The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016

Posted in Features on December 15th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 20 debut albums of 2016

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.

Of all the lists I do to wrap up or start any given year, this is the hardest. As someone obviously more concerned with first impressions than I am and thus probably better-dressed once said, you only get one chance at them. For bands, that can be a vicious bite in the ass on multiple levels.

To wit, you put out a great debut, fine, but there’s a whole segment of your listeners who’re bound to think you’ll never live up to it again. You put out a meh debut, you sell yourself short. Or maybe your debut is awesome but doesn’t really represent where you want to be as a band, so it’s a really good first impression, but a mistaken one. There are so many things that can go wrong or go right with any LP, but with debuts, the stakes are that much higher because it’s the only time you’ll get the chance to engage your audience for the first time. That matters.

And when it comes to putting together a list of the best debuts of the year, how does one begin to judge? True, some of these acts have done EPs and singles and splits and things like that before, and that’s at least something to go on, but can one really be expected to measure an act’s potential based on a single collection of songs? Is that fair to anyone involved? Or on the other side, is it even possible to take a debut entirely on its own merits, without any consideration for where it might lead the band in question going forward? I know that’s not something I’ve ever been able to do, certainly. Or particularly interested in doing. I like context.

Still, one presses on. I guess the point is that, like picking any kind of prospects, some will pan out and some won’t. I’ve done this for enough years now that I’ve seen groups flame or fade out while others have risen to new heights with each subsequent release. It’s always a mix. But at the same time, it’s important to step back and say that, as of today, this is where it’s at.

And so it is:

KING BUFFALO ORION

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016

1. King Buffalo, Orion
2. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree
3. Heavy Temple, Chassit
4. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
5. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
6. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
7. Wretch, Wretch
8. Year of the Cobra, In the Shadows Below
9. BigPig, Grande Puerco
10. Fuzz Evil, Fuzz Evil
11. Bright Curse, Before the Shore
12. Conclave, Sins of the Elders
13. Pale Grey Lore, Pale Grey Lore
14. High Fighter, Scars and Crosses
15. Spirit Adrift, Chained to Oblivion
16. Bellringer, Jettison
17. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Is Satan Real?
18. Merchant, Suzerain
19. Beastmaker, Lusus Naturae
20. King Dead, Woe and Judgment

Honorable Mention

There are many. First, the self-titled from Pooty Owldom, which had so much weirdo charm it made my head want to explode. And Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun‘s acoustic solo record was technically a debut. And Atala‘s record. And Horehound. And Mother Mooch. And Domkraft. And Spaceslug. And Graves at Sea? Shit. More than a decade after their demo, they finally put out a debut album. And Second Grave‘s full-length would turn out to be their swansong, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the thing. There were a lot of records to consider in putting this list together. As always, it could’ve been a much longer list.

For example, here are 20 more: Swan Valley Heights, Arctic, Blues Funeral, Teacher, Psychedelic Witchcraft, Nonsun, Duel, Banquet, Floodlore, Mindkult‘s EP, Mountain Dust, Red LamaRed Wizard, Limestone Whale, Dunbarrow, Comacozer, Sinister Haze, Pants Exploder, Akasava, Katla and No Man’s Valley. That’s not even the end of it. I could go on.

Notes

It was a fight to the finish. There’s always one, and as late as yesterday I could be found kicking back and forth between King Buffalo and Elephant Tree in the top spot. What was it that finally put King Buffalo‘s Orion over Elephant Tree‘s self-titled? I don’t know. Ask me tomorrow and the answer might be completely different.

They had a lot in common. Not necessarily in terms of style — King Buffalo basked in spacious Americana-infused heavy psych jams while Elephant Tree proffered more earthbound riffing and melodies — but each executed memorable songs across its span in a way that would be unfair to ask of a debut. The potential for what both bands can turn into down the line played a part in the picks, but something else they share between them is that the quality of the work they’re doing now warrants the top spots. Orion and Elephant Tree were great albums, not just great first albums.

From there, we see a wide swath of next-generation encouragement for the future of heavy rock, whether it’s coming from Sweden’s Vokonis or Philadelphia’s Heavy Temple, or London’s Bright Curse, or Los Angeles duo BigPig. The latter act’s punkish fuzz definitely benefited from guitarist/vocalist Dino von Lalli‘s experience playing in Fatso Jetson, but one hopes that as the years go on his own multifaceted songwriting style will continue to grow as well.

A few offerings weren’t necessarily unexpected but still lived up to the anticipation. High Fighter‘s EP prefaced their aggro sludgecore well. Ditto that for the grueling death-sludge of Massachusetts natives Conclave. The aforementioned Bright Curse, Merchant, Fuzz Evil, Atala, Bellringer, Holy Grove, Wretch and Worshipper all had offerings of one sort or another prior to their full-length debuts — in the case of Bellringer, it was just a series of videos, while Wretch had the entire The Gates of Slumber catalog to fall back on — but each of those albums offered surprises nonetheless.

It would’ve been hard not to be taken by the songwriting on display from the likes of Holy Grove, Year of the Cobra, Pale Grey Lore and Beastmaker, who between them covered a pretty broad variety of atmosphere but found ways to deliver high-quality crafted material in that. Those albums were a pleasure to hear. Put Boston’s Worshipper in that category as well, though they were just as much a standout from the pack in terms of their performance as what they were performing. Speaking of performance, the lush melodies from Church of the Cosmic Skull and classic progressive flourish were enough to make me a believer. Simply gorgeous. And one-man outfit Spirit Adrift shined, if in that matte-black doom kind of way, on an encouraging collection of modern melancholic heavy that seemed to hint at sprawl to come.

As we get down to the bottom of the list we find Pennsylvania ambient heavy post-rockers King Dead. Their Woe and Judgment was released digitally last year (2015) but the LP came out earlier this year, so I wasn’t quite sure where to place them ultimately. I know they got some mention on the 2015 lists somewhere, but while they’re an act who’ve flown under a lot of people’s radar as yet, I have good feelings about how they might continue to dig into their sound and the balance of bleakness and psychedelic color they bring to their material. They’re slated for a follow-up in 2017, so this won’t be the last list on which they appear in the next few weeks.

Like I said at the outset, putting out a debut album is a special moment for any band. Not everyone gets to that point and not everyone gets beyond it, so while a list like this is inherently bound to have some element of speculation, it’s still a worthy endeavor to celebrate the accomplishments of those who hit that crucial moment in their creative development. Hopefully these acts continue to grow, flourish, and build on what they’ve thus far been able to realize sonically. That’s the ideal.

And before I go, once again, let me reinforce the notion that I recognize this is just a fraction of the whole. I’d like it to be the start of a conversation. If there was a debut album that kicked your ass this year and you don’t see it here, please drop a note in the comments below. I’m sure I’ll be adding more honorable mentions and whatnot over the next couple days, so if you see glaring omissions, let’s have ’em.

Thanks for reading.

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Nonsun Release Debut Album Black Snow Desert

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 6th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

nonsun

With two discs’ — that’s CDs, yes — worth of material, one could hardly accuse Ukrainian duo Nonsun of humble beginnings on their debut full-length, Black Snow Desert, which is out today and being self-released, but if the two-piece stretch far and wide, they do so with purpose, and the record’s sprawl is likewise atmospheric, following up the band’s 2013 Sun Blind Me EP (review here) with a surge forward that’s immersive and ambient in kind while keeping the sense of patient experimentalism consistent while progressing creatively. Also, there’s a lot of it.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m cool with that. Congrats to Nonsun on getting such a monstrous offering together and making it to release day. They have the record available for an on-the-cheap five dollars on Bandcamp, and if you’re so inclined, you can also stream it in full below. Art, announcement, background and audio all follow:

nonsun black snow desert

Nonsun debut full-length

Our debut full-length album titled ‘Black Snow Desert’ is to be released on January 6 2016. 2 CDs, 7 tracks, 84 minutes.

It’s not an ordinary album. It’s a journey. A long and hard trip. With a heavy heart and longing spirit. But those patient and open-minded will eventually be rewarded.

It’s the music from behind the wall of sleep. And it doesn’t matter on which side you are while listening to it.

Nonsun is a doom/drone metal band from Lviv, Ukraine. Formed in 2011 by Goatooth (guitars, bass, vocals) and Alpha (drums). Started with a 4-track (but 48-minute) demo EP “Good Old Evil” which was self-released in December 2012. The second EP “Sun Blind Me” was released in September 2013 via Breathe Plastic Records (Netherlands) and Drowning (Denmark). In September 2014 the band played in Wroclaw (Poland) opening the show for Yob & Pallbearer. Yob have chosen Nonsun out of 22 bands.

Goatooth – guitars
Alpha – drums

http://nonsun.bandcamp.com
https://www.facebook.com/NonsunDoom

Nonsun, Black Snow Desert (2016)

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The Obelisk Radio Add of the Week: Nonsun, Sun Blind Me

Posted in Radio on August 21st, 2013 by JJ Koczan

The crux of Nonsun‘s Sun Blind Me is set early on, as the Ukrainian duo of Goatooth (vocals/guitar/bass) and Alpha (drums) unfold the first of their latest release’s four massive tracks with an ultra-patient, ultra-dark droning atmosphere. That song, “Rain Have Mercy,” is the longest at 11:57 (immediate points), but consistent in its sprawl and intent with the rest of Sun Blind Me, having been extended from a prior version included on the Lviv twosome’s last outing, 2012’s Good Old Evil, which was dubbed an EP though it ranged close to 50 minutes. Sun Blind Me follows this ethic as well, and between “Rain Have Mercy” and the subsequent “Forgotten is What Never Was” (11:22) is comprised half of older material and half of newer — the latter two cuts, “Alphomega (Part I: Sunlit Darkness)” and “Alphomega (Part II: Upward Blindness)” taking the drone and the darkly metallic plod that offsets it to even more inhuman-sounding aesthetic cohesion.

Nearly everything I’ve seen from Nonsun in terms of press quotes marks them out as a sludge band, and indeed they do themselves as well, but I disagree, at least if you’re looking at sludge in the sense of acts like EyeHateGod or Iron Monkey. Where chaos is part of the appeal in the work of those outfits, Nonsun come across as much more complex, the “Alphomega” two-parter taking its time even more than the first two songs on Sun Blind Me in moving between a mounting static noise of the first part to the emergence of an overlaying guitar part over the more minimalist second. At first, it seemed strange to me that Nonsun would open with older songs before moving into newer ones, but with the last half of Sun Blind Me being instrumental and even more broiled in its droning morass, it ultimately makes sense. That’s not to say “Rain Have Mercy” or “Forgotten is What Never Was” are particularly accessible, but at least there are vocals, and it shows that whatever Goatooth and Alpha might bring to their newest outing, they’re not willing yet to give up completely the methodologies they proffered on their debut.

As for those, I’d mark them more in league with a droned-out take on Euro-doom than sludge, though that influence may well be at work as well. There’s a sense of a plan at work throughout Sun Blind Me, though, and that remains so even as “Alphomega (Part II: Upward Blindess)” moves into the Earth-style sparseness of its second half, sounding mechanical while even for being plenty brutal in their own right, “Rain Have Mercy” and “Forgotten is What Never Was” eventually come around to the human element of vocals, growled and lurching though those vocals may be. Whatever sphere they’re working in and however drone-heavy that sphere might wind up being, Nonsun present a caustic but hypnotic take on tonal weight and a vague industrial influence without coming off as trying to reside in one genre or another. Their sound is clearly still in development, as indicated by the progress in approach from the first offering to the next, but they seem to be heading in a fascinating direction and I’ll look forward to finding out where it might go from here when and if they embark on an official full-length debut or subsequent EP or single.

Listen to Sun Blind Me as part of the playlist in regular rotation on The Obelisk Radio now. Already distributed digitally by Drowning, Nonsun will issue a tape of Sun Blind Me through Breathe Plastic that’s due out soon. You can also listen to it on the Bandcamp player below:

Nonsun, Sun Blind Me (2013)

Nonsun on Thee Facebooks

Breathe Plastic

Drowning

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