Friday Full-Length: Neurosis, A Sun that Never Sets

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Neurosis, A Sun that Never Sets (2001)

It is arguable that A Sun that Never Sets represents the moment when Neurosis most defined the course of what would come to be called post-metal. In fact, I’ve argued it several times. It’s not a hard argument to make, and if you’ve ever heard the album, which was released by Relapse Records in 2001 as the seventh outing from the Oakland-based outfit, you very likely already know where I’m going with this. It’s the riff. That riff. Neurosis end A Sun that Never Sets with “Stones from the Sky,” and to this day, every post-metal record I encounter in one way or another — often in directly ripping it off — tries to capture that moment where the sweeping final riff of the album devolves and deconstructs into a genuine cacophony of noise before cutting out like a transmission from another world has just been shut down. I’m not going to take anything away — at all — ever — from the work Neurosis did on albums like 1992’s Souls at Zero, 1993’s Enemy of the Sun, 1996’s primal Through Silver in Blood or the sprawling chaos of 1999’s Times of Grace. Neurosis‘ output has always been and still is marked and defined by a forward creative development — it continued after this record as well — but to consider A Sun that Never Sets anything less than a landmark in that process is to simply miss the point.

The difference? Patience. A sense of brooding in the title-track. The flow of arrangements in “The Tide” and “From the Hill” early on. Comprised of guitarist/vocalists Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till, bassist/vocalist Dave Edwardson, keyboardist/sampler Noah Landis and drummer Jason Roeder, Neurosis were no strangers to intensity. Going back to their earliest hardcore punk output on 1988’s Pain of Mind debut or 1990’s The Word as Law, it was an essential ingredient, and it has remained one even as they passed their 30th anniversary, but listening to songs like “Crawl Back In” and the tribalist “From Where its Roots Run,” A Sun that Never Sets brimmed with a tension that even Times of Grace had only begun to explore, and while it would ultimately be in “Stones from the Sky” that that tension found its (merciful) release, the lurch of pieces like “Watchfire” or the earlier “From the Hill” seemed nearly orchestral in its swell and cascade, providing the listener with a progressive course of ups and downs that stretched across a masterfully executed, deeply textured 68 minutes that served as one of the best and most pivotal albums of its decade — all the more an accomplishment for being released in the first year of it. From the drum march that begins the title-track to the noise experiments in intro “Erode” and the penultimate interlude “Resound,” A Sun that Never Sets turned volume into ritual, and it remains singular in its dynamic, both within the Neurosis catalog and in the wider sphere of heavy music as a whole. As many as have tried to imitate it — and who could argue with trying? — none have found results that come close to touching its power, presence or vision.

And of course, for Neurosis, it was another step along the way. They’d soon enough develop Neurot Recordings as an outlet for their own material, solo works, and other artists admired by the band, today resulting in one of the underground’s most respected imprints. 2003 brought the Neurosis & Jarboe collaboration and 2004 pushed further into atmospheric soulfulness with The Eye of Every Storm — and if you don’t know what I mean by “soulful,” revisit “A Season in the Sky” — and saw the band all but absent from touring before 2007’s Given to the Rising reintroduced a more aggressive feel and stark trades in volume. Density of intent persisted through the vast scope of 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here), and as they looked back on 30 years together with special live sets and a return to prominence as a touring act, last year’s Fires Within Fires (review here) continued to forge new creative ground even as it embraced some of their rawest and most seething output since their earliest days. Through these changes and the ongoing evolution of Neurosis as a project, they have always remained committed to a natural progression, and taken in succession, their albums tell a story of that progression across a span of decades in one of heavy music’s richest and most individualized histories.

Neurosis don’t exist in a vacuum, and with releases as essential as A Sun that Never Sets, the temptation is often to see them that way — which is to say it’s not the only record that helped shape post-metal — but there’s no question they stand among the most important groups of their generation, and as an audience we’re all the more fortunate that their contributions are as ongoing as they are distinctive.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

This coming Monday is the Memorial Day holiday here in the States. It is an unfortunate cause for celebration, what with the perpetual war generally and the ensuing jingoism and unthinking patriotism that always seems to accompany the day — even the baseball teams wear camo; it’s a downer — but a day off is a day off, and at this point I’ll take it.

I took today off as well and The Patient Mrs., the impending Pecan, the little dog Dio and I all came down to Connecticut last night to spend an extra day at the beach. Four day weekend? Shit yeah, son. That’s the way life should always be.

After some debate on the matter at the office this week, my final day of work is June 16. As you might imagine, my feelings on this are somewhat conflicted. Happy to not be working anymore; worried about the prospects of no income, excited, curious and a bit terrified at the notion of being a stay-at-home dad come October. Wondering if something comes next or if I’m leaving the workforce for good at 35. Kind of a scary thought.

I’ve been giving serious thought of late to taking a few classes and setting up an office as some kind of nutrition counselor, trying to help people frame how they think about food and how it interacts with their life. Since I’ve lost (just over) 170 pounds in the last year and a half, I’ve gotten many questions from people about how I did it, how I feel, how they might go about losing weight, and so on, and I think from just hearing out their stories to helping plan a week of meals, that’s something from which I might derive professional satisfaction. Plus, I’d be working for myself, which is basically the only way I would want to work at all at this point. Done with offices. Done with other people. Done with the culture of professionalism. If I can’t have my dog around when I’m working, then that’s work I don’t want to be doing.

We’ll see how that goes. I get these ideas. Pipe dreams 95 percent of the time. Plus I’ve been on anti-depressants now for about three weeks, so if I was ever going to have a I’m-gonna-change-my-life-type notion, I need to recognize that this is probably the time it would happen. Ambition as symptom of chemical change. “My brains are going into my feet,” and so on.

As regards business, here’s what’s in the notes for next week, subject to change as always:

MON: Demon Head review & Drug Honkey video.
TUE: Witchthroat Serpent track premiere & Arbouretum video.
WED: Six Dumb Questions with Abrams.
THU: Second Coming of Heavy review.
FRI: Anathema review.

Kind of a quiet week thus far, with the holiday and whatnot, but I expect things will pick up toward the end and there may be some shuffling as per usual. That Anathema review is set in stone though. The Second Coming of Heavy one I’ve already moved a few times, so that should probably get done as well. I don’t know. It’ll come together. Not worried about it.

Traditionally one barbecues for Memorial Day, and I expect my feed on Thee Facebooks this weekend will be full of showoff pictures of various smoked/smoking meat products, beers, and so on. That’s cool. Whatever you’re up to, I hope it’s a great time. Be safe and have fun. Listen to good music, because that makes good days even better.

Thanks for reading and please take some time to check out the forum and radio stream.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Neurosis Announce Summer Tour with Converge and Amenra

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

You know, the trouble is, Neurosis announce a summer tour — or pretty much anything — and then I go to their merch webstore, and then I stare longingly at the half-oxblood/half-black vinyl reissue of The Eye of Every Storm AGAIN. And then I get sad. So yeah, don’t get me wrong, I’m stoked at the prospect of seeing them play again, maybe in Connecticut, maybe in Montreal if I’m unemployed and doing the bohemian thing by then, or maybe a trip to Brooklyn is in order, but wherever it happens, my enjoyment of that prospect is tempered by the simple fact that I don’t own that LP. It’s even on sale right now through the end of the month. The Patient Mrs. response? Literally, “Buy it. I don’t give a fuck.” But she does. I hear we haven’t paid the water bill in six months.

My fiscal concerns notwithstanding, we’ll see if I last through April without placing that order. In the meantime, you can check out the latest tour dates for the post-metal forebears below. They go supporting last fall’s scathing Fires Within Fires (review here) and in the substantial company of Converge and Belgian acolytes Amenra, as the PR wire affirms:

neurosis tour poster

NEUROSIS: North American Summer Tour With Converge And Amenra Announced

NEUROSIS declares new tour dates for 2017, announcing a new run of North American Summer performances with Converge and Amenra.

As the band continues to perform the works from their acclaimed eleventh studio album, Fires Within Fires, the upcoming tour will find NEUROSIS bringing their immersive live experience to the East Coast and Midwestern US, and Southeastern Canada. The tour will embark out of Chicago on July 28th, with shows in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Toronto, New Haven, Brooklyn, Boston, and Philadelphia confirmed through August 7th. Iconic punk/metal experimenters Converge will supply direct support for NEUROSIS, and leading the charge will see Neurot labelmates Amenra making their long-awaited return to North American shores.

NEUROSIS is also confirmed to headline the Days Of Darkness festival in Baltimore, Maryland on October 28th and 29th, the two-day gala also including sets by Warning, Manilla Road, Elder, Gost, Unearthly Trance, Dälek, and Bongripper, and more. Additional NEUROSIS tour dates are to be expected.

Released in September, NEUROSIS’ acclaimed Fires Within Fires is available now on CD, LP, cassette, and all digital platforms through the band’s own Neurot Recordings; see all bundles and options RIGHT HERE.

NEUROSIS Tour Dates:
7/28/2017 Thalia Hall – Chicago, IL w/ Converge, Amenra
7/29/2017 St Andrews – Detroit, MI w/ Converge, Amenra
7/30/2017 Rex Theatre – Pittsburgh, PA w/ Converge, Amenra
8/01/2017 Metropolis – Montreal, QC w/ Converge, Amenra
8/02/2017 Danforth Music Hall – Toronto, QC w/ Converge, Amenra
8/03/2017 College St. Music Hall – New Haven, CT w/ Converge, Amenra
8/04/2017 Warsaw – Brooklyn, NY w/ Converge, Amenra
8/06/2017 Royale – Boston, MA w/ Converge, Amenra
8/07/2017 Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA w/ Converge, Amenra
10/28-29/2017 Ram’s Head Live – Baltimore Maryland @ Days Of Darkness

http://www.neurosis.com
http://www.facebook.com/officialneurosis
https://neurotrecordings.merchtable.com
http://www.twitter.com/neurosisoakland
http://www.neurotrecordings.com
http://www.facebook.com/neurotrecordings

Neurosis tour trailer

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Scott Kelly Announces Southeastern Acoustic Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 9th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

I’ll be honest with you: I could use a new Scott Kelly record. I know that’s asking a lot. First of all, the ink is barely dry on Neurosis‘ 2016 outing, Fires Within Fires (review here), and his collaboration with Sanford Parker, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, also had its self-titled debut (review here) out last year on Neurot, and already in 2017 he’s got the project noted below with the guys from Amenra — and Corrections House always seem to be a looming threat in the background, even when they’re not actually active — but yeah. A new Scott Kelly record? Five years after Scott Kelly and the Road Home put out The Forgiven Ghost in Me (review here), that’d just about hit the spot.

Kelly, who’s soon to head to Australia and New Zealand with Neurosis, has announced an acoustic stint in the Southeastern US in the company of Rwake guitarist John Judkins. Will it preface a new record? Maybe. I wouldn’t guess. File under: “Who knows?” and leave it at that. At least he’s touring. If you’ve never seen him live, it is an intense experience not to be missed.

From the PR wire:

scott kelly

SCOTT KELLY Of Neurosis Confirms Southeastern US Solo Acoustic Tour Dates Joined By John Judkins Of Rwake

Neurosis’ founding guitarist/vocalist SCOTT KELLY has confirmed a new set of tour dates beginning later this month, where the artist will take his acoustic solo anthems to the Southeastern US.

While Neurosis continues to tour in support of their lauded eleventh studio album, Fires Within Fires, SCOTT KELLY also continues to perform in a variety of other forms, including Mirrors For Psychic Warfare with Sanford Parker who just returned from an intense tour of Europe, Absent In Body with Colin H Van Eeckhout and Mathieu Vandekerckhove of Amenra who just released a record through Hypertension, and others, in addition to his own solo projects and recordings.

The coming weeks will see KELLY taking his gravelly, gritty, and heartfelt acoustic anthems of love, loss, hope, and redemption out to audiences throughout the Southeastern realm of the country, with a ten-city tour running from February 22nd through March 4th. With shows confirmed in Atlanta, Charleston, Asheville, Savannah, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Hattiesburg, Dallas, Little Rock, and Nashville, SCOTT KELLY will be accompanied on all shows by John Judkins of Rwake.

NEUROSIS Australia & New Zealand tour:
Wellington – San Fran – February 14 w/ SPOOK THE HORSES
Auckland – Kings Arms – February 15 w/ OLD LOAVES
Brisbane – The Triffid – February 16 w/ DISPOSSESSED
Sydney – Manning Bar – February 17 w/ DISPOSSESSED
Melbourne – The Croxton – February 18 w/ DISPOSSESSED

SCOTT KELLY w/ John Judkins:
2/22/2017 Smith’s Olde Bar – Atlanta, GA
2/23/2017 Royal American – Charleston, SC
2/24/2017 The Odditorium – Asheville, NC
2/25/2017 The Jinx – Savannah, GA
2/26/2017 Rain Dogs – Jacksonville, FL
2/27/2017 Poor Boys – New Orleans, LA
2/28/2017 T-Bones Records and Cafe – Hattiesburg, MS
3/02/2017 Three Links – Dallas, TX
3/03/2017 The Preserved Moose – Little Rock, AR
3/04/2017 Basement – Nashville, TN

https://www.facebook.com/ScottKelly.official
http://www.neurotrecordings.com
http://www.facebook.com/neurotrecordings
https://neurotrecordings.bandcamp.com
https://twitter.com/OfficialNeurot

Scott Kelly, “We Let the Hell Come” Live

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The Top 20 of 2016 Year-End Poll — RESULTS!

Posted in Features on January 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

top 20 year end poll results

The poll is closed, the results are counted and the top 20 albums of 2016 have been chosen. Hard to argue with the list as it’s shown up over the course of the past month, so I won’t try. Instead, let me just say thanks to incredible amount of participants who contributed this year.

All told, between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31, 612 people added their picks to the proceedings, compared to 388 in last year’s poll. Considering how much that number blew my mind on Jan. 1, 2016, I’m sure you can imagine how I feel about adding another 200-plus lists to the pot. In short, I’m astounded, deeply humbled and so, so, so grateful. I feel like we got enough of a sampling this year to give a genuinely representative showing for where people’s heads have been at, so thank you if you were a part of it.

Thank you as well as always to Slevin for running the poll’s back end and tabulating the results. As ever, the weighting system is one in which a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. You’ll find that list (plus some honorable mentions) below, followed by the raw-vote tally.

And after the jump, as has become the tradition, are the full lists of everyone who submitted, alphabetized by name. I’m in there too. It’s a huge amount to wade through, and even if you thought you heard everything in 2016, it should be more than enough to keep you busy for the next year.

One last note: I’m no statistician. Please allow for these numbers to change over the next couple days on some small level.

Let’s go:

Top 20 of 2016 — Weighted Results

wo fat midnight cometh

1. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh (375 points)
2. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow (368)
3. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree (324)
4. Asteroid, III (302)
5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil (295)
6. Gozu, Revival (274)
7. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires (253)
8. King Buffalo, Orion (244)
9. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (238)
10. Conan, Revengeance (232)
11. Cough, Still They Pray (228)
12. Holy Grove, Holy Grove (218)
13. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (213)
14. Truckfighters, V (206)
15. Blood Ceremony, Lord of Misrule (200)
16. Khemmis, Hunted (192)
16. Red Fang, Only Ghosts (192)
17. Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows (181)
18. Witchcraft, Nucleus (174)
19. Opeth, Sorceress (173)
20. Church of Misery, And then there Were None (159)

Honorable mention to:
Causa Sui, Return to Sky (157)
Goatess, II: Purgatory Under New Management (157)
Black Mountain, IV (148)
Mos Generator, Abyssinia (144)
Wretch, Wretch (140)

Look at those tallies for number one and two. That race was close all month. Wo Fat kept out front for the most part, but Greenleaf kept it interesting and Elephant Tree’s debut snuck in there at third, which I love to see, both because it’s their first album and because that record was indeed so great. King Buffalo, another debut, also made the top 10, underscoring those two as bands to watch, and though Brant Bjork, Conan, Asteroid, Neurosis, Gozu and Mars Red Sky might be more expected names, they still certainly delivered excellent records, so again, nothing to fight with here. Things flesh out a bit in the 10-20 range, but I don’t think there’s one album on this list you could call is “miss.”

Top 20 of 2016 — Raw Votes

wo fat midnight cometh

1. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh (109)
2. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow (92)
3. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil (87)
4. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree (82)
5. Asteroid, III (80)
6. Gozu, Revival (76)
7. Conan, Revengeance (73)
8. Cough, Still They Pray (70)
9. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (68)
10. King Buffalo, Orion (67)
11. Truckfighters, V (62)
12. Red Fang, Only Ghosts (61)
13. Khemmis, Hunted (60)
14. Blood Ceremony, Lord of Misrule (59)
14. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (59)
15. Holy Grove, Holy Grove (58)
16. Church of Misery, And then there Were None (53)
17. Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows (49)
17. Witchcraft, Nucleus (49)
18. Opeth, Sorceress (47)
19. Mos Generator, Abyssinia (45)
20. Black Mountain, IV (44)
20. Causa Sui, Return to Sky (44)
20. Wretch, Wretch (44)

Honorable mention to:
Goatess, II: Purgatory Under New Management (43)
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light (43)
Geezer, Geezer (41)
Crowbar, The Serpent Only Lies (41)
Gojira, Magma (37)
Slomatics, Future Echo Returns (36)
Graves at Sea, The Curse that Is… (35)
Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy (33)
Beastmaker, Lusus Naturae (32)
Vokonis, Olde One Ascending (31)

Left a few more honorable mentions in the raw-vote count, just for fun and so you could get more of a feel beyond the top 20 itself, which you’ll notice has a couple ties in it as the raw votes usually do and reorganizes a bit from the weighted results. One and two remain the same, however, and in the same order, and you’ll see Wo Fat was the only album that scored more than 100 votes on its own. As a whole, there were over 2,400 separate entries for albums this year, which is by far the most spread out that the voting has ever been. Frankly, with so many people involved and such a variety of stuff being voted on, I’m amazed anyone managed to agree on anything at all, but of course they did and once again a stellar list is the result.

Well, Happy New Year.

Before I go, thanks again to Slevin for the work put into running the back end of this site and this poll particularly. I show up with the finish lists, but it’s his code that makes it happen, and his efforts are appreciated more than I can say. Dude has never asked me for anything in the nearly eight years I’ve been a constant pain in his ass.

After the jump, you’ll find everybody’s list, alphabetized by name. Please enjoy browsing. I hope you find something awesome, because there’s certainly plenty in there that qualifies, and if you see something that looks like it appears often enough that it should be included in one or both of the counts above, let me know in the comments.

Thanks.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2016

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 30

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.

I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.

Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.

The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.

This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.

Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.

I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:

30. Talmud Beach, Chief

talmud beach chief

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.

29. Comet Control, Center of the Maze

comet control center of the maze

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 22.

Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.

28. Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids attack sci-fi or die

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 17.

There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.

27. Beelzefuzz, The Righteous Bloom

beelzefuzz the righteous bloom

Released by Restricted Release and The Church Within. Reviewed Aug. 2.

A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.

26. Foghound, The World Unseen

foghound the world unseen

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed July 6.

Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.

25a. Egypt, Endless Flight

egypt endless flight

Released by Doomentia Records. Reviewed Dec. 11, 2015.

Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.

25. 1000mods, Repeated Exposure To…

1000mods repeated exposure to

Released by Ouga Booga and the Mighty Oug Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 20.

There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.

24. Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy

black rainbows stellar prophecy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 11.

Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.

23. Borracho, Atacama

borracho atacama

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Nov. 14.

Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.

22. The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again

the golden grass coming back again

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed April 26.

Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.

21. Curse the Son, Isolator

curse the son isolator

Released by Snake Charmer Coalition and The Company Records. Reviewed March 1.

For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.

20. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires

neurosis fires within fires

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 21.

I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, NeurosisFires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.

19. Conan, Revengeance

conan revengeance

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 19.

Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.

18. Baby Woodrose, Freedom

baby woodrose freedom

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Aug. 18.

Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.

17. Geezer, Geezer

geezer geezer

Released by Ripple Music and STB Records. Reviewed Nov. 10.

I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.

16. EYE, Vision and the Ageless Light

eye vision and the ageless light

Released by The Laser’s Edge. Reviewed Nov. 17.

Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.

15. Fatso Jetson, Idle Hands

fatso jetson idle hands

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.

14. Hexvessel, When We are Death

hexvessel when we are death

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Feb. 5.

Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.

13. Zun, Burial Sunrise

zun burial sunrise

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Feb. 16.

Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.

12. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree

elephant tree elephant tree

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Jan. 29.

One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.

11. Mos Generator, Abyssinia

mos generator abyssinia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed July 12.

If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.

10. Slomatics, Future Echo Returns

slomatics future echo returns

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed June 29.

In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.

9. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh

wo fat midnight cometh

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 21.

After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.

8. King Buffalo, Orion

king buffalo orion

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed July 29.

Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.

7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know

wight love is not only what you know

Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.

German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.

6. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 18.

A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.

5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil

brant bjork tao of the devil

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 15.

Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in KyussFu ManchuCheVista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.

4. Asteroid, III

asteroid iii

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed Oct. 21.

What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.

3. Gozu, Revival

gozu revival

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 19.

Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.

2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)

mars red sky apex iii praise for the burning soul

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.

1. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages

subrosa for this we fought the battle of ages

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Aug. 26.

Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.

The Next 20

Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:

31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll

From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.

Honorable Mentions

Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:

Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
Spidergawd, III
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment

And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:

Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.

Thank You

In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.

If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.

One more time: Thank you.

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Dealer to Release Billionaire Boys Club Feb. 17; New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 5th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

In what’s no doubt a grueling chronicle of the Bay Area’s culture clash between the creative class and the tech sector, Oakland heavy noise rockers Dealer make their debut in Feb. 2017 with Billionaire Boys Club. The trio have a somewhat tumultuous background for a band putting out their first record, with changes in the construction of the lineup, a cessation of activity and whatnot along their way to entering the studio this past summer with Brainoil‘s Greg Wilkinson behind the board, but as they introduce the album with the track “A.M. Gold,” streaming below, they’d seem to have effectively channeled that instability into sonic propulsion. I’d expect the outing to follow to be pretty brash based on what I’m hearing here, and that’s cool by me. California needs harsh heavy punk to keep it honest.

To the PR wire:

dealer-billionaire-boys-club

Oakland trio DEALER to release debut album Billionaire Boys Club in February | Stream and share new song ‘AM Gold’

Billionaire Boys Club will be released worldwide on Wicked World Records on 17th February 2017

The exact moment of Dealer’s formation is almost impossible to pin down. Lost in a fug of thick smoke, alcohol and noise; somewhere and someplace out of time and mind.

Tentatively starting out life as Sexless – featuring founding member Kevin Klausen on guitar/vocals and fellow Los Angelean Samantha Mancino on drums – the duo would make a habit of throwing open jam sessions to anyone in earshot. Years prior and by his own admission, Klausen had lost heart after numerous false starts attempting to form his own band and gave up on making music to assume the mantle of tour manager for close friends, The Shrine. Helping the band across Europe and struck by their professionalism, after years on the road he returned in the Spring of 2013 with a handful of songs and a newfound focus.

“After seeing all these straight ahead rock and roll bands everywhere we went, I was really eager to start my own project but wanted to do something totally different,” explains Klausen. “We started out as this grungy weirdo dissonant punk band. In the early days we treated it more like a sort of art statement rather than a categorical band, it was really abstract and fun but in a way very naive.”

Relocating to Oakland, Sexless performed their first few shows with whatever bassist they could land until the night they met Aaron Cundy of local outfit Easy Living. Followed soon after by the conscription of John Zamora on drums after the departure of Mancino they soon hit upon the sound they were seeking. Sorely shredding their way through discordant moments of pre-punk history – often in a crazed reverie of hard rock solos and cocksure hellfire – they stalked the grooves of Black Flag’s Slip It In and the riffs of Voivod’s Killing Technology. All the while, sporting the sharpest Canadian tuxedos they could find.

When Zamora eventually chose to leave the band in May 2015, Klausen and Cundy sought total reformation. Drafting in new drummer Darien McKinney for shows with the likes of The Shrine, Ho99o9, Lecherous Gaze and Joy, they performed their final gig as Sexless on 4th June 2016 before entering Earhammer Studios to record their debut album with producer Greg Wilkinson (Iron Lung, Graves at Sea, Lecherous Gaze) just two days later. A proposed, “cocktail of heavy metal, punk, grunge and rock and roll,” the trio emerged with Billionaire Boys Club in hand as Dealer; the Leather-Era…

Released on LP, CD, digital and cassette Billionaire Boys Club is released worldwide on Wicked World Records on 17th February 2017.

Dealer:
Kevin Klausen – Guitar/Vocals
Aaron Cundy – Bass
Darien McKinney – Drums

https://www.facebook.com/dealerrips/
http://dealeroakland.bandcamp.com/
http://dealerrips.tumblr.com/
http://wickedworld.storenvy.com/

Dealer, “A.M. Gold”

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Neurosis Announce Australia/New Zealand Tour for Feb. 2017

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 4th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

London, Melbourne, Vancouver, San Francisco — I don’t give a shit if Neurosis are playing on the moon. If they’re anywhere, it’s a special night. True, the last few years have seen them ease their way back into life as a tour-prone band on some level, but if you’ll recall the days circa The Eye of Every Storm or even Given to the Rising, when it was maybe five shows a year — not to mention the power of those performances — it’s easier to appreciate the notion of what they bring to a stage just about any time they choose to bring it. They’ve got gigs in London next week, West Coast at the end of the month, and newly announced dates in Australia and New Zealand in February, all supporting their 2016 release, Fires Within Fires (review here). Not as nice as it would be if they were playing, say, my back yard, but hard not to dig a geographic spread like that from such a special band now with more than 30 years under their belt.

From the PR wire:

neurosis-photo-by-stefaan-temmerman

NEUROSIS Announces Fires Within Fires New Zealand/Australia February Tour Dates; Band To Play Two Special Shows In London Next Week

In the wake of releasing their eleventh studio album, Fires Within Fires, in recent weeks, NEUROSIS continues to book new live performances in support of the record into 2017, with a newly-booked tour of New Zealand and Australia just announced for February.

NEUROSIS’ impending live schedule leads with two special shows for Fires Within Fires in London next week, which will see the band performing with Earth on November 7th, and Discharge and Subhumans November 8th. Two shows in Portland with labelmates Yob and Kowloon Walled City follow on November 25th and 26th. December sees NEUROSIS playing San Francisco on the 17th, with support from Yob and Kowloon Walled City, and the next night, December 18th, will see NEUROSIS headlining the second night of The Power Of The Riff 2016, with six additional bands to be announced for the evening. Shows in Seattle and Vancouver follow, on December 19th and 20th, respectively, with support from Yob and Sumac.

The newly-confirmed first 2017 tour dates for NEUROSIS sees them traversing the Pacific for a run through New Zealand and Australia. Running from February 14th through 18th, 2017 the band will play in Wellington, Auckland, Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne.

Additional international tour dates from NEUROSIS are to be expected.

NEUROSIS Tour Dates:
11/07/2016 Koko – London, UK w/ Earth
11/08/2016 Koko – London, UK w/ Discharge, Subhumans
11/25/2016 Hawthorne Theatre – Portland, OR w/ Yob, Kowloon Walled City [all ages]
11/26/2016 Hawthorne Theatre – Portland, OR w/ Yob, Kowloon Walled City [21+]
12/17/2016 Regency Grand Ballroom – San Francisco, CA w/ Yob, Kowloon Walled City
12/18/2016 Regent Theater – Los Angeles, CA @ The Power Of The Riff
12/19/2016 Neumos – Seattle, WA w/ Yob, Sumac [21+]
12/20/2016 Venue – Vancouver, BC w/ Yob, Sumac [19+]
2/14/2017 San Fran – Wellington, NZ
2/15/2017 Kings Arms – Auckland, NZ
2/16/2017 The Triffid – Brisbane, AU w/ Dispossessed
2/17/2017 Manning Bar – Sydney, AU w/ Dispossessed
2/18/2017 The Croxton – Melbourne, AU w/ Dispossessed

NEUROSIS’ acclaimed Fires Within Fires is available now on CD, LP, cassette, and all digital platforms through the band’s own Neurot Recordings; see all bundles and options RIGHT HERE.

http://www.neurosis.com
http://www.facebook.com/officialneurosis
http://www.twitter.com/neurosisoakland
http://www.neurotrecordings.com
http://www.facebook.com/neurotrecordings
https://neurotrecordings.merchtable.com/

Neurosis, Fires Within Fires (2016)

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Sleep to Release The Clarity 12″ on Southern Lord

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 24th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

There hasn’t yet been a physical pressing of Sleep‘s 2014 single, The Clarity (review here), that hasn’t sold completely through, and I wouldn’t expect any different from this forthcoming Feb. 2017 Southern Lord edition either. Guitarist Matt Pike (do I really need to say he’s also in High on Fire?) has said publicly that Sleep will record a new album next year as well, so whether this is a precursor to that, I don’t know, but given that it was five years between their first getting back together in 2009 and putting out The Clarity, it seems fair to think they’ll take their time with a what would be their first full-length since the now-legendary Dopesmoker, released some 15 years ago. Maybe 2018?

I don’t know. Sometimes my suppositions on that kind of thing are way off — certainly not like I saw The Clarity coming at the time — so don’t by any means take my baseless speculation as any kind of authority. Bottom line is that whenever it shows up, if it does, a new Sleep will be welcome, at least around these parts. If it’s another pressing of The Clarity in the interim, so be it.

From the PR wire:

sleep-the-clarity-etching

SLEEP’s “The Clarity” 12″ To Receive Official Pressing Via Southern Lord

Southern Lord Recordings is pleased to announce the impending re-release of SLEEP’s “The Clarity.” The special 12″ contains the first new song from the band in nearly two decades.

Initially released digitally as part of the Adult Swim Singles Program in 2014, SLEEP’s “The Clarity” is the first new track the band released since their critically-adored, 1998-released Dopesmoker album. Afterward, the band issued a very limited run of the song on vinyl which was sold exclusively at their live shows and the band’s online store. Having been out-of-print in physical format since, Southern Lord will now re-release the mammoth track for official distribution.

Recorded by Neurosis’ Noah Landis and mastered by John Golden, the near ten-minute-long “The Clarity” has been re-cut by Adam Gonsalves at Telegraph Mastering for this new pressing, which will see release on 180-gram 12″ vinyl pressed at RTI. The B-side of the platter features a special etching of the artwork by David V. D’Andrea (Samaritan Press), and will be housed in a heavyweight picture disc-style sleeve, silkscreened with the SLEEP logo.

The Clarity will see re-release in February 2017, with preorder info and more to follow shortly. Find other SLEEP titles and merch in the meantime RIGHT HERE.

Remaining one of the most widely-respected and influential acts in the stoner/doom metal universe, SLEEP’s popularity has grown tremendously since their reformation in 2009. The reborn lineup, reuniting bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (OM) and guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike (High Oh Fire), and including drummer Jason Roeder (Neurosis), SLEEP continues to do what they have always done; largely and without pause, make music in tune with the ages.

http://www.southernlord.com/store/search/name:/artist_id:107/
http://www.southernlord.com
http://www.facebook.com/SLadmin
http://www.twitter.com/twatterlord
http://www.weedian.com
http://www.facebook.com/officialsleep
http://www.twitter.com/sleep_official

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