Bell Witch Post Mirror Reaper Visual Album; European Tour Starts Nov. 28

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

bell witch

I was fortunate enough to be in the room at Roadburn 2018 when Seattle duo Bell Witch played their 2017 album, Mirror Reaper (review here), in its entirety from front to back for the only time that, to-date as of this post, they’ve done so. They’re soon to embark on a European tour doing the same with visual backing from assembled archival footage by Taylor Bednarz that’s recently been posted as a “visual album” representation for Mirror Reaper‘s equal-parts-massive-and-mournful 83-minute single-song entirety, gorgeous and emotionally harrowing as it is. But the point is that, yeah, I saw that. You should go see that. That’s a thing you want to see. Talking to you, Europe. Make that happen.

Aside from the raw power of Bell Witch‘s performance, the inclusion of vocalist Erik Moggridge (Aerial Ruin) and Bednarz‘s visuals make the Mirror Reaper performance all the more resonant. To call its spacious downward reaches epic is to undersell them with cliché, as not only was the album a personal expression of grief on the part of bassist Dylan Desmond and drummer/vocalist Jesse Shreibman at the loss of one-time drummer Adrian Guerra, but further, it was a pinnacle achievement of what the band’s work up to that point has been leading toward, their 2015 outing, Four Phantoms (review here), widely lauded as a landmark in death-doom. Mirror Reaper is — if it’s nothing else — a bold forward step in that progression, so even without the emotional weight behind it, its sheer impact as a creative work sets slow-churning fire to any scrutiny one might want to place on it.

The tour starts Nov. 28 in Iceland and continues through Dec. 14 in Cork, Ireland. I don’t know what the future will hold for Bell Witch, who also toured earlier this year in the States alongside YOB promoting the album and played the Pool Party of all things at this year’s Psycho Las Vegas (review here), but whether or not they do this kind of thing again, the moment right now feels crucial for it as they’re taking the album out on tour for the first time, and even if they make a habit of it, to say you were there the first time will remain a special claim to make. If you doubt me, reread the first sentence of this post.

The entirety of the Mirror Reaper visual album is below, followed by the tour dates.

Enjoy:

Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper visual album

Ahead of their upcoming European tour where they will perform their album Mirror Reaper in full, BELL WITCH, are streaming the album’s accompanying video. The 83-minute opus was released via Profound Lore to widespread acclaim in 2017 – a repress of the album is now available with new colour variants. Director Taylor Bednarz created a visual accompaniment to the one-track album.

Although the band have played part of Mirror Reaper live at previous shows, the full album has only been performed once in full, at this year’s Roadburn Festival – complete with visuals created by Taylor Bednarz, and vocals from Aerial Ruin’s Erik Moggridge. This full scale performance will be replicated in its entirety at a number of special shows across Europe at the end of the year.

BELL WITCH’s Dylan Desmond comments:
“Taylor Bednarz created a fantastic film to fit Mirror Reaper using exclusively archived footage. During the writing process it became evident to us that the music invited a visual aspect. Bednarz’s interpretation captures much of the emotion we were trying to convey during the song and we are proud of the collaboration with him.”

The accompanying film is a video collage comprised of dozens of archival films. Each of these clips are woven together with the album to build a patient, heavy, and haunting narrative. The film aims to hold the viewer in the state of a lucid dream, feeling trapped as a specter drifting through places of darkness. All shows on the tour will be performed in front of the Mirror Reaper film.

BELL WITCH European Tour Dates:
November 28 – Reykjavik IS – Gaukurinn*
November 30 – London UK – The Dome
December 1 – Leeuwarden NL – Into Darkness Festival*
December 2 – Sint Niklaas BE – Darken The Moon X *
December 3 – Wiesbaden DE – Schlachthof
December 5 – Leipzig DE – UT Connewitz
December 7 – Wroclaw PL – Sala Gotycka
December 8 – Berlin DE – Zukunft
December 9 – Malmo, SE – Plan B*
December 10 – Oslo, NO – BLÅ
December 11 – Gothenburg, SE – Musikens Hus*
December 12 – Copenhagen, DK – Alice
December 13 – Dublin IE – Thomas House*
December 14 – Cork IE – Cyprus Avenue
*denotes show is not seated

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Evoken to Release Hypnagogia Nov. 9 on Profound Lore

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 30th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Fuck yes. I remember when New Jersey death-doomers Evoken got going again in the latter half of the aughts and I was fortunate enough to catch them live a few times being as we share a home state. They were awesome then. They were awesome when they put out Atra Mors (review here) on Profound Lore in 2012, and I have zero reason to think they’d be anything but awesome now. You want a herald for winter’s darkness late in the Fall? Here’s the first Evoken record in more than half a decade. It’s called Hypnagogia, it’s a concept record and it finds the band heading toward the quarter-century mark since they got their start in 1994. If you get to see Evoken — should you be so god damned lucky — do it.

The PR wire sounds the alarm and brings some background on the story being told. Art is by Adam Burke, because who else?

Doom:

evoken hypnogogia

EVOKEN: Legendary Death/Funeral Doom Legion To Release Hypnagogia Full-Length Via Profound Lore This November; Record Marks Band’s First Release In Six Years

Legendary death/funeral doom legion EVOKEN will unleash theirHypnagogia full-length November 9th via Profound Lore Records. Recorded, mixed and mastered at Sound Spa studios in New Jersey by Steven DeAcutis, the record comes swathed in the artwork of Adam Burke (Artificial Brain, Mos Generator, Hooded Menace) and marks the band’s first new output in six long years.

Known as one of the founding fathers of the American death/funeral doom metal scene, New Jersey’s EVOKEN have been a long-standing pillar over the band’s twenty-five-year pillage. The followup to their landmark Atra Mors full-length, Hypnagogia is a towering monolith that develops and redefines the band’s sound that will only strengthen their position within the death/doom metal hierarchy where EVOKEN have always reigned.

Hypnagogia is an expression of doom metal artistry where the listener will bear witness how EVOKEN can create a new and even more daring expression with a monument that will be recognized as a landmark. This tends to happen regardless with every EVOKEN release, but Hypnagogia sees the band expand their musical dynamics even more through the meticulous care and discrimination of the band’s song writing process, Hypnagogia being a listening experience through a multitude of varying yet flourishing emotions. Pushing both their penchant for grandiose melodicism and their trademark aura of pulverizing supreme unparalleled heaviness even more, it is the base of this repercussion that makes Hypnagogia one of the most intense, compelling, and soul crushing EVOKEN listening experiences yet; one of euphoria, desperation, and hopelessness. As drummer/lyricist Vince Verkay says, “As we do on every record. we definitely wanted to avoid repeating ourselves. We wanted to keep it EVOKEN of course, but go a little deeper with melody and arrangement and also try new things; to present the listener with an emotionally exhausting record.”

Hypnagogia also sees EVOKEN delve into their first concept album. Relays Verkay of the themes and lyrics surrounding the record, “Hypnagogia is based around World War I and its physiological impact on those who fought. It’s used metaphorically about events that impacted me the past three years, which I will keep to myself. But the story behind this World War I theme is based on a soldier who was so bitter about being lied to and is losing his life. He’s wounded in battle and decides to write a journal of his final hours, describing what he sees and what he feels as his life is slipping away. Feeling cheated, he makes a pact with a sadistic god that he can leave a part of his soul, which contains all of his suffering, within this journal. To feel some sort of vengeance, anyone who reads this journal releases that part of his soul and it attaches itself to the reader like a host. Each emotion being experienced as if they too where there. As the reader descends into a deep despair, they cannot handle this suffering, deciding to take their own life. Once gone, that part of their soul, containing all the misery is taken by the writer’s misery-laden soul and attaches itself to this journal again, increasing its powerful grip onto the next reader and each time its read with its power increasing.”

Further Hypnagogia info, including teaser tracks and preorders, will be unveiled in the weeks to come.

Hypnagogia Track Listing:
1. The Fear After
2. Valorous Consternation
3. Schadenfreude
4. Too Feign Ebullience
5. Hypnagogia
6. Ceremony Of Bleeding
7. Hypnopompic
8. The Weald Of Perished Men

EVOKEN on Hypnagogia:
John Paradiso – vocals/guitar
Chris Molinari – guitar
Dave Wagner – bass
Don Zaros – keyboards
Vince Verkay – drums

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Evoken, Atra Mors (2012)

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Insect Ark Post “Tarnish” Video; Touring East and West Coasts

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 8th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

insect ark (Photo by Rennie Elliot)

I was fortunate enough to watch a couple minutes of Insect Ark at Roadburn earlier this year from way, way in the back of the Cul de Sac venue in the Netherlands, and I ran into band founder/multi-instrumentalist Dana Schechter later on or the next day or whenever it was and told her, “Your band is fucking awesome.” Usually one tries to be reserved. I nonetheless stand by the statement.

Earlier this year, Schechter, who handles lap steel, bass, synth, etc., and drummer/synth noisemaker Ashley Spungin released the second Insect Ark album, Marrow Hymns, through Profound Lore. It’s the first collaboration between the two players under the Insect Ark banner — the first full-length, 2015’s Portal/Well (review here), was Schechter alone — and through the Earthly drone ramble of “In the Nest” to the practically-noise-rock “Skin Walker,” which follows and into the insect ark marrow hymnsminimalist, post-metallic reaches of “Slow Ray,” which has a proclivity for holding tension worthy of comparison to Neurosis, it’s an evocative, inspirational outing that refuses genre convention in favor of its own strength of creative will. With the ambient introduction of “Thelema” setting a foreboding tone and “Arp 9” following with an immediate burst of bass/drum angularity of groove, there’s as much atmospheric as there is tonal heft, but with the layered-in lap steel, an airy high end seems to float through the places vocals might otherwise go.

Marrow Hymns can be crushing, but listening to Spungin‘s tom work in “Sea Harps” and how it opens to a mid-level payoff in the cymbals before she and Schechter lock in a march beneath swells of guitar, it’s not overdone, amp-worshiping claustrophobia. And though it’s clearly progressive in the sense of having thought behind it, it’s not overly cerebral and staid as some post-metal has a tendency to be. It’s titled correctly. Marrow Hymns. It goes right to the bone and sings from what’s inside there. Some of it is gorgeous, some of it isn’t, but whatever it is, it’s honest, and as the drumless “Tarnish” moves into the patient and consuming highlight “Windless” and the drone-fight synth-barrage that is closer “Daath,” Insect Ark only seem to be plunging even deeper into that visceral, often lonely reality. Marrow Hymns is powerful. A living thing.

And all the more exciting because although they’ve been working together since 2015 it’s the first studio expression of Insect Ark as a duo. I wouldn’t at all expect them to make the same record twice, but it seems entirely likely that Marrow Hymns, for its many accomplishments, will also serve as a stepping-off point to the next stage in Insect Ark‘s ongoing progression. An outfit like this simply doesn’t stay still.

To a less figurative end of that, Insect Ark will be on tour this month and into September, hitting the West Coast first followed by the East. Dates follow the “Tarnish” video below, courtesy of the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Insect Ark, “Tarnish” official video

New York/Portland instrumental duo, INSECT ARK, will bring their psalms to the live stage later this month on a North American tour en route to their performance at this year’s edition of Basilica Soundscape in Hudson, New York. The band will perform an all drone set August 11th in Salem, Oregon at Cemetary Soundscapes Fest before kicking of the first official leg of the tour with Belus August 15th in Olympia, Washington. The trek will run through August 19th in Los Angeles, California. The second leg of the trek begins August 29h in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and will find the band paired with Pandiscordian Necrogenesis through September 6th in Brooklyn, New York. See all confirmed dates below.

INSECT ARK released their Marrow Hymns full-length early this year via Profound Lore. An alluring fusion of horror-film soundtracks, psychedelic doom, and atmospheric noise, INSECT ARK’s intensely visual music weaves interludes of fragile beauty with crushing passages of swirling doom, spinning like a backwards fever dream.

INSECT ARK:
8/11/2018 Cemetary Soundscapes Fest @ The Burial Grounds – Salem, OR (drone set)
w/ Belus:
8/15/2018 Cryptatropa – Olympia, WA w/ Eye of Nix, Vouna
8/16/2018 Highline – Seattle, WA w/ Eye of Nix, Forest of Grey
8/17/2018 High Water Mark – Portland, OR w/ Jason W. Walton, Dark Numbers
8/18/2018 Golden Bull – Oakland, CA w/ Ails, Apprentice Destroyer
8/19/2018 The Resident – Los Angeles, CA w/ Graf Orlock, Toke
w/ Pandiscordian Necrogenesis:
8/29/2018 Kung Fu Necktie – Philadelphia, PA w/ Dopethrone, Crud, Hellrad
8/30/2018 Atlas Brew Works – Wash DC w/ Crowhurst, The Holy Circle
8/31/2018 Full Pint Wild Side – Pittsburgh, PA
9/01/2018 Intersection Fest 2018 – Toronto, CA (free/all ages)
9/03/2018 Casa Del Popolo – Montreal, CA w/ Echo Beach
9/04/2018 Paulys Hotel – Albany, NY w/ Foisy-Hardiman
9/05/2018 Obrien – Boston, MA w/ Sea, Greylock
9/06/2018 Saint Vitus – Brooklyn, NY w/ Queen Elephantine
9/14-16/2018 Basilica Soundscape Festival 2018 – Hudson, NY *INSECT ARK only

Residing on opposite coasts, the two halves of the INSECT ARK whole – comprised of Dana Schechter (bass, lap steel guitar, synthesizers) and Ashley Spungin (drums, synthesisers) – converged to record the album with engineer Ethan Donaldson at Mozart St Studios in Brooklyn, New York over the course of eighteen months.

Insect Ark, Marrow Hymns (2018)

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Pallbearer Announce Tour Dates with Tribulation; New Video Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 11th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

pallbearer

Is it really even necessarily at this point to mention that Pallbearer are among the most important American doom acts of their generation? Isn’t it kind of a given? I don’t know. Whatever. If you don’t know that, it’s probably because your taste dictates otherwise. That is, if you’re reading this, it’s not like you haven’t heard of them. Especially after last year’s Warning-gone-prog LP Heartless (review here), they’re about as close to household names as doom gets without being Black Sabbath.

It’s not a mistake either. They didn’t just happen into success. They’ve broken their collective ass on the road for the last half-decade-plus, and the thread continues this weekend as they begin yet another European tour. Copious festival dates will round out on Aug. 16 in Germany at Summer Breeze — is it the same Summer Breeze you got all those 1996 bootlegs from? I don’t know, go to Radio Shack and spend $100 on like five CD-Rs and I’ll take two hours trying to burn you copies on my 1x CD-RW drive and we’ll find out. After that, they’ll take it to the streets in the western half of the US and also north up into Canada, this time in the company of Tribulation. Much to do.

And as if that didn’t count as busy enough, they’ve got a new video for “Thorns” at the bottom of this post, and keep an eye out. In the band’s quote below, they talk about “revisiting and adding new dimension” to stuff from their whole discography. True enough they’ve undertaken significant growth in their sound, but to me, that sounds like the kind of thing they might want to represent on a live album somewhere down the line. That’s speculation, of course, but you never know.

Unless they say something. Then you know. But they haven’t said anything. So there.

PR wire, take me away:

pallbearer tribulation tour

PALLBEARER ANNOUNCE NORTH AMERICAN TOUR, PREMIERE MUSIC VIDEO FOR ‘THORNS’

See them on the road with Tribulation in September & October

Ascending Arkansas progressive doom quartet Pallbearer will head to European + UK shores next week for a run of shows and festival appearances and today, the band has announced a North American tour with Sweden’s finest metal exports Tribulation this Fall. In anticipation of their forthcoming tour dates, Pallbearer has unleashed a live music video for the track “Thorns”, taken from their recent release, Heartless. The live video was shot during part of the band’s U.S. tour back in February; watch the video for “Thorns” here: https://youtu.be/ooKeykeDsHQ

In regard to the upcoming tours, Pallbearer commented: “After a long period of constant touring behind Heartless, it’s almost time for us to settle in to the cold season and begin crafting our next musical endeavor. But before that, we are heading out once more across North America to bring this chapter to its conclusion. We look forward to stretching out our sets each night on this double bill with Tribulation, revisiting and adding new dimension to material across our entire catalogue.” See all Pallbearer tour dates below.

PALLBEARER, ON TOUR:
July 13 DE Hamburg – Molotow Club
July 14 BE Dour – Dour Festival
July 15 NL Nijmegen – Valkhof Festival
July 16 UK London – Islington Assembly Hall
July 17 UK Glasgow – Stereo
July 18 UK Leeds – Brudenell Social Club
July 19 UK Bristol – The Fleece
July 21 DE Crispendorf – Chaos Descends Festival
July 23 IT Milan – Circolo Magnolia
July 24 SL Tolmin – Metaldays festival
August 3 DK Copenhagen – Vega
August 4 DE Beelen – Krach am Bach Festival
August 5 DE Cottbus – Zum Faulen August
August 7 HR Primosten – SuperUho Festival
August 8 HU Budapest – A38
August 9 CZ Josefov – Brutal Assault Festival
August 10 DE Bad Kotzting – Void Fest
August 12 UK Derbyshire – Bloodstock Festival
August 14 DE Wiesbaden – Schlachthof
August 15 CH Winterthur – Gaswerk
August 16 DE Dinkelsbuhl – Summer Breeze Festival

September 15 – Toronto ON – Lee’s Palace *
September 16 – Detroit MI – Magic Stick *
September 18 – Chicago IL – Bottom Lounge *
September 19 – Minneapolis MN – Turf Club *
September 21 – Denver CO – Bluebird *
September 22 – Salt Lake City UT – Metro *
September 24 – Calgary AB – Dickens *
September 25 – Edmonton AB – Starlite *
September 27 – Vancouver BC – Rickshaw *
September 28 – Seattle WA – El Corazon *
September 29 – Portland OR – Hawthorne *
October 1 – San Francisco CA – Slim’s *
October 3 – Phoenix AZ – Rebel Lounge *
October 5 – Austin TX – Barracuda *
October 6 – Dallas TX – Trees *
October 7 – Houston TX – White Oak *
* w/ Tribulation

Buy tickets: http://pallbearerdoom.com/tour

Pallbearer are:
Brett Campbell | lead vocals, electric & acoustic guitars, synthesizers
Devin Holt | electric & acoustic guitars, vocals
Joseph D. Rowland | electric bass, vocals, synthesizers
Mark Lierly | percussion

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Pallbearer, “Thorns” official video

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Pallbearer Tour Starts Tonight; “Dropout” Documentary Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 2nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Arkansas doomers Pallbearer head out on a month-long tour tonight in the company of classic death metallers Obituary, darkthrashers Skeletonwitch and Dust Bolt. They’ve got dates booked as well for July and August — yes, they’ll be at Psycho Las Vegas — as they continue to support last year’s Heartless (review here) full-length, and a new single issued through the Adult Swim Singles Program called “Dropout” that pushes them into some new and surprisingly psychedelic sonic territory.

Not that Pallbearer‘s tones haven’t always been spacious, just that they’ve never been used in quite this way. Could be a one-off or could be portentous of future stylistic evolution, but the song is cool either way and the band have a short documentary up about its making that you can see below. No reason not to get on that.

From the PR wire:

pallbearer (Photo by Diana Lee Zadlo)

Ruminant progressive doom quartet Pallbearer recently premiered a new track entitled ‘Dropout’ as the 53rd installment of the Adult Swim Singles Program. The song, which is available digitally, represents a subtle expansion of the singular doom-prog metal sound the quartet is known for.

To coincide with this release, the band have also made an accompanying mini documentary which gives a behind the scenes look at the recording of ‘Dropout’ – recorded at Fellowship Hall Sound in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Pallbearer comments on the single: “We have almost always written music intended to exist as part of an album, with common musical and lyrical threads that tie many elements together into one release. Being freed from those confines in recording this song allowed us to explore themes and immediacy that might not have been uncovered in our more typical “large format” composition process.”

Pallbearer are undoubtedly road warriors, and they will continue to uphold that titled with their forthcoming North American tour dates. Along with a freshly announced batch of headlining gigs, the group is gearing up to support Obituary on an expansive U.S. tour in the coming month.

PALLBEARER, ON TOUR:
May 2 Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade *
May 3 Greensboro, NC @ The Blind Tiger *
May 4 Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre of Living Arts *
May 5 New York, NY @ Gramercy Theatre *
May 6 Boston, MA @ Sinclair *
May 8 Toronto, ON @ Opera House *
May 9 Montreal, QB @ Club Soda *
May 10 Rochester, NY @ Main Street Armory *
May 11 Cleveland, OH @ Agora Ballroom *
May 12 Detroit, MI @ Majestic *
May 13 Chicago, IL @ Metro *
May 15 Des Moines, IA @ Wooly’s *
May 16 Omaha, NE @ Waiting Room *
May 18 Denver, CO @ Gothic Theatre *
May 19 Salt Lake City, UT @ Metro Music Hall *
May 21 Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre *
May 22 Seattle, WA @ El Corazon *
May 23 Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw Theatre *
May 25 San Francisco, CA @ DNA Lounge *
May 26 Pomona, CA @ Glasshouse *
May 27 Phoenix, AZ @ Club Red *
May 29 Austin, TX @ Barracuda *
May 30 Dallas, TX @ Gas Monkey Bar & Grill *
May 31 Houston, TX @ Scout Bar *
Jun 1 Pensacola, FL @ Vinyl Music Hall *
Jun 2 Orlando, FL @ The Haven Lounge *
Jun 3 Miami, FL @ The Ground *
Jun 17 Little Rock, AR @ Mutants of the Monster Festival
June 22 Tulsa, OK @ Guthrie Green
July 26 Hamden, CT @ The Space
July 27 Syracuse, NY @ Lost Horizon
July 28 Montreal, QC @ Heavy Montreal
July 29 Bangor, ME @ Impact Festival
July 30 Brooklyn, NY @ Saint Vitus +
July 31 Amityville, NY @ Amityville Music Hall
Aug 18 Las Vegas, NV @ Psycho Las Vegas
Oct 13 San Bernardino, CA @ Glen Helen Amphitheater ^

* w/ Obituary, Skeletonwitch, Dust Bolt
^ w/ System Of A Down, Incubus
+ Kerrang! presents

PALLBEARER is:
Brett Campbell | lead vocals, electric & acoustic guitars, synthesizers
Devin Holt | electric & acoustic guitars, vocals
Joseph D. Rowland | electric bass, vocals, synthesizers
Mark Lierly | percussion

Pallbearer, “Dropout”

Pallbearer, The Making of “Dropout”

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2017

Posted in Features on December 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

top-30-of-2017

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 2017 to that, please do.

We’re almost at the finish line for 2017, and if I’m honest, it’s not a minute too soon. I think if one more record comes out this year my head is going to explode.

A perpetual onslaught of cool music is, of course, nothing to complain about. It just seemed like every time I thought I had a handle on where the year was going, some other announcement came through and knocked me on my ass. What’s that? The Obsessed are putting out their first album in more than two decades? Oh and Monolord have a new one coming? Radio Moscow just signed to Century Media? Arc of Ascent are back? Samsara Blues Experiment are back? Causa Sui are putting out a live album and a studio album? Sasquatch are going to Europe and sneaking a record along with them? All of a sudden I’m out of breath feeling like I just ran a lap.

It’s been madness this year. Between an emergent neo-psych movement in the wake of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and others, and the ongoing and constant reshaping of doom and heavy rock from practitioners new and old, I don’t know how anyone could ever claim to keep up with any of it.

You know I do the best I can, so when you look through this list, please keep in mind that these are my picks and the result of applying my own standard, which if you’ve ever seen a list on this site before you probably already know is a combination of things like what I view as being important on a critical level and things like what kept me coming back as a listener. What were the year’s biggest releases and what couldn’t I get enough of? Sometimes those two things come together around one record and it’s beautiful. That’s usually your album of the year, or close to, anyhow.

No sense in delaying further. I hope if you haven’t heard some of this stuff you’ll give it a shot, and if you have something you felt strongly about it, you’ll let me know in the comments. Thanks in advance for keeping it civil, and of course for reading.

Here goes:

30. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
geezer psychoriffadelia

Released by Kozmik Artifactz and STB Records. Reviewed May 16.

Coming off of what was their strongest album to-date in their 2016 self-titled (review here), New York heavy psych blues trio Geezer decided it was time to take the groove for a walk. And so they did. Psychoriffadelia is the result — a looser collection of jams and willfully unrefined heavy blues, reveling in the politically incorrect on “Dirty Penny” only after basking in the post-Monster Magnet hypnosis of “Red Hook” and the earlier roll of the more straightforward “Hair of the Dog” and “Stressknots.” Everything Geezer has done to this point has pushed their sound to new places. Psychoriffadelia is no exception.

29. Orango, The Mules of Nana

orango the mules of nana

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed March 27.

More than a touch of twang on opener “Heartland” sets a tone of Americana-infusion for Orango‘s sixth LP, The Mules of Nana, but the 10-tracker is ultimately much more about harmony-laced classic heavy smoothness than playing to prairie-minded sensibilities, though roots spread wide through a natural, dirty blues just the same. However they get there, “Hazy Chain of Mountains,” the softshoe-ready funk of “Head on Down” and the peacefully progressive finish of “Ghost Rider” bring ’70s-style thrills in songwriting and their precise, gorgeous execution. Underrated record from an underappreciated band.

28. Radio Moscow, New Beginnings

radio moscow new beginnings

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Oct. 6.

Cali boogie kingpins and all-around marvelous frenetic bastards Radio Moscow were in top form on their Century Media debut, and if it was a new beginning they were searching for, they met it head on with a sound as classic and organic as ever. Arguably the most powerful power trio in their game, they tore through cuts like “No One Knows Where They’ve Been” and “Deceiver” while offering flourish in the trip-out “Woodrose Morning” and subdued blues-psych on the penultimate “Pick up the Pieces.” Very much to form, but cast of a form that still manages to outclass all challengers.

27. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma

spaceslug time travel dilemma

Released by Southcave Records, BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

And so here we have the first of what will no doubt be several records about which I’m going to say they should be higher on the list. Poland’s Spaceslug have emerged from the moist ground created by their own tonality and on their sophomore full-length, they proffered warm depth of fuzz and a corresponding melodic and psychedelic reach that was resonant even before they brought in ex-Sungrazer bassist Sander Haagmans for a guest spot on the title-track. It’s been out for 10 months and still delivers every time I put it on, which is often.

26. Mothership, High Strangeness

mothership high strangeness
Released by Ripple Music and Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed March 7.

Three albums into a tenure marked by hard-driving riffs, scorching solos and relentless road work, there’s little Texas trio Mothership need to do at this point to prove themselves to their audience. At the same time, High Strangeness brought considerable expansion to their range overall, whether it was the exploratory “Eternal Trip” or the semi-metallic insistence behind “Midnight Express,” while staying tied together with lyrical and instrumental hooks. High Strangeness set a new standard for Mothership, plain and simple, and easily surpassed the considerable accomplishments of their 2012 self-titled debut (review here) and 2014’s Mothership II (review here).

25. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days

eternal black bleed the days

Released by Obsidian Sky Records. Reviewed Aug. 1.

There was a lot about Eternal Black‘s Bleed the Days that chugged its way into the post-Wino oeuvre of US-style trad doom, but the gruff, lumbering and impeccably riffed outing was nonetheless one of 2017’s best debut full-lengths, and it was the songwriting that got it there. Already sounding sure in the vibe captured, cuts like the plodding brooder “Sea of Graves” and “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun” showed potential in mood and atmosphere as much as sheer sonic heft — though of course there was plenty of that to go around as well. Doomers missed it at their peril.

24. Kadavar, Rough Times

kadavar rough times

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Sept. 6.

It kind of feels like a slight to have Berlin trio Kadavar appear anywhere outside of at least a top 10 on any kind of list whatsoever, ever, but that’s not my intention at all. Rather, their fourth album and third for Nuclear Blast found them at an important stage in their progression — past the novelty of the vintage feel in their early work, after having proven their songwriting could translate to a modern context, and embarking on a process of expanding their sound. Rough Times, which was as current as current could be, met that goal and beat it easily with a barrage of memorable choruses and a dark streak one could only consider suitable for our age.

23. Shroud Eater, Strike the Sun

shroud eater strike the sun

Released by STB Records. Reviewed June 28.

The biggest surprise about Shroud Eater‘s long-awaited sophomore long-player was also its most encouraging aspect — namely how it found the Miami trio bringing together various impulses shown on a number of shorter releases over the course of the six years since their debut, ThunderNoise (review here), came out in 2011, and still managed to utterly crush when it so chose. With a swath from sludge to drone and back again, this was no minor feat, and that the songs they brought to bear were so memorable at their heart as well makes me hope all the more it’s not 2023 before their third album arrives.

22. Enslaved, E

enslaved e

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 4.

What’s left to say about Norwegian progressive black metal innovators Enslaved 14 records into their career? Plenty as it turns out. The introduction of new keyboardist/vocalist Håkon Vinje in place of Herbrand Larsen brought a new twist on a signature element of Enslaved‘s approach. Vinje utterly owned his role, and his performance alongside guitarist Ivar Bjørnson, bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson, guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal and drummer Cato Bekkevold resulted in a fresh urgency that made the band’s sound even more potent and set their ongoing creative evolution on a new branch of its self-directed path.

21. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical

arc-of-ascent-realms-of-the-metaphysical

Released by Astral Projection and Clostridium Records. Reviewed April 6.

Some five years on from 2012’s The Higher Key (review here) and seven out from their debut, Circle of the Sun (review here), and with bassist/vocalist Craig Williamson firmly entrenched in his always excellent Lamp of the Universe psych-drone-folk solo-project, I wasn’t sure there would be another offering from New Zealand heavy psych-rock trio Arc of Ascent, but Realms of the Metaphysical took shape from an ether of riffs and echoes atop resilient underlying structures and revitalized the group with new drummer Mark McGeady in the lineup with Williamson and guitarist Matt Cole-Baker. Remains to be seen if this marks a priority shift for Williamson or it’s a one-off, but its arrival was welcome either way.

20. Causa Sui, Vibraciones Doradas

causa sui vibraciones doradas

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

With the various glories already offered in 2017 on the Live in Copenhagen (review here) 3LP, one didn’t necessarily expect a new studio outing from Danish instrumental psych masters Causa Sui, but Vibraciones Doradas found them as vibrant as ever, bringing forth a surprising amount of tonal weight on songs like “El Fuego,” warm fuzz for the basking on opener “The Drop” and spaciousness on the closing title-track. Somewhat more straight-ahead in its rocking groove than 2016’s Return to Sky (review here), the five-track/38-minute long-player showed yet again why Causa Sui are always welcome and that any news of a new release from them, live, studio, whatever, is good news. This was the kind of record that could make your day if you let it.

19. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable

telekinetic yeti abominable

Released by Sump Pump Records. Reviewed April 10.

The Iowa-based duo of guitarist/vocalist Alex Baumann and drummer Anthony Dreyer, operating as Telekinetic Yeti, released what I considered to be the debut of the year, both for the fullness of its tonality and the accomplishment in songcraft it already showed. Powered by cuts like its lumbering title-track and the gloriously fuzzed runner “Stoned and Feathered,” it could’ve been another band’s second or third record for the level of cohesion on display and the obvious awareness on the part of the band of what they wanted to do with their sound and the just-as-obvious result of their bringing it to life.

18. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust

cloud catcher trails of kozmic dust

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Dec. 9, 2016.

While I admit I’m still not 100 percent certain on whether to spell “kozmic” in the title with a ‘k’ or with a ‘c’ on the end, that question did nothing ultimately to diminish enjoyment of Denver emergents Cloud Catcher‘s sophomore outing. Topped off by one of the best album covers of the year, the follow-up to their 2015 debut, Enlightened Beyond Existence (discussed here), took the progressive casting of that record to a place entirely more raw and rock-driven, willfully roughing up the edges even as it showed marked creative growth on a relatively quick turnaround. The must-hear bass tone of “Beyond the Electric Sun” and “Super Acid Magick” was icing on a cake of choice riffing and Hendrixian lead swirl, and the shuffle they elicited was enough to make even the most stubborn of asses (i.e. mine) think about moving.

17. Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child

ruby the hatchet planetary space child

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 29.

After the neo-garage manifestations of their 2015 sophomore outing, Valley of the Snake (review here), it was clear Philly psych rockers Ruby the Hatchet were a force when it came to songwriting. What was less obvious was what they’d do with that going forward. On Planetary Space Child, at least, the answer is they’ll take it to Freaktown. The melody-happy, organ-laced swirlmasters conjured presence kosmiche enough to justify the album’s title, and around the cast-in-moon-rock structures of the swinging “Pagan Ritual” and the playfully doomed “Symphony of the Night,” Ruby the Hatchet built a multifaceted weirdoist triumph the likes of which simply doesn’t come along every year, establishing themselves as more reliable and less predictable than ever: an absolute win.

16. Alunah, Solennial

alunah solennial

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 1.

It’s been the case more or less all along with UK forest rockers Alunah that their nature-minded material and heavy rolling grooves have had their haunting aspects, but with the production of Conan‘s Chris Fielding behind it, Solennial — their fourth LP and first on Svart — brought this to new levels entirely. The songs, memorable like footprints in the woods, are somewhat bittersweet in context now, since founding guitarist/vocalist Sophie Day announced in September she was leaving the band, but as the group will move forward led by guitarist Dave Day and recently acquired new singer Siân Greenaway, intrigue remains high at what the future might bring and the impact of Solennial is undiminished.

15. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream

mindkult-lucifers-dream

Released by Transcending Obscurity Records and Caligari Records.

Virginia-based doomgazing garage cult solo-project Mindkult has thus far managed to keep some of the mystique around its sole inhabitant, Fowst, which is admirable in a way. As the multi-instrmentalist, vocalist and producer this year answered the promise of last year’s Witch’s Oath (review here) debut, he did so around a swath of purposeful miseries, loose devil worship and other dark thematics, casting an atmospheric darkness matched head-on by the tonal murk of his riffs. Through this, however, the songwriting was no less memorable than on the first offering, and as the project moves forward, one can only hope that Fowst will continue to use that as the core aspect buried six feet under his other, formidable stylistic achievements. That certainly was how it worked out on Lucifer’s Dream.

14. Argus, From Fields of Fire

argus from fields of fire
Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Sept. 1.

Behold ye perhaps the most underrated band in heavy metal. Regardless of subgenre, style, strata, whatever, it’s hard to listen to From Fields of Fire and think of Pittsburgh’s Argus as anything else. The five-piece’s fourth album continued to owe part of its sound to doom, but was much more encompassing than simply that, touching on aspects of classic metal with a command that left one wondering how they hadn’t yet been tapped to open for Judas Priest on that band’s next tour. Victory abounds on a per-song basis throughout the nine-tracker, and whether it was the emotional crux of “Hour of Longing” or the catchy fistpump righteousness of “Devils of Your Time” or the 11-minute progressive reach of “Infinite Lives/Infinite Doors,” Argus once again crafted a work nigh-unmatched in poise and class.

13. Uffe Lorenzen, Galmandsværk

Uffe-Lorenzen-Galmandsvaerk

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

For the first outing ever to be issued under his real name, Denmark’s Uffe Lorenzen — aka Lorenzo Woodrose of garage-psych pioneers Baby Woodrose — danced between acid folk singer-songwriterisms like “Flippertøs” and more expansive jamming on “På Kanten Af Verden,” all the while retaining his distinct structural and arrangement sensibilities and creating a flowing vibe that was nothing less than a pure joy of classic-form psychedelia. The most serene and pastoral freakout one was likely to witness in 2017, easily, Galmandsværk resounded in the Mellotron-laced “Høj Som Et Højhus” and was no less at home in the acoustic spaciousness of the earlier “Remits Tyranni,” able to wander where it pleased and find steady ground in molten surroundings.

12. The Flying Eyes, Burning of the Season

the flying eyes burning of the season

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 11.

A welcome return from a viciously underappreciated band, The Flying EyesBurning of the Season marked the Baltimore four-piece’s first offering for Ripple Music and first since 2013’s Lowlands (review here), a four-year stretch during which the band kept busy touring Europe and South America, the latter also being where they recorded these songs with Gabriel Zander at Estudio Superfuzz in Brazil. The tonal depth resulting from that process was enough to make the collection a highlight, but it was the songs themselves that most stood out, benefiting from the band’s expanded reach and legitimate, hard-won maturity. Especially for a group who’ve done so much work on the road over their years — to be fair, the US has been pretty low priority in that regard — they remain a secret kept too well.

11. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper

bell witch mirror reaper

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Dec. 27.

Doomed extremity simply unmatched in its scope. The song of the year for 2017. An accomplishment the likes of which is prone to happen maybe once or twice in a generation. None of this seems to really speak to the entirety of the achievement that is Bell Witch‘s Mirror Reaper — the single-song, 83-minute full-length issued by the Seattle duo like a challenge in the face of mortality itself. Beautiful, devastating and weighted like the grave, its sprawl utterly consumed the listener, and I firmly believe it will be years before its depths are fully processed. Some offerings are bigger than the year in which they’re released. Mirror Reaper would seem to function on a scale of its own, and though it could easily be read as a litmus test for audience punishment, the truth of the listening experience is both more emotionally complex and more fulfilling than simple hyperbole can capture.

10. Monolord, Rust

monolord rust

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Oct. 26.

The story all along with Gothenburg’s Monolord has been tone. Tone tone tone. Crush crush crush. Riffs riffs riffs. Nothing wrong with any of that, but their third album, Rust, proves once and for all that there’s more to the trio than “cool riffs bro” and post-Electric Wizard nod. Catchy cuts like “Dear Lucifer” and rolling opener “Where Death Meets the Sea” brought a sense of space leading to the later sprawl of “Forgotten Lands” and “At Niceae,” and the band settled into an individualized, lumbering psychedelia that moved forward from 2015’s Vænir (review here), not leaving behind the heft that earned them their reputation, but not at all being limited by it either in scope or overall approach. Three records in, Rust brought forth Monolord‘s greatest sonic expansion yet and gave rise to the feeling that their true potential was just starting to come to fruition. Also, crush crush crush. Cool riffs, bro.

9. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn

vokonis-the-sunken-djinn

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 5.

The Sunken Djinn is Vokonis‘ second full-length in as many years, and in addition to serving as their Ripple debut where 2016’s Olde One Ascending (review here) landed via Ozium Records, it was a feast for hungry riff hounds. In defiance of its quick turnaround, it showed a firm evolution taking place within the upstart Swedish trio of guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, bassist/backing vocalist Jonte Johansson and drummer Emil Larsson, whose range overall was greater in tracks like “Rapturous” and the torrential “Blood Vortex” while nonetheless controlled in its delivery. Their Sleep-y origins still a factor sound-wise, Vokonis were able just the same to push themselves ahead into new sonic ground in fittingly lumbering fashion, and the character they brought to “The Sunken Djinn,” “Calling from the Core” and the noise-caked “Maelstroem” seemed to speak to a burgeoning sense of atmospheric focus taking hold as well. Still so much potential here.

8. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals

electric moon stardust rituals

Released by Sulatron Records. Reviewed April 7.

Do I even need to remotely justify having Electric Moon‘s first studio album in six years on this list? Was it not just like a love-letter issued by the cosmos itself? What more explanation could possibly be necessary? Not that the German trio haven’t dropped copious, glorious live outings all the while, but to have Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, “Komet Lulu” Neudeck and Marcus Schnitzler follow-up 2011’s The Doomsday Machine (review here) with four cuts culminating in the 22-minute sprawl of “(You Will) Live Forever Now” was high on the list of the year’s most satisfying psychedelic journeys. Constantly exploring, their methods always seem geared toward finding the molten essence of space rock itself, and though the songs on Stardust Rituals were a little more crafted than some of their straight-up improv jams, they nonetheless showed there are many avenues one might take to get to the heart of the sun.

7. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us

sun-blood-stories-it-runs-around-the-room-with-us

Self-released. Reviewed May 1.

This one is personal, and by that I mean I love this fucking band. Similar to my experience with their 2015 sophomore outing, Twilight Midnight Morning (review here), the third record by Boise-based trio of Ben Kirby (vocals, guitar, synth, percussion), Amber Pollard (vocals, guitar, theremin, percussion) and Jon Fust (drums, keys, percussion, noise) was one that I simply could not put down. Even now, seeing the name of the record is all I need to have songs like “The Great Destroyer” and the immersive midsection in “Come Like Rain” and “Time Like Smoke” stuck in my head, let alone the ultra-brazen, searingly-pissed “Burn” noise assault that finished the album and in the span of 90 seconds turned all the psychedelic warmth and serenity on its face with a visceral anger completely unforeseen and jarring, turning it from a depth-laden execution of adventurous neo-psych and indie into a project of conceptual artistry with all the efficiency of the chemical reaction it sought to portray. If you missed it, your loss.

6. The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field

the-atomic-bitchwax-force-field

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Dec. 7.

Songs like “Alaskan Thunder Fuck,” “Humble Brag” and “Earth Shaker (Which Doobie U Be?)” assured that the defining character of Force Field, the sixth album from New Jersey’s The Atomic Bitchwax, was pure scorch. That made the 12-cut outing a more than worthy follow-up for 2015’s  Gravitron (review here), which introduced this more speed-rock-minded, aggressive delivery from the tight-as-nails trio, and while they proved they could still lock in a slower groove on the organ-topped finisher “Liv a Little,” head-spinners like the instrumental “Fried, Dyed and Layin’ to the Side” and “Houndstooth” came across like the fruit of the band pushing themselves to the limits of their physical ability in terms of tempo, and their ride along the edge of that line brought thrills at every turn. And make no mistake, there were a lot of turns. Fortunately, bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella seemingly had a corresponding hook in their pocket for each one of them. This band is a national treasure.

5. Atavismo, Inerte

atavismo inerte

Released by Temple of Torturous. Reviewed Feb. 21.

Warm, fuzzy tones, rhythmic shifts right out of classic progressive rock, melodic intricacy and periodic excursions into glorious psychedelic drift: I’m not sure what wasn’t to like about Inerte, Atavismo‘s second full-length behind 2014’s Desintegración (review here). Comprising five tracks of unmistakable flow and jam-laden fluidity, it was immersive with landmarks along the way to keep the listener from getting too lost, and whether or not one spoke Spanish, the three-piece of Jose “Poti” Moreno (ex-Viaje a 800Mind!), bassist/vocalist Mateo and drummer/vocalist Sandri Pow (also ex-Mind!) made it easy to follow along their purposefully meandering path, offering guidance no less skillful on the 11-minute fuzz-freaker “El Sueño” than the dream-toned linear build of “Belleza Cuatro.” There were very, very few albums I listened to more this year than this one, which is precisely why it is where it is on this list.

4. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe

samsara-blues-experiment-one-with-the-universe

Released by Electric Magic Records and Abraxas Records. Reviewed May 4.

Four years between records isn’t at all an unheard of stretch. It’s not the longest on this list by any means. But with Berlin heavy psych rockers Samsara Blues Experiment, it really seemed like the band was done, so to have them come back with such force on One with the Universe was, as I know I said at several points throughout the last 12 months, one of the year’s total highlights. Tracked by former bassist Richard Behrens, the group’s fourth album answered the extended-track spread of 2013’s Waiting for the Flood (review here) with a deeper sense of sonic variety, and while the 15-minute title-cut and opener “Vispassana” still had plenty of room for jamming out and even six-minute centerpiece “Glorious Daze” found room for some flourish of organ and sitar, guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, drummer Thomas Vedder and bassist Hans Eiselt rightly featured the chemistry they’ve built as a trio live and brought to the songs a renewed sense of vigor, sounding — and hopefully being — truly inspired. Waiting for the Flood capped a period of marked productivity across several years. Fingers crossed One with the Universe begins that cycle anew.

3. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World

Elder-Reflections-of-a-Floating-World

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed May 23.

You just can’t consider Elder‘s Reflections of a Floating World outside the context of the progressive achievement that was their prior outing, 2015’s Lore (review here). Where the trio — based now between Massachusetts and Berlin, Germany — took their first two outings, 2008’s self-titled debut (discussed here) and 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), to find their sound, which they began to showcase on the 2012 Spires Burn/Release EP (review here), it was Lore that brought to fruition the potential that had always been waiting to be unleashed by the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto, and Reflections of a Floating World had the daunting task of being the next further step from that landmark moment. To say the band rose to the occasion is perhaps to undersell the cohesion at work in consuming-but-cohesive pieces like opener “Sanctuary” or “Blind” or “Staving off the Truth,” which brought together clear-headed psychedelia around a wash that seemed to stem as much from rhythm as melody. As they’ve matured stylistically and become a major touring presence, Elder have made themselves perhaps the most pivotal American heavy rock act going, and Reflections of a Floating World brings them to the discovery of yet another apex while at the same time giving zero indication it will be the last one they find.

2. Colour Haze, In Her Garden

colour haze in her garden

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed March 9.

Of course, the bonus of writing about Colour Haze in just about any context is that you get to put Colour Haze on while you’re doing it, and in the case of the 12th LP from these Munich heavy psych forebears, that’s an even more appealing prospect. After stripping down some of the arrangement flourish with 2014’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), the 13-track/73-minute 2LP In Her Garden brought a revitalized sonic expansion, but as ever, it wasn’t just the horns or the strings or the blend of keys and acoustics that made In Her Garden the unbridled joy that it was and continues to be — it was the underlying performance from guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald that gave the album the stem on which its garden grew. That’s not to say Jan Faszbender‘s work on modular synth, Rhodes, and Hammond or the arrangements of strings, tuba, bass-clarinet and trombone throughout hurt anything, just that as Colour Haze have grown into incorporating these elements into their groundbreaking aesthetic, they haven’t left behind the organic chemistry and necessary live feel that has helped them influence a generation of followers over their more than 20-year career. One came through as much as the other on In Her Garden, and that balance gave the overarching warmth of their self-recorded tonality yet another level on which to engage their audience. I’ll be a sucker for Colour Haze for as long as I live, and I have absolutely no problem admitting to and owning that.

1. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War

all them witches sleeping through the war

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Jan. 27.

It was clear early on that Nashville four-piece All Them Witches were contending hard for Album of the Year with Sleeping Through the War, their fourth long-player and second for New West following the mellow vibes of 2015’s Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (review here). What finally sealed it? The songs. Working with producer Dave Cobb, the each-member-essential lineup of bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, key-specialist Allan van Cleave (Rhodes, Mellotron, piano, organ, etc.) and drummer/graphic artist Robby Staebler solidified their approach in exciting new ways on early cuts like the grunge-crunching “Don’t Bring Me Coffee” and the shuffling “Bruce Lee,” which hit in succession following the fluid lead-in of opener “Bulls,” an introduction of the organic psychedelia and heavy blues that the loose-swinging of “3-5-7″‘s nigh-on-gospel chorus and subsequent, almost maddeningly catchy “Am I Going Up?” would continue to push outward, thereby setting a linear course into a consciousness-capturing side B with “Alabaster” and the jammier “Cowboy Kirk” and “Internet” playing between melodic nuance and mindful, go-with-it drift. The unflinching strength of the material was matched perhaps only by the understatement of its delivery, which was the more staggering considering how easily the arrangements of background vocals on “Am I Going Up?” or  “3-5-7” could have come through as overblown or self-indulgent, and by the time they got down to the light weirdo-bluesy stomp of “Internet” — the key lyric and hook being, “Guess I’ll go live on the internet” — there was no doubting the genuine nature of the realization Sleeping Through the War represented for All Them Witches. Coupling that feeling of achievement with the sheer repeatability of the listening experience itself left no doubt that 2017 belonged to these tracks and the marvelous way the band wove between them, and that whatever other sounds All Them Witches may go on to explore and whatever else they may accomplish as a result, Sleeping Through the War was a truly special moment in their evolution that, as with the best of offerings in any year, will continue to resonate long after the calendar page has turned.

The Next 20

You know, I used to feel like once you got past a top 20, the numbers were arbitrary. Then I felt that way about the top 30. This year, I think I agonized more about what to include in numbers 31-50 than I did between 30 and the album of the year. Put that in your “go figure” file while you chew on these picks:

31. Cities of Mars, Temporal Rifts
32. The Midnight Ghost Train, Cypress Ave.
33. Snowy Dunes, Atlantis
34. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
35. PH, Eternal Hayden
36. Sasquatch, Maneuvers
37. Young Hunter, Dayhiker
38. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
39. Ufomammut, 8
40. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
41. Paradise Lost, Medusa
42. Beastmaker, Inside the Skull
43. Arduini / Balich, Dawn of Ages
44. Primitive Man, Caustic
45. Motorpsycho, The Tower
46. Arbouretum, Song of the Rose
47. Hymn, Perish
48. Youngblood Supercult, The Great American Death Rattle
49. Pallbearer, Heartless
50. Dool, Here Now There Then

There’s so, so much good stuff here. So much. The Cities of Mars debut was a treasure and the only reason it wasn’t on my top debuts list was because I haven’t had the chance to go back in and put it on. The Young Hunter record? Some of their best work yet. Hell, that Arduini / Balich album alone! Then you’ve got huge releases by Pallbearer, Ufomammut, Paradise Lost, Primitive Man, on and on. Like I said at the outset, one more album and my head was gonna explode this year. Way too much to ever hope to keep up with. One thing though I felt like I really wanted to emphasize including was Dool. They’re in the last spot, but make no mistake, in atmosphere and songwriting that album was something really special and loaded with potential. It’s not there because it came in last. It’s there to highlight the point of how much it should be on this list.

What’s that? More records? Okay…

Honorable Mentions

In case you also weren’t completely overwhelmed this year, maybe another batch of records will do the trick. Here’s some presented alphabetically:

Anathema, The Optimist
Blackfinger, When Colors Fade Away
Child, Blueside
Cortez, The Depths Below
Demon Eye, Prophecies and Lies
Elbrus, Elbrus
Electric Wizard, Wizard Bloody Wizard
Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury
Five Horse Johnson, Jake Leg Boogie
Mirror Queen, Verdigris
The Obsessed, Sacred
T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain
Outsideinside, Sniff a Hot Rock
Queens of the Stone Age, Villains
Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace
Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
Steak, No God to Save
Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light
Valborg, Endstrand
With the Dead, Love from With the Dead

Plus: Abronia, Lewis and the Strange Magics, Iron Monkey, Band of Spice, Puta Volcano, Galley Beggar, Heavy Traffic, Coltsblood, REZN, Green Meteor, Demon Head, Lord, Grigax, The Raynbow, Carpet, Norska, Les Lekin, Slow, Ixion, and I’m sure more that I’ll add as the names continue to pop into my head.

I did this back in June as well, but I also want to draw attention to a swath of quality live albums that came out this year. The top pick should be no surprise if you’ve been hanging around the site of late:

Live Albums:
1. SubRosa, Subdued Live at Roadburn
2. Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen
3. Slomatics, Futurians Live at Roadburn
4. My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
5. Wight, Fusion Rock Invasion
5. Death Alley, Live at Roadburn

Thank You

It’s been a hell of a year, obviously. Musically and otherwise. As always, I cannot possibly come close to thanking you enough for your incredible and ongoing support of The Obelisk, of what this site is, what it’s become over its nearly nine-year run, what it will continue to become going forward from here. It is astounding to me and deeply humbling that you would possibly take time out of your busy day and your busy life to check out what’s going on here, and words fail me continually when it comes to feeling like I can properly convey my appreciation for that. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Tattoo it on my forehead.

Thank you to The Patient Mrs. for understanding how much I need to be doing this, to Slevin for keeping the site running on the technical end, to Behrang Alavi for taking over hosting earlier this year, to my family for their ongoing support, to The Pecan for sleeping late some mornings and giving me time to write, and to everyone who ever shared a link on social media or made a comment on a post or anything like that. To long-time readers and to newcomers alike — thank you so much. This year has seen a fair share of ups and downs, but the support this site gets sustains me in ways I never expected it could, and that would be impossible without you. Please know how crucial that is to me.

Well, that should do it. I know there are probably disagreements about where things landed on the list, what was included, what was left out, etc., as there always are. All comments are of course welcome — only thing I’d ask is you please keep it civil and respectful of the opinions of others. Otherwise, have at it. Please.

And one more time, thank you for reading.

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2017 Song of the Year: Bell Witch, “Mirror Reaper”

Posted in Features on December 27th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

bell witch (photo david choe)

It could be a few years before the scope of Bell Witch‘s Mirror Reaper is fully understood. The single-song, 83-minute, Profound Lore-released third full-length from the Seattle-based funeral sludge outfit, it is a work as likely to digest the listener as to be digested by them, and in its level of vision and execution, it should be considered nothing less than a generational accomplishment within doom’s most extreme ends. Front-to-back, it casts itself into progressive depths of headphone- and hyperbole-worthy murk, departing from the ground that the two-piece established on their 2015 offering, Four Phantoms (review here), the preceding 2012 debut, Longing (review here), and 2011 demo (review here) into a downward-aimed ether that seems to plunge as much in emotionality as in tempo. On either level, its gravity is unmistakable, and with the production of Billy Anderson behind it, an analogy to what Sleep‘s Dopesmoker once brought to stoner-doom feels all the more appropriate to the level of statement bassist/vocalist Dylan Desmond and drummer/organist/vocalist Jesse Shreibman are making within Mirror Reaper‘s no-bottom plummet. Make no mistake: this is a definitive achievement — both for Bell Witch and for any and all who’d dare follow in their wake.

One has to note that Mirror Reaper arrived this Fall as the band’s first work since the untimely death of original drummer Adrian Guerra last year at age 36. Guerra, who’d left Bell Witch after Four Phantoms, was nonetheless an essential facet in making their earlier work what it was, and it’s entirely likely that Mirror Reaper‘s ultra-resonant sense of mournfulness stems indeed from a genuine place of grief. In the lyrics, lines like “Floods that sleeve the reach of the drought/To bleed evermore/Empty me/Empty me/Ash of the ocean,” and “An ice of pieces/Of what was once there/The skin of being/Flayed as though the air,” seem to be manifesting an emotional processing in raw form, and the weight of the indecipherable growling and folkish clean delivery — Aerial Ruin‘s Erik Moggridge guests again on vocals as he did on Four Phantoms — is all the more palpable for the instrumental flow it complements, shifting with seamless patience between crushing tones and harsh, lumbering crash, and stretches so minimal as to be barely there, the first of which occurs about 17 minutes in and carries through a subtle build that unfolds over the next eight or so minutes, introducing the first of Mirror Reaper‘s chants and barely giving the audience time to stare back at how far the two-piece have already come in the 10 minutes since they were growling and plodding past the eight-minute mark with unbridled, Hammond-inclusive brutality. That duality is telling, but still only the beginning of what Bell Witch will unfurl over the subsequent hour of Mirror Reaper, which continues to grow more vicious and more reverberating as it plays out.

Because of its extended runtime, the piece itself — that is, “Mirror Reaper,” the title-track — is broken bell witch mirror reaperinto two parts for the CD release. These are titled “Mirror Reaper (As Above)” and “Mirror Reaper (So Below),” where on the 2LP edition of the album, its four sides are simply “As,” “Above” and “So” and “Below,” in that order. I can’t speak to the differing experience of hearing Mirror Reaper across these varied formats, but there’s little question that it was meant to be taken in its entirety one way or the other. This is, of course, also its most challenging form, and there are times when its assault on its audience feels especially geared as a litmus test for how much one can take, but even as Bell Witch hone a tension of growl-accompanied crashes at around 35 minutes in, there’s more happening than extremity for its own sake. That is to say, Mirror Reaper is not just pushing boundaries of sonic decency as an exercise in trying to make itself a next-level effort in punishment. Its greatest asset, rather, is the sense of expressiveness behind each measure’s excruciating roll, and as it makes its way toward and past the its halfway point, there is as much about it that could be called poetic as there is atmospherically ranging. At 45:40, clean vocals and growls come together over full-boar plod and organ and Bell Witch seem to find a moment with all elements active at once, producing an entrancing effect that caps with an especially scathing scream and echoing-out tones before shifting again into a slow, minimal bassline — this is the break point of the tracks on the CD version — in preparation for the song’s next stage.

By this point it should be well clear to anyone who’s managed to take Mirror Reaper on that there will be no escape. This mournful chronicle of our times is no less likely than those times an seem to be to swallow the consciousness whole, and that’s no less true as the folk-style verses begin circa 53 minutes in, carrying past the hour mark and into a section of church-style organ that, just as the 69th minute becomes the 70th, is met by resurgent bass tone and the final swell of crawling volume that lands as the emotional apex, returning to the initial heavy progression but staying with the cleaner vocals instead of growls, tying the various sides of the entirety together with no less fluidity than Bell Witch have to this point put in the transitions from one movement to the next. The final five minutes or so of Mirror Reaper are given to drone folk and the closing lines, “The pendulum slows/Then stilled under the cold/In absence he flies/In presence we will writhe,” coming across with the bare emotional presence and melodicism of a half-speed Warning in search of peace that it may or may not have found or find, the last note of “writhe” held out over a sudden end, as though there were still more to say after everything that came before but that it was cut short for a gorgeous and poignant finish. And there may well be, about the nature of resignation, of grief, or of our ongoing and ever-developing relationship with our own mortality and that of those around us, loved ones and otherwise, but part of what makes Mirror Reaper so engrossing is that rather than posture and philosophize these issues, it sidesteps the need for distance and carries the audience with it through a more experiential representation. It puts you there. You don’t need to talk about it. You’re going through it together.

Again, I do not believe at this point it’s really possible to understand what Bell Witch have done with Mirror Reaper, but there’s no question in my mind that it is a pivotal work in setting a new standard for a style it’s essentially recrafting to suit its own purposes. There is not a level on which it doesn’t succeed in this effort, and because of this, because of its sheer scale and because of the cohesion underlying its impossibly darkened sprawl, there is no doubt in my mind that “Mirror Reaper” is the 2017 song of the year.

Honorable Mention

I’m a big believer in the context of full albums, so it’s always hard to pick individual tracks that are such standouts. Nonetheless, here are a few more to chew on, in no particular order:

Lo-Pan, “Pathfinder”
All Them Witches, “3-5-7”
Spaceslug, “Time Travel Dilemma”
Colour Haze, “Labyrinthe”
Alunah, “Feast of Torches”
Moon Rats, “Heroic Dose”
Argus, “Devils of Your Time”
The Flying Eyes, “Drain”
Avon, “Six Wheeled Action Man Tank”
Sun Blood Stories, “The Great Destroyer”

Some of these and a whole slew of others were included in the Year-End Spotify playlist that went up yesterday, so if you haven’t yet, make sure you check that out. And if there are any songs you feel like should be on this list or just something that really hit you hard this year, I’d love to know about it in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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Insect Ark Announce Marrow Hymns LP out Feb. 23; Stream New Track

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

insect ark

Go ahead and sign me up for Insect Ark‘s Marrow Hymns right now and save us both the time. I dug the hell out of Dana Schechter‘s work on the band’s 2015 debut, Portal/Well (review here), and was fortunate enough to see the former member of Bee and Flower perform live as well, and going by what I’m hearing in the Earth-y vibes of the new track “In the Nest,” the drone has only gotten richer since Schechter teamed up with TaurusAshley Spungin to make what was a solo-project a duo. So yeah, go ahead. Sign me up. I’m on board. Let’s do this thing.

Oh what? I have to wait until February for the album to come out? So you mean to say I don’t get to have my brain eaten outright by Marrow Hymns immediately? Hell’s bells that’s going to be a challenge.

But so is the record. In the best way possible.

From the PR wire. Check out this fucking cover art:

insect ark marrow hymns

INSECT ARK: Atmospheric Noise/Doom Duo To Release Marrow Hymns Via Profound Lore This February; New Track Streaming

Combining elements of horror-?lm soundtracks, psychedelic doom, and atmospheric noise, New York City/Portland-based instrumental duo INSECT ARK presents their newest record, Marrow Hymns, to be released on Profound Lore Records, February 23rd, 2018.

Comprised of Dana Schechter (M. Gira’s Angels Of Light, Wrekmeister Harmonies, Zeal & Ardor, Gnaw) and Ashley Spungin (Taurus, Purple Rhinestone Eagle, Negative Queen), INSECT ARK’s intensely visual music weaves interludes of fragile beauty with crushing passages of swirling doom, spinning like a backwards fever dream. Marrow Hymns is a wordless song, a hypnotic voice that screams and whispers from a place deep in the furrows, from the bones, from the blood. Defying easy categorization, INSECT ARK’s uncommon sound is in part the amalgamation of these two women’s passions: Schechter’s sinister bass lines and unconventional use of lap steel guitar (and her complete omission of electric guitar), and Spungin’s lucid, exacting drumming and synth work with her own hand-built analog noise pedals (Ormus Electronics).

Schechter describes INSECT ARK as being a voice when words fail to articulate emotions or experiences, a visceral form of communication through sonic submersion. The cathartic nature of the music INSECT ARK creates is a document of life’s many complex facets – perseverance and presence, chaos and meditation, birth and decay, brutality and delicacy, and of hope in the unknown.

Marrow Hymns was recorded and mixed with engineer Ethan Donaldson at Mozart Street Studios in Brooklyn, New York over the course of eighteen months. With the two halves of INSECT ARK residing on opposite coasts, the album was largely skeletal in form upon commencement of recording. Overdubs and further writing/arrangements were done after Spungin’s return to Portland in the isolation of Schechter’s home studio. The sense of distance and vast emptiness remained intact in the songs, built out over many long nights. Marrow Hymns’ song themes of displacement, loss, and isolation are personal journals of that time period, as both members found themselves simultaneously experiencing existential crises. However, the album also tells a story of strength and determination, made from the marrow of these two women, a song for all things that struggle to survive.

Marrow Hymns will be available on CD, vinyl, and digital formats. Preorders to be unveiled in the coming weeks. 

Marrow Hymns Track Listing:
1. Thelema
2. Arp 9
3. In the Nest
4. Skin Walker
5. Slow Ray
6. Sea Harps
7. Tarnish
8. Windless
9. Daath

INSECT ARK Is:
Dana Schechter – bass, lap steel guitar, synthesizers
Ashley Spungin – drums, synthesizers

http://www.insectark.com
http://www.facebook.com/InsectArk
http://www.insectark.bandcamp.com
http://www.profoundlorerecords.com
http://www.facebook.com/profoundlorerecords
http://www.profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com

Insect Ark, “In the Nest”

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