Review & Full Album Stream: Mos Generator, Shadowlands

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 11th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

mos generator shadowlands

[Click play above to stream Shadowlands by Mos Generator in its entirety. Album is out May 18 on Listenable Records and available to preorder here.]

Shadowlands, as a title and with its gorgeous single-knight-holding-a-lance-aloft-at-a-giant-dragon Adam Burke cover art, make an easy read as a metaphor for depression. Indeed, Mos Generator‘s latest full-length — their seventh or eighth, depending on what you count amid their complex discography of compilations, live records, studio LPs, splits and so on — opens with its title-track and seems immediately to touch on the issue in lines like, “Stranded in dark corners/Trapped by gods of suicide,” and “These shadows grow so tall/Will I ever find my way?,” and yet it’s important to note that whatever Mos Generator and its founding guitarist, vocalist, main songwriter, recording engineer and perceived auteur “Mastered by” Tony Reed might be working through or working out in the lyrics and songwriting itself, Shadowlands remains a pointedly upbeat album.

Its title-track does likewise, with the group’s trademark ’70s-via’90s shuffle brought to bear with an easy fluidity thanks to the rhythm section of bassist Sean Booth and drummer Jono Garrett, who came aboard prior to the band’s last album, Abyssinia (review here), in plenty of time to develop tour-born power trio chemistry with Reed at the helm of the group. Shadowlands, the eight tracks of which make an readily apparent vinyl break with four on each side and each side ending with a seven-minute-and-20-someodd-seconds cut after one three-minute song and two four-and-a half-minute songs — because symmetry! because structure! — is the fourth Mos Generator long-player (their third for Listenable Records) since the band made their return with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and were picked up by Listenable for Electric Mountain Majesty (review here) two years later, and with the significant road-time they’ve put in over the better part of the last half-decade (they’re on tour with Fu Manchu as I write this; dates here), they sound incredibly tight and ready to take on the stylistic turns these songs present.

Don’t get scared, but yes, Mos Generator are branching out. Their foundation, as ever, is in unfuckwithable songcraft and airlock-style performances from ReedBooth and Garrett that are nonetheless believable as a live sound. Cuts like “The Destroyer,” the rolling ’70s nod of the penultimate “Woman Song,” the opener and “Drowning in Your Loving Cup” — let alone the infectious-as-plague insistent hook of side B opener “Gamma Hydra” — are memorable standouts as Mos Generator seem remarkably to provide each time out in abundant fashion. Abyssinia, with Reed on keys in an ending section that pushed them further into classically progressive territory than ever before, is answered in the guitar work of each side’s finale here: “Stolen Ages” and “The Wind and Gentle Dogs,” as well as the tense intricacy of the almost post-punk “The Blasting Concept,” which works into and through a linear build en route to the more fluid groove of “Woman Song.”

“Gamma Hydra,” at 3:24 with its insistent but catchy verse riff, is both the shortest track on Shadowlands and a ready standout from its surroundings, but it’s for the longer-form material that Mos Generator save truly showcasing their classic progressive side on the extended cuts. The first of them, “Stolen Ages,” begins like an Endless Boogie jam before shifting into quiet guitar noodling and reemerging with at about 2:50 with chunkier riffing, leading into the push of the verse and a chorus marked out by airy guitar notes overlaid. The standout lyric comes as “Some dreams are over,” and that last line brings side A to a finish ahead of “Gamma Hydra.”

mos generator

Likewise, closer “The Wild and Gentle Dogs” brings in acoustics at the start and shifts into a more foreboding feel thereafter on a long instrumental build rife with sonic detailing headed to the noise wash that caps the album. These songs both represent relatively new ground for Mos Generator, who over the last several years have shown a burgeoning affinity for more progressive influences. The ending section of Abyssinia certainly played to this, as did their live-recorded 2016 outing, The Firmament (review here), but even in the more straightforward material, these ideas seem more ingrained throughout Shadowlands. Once more, I’ll go back to the maddeningly catchy “Gamma Hydra” at the start of side B.

Not only are its rhythmic turns complicated and its shifting lyrical semi-repetitions a challenge all their own, but even on a conceptual level — if “Shadowlands” at the beginning of the album is depression, then surely “Gamma Hydra” is the accompanying mania. As much as Mos Generator have made their reputation on high-energy live performances and records of excellently composed, pure heavy rock and roll — which, by the way, Shadowlands still is — the band are clearly reaching for new sonic ground in this material. That they would be perhaps even more interested than ever in growth at nearly 20 years into their tenure is impressive enough — though admittedly, the Reed/Booth/Garrett incarnation of the band hasn’t been together nearly that long — but that they’d be able to bring these ideas forward without giving up the sense of groove, or the penchant for hooks, or the sheer command of their sound that they’ve been able to harness makes them all the more a special band.

From the hard-driving opening salvo of “Shadowlands,” “The Destroyer” and “Drowning in Your Loving Cup” down through the frenetic payoff of “The Wild & Gentle Dogs,” Mos Generator prove once again to be a group unto themselves in the quality of their work and the clearheadedness with which they execute their creative will. They’ve made huge strides the last several years to become  heavy-rock-household name, and they’ve been to a large degree successful through constant road-dogging and a steady string of excellent releases, but as a fan of the band and of Reed‘s work in general, it’s hard not to still think of them as being underrated and to imagine that, as they embark on these new stylistic pursuits, their not only keep their loyal listenership with them for the journey, but be able to reach outside and turn new heads as well. At least that seems to be the idea, and Shadowlands makes it sound easily possible.

Mos Generator on Thee Facebooks

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Mos Generator at Listenable Records

Listenable Records on Thee Facebooks

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Mos Generator Set May 18 Release for Shadowlands; Album Details Announced; Touring in April & May

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 26th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

So anyway, yes, I’ve already put Adam Burke‘s cover for the new Mos Generator record, Shadowlands, on my list of 2018’s best artwork. It’s got a spot. I pretty much reserve a place for Burke on that list anyway, since he seems to so constantly feature there. Sure enough, his piece for Shadowlands looks like a D&D poster I’d want to hang on my bedroom wall — I was going to say “as a kid,” but screw it, I’d hang that shit now. Look at it. It’s awesome.

And though this is usually the part where I’d pretend I haven’t yet heard Shadowlands itself, that’s awesome too. Mos Generator being Mos Generator, delivering uncompromised heavy rock with a classic edge, progressive flourish, and songwriting to stand up to any you might put next to it. That’s who they are. That’s what they do.

Well, that and touring anyway. They head out with Fu Manchu in May and have some headlining shows before. The PR wire tells all:

mos generator shadowlands

MOS GENERATOR: Washington Heavy Rock Trio To Release Shadowlands Full-Length Via Listenable Records This May; Live Dates With Fu Manchu Confirmed

Long-running Washington-based heavy rock trio MOS GENERATOR will release a new full-length this May via Listenable Records. Titled Shadowlands, the eight-track studio offering was recorded in three sessions — June 2017, November 2017, and January 2018 — at the HeavyHead Recording Company in Port Orchard, Washington and comes swathed in the cover art of Adam Burke [Pilgrim, Satan’s Satyrs, Hooded Menace, Artificial Brain et al].

“Right from the opening song, Shadowlands is a record that, to me, feels more honest than our previous releases,” relays founding guitarist/vocalist/principal songwriter Tony Reed. “On this record, I introduce many other styles that I enjoy but they are intertwined so subtly that it doesn’t interrupt the classic MOS GENERATOR sound. That is a balance I’ve been looking for over the last few albums and I think the presence of [drummer] Jon Garrett and [bassist] Sean Booth have a lot to do with achieving that balance. It’s a heavy rock record that breaths and if I had to describe it further I would say it mixes ’70s style heavy rock, progressive rock, and also has some weird ’80s and ’90s underground rock nuances.”

Shadowlands will see release via Listenable Records in Europe on May 11th followed by a US street date of May 18th with preorder info to be announced in the coming weeks.

Shadowlands Track Listing:
1. Shadowlands
2. The Destroyer
3. Drowning In Your Loving Cup
4. Stolen Ages
5. Gamma Hydra
6. The Blasting Concept
7. Woman Song
8. The Wild & Gentle Dogs

In advance of the release of Shadowlands, MOS GENERATOR will take on a month-long, cross country US tour. Set to commence on April 20th, the Road Rats Tour 2018 will run through May 26th and includes sixteen dates supporting Fu Manchu! See all confirmed shows below.

MOS GENERATOR:
4/20/2018 Hogfish – Couer d’Alene, ID
4/21/2018 Rocky Mountain Riff Fest – Kalispell, MT
4/25/2018 The Valley – Tacoma, WA
4/26/2018 The Haul – Grants Pass, OR
4/27/2018 Thee Parkside – San Francisco, CA
4/28/2018 Dive Bar – Las Vegas, NV
4/29/2018 Alex’s Bar – Long Beach, CA
4/30/2018 The Kraken – Cardiff, CA
w/ Fu Manchu:
5/01/2018 Rebel Lounge – Phoenix, AZ
5/03/2018 Curtain Club – Dallas, TX
5/04/2018 Barracuda – Austin, TX
5/05/2018 White Oak Music Hall – Houston, TX
5/07/2018 Vinyl – Atlanta, GA
5/08/2018 Kings – Raleigh, NC
5/09/2018 Rock & Roll Hotel – Washington, DC
5/10/2018 Brillobox – Pittsburgh, PA *
5/11/2018 Underground Arts – Philadelphia, PA
5/12/2018 Bowery Ballroom – New York, NY
5/13/2018 Brighton Music Hall – Allston, MA
5/14/2018 Mohawk Place – Buffalo, NY *
5/15/2018 Grog Shop – Cleveland, OH
5/16/2018 Ace Of Cups – Columbus, OH
5/17/2018 El Club – Detroit, MI
5/18/2018 The Baby G – Toronto, ON *
5/19/2018 Bottom Lounge – Chicago, IL
5/20/2018 Total Drag Records – Sioux Falls, SD *
5/22/2018 Streets of London Pub – Denver, CO
5/23/2018 Streets of London Pub – Denver, CO
5/25/2018 Substation – Seattle, WA*
5/26/2018 The Manette – Bremerton, WA *
** MOS GENERATOR only

https://mosgenerator.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/MosGenerator
http://heavyheadsuperstore.storenvy.com/
http://www.shop-listenable.net/fr/47_mos-generator

Mos Generator, Live in Glasgow, Scotland, Oct. 3, 2017

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Mos Generator Announce US Tour with Fu Manchu; New Album Update

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

mos generator

After hitting the road together last Fall, SoCal fuzz lords Fu Manchu and Port Orchard, Washington, heavy rock specialists Mos Generator are teaming up once again, this time to crisscross the entire country in Spring. Mos Generator will begin the run a few days early and include a stop at Rocky Mountain Riff Fest on April 21, and then it’s down the Pacific Coast, across the South, up to the Northeast and back through the Midwest to finish in their native Washington. Well, you knew they’d be up to plenty this year.

Back in October, founding Mos Generator guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed talked about the recording plans for the band’s next album for Listenable RecordsShadowlands. In addition to putting together the massive swath of live appearances, it seems progress has been continuing on that front as well. Below, Reed gives an update on where they’re at with the record and more.

Dig it:

mos generator fu manchu tour

2018 is already shaping up to be a great year for us. We just got done with the final writing / recording sessions for our next album “Shadowlands” and I’m in the process of sorting through the material and deciding what will be included on the album. We had the whole record in order last year and then we went out on the road for 7 weeks and decided we needed to re evaluate the kind of record we were making.

We ended up with something that had more energy than the initial tracks we thought would make up the album. It is also a more diverse album than I had envisioned. I think is due to the presence of Jono & Sean. This is the first album where it is just the three of us.

On Abyssinia, most of the songs were already written when they joined and half the songs either had me or original drummer shawn Johnson on drums. As it’s looking now I would say “Shadowlands” is a Heavy / Pop / Prog album. I’ve seemed to come to grips with my 22 year old self as well and I’m letting in songwriting styles that I have kept at bay for many years. It’s exciting.

Along with record making, we have been once again blessed in the touring department. We had a great time on the west coast with Fu Manchu last November and now we get to do an extended U.S. run with them, including many cities we’ve never been to. After that we are off tour Europe (details are in the works) and then back to the states for some shows in the fall including the Descendants of Crom and Doomed & Stoned festivals. There are still some cool announcements coming and more free music that we will be posting soon.

4/20 – Couer d’Alene ID – Hogfish
4/21 – Kalispell MT – Rocky Mountain Riff Fest
4/25 – Tacoma WA – The Valley
4/26 – Grants Pass OR – The Haul
4/27 – San Francisco CA – Thee Parkside
4/28 – Las Vegas NV – Dive Bar
4/29 – Long Beach CA – Alex’s Bar

On Tour with FU MANCHU*
5/01 – Phoenix AZ – Rebel Lounge*
5/02 – Albuquerque – NM
5/03 – Dallas TX – Curtain Club*
5/04 – Austin TX – Barracuda*
5/05 – Houston TX – White Oak Music Hall*
5/07 – Atlanta GA – Vinyl*
5/08 – Raleigh NC – Kings*
5/09 – Washington DC – Rock & Roll Hotel*
5/10 – Pittsburgh PA – Brillobox
5/11 – Philadelphia PA – Underground Arts*
5/12 – New York – Bowery Ballroom*
5/13 – Boston MA – Brighton Music Hall*
5/14 – Buffalo NY – Mohawk Place
5/15 – Cleveland OH – Grog Shop*
5/16 – Columbus OH – Ace of Cups*
5/17 – Detroit MI – El Club*
5/18 – Toronto ON – The Baby G
5/19 – Chicago IL – Bottom Lounge*
5/20 – Sioux Falls SD – Total Drag Records
5/22 – Denver CO – Streets of London Pub*
5/23 – Denver CO – Streets of London Pub*
5/25 – Seattle WA – Substation
5/26 – Bremerton WA – The Manette

Mos Generator is:
Tony Reed: Guitar and Mellotron
Jono Garrett: Drums
Sean Booth: Bass

https://mosgenerator.bandcamp.com/track/the-dance-of-red-a-the-dance-of-maya-b-red
https://www.facebook.com/MosGenerator
http://heavyheadsuperstore.storenvy.com/
http://www.shop-listenable.net/fr/47_mos-generator

Mos Generator, The Dance of Red (2017)

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Mos Generator Reissue Nomads LP via Stickman Records

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Like the ace in the hole of US heavy rock that they are, Washington trio Mos Generator are currently wrapping up a round of West Coast tour dates with legends-o’-fuzz Fu Manchu. Just last month, they announced their new album, Shadowlands, was in progress toward a 2018 release, and now Stickman Records has unveiled a reissue of 2012’s Nomads (review here), which if you think about it is where all this craziness got started in the first place.

When Mos Generator issued Nomads via a then-relatively-nascent Ripple Music, it was after several years of inactivity that found frontman Tony Reed directly exploring classic rock roots in Stone Axe. I don’t know who could’ve guessed at the time the furious rate of activity Nomads would kick off, but in addition to revamping the lineup and taking the show on the road as a complete touring act, Reed has overseen the release of two studio albums and more EPs, splits and singles than I can count, and turned Mos Generator into one of the West Coast’s most essential purveyors, all while also keeping up his studio work as producer/mixer/masterer of other people’s bands and sacrificing nothing of his own standard for top-crafted heavy rock and roll. To put it mildly, it’s been quite a half-decade.

I loved Nomads when it came out, and listening back to it via the Bandcamp player now for the first time in a while, turns out I still do. Stickman‘s LP reissue comes with a slew of digital bonus tracks. Info follows as culled from their store page:

MOS GENERATOR NOMADS REISSUE

Stickman Records – PSYCHOBABBLE 094 : Mos Generator – Nomads (re-release)

We’ve reissued Mos Generator’s classic album Nomads including a slew of bonus tracks for hardcore fans.

Mos Generator has been setting the standard in excellent rock music for the better part of the last twenty years, never letting trends or paradigm shifts get in the way. Tony Reed, guitarist and vocalist of the band, heads up the project as well as writing and producing the band‘s material. When the band released Nomads in 2012, their first record in 7 years, they had already established themselves as masters of their craft, not just able to write airtight songs but to do so with the same knack for originality as their famous progenitors.

The record‘s nine songs span a wide swath of classic rock territory, beginning with the heavy lumber of the space-themed “Cosmic Ark”, moving through mid-paced headbangers like the single “Lonely One Kenobi” and even giving a nod to the 80’s with a cover of Judas Priest’s “Solar Angels”. Reed has the natural conviction of a man with music in his DNA and the chops to back it up, but Nomads is a testament to the band’s pop sensibilities as much as their ability to rock. Once these riffs get in your head, they definitely won’t be leaving any time soon.

Stickman Records is re-releasing Nomads album on colored 180gr. vinyl including a download of the album, including 8 bonus tracks from the Nomads recording sessions. Long live rock n’ roll!

Tracklist:
Cosmic Ark
Lonely One Kenobi
Torches
Step Up
Solar Angels
For Your Blood
Can’t Get Where I Belong
Nomads
This is the Gift of Nature

Bonus material (included in digital download):
Step Up (7 Version)
Cosmic Ark (Demo)
Lonely One Kenobi (Demo)
Torches (Demo)
For Your Blood (Demo)
Can’t Get Where I Belong (Demo)
Lonely One Kenobi (Video Edit)

MOS GENERATOR supporting Fu Manchu*
11/17 Tacoma, WA the Valley
11/18 Bremerton, WA the Manette Saloon

Mos Generator is:
Tony Reed: Guitar and Mellotron
Jono Garrett: Drums
Sean Booth: Bass

https://mosgenerator.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/MosGenerator
http://heavyheadsuperstore.storenvy.com/
https://www.stickman-records.com/shop/mos-generator-nomads/
https://www.facebook.com/Stickman-Records-1522369868033940/

Mos Generator, Nomads (2012)

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Mos Generator Announce Headlining Dates, Shadowlands Recording Plans

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

mos generator

Port Orchard, Washington, heavy rock specialists Mos Generator are currently wrapping up a round of dates in Europe supporting Saint Vitus. Not a bad gig, but then neither was Mos Generator guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed producing the doom legends’ last album, so there you go. Hopefully he does the next one as well, and by that I also mean hopefully there’s a next one.

As regards Reed‘s own band, there seems perpetually to be a “next one.” Dude does not sit still, and in drummer Jono Garrett and bassist Sean Booth, he’s got a rhythm section that seems to have no trouble keeping up with these existential tempo shifts. So the Vitus tour is almost done. Then Mos Generator have a few headlining dates lined up that carry them into early next month. They come home for a couple days, maybe — maybe — get over the jetlag, and then head out supporting Fu Manchu on the West Coast for what’s gotta be one of the flight-booking-worthiest pairings I’ve heard of this year.

After that? Oh, how about putting the finishing touches on their next album, which I’m happy to reveal today will be titled Shadowlands and out in 2018? Sounds badass all the way around, right? That’s because it is. Here’s the latest from the band, direct update from Reed, dates and all:

We are going to use the off dates to re-record some of the songs for our next album “Shadowlands”. I figure after 7 weeks on the road we will be able to better capture the energy of some of the songs we recorded earlier this year. Also, I’ve been writing on the road so we will be able to work some of those ideas out for possible inclusion as well.

Headlining dates:
25.10.2017 DE Dresden-Chemiefabrik
26.10.2017 DE Erfurt-Tiko
27.10.2017 DE Osnabruck-Bastard Club
28.10.2017 DE Siegen-Vortex
29.10.2017 CH Basel-Renee Bar
30.10.2017 DE Frankfurt-Dreikonigskel
31.10.2017 CH Olten-Coq D’or
01.11.2017 IT Parma
02.11.2017 IT Abano Terme-Laboratorio IM
03.11.2017 IT Torino-Blah Blah
04.11.2017 IT Trieste-Tetris

MOS GENERATOR
West Coast Tour supporting Fu Manchu*
11/7 San Francisco, CA Slim’s*
11/8 Eugene OR, Old Nick’s (w/Sasquatch)
11/9 Portland, OR Dantes*
11/10 Seattle WA Chop Suey*
11/13 Grants Pass, OR The Sound Lounge (w/ Mothership)
11/14 San Jose, CA Ritz*
11/17 Tacoma, WA the Valley
11/18 Bremerton, WA the Manette Saloon

Mos Generator is:
Tony Reed: Guitar and Mellotron
Jono Garrett: Drums
Sean Booth: Bass

https://mosgenerator.bandcamp.com/track/the-dance-of-red-a-the-dance-of-maya-b-red
https://www.facebook.com/MosGenerator
http://heavyheadsuperstore.storenvy.com/
http://www.shop-listenable.net/fr/47_mos-generator

Mos Generator, The Dance of Red (2017)

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Mos Generator Bring Together Mahavishnu Orchestra and King Crimson on “The Dance of Red”

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

mos generator

“The Dance of Red” is fresh off the tape deck at HeavyHead Studio. As in “Recorded and mixed in June 2017” fresh off the tape deck. The new single from Port Orchard, Washington, heavy rock specialists Mos Generator was recorded — like everything they do — by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. Together with bassist Sean Booth and drummer Jono Garrett, Reed has started the recording process for what will become the follow-up to the band’s last proper long-player, 2016’s Abyssinia (review here), which is set to release early next year on Listenable Records.

I guess while the three-piece had about five minutes of downtime during the tracking process, they decided to work out covers of “Red” by King Crimson and “The Dance of Maya” by Mahavishnu Orchestra. Fair enough for the band at this point — between the hardcore punk of Lies of Liberty (review here) and the proggy fluidity that surfaced near the end of Abyssinia and on the subsequent The Firmament live-in-studio offering, there’s little that’s out of their sonic wheelhouse.

The tracks are streaming now, and set up as a kind of medley. You can listen at the bottom of this post and see some comment from Reed below on how it all came together:

Mos Generator – The Dance of Red

A few months back I made an edit combining The Dance of Maya by The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Red by King Crimson for the guys to review and learn so we could possibly play it live. Both sections are dramatically abridged to try and keep the piece at around 5 minutes. Each half had their own set of challenges. Jono spent a bit of time working on playing around the 10/8 timing of the first section and Fripp always has these oddball chords that need to be deciphered but with a little time spent running it down I think we ended with a nice interpretation of two of my favorite progressive rock songs. TR – June 2017

Mos Generator – The Dance of Red
a) The Dance of Maya (abridged) 2:27
b) Red (abridged) 2:31

Mos Generator is:
Tony Reed: Guitar and Mellotron
Jono Garrett: Drums
Sean Booth: Bass

Recorded and Mixed by Reed at HeavyHead Recording Co. June 2017

https://mosgenerator.bandcamp.com/track/the-dance-of-red-a-the-dance-of-maya-b-red
https://www.facebook.com/MosGenerator
http://heavyheadsuperstore.storenvy.com/
http://www.shop-listenable.net/fr/47_mos-generator

Mos Generator, The Dance of Red (2017)

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Mos Generator to Record New Album Next Month; Live Dates and Reissues Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 24th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

mos generator

Port Orchard, Washington, heavy rockers Mos Generator hit the studio in June to record their next full-length. It’s been a minute since the last time the band either hit the road or had a release — and after a few years of them more or less as a constant, that clearly meant they were up to something. Writing a new record, apparently. All the better. The Tony Reed-led three-piece will sandwich the recording process this time with two local shows before and after, presumably to get themselves in a live mode before laying down the material and then follow-up with a victory lap once the album is tracked, and with the prospect of a release before the end of this year from Reed, bassist Sean Booth and drummer Jono Garrett, there’s little else to say about it other than “right on.” So yeah. Right on.

Of course, that’s just the start of it when it comes to Mos Generator news. Reed, in addition to having now pressed up the Lies of Liberty (review here) EP for a physical release, also checked in with a few other bullet points, including a new video to come for “Wicked Willow.” Not sure if it will be the version from last year’s long-player, Abyssinia (review here), or the EP The Firmament (review here) — the participation of Chris Mathews, Jr., suggests the latter, but that’s not a sure thing — two new vinyl reissues to arrive in the coming months and a European tour being put together for this Fall by Heavy Psych Sounds. They’ve already been announced for Keep it Low 2017 (info here), so it’s good to know there’s more to come on that front as well.

They’ve also been confirmed to take part in Glory or Death Records‘ tribute comp to Thin Lizzy, so it’s a multiple-front attack from Mos Generator, as one has come to expect. You won’t hear me complain. Here’s the latest from Reed and Co.:

mos generator june shows

Mos Generator – New Album Recording & June Shows

We are gearing up to start recording our next record and play our first shows in almost 7 months. We get one rehearsal for those shows. Aaahhh!!!! Should be fun though. I know we are recording part of it in the basement of an old bank that closed in 1982.

We are also book-ending our recording sessions with 4 regional shows. Our first shows of the year.

Mos Generator live:
06.02 Manette Saloon Bremerton WA
06.03 Coog’s Port Angeles WA
06.04-06.08 IN THE STUDIO
06.09 Substation Seattle WA
06.10 The Valley Tacoma WA

Lies of Liberty out now

The majority of these songs were written circa 1986 – 1987 when I was in a band called Lies of Liberty. A few of the songs came from other side projects I was doing around the same time. Lies of Liberty only played a handful of shows and we never made proper recording of these songs (and many others) so great to finally hear these songs recorded and performed the way I always wanted them to be. I sent 1986 – 87 rehearsal recordings of these songs to Sean and Jono to listen to and learn on their own time and then we would get together and record them. On August 1st 2016 we gathered in the jamroom, learned 12 songs, and recorded the music live to 6 tracks of an 8 track recorder in 4 hours. Soon
after I did the vocals and a mix. We have been playing a few of these live and it’s always surprising contrast to our other material. It’s great to see people’s faces when we play ‘em.

Reissues to come and more

— “Songs for future gods”(south spit records) & “Nomads”(south spit records) (US) / Stickman Records (euro) vinyl reissues coming.

— Euro tour in October being booked by Heavy Psych Sounds.

— We will also be filming a video for “Wicked Willow” with Chris Mathews Jr.

https://www.facebook.com/MosGenerator
http://heavyheadsuperstore.storenvy.com/
http://stickman-records.com
https://www.facebook.com/Stickman-Records-1522369868033940/
http://southspitrecords.com/rock/index.php
http://www.shop-listenable.net/fr/47_mos-generator

Mos Generator, Lies of Liberty ’87 (2016)

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2016

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

the obelisk top 30

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

30. Talmud Beach, Chief

talmud beach chief

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

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

29. Comet Control, Center of the Maze

comet control center of the maze

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 22.

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

28. Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids attack sci-fi or die

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 17.

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

27. Beelzefuzz, The Righteous Bloom

beelzefuzz the righteous bloom

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

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

26. Foghound, The World Unseen

foghound the world unseen

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed July 6.

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

25a. Egypt, Endless Flight

egypt endless flight

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

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

25. 1000mods, Repeated Exposure To…

1000mods repeated exposure to

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

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

24. Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy

black rainbows stellar prophecy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 11.

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

23. Borracho, Atacama

borracho atacama

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Nov. 14.

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

22. The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again

the golden grass coming back again

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed April 26.

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

21. Curse the Son, Isolator

curse the son isolator

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

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

20. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires

neurosis fires within fires

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

19. Conan, Revengeance

conan revengeance

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 19.

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

18. Baby Woodrose, Freedom

baby woodrose freedom

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Aug. 18.

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

17. Geezer, Geezer

geezer geezer

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

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

16. EYE, Vision and the Ageless Light

eye vision and the ageless light

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

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

15. Fatso Jetson, Idle Hands

fatso jetson idle hands

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Oct. 3.

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

14. Hexvessel, When We are Death

hexvessel when we are death

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Feb. 5.

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

13. Zun, Burial Sunrise

zun burial sunrise

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Feb. 16.

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

12. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree

elephant tree elephant tree

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

11. Mos Generator, Abyssinia

mos generator abyssinia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed July 12.

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

10. Slomatics, Future Echo Returns

slomatics future echo returns

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed June 29.

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

9. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh

wo fat midnight cometh

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 21.

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

8. King Buffalo, Orion

king buffalo orion

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed July 29.

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

7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know

wight love is not only what you know

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

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

6. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil

brant bjork tao of the devil

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 15.

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

4. Asteroid, III

asteroid iii

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

3. Gozu, Revival

gozu revival

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 19.

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

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

mars red sky apex iii praise for the burning soul

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

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

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

subrosa for this we fought the battle of ages

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

The Next 20

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions

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

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

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

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

Thank You

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

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

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

One more time: Thank you.

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