Arkansas doom forerunners Pallbearer begin a European tour tomorrow supporting their new album, Heartless (review here). That tour will culminate with a stop April 23 at Roadburn 2017 in Tilburg, the Netherlands, and the band will follow it with a US headlining run. You can go ahead and be surprised by this news if you want, but frankly, Pallbearer touring is about as shocking as the sun coming up and going back down. It happens, is what I’m saying. Dudes get around.
The difference? Well, to see the band headline in spaces like Union Transfer in Philly — last time I was there, it was to see High on Fire — is something that shows how far they’ve come in moving to the head of the class in the current generation of doom, and they’re certainly showing some range in the bands with whom they’re sharing the stage. I took the dates out because they already happened, but in addition to the acts listed below, they recently did some shows with Marissa Nadler and others in the Midwest and on the Eastern Seaboard.
You know what I enjoy? Seeing a good band who work really hard get popular and then continue to work really hard.
From the PR wire:
PALLBEARER ANNOUNCE U.S. HEADLINE TOUR IN MAY & JUNE 2017
In support of their newly released magnum opus Heartless, genre-defying giants Pallbearer will canvas North America in May and June on a headline tour featuring support from Gatecreeper, Pinkish Black, Venomous Maximum, and Inter Arma on select dates. This run will follow Pallbearer’s late-March U.S. jaunt and their forthcoming European tour in April. Pallbearer’s full tour routing can be found below.
Released last Friday on Profound Lore in North America (and Nuclear Blast in Europe), Heartless is a 7-song album grander in scope than anything Pallbearer have released prior, showcasing a natural progression that melds higher technicality and more ambitious structures. Heartless was recorded straight-to-tape with Joe Barresi (Queens of the Stone Age, Tool, Melvins, Soundgarden) manning the board, making for the band’s most pummeling, ambitious, and virtuosic work to date.
“Instead of staring into to the void—both above and within—Heartless concentrates its power on a grim reality,” the band explains. “Our lives, our homes and our world are all plumbing the depths of utter darkness, as we seek to find any shred of hope we can.”
See Pallbearer on the road through June 2017: April 5 Brussels, Belgium @ Botanique ! April 6 London, UK @ Underworld ! April 8 Bristol, UK @ Thekla ! April 9 Manchester, UK @ Ruby Lounge ! April 11 Hamburg, Germany @ Hafenklang ! April 12 Goteborg, Sweden @ Sticky Fingers ! April 13 Stockholm, Sweden @ Kraken STHLM ! April 14 Aarhus, Denmark @ Atlas ! April 15 Copenhagen, Denmark @ Pumpehuset ! April 16 Hanover, Germany @ Cafe Glocksee ! April 18 Köln, Germany @ Underground ! April 19 Berlin, Germany @ Musik & Frieden April 20 Leipzig, Germany @ Doom Over Leipzig April 21 Zurich, Switzerland @ Rote Fabrik April 22 Karlsruhe, Germany @ Dudefest April 23 Tilburg, Netherlands @ Roadburn May 11 Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live — Studio ^ May 12 Dallas, TX @ Curtain Club ^ May 13 Austin, TX @ Barracuda ^ May 15 Phoenix AZ @ The Rebel Lounge % May 16 San Diego, CA @ Casbah # May 18 Los Angeles, CA @ The EchoPlex # May 19 Oakland, CA @ The New Parish # May 20 Reno, NV @ Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor # May 22 Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge # May 23 Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater # May 25 Kansas City, MO @ The Riot Room ^^ May 26 Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry ^^ May 27 Des Moines, IA @ Vaudeville Mews ^^ May 28 Madison, WI @ High Noon Saloon ^^ May 30 Columbus, OH @ Ace of Cups ^^ May 31 Pittsburgh, PA @ Rex Theater ^^ June 1 Washington, DC @ Rock and Roll Hotel ^^ June 2 Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer ** June 5 Harrisonburg, VA @ The Gameolden Pony ^^ June 6 Louisville, KY @ Zanzabar ^^ June 7 St. Louis, MO @ Fubar ^^
! w/ Pinkish Black ^ w/ Gatecreeper, Pinkish Black % w/ Gatecreeper, Spirit Adrift # w/ Gatecreeper, Venomous Maximus ^^ w/ Gatecreeper, Inter Arma ** w/ Baroness, Nothing
Pallbearer is: Brett Campbell – guitar, vocals Devin Holt – guitar, vocals Mark Lierly – drums Joseph D. Rowland – bass, vocals
Posted in Reviews on March 27th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Here we are, on the precipice looking out over a spread that will include 50 reviews by the week’s end. Somehow when it comes around to a Quarterly Review Monday I always end up taking a moment to ask myself if I’ve truly lost my mind, if I really expect to be able to do this and not fall completely flat on my face, and just where the hell this terrible idea came from in the first place. But you know what? I haven’t flubbed one yet. We get through it. There’s a lot to go through, for me and you both, but sometimes it’s fun to be completely overwhelmed by music. I hope you agree, and I hope you find something this week that hits you in that oh-yeah-that’s-why-I-love-this kind of way. Time’s wasting. Let’s get started.
Quarterly Review #1-10:
Three albums and nearly a decade into their tenure, Pallbearer stand at the forefront of American doom, and their third outing, Heartless (on Profound Lore), only reinforces this position while at the same time expanding beyond genre lines in ways that even their 2014 sophomore effort, Foundations of Burden, simply couldn’t have done. A seven-song/hour-long sprawl is marked out by resonant melodies, soulful melancholy conveyed by guitarist/vocalist Brett Campbell – the returning lineup completed by guitarist Devin Holt, bassist Joseph D. Rowland and drummer Mark Lierly – and tonal weight set to a mix by Joe Barresi, who from opener “I Saw the End” onward arranges layers gorgeously so that extended pieces like “Dancing in Madness” (11:48) and closer “A Plea for Understanding” (12:40) become even more consuming. What comes through most resolute on Heartless, though, is that it’s time to stop thinking of Pallbearer as belonging to some established notion of doom or any other subgenre. With these songs, they make it clear they’ve arrived at their own wavelength and are ready to stand up to the influence they’ve already begun to have on other acts. A significant achievement.
With the considerable frontman presence of Primordial’s Alan Averill on vocals and bass, the considerable riffing of guitarist Bones (also of Wizards of Firetop Mountain) and the considerable lumber in the drumming of Johnny King (ex-Altar of Plagues), Dread Sovereign make some considerable fucking doom indeed. Their second album, For Doom the Bell Tolls (on Ván Records), follows three years behind their debut, 2014’s All Hell’s Martyrs (review here), and wastes no time giving the devil his due – or his doom, if you prefer – in the span of its six tracks and 37 minutes. Atmospheric and seemingly on an endless downward plod, the 13-minute “Twelve Bells Toll in Salem” is a defining moment, but the trad metallurgy of “This World is Doomed” rounds out side A with some welcome thrust, and after the intro “Draped in Sepulchral Fog,” “The Spines of Saturn” and the thrashing “Live Like and Angel, Die Like a Devil” play dramatic and furious intensities off each other in a manner that would seem to truly represent the fine art of not giving a shit what anyone thinks about what you do or what box you’re supposed to fit into. Righteous. Considerably so.
Noise, largesse of riffs and shouted vocals that distinctly remind of Souls at Zero-era Neurosis pervade the near-hour-long run of Lizzard Wizzard’s Total War Power Bastard, but as much as the Brisbane four-piece willfully give themselves over to fuckall – to wit, the title “Medusa but She Gets You Stoned Instead of Turning You to Stone, Instead of Snakes She has Vaporizers on His Head… Drugs” – songs like “Shithead Nihilism,” “Pizza” and the droning “Snake Arrow” brim with purpose and prove affecting in their atmosphere and heft alike. Yes, they have a song called “Nerd Smasher,” and they deserve all credit for that as they follow-up their 2013 self-titled (review here), but by the time they get down to the roll-happy “Crystal Balls” and the feedback-caked “Megaflora” at the record’s end, guitarists Michael Clarke and Nick McKeon, bassist Stef Roselli and drummer Luke Osborne end up having done something original with a Sleep influence, and that’s even more commendable.
Should mention two things outright about Oulu Space Jam Collective’s EP1. First and foremost, its three songs run over 95 minutes long, so if it’s an EP, one can only imagine what qualifies as a “full-length.” Second, the Finnish outfit releasing EP1 on limited tape through Eggs in Aspic isn’t to be confused with Denmark’s Øresund Space Collective. Oulu is someplace else entirely, and likewise, Oulu Space Jam Collective have their own intentions as they show in the 57-minute opener “Renegade Spaceman,” recorded live in the studio in 2014 (they’ve since made two sequels) and presented in six movements including samples, drones, enough swirl for, well, 57 minutes, and a hypnotism that’s nigh on inescapable. I won’t take away from the space rock thrust of 14-minute closer “Artistic Supplies for Moon Paint Mafia” (also tracked in 2014), but the smooth progressive edge of three-part 24-minute centerpiece “Approaching Beast Moon of Baxool” is where it’s at for me – though if you want a whole galaxy to explore, hit up their Bandcamp.
They freak out a bit toward the end of 12-minute opener “Ascendant” and in the second half of the subsequent “Supersaturation,” but for the most part, Aussie three-piece Frozen Planet…. 1969 play it weirdo-cool on their fourth full-length, the excellently-titled Electric Smokehouse (on Pepper Shaker Records). From those jams to the dreamy beachside drift of “Shores of Oblivion” to the funky-fuzz bass of “Sonic Egg Factory” to the quick noise finish of “Pretty Blown Fuse” – which may or may not be the sound of malfunctioning equipment run through an oscillator or some other effects-whatnot, the instrumentalist Sydney/Canberra trio seem to improv a healthy percentage of their fare, if not all of it, and that spirit of spontaneity feeds into the easygoing atmosphere only enhanced by the cover art. On a superficial level, you know you’re getting psych jams going into it, but once you put on Electric Smokehouse, the urge to get lost in the tracks is nigh on overwhelming, and that proves greatly to their credit. Wake up someplace else.
Ananda Mida make their debut on Go Down Records with Anodnatius, fluidly working their way around heavy psychedelic and more driving rock influences propelled by drummer Massimo “Max Ear” Recchia, also of underrated Italian forebears OJM. Here, Recchia anchors a seven-piece lineup including two vocalists in Oscar de Bertoldi and Filippo Leonardi, two guitarists in Matteo Scolaro and Alessandro Tedesco, as well as bassist Davide Bressan and organist Stefano Pasqualetto, so suffice it to say songs like the subtly grungy “Passvas,” the dreamy highlight “Heropas” or the vaguely progressive “Askokinn” want nothing for fullness, but there seem to be moments throughout Anodnatius as on “Lunia” and the shuffling “Kondur” early into the proceedings where the band wants to break out and push toward something heavier. Their restraint is to be commended since it serves the interests of songcraft, but part of me can’t help but wonder what might happen if these guys really let loose on some boogie jams. Keep an ear open to find out, as I have a feeling they might be headed in just that direction.
The heart of Séance – The Satanic Sounds of Strange Broue might come in the 11-minute sample dump that is “Cults and Crimes,” late into the second half of the 52-minute album. Capturing meticulously compiled news and talk-show clips from the late ‘80s, some of which talk about the Satanic roots of heavy metal, it gets to the ritualism that Quebec four-piece Strange Broue proliferate elsewhere on the record in the lo-fi post-Electric Wizard doom of “Satan’s Slaves,” “Kill What’s Inside of You” and the rolling opener “Ritualize” (video here). These pieces offset by other interludes of noise and drone and samples like “Satanic Panic,” “In Nomine Dei Nostri Satanis, Luciferi Excelsis,” the acoustic-until-it-gets-shot-in-the-woods “Las Bas,” the John Carpenter-esque “Séance IV – L’Invocation” and the extended penultimate drone of “Séance V – The Mystifying Oracle with Bells” ahead of the countrified pop gospel of “Satan is Real,” which finishes in subversive fashion, interrupted by more news reports and a finishing assault of noise. Like an arts project in the dark arts, Séance crosses some familiar terrain but finds Strange Broue on their own trip through cultish immersion, as psychological as it is psychedelic.
Not much to argue with in the sixth long-player from Helge Kanck, Trond Slåke and Hallvard Gaardløs, collectively known as Orango. As they make their way onto Stickman Records (which also handled Euro distro for their last album, 2014’s Battles) with The Mules of Nana, the Norwegian trio deep-dive into harmony-topped ‘70s-style vibing that, well, leaves the bulk of “retro” bands in their V8-crafted dust. Mind you they do so by not being a retro band. True, the fuzz on “The Honeymoon Song” and “Head on Down” is as organic as if you happened on it in some forest where all the trees were wearing bellbottoms, but if you told me it was true, I’d believe Orango recorded The Mules of Nana onto – gasp! – a computer. I don’t know if that’s the case or not, but “Heirs,” the sweetly acoustic “Give Me a Hundred” and motoring “Hazy Chain of Mountains” find Orango making no attempt to cloak a lack of songwriting or performance chops in a production aesthetic. Rather, in the tradition of hi-fi greats, they sound as full and rich as possible and utterly live up to the high standard they set for themselves. Pure win in classic, dynamic fashion.
There’s an undercurrent of metal that’s quick to show itself on Set and Setting’s Reflectionless. The instrumentalist Floridian five-piece delve plenty deep into heavy post-rock on cuts like the shoegazing “Incandescent Gleam” and subsequent “Specular Wavefront Of…” but they’re not through opener “Saudade” before harder-edged chug emerges, and “…The Idyllic Realm”’s blastbeating nods at black metal while the churning endgame build of closer “Ephemerality” holds tight to a progressive execution. While its textural foundation will likely ring familiar to followers of Russian Circles ultimately, Reflectionless finds distinction in aligning the various paths it walks as it goes, creating an overarching flow that draws strength from its diversity of approach rather than sounding choppy, confused or in conflict with itself. Not revolutionary by any means, but engaging throughout and with a residual warmth to complement what might seem at first to be a purely cerebral approach. It offers more on repeat listens, so let it sink in.
Primo short offering of pure, fistpump-ready, violin-infused doom traditionalism. I don’t know what Norrköping, Sweden’s Dautha – the five-piece of vocalist Lars Palmqvist, guitarists Erik Öquist and Ola Blomkvist, bassist Emil Åström and drummer Micael Zetterberg – are planning to do for a follow-up, but this Den Foerste (or Den Förste) two-tracker recalls glory-era Candlemass and willfully soars with no sense of irony on “Benandanti” and “In Between Two Floods” after the intro “Horkarlar Skall Slås Ihjäl,” and having already sold out a self-released pressing leaves little to wonder what would’ve caught the esteemed tastes of Ván Records. And by that I mean it’s fucking awesome. I’m ready for a full-length whenever they are, and from the poise with which Palmqvist carries the melodies of these tracks, the quality of the riffing and the depth of arrangement the violin adds to the overarching mournfulness, they definitely sound ready. So get on it. 15 minutes of dirge-making this gorgeous simply isn’t enough.
Granted it’s been six years and all, but if the quickie teaser for Loss‘ forthcoming second album, Horizonless, is anything to go by, that time doesn’t seem to have done much to dull the Nashville death-doomers’ general outlook on the the world around them. Bleak, bleak, bleak, and likely to be as righteously slow in its execution as in its arrival behind their 2011 debut, Despond (review here). The esteemed Profound Lore Records issued that first offering and will stand behind the new one as well, which has been topped off with one of those Adam Burke cover pieces that even though you know the dude is amazing and you consistently expect him to do amazing work still manages to blow your brain to tiny little brainflecks.
Not exaggerating. Brainflecks.
Profound Lore posted the cover along with the details for the record — out May 19 — all of which you’ll find below, as well as the aforementioned teaser:
Six doomed years in creation since their debut LP “Despond”, Nashville, Tennessee melancholic death/funeral doom metal band Loss have completed work on their new LP “Horizonless”, one of the most anticipated death/doom metal releases of the year set for release on May 19th on CD/2xLP/Digital.
Traveling further into the void and beyond the realms of hopelessness and despondency “Horizonless” is a journey destitute of all hope and redemption, one where heartbreak, total death and never ending despair triumphs.
Produced and engineered by Billy Anderson in the band’s hometown of Music City itself, resulting in LOSS’ most majestic sounding work to date, “Horizonless” forges the LOSS’ sound tapestry into a realm more immense and dynamic; heavier, darker, more melancholic, and sorrowful. Where “Despond” laid down that foundation that gave LOSS the reputation as the saddest and bleakest band in the death/doom metal scene, “Horizonless” forges that funeral deathmarch onwards even moreso towards ruin, decay, and utter oblivion.
Featuring guest vocals from Wrest of LEVIATHAN, Stevie Floyd of Taurus/Dark Castle, and Billy Anderson on the closing track “When Death Is All” and featuring artwork from Adam Burke of Nightjar Illustration, track listing for “Horizonless” goes as follows:
1. The Joy Of All Who Sorrow 2. i.o. 3. All Grows On Tears 4. Moved Beyond Murder 5. Naught 6. The End Steps Forth 7. Horizonless 8. Banishment 9. When Death Is All
Posted in Features on January 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Looks like it’s going to be another busy 12 months ahead. It’s been a busy better-part-of-a-month already, so that stands to reason, but you should know that of the several years now that I’ve done these ‘Tomorrow’s Dream’ posts, this is the biggest one yet, with over 150 upcoming releases that — one hopes — will be out between today and the end of 2017.
Actually, at last count, the list tops 180. Do I really expect you to listen to all of them? Nope. Will I? Well, it would be nice. But what I’ve done is gone through and highlighted 35 picks and then built lists off that in order of likelihood of arrival. You’ll note the categories are ‘Gonna Happen and/or Likely Candidates,’ ‘Definitely Could Happen’ and ‘Would be Awfully Nice.’
Beyond that last one, anything else just seems like speculation — one might as well go “new Sabbath this year!” with zero info backing it up. The idea here is that no matter where a given band is placed, there has been some talk of a new release. In some cases, it’s been years, but I think they’re still worth keeping in mind.
Another caveat: You can expect additions to this list over the next week — probably album titles, band names people (fingers crossed) suggest in the comments, and so on — so it will grow. It always does. The idea is to build as complete a document as possible, not to get it all nailed down immediately, so please, if you have something to contribute and you’re able to do so in a non-prickish, “You didn’t include Band X and therefore don’t deserve to breathe the same air as me,” kind of way, please contribute.
Other than that, I think it’s pretty straightforward what’s going on here and I’ll explain the category parameters as we go, so by all means, let’s jump in.
— Tomorrow’s Dream 2017 —
1. Abrahma, TBA
Late last year, Paris heavy progressives Abrahma announced a new lineup and third full-length in progress. No reason to think it won’t come to fruition, and a follow-up to 2015’s Reflections in the Bowels of a Bird (review here) is an easy pick to look forward to. Even with the shift in personnel, it seems likely the band will continue their creative development, driven as they are by founding guitarist Seb Bismuth.
2. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War
If 2017 ended today, Sleeping Through the War would be my Album of the Year. Of course, there’s a lot of year to go, but for now, Nashville’s All Them Witches have set the standard with their second album for New West Records behind 2015’s Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (review here) and fourth overall outing. They’ve got videos up so far for “3-5-7” (posted here) and “Bruce Lee” (posted here). Both are most definitely worth your time. Out Feb. 24. Full review should be later this week.
3. Alunah, Solennial
Seems like UK forest riffers Alunah are on this list every year. Wishful thinking on my part. Nonetheless, their fourth LP and Svart Records debut, Solennial, is out March 17, and if the tease they gave already with the clip for “Fire of Thornborough Henge” (posted here) is anything to go from, its Chris Fielding-produced expanses might just be Alunah‘s most immersive yet.
4. Arbouretum, TBA
I asked the Baltimore folk fuzzers a while back on Thee Facebooks if they had a new record coming in 2017 and they said yes, so that’s what I’m going on here. The last Arbouretum album was 2013’s Coming out of the Fog (review here), and even with frontman Dave Heumann‘s 2015 solo outing, Here in the Deep (review here), factored in, you’d have to say they’re due. Keep an eye on Thrill Jockey for word and I’ll do the same.
5. Atavismo, Inerte
This is another one that already has a spot reserved for it on my Best-of-2017 year-end list. Spanish heavy psych rockers Atavismo up the progressive bliss level with their second full-length, Inerte, without losing the depth of style that made 2014’s Desintegración (review here) so utterly glorious. It probably won’t have the biggest marketing budget of 2017, but if you let Atavismo fly under your radar, you are 100 percent missing out on something special.
6. Bison Machine, TBA
In addition to the video for new track “Cloak and Bones” that premiered here, when Michigan raucousness-purveyors Bison Machine put out the dates for their fall 2016 tour, they included further hints of new material in progress. As much as I dug their earlier-2016 split with SLO and Wild Savages (review here) and 2015’s Hoarfrost (review here), that’s more than enough for me to include them on this list. Killer next-gen heavy rock.
7. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, TBA
News of a follow-up to Brothers of the Sonic Cloth‘s 2015 Neurot Recordings self-titled debut (review here) came through in October, and it remains some of the best news I’ve heard about 2017 doings. Took them a while to get the first record out, so we’ll see what happens, but it kind of feels like looking forward to a comet about to smash into the planet and cause a mass extinction, and by that I mean awesome. Can’t get here soon enough.
8. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kosmic Dust
Okay, so maybe I jumped the gun and did a super-early review of Denver trio Cloud Catcher‘s second long-player and Totem Cat Records debut, Trails of Kosmic Dust, but hell, no regrets. Some albums require an early-warning system. Their 2015 debut, Enlightened Beyond Existence (discussed here), was a gem as well, but this is a band in the process of upping their game on every level, and the songwriting and momentum they hone isn’t to be missed.
9. Colour Haze, TBA
I’ve gotten some details on the upcoming full-length from Colour Haze. They do not include a title, artwork, audio, song titles or general direction. Less details, I guess, than word that the CD version of this answer to 2015’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here) is set to come out next month, as ever, on Elektrohasch. That puts it out in time for Colour Haze‘s upcoming tour with My Sleeping Karma (announced here). Fingers crossed it happens. Colour Haze are perpetual top-albums candidates in my book.
10. Corrosion of Conformity, TBA
Signed to Nuclear Blast after being rejoined by guitarist/vocalist Pepper Keenan, North Carolina’s C.O.C. have been in the studio since last year. The lineup of Keenan, bassist/vocalist Mike Dean and guitarist Woody Weatherman and Reed Mullin on drums is the stuff of legend and last worked together on 2000’s America’s Volume Dealer, so no question this reunion makes for one of 2017’s most anticipated heavy rock records. They nailed the nostalgia factor on tour. Can they now add to their legacy?
11. Elder, TBA
I was incredibly fortunate about a month ago to visit progressive heavy rockers Elder at Sonelab in Easthampton, MA, during the recording process for their upcoming fourth album. I heard a couple of the tracks, and of course it was all raw form, but the movement forward from 2015’s Lore (review here) was palpable. That LP (on Stickman) brought them to a wider audience, and I expect no less from this one as well, since the farther out Elder go sound-wise, the deeper the level of connection with their listeners they seem to engage.
12. Electric Wizard, TBA
Could happen, could not happen. That’s how it goes. Announced for last Halloween. That date came and went. Word of trouble building their own studio surfaced somewhere along the line. That was the last I heard. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it showed up tomorrow, if it showed up in 2018, or if the band broke up and never put it out. They’re Electric Wizard. Anything’s possible.
13. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
Out Jan. 28 on Napalm, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues (review here) is the first-ever acoustic album from former Kyuss frontman John Garcia, also of Unida, the reunited Slo Burn, Hermano, Vista Chino, Zun, etc. — basically the voice of desert rock. He does a couple Kyuss classics for good measure, but shines as well on the new/original tracks, and while it’s a piece for fans more than newcomers — that is, it helps if you know the original version of “Green Machine” — his presence remains as powerful as ever despite this new context.
14. Goya, Harvester of Bongloads
Riffs, dude. Goya seem to have them to spare. The Arizona-based wizard doomers have set a pretty prolific clip for themselves at this point, with at least two short releases out in 2016, one a 7″ of Nirvana covers (review here), and the The Enemy EP (review here). Set for a March 3 release through their own Opoponax Records imprint, Harvester of Bongloads continues the march into the abyss that 2015’s Obelisk (review here) and 2013’s 777 set in motion, finding the band coming more into their own as well. Creative growth — and bongloads! The best of both worlds.
15. Ides of Gemini, TBA
Ides of Gemini are set to record their yet-untitled third album with Sanford Parker early this year, and it will also mark their debut on Rise Above Records upon its release. They’ve also got a new lineup around vocalist Sera Timms and guitarist J. Bennett, so as they look to move forward from 2014’s Old World New Wave (review here), one can’t help but wonder what to expect, but to be honest, not knowing is part of the appeal, especially from a band who so readily specialize in the ethereal.
16. Kind, TBA
Three-fourths of Kind feature elsewhere on this list. Bassist Tom Corino plays in Rozamov. Drummer Matt Couto is in Elder. Vocalist Craig Riggs is in Roadsaw. And for what it’s worth, guitarist Darryl Shepherd has a new band coming together called Test Meat. How likely does that make Kind to release a second LP in 2017? I don’t know, but their 2015 Ripple Music debut, Rocket Science (review here), deserves a follow-up, and I know they’ve demoed some new songs. If it happens, great. If it’s 2018, at least these dudes will be plenty busy besides.
17. Lo-Pan, In Tensions
Yes, Lo-Pan‘s In Tensions (review here) has already been released — CD/LP with an artbook on Aqualamb. It’s out. Limited numbers. You can get it now. Why include it on a list of most anticipated releases? Because that’s how strongly I feel about your need to hear it. The fruit of a shortlived lineup with guitarist Adrian Zambrano, it distinguishes itself from everything they’ve done before in style while still keeping to the core righteousness that one hopes the Ohio outfit will continue to carry forward. It’s more than a stopgap between albums. Listen to it.
18. The Midnight Ghost Train, TBA
It seems to have been a rough ride for hard-boogie specialists The Midnight Ghost Train since their 2015 Napalm debut and third album overall, Cold was the Ground (review here). They’ve never taken it easy on the road or in terms of physicality on stage, and between injuries and who knows what else, their intensity at this point veers toward the directly confrontational. Nonetheless, they’ve been writing for album number four, may or may not have started the recording process, and I expect that confrontationalism to suit them well in their new material.
19. Monster Magnet, TBA
I have it on decent authority that NJ heavy psych innovators Monster Magnet were in the studio this past autumn. I’ve seen no concrete word of a new album in progress from Dave Wyndorf and company, and I wouldn’t necessarily expect to until it was time to start hyping the release, but after their two redux releases, 2015’s Cobras and Fire (review here) and 2014’s Milking the Stars (review here), their range feels broader than ever and I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.
20. Mothership, High Strangeness
A pivotal moment for Mothership arrives with High Strangeness, and the heavy-touring, heavy-riffing Texas power trio seem to know it. Their third record on Ripple Music pushes into new avenues of expression and keeps the energy of 2014’s Mothership II (review here) and 2012’s Mothership (review here), but thus far into their career, it’s been about their potential and what they might accomplish going forward. 2017 might be the year for Mothership to declare a definitive place in the sphere of American heavy rock.
21. The Obsessed, Sacred
On Halloween 2016, founding The Obsessed guitarist/vocalist and doom icon Scott “Wino” Weinrich announced a new lineup for the band, with his former The Hidden Hand bandmate Bruce Falkinburg on bass/vocals, Sara Seraphim on guitar and Brian Costantino continuing on drums. A genuine surprise. Their first album since 1994, Sacred (due on Relapse) was tracked as the trio of Weinrich, Costantino and bassist/vocalist Dave Sherman, but clearly they’ve moved into a new era already. Wouldn’t even guess what the future holds, but hopefully Sacred still comes out.
22. Orange Goblin, TBA
When it was announced that London’s Orange Goblin were picked up by Spinefarm as part of that label’s acquisition of Candlelight Records last Spring, the subheadline from the PR wire was “Working on Ninth Studio Album.” I haven’t heard much since then, but even as 2014’s Back from the Abyss (review here) pushed them deeper into metallic territory than ever before, their songs retained the character that’s made the band the institution they are. Always look forward to new Orange Goblin.
23. Pallbearer, Heartless
Doomers, this is your whole year right here. I haven’t heard Pallbearer‘s third album, Heartless (out March 24 on Profound Lore), but I have to think even those who haven’t yet been won over by the Arkansas four-piece’s emotive, deep-running style have to be curious about what they’ve come up with this time around. I know I am. These guys have been making a mark on the genre since their 2012 debut, Sorrow and Extinction (review here), and there’s little doubt Heartless will continue that thread upon its arrival.
24. Radio Moscow, TBA
Fact: Radio Moscow stand among the best classic heavy rock live acts in the US. They’re the kind of band you can watch upwards of 15 gigs in a row — I’ve done it — and find them putting on a better show night after night, in defiance of science, logic and sobriety. Word of their signing to Century Media came just this past week and brought with it confirmation of a follow-up to 2014’s stellar Magical Dirt (review here), and for me to say hell yes, I’m absolutely on board, seems like the no-brainer to end all no-brainers. Can’t wait.
25. Roadsaw, TBA
Nearly six full years later, it’s only fair to call Boston scene godfathers Roadsaw due for a follow-up to their 2011 self-titled (review here). Granted, members have been busy in Kind, White Dynomite, and other projects, but still. Their upcoming outing finds them on Ripple Music after years under the banner of Small Stone Records, and though I haven’t seen a solid release date yet, my understanding is they hit Mad Oak Studio in Allston, MA, this past fall to track it, so seems likely for sooner or later. Sooner, preferably.
26. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
Speaking of albums by Boston bands a while in the making, This Mortal Road (out March 3 on Battleground Records and Dullest Records) is the debut full-length from Boston atmospheric extremists Rozamov. Haven’t heard it yet, but I got a taste of some of the material when I visited the band at New Alliance Audio in Aug. 2015, and the bleak expanses of what I heard seem primed to turn heads. I’m a fan of these guys, but in addition, they’ve found a niche for themselves sound-wise and I’m curious to hear how they bring it to fruition.
27. Samsara Blues Experiment, TBA
It’s been a pleasure over the last couple months to watch a resurgence of Berlin heavy psych trio Samsara Blues Experiment take shape, first with the announcement of a fourth album in October, then with subsequent confirmations for Desertfest, Riff Ritual in Barcelona, and a South American tour. Reportedly due in Spring, which fits with the timing on shows, etc., the record will follow 2013’s righteous Waiting for the Flood (review here) and as much as I’m looking forward to hearing it, I’m kind of just glad to have these guys back.
28. Seedy Jeezus, TBA
Work finished earlier this month on Melbourne trio Seedy Jeezus‘ second full-length. As with their 2015 self-titled debut, the band brought Tony Reed of Mos Generator to Australia to produce, and after their blissed-out 2016 collaboration with Earthless guitarist Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts (review here), it’s hard not to wonder what experimentalist tendencies might show in the trio’s style this time out, and likewise difficult not to anticipate what guitarist Lex “Mr. Frumpy” Wattereus comes up with for the cover art.
29. Shroud Eater, Strike the Sun
Not to spoil the surprise, but Feb. 1 I’ll host a track premiere from Florida’s Shroud Eater that finds them working in a different context from everything we’ve heard from them to this point in their rightly-celebrated tenure. They also recently had a split out with Dead Hand, and their second long-player, Strike the Sun, will be their debut through STB Records. It’s been since 2011’s ThunderNoise (review here) that we last got a Shroud Eater album, so you bet your ass I’m dying to know what the last six years have wrought.
30. Sleep, TBA
If Sleep were any other band, they’d probably be in the “Would be Awfully Nice” category. But they’re Sleep, so even the thought of a new record is enough to put them here. The lords of all things coated in THC are reissuing their 2014 single, The Clarity (review here), on Southern Lord next month, but rumors have been swirling about a proper album, which of course would be their first since the now-legendary Dopesmoker. If it happens, it’ll automatically be a heavy underground landmark for 2017, but it’s one I’m going to have in my ears before I really believe it.
31. Stoned Jesus, TBA
Even as they tour playing their second album, 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), to mark its fifth anniversary and continued impact, Ukrainian trio Stoned Jesus are forging ahead with a fourth record behind 2015’s The Harvest (review here). The capital-‘q’ Question is whether or not looking back at Seven Thunders Roar and engaging that big-riffing side of their sound will have an impact on the new material, and if so, how it will meld with the push of The Harvest. Won’t speculate, but look forward to finding out.
32. Stubb, TBA
Since reveling in the soul of 2015’s Cry of the Ocean (review here) on Ripple, London trio Stubb have swapped out bassists, and they were in Skyhammer Studio this month recording a single that may be an extended psychedelic jam. I’ll take that happily, but I’m even more intrigued at the prospect of a third LP and what guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist/vocalist Tom Hobson and drummer Tom Fyfe might have in store as the band moves forward on multiple levels. Might be 2017, might not.
33. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us
It Runs around the Room with Us seems to find peace in its resonant experimentalist drones, loops, open, subdued spaces, but there’s always some underlying sense of foreboding to its drift, as if Boise’s Sun Blood Stories could anticipate the moment before it happened. Toward the end of the follow-up to 2015’s Twilight Midnight Morning (review here), they execute the 90-second assault “Burn” and turn serenity to ash. Look for it in April and look for it again on my best of 2017 list in December.
34. Ufomammut, TBA
Any new offering from the Italian cosmic doom magnates is worth looking forward to, and while Ufomammut have left the 15-year mark behind, they’ve never stopped progressing in style and form. To wit, 2015’s Ecate (review here) was a stunner after 2012’s two-part LP, Oro (review here and review here), tightening the approach but assuring the vibe was no less expansive than ever. They started recording last summer, finished mixing in November, so I’m hoping for word of a release date soon.
35. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn
Born out of Creedsmen Arise, whose 2015 demo, Temple (review here), offered formative thrills, Swedish trio Vokonis debuted with last year’s Olde One Ascending (review here) and proved there’s still life in post-Sleep riffing when it’s wielded properly. They signed to Ripple in November and confirmed the title of their sophomore effort as The Sunken Djinn, as well as a reissue for the first album, which will probably arrive first. I don’t know how that will affect the timing on this one, but keep an eye out anyway.
Gonna Happen and/or Likely Candidates
Obviously some of these are more likely than others. Some have solidified, announced release dates — Dopelord‘s out this month, Demon Head‘s out in April, etc. — and others come from social media posts of bands in studios and hints at upcoming releases and so on. A big tell is whether or not a band has an album title with their listing, but even some of those without have their new albums done, like Atala and Royal Thunder, so it’s not necessarily absolute.
Either way, while I’m spending your money, you might want to look into:
36. Against the Grain
39. Attalla, Glacial Rule
40. Ayahuasca Dark Trip, II
42. Beaten Back to Pure
45. Buried Feather, Mind of the Swarm
46. The Clamps
47. Cold Stares
48. Coltsblood, Ascending into the Shimmering Darkness
49. Come to Grief, The Worst of Times EP
51. Cruthu, The Angle of Eternity
52. The Dead-End Alley Band, Storms
53. Dead Witches, Dead Witches
55. Death Alley, Live at Roadburn
56. Demon Head, Thunder on the Fields
57. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
58. Devil Electric
59. Doctor Cyclops, Local Dogs
60. Dool, Here Now There Then
61. Dopelord, Children of the Haze
62. Doublestone, Devil’s Own/Djævlens Egn
63. Dread Sovereign, For Doom the Bell Tolls
64. Drive by Wire
65. Elbrus, Elbrus
66. Electric Age
67. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals
68. Endless Floods, II
69. Five Horse Johnson
70. Forming the Void, Relic
71. Funeral Horse
73. Green Desert Water
75. Grifter / Suns of Thunder, Split
76. Hair of the Dog, This World Turns
77. Heavy Temple, Chassit
78. Here Lies Man, Here Lies Man
79. Hollow Leg, Murder EP
80. Holy Mount, The Drought
81. Hooded Menace
82. Horisont, About Time
83. Hymn, Perish
84. Lecherous Gaze
85. Magnet, Feel Your Fire
87. Merlin, The Wizard
89. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream
90. Mirror Queen
91. Moonbow, War Bear
92. Mos Generator
93. The Moth
95. Mouth, Vortex
96. My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
99. PH, Eternal Hayden
100. Psychedelic Witchcraft, Magick Rites and Spells
101. Royal Thunder
102. Saturn, Beyond Spectra
103. Season of Arrows, Give it to the Mountain
104. Siena Root
105. Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
106. Six Sigma, Tuxedo Brown
108. The Sonic Dawn, Into the Long Night
110. Spidergawd, IV
112. Stinking Lizaveta, Journey to the Underworld
113. Sula Bassana, Organ Accumulator
115. Sun Voyager, Sun Voyager
116. Sweat Lodge, Tokens for Hell EP
117. Thera Roya, Stone and Skin
119. Troubled Horse, Revelation on Repeat
120. VA, Brown Acid The Third Trip
122. Youngblood Supercult, The Great American Death Rattle
Definitely Could Happen
Maybe a recording process is upcoming (Gozu, Cities of Mars, YOB), or a band is looking for a label (The Flying Eyes), or they’ve said new stuff is in the works but the circumstances of an actual release aren’t known (Arc of Ascent, Dead Meadow, High on Fire), or I’ve just seen rumors of their hitting the studio (Freedom Hawk, La Chinga, Ruby the Hatchet). We’ve entered the realm of the entirely possible but not 100 percent.
So, you know, life.
123. The Age of Truth
124. Ape Machine
125. Arc of Ascent
126. At Devil Dirt
131. La Chinga
132. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters
133. Cities of Mars
134. Crypt Sermon
135. Dead Meadow
136. Death Alley (Studio LP)
137. Dee Calhoun
138. Destroyer of Light
140. Devil Worshipper
144. Electric Moon
145. Elephant Tree
147. The Flying Eyes
148. Freedom Hawk
150. The Great Electric Quest
151. Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun
152. High on Fire
154. Insect Ark
155. In the Company of Serpents
156. Iron Monkey
157. Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus
158. The Judge
159. Killer Boogie
160. King Dead
161. The Kings of Frog Island
162. Lords of Beacon House, Recreational Sorcery
164. Mondo Drag
166. Mountain God
167. The Munsens
169. Never Got Caught
175. Purple Hill Witch
176. Ruby the Hatchet
178. Satan’s Satyrs
179. Serpents of Secrecy
181. Shooting Guns
182. Sleepy Sun
183. Slow Season
184. Snowy Dunes, Atlantis
185. Spectral Haze
186. The Sweet Heat
187. Switchblade Jesus
191. Zone Six
Would be Awfully Nice
This last category is basically as close as I’m willing to come to rampant speculation. Endless Boogie have hinted at new material, and Queens of the Stone Age have talked about hitting the studio for the last two years. There were rumors about Om, and though Kings Destroy just put out an EP, they have new songs as well, though I doubt we’ll hear them before the end of 2017. I’ll admit that Across Tundras, Fever Dog, Lord Fowl, Lowrider and Hour of 13 are just wishful thinking on my part. A boy can hope:
192. Across Tundras
194. Elephant Tree
195. Endless Boogie
196. Fever Dog
197. Fu Manchu
198. Halfway to Gone
199. Hour of 13
201. Kings Destroy
202. Lord Fowl
204. Masters of Reality
207. Queens of the Stone Age
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. Whatever this year brings, I hope it’s been great so far for you and I hope it continues to be so as we proceed inexorably to 2018 and all the also-futuristic-sounding numbers thereafter. At least we know we’ll have plenty of good music to keep us company on that voyage.
As always, comments section is open if there’s anything I’ve left out. I’m happy to add, adjust, etc., as need be, so really, have at it, and thanks in advance.
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 5th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Particulars have begun to surface regarding Pallbearer‘s third album, Heartless. Art and tracks — you know the drill. First there was the album announcement last month, and now we have the cover and tracklisting. Soon audio premieres will start through the broader media websites, who’ll pad their underground cred by celebrating a doom band while exposing the Arkansas four-piece to a wider public; win-win. Let’s say three songs out one at a time and then a full-album stream? Then more tour dates once the record’s out March 24 via Profound Lore, because as ever, one can expect Pallbearer to bust their collective ass on the road, and maybe a video or something like that. Then tour tour tour and that’s how it is. Like I said, you know the drill. It’s the modern album cycle. Half of you are in one part of it or another, I’d wager.
And nothing against it. Pallbearer’s Heartless will no doubt be one of 2017’s biggest releases in doom and likely under the wider sphere of metal as a whole. They’re due for that kind of ascent. So only right it should be done up with maximum ceremony. The PR wire explains why:
PALLBEARER UNVEIL DETAILS FOR THEIR HEARTLESS LP, DUE OUT MARCH 24th FROM PROFOUND LORE
Progressive doom giants Pallbearer have returned with their third album: a 7-song collection of monumental rock music titled Heartless, which will be released March 24th from Profound Lore in North America (in Europe from Nuclear Blast Entertainment). Pallbearer recorded Heartless on analog tape at Fellowship Hall Sound in their hometown of Little Rock, AR, and mixed it with Joe Barresi (Queens of the Stone Age, Tool, Melvins, Soundgarden) in summer of 2016. The end result is an album grander in scope than anything they’ve released prior, showcasing a natural progression that melds higher technicality and more ambitious structures with Pallbearer’s most immediate hooks to date.
On Heartless, Pallbearer offer a complex sonic architecture that weaves together the spacious exploratory elements of classic prog, the raw anthemics of 90’s alt-rock, and stretches of black-lit proto-metal. Lyrics about mortality, life, and love are set to sharp melodies and pristine three-part harmonies. Vocalist and guitarist Brett Campbell has always been a strong, assured singer, and on Heartless, his work is especially stunning. Written by Campbell and bassist/secondary vocalist Joseph D Rowland, the words have moved from the metaphysical to something more grounded. As the group explains: “Instead of staring into to the void—both above and within—Heartless concentrates its power on a grim reality. Our lives, our homes and our world are all plumbing the depths of utter darkness, as we seek to find any shred of hope we can.”
By fusing their widest musical palette to date, Pallbearer make the kind of heavy rock that will appeal to diehards, but could also find the group crossing over into newer territories and fanbases. After having helped revitalize doom metal, it almost feels like they’ve gone and set their sights on rock and roll itself. Which doesn’t seem at all impossible on the back of a record like Heartless.
See Pallbearer on tour in support of Heartless in February and March (dates below with more to surface) and look for song premieres, pre-orders and more information from Profound Lore to be posted soon.
Heartless, track listing: 1. I Saw the End 2. Thorns 3. Lie of Survival 4. Dancing in Madness 5. Cruel Road 6. Heartless 7. A Plea for Understanding
Pallbearer is: Brett Campbell – guitar, vocals Devin Holt – guitar, vocals Mark Lierly – drums Joseph D. Rowland – bass, vocals
PALLBEARER, ON TOUR: February 25 Austin, TX @ Barracuda * March 22 Little Rock, AR @ Revolution Music Room March 23 Nashville, TN @ The End March 25 Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg March 28 Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop March 29 Grand Rapids, MI @ Pyramid Scheme March 31 Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall * w/ The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Posted in Reviews on December 30th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
We press on with the Quarterly Review and writeups #41-50 of the total 60 to be featured. Some considerable names in this batch, as I suppose there have been all along, but one of the functions this feature has come to serve is to allow me a space to offer some comment on bigger records that, let’s be frank, are being covered everywhere in the universe, while fleshing out coverage elsewhere of things like bands’ debuts and some other less-ubiquitous offerings. That’s become the idea anyway. Doesn’t always go like that, but it’s kind of a relief to have somewhere I can put the extra 200 reviews per year rather than miss out. We’ll wrap this one up on Monday, but just because it’s the end of the week and because it’s my general sentiment, thanks for reading.
Quarterly Review #41-50:
40 Watt Sun, Wider than the Sky
With their second album, the awaited Wider than the Sky, London’s 40 Watt Sun continue to be defined by their depressive expressionism. The six-track/62-minute follow-up to 2011’s The Inside Room (review here) finds guitarist/vocalist Patrick Walker (ex-Warning), bassist William Spong and drummer Christian Leitch opening with the longest inclusion (immediate points) in the gorgeously mournful 16-minute unfolding of “Stages.” Sonically lush but still somehow raw and minimal in its emotionality, a slow drear sets the tone for what will follow in “Beyond You” and “Another Room,” “Pictures and “Craven Road,” which alternate on either side of the 10-minute mark until closer “Marazion” (3:57) seems to resonate a less-hopeless spirit. More than The Inside Room, Wider than the Sky realizes itself in emotional rather than tonal weight, and while one often identifies these feelings with things cold and grey, it would require a willful blindness not to recognize the humanity and warmth coming through in Walker’s delivery of this material. Wide it may be, but not at all distant.
The duality of Worm Ouroboros’ third album for Profound Lore, What Graceless Dawn, is almost as prevalent as the irony that its title should include the word “graceless” when the 63-minute six-tracker itself is so melodically poised. It’s dark, but hopeful, spacious and compact, challenging but simply and often minimally arranged, patient and emotionally intense, and heavy even as it seems to float from one extended piece to the next on a current of intertwining, nigh-operatic vocals from bassist Lorraine Rath (ex-Amber Asylum) and guitarist Jessica Way (World Eater) while Aesop Dekker (Agalloch, Vhöl) seems just as comfortable in the quiet midsection stretch of 13-minute centerpiece “Ribbon of Shadow” as in the rumbling payoff of “Suffering Tree” just before. Running from opener “Day” to closer “Night,” What Graceless Dawn is nothing if not coherent, and while the band’s core approach has been largely consistent across their 2010 self-titled debut (review here) and 2012’s Come the Thaw, the Bay Area trio maintain a clear commitment to forward-moving artistry that stirs the consciousness.
I was fortunate enough to be there when UK heavy psych legends The Heads played the Main Stage set at Roadburn 2015 captured on the Burning World Records release Burning up With…, and indeed the preservation of the band’s utter liquefaction of that large room is well worth preserving across the four sides of a double-LP. The only drawback to a vinyl version of their set is that while the individual songs are presented as side-consuming medleys – “Cardinal Fuzz/KRT,” “Gnu/Legevaan Sattelite/U33,” and so on – that still requires some measure of break to flip from one to the next, whereas in the all-at-once linearity of a CD or digital listen, one finds the overwhelming lysergic proceedings intact as they were from the stage, gloriously molten and entrancingly jammed out by the longtime masters of the form. I won’t even attempt to give its spaciousness a proper assessment since just about anything The Heads do is a gift defying impartiality, especially something like this, but yeah, get on it.
Back in 2010, Dead Meadow frontman Jason Simon released an eponymous solo debut on Tee Pee that found him working in a folkish sphere, and his six-years-later follow-up, Familiar Haunts (on Tekeli-Li, Cardinal Fuzz, Burger Records and Blind Blind Tiger), has some of those elements as well on the twanging, finger-plucking “Pretty Polly” and subdued strum of “Seven Sisters of Sleep,” but Simon has also assembled a four-piece band here, and from the pickup of opener “The People Dance, the People Sing,” through the fuzz experimentalism of “Now I’m Telling You” and the airy linear build of the penultimate 11-minute highlight “Wheels Will Spin,” there’s no lack of fullness in the sound. One finds a particularly engaging blend on “Hills of Mexico,” a six-minute rambler that fluidly brings together neofolk and desert ambience, though as Simon and company play sounds off each other in this material, “engaging blend” would seem to be the underlying theme of Familiar Haunts as a whole.
Over a decade removed from their 2006 self-titled debut and five years past their third album, 2011’s Hemisphere of Shadows, one might easily argue that Portland, Oregon’s Danava are due for a full-length release. Sure, the band led by guitarist/vocalist Gregory Meleny have toured plenty in that time in the US and abroad, put out splits and so on, and that has consistently and organically grown their fanbase. Sating that fanbase would seem to be the motivation behind the two-song 7” At Midnight You Die (on Tee Pee), on which the titular A-side finds the four-piece making the most of their dual guitars – Meleny and Pete Hughes (Sons of Huns) shredding in proto-NWOBHM fashion – while the B-side takes on the bizarre and foreboding folk ambience of “My Spirit Runs Free,” short at three minutes, acoustic and sourced from 1979’s The Capture of Bigfoot. So yeah, it’s like that. No new record, but a ripper and some delightful weirdness on hand, and I suspect at this point many of their followers will take what they can get.
Some bands are just on their own wavelength, and as much as one might be tempted to relate Sevilla’s Pylar to SunnO))) with their robes and their drones, the Spanish troupe’s four-track full-length, Pyedra (on Alone Records), sees them emitting a slew of horrors all their own. Working as a five-piece, Pylar open with “Menga” (10:57), their longest cut (immediate points) and establish a basis of amelodic, largely arrhythmic noise-jazz. There are more straightforward currents in the subsequent rumble and roll of “Megalitos” (10:33), and “Menhir” (9:37) would seem to draw both sides together before “Meteoros” (9:07) rounds out with an airy, horn-topped alternate-universe victory, but the whole of Pyedra remains informed by the way-off-kilter challenge it poses at the outset, and part of the thrill is making your way through with no idea of what’s coming next other than another extended song beginning with the letter ‘m.’ Will be too much for some, but Pylar’s bleak experimentalism assures cultish appeal worthy of those robes the band wears.
Proliferating a combination of speaker-punishing low-end riffs and post-rock-derived spaciousness, Swedish trio Domkraft debut on Magnetic Eye Records with the wholesale immersion of The End of Electricity and evoke heft no less substantial than their stated theme. They begin with their two longest tracks (which I guess is double points?) in “The Rift” and “Meltdown of the Orb,” and by the time they’re through them, bassist/vocalist Martin Wegeland, guitarist Martin Widholm and drummer Anders Dahlgren have already doled out a full LP’s worth of nod, which would seem to make what follows after the momentary breather of “Drones” in “Red Lead,” “All Come Hither” the shorter “Dustrider” and closer “We Will Follow” a bonus round – in which Domkraft also dominate. Because its heavy is so heavy and because Wegeland’s vocals arrive across the board as far-back, shouted echoes, it’s easy to lose sight of the ambience that goes with all that roll, but what ultimately gives The End of Electricity such character is that it creates as much of a world as it destroys.
Back in 2013, Buenos Aires outfit Picaporters made an encouraging debut with Elefantes (review here). They’ve teased the follow-up, El Horror Oculto (on South American Sludge), over the last year-plus with several digital singles, but the album’s arrival hits with a distinct fleshing out of atmosphere, as heard on the grueling second cut “Diferentes Formas de Ostras” or the manner in which the centerpiece title-track departs from its raucous opening into a heavy-psychedelic meander, never to return, feeding off of the structure of “Humo Ancestral” directly before. An interlude “Etude 6” leads into the opening drift of “Ra,” but it’s a ruse as Picaporters offer some of the album’s most driving heavy rock in that cut’s second half, and close out with Sabbath-darkness-via-Zeppelin-noodling on “War is Over,” the trio coming together in a molten psychedelic doom that seems to draw from the various sides they’ve shown throughout without losing sight of pushing further in its summary.
It would be a mistake to judge Deamon’s Child’s second full-length, Scherben Müssen Sein (on Zygmatron), by any single one of its tracks, as the German trio makes plain in the dramatic shift from the crushing sludge of “Zucker” into the raw punk thrust of the subsequent “Keine Zeit.” Elsewhere, they find funky footing before punking out once again in “Schweinehund, Kimm Tanz Mit Mir!” and rumble the outing to a finish consuming in its largesse on the 10-minute “Nichts,” so yes, as they follow-up their 2014 self-titled debut (review here), Deamon’s Child hold fast to the sense of the unhinged proffered therein while uniting their material through an intensity that comes across regardless of tempo or surrounding purpose. They are on the beat, not behind it, pushing forward always. That can make Scherben Müssen Sein difficult to keep track of as it moves swiftly through the blast of “Monster” and the manipulated samples of “In Kinderschuhen” toward that finale, but the mission here is far, far away from easy listening, so all the better.
Adansonia Records offers a bonus-track-laden revisit of the 2011 debut release, Bardo Abgrund Temple, from Seattle shroom-jammers Fungal Abyss, whose improvisational sensibility comes through the original four extended cuts with no diminishing of their otherworldly trip-out for the half-decade that’s passed since they first surfaced. Those looking for a US counterpart to European psych-improv outfits like Electric Moon or Øresund Space Collective – i.e., me – would do well to dig into opener “Arc of the Covenant” (20:12) or closer “Fungal DeBrist” (24:07) as a lead-in for the earlier-2016 follow-up, Karma Suture (review here), as well as their companion live outings, but whatever contextual approach a listener might want to take, the instrumental stretch of Bardo Abgrund Temple is a serenely heavy and meandering path to walk, given to bouts of space-rock thrust and long passages of low-end droner nod, as heard on the 10-minute “Timewave Zero,” turned on and duly ritualized in its swirl and far-off vocalizations. A reissue well-earned of a gracefully cosmic debut.
Consider this your usual disclaimer that, like any of this site’s coverage of year-end whatnottery, this podcast is by no means attempting to capture all of 2016’s best tracks. It is, however, over four hours long, and frankly that seems like enough to ask. If you decide to take it on and sample what I found to be some of the best material to come down the line over the last 12 months, please know you have my thanks in advance. For what it’s worth, it was a lot of fun to put together, and that’s not always the case with these.
But about the length. I’ve done double-sized year-end specials for a while now. It’s always just seemed a fair way to go. And the last few at least have been posted the week of the Xmas holiday as well, which for me is of dual significance since it just so happens four hours is right about what it takes to drive from where I live to where my family lives, so when I look at this massive slew of 34 acts, from the riff-led righteousness of Wo Fat and Curse the Son to the crush of Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and SubRosa to the psychedelic reaches of Zun and Øresund Space Collective (who probably show up in podcasts more than anyone, oddly enough), I also think of going to see my family, which has become my favorite part of the holidays.
Whatever associations you might draw with it, I very much hope you enjoy listening. Thanks for taking the time.
Track details follow:
0:00:00 Wo Fat, “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind” from Midnight Cometh
0:09:35 Greenleaf, “Howl” from Rise Above the Meadow
0:14:57 Elephant Tree, “Aphotic Blues” from Elephant Tree
0:20:49 Brant Bjork, “The Gree Heen” from Tao of the Devil
0:26:27 Sergio Ch., “El Herrero” from Aurora
0:29:44 Child, “Blue Side of the Collar” from Blueside
0:35:31 Geezer, “Bi-Polar Vortex” from Geezer
0:43:59 Zun, “Come Through the Water” from Burial Sunrise
0:49:27 Baby Woodrose, “Mind Control Machine” from Freedom
0:54:11 Curse the Son, “Hull Crush Depth” from Isolator
0:59:31 Borracho, “Shot down, Banged up, Fade Away” from Atacama
1:05:50 Scissorfight, “Nature’s Cruelest Mistake” from Chaos County
1:09:19 Truckfighters, “The Contract” from V
1:16:30 Spidergawd, “El Corazon del Sol” from III
1:21:24 Fatso Jetson, “Royal Family” from Idle Hands
1:26:13 Worshipper, “Step Behind” from Shadow Hymns
1:30:57 Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, “Y Proffwyd Dwyll” from Y Proffwyd Dwyll
1:39:42 Druglord, “Regret to Dismember” from Deepest Regrets
1:46:34 Moon Coven, “New Season” from Moon Coven
1:52:03 Gozu, “Tin Chicken” from Revival
1:59:49 Year of the Cobra, “Vision of Three” from …In the Shadows Below
2:06:53 The Munsens, “Abbey Rose” from Abbey Rose
2:14:56 Lamp of the Universe, “Mu” from Hidden Knowledge
2:21:26 1000mods, “On a Stone” from Repeated Exposure To…
2:26:45 Church of the Cosmic Skull, “Watch it Grow” from Is Satan Real?
2:30:43 Vokonis, “Acid Pilgrim” from Olde One Ascending
2:37:35 Slomatics, “Electric Breath” from Future Echo Returns
2:43:02 Droids Attack, “Sci-Fi or Die” from Sci-Fi or Die
2:47:20 King Buffalo, “Drinking from the River Rising” from Orion
2:56:51 Comet Control, “Artificial Light” from Center of the Maze
3:06:37 Øresund Space Collective, “Above the Corner” from Visions Of…
3:22:51 Naxatras, “Garden of the Senses” from II
3:33:14 SubRosa, “Black Majesty” from For this We Fought the Battle of Ages
3:48:23 Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, “Escape Through the Rift” from Tranquonauts
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, Neurosis‘ Fires 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Che, Vista 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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.