Review & Track Premiere: Svvamp, Svvamp 2

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

svvamp svvamp 2

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Hillside’ from Svvamp’s new album, Svvamp 2, out June 8 on RidingEasy Records and available now to preorder.]

The soothing effect of the 42-second intro to Svvamp 2 is immediate, and from there, the Swedish trio of vocalist/guitarist Henrik Bjorklund, vocalist/bassist Erik Stahlgren and vocalist/drummer Adam Johansson present a run of pointedly classic-vibing heavy rock and roll. They made something of an understated self-titled debut (review here) in 2016, catching ears among the converted and reaping praise for their endearing sonic naturalism. That theme very much continues on Svvamp 2, which moves from its introduction into the heavier-riffed highlight “Queen” and the blues-rolling “The Wheel,” with the first of several vocalist switches working subtly to add variety and texture to the straightforward songwriting and traditionalist, vintage spirit of the recording.

While the groups who arguably led the charge for recrafting heavy ’70s sonic warmth — fellow Swedes like Witchcraft, Graveyard, Burning Saviours, etc. — have moved on toward more modern aesthetics, Svvamp hold firm to the tenets of the subgenre while proving there’s still new ground to cover, as the poppy, soul-derived bounce of “Sunshine Street” demonstrates, the fuzz subtle and the drums spacious like they were beamed straight in from 1969, and the subsequent “How Sweet Would it Be” only reinforces this notion, like a lost studio cut from the Get Back sessions, the guitars leading the easy groove punctuated by steady, languid cymbal timekeeping. Semi-harmonized vocal melodies evoke the sweetness in the title without losing the effectiveness of the hook that emerges: “Oh, out in the country/Me and my baby/We’re gonna be so damn free now.”

It is the fodder of humid summer singalongs, and much to their credit, they make you believe it. Plenty of vintage bands have popped up in the wake of the likes of Kadavar, Blues Pills, and so on, and attempted to capture heavy blues lightning in a psychedelic bottle. Well, Svvamp may be reverse-engineering innovation, but whatever they might be doing throughout their second album, their heart is in it, from the chorus of “Queen” through Stahlgren‘s bassline in (presumed) side B opener “Hillside” and on to closer “Alligater” (sic), the expression remains genuine and the swing remains a fervent, crucial factor. With a current running through it of analog synth or effects, “Surrender” nonetheless mirrors the fluidity of “The Wheel” earlier, and while the “beep-boop-beep” might seem a little out of place among all the focus on organic elements and execution, it’s ultimately the latter that win out in the song.

svvamp

To follow side A/B symmetry as they have so far, Svvamp should be dipping into more soulful fare à la “Sunshine Street” with “Out of Line,” but they change the script and instead offer a swaggering bounce and riff-forward groove, a touch of wah worked into a midsection that seems to layer its guitar solo across both left and right channels. More akin to “Queen” and “Hillside” for its rhythm and good-time rocking feel, “Out of Line” caps with another call and response solo — maybe in three layers? — on a long fadeout and gives way to the acoustic penultimate cut “Blues Inside,” the shortest inclusion on Svvamp 2 save for “Intro,” and a quiet reflective moment before “Alligater” taps Blue Cheer for the most raucous stretch on the album to close.

Once again, Svvamp find themselves nestled into heavy blues, but “Alligater” is more blown out on the whole and more of a wash than any of its rocking predecessors on Svvamp 2, and the crashing, the layers of fuzz, the rumble beneath all come together to give a sense of the kind of party the trio can hone when the mood strikes. I wouldn’t exactly call the record subtle in its purposes, but Svvamp 2 does build on the debut’s accomplishments, and for all the changes in singer and approach it presents throughout its 35 minutes, the flow remains consistent across the span, and perhaps the band’s greatest strength lies in their utter lack of pretense. While some in a vintage mindset have attempted to capture a progressive feel and met with varying degrees of success, by keeping their material outwardly simple, catchy and friendly, JohanssonStahlgren and Bjorklund are able to give their audience something to latch onto without an overdose of self-indulgence or a departure from their core purpose.

Apart perhaps from “Intro” and “Blues Inside” — and mostly for length in the case of the latter — there isn’t one song between “Queen,” “The Wheel,” “Sunshine Street,” “How Sweet it Would Be,” “Hillside,” “Surrender,” “Out of Line” and “Alligater” that wouldn’t work as a 45RPM single, its paper sleeve crinkled and found in some dusty record shop bin like so much buried treasure. And though they may be looking back aesthetically in terms of finding their points of inspiration in classic heavy rock circa 1968-’72, they’re also pushing themselves forward as songwriters and stewards of this sonic legacy. They wield it better than most, and on Svvamp 2 they demonstrate plainly that even something so plainly tied to a specific era can also sound timeless.

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Here Lies Man to Release You Will Know Nothing June 15; New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Last year, Los Angeles’ Here Lies Man offered up one of the most individualized releases in underground heavy with their self-titled debut (review here). Issued through RidingEasy Records and following sonic thesis of combining heavy psychedelic rock with Afrobeat influences, it struck immediately with more than just aural novelty; the songs were there, the performances were there, the presence was there. It was, in short, the real deal.

I’m somewhat surprised at the quick turnaround that You Will Know Nothing — out June 15 once again on RidingEasy — represents, but the new streaming track “Fighting” that you can hear at the bottom of this post bodes well and no doubt there will be more to come before the album actually arrives. The band in the meantime will be touring alongside Earthless and if there’s any kind of order to the universe at all, they’ll get together and jam just a little bit on stage. Just a little bit would be awesome. Only two hours or so.

Ha.

The PR wire has particulars on You Will Know Nothing that you’ll find right beneath the cover art:

Here Lies Man You Will Know Nothing

Here Lies Man announce new album You Will Know Nothing

Los Angeles quintet Here Lies Man announce their forthcoming sophomore album today, sharing the first single “Fighting” via Bandcamp and YouTube. The album, You Will Know Nothing will be released June 15th via RidingEasy Records.

Here Lies Man play the prestigious Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona, Spain in May before hitting the road with Earthless in June. Later in Fall, the band hits the massive Desert Daze festival in Southern California. Please see current dates below.

Here Lies Man took the music world by storm in 2017 with their self-titled debut positing the intriguing hypothesis: What if Black Sabbath played Afrobeat?

This June, the L.A. band comprised of Antibalas members quickly follow their auspicious debut with the even more thoroughly realized album You Will Know Nothing. Its 11 tracks expand upon the band’s exploration of heavy riff-based rock and psych within the ancient rhythmic formula of the clave.

“We’re very conscious of how the rhythms service the riffs,” explains founder and vocalist/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Marcos Garcia (who also plays guitar in Antibalas) of the band’s sound. “Tony Iommi’s (Black Sabbath) innovation was to make the riff the organizing principle of a song. We are taking that same approach but employing a different organizing principle: For Iommi it was the blues, for us it comes directly from Africa.”

Sonically, on You Will Know Nothing the dynamic range is thicker, crisper and more powerful. It glistens as much as it blasts. The songs are even catchier, more anthemic, and the production reflects that of a band truly come into its own. Lyrically, it’s an equally more conceptualized effort that reflects upon states of being and consciousness – a driving force that carries throughout the words and moods of all of the band’s releases, interconnected to their trancelike music. Here Lies Man have honed their sound and their focus, and soon, you will truly know Nothing.

“We wanted to go deeper with the sonic experience,” says Garcia. “Even though it sounds more hi-fi than the first record, it was important that it didn’t sound too polished.”

While You Will Know Nothing certainly maintains its gritty grooves, there’s an interesting conceptual mathematics to the entire proceedings. “There are interludes between each song that are 2/3 to 3/4 of the tempo of the previous song,” Garcia says. “The reason it breaks down to 2 over 3 or 3 over 4 is that everything in the music rhythmically corresponds to a set of mathematical algorithms known as the clave. The clave is an ancient organizing rhythmic principle developed in Africa.”

“We dove deep into the texture of the music, beyond the groove and the riff,” says HLM cofounder and drummer Geoff Mann (former Antibalas drummer and son of jazz musician Herbie Mann.) “Although something might sound like one instrument, there are subtle layers shifting through. It’s definitely a headphone album.”

Garcia and Mann recorded the album much like they did the debut, at their own L.A. studio on a Tascam 388 8-track tape machine. Congas were later recorded by percussionists Richard Panta and Reinaldo DeJesus. Then, Garcia went to NY to record interludes with former Antibalas keyboardist Victor Axelrod. Mixing took the most time in order to find the proper sonic space for each layer of musical detail, with first album engineer Jeremy Page mixing the drums and the band tackling the remainder while also juggling a hectic touring schedule.

Here Lies Man has already spent much of early 2018 on tour, with dates supporting Antibalas and Fu Manchu as well as a headlining trek through the EU & UK. Many summer festival dates and headline tours await later in the year as Here Lies Man continues its infectious charge onward.

You Will Know Nothing will be available on LP, CD and download on June 15th, 2018 via RidingEasy Records.

HERE LIES MAN LIVE 2018:
05/31 Barcelona, ES @ Primavera Sound Festival
06/05 Asheville, NC @ Mothlight *
06/06 Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade *
06/07 Spartansburg, SC @ Ground Zero *
06/08 Orlando, FL @ Wills Pub *
06/09 Tallahassee, FL @ The Wilbury *
06/10 Baton Rouge, LA @ Spanish Moon *
06/12 Houston, TX @ White Oak Upstairs *
06/13 Austin, TX @ Barracuda *
06/14 Ft Worth, TX @ Ridgela Room *
06/15 Memphis, TN @ Growlers *
10/12-14 Lake Perris, CA @ Desert Daze 2018
* w/ Earthless

Artist: Here Lies Man
Album: You Will Know Nothing
Label: RidingEasy Records
Release Date: June 15th, 2018

01. Animal Noises
02. Summon Fire
03. Blindness
04. That Much Closer
05. Hell (Wooly Tail)
06. Voices At The Window
07. Taking the Blame
08. Fighting
09. Floating On Water
10. Memory Games
11. You Ought To Know

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hereliesman.bandcamp.com
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Here Lies Man, “Fighting”

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Review & Track Premiere: BlackWater HolyLight, BlackWater HolyLight

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

blackwater holylight blackwater holylight

[Click play above to stream ‘Wave of Conscience’ from BlackWater HolyLight’s self-titled debut. Album is out April 6 via RidingEasy Records and available to preorder here.]

With headphone-ready psychedelic immersion, dreamscape melodicism and an approach to pop hooks so completely unafraid it’s enough to make you forget you were wondering just what the hell their moniker is all about, Portland, Oregon’s Blackwater Holylight (also stylized as BlackWater HolyLight make their self-titled debut via respected West Coast purveyor RidingEasy Records. I’ll say flat out that it’s one of the best heavy psych debut albums you’ll hear in 2018, and perhaps the finest melding of indie and heavy-fuzz impulses on a first record since Witch‘s Witch in 2006.

At least perhaps for those at some geographical remove from the crowded Portland underground, BlackWater HolyLight might strike as having come out of the blue, but with vocalist/bassist Allison Faris as the apparent driving force behind the project with crucial contributions from her bandmates guitarist/vocalist Laura Hopkins (oh the fuzz, oh the harmonies!), drummer Cat Hoch (oh the echoing crash cymbal) and synth player Sarah Mckenna (oh the fuzz-bolstering progressive flourish), they hardly sound like a “new band” at all, instead having a clarity of intent that’s almost ironic even as it underpins the tonal murk and haze of “Slow Hole,” the longest cut on BlackWater HolyLight at 6:56 and a a stonerly highlight that seems to get high and wander off from some of the more lucid (relatively speaking) fare surrounding, whether it’s the key-heavy-into-riff-heavy brook-no-refusal groove of “Sunshine” before it or the drum-led bounce of “Carry Her” after, which delves into post-Queens of the Stone Age guitar-plunge antics before fuller fuzz takes hold and the four-minute song becomes a drifting horror show — that cuts back to its verse just before staring the last minute as though the whole thing never happened which, really, who the hell knows at that point. You could convince me either way.

It would seem to be Faris‘ band across these eight tracks and 41 minutes, and fair enough for that, but as the guitar and drums roll open the harmoony-topped intro to opener “Willow,” the real story of BlacKWater HolyLight still awaits telling. Faris‘ bass creates a tension in the midsection of the song, but the second half that follows, the payoff is as much driven by the underlying key work of Mckenna as Faris‘ creative fills or the echo-drenched solo from Hopkins. Ending with some swirl, tape loop noise and laughter, immediately, “Willow” sets a multifaceted dynamic for the band to follow, and follow it they do throughout the subsequent seven tracks, bending the balance of their sound to one side or another to suit their whims and those of their already-so-cogent songcraft.

Second track “Wave of Conscience,” bringing its verse/chorus approach to the forefront along with organ an guitar interplay and one of the record’s most memorable hooks, serves as a pointed highlight and an easy source point for the Witch comparison above, though when it comes right to it, BlackWater HolyLight bring more to the proceedings in terms of melody, and when they hit into a nod-nod-nod slowdown after about two and a half minutes in, the affect is all their own, gradually picking up speed again to lead into the subtle low end beginning of “Babies,” which has a kind of playfully spooky New Wave sensibility in its pointed snare hits and chorus keyboard declinations, still complemented by a deep-running fuzz in Hopkins‘. “Babies” is both toying with femininity in heavy rock and critical, but like its predecessor, wildly catchy and even more fun. No surprise then that with the subsequent “Paranoia,” the mood shifts to more brooding shoe-haze, a linear build that plays out over the course of an efficient four minutes and closes out side A with due wash of tonal reverie and residual keyboard notes.

blackwater holylight

Though it seems to establish such a wide breadth, “Sunshine” sill doesn’t reach the five-minute mark, an early guitar ringout foreshadowing the highlight riffing to come while the keyboard, bass and drums seem to bounce along through the first two verses as though blissfully unaware of what lurks around the corner. Soon enough that darker guitar returns and at 2:17 into its 4:51, the track turns itself over to this wall of fuzz, which unveils a standout riff for both the track and for BlackWater Holylight as a whole; the kind of riff of which Acid King would be proud. They cycle through again and end, naturally, on that riff, fading away to let slow stick clicks from Hoch begin the low-end roll and rumble of “Slow Hole,” which is singularly hypnotic compared to its surroundings.

Even as far out as closer “Jizz Witch” seems to unfold in its languid meandering, it’s got nothing on “Slow Hole,” the bass fuzz of which consumes outright while the quiet melodies echo through in a fashion that would make Mars Red Sky jealous. The ending is sudden and with an uptempo — again, almost New Wave — beat, “Carry Her” is clearly meant to snap the listener back at least nearer to reality. I’m not sure it does, even as harsher guitar feedback becomes such a key component of its hook alongside the keys/organ. A dose of purposeful weirdness echoes some of the playful aspect of “Babies,” but there’s a creepy undertone here as well, as a slowdown in the second half bridge seems like it’s about to derail the song entirely heading toward the final minute.

To BlackWater HolyLight‘s credit, it doesn’t, and they return to the verse and chorus as suddenly as they got there the first time around, fading amp noise leading into the subdued beginning of “Jizz Witch,” which one assumes is sending up modern cult rock not a minute too soon. Either way, like the bulk of the album before it, the closer is a molten and groove-heavy bit of immersive heavy psychedelia, holding a sense of structure at its core while sounding neither shy about wandering away from that nor too formulaic in the moments it does so. As a debut, the coherence of its vision is all the more impressive, and the four-piece leave no doubt that they entered into the process of songwriting with an idea in mind of what they wanted to do as a band — a mission, in other words. Though one easily could, I’ll stop short of calling that mission accomplished and instead simply hope that this is just the point of its beginning.

BlackWater HolyLight on Instagram

BlackWater HolyLight on Bandcamp

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BlackWater HolyLight to Release Self-Titled Debut April 6; Preorders up Now & New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

blackwater holylight

Led by former Grandparents vocalist Allison Faris, Portland, Oregon, newcomers BlackWater HolyLight will make their self-titled debut this April via RidingEasy Records. The album rolls out weighted fuzzgaze rife with melody and psychedelic fascinations, and in songs like “Sunrise,” which you can stream below, finds a deft balance between heft of groove and spaciousness of vibe. Short version: I dig it. Long version: So far, I dig it a lot.

Some records you wait for. Some you wait for years and years and then they finally come out. Some records, on the other hand, you didn’t even know you were waiting for until you hear them. Hello, BlackWater HolyLight.

RidingEasy has preorders up for the CD and LP now. Take a listen to “Sunrise” and enjoy:

blackwater holylight blackwater holylight

The notion of “heavy music” is continuing to expand of late, with many intrepid artists finding new ways to incorporate the power of traditional metal into new music, but without all of its trappings. Enter Portland, OR quartet BlackWater HolyLight to further swirl musical elements into a captivating hybrid of emotional intensity. Heavy psych riffs, gothic drama, folk-rock vibes, garage-sludge and soaring melodies all collide into a satisfying whole with as much contrast as the band’s name itself.

“I wanted to experiment with my own version of what felt ‘heavy’ both sonically and emotionally,” says founder and vocalist/bassist Allison Faris. “I also wanted a band in which vulnerability of any form could be celebrated.” BlackWater HolyLight — Faris, guitarist/vocalist Laura Hopkins, drummer Cat Hoch and synth player Sarah Mckenna — formed upon the breakup of Faris’ longtime band and she sought a fresh start. “In my last band I was the only female in a group of 6, so I wanted to see how my song writing and vulnerability could glow taking the drivers seat and working with women.”

The band’s self-titled debut begins with a simple, almost grunge-like riff as a chorus of voices introduce a melodic line in call-and-response until the band kicks in, slowly building into crescendo like a lost outtake from Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. Elsewhere, “Sunrise” begins with a chorus-drenched post-punk groove until a sonic boom of heavily distorted guitar skree erupts out of nowhere. Nearly as suddenly, the song returns to its lulling core, subtly building the tension until it ruptures completely in a blast of noise. Likewise, “Carry Her” establishes a dark, sparse melody and distinctly thin sounding drums not far removed from early work of The Cure. However, BlackWater HolyLight’s penchant for surprise attack finds a sudden shift into a doom-like dirge, colored with eerie synth notes and pounding shards of fuzz. Throughout the album, their songs shirk traditional verse-chorus-verse structure in favor of fluid, serpentine compositions that move with commanding grace. The band expertly, yet subconsciously, incorporates hints of Chelsea Wolfe, Celebration, Captain Beefheart, The Raincoats, The Stooges, Pink Floyd, Jane’s Addiction and more to form their unique brand of dark’n’heavy transcendence.

BlackWater HolyLight was recorded by Cameron Speice at Gold Brick Studios and The Greenhouse, and with Eric Crespo at Touch Tourcher Recording in Portland. The album will be available on LP, CD and download April 6th, 2018 via RidingEasy Records. Preorders are available for LP & CD at www.ridingeasyrecs.com and digital at blackwaterholylight.bandcamp.com.

Artist: BlackWater HolyLight
Album: BlackWater HolyLight
Label: RidingEasy Records
Release Date: April 6th, 2018

01. Willow
02. Wave of Conscience
03. Babies
04. Paranoia
05. Sunrise
06. Slow Hole
07. Carry Her
08. Jizz Witch

instagram.com/blackwaterholylight
blackwaterholylight.bandcamp.com
ridingeasyrecs.com

Blackwater Holylight, “Sunrise”

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2017

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

top-30-of-2017

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2017 to that, please do.

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

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

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

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

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

Here goes:

30. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
geezer psychoriffadelia

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

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

29. Orango, The Mules of Nana

orango the mules of nana

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed March 27.

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

28. Radio Moscow, New Beginnings

radio moscow new beginnings

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Oct. 6.

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

27. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma

spaceslug time travel dilemma

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

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

26. Mothership, High Strangeness

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

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

25. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days

eternal black bleed the days

Released by Obsidian Sky Records. Reviewed Aug. 1.

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

24. Kadavar, Rough Times

kadavar rough times

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Sept. 6.

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

23. Shroud Eater, Strike the Sun

shroud eater strike the sun

Released by STB Records. Reviewed June 28.

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

22. Enslaved, E

enslaved e

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 4.

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

21. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical

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

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

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

20. Causa Sui, Vibraciones Doradas

causa sui vibraciones doradas

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

19. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable

telekinetic yeti abominable

Released by Sump Pump Records. Reviewed April 10.

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

18. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust

cloud catcher trails of kozmic dust

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

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

17. Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child

ruby the hatchet planetary space child

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 29.

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

16. Alunah, Solennial

alunah solennial

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 1.

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

15. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream

mindkult-lucifers-dream

Released by Transcending Obscurity Records and Caligari Records.

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

14. Argus, From Fields of Fire

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

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

13. Uffe Lorenzen, Galmandsværk

Uffe-Lorenzen-Galmandsvaerk

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

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

12. The Flying Eyes, Burning of the Season

the flying eyes burning of the season

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 11.

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

11. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper

bell witch mirror reaper

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Dec. 27.

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

10. Monolord, Rust

monolord rust

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Oct. 26.

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

9. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn

vokonis-the-sunken-djinn

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 5.

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

8. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals

electric moon stardust rituals

Released by Sulatron Records. Reviewed April 7.

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

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

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

Self-released. Reviewed May 1.

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

6. The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field

the-atomic-bitchwax-force-field

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Dec. 7.

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

5. Atavismo, Inerte

atavismo inerte

Released by Temple of Torturous. Reviewed Feb. 21.

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

4. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe

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

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

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

3. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World

Elder-Reflections-of-a-Floating-World

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

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

2. Colour Haze, In Her Garden

colour haze in her garden

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed March 9.

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

1. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War

all them witches sleeping through the war

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Jan. 27.

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

The Next 20

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

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

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

What’s that? More records? Okay…

Honorable Mentions

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

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

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

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

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

Thank You

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

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

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

And one more time, thank you for reading.

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Monolord, Rust: Shimmer in Dirt

Posted in Reviews on October 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

monolord rust

Over the course of the last four years, Gothenburg trio Monolord have worked efficiently on a mission to establish themselves among the heaviest of riff-driven bands the world over. Rust is their third album for RidingEasy Records behind the 2016 Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze EP (review here) and 2015’s Vænir (review here) and 2013’s debut Empress Rising full-lengths, and in some crucial ways it continues the thread. For example? It’s incredibly heavy. Should be said outright. Self-produced with drummer Esben Willems at the helm of Berserk Audio, it finds guitarist/vocalist Thomas V. Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and Willems unfolding a molten cascade of riffy largesse worthy of the reputation they’ve earned from their studio output and corresponding significant time on tour. At the same time, however, it’s easier to read a narrative of progression within Monolord‘s sound even as the title-track lumbers into some of the record’s most weighted doom — the Swedish trio have grown melodically bolder, and Jäger‘s vocals, while still coated in effects, are more confident in their delivery than they were even two years ago.

As a unit, they were already on a progressive path coming from Empress Rising into Vænir, but the shift feels even more marked on Rust, particularly as it caps with its two longest inclusions, “Forgotten Lands” (12:45) and “At Niceae” (15:36), which seem to bring Monolord successively into new depths and new heights of places they’ve never explored before. While it’s not necessarily a shock that a band who’ve spent as much time on the road as Monolord have and who have two prior LPs under their collective belt would be coming into their own in terms of songwriting, the corresponding uptick of scope they present across Rust‘s 54 minutes isn’t to be understated, and as much heft as they offer, it’s the space they cover with it that impresses even more.

Naturally, when one hears the rumble that begins “Dear Lucifer” or the roll of “Where Death Meets the Sea,” the temptation is to think of Rust as a continuation of Monolord‘s seismic plod, but the truth is that by the first verse of “Where Death Meets the Sea,” which opens, they’re telling a more complex sonic story of where they are as a group. It would be an oversight to discount the vocal performance of Jäger in conveying this — almost immediately (there’s an intro to “Where Death Meets the Sea,” but we’re talking soon after that) he steps into a prominent frontman role in a way that simply wasn’t done on the last record or Empress Rising before it, and by setting that vibe early, he’s better able to maintain it even as the three-piece trudges later into the deep recesses of “Forgotten Lands” and “At Niceae.” But it’s not just his voice.

The guitar opens up to a subdued, almost airy tone during the verse, and while Häkki‘s bass adds plenty of oomph to the low end in the hook — yup, it’s a hook — as the five-plus-minute track unfolds, Monolord demonstrate an intention to do more than simply overwhelm with tonal weight. Though slower, “Dear Lucifer” ultimately does likewise, with the vocals out front of a progression that, while still about as post-Electric Wizard as the band get on Rust, is even more their own. Organ starts the title-track and provides a backdrop for the first minute, but recedes once the guitar, bass and drums kick in, bringing forth a densely-fuzzed march around a straightforward verse/chorus interchange that builds on what “Where Death Meets the Sea” accomplished with less back and forth interplay of volume, and a chugging second half bridge that, much to its credit, doesn’t veer into being overdone either before or after its last run through the hook en route to the ending guitar solo that brings about the instrumental “Wormland.”

monolord

I’m not sure where the sides/platters split for Rust, but it’s fair either way to say that “Wormland” feels as much like an introduction leading the way into “Forgotten Lands” and “At Niceae” as it does a capstone for the three shorter cuts before it. The groove comes easily and is maintained likewise across the six-minute instrumental piece, and a hypnotic effect from the early repetition is given further breadth through the arrival of violin just after the four-minute mark. like the verse of “Where Death Meets the Sea” or the heavy psych vibing that the last two tracks will touch on, this is yet another moment on Rust where the breadth comes into direct focus, though admittedly, in the case of “Forgotten Lands,” the overarching impression is much more geared toward weight than reach. Still, even as they seem to plummet downward into this low-end mire, they complement with higher-register vocals from Jäger to give a more rounded feel. And as thoroughly doomed as Rust is, that turns out to be the story of the album.

“Forgotten Lands” and “At Niceae” invariably define much of it, in a way the extended “Died a Million Times” and “Vænir” did at the end of Vænir, but as those two were split by the two-minute “The Cosmic Silence,” the way Monolord thrust their listeners into this world feels more brazen, and even more so as “Forgotten Lands” dips into its post-midpoint tripout, anchored by the bass as the weedy guitar goes wandering around dreamy layered vocals. They come back around to crush again and cap just before the 12-minute mark, which leaves silence as a transition into “At Niceae,” which strums YOB-like at the outset but soon enough moves into its own thundering roll, finding a defining fuzzy moment right around eight minutes in as a setup for instrumental hypnosis that gives way at 13 minutes to pure Floydian acoustics.

Vocals return and so does a line of electric guitar that marks the fadeout, but by then the pivotal shift in impression has been made and Monolord have sent the last confirmation of the growth they’ve undertaken as a band, no less striking than the tonal onslaught with which they first made their mark on an international audience. Their narrative may in part always remain centered around that consuming sonic largesse, but if Rust proves anything about Monolord, it’s that they’re still just beginning to reveal their full potential.

Monolord, Rust (2017)

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R.I.P. Premiere “Unmarked Grave”; New Album Street Reaper Due Oct. 13

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 24th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

rip

R.I.P. will release their second album, Street Reaper, Oct. 13 through RidingEasy Records. I’m still not entirely sure what the Portland, Oregon, four-piece’s self-imposed designation ‘street doom’ is fully intended to convey, but as with their 2016 debut, In the Wind (review here) — first issued by Totem Cat and subsequently picked up by RidingEasy — it would seem on the 10-track Street Reaper to have to do with the overarching level of grit the band brings to their material, evident likewise in tone and theme. Also it makes it okay that songs like “The Casket” and “The Dark” owe almost as much to Dead Kennedys as to Saint Vitus or Pentagram. Whatever you or they want to call it, it’s way over the top and, even though at least half the cuts directly reference death, is a blast of filthy, classic-style raw metallic pummel.

Make no mistake: by “blast,” yes, I mean party. Because whatever else might be going on in the street on which R.I.P. are proliferating their guttural doom, they’re also having a really good time doing it. That impulse may be the facet of their approach most tying them to the Portland underground that gave them birth, where otherwise they would seem bent on bringing a hint of darkness to the heavy rock sphere of Southern California — certainly the cover art of Street Reaper bears out that spirit. It’s a distinct notion and not something every band would be so brash as to attempt, but brashness seems to be a specialty for the foursome of vocalist Fuzz, guitarist Angel Martinez, bassist John Mullett and drummer Willie D., and from the opening “Unmarked Grave” onward, Street Reaper manifests that as much in its beat-you-over-the-head hooks as its noise-coated distortion. Riffs lead the way as they invariably would, but Fuzz answers the presence he brought to In the Wind with willful excess in “Street Reaper,” the slow-creep-int0-full-thrust “Shadows Folds” and the deeper echoes of “The Other Side,” stepping into a cassette-era theatricality that suits the rawer production almost surprisingly well, R.I.P. finding a place for ’80s and early ’90s nostalgia that’s not overblown would-be glam or retro-minded thrash, but would nonetheless fit well on a bill next to Slayer during their big-hair days, despite the obvious sonic discrepancies.

Likewise, “Mother Road” — the longest track on Street Reaper at 5:56 — seems to take the rip street reapercentral riff of Mötley Crüe‘s “Looks that Kill” and cake it in Motörheady dust such as to make it that much harder to place in one era or another, and closer “Die in Vain” taps First Daze Here-style Pentagrammery and brings in organ foreshadowed on “The Other Side” before it as a primary aspect, adding distinction and positioning its open verses and building choruses as all the more the band’s own. A well-placed guitar-led interlude “The Cross” follows the ultra-nasty “Brimstone” as R.I.P. move deeper into side B, and winds up emphasizing the point of just how atmospheric Street Reaper has been all along. I wouldn’t call much of what R.I.P. do subtle, but in terms of ambience, their songs successfully convey notions of mood and purpose without giving losing an apparent focus on simplicity of structure. Indeed, that simplicity is a part of their aesthetic, and well wielded through the thickened push of “The Casket” or “The Other Side” as well as “The Casket,” on which one half expects Fuzz to remind his audience in the opening lines that, “Saint Vitus was a young man…” in his best Scott Reagers. He doesn’t though, and as much as one might trace the band’s roots to one act or another when it comes to the elements at play at a given moment, what’s undeniable about Street Reaper as a whole is that R.I.P. are engaging the work of building their own identity in these tracks, and just because they’ve named it — the already-noted “street doom” branding — doesn’t mean they can’t and aren’t using it as a basis for creative progression.

And that progression — unless I’ve read the album completely wrong — costs R.I.P. nothing in terms of their party-ready spirit, which sees development here as well as a part of their overarching personality. They hit the road to support In the Wind along the West Coast and I’d expect no less when it comes to Street Reaper, and these songs would seem to be tailored to a stage presentation, ready to be captured in some grainy-style video to further demonstrate their allegiance to the smoke-weed-and-chew-boulders heavy metal and doom of yore. Worth keeping an eye out, because like death on a skateboard, R.I.P. are as inevitable as they are inebriated.

Below, you’ll find the premiere of “Unmarked Grave,” followed by some comment from Fuzz about the track and more info from the PR wire. Once again, Street Reaper is out Oct. 13 via RidingEasy Records.

Please enjoy:

R.I.P., “Unmarked Grave” official premiere

Fuzz on “Unmarked Grave”:

“The seed of the song ‘Unmarked Grave’ was planted in my brain when we were on a tour stop in New Orleans and went through one of the city’s few in-ground burial cemeteries. The high water table in the swamp there makes it difficult to keep corpses interred, and the grounds were strewn with bone fragments and rotten human debris that had floated up through the dirt and the mud. What was once a man with hopes and dreams was now nothing but refuse broken to pieces and strewn about with some litter and trash. The disquietude these bodies were subject to stuck with me, and were on my mind when we wrote that track. I hope some of the despondency and humiliation of that situation come through to the listener, and that your grave offers you a more peaceful sojourn than it did to the souls that brought this song into being.”

When R.I.P. came crawling out of the sewers of Portland, OR last year, their grimy, sleazy Street Doom was already a fully formed monstrosity that quickly infected the minds of everyone it encountered. Now, borne from the band’s declining state of mental health and increasing focus on songwriting, Street Reaper is an even more unhinged and menacing album than their 2016 debut In The Wind.

Borrowing equally from 80s Rick Rubin productions and Murder Dog magazine aesthetics, Street Reaper is a streamlined yet brutally raw manifesto of heavy metal ferocity hearkening to the era when both metal and hip hop were reviled as the work of street thugs intent on destroying America’s youth. Throughout, Angel Martinez’s guitar and John Mullett’s bass are inextricably interlocked, sounding like a massive sonic steamroller, while drummer Willie D keeps the beat solid and simple for the most powerful impact. And, the band’s extensive touring and excessive virgin sacrifices have clearly endued singer Fuzz with evermore agile vocal chords to drive it all home with extreme precision.

Street Reaper will be available on LP, CD and download on October 13th, 2017 via RidingEasy Records.

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Wrapping up #VinylDay2017

Posted in Features on July 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Grooves and platters galore. My motivation behind doing Vinyl Day 2017 was simple: I felt like listening to records and sharing that process. It was kind of an off-the-cuff thing. Just an idea I had and ran with it. I figure it doesn’t need to be anything more than that, right? Isn’t putting on an album its own excuse for putting on an album? I tend to think so.

And yeah, I made it a hashtag. Because it’s the future, and hashtags. Instagrammaphone and whatnot. I’m a novice at best when it comes to the social medias, but it seems to me that if you’re going to share a full day’s worth of what you’re listening to, that’s the way to do it. So that’s what I did. If I clogged up your feed or whatever and it pissed you off, sorry.

For anyone who might’ve missed it, it turned out to be nine records of various sorts. Here they are, complete with accompanying audio when I could get it, because it’s the age of instant gratification:

There you have it. Had to be Sleep to end it. Pretty awesome day of music on the whole, and whatever was on your playlist yesterday, if it was this stuff or anything else, I hope you enjoyed. I’m gonna call Vinyl Day 2017 a definite win. Thanks for reading.

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