Revisiting the Top 20 of 2012

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.

17. Lord Fowl, Moon Queen
Didn’t I start this week off with Moon Queen? Well, I guess it’s pretty fresh on my mind.

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 Primum or Opus Alter since. 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 Out away and that was that.

7. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65
Every time I’m in a record store, flip through the Vitus selection and 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 Songs is 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.

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2012

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.

With that caveat in mind, let’s do this thing:

20. Mos Generator, Nomads

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 7

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, Nomads marked 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.

19. Golden Void, Golden Void

Released by Thrill Jockey. Reviewed Nov. 20.

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.

18. Wight, Through the Woods into Deep Water

Released by Fat & Holy/Bilocation. Reviewed Aug. 3.

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 Water was 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 Water yet.

17. Lord Fowl, Moon Queen

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed Aug. 29.

“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 Queen wasn’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 Queen more 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.

16. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It was impossible not to be swept up in the hype surrounding Pallbearer‘s Profound Lore debut, but one listen to Sorrow and Extinction and 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.

15. Kadavar, Kadavar

Released by Tee Pee. Track streamed July 9.

I already singled out Kadavar‘s Kadavar as 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 Kadavar was a gripping and enticing affair that proved there’s still ground to cover in proto-heavy worship.

14. Stubb, Stubb

Released by Superhot Records. Reviewed Feb. 2.

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.

13. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned

Released by Candlelight Records. Reviewed Dec. 15, 2011.

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.

12. Ararat, II

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed March 28.

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′s Musica 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.

11. Ufomammut, Oro

Released by Neurot. Reviewed April 3 & Aug. 16.

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 Primum and “Sublime” on Opus Alter, I have the feeling Ufomammut will probably have another album out before Oro‘s breadth has fully set in.

 10. Conan, Monnos

Released by Burning World/Gravedancer. Reviewed March 1.

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 Hammer EP — 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.

9. My Sleeping Karma, Soma

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 6.

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 Soma in 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.

8. Graveyard, Lights Out

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 11.

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 Out showed 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 Out isn’t likely to slow that process in the slightest.

7. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 26.

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-65 so 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-65 as doom legends, and their work remains timeless.

6. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time

Released by Tee Pee. Reviewed March 23.

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 White EP (review here) that the L.A. outfit began to show the progressive direction they were heading. And In Dreams and Time is 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.

5. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis

Released by E1 Music. Reviewed March 12.

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 Mysteriis is 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.

4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay

Released by Neurot. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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 the experimental 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.

3. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed Feb. 28.

It’s hard for me to properly convey just how happy listening to Greenleaf‘s Nest of Vipers makes 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 Vipers landed 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.

2. Om, Advaitic Songs

Released by Drag City. Reviewed Aug. 13.

Go figure that the Om record two albums after the one called Pilgrimage would 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 Good as 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 Songs looked 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.

1. Colour Haze, She Said


Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Sept. 18.

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 Said couldn’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 Said met 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 Said over 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.

Honorable Mentions

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.

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Orange Goblin Add Ireland Dates to January/February Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 1st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Something tells me that the next year or so is going to bring a lot of Orange Goblin tour news. Nothing wrong with that. As reported last week, the UK’s drunkest will head out starting late in January 2013 on a UK tour that will begin the full onslaught in support of 2012′s A Eulogy for the Damned and will mark Orange Goblin‘s emergence as a full-time band. Wild stuff.

Here’s the latest:

ORANGE GOBLIN ANNOUNCE UK & IRELAND TOUR FOR JANUARY / FEBRUARY 2013

Following ORANGE GOBLIN’S amazing shows supporting DOWN across the UK we are happy to announce that the band will be hitting the road for a full UK & Ireland headline tour in January and February 2013. Dates are as follows:

January
26 – Dublin, Workman’s Club
27 – Belfast, Limelight 2
30 – Cardiff, Clwb Ifor Bach
31 – Brighton, The Haunt

February
1 – Southampton, Talking Heads
2 – Plymouth, White Rabbit
3 – Bristol, Fleece
5 – Norwich, Waterfront Studio
6 – Wolverhampton, Slade Rooms
7 – Sheffield, Corporation
8 – York, The Duchess
9 – Manchester, NQ Live
11 – Glasgow, King Tuts
12 – Liverpool, o2 Academy 2
13 – Nottingham, Rock City Basement
15 – London o2 Academy Islington

Special guests to be announced.

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Orange Goblin Quit Their Jobs and Hit the Road

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 24th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

It’s a pretty ballsy move after 17 years in the game to leave the comforts of love and life behind and hit the road full-time, but if Orange Goblin have ever been anything, it’s ballsy. The London-based four-piece just got off the road with Down, and if the photo above from this year’s Bloodstock festival didn’t tip you off, their momentum has never been higher.Well fucking earned.

Frontman and occasional Obelisk contributor Ben Ward posted the following tour dates and info on his Thee Facebooks this morning, and it seemed the least I could do to share. They’ll hit the road starting in January on their first headlining run through the UK.

Dig it:

I’ve been banging on for years that Orange Goblin fans are the best in the world. Now it’s time to prove me right people, please go out and buy your tickets and let’s sell out this first tour as a full-time band. Get all your mates and mates, mates to buy them as well! That would rule!

All venues are on sale now except Liverpool, which goes on sale at 9am on Friday!

Within the next couple of weeks we will also be announcing dates in Ireland, the USA and Canada, then a full European touring and festival schedule will be announced in 2013.

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Orange Goblin to Storm the Countryside in 2013

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 21st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

It’s fucking awesome to see Orange Goblin go for it like this. After years of slogging it out and being thoroughly under-appreciated in the general metal consciousness while releasing album after kickass album, the British four-piece will slam into five different continents next year, covering North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia in support of this year’s excellent A Eulogy for the Damned (review here).

No doubt heads will be collected, bottles broken, and livers destroyed. Here’s the news and a fancy new press shot, courtesy of their Thee Facebooks:

ORANGE GOBLIN TO TOUR THE WORLD IN 2013!

BAND ANNOUNCED FOR SOUNDWAVE FESTIVAL in AUSTRALIA!

2013 will see Orange Goblin embark on their biggest touring schedule EVER as they continue to promote the critically acclaimed ‘A EULOGY FOR THE DAMNED’ album, released in February 2012 on Candlelight Records and hotly tipped to be a contender for the album of the year polls.

The touring schedule will kick off with a 15 date UK TOUR at the end of January and start of February, dates of which are to be announced soon. We are also very happy to announce that the band will then head to AUSTRALIA for the very first time ever to join the SOUNDWAVE FESTIVAL 2013 (alongside Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Blink 182, Linkin Park, Kyuss Lives!, Ghost, Red Fang, The Sword, Gallows and many more). The full dates for Soundwave 2013 are as follows:

SAT 23rd FEB – BRISBANE – RNA SHOWGROUNDS
SUN 24th FEB – SYDNEY – OLYMPIC PARK
FRI 1st MAR – MELBOURNE – FLEMINGTON RACECOURSE
SAT 2nd MAR – ADELAIDE – BONYTHON PARK
MON 4th MAR – PERTH – CLAREMONT SHOWGROUND

There will be a handful of club shows in AUSTRALIA to coincide with the band’s appearances at Soundwave, more details on those coming very soon.

Directly after this, throughout March and April, the band will embark on a full tour of the USA & CANADA, including an appearance at the SXSW Festival in Texas. The CANADA dates will be the first the band has played there EVER. Full dates for this are also to be announced very shortly.

The band will then spend the summer extensively touring EUROPE and appearing at as many of the summer EUROPEAN FESTIVALS as they can squeeze in before heading back to NORTH AMERICA and hopefully CENTRAL & SOUTH AMERICA, ASIA, JAPAN & NEW ZEALAND.

Please keep checking the band websites for further updates.

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The World According to Ben Ward

Posted in Columns on July 31st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

This one’s been a while coming, but below you’ll find the debut column from Orange Goblin frontman Ben Ward. In it, he discusses a few of the band’s European gigs in support of their latest album, A Eulogy for the Damned, and a smattering of the drunken shenanigans for which he and bandmates Joe Hoare, Martyn Millard and Chris Turner are legendary. Behold:

Mr. Ward, at the London Desertfest. (Photo by JJ Koczan)

National Lampoon’s Orange Goblin European Vacation! — Part 1 — April 2012

So after 17 years of peddling my wares with Orange Goblin, somebody has asked me to write a regular blog feature. I have to say that I’m amazed for a couple of reasons! Firstly because until a few months back I didn’t even really know what a “blog” was? Secondly I’m amazed because I didn’t think there would be anyone out there that is remotely interested in anything I have to say or do… ever! So, for the past few weeks I’ve been wracking my brains trying to think of something I could talk about that people that read The Obelisk may find entertaining. After all sorts of ridiculous ideas, I have decided to write about what I know best… being in Orange Goblin. Being in Orange Goblin as we travelled around Europe playing various club shows and festivals in lots of different countries, to be precise! It’s been a pretty busy summer by our usual standards with shows in Germany (a few times), Ireland, Italy, Spain, Austria, Sweden, France, Switzerland and more!!

A lot of bands will tell you that there is never a dull moment when you’re on tour but that’s an outright lie! There are loads of dull moments and the only way to relieve the boredom of those dull moments is to drink, smoke or make up ridiculous little games and in-jokes that the outside world would consider completely insane. In Orange Goblin we have practically invented a new language that only we understand, it’s the perfect juncture of absolute genius and utter morons!! I suspect most people would think it tends to lean heavily towards the latter.

I’m gonna start the report back in April 2012. We’d just finished a very successful UK tour (with our good friends Grifter in support) including headlining the first-ever Desertfest in London, when we jetted off for three shows in Germany, Ireland and Northern Ireland. Here’s what happened:

 

Thursday 19th April – Desertfest, Berlin, Germany

We’d already played the Desertfest in London a couple of weeks earlier at the start of our UK tour so with an equally impressive lineup of bands we were pretty sure the Berlin version was going to be just as good. Over the course of the three days the stage would see the likes of Ancestors, Colour Haze, Wino & Conny Ochs, Motorpsycho, Red Fang, Black Tusk, Ufomammut, Brain Police as well as many, many others, including us.

Our travel party varies depending on where we play for but for this jaunt it consisted of six of us. Chris, Joe, Martyn and myself obviously, accompanied by Alastair Riddell (our tour manager, guitar tech and self-proclaimed Nordic God of Chips!) and Elena (Martyn’s better half, who sells the merchandise and worships Lynyrd Skynyrd!). Joe and I were actually early for a change so we went and got a McDonald’s breakfast before we all met up at a ridiculous hour in a cold, wet car park in Southall (West London), a few miles from Heathrow (the closest long-stay parking you can get to such a retarded airport!) and boarded a bus to Terminal 1. The shocking London traffic didn’t dampen our spirits but upon arrival at Terminal 1 it emerged that we should’ve gone to Terminal 5 and now had to carry all our gear and merchandise across the airport. Not the best start to the day, but we arrived at the correct place and everyone managed to remain calm and quite upbeat about the whole debacle. I have to say at this point that I absolutely hate airports. I hate the tedious ritual of checking-in, going through various security and passport checks, but most of all I hate the people in airports. They seem to be a different species. I have an unfiltered vehemence for both the staff and especially my fellow passengers (bandmates and crew aside!), all desperate to get ahead of the next person so that they can board the plane before anyone else. The worst are the people in the departure lounge who feel the need to stand right next to the check-in gate, so they’re at the front of a nonexistent queue an hour before we’re due to take off, the ones that make all the other sheep think that something is happening and then all of a sudden you have a massive queue of people all standing around doing nothing for an hour waiting to board the plane that will inevitably be late anyway! Add to that the fact that we always seem to be surrounded by THAT family that can’t control their four screaming kids and I think you know what I mean! Thank God for noise-reducing headphones!

We all had the customary breakfast of a pint and a fry-up in Weatherspoons (all except Alastair who had about 35 rounds of toast and marmalade!) then Joe and I gratefully sampled the free whiskey being handed out in the airport departure lounge before we took off and after an uneventful flight we arrived at Berlin Tegel. From there we were driven to a very smart hostel, which seemed like some kind of travellers campus (but with Rabbits roaming free… very odd!). Luckily it was located right in the Bohemian part of Berlin (I think it’s called Kreuzberg?) so we didn’t have to walk far to find a decent café / bar selling us a cheap lunch (kebabs for us, chips for Alastair obviously!) and a couple of beers! Everyone then went back to the hotel to get some rest and/or freshen up before heading to the venue.

I really like Berlin. I think that it’s up there with New York and Rome as one of my favourite cities to visit. It’s very colourful and vibrant and despite its recent past it is very easygoing and friendly. Upon arrival at the venue, we were well fed and plied with our (very generous) rider. As it was a festival there was no sound-check, just a quick line-check before playing so after a couple of photoshoots and interviews, we all just hung out backstage and caught a few of the other bands playing. I’d heard a lot of good things about the band Ancestors so I made a point of going to watch them and I was blown away. They’re a great band that brings to mind a cross between Pink Floyd and Neurosis at their most melodic. They were killer guys too and we made light work of a few bottles of whiskey together! Our show was good, I remember the venue being very full and very hot and it was great to get such an enthusiastic response from a crowd that had been standing around all evening watching the rest of the festival bill. I always appreciate that when we headline. This was also the first show outside the UK in which we had aired a whole load of material from the A Eulogy for the Damned album, so it was satisfying to see that material go down so well with a lot of people already knowing the words to the new material.

After the show, it got a bit messy and I remember Scott Batiste from Saviours turning up before we were all shoved into a shuttle bus and driven back to the hotel. A few of us then headed out to the same bar we’d been to for lunch to get the much-needed late-night Doner Kebab and a few nightcaps! I remember trying to be clever and taking what I thought was a shortcut back to my room but I ended up getting completely lost in the hostel complex and had to phone Alastair to come and find me and take me back!! That’ll learn me!

Friday 20th April – The Pint, Dublin, REP. OF IRELAND

The next morning we had a ridiculously early start as we had to be at Berlin Airport for 9AM! Again, the airport ritual was a tortuous affair that we could have all done without so early in the morning when you’re nursing a hangover. Anyway, we had the luxury of flying via Aer Lingus (as opposed to fucking Ryanair!) and we managed to catch our flight on time, landing in Dublin just a couple of hours later. The majority of our flights have been very comfortable for me this year, bearing in mind that I am 6’ 5” tall! This is due to the fact that Alastair is one of those people that HAS to get on the plane first, even if you have designated seating! Anyway, the fact that he does this means that he has been able to procure the seats in the emergency exit rows that have the extra legroom. I can therefore take my time getting to my seat, safe in the knowledge that no one in their right mind is going to want to sit next to Alastair, meaning him and I usually have three seats between the two of us and we can stretch out! Joe doesn’t usually mind where he sits as he’s only a little fella and can sleep anywhere, which is why we call him Bagpuss! (For those who don’t know who Bagpuss is, he’s a character from an old English kids TV show, look him up.)

We were met at the airport by two very good friends, James, the Irish promoter that has booked us over there for the best part of a decade and Paul, another old friend from England that now lives in Belfast and plays in the hardcore band By Any Means, who were supporting us on these Irish shows as well as supplying us with backline (as well as accommodation and breakfast, more on that later!) We went straight to the venue and were greeted by the Republic of Ireland’s Number One Orange Goblin fan who had brought a million things for us to sign (including Ravens Creed material that none of us played on!) and we had photos with him before walking to the nearby hotel for a spot of lunch. It’s a very predictable thing to do in Dublin but we all had to sample the Guinness as well. There was talk of walking to St. James Gate to visit the Guinness factory, do a bit of sightseeing and have our photos taken with the Phil Lynott statue in the city but the pissing rain soon put us all off that idea and decided to grab a few hours sleep instead.

We managed to get through sound-check and then had a nice dinner overlooking the River Liffy, laughing and taking the piss out of everyone outside in the pouring rain, before the doors opened and the show started! First band of the night were a young Irish band called Wizards of Firetop Mountain, who were very impressive, a cross of classic rock and metal with a real AC/DC feel to it. By Any Means were next up and they were great too, playing a vicious brand of hardcore and whipping the crowd into a frenzy! By this time the small venue was heaving and the very drunk Dublin crowd gave us a great reception, as always. This was great to see, as this was the first time we’d played in Dublin for quite a few years. Again, everyone played well and the new material was received just as well as the older stuff.

The after-show was a bit of a blur but I seem to remember it taking what seemed like hours to leave the venue with more and more people buying us drinks and forcing us to stay! I also remember talking to a lot of strangers and smoking the worst tasting cigarettes in the world during the load-out, they were so bad that I had to drink neat vodka to disguise the taste! There were more drinks back at the hotel and I don’t remember getting back to my room. I was sharing with Chris and must’ve woken him up as he’d gone to bed before me but I woke the next day feeling fantastic. Results!!

 

Saturday 21st April – Spring & Airbrake, Belfast, NORTHERN IRELAND

The hotel in Dublin did an awesome cooked breakfast, which we all took advantage of. Chris was the only one that got collared to pay for his, the rest of us accidentally walking away from the table assuming that it was included in the hotel deal. Around midday we hit the road for a short drive north to Belfast, accompanied by an AC/DC mix in the van that had everyone rocking and desperate for beer. Before that though we wanted to drop in on Paul’s farm just outside of Belfast to see his pigs. Yes, his pigs. It’s a little known fact, but all of us in Orange Goblin are big fans of rural life, probably born of living in London and detesting everything about the city, and we all wanted to spend an afternoon feeding the pigs and chickens. We were due to be staying at Paul’s farm that night so it gave us a chance to meet his family, drink more Guinness and see what we’d be eating for breakfast the following morning. Paul had promised us fresh bacon, eggs and sausages that he makes himself and I for one could not wait! We spent a good hour or so on the farm and Elena made friends with a rabbit that she christened Syd Barrett for some unknown reason, but eventually we had to leave for the venue.

This was a show that I had been looking forward to ever since it had been booked. We have a lot of friends in Belfast and it always ends up as a big party every time we play there. Soundcheck was the usual boring affair and then we went to the pub next door to watch the Saturday football. Martyn’s team (QPR) were playing a very important fixture in the live televised game so he spent the next hour and a half yelling obscenities at the screen, much to the bemusement of the locals that had just popped out for a quiet pint on a Saturday evening! Anyway, QPR won and we all celebrated by sending Alastair to Nandos with the buy-out money for a load of chicken and chips, which were devoured in the dressing room – ah, the romance! There’s nothing better than the smell of a rancid venue dressing room mixed with hot, greasy chicken, stale beer and an overworked lavatory! I find it hard to believe we don’t get more groupies that wanna hang out backstage!!

The gig itself was an absolute blinder with a few girls on the front row very keen to flash their breasts. This isn’t unheard of at rock shows (actually, it is unheard of at OG shows) but I was very surprised by the two girls that had chosen to just wop them out and leave them hanging over the crowd barrier at the front for the duration of our set, like a couple of pairs of fleshy spaniels ears! Strange behaviour! Joe ended the gig being carried around the stage on Paul’s shoulders, Angus-style, much to his surprise whilst the rest of us tried to stop laughing at the boob display down the front! After the gig the real carnage began. There were many whiskeys and lots of photos with the very friendly Belfast crowd before we managed to squeeze about 27 people into the van and headed back to Paul’s farm for an all-night party! I think the entire time was spent talking utter-bollocks until it became clear that Paul and I were gonna have to head back into the city to get more “party supplies!” This involved a 4AM drive to the Shankill Road area of Belfast, not the best place for a pissed-up Englishman to be at any time, let alone as the sun is coming up on a Sunday morning! Paul had warned me to keep my voice down and but as soon as we arrived I fell out the van shouting, “Can I use your toilet, I’m dying for a piss!” Paul later told me that he thought we were gonna get shot but we managed to get out of there unscathed and I remember driving back to the farm at about 100mph down dark, winding country roads, AC/DC blasting out the stereo, thinking “I’m gonna die!” We got back to the farm and the party continued for a bit longer until everyone finally passed out at about 8AM.

After about four hours’ sleep, breakfast the next morning was everything I’d hoped it would be as Paul cooked up a treat of fresh bacon, sausage and eggs. Eventually and very reluctantly we had to say goodbye to everyone and we drove to Belfast Airport. The highlight of the day was spotting the heavyweight, British TV and Radio celeb Vanessa Feltz, who was strolling through the airport like a silver and leopard-skin clad behemoth.

I think I actually managed to sleep on the flight home and before we knew it, we were back at Heathrow and back to a world of shit. The rain was pissing down and we had to spend nearly an hour standing around in it waiting for the stupid bus to take us back to our cars in the long-stay car park. From there we all headed our separate ways, getting ready to go back to work first thing in the morning. Welcome home indeed!! I bet Led Zeppelin never had to do that!

Next month: Morrowfest, two shows in Italy and Sonisphere Spain!

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