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Whenever the hell it was that I started really doing podcasts again on a roughly-monthly basis, I said that there would be no theme from one to the other. That’s a rule I’ve bent a couple times since, and this is one of those instances as well. This podcast takes a look at the rather extensive lineup for Desertfest Belgium 2015 (posted in full here). It was a particular challenge to keep it to what’s become the standard two-hour format, but in the end, I think the tracklisting below brings together the headliners and some of the lesser known bands in a way that speaks to the breadth of the festival itself. Or at least I hope it does. It’s a killer mix, either way.
Worth noting that this is the second podcast this year that has started with Goatsnake. That is not an accident. I tried to keep things as current as possible here, and their new one destroys. I think the only cuts not from the band’s latest album are Bongzilla, Monomyth and Monolord, and well, the songs included speak for themselves either way.
Desertfest Belgium 2015 happens this weekend at Trix in Antwerpen. If, like me, you won’t be there, hope this provides a bit of fodder escapist daydreaming. If you’re going, it’s never to early to get psyched on it. Either way, please enjoy:
0:00:00 Goatsnake, “House of the Moon” from Black Age Blues
0:05:17 Crystal Head, “Wouldn’t You Know” from Crystal Head
0:08:05 Orange Goblin, “Demon Blues” from Back from the Abyss
0:12:40 Ufomammut, “Temple” from Ecate
0:20:08 Fever Dog, “The Great Tree” from Second Wind
0:26:05 Causa Sui, “Echo Springs” from Euporie Tide
0:30:56 Dozer, “Flood” from Beyond Colossal
0:34:46 Monolord, “Icon” from Empress Rising
0:42:56 Mars Red Sky, “The Light Beyond” from Stranded in Arcadia
0:50:55 Stoned Jesus, “Silkworm Confessions” from The Harvest
1:00:00 Fatso Jetson, “Flesh Trap Blues” from Split with Herba Mate
1:06:25 Bongzilla, “H.P. Keefmaker” from Apogee
1:16:46 Earth, “Badgers Bane” from Primitive and Deadly
1:29:05 The Machine, “Chrysalis (JAM)” from Offblast!
1:45:16 Monomyth, “Huygens” from Monomyth
Posted in Whathaveyou on July 7th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Not a bad day’s work on the part of Desertfest Belgium 2015, which casually tossed out the additions to its lineup of headliner Orange Goblin as well as new Napalm Records signees Greenleaf, their labelmates in Glowsun, plus Stockholm’s Siena Root and Planet of Zeus. For a bill that already boasted Fatso Jetson, Fever Dog, 3rd Ear Experience and Psychonaut — oh yeah, and the frickin’ Melvins — it’s a cool bunch of invitees to throw into the mix. I’d say I’m surprised, but really, a Desertfest with a badass lineup is about as surprising as a sunrise. It has quickly become one of the underground’s most reliable brands, and the second Belgian installment seems no exception.
Announcement follows, snagged from the PR wire:
DESERTFEST BELGIUM 2015: Orange Goblin, Greenleaf, Siena Root, Glowsun and Planet Of Zeus join the lineup in Antwerp!
DESERTFEST BELGIUM – the ultimate heavy/stoner/psych/doom meeting – is set to happen again in Antwerp this fall! The Melvins, Fatso Jetson, Orange Goblin, Greenleaf and many more are set to play the notorious Trix in Antwerp this October. Spread the word…
The Desertfest promoters always have lots of great stuff up their sleeve, and they will once again treat all the heavy music fans to a cracking weekend in Antwerp, hosting the best heavy bands across three days of sonic madness.
Bands already confirmed: The Melvins, Orange Goblin, Fatso Jetson, Greenleaf, Siena Root, Glowsun, Planet Of Zeus, Psychonaut, Fever Dog and 3rd Ear Experience. Many more acts to be announced during the summer, stay tuned!
DESERTFEST BELGIUM 2015 October 9-11th at Trix Muziekcentrum – Antwerp Early bird tickets (80€) on saleHERE
After a great first edition that saw the likes of Electric Wizard, Brant Bjork, Yob, Kadavar tear down Antwerp, the DESERTFEST promoters decided to run their second Belgium edition this fall. Located in Antwerp outskirts, the Trix venue will once again host the world’s best heavy bands, spread over three stages drenched in that underground atmosphere we all love. Beware of the sandstorm!
They weren’t the first stoner rock band to come from the UK, but with their third album, 2000’s The Big Black, London outfit Orange Goblin more or less perfected the form. Produced by Billy Anderson and released through Rise Above and The Music Cartel, it produced a couple of classics for the Orange Goblin canon, the band — who were then a five-piece with guitarist Pete O’Malley alongside the steady-to-this-day lineup of vocalist Ben Ward, guitarist Joe Hoare, bassist Martyn Millard and drummer Chris Turner — still regularly featuring “Scorpionica” and “Quincy the Pigboy” at, well, certainly at every show I’ve seen them play. These songs are quintessential Orange Goblin, and as a one-two punch at the start of The Big Black, the album sets itself a high standard to meet, but to ignore “Cozmo Bozo,” “Alcofuel” and “The Big Black” itself is to ignore the axe swinging down on the back of your neck. Front to back, Orange Goblin‘s third is all the whisky stomp and riffly righteousness that has come to define them in the years since, and a record that, at 15 years old, sounds more vital today than when it was released.
It closes the week with Desertfest in mind, the festivals in London and Berlin held this weekend. Orange Goblin played The Big Black in full last night in Berlin, and they’ll do the same tonight in London before a hometown crowd that’s the center from which their influence has spread out worldwide. I can only imagine the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town going off to “Hot Magic, Red Planet” as the band storms through the album, and yeah, I’ll cop to a bit of jealousy for those who are there or were in Berlin to see it. I haven’t been to Desertfest in two years, and the festival has grown substantially in that time in terms of the names they bring in, but to have Orange Goblin nail down The Big Black for all to see shows their roots are strong in heavy, and however they may have expanded — geographically or stylistically — that continues to be an essential part of what they do. And The Big Black is nothing if not essential heavy. Seems like a good fit to me. Wish I was there.
Hope you enjoy.
Had that job interview Wednesday, and I have no problem admitting it has utterly consumed my consciousness since. Sleep’s a respite, and I’ve been working hard to keep working hard both because there’s stuff to do (already behind for Monday, thanks) and because I’ve needed the distraction from waiting to find out if I got the gig or not. I don’t know, incidentally. Another phone interview Tuesday and then hopefully some word. Apparently it’s down to me and one other person. I want the job. I mean, I need a job. I want this one. I can do this one. Fingers crossed for the next 90 hours or so, and then probably a while afterwards as well.
Next week kind of depends on how that turns out, but I’ve got an EP stream slated for Sinister Haze and reviews due for Lamp of the Universe, Samurai and Cigale, and golly it would be nice to get through all of them. Tuesday’s actually kind of a special deal as well because I’ve got an interview going up with the guys from Death Alley that was really cool. Whole-band interviews are kind of a crapshoot, could go either way, but this was one of the best interviews of any sort I’ve done in a long time. I’ll be transcribing it this weekend and it should go live with a stream of the title-track to their upcoming debut LP, Black Magick Boogieland, which is also awesome.
That’ll be up in the afternoon, probably, so keep an eye out, and if you’re interested (or if you’re not), I’ll probably give some update on my professional situation when I have an update to give. The last couple days have been full-on hurry-up-and-wait, and I expect this weekend will be more of the same. At least baseball’s on.
I put a thing out on Thee Facebooks earlier today, but worth noting here as well that The Obelisk Radio hit a new high for the amount of people listening at once this week, more or less blowing the last one out of the water, and that is thoroughly appreciated. If you’ve listened at all, thanks.
Have a great and safe weekend. Enjoy and we’ll see you back here Monday. Please check out the forum and the radio stream.
Posted in Features on March 10th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Songs of life, love, booze, and occasionally, monsters.
London doomsmashers Orange Goblin get a lot of credit for kicking ass, and rightly so. They do it well and they’ve been doing it for 20 years. But what you don’t hear as much about is the human core of the band. Listening to their riffs as they careen along — full-on stoner early on albums like 1997’s Frequencies from Planet Ten debut, more metal of late on 2012’s A Eulogy for the Damned and last year’s raging Back from the Abyss — is all well and good, but there’s more to Orange Goblin than just riffy punishment. There’s humor, there’s regret, honest reflection, harsh self-critique, and yes, occasionally monsters (“Scorpionica” walks by and waves).
There’s also a good deal of advice. Delivered from Orange Goblin frontman Ben Ward with don’t-make-the-same-mistakes-I’ve-made sincerity, it’s been a running theme throughout their catalog, and no matter where they’ve gone sonically, it has remained an essential part of what they do. Guitarist Joe Hoare, bassist Martyn Millard, drummer Chris Turner and Ward have become not only forerunners of the London and UK heavy rock scene — influencing a generation of bands with their signature burl and commitment to sonic propulsion — but almost like its godfathers as well, there to help out anyone willing to listen.
It’s probably not all advice everyone is going to be interested in taking, but I think even if you take the monsters into consideration, Orange Goblin‘s lyrics over the last two decades paint a human portrait that’s generous in sharing what it’s learned. Here are a few of my favorite lessons from along the way, ordered by the album on which they appeared.
Frequencies from Planet Ten (1997)
“In search for mystery, we find insanity.” — “Aquatic Fanatic”
Maybe a song that’s ostensibly about smoking reefer underwater (admittedly a simplification) isn’t where one might think wisdom would bloom, but the line “In search for mystery, we find insanity” reminds us how easy it is to forget about the important things in life as they’re happening while we’re trying to see what appears to us as a bigger picture. Not as blatant as some of the advice that would follow, but applicable nonetheless.
Time Travelling Blues (1998)
“You know your future is comin’ and it’s comin’ soon.” — “Shine”
The first of several on this list that turn a popular aphorism into something rawer in its expression. Live in the moment, tempus fugit, or as Clutch once said, “You can’t stop progress.” Particularly in the context of “Shine”‘s stoner-blues groove, this one hits home easily.
The Big Black (1999)
“…A blind man sees tomorrow, like a deaf man hears the sun.” — “298kg”
I’m not exactly sure what that’s supposed to mean, but it sounds badass in a synesthetic kind of way. The full verse is: “If a blind man sees tomorrow, like a deaf man hears the sun/Then we must choose if we were born to lose, or if we’re the chosen one/I can’t find the feeling, that’ll take my blues away/So I just keep on rollin’, ’til I find a brighter day.” Fair enough. We’ll keep on rollin’. Runner up to “I need your loving and some alcohol,” from “Cozmo Bozo.”
Coup de Grace (2002)
“The sun never sets on the last of the brave.” — “Rage of Angels”
Some especially dudely perspective there, but one could hardly accuse Orange Goblin of being the first to posit that great deeds outlive those who accomplish them. This cut from the underrated Coup de Grace also starts with a sample of Kris Kristofferson from 1978’s Convoy telling a sherriff “Piss on you and piss on your law,” so you know, bonus points for that in the sageliness department.
Thieving from the House of God (2004)
“Some you win, some you lose.” — “Some You Win, Some You Lose”
I don’t think a day’s gone by in the last 10 years that I haven’t at one point or another uttered the words, “Some you win, some you lose.” Once again, Orange Goblin didn’t invent “win some lose some,” but they turned it around and made it their own, and it’s one of their most memorable hooks. Runner-up from the same album: “If it ain’t broke, break it,” from the song of the same name. The “disruptive innovation” crowd could have a field day with that one.
Healing through Fire (2007)
“If this isn’t hell, it’s the next best thing.” — “Cities of Frost”
A plain truth, plainly spoken. Yeah, I’ve pulled the line out of context, but the chorus is a metaphor anyway. If you want a companion line, “The fruits of empire will not numb the pain/And in our weakness, the Lord’s to blame,” should suffice. There’s a terrible landscape being surveyed, but yeah, it’s probably a real place and time, and it’s probably here right now.
A Eulogy for the Damned (2012)
“You’ve got to stand for something or you’re gonna fall for nothing.” — “Stand for Something”
This song is a perfect example of the band’s learn-from-my-mistakes perspective, directly addressing the listener and encouraging the pursuit of one’s passions or beliefs. Granted, the phrase “fall for nothing” could be taken as not being tricked, but given the rest of the lyrics, it’s pretty clear they mean “falling for nothing” as in “for no reason,” and that if you have to fall as we all do, you might as well fall for what you believe in.
Back from the Abyss (2014)
“Praise the valium.” — “Into the Arms of Morpheus”
This is really just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to Orange Goblin, and I hope if you have a particular favorite from along the way, you’ll let me know about it in the comments.
If you want to catch Orange Goblin live this year, they’ll be at Hammerfest, Desertfest, Hellfest, Dour Fest, Bloodstock, and others, with more sure to be announced. More wisdom at the links.
Posted in Features on January 2nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was close for a long time, but in the last week or so, one record pulled ahead to stake a definitive claim on the top spot. Even so, more than the 2013 poll, this was a fun one to watch, three albums duking it out, trading back and forth in the raw votes depending on who happened to submit a list at any given time. In the end, 355 people participated in this year’s poll, which is an average of over 11 per day — there was a significant push at the end — and up from 2013, which now that it’s 2015 will no doubt soon feel like ancient history.
To that end, Happy New Year and huge, huge thanks to everyone who took the time to contribute a list to the poll. Even if it was one or two records, the simple fact that you felt it was worth your time to type out the names of bands and albums and take part in this thing is unbelievably gratifying to me. I do a lot of the talking around here, apart from comments and the forum, so to have your participation in this really means a lot to me. It’s nice knowing you give enough of a crap to take part.
You’ll find two lists below. The first, measured in points, is the weighted tally. 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. After that comes the raw votes, a measure of what caught the most attention along the way.
After the jump, you’ll also find all the lists contributed to the poll — including my own, which seemed fair since I do a lot of reading on this site, mostly to experience shame at the typos and correct them hoping no one else noticed — presented in the order in which they were received. Thank you all again.
Top 20 of 2014 — Weighted Results
1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend (560 points)
2. Wo Fat, The Conjuring (404)
3. Electric Wizard, Time to Die (367)
4. Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden (334)
5. Conan, Blood Eagle (275)
6. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss (254)
7. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes (240)
8. Truckfighters, Universe (237)
9. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower (235)
10. Earth, Primitive and Deadly (230)
11. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid (225)
12. Blues Pills, Blues Pills (211)
13. Lo-Pan, Colossus (202)
14. Eyehategod, Eyehategod (198)
15. Monolord, Empress Rising (190)
16. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (188)
17. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia (161)
18. John Garcia, John Garcia (156)
19. Bongripper, Miserable (141)
20. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt (127)
Honorable mention to:
Goat, Commune (126)
Swans, To be Kind (117)
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars (116)
Blood Farmers, Headless Eyes (105)
Floor, Oblation (104)
Mothership, II (104)
Stubb, Elephant Tree, Thou and plenty of others also did very well in the voting, but everything else I could find was less than 100 points. Again, it was close for a while between Wo Fat, Electric Wizard and YOB — and Pallbearer wasn’t so far behind them, either — but YOB pulled it out in the end and jumped way in front of everyone else. A lot of number-one votes for Clearing the Path to Ascend, which I can understand completely, since I happened to agree with the position.
On to the raw votes:
Top 20 of 2014 — Raw Votes
1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend (138 votes)
2. Wo Fat, The Conjuring (111)
3. Electric Wizard, Time to Die (104)
4. Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden (89)
5. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss (78)
6. Conan, Blood Eagle (72)
7. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid (71)
8. Truckfighters, Universe (66)
9. Earth, Primitive and Deadly (65)
10. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes (64)
11. Blues Pills, Blues Pills (63)
12. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower (60)
13. Lo-Pan, Colossus (58)
14. Eyehategod, Eyehategod (55)
15. Monolord, Empress Rising (52)
16. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia (48)
16. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (48)
17. John Garcia, John Garcia (47)
18. Bongripper, Miserable (41)
18. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt (41)
19. Goat, Commune (37)
19. Mothership, II (37)
20. Swans, To be Kind (32)
And some honorable mentions:
Dwellers, Pagan Fruit (31)
Floor, Oblation (31)
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars (31)
Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty (30)
Thou, Heathen (30)
The Well, Samsara (30)
A couple ties here make the raw votes list a little more inclusive, and since it’s not like we’re giving out olympic medals, it didn’t seem fair to count out ties and sacrifice other numbers. The top 20 has 23 entries? Yeah, sounds about right. Again, not much mystery ultimately to who came out on top, but it was a more thrilling race than the final numbers might suggest. Cool to see some differences in placement emerge between the two lists as well, Greenleaf and Brant Bjork doing really well in the weighted results since they obviously inspire some strong support, and a couple of others working their way into the raw votes top 20. I’m not really a numbers guy, but it’s been cool putting this together.
About not being a numbers guy: All the lists that came in appear after the jump below. If you find some glaring error in my math, or something seems like it really got enough votes to be included in one or the other, it’s possible I just missed it. I hope you’ll point it out in the comments so that if there is a mistake, I can get on correcting it as soon as possible. Your vigilance is sincerely appreciated.
And thank you again so much for being a part of this readers poll. It’s been a really great experience and I look forward to doing it again come Dec. 2015.
Please find everybody’s list after the jump, and have fun browsing:
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Since I don’t do theme podcasts or anything, the thoroughly unofficial subtitle of this latest one is “SOME of the Best of 2014.” Truth be told, it’s four hours long and I feel like I barely scratched the surface, so definitely the emphasis should be on “some.” By no means is it meant to be comprehensive, or am I claiming that it’s all the best and the rest sucked or anything like that. But some of the best stuff is here, so, you know, I hope you enjoy.
My intent was to make it three hours long, and then I got there and it just didn’t feel done without another hour’s worth of extended psych jams. That’s an odd habit to have. Could be worse. For what it’s worth, I was thinking of this as a companion for some of the year-end coverage that’s already been posted and is still to come. Some of this was inspired by picks from the Readers Poll, the submissions for which are still open. If you haven’t added your list yet, I’d greatly appreciate it.
And once again, hope you dig it:
YOB, “Nothing to Win” from Clearing the Path to Ascend
Fu Manchu, “Radio Source Sagittarius” from Gigantoid
Radio Moscow, “Death of a Queen” from Magical Dirt
The Golden Grass, “Stuck on a Mountain” from The Golden Grass
Monster Magnet, “No Paradise for Me” from Milking the Stars: A Reimagining of Last Patrol
Pallbearer, “The Ghost I Used to Be” from Foundations of Burden
The Skull, “Sick of it All” from For Those Which are Asleep
Electric Wizard, “Time to Die” from Time to Die
Orange Goblin, “The Devil’s Whip” from Back from the Abyss
Moab, “No Soul” from Billow
Sleep, “The Clarity” from The Clarity 12”
Mars Red Sky, “Hovering Satellites” from Stranded in Arcadia
Floor, “Rocinante” from Oblation
Slomatics, “And Yet it Moves” from Estron
Conan, “Foehammer” from Blood Eagle
Druglord, “Feast on the Eye” from Enter Venus
Apostle of Solitude, “Die Vicar Die” from Of Woe and Wounds
Pilgrim, “Away from Here” from II: Void Worship
Blood Farmers, “The Road Leads to Nowhere” from Headless Eyes
Lo-Pan, “Regulus” from Colossus
Elephant Tree, “Vlaakith” from Theia
The Well, “Mortal Bones” from Samsara
Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds, “Counting Time” from The Shining One
Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, “Stokely up Now” from Black Power Flower
Joy, “Driving Me Insane” from Under the Spell of Joy
Greenleaf, “Depth of the Sun” from Trails and Passes
Mothership, “Priestess of the Moon” from Mothership II
Truckfighters, “Get Lifted” from Universe
Mos Generator, “Enter the Fire” from Electric Mountain Majesty
Mammatus, “Brain Drain” from Heady Mental
Øresund Space Collective, “Beardlandia” from Music for Pogonologists
My Brother the Wind, “Garden of Delights” from Once There was a Time When Time and Space were One
The Cosmic Dead, “Fukahyoocastulah” from Split with Mugstar
Montibus Communitas, “The Pilgrim to the Absolute” from The Pilgrim to the Absolute
Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.
I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.
Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.
The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.
A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.
Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.
His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”
An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.
I initially made this list without Alunah‘s excellent third album and Napalm Records, but when it came down to it, not having the UK four-piece on here haunted me to the point where I had to come back in and swap them out with somebody else. Just couldn’t live with myself for not giving this record its due, which, to be frank, I’m still not since it should be higher on the list than it is. At least it’s here though, so the mistake is somewhat corrected.
The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.
Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.
Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.
Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.
Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.
Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.
For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.
You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.
Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.
Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.
14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower
Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.
An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.
What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.
My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which Graham, Alley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow Season, The Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.
10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute
Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.
Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew Giacumakis — Fu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”
Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.
Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.
A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.
What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.
A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angelsthat brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.
In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis‘ Skyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.
Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.
Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.
Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend — YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.
First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.
A few other honorable mentions:
Mothership, Mothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.
Sólstafir, Ótta — They were originally on the list proper but had to be moved to make room for Alunah. I didn’t really get to know this record in 2014 anyway.
Ice Dragon, Seeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.
Truckfighters, Universe — I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.
Steak, Slab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.
Godflesh, A World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.
Thou, Heathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.
Corrosion of Conformity, IX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.
Spidergawd, Spidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.
Slomatics, Estron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.
Electric Wizard, Time to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.
Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.
The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.
Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.
More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.
And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 15th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
The list of bands, quite frankly, is astonishing, but even more astonishing is the fact that Thief Presents‘ Psycho California 2015 (formerly Psycho de Mayo) hasn’t announced its headliners yet, because these sure as shit look like headliners to me.
A three-day festival set to take place at The Observatory in Santa Ana, CA, Psycho California will feature the following acts:
Here’s that list again: Kylesa, Om, Earth, Russian Circles, Orange Goblin, Bedemon, Conan, Indian, Pallbearer, Cave In, Old Man Gloom, Tombs, Earthless, Truckfighters, Bang, Eyehategod, Crowbar, SubRosa, Lord Dying, Acid Witch, Electric Citizen, Coffinworm, Eagle Twin, Stoned Jesus, Mammatus, True Widow, Bell Witch, Death by Stereo, Radio Moscow, Samsara Blues Experiment, Anciients, Elder, Mothership, Ancient Altar, The Well, Deathkings, Wo Fat, Rozamov, Destroyer of Light, Highlands, Bloodmoon, Slow Season, Crypt Trip, Lords of Beacon House, Tumbleweed Dealer, Sinister Haze, Blackout, Red Wizard, Banquet, Loom.
Plus interludes by Author and Punisher.
Not only does it cover both coasts, huge bands, legends and up and comers, but the reach is international. Take special note of Conan, since their appearance means that Maryland Deathfest won’t be their only US date, and also Samsara Blues Experiment and Stoned Jesus — two killer European bands that you don’t even go after unless you know what the fuck you’re doing. That also hugely extends the possibilities for headlining acts. It’s an assemblage that’s beyond impressive, and if you haven’t already looked up flights to Southern California, I don’t know what to tell you. As I write this it’s after one in the morning on Sunday night, and you know I wouldn’t be doing that if my mind wasn’t leaking out of my ears at the thought of experiencing this thing.
Stay tuned for more to come, since as the poster says, headliners will be announced on Jan. 15. I’ll be looking forward to finding out who else is in store.