Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Night One, 06.21.19

Posted in Reviews on June 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2019 night one

I shudder to think of the poor bastard who, when this weekend is over, will have to mop up all the melted eardrums from the floor of the Cafe 611. With the expansion this year to four days — because again, the pre-fest yesterday was essentially a full night of the festival; 2020 pre-party on Wednesday? — Maryland Doom Fest enters a whole new echelon of being physically overwhelming. By the time Mothership went on last night, I was feeling it. Hard. Mostly in my back. And granted, they ran late and had some technical trouble getting set up, but I have the feeling that even had they been on time, I still would’ve been dragging my keester like the anchor it is.

But if that’s the case, it’s only true because the day was so goddamn good. Apart from not being allowed into Guido’s to see Benthic Realm because I didn’t have ID — my driver’s license got lost, I have no idea where or when or how, just looked in my wallet a couple weeks back and it was gone and the new one hasn’t arrived yet — and I guess the male pattern baldness, gray hair, wrinkles under my eyes and stiff, loping movements weren’t enough to confirm my age. “Sorry sir, you’re right. I’m actually three 16-year-olds in disguise as one old dude.” I respect the diligence, and the dude was just doing his job, so after a “seriously?” that was 100 percent genuinely asking if he was being serious, I wasn’t gonna make a stink, but that was a surprise.

It was a bummer though. Krista from the band I think had on an Obelisk t-shirt yesterday, and Dan‘s a really good guy all the time and being as I won’t be in Massachusetts anymore, let alone Worcester where they’re from, it would’ve been cool to see them. Nobody’s evening is made or broken by my showing up, but I wish I had caught their set. That’s all. It’s been a while since I got carded. Doubly so because I don’t drink.

That was the only snafu though, and otherwise, it was a have-my-cake-while-eating-my-cake-and-your-cake-golly-cake-is-good kind of evening as MDDF19 launched in earnest. It was a 6PM start, but the bill was stacked, so let me not waste time with tales of my own foibles.

Maryland Doom Fest 2019 night one:

False Gods

False Gods (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Oh they were mad. An angry start to the day to be sure. I give New York-based ultra-aggro five-piece crushers False Gods credit for coming up with the most excellent tagline, “If it’s too slow, you’re too young,” which is great, but for the most part, they actually moved at a pretty solid clip, taking aspects of post-hardcore and post-metallic intensity and putting them through a ringer of sludge riffs and tones, growls and screams cutting through. They’ve got a new two-song EP out called The Serpent and the Ladder, featuring, yes, “The Serpent” and “The Ladder,” and as frontman Mike Stack paced back and forth at the front of the Cafe 611 stage, his screams sometimes backed by growls from drummer Paulie Stack (let’s assume they’re related), the bass of Johnny Geirak offered density to underpin the more atmospheric elements of Greg March and Nick Luisi‘s guitars. A mid-set spaceout was welcome, but otherwise the chestbeating felt sincere and the impact of their sound was like a shock to the system. There would be no easing into the day, clearly. Welcome back to Maryland Doom Fest 2019. Now be pummeled.

The Druids

The Druids (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There’s another Druids, who are from Iowa and signed to The Company and who put an album out this year and made a bit of a splash with it. That’s not this The Druids, who are from here in Maryland and not signed to The Company but did put a record out in February called Totem (review here) that’s fully diggable in its blend of space and heavy rocks, a blend put to semi-psychedelic use in a we’re-actually-stoned stoner mindset. I had been looking forward to seeing them — not the least because Gary Isom (Spirit Caravan, last night with Weed is Weed, etc.) plays drums — and felt justified in that. Isom‘s pedigree notwithstanding, they’re young. And they sounded like it, guitarist/vocalists Eli Watson and Danny Alger and bassist Jeremy Dinges bringing a fresh energy to the material that, while not stylistically revolutionary, still benefited it greatly. Dave Davidson, who has worked the sound for every Maryland Doom Fest that I’ve been to, kept reminding them between songs how much time they had left, as though if he didn’t, they might get high and wander into a jam, never to return. Not great for keeping to a schedule, but I wouldn’t mind hearing that, either.

Kingsnake

Kingsnake (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Pro-shop, and I’m not honestly sure how much else needs to be said. Philadelphia’s Kingsnake kicked off a Pennsylvania threepeat on the Cafe 611 stage, and they did so with hard-edged, Southern-tinged heavy that seemed to roll out the funk of Clutch into a more forward drive. Hooks? They got hooks. Riffs? They got those too. And they deliver. I’ll always remember them for their roots in Sugar Daddie, but that was like 14 years ago now, so it’s safe to say in that time Kingsnake have come into their own, and what they bring is down-home heavy vibes, for the distinguished working gentleperson who, whether they’re sipping IPA or living the High Life, knows exactly what they want out of the experience. They marked the beginning of schedule collision between Cafe 611 and Guido’s Speakeasy, the second venue about 150 feet right on the next block (easy walk, nice to get a bit of non-doomfart air), but I caught both the beginning and the end of their set, and they killed it to a high standard. Their got-it-togetherness was well on display, and reportedly they’ve had new songs in the works for a while to follow 2016’s Resonance, so hopefully something comes out soon.

Spiral Grave

Spiral Grave (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’ve been tracking the emergence of Spiral Grave since the band announced their existence in the earliest moments of this year, and my first opportunity to see them live wasn’t one I was about to pass up. I walked right into Guido’s no problem this time — also part of what made it such a surprise later — as Spiral Grave were still setting up, but by the time they went on, that room would be completely packed. Not that that’s saying much — the space is intimate, to put it mildly — but still. They opened with their first single, “Nothing” (premiered here) and proceeded to give the assembled a preview of things to come as they move toward their in-progress debut album. The amalgam of Iron Man and Lord — quintessential Maryland doom meets oft-experimentalist Virginian noise chaos — works. Guitarist Willy Rivera (the Lord contingent) has beefed up his riffing style to suit the grooves of bassist Louis Strachan and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann, and the underlying metallic sharpness in his work suits the vocals of Dee Calhoun well. They’ve been in my “look forward to more” category for a while. Only more the case after seeing them play. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were back here next year after the album release. Nor would I complain.

Backwoods Payback

Backwoods Payback (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Sometimes life is pretty sweet, like when Backwoods Payback plays. The West Chester, PA/Richmond, VA trio were here last year heralding the arrival of their Summer 2018 LP, Future Slum (review here), and it was only more of a pleasure to see them this time around because, you know, the more the merrier. Guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings, bassist Jessica Baker and drummer Erik Larson have a reputation that precedes them here, and I don’t know if it was people who saw them at the last Maryland Doom Fest or who heard the record or what, but they packed the room out and had people singing along. Or maybe that was just me. Either way, they made highlights out of Future Slum cuts like “Pirate Smile” and “Whatever,” “Generals” and “Lines,” which closed out with its tense build, as well as what I’d swear was some even-newer stuff but was too ass-kicked afterwards to ask. If you’ve never seen them, their style is as much grown-up punk as it is ’90s-weird-kid, but it’s delivered with heft and heart that are second to no one, and they’re the kind of band who win people over. They didn’t have to do that at Cafe 611 — the room was on their side to start with — but the converted were plenty happy to hear them preach. There are very few bands I so much enjoy watching play.

The Age of Truth

The Age of Truth (Photo by JJ Koczan)

No easy feat to be sandwiched on a bill between Backwoods Payback and Year of the Cobra with Lo-Pan still to follow, but Philly’s The Age of Truth wrapped up the Keystone triad with an unequivocal mastery of West Coast-style heavy rock meeting Northeastern noise crunch and aggression. Also repeat offenders from last year (review here), they remain entrenched in their righteous 2017 debut, Threshold (review here), starting with the immediate lock-in nodder “Come Back a God” — which still reminds me of Dozer, in the best way — as frontman Kevin McNamara pointed up to the sky, or at least the ceiling, and guitarist Mike DiDonato, bassist Bill Miller and drummer Scott Fressetto behind him were in go-mode from the start. For a band who haven’t spent months on the road — they’ve done plenty of shows, but not really full-on toured, and I don’t know if they want to or not — they rose to the occasion in such a way as to make me wonder how that might tie into their next record, if the tightness of their live presentation will be mirrored in their songwriting or captured output. Whatever they might have planned in that regard, they sounded ready to move forward, and in what, again, was a difficult spot, they shone, indulging a bit of drank in the process.

Year of the Cobra

Year of the Cobra (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Looking at their setlist after they played, I felt way better about how few of Year of the Cobra‘s songs I recognized while they were on stage. The Seattle two-piece will release their second album later this year as their debut through Prophecy Productions — I’m not saying I’m holding a spot on my best-of-the-year list for it, but basically I am — and though they’ve toured hard to support 2016’s …In the Shadows Below (review here) and the subsequent 2017 EP, Burn Your Dead (review here), including just recently with Lord Dying, I’m embarrassed to say I’d never seen them before. That fact has been gnawing at me, so I was relieved when they went on, and all the more so when they absolutely leveled Cafe 611. They played “Cold” from the EP and “White Wizard” from the first record as well as the title-track of their first short release, 2015’s The Black Sun (review here), but everything else seemed to be new, titles like “Ash and Dust,” “The Divine” and “Into the Fray” scribbled out to represent a barrage of low-end tone, wash of crash and increasingly nuanced vocal melodicism from Amy Tung Barrysmith. With Jon Barrysmith on drums, they were a nation-of-two duo whose time on the road was obvious in their we-do-this-all-the-time vibe, and my only regret of the evening was not buying a shirt. That’s something I’ll rectify next time, and yes, there will be a next time.

Lo-Pan

Lo-Pan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Come on, Lo-Pan. You know that scene in that one episode of The Simpsons from the ’90s where Homer joins not-Lollapalooza and Sonic Youth are there and they steal Peter Frampton’s watermelon? That’s like Lo-Pan stealing all the awesome and keeping it for themselves. As they absolutely tore exclusively into cuts from their new record, Subtle (review here), it was as though they were standing next to an empty cooler going, “Come on, Mr. Frampton! You’re not gonna eat all that watermelon!” It was my first time seeing them since they added guitarist Chris Thompson, which was a couple years ago now — look, I can’t make excuses; sometimes it’s hard being a human being, let alone leaving the house — and with their lightbars on the sides of his and bassist Scott Thompson‘s cabs, singer Jeff Martin in back giving a clinic in vocal dynamics and drummer Jesse Bartz bashing away up front, they did what Lo-Pan do: they destroyed. I don’t think I’ve seen them at any point in the last decade and not come out of it unable to name a more powerful American heavy rock band. I’ll catch them again in a couple months as they tour with C.O.C. and Crowbar — they’re doing a one-off in Teaneck, NJ; fuck yes — and I’m already looking forward to that. This is a band to treasure.

Pale Divine

Pale Divine (Photo by JJ Koczan)

So here’s the thing: Pale Divine just put out a record. Not this week, but last November they released their self-titled LP (review here), and as it was their first outing in six years, it’s totally unreasonable to think they might do another one anytime soon. Pale Divine doesn’t owe anyone anything. You know how the pre-fest was all the Stoner Hands of Doom bands? Well, okay. Pale Divine played that fest seven times, including the first one 20 years ago. But on the other hand… since the album came out, guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener, bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis and drummer Darin McCloskey added Dana Ortt — who’ll also play his last show with Beelzefuzz this weekend — on guitar and vocals, and they’re just at another level for having done so. You could hear the harmonies between Diener and Ortt on vocals throughout their set, and the interplay on guitar was no less glorious. So yeah, Pale Divine, you don’t have to put out another record right this moment. Don’t feel obligated. But if you wanted to make that happen sometime in the less-than-six-years-from-now near future, I think it would really be for the best all the way around. The wax is barely dry on Pale Divine, so it’s not even fair to ask, but I’m asking anyway. Or at least a live record as a stopgap. I’d take a 7″. A demo tape. Something. Anything.

Mothership

Mothership (Photo by JJ Koczan)

You know why I like Mothership? They play both kinds of music: rock and roll. How are you gonna be dead on your feet when Mothership are playing? The Dallas power trio manifest the best of Texas’ heavy legacy and offer it up in kinetic fashion. Already this year they’ve toured with Death Angel, done a spot on the Heavy Psych Sounds Fest out on the West Coast, and been on the road with C.O.C. (review here), and that’s after doing Europe last Fall on a by-now-legendary stint with Elephant Tree and Stoned Jesus, so yeah, Mothership are basically on fire and after a late start owing to some non-intentional feedback and other technical whathaveyou, they played like it. They’ve basically been go-go-go since before the arrival of their 2017 third full-length, High Strangeness (review here), and their “Midnight Express” shows no signs of slowing. They’ve made themselves ambassadors for ’70s heavy without ever really dipping into retroism, and more than just ape what classic bands did before them, they take those lessons and push them forward onto new ground. I honestly don’t know when they would’ve had time to write a new LP or anything like that, but they seem to have a keen sense of how to keep their momentum going — spoiler: it’s by busting their collective ass — so I have to think they’ll get there sooner or later, if they can manage to stop long enough to hit record. Hard to imagine the tour offers stopping, frankly. I’ll admit I didn’t stay for the whole set, but even with the hiccup at the outset, there was no question they owned that room.

I guess it was like 2AM when I got back to the AirBNB? Something like that. I crashed quickly, even before pictures were done being transferred from my memory card, and slept until eight this morning. Saw nine bands on Thursday, 10 bands on Friday. Today’s Saturday and there are 11 at the Cafe 611 alone — more if I can manage to con my way back into the good graces of Guido’s — and that’s the busiest day of the thing. I am beat but upright, and very much in need of a shower. At least I got a toothbrush yesterday. Today’s need is Advil.

Good times, y’all. Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

Read more »

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New England Stoner and Doom Fest II: More Lineup Announcements; Pre-Party Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 5th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

new england stoner doom festival 2019 art

It’s time to talk about the real potential of the New England Stoner and Doom Fest. No, I don’t mean the lineup. That’s awesome. You know it and I know it. I’m talking about the acronym. That’s always huge for a festival. How is it abbreviated? Think MDDF or SHoD or any of the DFs spread around the universe. These things matter.

I’ve seen NESDF tossed around for New England Stoner and Doom Fest, and that’s cool, but it’s missing the opportunity. You could have a festival abbreviated NES! Who the hell wouldn’t buy that t-shirt? I hereby cast my vote in the imaginary referendum on festival abbreviations for New England Stoner and Doom Fest to henceforth and forthwith and withhence be known as NES fest. Second the motion?

There’s reportedly one more band to be added and reportedly several in the running for that slot, so this might not be the final update before May 3-5 gets here and NES fest kicks off (see me using the acronym already?), and the lineup for a pre-party at 33 Golden St. in New London has been announced as well, which will be headlined by Fox 45, so, you know, more of a good thing and all that.

The full lineup as has been revealed follows. Note the Wretch reunion. NES fest!

New England Stoner & Doom Fest II

The New England Stoner and Doom Festival will make its return in 2019 on May 3,4, and 5 at Altones in Jewett City, CT.

Earthride
Brimstone Coven
Wretch
Kings Destroy
+1 TBA
Foghound
Pale Divine
Vessel of Light
Spiral Grave
Solace
Black Road
Curse the Son
Shadow Witch
Hell Camino
Clamfight
Eternal Black
Thunderbird Divine
Stonecutters
When the Deadbolt Breaks
Mourn the Light
Entierro
Bone Church
Buzzard Canyon
The Age of Truth
Void King
Horseburner
Scuzzy Yeti
Witchkiss
Cortez
Benthic Realm
Faith in Jane
Conclave
Set Fire
3 Parts Dead
Insano Vision
Old Earth Analog
Pinto Graham
The Stone Eye
Sentinel Hell

Pre-party @ 33 Golden St.:
Fox 45
VRSA
Dark Ritual
Owl Maker
Feed the Beast

www.newenglandstoneranddoomfest.com
https://www.facebook.com/events/1613285008788252/
https://www.facebook.com/NewEnglandStonerAndDoomFest/
https://www.saltoftheearthrecords.com/

Wretch, Bastards Born (2017)

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Maryland Doom Fest Presents Doom Hawg Day on Feb. 2

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 31st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest logo

Maryland Doom Fest hosts the offshoot festival Doom Hawg Day on Feb. 2 at Cafe 611 in Frederick, MD, with Pale Divine, Kingsnake, The Age of Truth, Faith in Jane and more on the bill. Not to be confused with Groundhog Day of Doom, which is happening the same day in Nyack, New York, the event is crammed in true MD fashion with 12 acts playing in a span of 10 and a half hours at the venue where Maryland Doom Fest also makes its home.

This is the first time MDDF has introduced the splinter festival, and while it’s easy to see it becoming an annual event — certainly these bands and plenty besides are around — it speaks to the overarching expansion of the Maryland Doom Fest that’s seen that festival move to four days for 2019 as well as pay homage to Stoner Hands of Doom with its pre-party. Will there be a corresponding autumn fest to mark the change of seasons on the other end? I have no idea, but with the Horehound, Freedom Hawk, Stone Dust Riders, Seasick Gladiator, Shadow Witch, Thunderchief and “Screaming Mad” Dee Calhoun rounding out this bill, certainly there’s plenty to chew on in the meantime.

So the question here is, is Groundhog’s Day the new doom holiday? Should it be? The Groundhogs are cool, so maybe yes? I’ll weigh out the pros and cons in my mind while you check out the lineup for Doom Hawg Day 2019 below and we can both meet up later to discuss our ideas. Think of the t-shirt designs! Goodness gracious.

Info follows:

doom hawg day 2019

The Maryland Doom Fest Presents: “Doom Hawg Day”!!

Feb 2, 2019 @ Cafe 611 – Frederick, Md
Doors at 2:30 / $20
Come celebrate Ground Hog Day with us!!

? Pale Divine. 1250-130
? Kingsnake 1155-1235
? Faith In Jane. 1100-1140
? The Age of Truth 1005-1045
? Horehound. 910-950
? Stone Dust Riders. 815-855
? Seasick Gladiator 720-800
? Freedom Hawk 625-705
? Shadow Witch. 530-610
? Thonian Horde. 435-515
? Thunderchief. 340-420
? Dee Calhoun. 300-330

DooM !!!

https://www.evensi.us/doom-hawg-day-lord-nickens-street-frederick-county-maryland-21701-4546-united-states-america/283219943
https://www.facebook.com/events/265034697496061/
https://www.facebook.com/MdDoomFest/

Pale Divine, Pale Divine (2018)

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Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Early-Bird Tickets Limited; Day Lineups Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2019 poster square

The actual schedules aren’t out yet for the four days of Maryland Doom Fest 2019, but even the day-splits for the massive lineup are good to know since this will be the first one with two venues and, thus, the first one with schedule conflicts (assuming the rooms run at the same time). That will invariably lead to some difficult choices, but so it goes in the land of doom — aka Frederick, MD. One way or another, the lineup is maddeningly good from its headliners in Pentagram, Conan, Earthride and Mothership right on down through the likes of Seasick Gladiator and Greenbeard, playing earlier in the day. But it’s good to get some basic idea of who will be where, when, because given the swath of bands, it’s going to be one to schedule where your feet are at any moment in order to miss as little as humanly possible.

By the way, how fucking awesome is the idea of Maryland Doom Fest paying homage to the 20th anniversary of the long-running/now-defunct Stoner Hands of Doom festival? That lineup could hardly be more perfect if they got Eternal Elysium over for it as SHoD once did. Especially the top three there. Unstoppable.

Here’s the info. There’s a lot of it:

Early Bird Discount Ends 12/31! THE MARYLAND DOOM FEST 2019 – 5th Anniversary – June 20th-23rd with PENTAGRAM, CONAN, EARTHRIDE, MOTHERSHIP, WARHORSE, 40+ More!

The Maryland Doom Fest celebrates its 5th anniversary this upcoming June and has confirmed FIFTY of today’s heaviest bands to grace the stages of two venues in 2019. For the first time in its history, MD Doom Fest brings international artists, the mighty CONAN from the United Kingdom and INTERITUM from Tasmania, with 48 hallowed USA acts coming from coast to coast!

In a dual-ceremonial event, the MD Doom Fest Pre-Party on Thursday, June 20th is a 20th Anniversary celebration of the Stoner Hands of Doom Festival (ShoD), with a spectacular lineup. All bands have performed at fantastic SHoD fests of years past! The Pre-Fest / SHoD 20th Anniversary Celebration will be monumental. We invite everyone to become part of the family at The Maryland Doom Fest 2019 events for #4daysofdoom!!

THE MARYLAND DOOM FEST 2019
June 20th – 23rd, 2019 + Frederick, MD

PENTAGRAM + CONAN + EARTHRIDE + MOTHERSHIP

Year Of The Cobra + Lo Pan + Freedom Hawk + Warhorse + Pale Divine + Apostle Of Solitude + Kings Destroy + Solace + Foghound + Beelzefuzz + ZED + Wasted Theory + The Age Of Truth + Atala + Toke + Backwoods Payback + Weed Is Weed + Forming The Void + Sixes + After The Sun + Shadow Witch + Faith In Jane + Clouds Taste Satanic + Pale Grey Lore + Knoxxville + Devil To Pay + Eternal Black + Thonian Horde + Kingsnake + Greenbeard + Interitum + Benthic Realm + Horehound + Funeral Horse + Thousand Vision Mist + Deer Creek + Crooked Hills + Stone Dust Riders + Thunderchief + Wolf Blood + The Druids + Atomic 26 + Dead Sisters + Seasick Gladiator + Electric Age + Temptations Wings

+++ Early Bird Discount Weekend Passes available until December 31st +++

https://www.marylanddoomfest.com/tickets/

MD Doom Fest Pre-Party
SHoD 20th Anniversary Celebration
Thursday, June 20th

+ Cafe 611 +
Earthride
Warhorse
Solace
Wasted Theory
Devil to Pay
Deer Creek
Weed is Weed
Freedom Hawk
After the Sun

DAY ONE
Friday, June 21st

+CAFE 611+
Mothership
Pale Divine
Lo Pan
Year of the Cobra
The Age of Truth
Backwoods Payback
Kingsnake
Interitum
The Druids

+GUIDO’S SPEAKEASY+
Clouds Taste Satanic
Benthic Realm
Dead Sisters
Funeral Horse

DAY TWO
Saturday, June 22nd

+CAFE 611+
Pentagram
Apostle of Solitude
Foghound
Beelzefuzz
Atala
Sixes
Forming the Void
Knoxxville
Atomic 26
Eternal Black
Greenbeard

+GUIDO’S SPEAKEASY+
Electric Age
Pale Grey Lore
Thunderchief
Seasick Gladiator
Crooked Hills

DAY THREE
Sunday, June 23rd

+CAFE 611+
Conan
ZED
Kings Destroy
Toke
Thousand Vision Mist
Horehound
Thonian Horde
Shadow Witch
Faith in Jane

+GUIDO’S SPEAKEASY+
Temptations Wings
Wolf Blood
Stone Dust Riders

Early Bird Discount Weekend Passes are available until December 31st, 2018!
(Early Bird Discount is only for Weekend Passes- $74.)

On January 1, 2019, all regular price ticket options will be available.
Weekend Passes $89. Single Night: Fri. $35 / Sat. $40 / Sun. $35
Weekend Pass holders can attend Pre-Fest/SHoD for $15 at the door, all others: $30.

https://www.facebook.com/events/371836710006412/
https://www.facebook.com/MdDoomFest/
https://www.themarylanddoomfest.com/

Apostle of Solitude, “Keeping the Lighthouse” official video

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the-top-30-of-2018

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2018 to that, please do.

It just wouldn’t be a year if it wasn’t completely overwhelming, right?

2018 has certainly met that standard and then some. The swath of output, whether it’s a new generation adopting and adapting established methods or out and out reinventing the stylistic wheel and then pushing it uphill on a seemingly endless barrage of tours, has been staggering, and it’s still happening. There’s a little more than a week to go in the year. You think a band isn’t putting something out today? Of course they are. It’s every day. It’s all the time.

But this year wasn’t just about quantity either. I think one of my biggest struggles in writing about albums in 2018 — and with the last Quarterly Review and various premieres and video posts that were basically album reviews in disguise, let’s estimate we’re somewhere past 300 records reviewed one way or another — was in conveying just how killer so much of the stuff coming through was. How many times can you say the word “awesome?” Well, I’m sure we’ll see it a few more times before this list is over, so there you go.

I say something like this every time I do a list, but please keep in mind these are my picks and I’m one person. But I am a person. I know there’s the whole internet-anonymity thing, but I assure you, I’m a human being (more of a cave troll, really) typing these words. I’m all for everyone sharing their own picks in the comments, and all for passionate advocating, but please, let’s keep it civil and respectful. These things can spiral out of control quickly, but let’s remember that we’re all human beings and worth of basic courtesy, even if some of us are dead wrong about a good many things. You should definitely punch nazis, though.

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

[UPDATE: You’ll notice the inclusion of an ’18a.’ I had Stoned Jesus in my notes as number 18 initially and they got dropped as I was adjusting things along the way. I’ve added them back in, but it didn’t seem fair to bump everyone else down after the post had already been published. That was the best I could come up with for a solution. If you’re pissed about one more killer record being added, please feel free to email me and tell me all about it.]

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Chicago’s The Skull had no small task before them in following up their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) — let alone living up to their pedigree — but their second album demonstrated a creative growth that sacrificed nothing of memorability when it came to songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “All that Remains (Is True).” They got down to work and got the job done, which is what a working band does. 2018 was by any measure a fantastic year for doom, and The Skull were a big part of why.

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

The Dec. 2017 murder of Rev. Jim Forrester was tragic. No other way to say it. Foghound, who were in the midst of making Awaken to Destroy at the time, put together an album that not only features Forrester‘s last recorded performance, but pays respect to his memory while the wound is still raw and manages to kick ass all the while. It’s a record that can’t ever be divorced from its circumstances — just can’t — and so it can be a heavy listen in more than just its tones, but it’s basically Foghound proving they’re unstoppable. And so they are.

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

Who among us here today is not a sucker for Orange Goblin? Come forward an be judged. I mean, really. Nine records deep, the London sceneforgers are nothing less than an institution, beloved by boozehounds, riffhounds, doomhounds, and really, a wide variety of hounds the world over. Also dudes. With its essential title-track hook and highlight cuts in “Ghosts of the Primitives” and “Burn the Ships” — or, you know, any of them — they added to one of heavy’s most unshakable legacies with an album as furious as it is welcoming to its generations-spanning fanbase.

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

fu manchu clone of the universe
Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed Feb. 15.

There are two kinds of people in this world, and they’re both Fu Manchu fans. Clone of the Universe turned heads with a guest appearance from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson on the 18-minute side-B-consuming “Il Mostro Atomico,” but really to focus on that instead of “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” etc., is only seeing half the point of the album in the first place. The long-running lords of fuzz hit a new stride with 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), and Clone of the Universe was in every way a worthy successor.

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain
Released by Svart Records. Reviewed May 16.

It was an unenviable task before Witch Mountain in replacing vocalist Uta Plotkin, but founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson found the right voice in Kayla Dixon and solidified the lineup with her and bassist Justin Brown enough to make a declarative statement in Witch Mountain‘s self-titled LP. That’s the story of it. They pulled it off. Met with what was unquestionably a bummer circumstance, they pushed through and moved their sound forward through a new beginning — and not their first one. Watch out when their next record hits.

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Richmond, Virginia, doomers Windhand‘s second collaboration with producer Jack Endino produced a marked and purposeful expansion of their sound, encompassing classic grunge influences and a heavy psychedelic swirl that added color their previously-greyscale sonic haze. Resonant in tone and emotionalism, Eternal Return readjusted Windhand‘s trajectory in such a manner that, where one might’ve thought they knew where the band were headed in terms of their progression, they’ve made themselves a less predictable outfit on the whole. For that alone, it’s a triumph. Then you have the songs.

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

I don’t even want to admit how long I was waiting for Sun Voyager‘s first long-player to show up, but when it finally did, the New York trio did not disappoint. Catchy, energetic, fuzzed-out tunes with driving rhythms and a heavy psych flourish, they tapped into shoegaze and desert vibes without losing any sense of themselves in the process, and if the extra wait was so they could be so remarkably coherent in their expression on their full-length, then I wouldn’t want it to have shown up any sooner. An easy pick to stand among 2018’s best debut albums. Now to wait for the next one.

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

It should tell you something that after working quickly to produce three albums, Louisiana’s Forming the Void are still defined by their potential. If I had my druthers, I’d put the recent Ripple signees on tour for the bulk of 2019, across the US and in Europe for festivals and support-slot club shows, really give them an opportunity to hammer out who they are as a band and then hit the studio for LP four. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but they’d only be doing the universe a favor by kicking into that gear. As it stands, their progression is palpable in their material and they stand absolutely ready for whatever the next level might be for them.

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

Released by BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed June 29.

Aside from the speed at which Spaceslug have turned around offerings — with Eye the Tide following 2017’s Mountains and Reminiscence EP (review here) and Time Travel Dilemma (review here) full-length and their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here) — the Polish outfit have undertaken significant progression in their sound, moving from pure heavy psychedelic warmth to incorporating elements out of extreme metal as they did on Eye the Tide. Adding to the latest record’s accomplishment is the smoothness with which they brought seemingly opposing sides together, only adding depth to an approach already worthy of oceanic comparison.

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

Conan Existential Void Guardian
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Conan‘s reign of terror has been unfolding for more than a decade now, and each of their albums has become a kind of step along a path of incremental growth. Consider the melody creeping into the shouts of founding guitarist Jon Davis, or the emergence of bassist Chris Fielding as a vocal presence alongside, the two sharing a frontman role more than ever before while welcoming drummer Johnny King to the fold of destructive tonality and doomly extremism. Existential Void Guardian may end up just being another stomp-print on their way to the next thing, but it affirmed the fact that as much as Conan grow each time out, their central violence continues to hold sway.

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

PALE DIVINE S/T
Released by Shadow Kingdom Records. Reviewed Nov. 21.

Look. A new Pale Divine record doesn’t come along every day, so yeah, their self-titled was probably going to be on my list one way or the other, but it definitely helps that not only was it their first outing in six years since 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here), but it had the songs to live up to a half-decade-plus of anticipation. It marked the first studio appearance from bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis alongside guitarist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey — now both of Beelzefuzz as well — and made a strong argument for how much Pale Divine deserve more than 20 years on from their initial demo to be considered classic American doom.

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands
Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed May 11.

The return and rise to prominence of Washington pure heavy rockers Mos Generator might be the underground’s feelgood story of the decade, but it hasn’t by any means been easily won. In addition to rebuilding the band however many albums ago, guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed has put in innumerable hours on tour and worked to actually develop the group creatively in addition to in terms of stage presence. This is shown throughout some of the classic prog elements making their way onto Shadowlands, and perhaps some of the collection’s moodier aspects are born of the aforementioned road time as well. Hard for that kind of thing not to be a slog after a while, but at least they have killer tunes to play.

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

The only safe bet about Stoned Jesus‘ fourth long-player, Pilgrims, was that it was going to sound different than the third. That 2015 outing, The Harvest (review here), preceded the band touring to celebrate the fifth anniversary and after-the-fact success of 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but Pilgrims defied narrative in that instead of incorporating elements from the second record in more of a heavy psych or jam sound, Stoned Jesus instead showcased a tighter, more sureheaded sense of craft than they’ve ever displayed before, and arrived on Napalm Records with a collection of songs that demonstrated the growth and sense of creative will that drives them. While one can take a look at their moniker and think immediately they know what’s coming, Stoned Jesus have made themselves one of the least predictable bands in heavy rock.

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

“Pirate Smile.” “Lines.” “Whatever.” “It Ain’t Right.” “Threes.” “Cinderella.” “Generals.” “Big Enough.” “Alone.” “Lucky. Mike Cummings, Jessica Baker, Erik Larson. Every player, every song, every minute. If you want to know what heart-on-sleeve sounds like, it fucking sounds like Backwoods Payback. In their line from hardcore punk to grunge to heavy rock, they encompass experiences and emotionalism that are both shown in raw form throughout Future Slum, and build all the while on the chemistry they set out in developing with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), when they welcomed Larson to the lineup on drums and revitalized their mission. Also worth noting, they were the best live band I saw this year. Anywhere.

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

No question the excitement of C.O.C. putting out their first record with frontman Pepper Keenan involved since 2005’s In the Arms of God was one of this year’s top stories in heavy. And No Cross No Crown tapped directly into the spirit of 1994’s Deliverance (discussed here) and 1996’s Wiseblood (discussed here) in terms of direction, while updating the band’s style with a four-part 2LP in mind. In some ways, it’ll be their next album that really gives listeners a sense of where they’re at and where they might be headed, but as welcome returns go, having Keenan alongside Mike DeanWoody Weatherman and Reed Mullin is in no way to be understated, and neither is the quality of their output together, then and now.

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It is no simple feat to hypnotize an audience and convey serenity while at the same time holding attention with songcraft, so that the listener isn’t actually so much unconscious as malleable of mood and spirit in such a direction as the band suggests. Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to become experts at this, and their third full-length fosters tonal warmth and jammy progressions with an overarching naturalism that finds them so committed to analog recording that one can buy direct transfers of the tape master of III. Some acts take classic-style practices as an aesthetic choice. With Naxatras, it seems to be the stuff of life, yet their sound is only vibrant and human in a way that, at least one hopes, is even more representative of the future than the past.

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

It was time for Clutch to make a change in producers, and the Maryland overlords of groove seemed to know it. Known as a live band, they went with Vance Powell, who’s known a live band producer. The results on Book of Bad Decisions might not have been so earth-shatteringly different from 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here), which was the too-soon follow-up to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — both helmed by Machine — but the inimitable four-piece indeed succeeded in capturing the electricity of their stage performance and, as ever, treated fans to a collection of songs bearing Clutch‘s unmistakable hallmarks of quirky lyrics, funky rhythms and heavy roll. They may always be a live band, but Clutch‘s studio work is in no way to be discounted, ever, as this record reaffirmed. Plus, crab cakes.

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

After 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), I wasn’t sure Ancestors were going to put out another record. They kicked around word of one for a while, but it wasn’t until the end of last year that it really seemed to congeal into a possibility. And by then, who the hell knew what they might get up to on a full-length? With Suspended in Reflections, in some says, they picked up where they left off in terms of finding a niche for themselves in progressive and melodic heavy, but I think the time showed in the poise of their execution and the control of the material. Suspended in Reflections can’t help but be six years more mature than its predecessor, and that suits its contemplative feel. In tracks like “Gone,” and “The Warm Glow,” they tempered their expansive sound with an efficiency that can only be had with time.

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

The narrative here was hard to beat. Matt Pike spending an album cycle talking about Lemmy Kilmister and paying homage to his dirt-rock forebear and the gods of old? It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Electric Messiah was the third collaboration between High on Fire and producer Kurt Ballou behind 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), and while it seemed after the last record that the formula might be getting stale, the band only sounded more and more lethal throughout the latest offering. Even putting aside their contributions to underground heavy, they’ve become one of the most essential metal bands of their generation. Metal, period. Doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re talking about it. If you’re listening to High on Fire, you know it. Usually because you’ve just been decapitated.

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

You know, if you take the time to separate Yawning Man from their 30-plus-year history and their legacy as one of the foundational acts of what later became desert rock, and you listen to The Revolt Against Tired Noises, you’re still left with basically a dream of an album. Mostly instrumental, as is their wont, they nonetheless had bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) sing this time around on a version of the previously-unreleased “Catamaran,” which Kyuss covered once upon a whenever although Yawning Man had never officially put it to tape. But really, that and all other novelty aside, guitarist Gary Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are a chemistry unto themselves. I don’t know if they’ll ever be as huge as they should be, but every bit of acclaim they get, they’ve earned, and if The Revolt Against Tired Noises helps them get it, all the more so.

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

Swedish heavy rock mavens Greenleaf have become an entirely different band than they once were. No longer a Dozer side-project from guitarist Tommi Holappa with a rotating cast of players, they’re a solidified, road-tested, powerhouse unit, and Hear the Rivers bleeds soul as a result. Holappa, frontman Arvid Hällagård, bassist Hans Fröhlich and drummer Sebastian Olsson sound like they’re absolutely on fire in the album’s tracks, and far from being staid or formulaic as one might expect a sixth long-player to be, Hear the Rivers built on what the band accomplished with 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) and came across as all the more vital and nearly frenetic in their energy. I won’t say Greenleaf has seen their last lineup change, because one never knows, but the band as they are today is the realization of potential I don’t think even Greenleaf knew was there.

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 4.

Five records deep into a career into its second decade, Gozu haven’t had a miss yet. Admittedly, some of their early work can seem formative considering where they are now, but still. And after the 2016 rager, Revival (review here), to have the band return to the same studio — Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where strides producer Dean Baltulonis — for the follow-up allows for the four-piece to directly show how their sound has grown more encompassing in the last couple years. And it has. Equilibrium is a rich and varied listen that holds true to Gozu‘s well-established penchant for soulful vibes and crunching, hard-hitting riffs and groove, but while it shares the directness of approach with Revival, it makes moves that a band could only make moving from one record to the next. I expect nothing less their next time out as well, because a decade later, that’s Gozu‘s proven track record.

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

monster magnet mindfucker
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 23.

The battle for the best album title of 2018 ended early when New Jersey everything-rockers Monster Magnet announced the release of Mindfucker. And what else to call a Monster Magnet LP at this point? They’ve stopped writing to genre. They’re driven by the creative mania of frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf, and they’ve seen psychedelic expanses and commercial success the likes of which would serve the tenure of four lesser bands. What’s left to do but whatever the hell you want? So that’s what Monster Magnet are doing. It just so happens that while they’re doing it, they’re still basically outclassing the entirety of the former planet earth as songwriters. As Monster Magnet fan in 2018, there was nothing more I could’ve asked than what Mindfucker delivered. And if you’re still trying to get your brain around it however many months later, you’re not alone. I think that’s the idea.

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Best doom album of 2018. The combination of craft and passion behind the delivery. The way the dark tones fed into the emotions so clearly on display and sheer presence of it in listening to songs like “Keeping the Lighthouse,” “Ruination by Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here.” Apostle of Solitude never seem to be the highest profile band out there, but their work seems never to be anything less than outstanding, and I refuse to accept them as anything less than among the most pivotal American acts out there making traditional doom. And not just making it, but making it their own, with a sense of new pursuits and individualism that extends to playing style as well as atmosphere. I know doom isn’t exactly in short supply these days — figuratively or literally — but if you miss out on what Apostle of Solitude are doing with it, you’ll only regret it later. I’ll say it one more time: Best doom album of 2018.

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

holy grove ii
Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 31.

Every now and again, anticipating the crap of an album really pays off, and such was the case with Holy Grove II, the Ripple Music debut from the Portland outfit whose 2016 self-titled (review here) seemed like such a herald of excellence to come while also, you know, being killer. Holy Grove II brought the four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis to entirely new levels of composition and execution. In songs like “Blade Born,” the shorter, sharper “Aurora,” the patiently rolling “Valley of the Mystics,” “Solaris” and closer “Cosmos,” which boasted a not-really-necessary-but-definitely-welcome guest vocal appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt, — and oh wait, that’s all of the tracks — Holy Grove entered a different echelon. Anticipation will likewise be high for Holy Grove III, but it’ll be hard to complain with this record to keep company in the meantime.

6. All Them Witches, ATW

all them witches atw
Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Over five All Them Witches albums, the Nashville four-piece have gone from a nascent heavy Americana jam band to one of the most distinct acts in the US underground. Their development in sound is chemistry-driven, so it was a risk when the founding trio of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) and drummer Robby Staebler welcomed new keyboardist Jonathan Draper into the lineup to take the place of Allan van Cleave. Amid a more naturalist production than that of 2017’s Sleeping Through the War (review here), the revamped four-piece flourished in terms of songwriting and conveying their stage-born sonic personae. From the gleeful fuckery of opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” to the memorable moodiness of “Diamond” and the back-end jam “Harvest Feast” en route to the stretched-out end of “Rob’s Dream,” All Them Witches essentially confirmed they could do whatever they wanted and make it work.

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

yob our raw heart
Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed June 7.

Actually, if you want a sample of YOB‘s raw heart, the place to go is probably 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), but whatever the Eugene, Oregon, shapers of cosmic doom might’ve lacked in titular accuracy on their eighth long-player, they made up for in a new, statesman-like posture. Their approach was mature, hammered out to a professionalism working completely on its own terms, and they never sounded so sure of who they are as a band or as confident of their direction. In extended cuts “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and “Our Raw Heart,” they explored new and progressive textures and melodies, and managed to reaffirm their core aspects while finding room for conveying emotion that came across as nothing but ultimately sincere. They have been and still are one of a kind, and as they continue to move forward, they remain a band that makes one feel lucky to be alive to witness their work. Our Raw Heart was perhaps more refined than it let on, but the heart was there for sure, as always.

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t a fan of the (relatively) harder-hitting approach Brant Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band took on 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), but Mankind Woman brought in some more of his soul influences, and whether it was the subtly subversive funk of “Chocolatize” and “Brand New Old Times” or the callout “1968” and laid back vibes of the title-track and “Swagger and Sway,” Bjork — working with guitarist Bubba DuPree on songwriting and production — offered a definitive look at what has made his 20-year solo career so special and demonstrates not only his longevity and his legacy, but his will to continue to progress as an artist honing his craft. His discography is well populated by now to be sure, but Mankind Woman represents a turn from the last couple records, and if it’s in any way portentous of things to come, it bodes well. Bjork is right at home nestled into classic-style grooves, and his legacy as one of the principal architects of desert rock is continually reaffirmed.

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

They’ve been great, not just good, for a long time now, and as forerunners of the San Diego heavy scene, they’re godfathers to an up and coming generation of bands taking their influence — let alone acts from the rest of the world — but Black Heaven is a special moment for them because of its departure. No, it wasn’t not the first time guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sang on an Earthless recording, but it did represent a tip of the balance in that direction for the band on a studio full-length, and that resulted in a special moment. Album opener “Gifted by the Wind” was one of the best songs I heard this year, and while “End to End” and the all-thrust “Volt Rush” affirmed that more traditional songwriting was well within the grasp of Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, they still found space for a sprawling jam or two, keeping their claim on the instrumentalism that’s (largely) fueled their tenure to date. Earthless don’t want for acclaim, but every bit of it is earned, and while their primary impact has always been live, Black Heaven saw them construct a traditional-style LP that still bore the hallmarks of their collective personality. It was the best of all worlds.

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

king buffalo longing to be the mountain
Self-released/released by Stickman Records. Reviewed Sept. 27.

In the dark early hours of 2018, the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson issued the Repeater EP (review here) as a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), so Longing to Be the Mountain didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but even with Repeater preceding its arrival, I don’t think anyone necessary expected King Buffalo‘s second album to have such a scope or to be so engrossing with it. In its melody, patience, atmosphere and heft, it was an absolute joy to behold. Its songs were memorable at the same time they were far-reaching, and while Orion was already my pick for the best debut of 2016, Longing to Be the Mountain realized even more potential than that record had hinted toward. It could be intimate or majestic at its whim, and its dynamic set an individual characterization of heavy psychedelia and blues-style sprawl that the band wholly owned. With production by Ben McLeod of All Them Witches behind them, they worked to serve notice of a progression undertaken the results of which are already staggering and still seem to be looking ahead to the next stage, literally and figuratively. One of the principal standards I use in constructing this list every year is what I listen to most. That’s this record.

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

Obviously, right? To some extent, when Sleep surprise-announced on April 19 they’d release their first album in 15 years the next day, and then did, they took ownership of 2018. Even with records still to come at that point from YOB and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike‘s own High on Fire, there was no way that when the end of the year came around, it wasn’t going to be defined by the advent of a new Sleep record. And even if it sucked, it would probably still be Album of the Year, but fortunately, as Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om) and drummer Jason Roeder (also Neurosis) took their long-running stage reunion to the studio, they brought material that highlighted the best elements from all players. Pike‘s wild soloing, Cisneros‘ meditative vocals and Roeder‘s intricate but smooth style of roll all came together in older pieces like “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Sonic Titan” and newer highlights “Giza Butler” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” and aside from the excitement at their existence, they showed the mastery of form that Sleep had been demonstrating live since 2009 and which they hinted toward in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here). A new Sleep full-length was something long-discussed, long-rumored and long-considered, but when it finally happened, I think the results vaporized expectation in a way no one could’ve anticipated. There’s a reason Sleep are Sleep. Having The Sciences as a reminder of that brought about the defining moment of 2018.

The Next 20

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a Top 30 at all if it didn’t go to 50. Don’t try to make sense of it, just look at the records.

31. Atavismo, Valdeinfierno
32. Grayceon, IV
33. Clamfight, III
34. Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique
35. Megaton Leviathan, Mage
36. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland
37. Arcadian Child, Superfonica
38. Freedom Hawk, Beast Remains
39. The Machine, Faceshift
40. Messa, Feast for Water
41. Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium
42. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Science Fiction
43. Domkraft, Flood
44. Träden, Träden
45. Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
46. Samavayo, Vatan
47. Foehammer, Second Sight
48. Bongripper, Terminal
49. Mansion, First Death of the Lutheran
50. Sunnata, Outlands
51. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Come and Chutney

Believe me when I tell you, I sweated over this section more than I did the actual top 30. Mansion should be higher. So should Chubby Thunderous, though something in me thought they might like being #50 on a list of 30. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Clamfight, Black Rainbows, Foehammer, Seedy Jeezus, Messa, Domkraft. All of these were fucking awesome. And there are more (we’ll get there). Eventually numbers add up. I won’t say a bad word about any of these. That’s it.

Honorable Mention

This section always winds up expanded as other people point out things I missed and so on, but here’s what I’ve got in the immediate, alphabetically:

  • Alms, Act One
  • Ape Machine, Darker Seas
  • Belzebong, Light the Dankness
  • Black Moon Circle, Psychedelic Spacelord
  • Blackwater Holylight, Blackwater Holylight
  • Bong, Thought and Existence
  • Carpet, About Rooms and Elephants
  • Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery
  • Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree
  • Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need
  • Death Alley, Superbia
  • Drug Cult, Drug Cult
  • Dunbarrow, II
  • Electric Citizen, Helltown
  • Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn
  • Evoken, Hypnagogia
  • Funeral Horse, Psalms for the Mourning
  • Fuzz Evil, High on You
  • Graven, Heirs of Discord
  • Graveyard, Peace
  • Green Dragon, Green Dragon
  • Green Druid, Ashen Blood
  • Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing
  • High Priestess, High Priestess
  • Horehound, Holocene
  • IAH, II
  • JIRM, Surge ex Monumentis
  • Killer Boogie, Acid Cream
  • Lonely Kamel, Death’s Head Hawkmoth
  • MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure
  • Moab, Trough
  • Mountain Dust, Seven Storms
  • Mouth, Floating
  • Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence
  • T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid
  • Onségen Ensemble, Duel
  • Orango, Evergreen
  • Owl, Nights in Distortion
  • Pushy, Hard Wish
  • Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground/Meditation
  • River Cult, Halcyon Daze
  • Rotor, Sechs
  • Somali Yacht Club, The Sea
  • Sumac, Love in Shadow
  • Sundrifter, Visitations
  • Svvamp, Svvamp II
  • Thou, Magus
  • Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse
  • Weedpecker, III

Special Note

Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to include these in the list proper because they’re not really underground releases, but there were two more records I especially wanted to highlight for their quality:

  • Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
  • Judas Priest, Firepower

Best Short Release of the Year

Normally I’d do this as a separate post, but as a result of being robbed earlier this year, I feel like my list is woefully incomplete. If you have any demos, EPs, splits, singles, etc., to add to it, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Still, the top pick was clear:

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Rarely do two bands work in such coherent tandem to their mutual benefit. Here are a few other essential short releases for 2018, alphabetically:

  • All Them Witches, Lost and Found
  • Alunah, Amber & Gold
  • Canyon, Mk II
  • Demon Head, The Resistence
  • Destroyer of Light, Hopeless
  • Ecstatic Vision, Under the Influence
  • Godmaker & Somnuri, Split
  • Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul
  • King Buffalo, Repeater
  • Minsk & Zatokrev, Split
  • Sleep, Leagues Beneath
  • Stonus, Lunar Eclipse
  • Sundecay, Gale

Looking Forward

A good many albums have already been announced or hinted at for 2019. I in no way claim this to be a complete roundup of what’s coming, but here’s what I have in my notes so far, in absolutely no order:

Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Cities of Mars, Heavy Temple, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan (LP), Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Om.

Okay, That’s It

Yeah, no, I’m serious. List is done. Everybody go back to your lives. Your families miss you.

Really though, while this is by no means my last post of 2018, I can’t let it pass without saying thank you so much to everyone for checking out the site this year, or for just digging into this, or for sending me music, or hitting me up on social media, sharing a link, anything. Thank you. Thank you. I could never have imagined when it started out where it would be now. Or that I’d still be doing it. Your support means more to me than I can say, and I thank you so much for being a part of this with me.

So thanks.

If you have something to add to the list, please do so by leaving a comment below, but keep in mind as well the above note requesting civility. Please don’t make me feel stupid because I forgot your favorite record. I forgot a lot of people’s favorite records. I’m one dude. I’m doing my best.

And please keep in mind if you’ve got a list together that the Year-End Poll is open and results will be out Jan. 1.

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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Review & Full Album Stream: Pale Divine, Pale Divine

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 21st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

PALE DIVINE S/T

[Click play above to stream Pale Divine’s self-titled album in full. It’s out Nov. 23 on Shadow Kingdom Records.]

The level of coincidence is somewhat astounding. Pennsylvania’s Pale Divine are well past the 20-year mark since forming in 1995. By now the stuff of Chesapeake regional legend, their first demo arrived in 1997 (was also reissued in 2008). Their fourth and otherwise most recent album, Painted Windows Black (review here), was released early in 2012, and a short time after it came out, founding drummer Darin McCloskey and guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener recruited Ron “Fezz” McGinnis to play bass. McGinnis, who’s known for his work in the mostly-instrumental Admiral Browning, as well as Bailjack, the more extreme Thonian Horde and a host of others, was not a minor pickup. In stage presence, tone and complement to Diener‘s vocals, McGinnis was a personality shift for the band that was far more significant than the phrase, “he’s their eighth bassist,” would lead one to believe.

Now, as Pale Divine make a definitive statement by issuing their fifth LP, an eight-track/46-minute self-titled, through Shadow Kingdom Records, the situation is oddly similar. Always a trio save for one stint around the time of their third album, 2007’s Cemetery Earth, Pale Divine‘s Pale Divine lands, gorgeous in tone and as downtrodden in spirit as it is righteous in its traditionalism, as heard on cuts like opener “Spinning Wheel” and the extended blues-informed pieces “So Low” and “Shades of Blue,” just as the trio welcomes Dana Ortt of Beelzefuzz — in which Diener and McCloskey both play, the latter as a founding member, the former as a pickup for their second record — on guitar. A self-titled has a tendency to be a clear signal on the part of a band saying “this is who we are.” And tracks like the rocking “Bleeding Soul” and the penultimate “Silver Tongues,” which has a bounce worthy of the band’s one-time contemporaries in Spirit Caravan, live up to that. But the timing. Pale Divine put out their fourth album and made a considerable change in their dynamic, and now with their fifth album they’ve done the same thing.

Does that make Pale Divine moot? In a word: no. The songs are the key. In the fullness of the record’s emotional heft and across-the-board sonic execution, the way it slides into classic doom because it is that very same classic doom, nodding at Trouble on “Chemical Decline” before just nodding, period, in the early going of the subsequent “So Low” — which in its second half also features a very long guitar solo, making it easy to remember on a linguistic level too — it’s still a process of Pale Divine defining who they are in a specific point in time. From the early signal of a changed mindset with McGinnis joining Diener on vocals for the Pentagram-informed apex of “Spinning Wheel” to the Sabbathian chug, compressed lead tone and sleek groove of “Curse the Shadows” of the also-dual-voiced “Curse the Shadows,” which dates back at least five years to a demo from 2013Pale Divine emphasize the outside-of-time nature of trad doom even as they put their own stamp on the classic style with the force of Diener‘s vocals, the understated but always locked-in drumming of McCloskey and the flash in McGinnis‘ basslines — as heard in the later gallop on that same “Curse the Shadows” — as well as the fluidity of their songwriting.

pale divine

Pieces like “So Low,” which sources its lyrical depression from within and without, or “Bleeding Soul,” with its uptempo hook in the line, “A bleeding soul will find no rest,” or the initial showoff rumble of low end in “Shades of Blue” and the instantly familiar chorus there that follows as the eight-minute track unfolds, are resonant in their downer spirit and stately in their delivery. But one of the accusations often leveled at traditional doom is that it’s staid and dry in its delivery and that applies even less to Pale Divine than it ever has to Pale Divine‘s work before. With the flourish of Southern-style and progressive acoustic/electric guitar layers on closer “Ship of Fools” and the smoothness of their rhythmic and tempo shifts as shown in “Chemical Decline” and “So Low,” as well as Diener‘s vocal delivery across the release and what McGinnis brings in periodic complement to that, there’s nothing but a genuine soulfulness to Pale Divine‘s Pale Divine, and it’s not just boozy self-defeat, though there’s a bit of that also. “Silver Tongues,” “Shades of Blue,” “Spinning Wheel” have, to go with the subtle changes in approach between them, a sense of looking beyond oneself. Not like there isn’t plenty of doom to behold if you have the eyes to see it. Clearly Pale Divine do.

Okay, but then what? What’s the resolution? Well, one could argue there’s hope along with a resigned sensibility in the interwoven soloing on “Ship of Fools,” and positioned as that is at the end of the album — doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that a band who seem well set to hit the quarter-century mark would make a purposeful choice on a closer — with a long fadeout that caps the LP as a whole, it carries a kind of “keep marching” message. You trod on, because what else is there? Fair enough, but it seems on the whole that Pale Divine is less directly about examination and critique than it is the simple act of conveying the experience of living it. Consider the lyrics of “So Low,” with Diener seeming to recount on the page his own lack of inspiration and pervasive depression, the distancing of the self from one’s own existence. Maybe there’s an element of catharsis in the expression, but the songs don’t go so far as to portray that, nor could they, since if it’s there, it’s an after-effect. The point is that what Pale Divine are doing is, to an extent, what they’ve always done in bringing to life the tenets of classic American doom metal while retaining the central identity of who they are as individual players and as a group.

For that, Pale Divine could hardly be more relevant, regardless of the fact that the lineup has changed since it was recorded. Their dynamic may indeed shift with Ortt as a member alongside DienerMcCloskey and McGinnis, but that’s a question for live shows and however many years down the road when and if there’s another album, because who the hell knows what might happen now and then. Pale Divine‘s self-titled earns the name by being a sincere representation of who the band is in its moment, and while moments are inherently fleeting, the poise and maturity of their craft and the passion so rife in their delivery are essential components of what makes them who they are, who they’ve become over their years together. That’s always been in flux and it still will be, but in context, Pale Divine reminds of that too, and so all the more stands as the epitome of their persona.

Pale Divine on Thee Facebooks

Pale Divine website

Shadow Kingdom Records on Thee Facebooks

Shadow Kingdom Records on Twitter

Shadow Kingdom Records on Bandcamp

Shadow Kingdom Records website

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Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Announces Lineup: Pentagram, Conan, Earthride, Mothership, Lo-Pan and More to Play

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 31st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2019 announcement

Holy fucking shit. It’s a good thing Maryland Doom Fest 2019 isn’t until next June, because it’s going to take me that long to process how badass this lineup is. It’s like JB decided this was the year everybody plays. A fourth day has been added. A second venue has been added — it’s Cafe 611 and Guido’s Speakeasy now — and wow. Just, fucking, wow. The headliners: PentagramConanEarthride and Mothership. And the list of bands that follows is absolutely staggering. Of course some things are bound to change between now and then, and there are announcements yet to be made about the pre-show, but really. They’ve absolutely, positively gone to a completely new level of festival here.

It’s gonna be crowded.

And it’s gonna be a blast. If you need me, I’ll be booking my room at the Motel 6 in Frederick.

The announcement was simple and came just in the form of the poster — art is by Kyle Stratton, whose band Atala also make a return to the bill — and from near and far, far and wide, acts are coming in to make what looks like it’ll be an absolutely unforgettable weekend (-plus) of heavy.

Here’s the lineup:

maryland doom fest 2019 poster

MARYLAND DOOM FEST 2019 – JUNE 20-23

DOOMSTERS, GRUNGERS, SLUDGERS, STONERS, & PAGANS —

We are extremely pleased to present to you……The Maryland Doom Fest 2019 lineup!!!

50 of the heaviest, most talented bands to grace the stage.

We bring you INTERITUM from Tasmania, CONAN from England, PENTAGRAM from our soil, and an additional 47 top performing USA acts traveling from all across the continent!!

As if that’s not enough, the MDDF Pre-Fest Party will be celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the SHoD (Stoner Hands of Doom) Festival with a spectacular lineup of bands who have performed at the great SHoD fests in years past!! The Pre-Fest / SHoD 20th Anniversary Celebration will be monumental in countless ways!!!!

Please support the Doom scene and share this epic event with your comrades and we will see you at #4daysofdoom !!!!

EARLY BIRD Discounted ticket sales start Dec. 17th, 2018 – for two weeks only.

This astronomical lineup and the 2019 festivities are dedicated to my very good friend and prior MDDF partner from 2015 – 2018, Mark Cruikshank!!

DooM !!! ~JB

Lineup:
Earthride
Warhorse
Solace
Wasted Theory
Devil to Pay
Deer Creek
Weed is Weed
Freedom Hawk
After the Sun
Mothership
Pale Divine
Lo Pan
Year of the Cobra
The Age of Truth
Backwoods Payback
Kingsnake
Interitum
The Druids
Clouds Taste Satanic
Benthic Realm
Dead Sisters
Funeral Horse
Pentagram
Apostle of Solitude
Foghound
Beelzefuzz
Atala
Sixes
Forming the Void
Knoxxville
Atomic 26
Eternal Black
Greenbeard
Electric Age
Pale Grey Lore
Thunderchief
Seasick Gladiator
Crooked Hills
Conan
ZED
Kings Destroy
Toke
Thousand Vision Mist
Horehound
Thonian Horde
Shadow Witch
Faith in Jane
Temptations Wings
Wolf Blood
Stone Dust Riders

https://www.facebook.com/events/371836710006412/
https://www.facebook.com/MdDoomFest/
https://www.themarylanddoomfest.com/

Earthride, Live at Maryland Doom Fest 2018

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Pale Divine Announce Addition of Dana Ortt on Guitar

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 23rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

pale divine

With the addition of Dana Ortt of Beelzefuzz on guitar in Pale Divine, that means that the two groups are three-fourths the same people. Only bassist Bert Hall, Jr. plays just in Beelzefuzz and only bassist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis plays just in Pale Divine. Guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener, drummer Darin McCloskey and now Ortt share duties in both bands. PalezefuzzBeelzivine? Either way, it’s only good news for doom.

Pale Divine are, of course, about to put out a new album on Shadow Kingdom next month. And it rules. Self-titled, due out Nov. 23, which is just in time for them to celebrate with their appearance at Hammer of Doom XIII in Germany on Nov. 17, playing alongside BatushkaCovenUnorthodox and others. They’re also at Days of Darkness in Baltimore at the end of this month, which is less travel but a shared stage with Bang, Satan’s SatyrsChild Bite and more. Still quite a gig.

But the coolest part is they’ll go as a four-piece. Someone get video. And while the self-titled is killer and will be streamed here in full ahead of the release — check back in Nov. 20 — it’s hard not to look forward to what Pale Divine will do in this new incarnation. All hail Palezefuzz. Or Beelzivine. Again, either way.

Intrepid reporter that I am, I hit up Ortt for some comment when I saw the band’s announcement. You’ll find both below:

dana ortt

Pale Divine welcomes Dana Ortt

10/21/2018: We’d like to formally announce that Dana Ortt will now be a part of Pale Divine. We’ve been busy rehearsing for the past month and things have really taken shape perfectly. The addition of Dana has absolutely taken our material to new heights and we’re very excited for the next couple of shows with the new lineup!

Dana Ortt on joining Pale Divine:

It’s very cool to be playing with Darin, Greg and Fezz in Pale Divine! Darin, Greg and I have been playing in Beelzefuzz going on four years now, we rehearse and record in Greg’s studio setup at his house. Over time we’ve had some epic recording and jam sessions that have included playing Pale Divine material on occasion. Playing in Pale Divine for me is just like a natural extension of our Beelzefuzz jam sessions. We’ve discussed writing new Pale Divine songs with me singing with Greg but for the upcoming shows at Days Of Darkness and Hammer Of Doom I’ll be focusing on laying down a solid doomy rhythm guitar that is true to the vibe of the recorded songs. Darin, Greg, Bert and I are also currently working on tracking a new Beelzefuzz album that will be released with Church Within Records.

Pale Divine live:
Oct. 28 Baltimore MD Soundstage Days of Darkness Festival
Nov. 17 Wurzberg Germany Posthalle Hammer of Doom XIII

Pale Divine is:
Greg Diener – vocals & guitar
Dana Ortt – guitar
Ron “Fezzy” McGinnis – bass & vocals
Darin McCloskey – drums

https://www.facebook.com/serpentspath/
http://www.paledivineband.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ShadowKingdomRecords/
https://twitter.com/ShadowKingdom/
https://shadowkingdomrecords.bandcamp.com/
https://www.shadowkingdomrecords.com/

Pale Divine, “Spinning Wheel”

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