Quarterly Review: JOY Feat. Dr. Space, Rosetta, Pendejo, Lightsabres, Witch Hazel, CBBJ, Seedium, Vorrh, Lost Relics, Deadly Sin (Sloth)

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

quarterly-review-spring-2019

Day Five. What would traditionally be the end of the Quarterly Review if going to six wasn’t the new going to 11. Whatever, I can hack it. The amount of good stuff included in these batches really helps. I’m not saying there are days that are a flat-out bummer, but I feel like the proportion of times in this Quarterly Review I’ve gone, “Wow, this is pretty awesome,” has seen a definite spike this time around. I won’t complain about that. Makes the whole thing fun.

Today will be no exception, and then we finish up on Monday with the last 10. Thanks for reading if you do.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

JOY Feat. Dr. Space, Live at Roadburn 2018

joy feat dr space live at roadburn 2018

Brought together as part of the ‘San Diego Takeover’ at Roadburn 2018 that featured a host of that city’s acts performing in an even broader host of contexts, JOY and Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective took the stage at the tiny Cul de Sac near the very end of the festival. It was how I closed out my Roadburn (review here). Dr. Space did a short spoken introduction and then they were off and they didn’t look back. The centerpiece of the limited LP is an extended jam simply titled “Jam.” It’s edited on the platter, but the digital version has the full 54 minutes, and the more the merrier. They round out with takes on Road‘s “Spaceship Earth” and JOY‘s “Miles Away,” and those are cool too, but the real highlight is about halfway through the longer “Jam” when the drums kick into the next gear and you suddenly snap out of your trance to realize how far you’ve already come. And you’re still only at the midpoint. I don’t know. Maybe you had to be there. So be there.

Øresund Space Collective on Thee Facebooks

JOY on Thee Facebooks

JOY Feat. Dr. Space at Øresund Space Collective Bandcamp

 

Rosetta, Sower of Wind

rosetta sower of wind

Philadelphia-based post-whatever-you-got outfit Rosetta continue to set their own terms with Sower of Wind, a self-recorded four-track/half-hour offering that’s something of an outgrowth of their most recent album, Utopioid. Broken into four tracks each assembled from ideas and layers churning throughout the four sections of that record, it brings out the ambient side of the band as guitarist/keyboardist/bassist Matt Weed serves as engineer for “East,” “South,” “West” and “North” as he, guitarist/keyboardist Eric Jernigan and vocalist Mike Armine — who here just adds samples and noise — construct fluid soundscapes that can either build to a head, as on “East” or offer a sense of foreboding like “West” and “North,” depending solely on the band’s will. It’s intended as an exploration, and it sounds like one, but if that wasn’t the point, Sower of Wind probably wouldn’t have been released in the first place. It’s not at all their first ambient release, but this modus continues to be viable for them creatively.

Rosetta on Thee Facebooks

Pelagic Records webstore

 

¡Pendejo!, Sin Vergüenza

pendejo sin verguenza

Whatever your current working definition might be for “over the top,” chances are Pendejo — also stylized as the exclamatory ¡Pendejo! — will make short work of it. Sin Vergüenza, their third long-player, sees release through their own Chancho Records imprint, and it’s not through opener “Don Gernàn” before the Amsterdam-based outfit break out the horns. Fronted by El Pastuso, who supplies the trumpet, the band roll through dense toned heavy rock in a crisply-executed, high-energy 10 tracks and 40 minutes that, even when you think they’re letting up, on the later “El Espejo,” they still manage to burst out a massive riff and groove in the second half. It’s the kind of record that’s breathtaking in the sense of you’re trying to run to keep up with its energy. That, however, should not be seen as undercutting the value of the band’s songwriting, which comes through regardless of language, and whether it’s the start-stops of “La Mala de la Tele” or the gleeful weirdo push of “Bulla,” Pendejo have their sonic terrain well staked out and know how to own it. They sound like a band who destroy live.

Pendejo on Thee Facebooks

Pendejo webstore

 

Lightsabres, A Shortcut to Insanity

LIGHTSABRES A SHORTCUT TO INSANITY

It’s rare for an artist to grow less predictable over time, but Lightsabres mastermind and multi-instrumentalist John Strömshed hits that standard with his former one-man outfit. Joined by session drummer Anton Nyström, Strömshed brings forth 11 tracks of genre-bending songcraft, melding fuzz and progressive folk, downer rock and thoughtful psych, garage push with punker edge, and seemingly whatever else seems to serve the best interests of the song at hand. On “Born Screaming,” that’s a turn to classical guitar plucking sandwiched on either side by massive riffs and vocals, like that of “Tangled in Barbed Wire,” remind of a fuzz-accompanied take on Life of Agony. At just 36 minutes, A Shortcut to Insanity isn’t long by any means, but it’s not an easy album to keep up with either, as Strömshed seems to dare his listenership to hold pace with his shifts through “Cave In,” rolling opener and longest track (immediate points) “From the Demon’s Mouth” and the sweetly melodic finale “Dying on the Couch,” which is perhaps cruelest of all for leaving the listener waiting for the other shoe to drop and letting that tension hang when it’s done.

Lightsabres on Thee Facebooks

DHU Records webstore

 

Witch Hazel, Otherworldly

Witch Hazel Otherworldly

Classic-style doom rockers Witch Hazel shift back and forth between early metal and heavy rock on their second full-length, Otherworldly, and the York, Pennsylvania, four-piece of vocalist Nate Tyson, guitarist Andy Craven, bassist Seibert Lowe and drummer Nicholas Zinn keep plenty of company in so doing, enlisting guest performances of organ and other keys throughout opener “Ghost & the Fly” and “Midnight Mist” and finding room for an entire horn section as they round out 11-minute closer “Devastator.” Elsewhere, “Meat for the Beast” and “Drinking for a Living” marry original-era heavy prog with more weighted impact, and “Zombie Flower Bloom” plays out like what might’ve happened if mid-’80s Ozzy had somehow invented stoner rock. So, you know, pretty awesome. The strut and shuffle of “Bled Dry” adds a bit of attitude late, but it’s really in cuts like the title-track and the aforementioned “Midnight Mist” earlier on that Witch Hazel showcase their formidable persona as a group.

Witch Hazel on Thee Facebooks

Witch Hazel on Bandcamp

 

CBBJ, 2018 Demo

CBBJ 2018 Demo

To a certain extent, what you see is what you get with CBBJ‘s 2018 Demo, right down to the wood paneling on the cover art. The band’s name — also written as CB/BJ — would seem to be taken from its members, Cox (that being Bryan Cox, founding drummer of Alabama Thunderpussy), Ball, Bone, and Jarvis, and as they look toward a Southern Thin Lizzy on demo finale “The Point of it All,” there’s something of a realization in what they’re putting together. It’s four tracks total, and finds some thrust in “Wreck You,” but keeps it wits there as well as in the sleazier nod of “The Climb” that precedes it as the opener and even in the penultimate “Can’t Go Home,” which gives booziest, earliest AC/DC a treatment of righteous bass. They’re apparently in the studio again now, or they just were, or will, or won’t, or up, or down, but whatever. Point is it’ll be worth keeping an ear out for when whatever comes next lands.

CBBJ on Thee Facebooks

CBBJ on Bandcamp

 

Seedium, Awake

seedium awake

Go on and get lost in the depths of Seedium‘s debut three-songer, Awake. The Polish outfit might be taking some cues as regards thickness from their countrymen in Dopelord or Spaceslug, but their instrumental tack on “Mist Haulers,” “Brain Eclipse” and “Ruina Cordis” oozes out of the speakers with right-on viscosity and comes across as infinitely stoned. The centerpiece tops 11 minutes and seems to indicate very little reason they couldn’t have pushed it another 10 had they so desired, and through “Ruina Cordis” is shorter at a paltry 7:08, its blasted sensibility and ending blend of spaciousness and swirl portends good things to come. With the murky first impression of “Mist Haulers” calling like a prayer bell to the riff-worshiping converted, Seedium very clearly know what they’re going for, and what remains to be seen is how their character and individual spin on that develops going forward. Still, for its tones alone, this first offering is a stunner.

Seedium on Thee Facebooks

Seedium on Bandcamp

 

Vorrh, Nomads of the Infinite Wild

vorrh nomads of the infinite wild

Programmed drumming gives Nomads of the Infinite Wild, the debut release from the Baltimore duo of Zinoosh Farbod and John Glennon an edge of dub, but the guitar work of songs like “Mercurial,” looped back on itself with leads layered overtop and Farbod‘s echoing vocals, remains broad, and the expansive of atmosphere puts them in a kind of meditative post-doom feel. Opener “Myths” strikes as a statement of purpose, and as “Morning Star” shows some Earth influence in the spaces left by Glennon‘s guitar, the band immediately uses that nuance to craft an individual identity. “Flood Plane” saunters through its instrumental trance before getting noisy briefly at the finish, only to let “These Eyes” work more effectively through a similar structure with Farbod on keys, seeming to set up the piano-foundation of “Ancient Divide,” which closes. This is a band who will benefit greatly from the fact that they record themselves, because they’ll have every opportunity to continue to experiment in the studio, which is exactly what they should be doing. In the meantime, Nomads of the Infinite Wild effectively heralds their potential for aesthetic innovation.

Vorrh on Thee Facebooks

Vorrh on Bandcamp

 

Lost Relics, 1st

lost relics 1st

Well, they didn’t call it 1st because it’s their eighth album. Denver noise rock trio Lost Relics debut with the aptly-titled 18-minute four-songer, bringing Neurosis-style vocal gutturalism to riffy crunch more reminiscent at times of Helmet‘s discordant heyday. Dense tonality and aggression pervade “Dead Men Don’t Need Silver,” “Scars,” the gets-raucous-later “Whip Rag” and closer “Face Grass,” which somehow brings a Clutch influence into this mix, and even more somehow makes it work, and then even more somehow indulges a bit of punk rock. The vocals and sense of tonal lumber tie it all together, but Lost Relics set a pretty wide base for themselves in these tracks, leaving one to wonder how the various elements at work might play out over the course of a longer release. As far as a debut EP goes, then, that’s the whole point of the thing, but something seems to be saying Lost Relics have more tricks up their sleeve than they’re showing here. One looks forward to finding out if that’s the case.

Lost Relics on Thee Facebooks

Lost Relics on Bandcamp

 

Deadly Sin (Sloth), VII: Sin Seven

deadly sin sloth vii sin seven

Deadly Sin (Sloth) play the kind of sludge that knows how well and truly fucked we are. The kind of sludge that doesn’t care who’s president because either way the chicken dinner you’re cooking is packed full of hormones. The kind of sludge that well earns its Scott Stearns tape artwork. VII: Sin Seven is not at all void of melody or purpose, as “Ripping Your Flesh” and the Danziggy “Glory Bound Grave” grimly demonstrate, but even in those moments, its intent is abrasion, and even the slower march of “Icarus” seems to scathe as much as the raw gutterpunk in “F One” and opener “Exit Ramp”‘s harshest screams. Not easy listening. Not for everybody. Not really for people. It’s a malevolent bludgeoning that even in the revivalism of “Blood Bought Church” seems only to be biding its time until the next strike. It does not wait all that long.

Deadly Sin (Sloth) on Thee Facebooks

Deadly Sin (Sloth) on Bandcamp

 

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Review & Video Premiere: SÂVER, They Came with Sunlight

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

saver they came with sunlight

[Click play above to play ‘Dissolve to Ashes’ from SÂVER’s debut album, They Came with Sunlight. Album is out March 8 on Pelagic Records.]

They Came with Sunlight isn’t just the first full-length from Oslo three-piece SÂVER, it’s their first offering of any kind as a band. Released through Pelagic Records, it runs a punishing and atmospheric 51 minutes through six tracks of extreme and densely atmospheric sludge that, despite being so dig into the dirt, nonetheless maintains a progressive spirit in both composition and presentation. That SÂVER would know what they’re doing shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise, though, as the members are all pretty well familiar with each other. Markus Støle (drums) and Ole C. Helstad (bass) shared tenure in the also-crushing Tombstones before Støle and guitarist/vocalist Ole Ulvik Rokseth put out an album as the duo Hymn in 2017. As SÂVER brings together all three parties, the new group unquestionably benefits from that familiarity. In nuanced moments like the far-back shouts that offset the chugging central riff of lead single “I, Vanish,” or the maddening tension cast as “How They Envisioned Life” crosses its halfway point, they demonstrate a clearheadedness to their approach and a dynamic that’s new in this form but well established sounding.

They put it to use, primarily, to punish everyone and everything in their path. With opener “Distant Path” (11:03) and closer “Altered Light” (12:34) bookending They Came with Sunlight as its two longest inclusions and the first of them exploding to life after more than 90 seconds of quiet tension-building, SÂVER quickly put the challenge to the listener. Rokseth‘s vocals enter over massively weighted tonality like Neurosis at their most belligerent, and the intensity is striking particularly in the context of the band having just spent over a minute and a half with quiet amp noise setting up the suckerpunch of that first jolt. Patience and intensity, working together toward an end of extreme atmospheric purpose. It is brutal, and gorgeous as well, as “Distant Path” hits its late slowdown in excruciating feedback and lumber, devolving to noise as “I, Vanish” immediately jolts into its prog-metal-style chug.

Rest assured, I don’t mean gorgeous like floaty post-rock guitars or warm low end. SÂVER‘s craft is no less greyscale and freezing than their promo photo, but there’s a beauty to that as well, and “I, Vanish” reminds of the hard edges and distinct angles of brutalist architecture once brought to bear sonically by Meshuggah, though the three-piece never lose their central groove on “I, Vanish” or elsewhere in the name of rhythmic experimentation. Still, that mechanized churning finds its footing in the seven-minute track and is joined by an overwhelming push of screams and crashing drums, a version of noise methodical but still feeling chaotic before it drops to the drums and bass in the midsection in order, presumably, to catch its breath before the next assault. When that comes, it’s shouts that lead the way back into the central riff, which in turn gives way to mountainous low end and crash and screams at the finish, a full assault of volume through which the guitar is still able to cut with a lead line that seems to pull up just as everything else ends.

Saver (Photo by Mikkel Fykse Engelschion)

Since the first half of the tracklist runs from longest song to shortest and the second half from shortest to longest, one might call it a ‘U’ shape, but the linear motion of the 5:55 “Influx” is pivotal anyway. Essentially a soundscape, it gradually builds from an initial drone to crashes that are a whole different shape of punishment, essentially leaving the listener waiting for a payoff that, given the runtime, it’s obvious isn’t coming. That’s a play, of course, but even the fact that SÂVER would be bold enough to use six minutes of atmospherics for such a purpose speaks to the intent at work behind They Came with Sunlight. When the second half of the album opens with “How they Envisioned Life,” it does so at their slowest pace yet, and the crawl only makes their sound that much more malevolent. There’s a chug-and-hold modus at work, but it doesn’t matter, because by the time they’re past halfway through, the level of violence is so high whatever they’re doing it’s all directed toward that end. With “Dissolve to Ashes” and “Altered Light” still to come, I won’t call it an apex for the album, but just before “How They Envisioned Life” hits its sixth minute, there’s a kind of last shove before it starts to fracture en route to the slowdown that ends it, and it so clearly conveys the idea of total human exertion — that moment when a person has pushed out their last breath and has to double-over from the effort — that it’s hard to think of it in any other way.

Accordingly, “Dissolve to Ashes” couldn’t possibly be better timed. With a line of effects/keys/something woven through, the penultimate inclusion starts relatively mellow and stays that way for some time, delivering the album’s title line as its opening lyric in the first non-harsh vocals of the outing. There’s madness to come, rest assured, and it is all the more a cacophony for that quiet moment preceding — the power of contrast — but even that later barrage is indicative of the control SÂVER exert over their material and the willful nature of their conjuring. With just “Altered Light” as the finale and longest track, They Came with Sunlight ends on perhaps its most ambitious note and after quiet/loud trades, it is once more the tension that seems to be at the core of what they’re doing. After a long stretch of bass and drums at the outset, the guitar picks up to lead the way into the first heavier section, with screams cutting through as the song passes its halfway point, and there’s a receding after seven minutes in as SÂVER regroup for the last movement.

There’s a surge of volume, sure enough, but it’s restrained compared to some of the others throughout, and instead, at about 10 minutes in, the three-piece introduce a winding chug that will carry them out. They top it with shouts and screams, but it’s the tension that ultimately holds sway, not a payoff, and they end cold, as if the dead silence after was no less an element at their disposal than the guitar, bass and drums. As I’ve been writing this review, I’ve had to go back and check how many times I’ve used the word “excruciating” for the level of cruelty with which SÂVER execute their grim, concrete vision, but it’s worth emphasizing that They Came with Sunlight offers more than just noise or aggression for their own sake. There is a conscious underpinning at work and as these three players take on this new progression, even at its beginning stages, the potential is writ large across the devastated landscape they convey.

SÂVER, “I, Vanish” official video

SÂVER on Thee Facebooks

Pelagic Records website

Pelagic Records on Thee Facebooks

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Labirinto Premiere Divino Afflante Spiritu in Full; Out Tomorrow on Pelagic Records

Posted in audiObelisk on February 7th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

labrinto

This one happened pretty suddenly. Yesterday afternoon I got a note asking if I wanted to do a last-minute stream for Labirinto‘s third long-player, Divino Afflante Spiritu, which is out tomorrow on Pelagic Records. I took a couple minutes to skim through and knew quickly that, yes, it was the kind of thing I wanted to be involved in, but my usual I’m-gonna-play-the-record-a-bunch-of-times-before-I-write-about-it-thing? Yeah, not so much. Way more of a first impression here, and all the more because Divino Afflante Spiritu is my first exposure to the São Paulo-based mostly-instrumental six-piece. Their sound draws from modern progressive chug-ism and crunch tones blending with airy effects on a cut like “Eleh Ha Devarim” or the later and flowing “Asherdu,” but there’s a post-metallic bent there as well, as can be heard in the “Stones from the Sky”-moment transfigured into second track “Penitência” and in some of the general atmosphere of urgency throughout, keyboards and three guitars intertwining for a sound that is full when it wants to be and spacious nonetheless, culminating its seven-track/35-minute run in the seven-minute title-track, which is marked by graceful surges of volume and a distinctive heavier post-rocking feel. It is an ambience of color, but on a dark background, and its depths of mix are significant, even as the weight of its low end does precious little to keep the guitars from soaring when they choose to.

labrinto divino afflante spirituEach side features some measure of vocals, whether that’s opener “Agnus Dei” with the ensuring screams of guest singer Elaine Campos (Abuso Sonoro and others) or the later ethereal interlude “Vigilia” that follows the centerpiece “Demiurge,” and though there’s a certain expectation set up by that appearance at the outset, the prevailing vibe lacks nothing for atmosphere as guitarists Kiko Bueno, Erick Cruxen and Luis Naressi (the latter also synth), percussionist Lucas Melo, drummer Muriel Curi and bassist Hristos Eleutério conjure an alternately crushing and expansive feel. It’s a complex outing that bridges earthbound and otherworldly elements, and very clearly feels no need to commit to one side or the other of that equation, if it sees a difference between them at all. Progressive in their construction, Labirinto‘s songs nonetheless flow together to convey a singular idea through diverse means. I’ll admit this is a first impression, but it’s a positive one.

And when it comes right down to it, I like sharing good music. If there’s a chance this is gonna make someone’s hard day better, then hell yes, I’m on board. I don’t usually do things so last-minute, but every now and again you need to be flexible.

I’ve included the full text of the PR wire info below, so you can have more background on the recording and the fascinating remote-production process by which Divino Afflante Spiritu came about.

That, of course, follows the full stream of the album, which you’ll find below. It’s out tomorrow on Pelagic.

Please enjoy:

Labirinto, Divino Afflante Spiritu full album premiere

São Paulo’s LABIRINTO are not the spearheads of a vivid local scene, but to stay within the realms of post-rock metaphory, more of an isolated island within a vast ocean of nothingness. There is not much contemporary instrumental heavy music anywhere in South America. There are hardly any record labels and international bands seldomly make it over on tour. All the more surprising that this island of LABIRINTO has been releasing records for 13 years already.

Divino Afflante Spiritu is already the band’s 10th release, but only the 3rd full-length album. The band’s back catalogue is made up of a number of EPs and splits (with THISQUIETARMY among others), a detail which showcases the band’s strong roots in the DIY scene. Guitarist Erick Cruxen and drummer Muriel Curi, a long-married couple, have learned how take control of every aspect of the band’s universe themselves: from running their own record label to booking their own tours to running their own recording studio, the internationally renowned Dissenso Studios in São Paulo.

The band flew in Billy Anderson for the prodcution of previous album „Gehenna“.This time, Cult Of Luna’s Magnus Lindberg was hired, but the entire production happened via the internet, exemplary for this time we live in, without Magnus ever setting foot on Brazilian soil. „Since the pre-production phase, Muriel kept in touch with Magnus“, Cruxen comments. „We talked a lot to him about our plans and ideas for the tracking sessions. He did an online support video session during the recording sessions, and we were aligning ideas for technical decisions. He was monitoring the whole recording process, basically. At the end, we sent him the audio files and he mixed and mastered the album at his own Redmount Studios in Stockholm.“

The result is an album of dense and menacing atmospherics, textural drones carefully layered over and blended into the heavy guitar riffs’s shimmering, beautiful distortion-scapes – and for the first time ever, vocals make their debut on a LABIRINTO album, on opening track „Agnus Dei“. „We invited Elaine Campos, she’s been singing in Brazilian punk and crust bands for over 20 years“, comments Curi. „It’s a huge pleasure for us to have such a veteran from the punk scene, a feminist and anarchist, guest on the track.“

It’s clear from the first synth drones inaugurating the opening track that doom lurks on the horizon, that „Divino Afflante Spiritu“ is not going to be a soundtrack to a tropical paradise – it’s a dark, cold record. „This album has a great emotional weight,” explains Cruxen. „It flourished during a very difficult phase in which we lost a very dear entity. It was a whirlwind of emotions that are materialized whenever we play the songs. This album, more than anything, represents for us loss and suffering, but also, passion and friendship.“

LINE UP: Hristos Eleutério – bass, Lucas Melo – percussion, Kiko Bueno – guitar, Luis Naressi – guitar, synths, Erick Cruxen – guitar, Muriel Curi – drums

TRACK LISTING:
01. Agnus Dei
02. Penitência
03. Eleh Ha Devarim
04. Demiurge
05. Vigília
06. Asherdu
07. Divino Afflante Spiritu

Labirinto on Thee Facebooks

Labirinto on Instagram

Labirinto website

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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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SÂVER Sign to Pelagic Records; They Came with Sunlight Due Early 2019

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 1st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Okay, stay with me. First, drummer Markus Støle and bassist Ole C. Helstad were two-thirds of the trio Tombstones on Soulseller Records. After that band broke up following their last album in 2015, Støle and guitarist/bassist/vocalist Ole Ulvik Rokseth released the debut album from their prior-formed two-piece Hymn on Svart in 2017. Now, Støle, Rokseth and Helstad have come together as the all-caps noisemakers SÂVER, signed to Pelagic Records, and will release their first full-length through the label in early 2019, only after playing it in full this coming weekend in their native Oslo, Norway, at the Høstsabbat festival. It’s a humdinger of a narrative, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got it right — reasonably certain I’m reasonably certain — and either way, the album, dubbed They Came with Sunlight, is already in the can and punishing in heft and atmosphere alike. I’ll hope to have more on it, especially after I head to Norway and see them play it in a couple days.

The PR wire simplifies the announcement thusly:

saver

We’re happy to announce the signing of SÂVER from Oslo, whose debut album ‘They Came With Sunlight’ will be released in early 2019… we are looking forward to an album of sublime heaviness, shimmering moogs, fiery vocals and a really gnarly bass tone. Fans of Breach, The Old Wind, Cult Of Luna, listen up!

SÂVER is the new project of Ole Christian Helstad, Ole Ulvik Rokseth an Markus Støle of TOMBSTONES and HYMN. “The idea of starting SÂVER was a consequence of ending something“, comments Helstad. “In the beginning it was a good mix of loss, in a way, and the excitement of a blanc canvas. In hindsight, we shared a feeling of longing for an escape, getting away from the known, and immersing ourselves into something completely different… which is scary and exciting at the same time. It mirrors the band both in a literary sense, as well as the general mood during the writing process.“

Oslo fans can get a sneak preview, as the band will be performing the album in its entirety at their own Høstsabbat festival in Oslo this coming weekend. Other bands on the bill include Amenra, Asteroid, Toner Low and others.

SÂVER is:
Markus Støle
Ole Ulvik Rokseth
Ole C Helstad

https://www.facebook.com/saveroslo/
http://www.pelagic-records.com/
http://www.facebook.com/pelagicrecords

SÂVER, They Came with Sunlight teaser

SÂVER, rehearsal room footage

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The Obelisk Presents: Earth Ship & Rising Fall German Tour

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on August 13th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

earth ship rising tour

Two underrated progressive and aggressive acts — that’s Berlin trio Earth Ship and the five-piece Rising from Copenhagen — will head out together this Fall on a five-date run through Germany for which I’m thrilled to have The Obelisk among the presenters. From Earth Ship‘s individualized approach to sludge rock and Rising‘s grown affinity for a prog-metal approach to doom, each band offers something different from the other, and yet they should still make for an excellent and complementary pairing. It may not be the longest tour ever, but it’s bound to give German crowds something different from everything else happening as we head toward the end of the year.

Both bands are coming off 2016 releases — Earth Ship released Hollowed through Napalm and Rising had Oceans into Their Graves out on Indisciplinarian — and by astounding coincidence, both band will have new albums out in October. I know! What are the chances? Anyway, I know not everyone who reads this either is in Germany now or is going to be there in November, but even if you’re elsewhere and you get to check out either Rising or Earth Ship on the Bandcamp players below and maybe dig something you haven’t hear before, that’s still a win as far as I’m concerned. Either way, this tour seems like it’s going to be something special with the two new albums hitting around the same time and both groups being so much on their own respective wavelength.

If you do get to a show, consider me jealous. The PR wire has more info on the impending records and more background on the bands. As well as the dates, which, you know, you definitely want in there.

Dig it:

EARTH SHIP ANNOUNCE TOUR DATES FOR THE FALL OF 2018!

WITH VERY SPECIAL GUESTS RISING!

Doom and sludge heavyweights EARTH SHIP have announced a bunch of German tour dates for the Fall of 2018! The Berlin-based trio has teamed up with Denmark’s RISING, both bands are set to release their brand new records this October and will introduce them live on stage.

Ever since their inception in 2010, EARTH SHIP have built their reputation in the vast field of the stoner, doom and sludge underground scene as one of the most relentless and heavy-hitting live bands out there. With their thunderous blend of sludgy riffs, bluesy leads, virulent vocals and a massive dose of both groove and humour, vocalist Jan Oberg, his wife Sabine (bass) and Sebastian Grimberg (drums) have taken EARTH SHIP to the stages of Desertfest, Stoned From The Underground or Pelagic Fest, and toured with bands like RED FANG, TORCHE, CROWBAR or VOIVOD.

After 3 albums on Pelagic, the band signed with Napalm Records for the release of their 4th and critically acclaimed studio album „Hollowed“ in 2016. But the alliance didn’t last long, and the band returned to the welcoming arms at Pelagic for album #5: Resonant Sun.

Resonant Sun will be released on October 5th, perfect in time for a German headline tour with support by very special guests Denmark’s RISING in November!

Epic metal five-piece RISING, formed in 2008, have just finished their fourth full-length album which will be released this October on Indisciplinarian. In 2016, the band released their third album ‘Oceans Into Their Graves’, which was followed by numerous shows all over Europe with bands alike Gold or Orm including festival appearances at such as Copenhell or Roskilde Festival. With their exciting mixture of all that is heavy, RISING own a very special trademark of modern metal sounds while retaining their unique blend of the 70’s and 80’s classic Heavy Metal with the heavier aspects of the more recent alternative and progressive variations of the genre. Their upcoming brand new record will showcase the band’s diversity, musical talent, live power and RISING’s best album to date!

Teaming up with EARTH SHIP to tour both hotly anticipated records will surely please all fans of the Sludge, Doom and Heavy Metal. „We’re happy to return to Germany to play shows in November with the great Earth Ship in support of our forthcoming album!“ RISING comments. „We have some of most persistent and dedicated supporters in Germany, and it always kinda feels like coming home when touring there, as we’re always met with love and open arms. So, expect a fiery set of both new and older tunes and a band going for the throat…or thereabouts. We can’t wait, see you all in November!“

Make sure to catch this heavy package live on the following dates, presented by ALL NOIR, LEGACY, METAL.DE and THE OBELISK:

13.11.18 Hamburg – Fundbureau
14.11.18 Osnabrück – Bastard Club
15.11.18 Köln – Sonic Ballroom
16.11.18 Dresden – Loco
17.11.18 Berlin – Cassiopeia ( + Grim van Doom, Blacksmoker, Praise The Plague )

www.facebook.com/wearetheearthship
www.facebook.com/risingdk

Earth Ship, Hollowed (2016)

Rising, Oceans into Their Graves (2016)

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Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections: Feels Like Being Gone

Posted in Reviews on August 3rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors have never worked to expectation. The Los Angeles unit were last heard from with 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), which I absolutely consider one of the best albums of this decade, and that arrived following 2011’s Invisible White EP (review here), 2009’s Of Sound Mind (review here) and 2008’s demo-turned-debut-album, Neptune with Fire (discussed here). Through each release, the band have pushed themselves further along a progressive and individualized path, and while their first outing seemed to be a clarion of post-Sleep riffing, calling across its epic tracks to the converted, “Come here and nod out,” they’ve never really been that kind of band and show little interest in it now. Their new album, Suspended in Reflections, finds them signed to Pelagic Records, run by Robin Staps of The Ocean, and even that endorsement signals how much they’ve grown beyond where they started out a decade ago.

That’s not to say Ancestors can’t still roll out a heavy groove when it suits them — it’s pretty much the first thing they do on Suspended in Reflections, while also providing a landmark hook in opener “Gone” that bleeds into second track “Through a Window” as well — just that their doing so is one weapon in a crowded arsenal of melody, space, ambience, heft and craft. About half an hour shorter than its predecessor, the album comprises six tracks for a 36-minute LP with three cuts each on two sides, each of those ending with its longest song, “Lying in the Grass” (7:37) on side A and “The Warm Glow” (8:31) on side B. Anyone who heard In Dreams and Time closer “First Light” (discussed here) can tell you Ancestors have a thing for a big finale, and guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga, bassist Jason Watkins and drummer Daniel Pouliot continue that thread here, though even those two tracks — and it is both, make no mistake — have to be considered stripped down in relation last time out. Ancestors‘ sound is lush and immersive and patient and gorgeous and any number of other things, but it’s not raw, and that applies here too, but in their structure and execution, the tracks on Suspended in Reflections feel more about expression than ambition.

Of course, the paring down of grandiosity is no simple thing in any context and an ambition unto itself, but it makes Ancestors‘ communication more efficient here. “Gone” starts out with a melancholy verse with layers of backing vocals, organ and patient guitar notes over a weighted groove en route to its chorus, which sets a defining impression in its discussion of death: “And it feels like being gone/And it feels like moving on/And it feels like nothing’s wrong anymore.” Again, those lines will reappear in “Through a Window,” which follows, giving a sense of overarching composition to the proceedings — Ancestors writing a full album as opposed to a collection of songs or parts — and with the organ playing such a prominent role throughout, the material ties together even further. A sweeping guitar chord transitions “Gone” into “Through a Window” and the first half of the track builds back up to that reappearance, so crucial as it is. Much of the second half of the track is given to softer contemplation, Maranga‘s guitar and the organ setting a melodic foundation in accordance with the easy flow in the drums and bass, an instrumental stretch it’s easy to lose oneself within that caps with cymbal washes and a fading guitar that leaves a bed of silence to start the quiet beginning of “Lying in the Grass.”

ancestors

What seems to be a vocoder bolsters the ethereal atmosphere so pervasive thus far, and clearer vocals emerge as the build in the first half moves into its next stage, the slowness coming to a full tone and crash that underscores the beauty of what the band is creating while staying on theme in terms of the interplay of guitar and organ, dropping back to a subdued state in the second half à la “Through a Window” just before in order to build up again instrumentally as it passes the six-minute mark, again pulling back to finish quiet with soft vocals and a final crash that leaves the organ tone on a fade to let the sudden start — unless you’re listening on an actual LP, in which case, it’s only sudden after you’ve gotten up to flip the record — of side B opener “Into the Fall” make its entrance. Already, Ancestors have typified Suspended in Reflections with a depth of mix that seems to be even more than the sum of its instruments and set a range for themselves that’s nothing short of encompassing. The second half of the album reaffirms this and builds on it with a linearity of its own, furthering the full-album impression of side A while remaining distinct from it.

That’s not to say there’s some great leap in sound away from what the first three tracks are doing, just that as “Into the Fall” takes a heavy post-rock epic and trims it down to an efficient five minutes, the vibe seems to shift. The introduction of strings to the mix could have something to do with that, but the wash of distortion that takes hold at the 3:20 mark remains in line with what Suspended in Reflections has thus far brought to bear, and its way of capping with residual guitar resonance on a fade directly into the piano notes, guitar ambience and synth swells of “Release” speaks directly at how “Gone” gave way to “Through a Window” earlier. The synth comes to a head and cuts out, leaving dream-jazz piano to hold sway and set the mood for the second half of the four-minute instrumental, which carries some of the foreboding that one found in Invisible White while also setting up the turn into “The Warm Glow,” which begins its soar after a quiet first minute and surges forward on a slow-moving wave of low distortion cut through by shouted vocals in a post-metallic tradition.

It’s not an assault by any means, but it is arguably the most outwardly heavy payoff on Suspended in Reflections and obviously placed accordingly as the finale. True to form, it caps not with a grand overstatement, but with a quiet exploration, the band feeling their way to the album’s finish in naturalist form. Those moments, far from extras or tack-ons, are essential to the impression of Suspended in Reflections in its entirety, no less so than its heavier moments, as they help to cast the full breadth of the material and to situate Ancestors in each stretch and in each place within their considerable range. They are, in effect, the product of that range, the result of it and a contributing factor to it. One might think of Suspended in Reflections as digging to the roots of what In Dreams and Time was. It accomplishes many of the same aesthetic feats in just about half the time, and it retains a memorable songwriting element that ties it not only to the LP immediately before, but to the band’s work all along. Some of this material may have had its origins years ago, but it is unmistakably another step forward in Ancestors ongoing creative progression.

Ancestors, “Gone” official video

Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections (2018)

Ancestors on Thee Facebooks

Ancestors on Instagram

Ancestors on Twitter

Ancestors on Bandcamp

Ancestors website

Pelagic Records on Thee Facebooks

Pelagic Records on Bandcamp

Pelagic Records website

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Ancestors Sign to Pelagic Records; Stream Track from New Album Due this Summer

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 8th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

You should take the five-plus minutes to listen to the new Ancestors track. Seriously. It’s beautiful. It hasn’t been all that long since we last spoke about the Los Angeles progressive heavy rockers around here, reminiscing and waxing rhapsodic about their 2008 debut, Neptune with Fire (discussed here), but even in that post, I had half my mind on the prospect of what a new full-length from them might hold. My reason for that is my enduring affection for 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), which I consider one of the best albums released this decade.

And yes, I mean that. Not just spouting hyperbole. You’d be hard pressed to find a better amalgam of thoughtful, sonically-rich and emotionally resonant heavy anywhere. If you want to put it in context, it’s on a pedestal next to YOB‘s Clearing the Path to Ascend.

I mean that too. Pelagic Records seems like a good home for them, but frankly their next album could come directly shipped from the moon and I’d be happy as long as I got to hear it.

The PR wire ignites the imagination with the promise of things to come:

ancestors

ANCESTORS Joins The Pelagic Records Roster; New Track Streaming

Pelagic Records is pleased to welcome Los Angeles’ ANCESTORS to their eclectic roster for the release of their forthcoming new full-length.

ANCESTORS manifests mighty, modern music that dovetails innovative arrangement, crushing primordial riff interplay, and melodic instrumental passages with textural atmospherics. The band was forged in 2006. A deal with Tee Pee Records resulted in four critically acclaimed, expansive albums, which incorporated the heaviness of doom metal with the vast dynamics of post-rock, the structural elements of progressive rock, and the fluidity of psychedelic rock.

In the five years that have passed since the band’s last album, In Dreams And Time, they’ve continued to hone their craft in anticipation of their return to stage and wax.

“We’re honored to be joining the Pelagic Records family,” says guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga. “We’re excited to start the next chapter of ANCESTORS and we believe that Pelagic is the perfect label to partner with on this adventure.”

ANCESTORS’ as-yet-untitled new full-length will see release this Summer. Stay tuned for details.

http://www.facebook.com/ancestorsband
http://www.pelagic-records.com/
http://www.facebook.com/pelagicrecords

Ancestors, “Gone”

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