passing has been much eased over the last two years by frontman Sergio Chotsourian‘s doomier explorations in Ararat. The first album, 2009’sMusica de la Resistencia(review here), ran concurrent to Los Natas‘ swansong, Nuevo Orden de la Libertad, but with II, the new three-piece came into their own, setting space rock synth against low-end sprawl, thick drumming and Chotsourian‘s penchant for experimenting with structure. Extended tracks “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” were positively encompassing, and showed Ararat not only as a distinct entity from Los Natas, but a turn stylistically for Chotsourian into elephantine plod, wide-open atmospherics and a likewise expansive creative sensibility. The acoustic “El Inmigrante” and piano-led “Atenas” offered sonic diversity while enriching the mood, and closer “Tres de Mayo” hinted at some of the melding of the various sides that might be in store in Ararat‘s future. If the jump from the first record to the second is any indicator, expect something expansive and huge to come.
Italian cosmic doom meganauts Ufomammut outdid themselves yet again with Oro, breaking up a single full-length into two separate releases, Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter. But the album — which I’ve decided to list as the single entity Oro rather than its two component parts basically to save myself some brain space — was more than just big in terms of its runtime. More importantly, Ufomammut were able to hold firm to their commitment to stylistic growth, drawing on their greatest triumph yet, 2010’s Eve (review here), the trio pushed themselves even further on their Neurot Recordings debut, resulting in an album worthy of the legacy of those releasing it. I don’t know if Oro will come to define Ufomammut as Eve already seems to have — dividing it as they did may have made it harder for listeners to grasp it as a single piece — but it shows that there’s simply no scaring the band out of themselves. Brilliantly tied together around a central progression that showed up in “Empireum” from Opus Primumand “Sublime” on Opus Alter, I have the feeling Ufomammut will probably have another album out before Oro‘s breadth has fully set in.
Behold the standard bearers of heavy. It wasn’t long after hearing UK trio Conan for the first time that I began using them as a touchstone to see how other bands stacked up, and to be honest, almost no one has. Led by the inimitable lumber provided by the tone of guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis (interview here), Conan stripped down their approach for Monnos, returning to Foel Studio in Wales to work with producer Chris Fielding — who’d also helmed their 2010 Horseback Battle HammerEP — and the resulting effort was both trim and humongous. Early tracks like “Hawk as Weapon,” “Battle in the Swamp” (an old demo given new life) and “Grim Tormentor” actually managed to be catchy as well as sonically looming, and the more extended closing duo of “Headless Hunter” and “Invincible Throne” showed that Conan could both use their tone to build forward momentum and plod their way into ultra-slow, ultra-grim despairing nothingness. Monnos affirmed Conan as one of the most pivotal acts in doom, and with new material and a home studio reportedly in the works, as well as further European touring on the docket for early 2013, their onslaught shows no signs of letting up. Right fucking on.
In some ways, it seems like the easiest thing in the world, but with My Sleeping Karma‘s fourth full-length, Soma, it really was just a question of a band taking their sound to a completely new level. The German heavy psych instrumentalists brought forth the sweetness of tone their guitars have harnessed over the course of their three prior offerings, but the progressive keyboard flourishes, the warmth in the bass, the tight pop of the drums — it all clicked on Somain a way that the other records hinted was possible and made the album the payoff to the four-piece’s long-established potential. Wrapped around the titular theme of a drink of the gods and with its tracks spaced out by varying ambient interludes, no moment on the album felt like it wasn’t serving the greater purpose of the whole, and the whole proved to be a worthy purpose indeed. Hands down my favorite instrumental release of the year and an effort that pushed My Sleeping Karma to the front of the pack in the crowded European heavy psych scene.
The damnedest thing happens every time I turn on Graveyard‘s third album, Lights Out, in that before I’m halfway through opener “An Industry of Murder,” I have to turn it up. The reigning kings of Swedish retro heavy wasted no time following up 2011’s stunning sophomore outing, Hisingen Blues(review here), and with the four-year gap between their self-titled debut and the second record, it was a surprise from the moment it was announced, but more than that, Lights Outshowed remarkable development in Graveyard‘s sound, offering elements of classic soul on songs like “Slow Motion Coundown” and “Hard Times Lovin'” to stand alongside the brash rock and roll of “Seven Seven” or the irresistible hook provided by “The Suits, the Law and the Uniforms” or the single “Goliath.” A landmark vocal performance from guitarist Joakim Nilsson and newly surfaced political bent to the lyrics hinted that Graveyard were nowhere near done growing, but seriously, if they put out four or five more records in the vein of Lights Out, I doubt there’d be too many complaints. Already one can hear the influence they’ve had on European heavy rock, and Lights Outisn’t likely to slow that process in the slightest.
Three drum hits and then the lurching “Let Them Fall” — the leadoff track on the first Saint Vitus studio album since 1995 — is underway, and it’s exactly that lack of pomp, that lack of pretense, that makes Lillie: F-65so righteous. Admittedly, it’s a reunion album. They toured for a couple years playing old material, then finally decided to settle in and let guitarist Dave Chandler (interview here) start coming up with a batch of songs, but you can’t argue with the results. They nailed it. With Tony Reed‘s perfect production (discussed here), Vitus captured the classic tonality in Chandler‘s guitar and Mark Adams‘ bass and kept to their sans-bullshit ethic: A short, 33-minute album that leaves their audience wondering where the hell that assault of noise just came from. Scott “Wino” Weinrich‘s presence up front was unmistakable with Chandler‘s punkish, no-frills lyrics (as well as his own on “Blessed Night,” the first song they wrote for the album), and drummer Henry Vasquez not only filled the shoes of the late Armando Acosta but established his own persona behind the kit. I hope it’s not their last record, but if it is, Saint Vitus came into and left Lillie: F-65as doom legends, and their work remains timeless.
Talk about a band who shirked expectation. Guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga and I discussed that aspect of Ancestors a bit in an interview over the summer, but it’s worth underscoring. There was next to nothing in either of Ancestors‘ first two albums to hint at where they’d go with the third. Both Neptune with Fire and Of Sound Mind(review here) were rousing, riff-led efforts that headed toward a particular heavy sensibility, but it was with last year’s Invisible WhiteEP (review here) that the L.A. outfit began to show the progressive direction they were heading. And In Dreams and Timeis even a departure from that! It’s kind of a departure from reality as well, with the Moog/organ/synth mesh from Matt Barks and Jason Watkins (also vocals), dreamy basslines from Nick Long and hold-it-all-together drumming of Jamie Miller — since out of the band. Closer “First Light” was my pick for song of the year, and had the album been comprised of that track along, it’d probably still be on this list somewhere, but with the complement given to it by the piano sprawl of “On the Wind” and driving riffs and vocal interplay of “Correyvreckan” (if you haven’t heard Long‘s bass on the latter as well, you should), there was little left to question that this was the strongest Ancestors release of their career to date and hopefully the beginning of a new era in their sound. They’ve never been what people wanted them to be, but I for one like not knowing what to expect before it shows up, at least where these guys are concerned.
After what I saw as a lackluster production for 2010’s Snakes for the Divine, Oakland, CA, trio High on Fire aligned themselves with producer Kurt Ballou (Converge) for De Vermis Mysteriis and completely renewed the vitality in their attack. Built on the insistence of “Bloody Knuckles,” furious fuckall of “Fertile Green,” unmitigated piracy of “Serums of Laio” and eerie crawl in “King of Days,” De Vermis Mysteriis was both aggressive in High on Fire‘s raid-your-brain-for-THC tradition and extreme in ways they’ve never been before. Groovers like the instrumental “Samsara” and earlier “Madness of an Architect” offered bombast where the thrash may have relented, while “Spiritual Rites” proved that guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike (also Sleep; interview here), bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensell had arrived at a new threshold of speed and intensity. Whatever personal issues may have been in play at the time, High on Fire delivered a blistering full-length that stands up to and in many ways surpasses any prior viciousness in their catalog, and their level of performance on their current tour makes it plain to see that the band is ready for ascendency to the heights of metal. They are conquerors to the last, and if De Vermis Mysteriisis what I get for wavering, then I’ll consider my lesson hammered home in every second of feedback, tom thud and grueling second of distortion topped with Pike‘s signature growl.
When I interviewed interviewed Steve Von Till about Honor Found in Decay, the Neurosis guitarist/vocalist called the band “a chaos process” in reference to their songwriting. I have no trouble believing that, because while Neurosis stand among the most influential heavy metal bands of their generation — having had as much of an effect on what’s come after them as, say, Meshuggah or Sleep, while also having little sonically in common with either of them — it’s also nearly impossible to pinpoint one aspect of their sound that defines them. The churning rhythms in the riffing of Von Till and his fellow frontman, guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly (interview here), Dave Edwardson‘s intensity on bass and periodic vocal, the assured percussive creativity of Jason Roeder and theexperimental edge brought to bear in Noah Landis‘ synth and sampling all prove to be essential elements of the whole. On Honor Found in Decay — and this isn’t to take away anything from any other particular member’s songwriting contributions — it would be Landis standing out with his greatest contributions yet, becoming as much a defining element in songs like “At the Well,” “Bleeding the Pigs” and “Casting of the Ages” as either Kelly or Von Till‘s guitars. Had I never seen the band before, I’d have a hard time believing Honor Found in Decay could possibly be representative of their live sound, but they are every bit as crushing, as oppressive and as emotionally visceral on stage — if not more so — as they are on the album, and while their legacy has long since been set among the most important heavy acts ever, period, as they climb closer to the 30-year mark (they’ll get there in 2015), Neurosis continue to refuse to bow to what’s expected of them or write material that doesn’t further their decades-long progression. They are worthy of every homage paid them, and more.
It’s hard for me to properly convey just how happy listening to Greenleaf‘s Nest of Vipersmakes me, and I’ve got several false starts already deleted to prove it. The Swedish supergroup of vocalist Oskar Cedermalm (Truckfighters), guitarists Tommi Holappa and Johan Rockner (both Dozer), bassist Bengt Bäcke (engineer for Dozer, Demon Cleaner, etc.) and drummer Olle Mårthans (Dozer) last released an album in 2007. That was Agents of Ahriman, which was one of my favorite albums of the last decade. No shit. Not year, decade. With a slightly revamped lineup and Dozer‘s maybe-final album, 2008’s Beyond Colossal, and the never-got-off-the-ground side-project Dahli between, Nest of Viperslanded this past winter and with the shared membership, Karl Daniel Lidén production and consistency of songwriting from Holappa (interview here), I immediately saw it as a sequel to the last Dozer, but really it goes well beyond that. Tracks like “Dreamcatcher,” “Case of Fidelity,” “The Timeline’s History” and soaring opener “Jack Staff” show that although they’d never really toured to that point and been through various lineups over the years, Greenleaf was nonetheless an entity unto its own. Cedermalm‘s vocals were a triumph, Mårthans‘ drumming unhinged and yet grounded, and guest appearances from organist Per Wiberg and vocalists Peder Bergstrand (Lowrider/I are Droid) and Fredrik Nordin (Dozer) only enriched the album for repeat listens, which I’m thrilled to say it gets to this very day. If I called it a worthy successor both to Dozer and to Agents of Ahriman, those words alone would probably fall short of conveying quite how much that means on a personal level, so let its placement stand as testimony instead. This is one I’ll be enjoying for years to come, and when I’m done writing this feature, this is the one I’m gonna put back on to listen through again. It has been, and no doubt will continue to be, a constant.
Go figure that the Om record two albums after the one called Pilgrimagewould feel so much like a journey. Further including multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Robert A. A. Lowe (also of experimental one-man outfit Lichens) alongside the established core duo of drummer Emil Amos (also of Grails) and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also of Sleep), as well as incorporating a range of guest appearances from the likes of Grayceon‘s Jackie Perez Gratz on cello and Worm Ouroboros‘ Lorraine Rath (who appeared on 2010’s God is Goodas well) on flute, Om fleshed out what was once a signature minimalism to the point of being a lush, constantly moving and markedly fluid entity. Cisneros, as the remaining founder and lead vocalist, served as a unifying presence in the material — his bass still was still very much as the center of “Gethsemane” or the more straightforward and distorted “State of Non-Return” — but those songs and “Addis,” “Sinai” and gloriously melodic closer “Haqq al-Yaqin” amounted to more than any single performance, and where prior Om outings had dug themselves deep into a kind of solitary contemplation, Advaitic Songslooked outward with a palpable sense of musical joy and a richness of experience that could only be called spiritual, however physically or emotionally arresting it might also prove. I’ve found it works best in the morning, as a way to transition from that state of early half-there into the waking world — which no doubt has more harshness in mind than the sweet acoustics and tabla at the end of “Haqq al-Yaqin” — so that some of that sweetness can remain and help me face whatever might come throughout the day. A morning ceremony and a bit of meditation to reorder the consciousness.
Didn’t it have to be Colour Haze? Didn’t it? Two discs of the finest heavy psychedelic rock the world has to offer — yes I mean that — plus all they went through to get it out, the drama of building and rebuilding a studio, recording and re-recording, pressing and repressing, what else could it have been but She Said? After two-plus years of waiting, I was just so glad when it actually existed. Late in 2008, the Munich trio released All, and that was my album of the year that year as well (kudos to anyone who has that issue of Metal Maniacs), but I feel like even if you strip all that away and take away all the drama and the band’s influence, their standing in the European scene, guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek (interview here) fostering next-gen talent on Elektrohasch and whatever else you want or need to remove, She Said still holds up. Just the songs themselves. The extra percussion layered in with Manfred Merwald‘s drums on “She Said,” the horns and Duna Jam-ambience on “Transformation,” the unpretentious boogie of “This” on disc one, or the rush of “Slowdown” on disc two and the culmination the whole album gets when the strings kick in on “Grace.” Those strings. God damn. Suddenly a 2CD release makes sense, when each is given its own progression, its own destination at which to arrive, and tired as I am I still tear up like clockwork when I put on “Grace” just to hear it while I type about it. Beautifully arranged, wonderfully executed, She Saidcouldn’t be anywhere but at the top spot on this list. The warmth in Koglek‘s guitar and Philipp Rasthofer‘s bass on “Breath” and the way their jams always seem to have someplace to go, I feel like I’m listening to a moment exquisitely captured. There isn’t a doubt in my mind Colour Haze are the most potent heavy rock power trio in the world, and that their chemistry has already and will continue to inspire others around them, but most importantly, She Saidmet the true album-of-the-year criteria in not seeming at all limited to the confines of 2012 — as though it had some kind of expiration date. Not so. Even though I’ve already been through them more times than I know or would care to share had I counted, I look forward to getting to know the songs on She Saidover the years to come, and as I have with Colour Haze‘s works in the past, seeing their appeal change over time the way the best of friends do. It couldn’t have been anything but Colour Haze. Whatever hype other albums or bands have, for me, it’s this, and that’s it.
If this list went to 25, the next five would be:
21. Snail, Terminus
22. Revelation, Inner Harbor
23. Wo Fat, The Black Code
24. Groan, The Divine Right of Kings
25. Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes
Honorable mention goes to: Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight (another one about whom I have a hard time being impartial), Mighty High, At Devil Dirt, Bell Witch, Samothrace, Enslaved, Viaje a 800, and Larman Clamor.
Also worth noting some conspicuous absences: Witchcraft, Swans, Baroness, Royal Thunder, The Sword, Torche. These albums garnered a strong response and have done well in the Readers Poll looking at the results so far, but please keep in mind, this is my list, I took a night to sleep on it, I stand by it and I’ve got my reasons for selecting what I did. You’ll find about 5,000 words of them above.
Thank you as always for reading. If you disagree with any picks, want to add your own take on any of the above, or anything else — really, whatever’s cool — please leave a comment below.
Whatever medium you enjoy music through, LPs, CDs, digital, tapes, reel-to-reel, Edison cylinders, the fact of the matter is that artwork — the visual representation of the album — makes a huge difference in the overall impression a record makes. There are bands who slave away for months negotiating fine details with artists and there are bands who snap a picture of themselves and throw it out front on their way to grab their next beer. Both methods have yielded classic results.
As 2012 winds down, I thought it might be fun to go back to the start of the year and take a look at some of the best album art that accompanied some killer albums. This isn’t the Best Albums list, just some of what I think is the Best Art. I’ll try my best to keep my reasons short as we go along alphabetically:
Alcest, Les Voyages de l’Âme
The sort of gloomy lushness that artist Fursy Teyssier brought to the cover for Alcest‘s Les Voyages de l’Âme was breathtaking from the first glance. Teyssier (also of Les Discrets; interview here) wonderfully captured the morose beauty in Alcest‘s music and painted a masterpiece that transcended “rock art” as much as the album itself transcended black metal or any other genre in which one might try to pigeonhole it.
The sentinel that has now graced the cover of the last couple Conan releases has mirrored the British act’s ascent in joining the ranks of great heavy metal mascots. Tony Roberts, who drew the piece on the cover of Monnos, has become an essential part of the band’s mythology, meeting their ultra-crushing tonality with visuals that seem to work in atmospheres no less oppressively brutal. If art was ever heavy, it was heavy here.
A pretty simple idea, but wonderfully executed, the front of Portland neo-traditionalists Doomsower‘s debut EP, 1974, came from an EPA photo documentary project that took place the same year. I picked it for this list not because it was so intricate or anything like that, but proof that sometimes something that seems basic can also be just right for the songs — the rails parallel, but joining, seeming to indicate Doomsower‘s journey undertaken.
Electric Moon, The Doomsday Machine
The question wasn’t so much would there be an Electric Moon cover on this list, but which one? The prolific German heavy psych jammers have a cache of treasure in the work of bassist Komet Lulu, and when it came time to choose from among the several recordings the band released in 2012, The Doomsday Machine stood out as a departure from the bright colors and classic psychedelia, being a painting by Lulu‘s father, Ulla Papel. Here’s to genetics.
Groan, The Divine Right of Kings
Having also handled Groan‘s split with Finnish trad doomers Vinum Sabbatum, W. Ralph Walters outdid himself with Groan‘s full-length follow-up, The Divine Right of Kings. With strong References to Hieronymus Bosch‘s vision of hell, Walters visualized the band’s move into classic metal and mixed it with manic get-stoned-and-stare kitchen-sinkery much as Groan continued to consort with brash heavy rock and doom. Walters‘ work on Blue Aside‘s The Moles of a Dying Race was no less distinct an achievement.
Larman Clamor, Frogs
Aside from thinking frogs are awesome in general, I was stoked to see how incredibly well Alexander von Wieding‘s art for his band Larman Clamor‘s 2012 offering fit the music. Otherworldly, darkly psychedelic and caked in haze, the dead stare of the frankenfrog on the front of Frogs perfectly matched von Wieding‘s swampy, bluesy style and looked even better on vinyl. Having also contributed to records by Lord Fowl, Wo Fat, Cortez and others this year, von Wieding has made himself one of the most essential heavy rock artists the world over.
Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay
Were it not for the discussion about the process of putting it together in the interview I did with Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till at the end of October, Josh Graham‘s cover for Honor Found in Decay — especially being so similar in idea to his work on Soundgarden‘s King Animal — probably wouldn’t have made this list, but knowing the level of construction that went into making the piece, from painting the jawbones to using artifact arrowheads from Slovakia, I couldn’t help but see it in a different light. Graham‘s ended his association with Neurosis, but if this is how he went out, they couldn’t have asked for more.
I had spent some serious time with Summoner‘s Phoenix by then, had been in talks with the band about releasing it on The Maple Forum, but it wasn’t until I held the LP in my hands at SHoD and really saw the Alyssa Maucere cover in-person that I realized what I was looking at. And once you see it, it’s not really subtle at all. Get it yet? There’s a cock and balls on the right side. I gotta give it to the Boston outfit and to Maucere for sneaking and yet not at all sneaking that one in there. Hey, if you don’t appreciate some phallic humor every now and again, you’re probably not going to start a website called The Obelisk.
Ufomammut, Oro: Opus Primum & Oro: Opus Alter
Is it cheating to include both covers from Ufomammut‘s Oro two-album series? Probably. Do I give a shit? Not in the slightest, because the Italian collective — who for visual purposes go by the name Malleus — tapped into new territory of psych art with the pieces for Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter, manifesting the idea of “psychedelic metal” in the actual style and inks used, while also contrasting dark and light and conveying the permanent nature of gold itself and the notions of hypnotic ritual that show up in their music. These covers were proof that Ufomammut are more than just the masters of their sound.
Another Tony Roberts creation, but in a completely different style from Conan‘s Monnos above, the bleak cover of UK nautical doomers Undersmile‘s 80-minute debut LP Narwhal seemed to embody everything the band had to offer on the album. It was dark, with hard drawn structural lines, but also sprawling, encompassing every panel of the digipak and running into the liner much as Undersmile‘s oceanic themes ran into every minute of the music, crushingly heavy or minimalist and ambient. Less about the titular creature within and more about the sea itself, it conveyed an utter hopelessness and the smallness of humanity when set against something so massive as the sea.
There were plenty more I could’ve included here — records from High on Fire, Om, Graveyard, Wight, Caltrop, Ancestors, Samothrace, Vulture and several others all are worthy of honorable mention, but for one reason or another, these were the standouts to me and I hope you agree that even in this go-ahead-and-download-it age of immediate convenience, the visual art remains pivotal to an album experience.
Someone you think got left out? If you’ve got any suggestions to add, agreements or disagreements, I’d love to get a discussion going in the comments, so please, have at it.