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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SubRosa Premiere “The Mirror” from SubRosa Subdued: Live at Roadburn 2017

Posted in audiObelisk on November 22nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

subrosa

SubRosa will release SubDued: Live at Roadburn 2017 on Dec. 1 through Burning World and Roadburn Records. Today I have the extreme pleasure of hosting the official premiere of ‘The Mirror,’ and as the entire album has already been reviewed here, I thought I might just take a minute to speak about the experience of seeing the Salt Lake City outfit play in this context. Won’t take a minute.

Het Patronaat is a revamped church included as a venue for the Roadburn festival in Tilburg, the Netherlands. It has stained glass windows, a high, vaulted ceiling, and hardwood floors. subrosa-subdued-live-at-roadburn-2017When it’s empty, before a band goes on, it feels cavernous. Massive. When it’s full and you’re pressed up against the stage, it can be as intimate as the smallest of Roadburn‘s venues. You’re right there. The band’s right there. And, oh yeah, there are about 700 other people in the room with you, but if you don’t turn around and look, it’s easy enough to pretend you’re in your own world. That’s basically how I watched SubRosa play their ‘SubDued’ set at this year’s Roadburn.

They’d been on the Main Stage the prior afternoon, playing their most recent album, the brilliant For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (review here), in its entirety, but the concept behind ‘SubDued’ being that they’d strip away much of the distortion in favor of a mostly-acoustic presentation made it unmissable from my point of view. The setlist was older tracks — nothing off the latest record — and highlights like “Whippoorwill,” “The Inheritance” and “Cosey Mo” received new life through their revamped arrangements, the focus on meditative melody, raw rhythmic sway and a masterful presentation that turned deeply-weighted goth-tinged post-metal into exploratory neofolk no less complete in its realization. I don’t think any single moment emphasized this so much as when they played “The Mirror” as the second to last song in the set.

In terms of the arrangement, “The Mirror” was as minimal as SubRosa got: voice, drumsticks against microphone stands and a single floor tom for percussion, and that’s it. The violins, flutes, bass, acoustic and electric guitar, and samples/other noises that filled out other inclusions were set aside. Rebecca Vernon led Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack in harmony as she and drummer Andy Patterson — situated behind a front-line of players that also included bassist Levi Hanna and guest flutist/vocalist Kelly Schilling — kept time together in that seemingly simple fashion. subrosa subdued (photo jj koczan)It was beautiful and affecting in kind.

The song itself tells the story of a woman who, by her own admission, “took the easy road.” She gets married and has five kids in five years because that’s what you’re supposed to do where she’s from, but when her husband leaves her, she’s alone and poor and full of regret. In the end, she blames not him for the affair she had, but herself for not seeing the error of the lifepath she chose: the line, “I just look in the mirror and I find I only have myself to blame” stands out in a verse preceding the ultimate moral lesson of, “You gotta push against the current to get somewhere.” It’s a powerful sentiment, powerfully presented.

I’ll admit I wasn’t familiar with “The Mirror” before seeing it performed at Het Patronaat this past April. It comes from SubRosa‘s 2006 demo/EP The Worm has Turned and to my knowledge hasn’t featured on any subsequent release. This would seem to make its inclusion on SubDued: Live at Roadburn 2017 all the more special, since it’s a standout and something kind of exclusive to this form, this time, and this moment for the band. It certainly felt that way when they were playing it, and as I watched and listened, I became utterly entranced in the melody and the storytelling in a way that hasn’t left my mind in the half-year since. I feel fortunate for having been there to witness it and know that, in fact, I was.

Enjoy the premiere of “The Mirror” below, followed by some more preliminaries from the PR wire:

First ever live album by Subrosa after 5 studio albums on labels as Profound Lore and I Hate Records.

Recorded at the prestigious Roadburn Festival 2017 in a packed Patronaat. Mixed and mastered by Andy Patterson of Subrosa.

Vinyl version will follow in early 2018.

TRACKLIST
1. Whippoorwill
2. Borrowed Time Borrowed Eyes
3. Sugar Creek
4. The Inheritance
5. Cosey Mo
6. The Mirror
7. No Safe Harbor

SubRosa website

SubRosa on Bandcamp

SubRosa on Thee Facebooks

SubRosa on Twitter

Burning World Records website

Burning World Records on Thee Facebooks

Burning World Records on Twitter

Burning World Records on Instagram

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Godflesh to Release Post Self Nov. 17; New Song Streaming; Streetcleaner Live at Roadburn 2011 Reissue out Dec. 1

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

godflesh

As Godflesh make ready to perform Streetcleaner in full this coming Sunday night, Nov. 5, at Warsaw in Brooklyn to mark the 20th anniversary of Hospital Productions, the legendary Justin K. Broadrick-led outfit are preparing to unveil two new releases. First is a new studio outing titled Post Self, which is a follow-up for 2014’s return long-player A World Lit Only by Fire (review here), and second is a CD reissue Dec. 1 on Burning World/Roadburn Records of the 2013 live outing, Streetcleaner Live at Roadburn 2011, capturing the performance six years ago that basically kicked off the duo’s resurgence, Broadrick and Benny Green taking the stage together and laying waste to the entire fest. I was there. It was a work of technology advanced enough to be considered magic by my feeble brain.

The title-track of Post Self is streaming now and the PR wire brings the latest on both releases:

Godflesh share the title track of their new album, Post Self; the legendary duo’s first album in three years, due out on November 17th

Godflesh Streetcleaner Live At Roadburn (CD) out Dec. 1

Industrial metal pioneers Godflesh will release their new album Post Self on November 17th via Justin K. Broadrick’s Avalanche Recordings on CD, digital and LP formats, with a cassette version incoming on Hospital Productions. Over two years in the making, Post Self explores a different side of Godflesh, taking in their formative influences to conjure something informed by late 70’s/early 80’s post-punk and industrial music. The album deals with themes of anxiety, depression, fear, mortality, and paternal/maternal relationships.

The previous Godflesh album, A World Lit Only By Fire, was released in October 2014.

Post Self track listing
1. Post Self
2. Parasite
3. No Body
4. Mirror Of Finite Light
5. Be God
6. The Cyclic End
7. Pre Self
8. Mortality Sorrow
9. In Your Shadow
10. The Infinite End

GODFLESH performed their seminal debut full-length album, 1989’s “Streetcleaner”, in its entirety at the 2011 edition of the Roadburn festival on Thursday, April 14 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland. In addition, founding members Justin Broadrick and Benny Green played the “Tiny Tears” EP, which was conceived as part of the overall “Streetcleaner” vision, in full as well.

– Mastered specially for cd by James Plotkin.
– Originally released as a double album on Roadburn Festival Records in 2013. Now for the first time out on cd.

Tracklist
1. LIKE RATS (LIVE) 05:34
2. CHRISTBAIT RISING (LIVE) 07:46
3. PULP (LIVE) 04:21
4. DREAM LONG DEAD (LIVE) 05:36
5. HEADDIRT (LIVE) 04:20
6. DEVASTATOR / MIGHTY TRUST KRUSHER (LIVE) 09:40
7. LIFE IS EASY (LIVE) 04:25
8. STREETCLEANER (LIVE) 06:47
9. LOCUST FURNACE (LIVE) 04:36
10. TINY TEARS (LIVE) 03:21
11. WOUND (LIVE) 03:12
12. DEADHEAD (LIVE) 04:06
13. SUCTION (LIVE) 08:48

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https://godflesh1.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/jkflesh/
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https://www.instagram.com/justinkbroadrick/

Godflesh, “Post Self”

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SubRosa, Subdued: Live at Roadburn 2017: Finding Safe Harbor

Posted in Reviews on October 31st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

subrosa subdued live at roadburn 2017

On the first day, SubRosa took to the Main Stage of the 013 venue in Tilburg to play their latest album in its entirety. And it was early in an afternoon and night of excellent performances, but seeing the Salt Lake City, Utah, outfit give my 2016 Album of the Year, the Profound Lore-issued For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (review here), a complete runthrough was still a highlight of the entirety of my experience at the 2017 Roadburn festival (review here). It was something special. The next day, across the alley at Het Patronaat, the band played once again, but this time for a set that became even more of a landmark in my mind for the long weekend.

Given the billing of ‘SubDued,’ it was SubRosa — the core lineup of guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinists/vocalists Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack, bassist Levi Hanna and drummer/noisemaker Andy Patterson joined for a second time by flutist/vocalist Kelly Schilling of Denver’s Dreadnought — arranged with everyone up front in a line across the stage save for Patterson who was situated behind with a percussion and sampler setup, seated, facing the audience directly. Surrounded by stained glass windows, the high cathedral ceiling and the hardwood floors of ‘The Church,’ as Het Patronaat has also come to be known — appropriately, since it is one — it felt like a ceremony unto itself.

I stood at the very front of the stage and watched as SubRosa reinterpreted songs from 2013’s More Constant than the Gods, 2011’s No Help for the Mighty Ones (review here), 2008’s Strega and the preceding 2006 demo, The Worm has Turned — leaving the performance of their fourth full-length the day before as it was, but boldly recontextualizing past material into a mostly-acoustic neofolk rife with atmosphere, emotion and progressive sonic insight.

Simply put, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, at Roadburn or anywhere else.

Taking that into account, I have to admit there’s just about no way I can be properly impartial when it comes to assessing the Subdued: Live at Roadburn 2017 live album released through Burning World and Roadburn Records. None. I was too close to it — literally — and as the band began their just-under-an-hour-long set with the graceful unfolding of “Whippoorwill,” too consumed by the immediate breadth of what they were doing to maintain any proper distance from the experience. I think most who were there to see it would likely say the same. It would be like being impartial about a sunrise whose warmth cast away months of frigid temperatures. Impartiality about a first meal after days of starving. It was a time for worship, for communion, not equanimity, and “Whippoorwill” was only the start.

One can hear that on the recording. With Patterson thudding away behind, “Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes” emphasizes its rhythmic punctuation as much as Vernon‘s vocal melody, recalling some of the sludgy churn of the original that led off No Help for the Mighty Ones, but with more of a reliance on the strings to fill out an arrangement still given heft by Hanna‘s bass, SubRosa set up the harmonies later in the song for the repeated lines “How long must my journey go?,” and giving way to “Sugar Creek,” which might be the most radical arrangement shift of the entire set, taking the original opener of Strega, pulling out the guitar heft and drums and replacing them with electronic beats, manipulated noise and violins on a five-minute linear build that offers rare patience and still finds a way to capture the band’s underlying emotional intensity that was present even in their earliest work. It marks a transition as well into a crucial point in the set, wherein “The Inheritance” from No Help for the Mighty Ones and “Cosey Mo” from More Constant than the Gods pair together to fully embody the ‘subdued’ experience in texture and arrangement.

subrosa

Over minimal guitar, Vernon‘s solo vocals on “The Inheritance” are soon joined by companion harmonies, and sparse percussion echoes behind, marking the path as it unfolds. Strings arrive and the arrangement builds on itself, recedes for another verse and builds again, arriving at the line, “We’re in the shadow of a dying world,” which the pervasive melancholy of “Cosey Mo” seems to bring to life all the more. Both cuts hover around the eight-minute mark and become a dark kind of gothic Americana with the treatment they’re given on Subdued: Live at Roadburn 2017, the level of depth particularly on the latter highlighting Patterson‘s work in mixing and mastering as well as on percussion. “Cosey Mo” finds a level of balance and emotional resonance by its halfway point that feels like the apex of the performance as a whole, and SubRosa continue to ride that progression fluidly, but it’s ultimately “The Mirror” that serves as the moment of their greatest impact.

With a rhythm created by hitting drumsticks on mic stands complemented by Patterson behind, “The Mirror” weaves a story of rural disaffection — “Got married in the winter/Gave birth in the summer/In five years time had five little ones…” — set to the most gorgeous vocal harmonies here present from VernonPendleton and Pack, who deep-dive into folk-ballad traditionalism with what I’d gladly argue is the boldest and bravest abandon shown on the release. The song, which originally appeared on The Worm has Turned, is the oldest of the material to make it into the set and yet could not fit more perfectly, casting off the complexity of strings, samples, bass, guitar and percussion in favor of an approach as organic as possible: raw human voice.

They thank Roadburn Creative Director Walter Hoeijmakers when they’re done and then launch into “No Safe Harbor” from More Constant than the Gods to close the set. It would be easy for it to be an afterthought, but with Schilling‘s flute added, SubRosa instead push further into the scope established by “The Inheritance” and “Cosey Mo,” finding resolution in a series of thudding crashes that, even in this setting, are viscerally weighted. To call it a suitable ending undercuts the beauty that actually holds sway for the duration of the track itself, or the obvious care put into the presentation, which like the original, ends with a chaos of rumble and strings ceding ground to a single line of percussion. Violins circle around single pulled notes on bass, and whether taken on an ambient level or in terms of the pure aural resonance, it leaves the band with just about nowhere else to go. So they end.

I have been to nine editions of the Roadburn festival. Each year offers at least one landmark performance — the one for which the festival is ultimately remembered. I don’t know if the effect could possibly be the same for someone who wasn’t there to witness it — and it’s precisely for that reason that I consider myself too close to it to be properly impartial, as noted above — but having witnessed SubRosa ‘SubDued’ and now having heard Subdued: Live at Roadburn 2017, it only further cements this set as that in my mind for 2017. It’s been six months now since and I continue to feel affected by what they did on that Het Patronaat stage, and with these tracks documenting it as gorgeously and as essentially as they do, I can only hope that will sustain for years to come. It is a reminder of the power a live performance can have and, again, as rich an experience as I’ve ever had in that regard.

SubRosa, “No Safe Harbor” live at Roadburn 2017

SubRosa website

SubRosa on Bandcamp

SubRosa on Thee Facebooks

SubRosa on Twitter

Burning World Records website

Burning World Records on Thee Facebooks

Burning World Records on Twitter

Burning World Records on Instagram

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SubRosa to Release Subdued: Live at Roadburn 2017 Dec. 1

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 4th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

subrosa

Hands down, SubRosa were my band of the year at Roadburn 2017. The Salt Lake City dark atmospheric heavy rockers played two sets that I stood in awe and watched in their entirety. The first of them was on Thursday, April 20, and was a complete runthrough of 2016’s brilliant For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (review here), which also happened to be my choice for the best album that came out last year, played on the Main Stage at the 013 venue. It was early in the fest but an unmistakable highlight that carried me through the weekend. I shit you not. I got on the plane home still thinking about how good SubRosa were that first day.

The second set, and something even more of a landmark, was the next day and it was called “SubRosa Subdued,” and it was a semi-acoustic take from the band on some of their older material, including songs from 2013’s More Constant than the Gods and reinterpreting material from their back catalog. It was at Het Patronaat — “the church,” as it’s known — and it was simply unreal. I stood directly in front of the stage, not 10 feet from the band, as they unleashed the gorgeous, devastating melodies of songs like “Whippoorwill,” “Cosey Mo” and the high point of the whole thing, the harmonized “The Mirror,” which even now listening back to it gives me shivers. I consider it some of the best news I’ve posted this year that Burning World / Roadburn Records will release Subdued: Live at Roadburn 2017 on Dec. 1.

I’ll hope to have much more on this before we get to the release date,but the bottom line? Holy crap am I glad this is coming out. Info below is pretty preliminary, but you can check out the art and an audience video of “No Safe Harbor” below that should give you at least some basic idea of why I’m so excited at the prospect of this being released.

Dig:

subrosa subdued live at roadburn 2017

SubRosa – Subdued Live at Roadburn 2017

First ever live album by Subrosa after 5 studio albums on labels as Profound Lore and I Hate Records.

Recorded at the prestigious Roadburn Festival 2017 in a packed Patronaat. Mixed and mastered by Andy Patterson of Subrosa.

Vinyl version will follow in early 2018.

TRACKLIST
1. Whippoorwill
2. Borrowed Time Borrowed Eyes
3. Sugar Creek
4. The Inheritance
5. Cosey Mo
6. The Mirror
7. No Safe Harbor

https://subrosa.cc/
https://subrosausa.bandcamp.com/
http://facebook.com/subrosaslc
http://twitter.com/subrosaslc
https://www.burningworldrecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/burningworldrecords/
https://twitter.com/burninworldrecs
https://www.instagram.com/burningworldrecords/

SubRosa, “No Safe Harbor” live at Roadburn 2017

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Review & Track Premiere: Slomatics, Futurians: Live at Roadburn

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

slomatics-futurians-live-at-roadburn

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Tramontane’ from Slomatics’ Futurians: Live at Roadburn. Album is out next month on Burning World/Roadburn Records with preorders posted here.]

Look. Sometimes in life you just have to do yourself a favor, and I have no problem admitting that’s my motivation behind reviewing the Futurians: Live at Roadburn release by Belfast, Northern Ireland, trio Slomatics. No problem whatsoever. I was fortunate enough to bear witness to earlier this year to the set captured at Roadburn 2017 in the Green Room of the 013 in Tilburg, the Netherlands, and as Roadburn Records/Burning World Records gears up to release it to the wider public, I feel no shame in being as stoked on it as I am. Does that make me impartial to the experience or the release itself? Fuck no. Do I every now and again enjoy approaching an album with unmitigated joy and hoping to convey some small sense of that revelry in what still might ostensibly pass as a “review?” Yeah. Every now and again. This is one of those cases.

So if you want a harsh critique of Slomatics‘ set minute-by-minute, or if you want some bland judgment about the level of their play overall throughout the eight-song/42-minute pummelfest of a set, feel free to look elsewhere. For me, much like seeing the three-piece of guitarists David Majury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/synthesist Marty Harvey taking that stage in the first place, listening to Futurians: Live at Roadburn is a complete pleasure, front to back from the “Good evening Roadburn!” that Harvey tosses in four minutes into “Electric Breath” to the guest vocal appearance from Conan frontman Jon Davis on the finale “March of the 1,000 Volt Ghost.”

Those two cuts also represent the divide between the latest Slomatics studio LP, last year’s stellar Future Echo Returns (review here), and their 2005 debut, Flooding the Weir, and though the last several years especially have brought them to prominence in greater underground consciousness thanks in part to a 2011 split with Conan (review here) and the aforementioned Davis‘ work promoting them through his Black Bow Records imprint, citing (correctly) their influence on his work, etc., the set as a whole basks in the fullness of Slomatics‘ discography, with material from 2014’s Estron (review here) like “And Yet it Moves,” “Return to Kraken” and “Tramontane” from 2012’s preceding A Hocht, “Ulysses My Father” from the late-2014 split with Holly Hunt, and “Running Battle,” also taken from the debut.

It’s a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time to do it, but Slomatics, who’ve been proffering tonal demolition since 2004, are well up to the task. Still, given that Future Echo ReturnsEstron and A Hocht comprise a thematic and narrative trilogy — the storyline of which is still unclear, though we know that with “Supernothing” and “Into the Eternal” capping the latest record, the main character seems to at least be resigned to death if not actually dead — it’s something of a surprise they’d dip back to Flooding the Weir or the split at all, though one can hardly argue with the flow they set up across the eight tracks of Futurians: Live at Roadburn. It is a total cliché to say of heavy two-guitar bands without bass that they’re missing nothing for low end — and frankly, kind of a shitty thing to say about bassists in general, who add to the dynamic of a group even when the tonal space can be otherwise filled via effects or various methods of amplification, running guitars through bass heads, and so on — but with just Majury and Couzens as the string section, Slomatics‘ material is united regardless of its source by the unbridled weight of their distortion.

slomatics at roadburn photo jj koczan

I said in watching them at the time that they were the heaviest band I’d heard so far over the weekend. They would turn out to be the heaviest band — period — that I’d see at Roadburn this year, and that comes through in the massive roll of “Electric Breath” and the gallop of “Return to Kraken” alike, and as it did on Estron, “And Yet it Moves” lives up to its title — perhaps even more with the energy of the live delivery behind it. Indeed, one of the greatest assets that emerges from the band across Futurians: Live at Roadburn is that energy, and while my hearing it in the recording of “Tramontane” and “Supernothing” and “Ulysses My Father” may be due in part to having stood in front of the stage as it was happening, the vitality of their execution and how simply glad Slomatics were to be there comes through just the same and I believe is palpable whether a given listener saw them or not. Textual evidence? Go back to Harvey engaging the crowd in “Electric Breath,” or as they close out the set with “March of the 1,000 Volt Ghost.” The trio seem no less thrilled to be onstage than the cheering crowd is to have them.

And in kind with the bludgeoning, crushing tonality they bring to bear in the material — recorded in the Roadburnian tradition by Astrosoniq drummer Marcel van de Vondervoort and his team — it’s that spirit of joy that most pervades the release. There have been plenty of Live at Roadburn albums over the years, which is a credit in no small part to van de Vondervoort, and while some simply offer a glimpse of a professionally captured stop on a tour, or a curated setlist, whatever it might have been for a given band in a given year, with Slomatics, it was the show itself and the obvious extra effort put into the set that made it something special.

In other words, playing Roadburn clearly meant something to HarveyCouzens and Majury, and accordingly, it meant more to the audience to see it as well. I can’t speak for everyone who was there and I wouldn’t try to, but I know that for me, Slomatics hit on a particular vibe and sense of communion that in my experience only the very best of fully-bought-in Roadburn performances are able to hone. Thus it seems only more fitting that it should be preserved not only so that those who were there can have it for nostalgic purposes and the band can keep the momentum of their growth going post-Future Echo Returns, but in order to document a singular level of expression as a template for others to hopefully follow in years and fests to come.

Slomatics on Thee Facebooks

Slomatics on Bandcamp

Slomatics website

Burning World Records on Thee Facebooks

Burning World Records on Twitter

Burning World Records on Bandcamp

Roadburn Festival website

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Slomatics to Release Futurians: Live at Roadburn in October

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

slomatics (photo jj koczan)

How good were Slomatics at Roadburn 2017? Oh, they were mighty good indeed. All the more reason to put a note in your phone or mark your calendar or do whatever it is to do to remind yourself about shit — maybe just preorder it when that goes live on Sept. 12? — that the Northern Irish riff-crushing trio will issue their set from this year’s fest in Tilburg this October via Burning World/Roadburn Records under the title of Futurians: Live at Roadburn. I’m telling you, I was there. It was awesome enough that when they were done I jumped on stage and took the photo above. I never do that kind of extroverted shit. Usually my ass is hiding in the back, pronto.

Point is Slomatics killed it on this one, as they will, and whether you were there to catch it or not, keep your eye out for Futurians: Live at Roadburn because the proof, as the saying goes, is in the pudding. The riffy, riffy pudding.

The PR wire fills in on the particulars:

slomatics futurians live at roadburn

ROADBURN RECORDS TO RELEASE SLOMATICS FUTURIANS: LIVE AT ROADBURN

Slomatics will release Futurians: Live At Roadburn on vinyl and digital this october on Roadburn Records.

The band commented on their performance on the legendary festival beforehand:

“To say we’re excited about playing Roadburn would be an understatement,” says guitarist David Majury. “It’s funny how something like a music festival can take on almost mythical proportions, but if any festival has done so it’s definitely Roadburn! We’ve had an association with the festival through our records being on Burning World Records, so it feels good to be finally hauling our fuzz pedals over to Tilburg.”

With Majury and Chris Couzens on guitar and drummer / vocalist Marty Harvey also handling synth, Slomatics defy logic with their sheer amount of low-end output. As the follow-up to 2014’s Estron and 2012’s A Hocht, Future Echo Returns (2016) was the third in a trilogy of albums, rounding out an extended story that the band purposefully leaves open for interpretation.

“I’m delighted we’ll be joining the 2017 edition of Roadburn,” echoes Couzens. “We’ve seen some incredible performances in Tilburg over the years and been blown away how the locals embrace the hordes of music fans that descend on them. It’ll be fantastic to join that special atmosphere as a performer in April!”

* 300 copies on clear vinyl worldwide
* pre-sale starts september 12th 2017 on BurningWorldrecords.com

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Slomatics, “And Yet it Moves” live at Roadburn 2017

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Quarterly Review: Enslaved, Hour of 13, Operators, MaidaVale, Audion, Bone Man, Riff Fist, Helén, Savanah, Puta Volcano

Posted in Reviews on July 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-summer-2017

I don’t know about you, but I could do this all day. Listening to records, writing reviews, getting things done that I’ve been trying to get done in some cases for actual months of my life — suffice it to say I’m way into this process. Wednesday is always a special day for the Quarterly Review because we pass the halfway point, and as much as I wish this edition went to 60 or even 70 releases, because rest assured even with 50 total there’s way more I could be covering if I had space/time, the good news is there’s still much more awesomeness to come. Today gets into some different vibes once again, so let’s get started.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Enslaved, Roadburn Live

enslaved-roadburn-live

In their storied and groundbreaking career, Norwegian progressive black metallers Enslaved have never put out a live record, and it kind of makes sense as to why. The nuance of what they’ve come to do in their studio material doesn’t really lend itself to the rawness of a live album. Accordingly, Roadburn Live (on ByNorse and Burning World Records) feels almost as much of an homage to the event itself as to the performance. Captured in 2015 as Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson co-curated and the band headlined playing a special set of their more prog-focused songs – here more recent material like “In Times,” “Building with Fire,” “Daylight” from 2015’s In Times (review here) and “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” from 2012’s RIITIIR (review here) shines along with “Convoys to Nothingness” from 2001’s Monumension, “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth” from 2003’s Below the Lights and the requisite “Isa” from the 2004 landmark of the same name, and a special highlight comes at the finale when they cover Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” and bring guitarist Menno Gootjes of Dutch proggers Focus out for a guest spot. Roadburn Live might be a step away from the band’s usual modus, but Enslaved have made their career on pushing themselves beyond their comfort zone, so why stop now?

Enslaved on Thee Facebooks

Burning World Records website

ByNorse Music website

 

Hour of 13, Salt the Dead: The Rare and Unreleased

hour of 13 salt the dead

An overdue compilation from a band making an overdue return, Hour of 13’s Salt the Earth: The Rare and Unreleased reunites the doomers led by multi-instrumentalist Chad Davis with Shadow Kingdom Records and brings together early demos from 2007 – on which the collaboration between Davis and vocalist Phil Swanson was arguably at its most vibrant as they headed into their self-titled debut full-length later that year – with other previously unissued cuts like three songs with Davis on vocals including the Jason McCash tribute piece “Upon Black Wings We Die” (premiered here) and the original rehearsal demos that introduced Beaten Back to Pure singer Ben Hogg as Swanson’s replacement in the band in 2011 (premiered here). If you want a direct feel for the breadth of the band, look no further than the three versions of “Call to Satan” that appear on Salt the Earth. Widely varied between them in sound and overall feel, they underscore the tumult that has existed since the outset at the core of Hour of 13 even as they provide hope that the band previously laid to rest can revitalize enough to put out a fourth studio offering.

Hour of 13 on Thee Facebooks

Shadow Kingdom Records website

 

Operators, Revelers

operators revelers

Nearly four years in the making, Revelers is the third full-length from Berlin’s Operators behind 2013’s Contact High (review here) and 2012’s Operators (review here), and it starts off by smashing Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats swing headfirst into Goatsnake riffing on “Leveled Reveler,” the first of its six component tracks. Their arrangements, as ever, are marked by the featured position of organ along with guitar, bass and drums, and whether it’s a more extended jam like that opener, “Messina” or the closing “Rolling Hitch” – which boasts a guest vocal/guitar spot from Wight’s René Hofmann, who also recorded and mixed (Tony Reed of Mos Generator mastered) – or the shorter momentum-building winding course through “Pusher,” “Walkin’ on Air” (I’m not sure what’s happening at the end there, but I’m not about to spoil it) and the winning-at-song-titles “Fuzz Muncher,” Operators function with a maturity of approach that seems to have been earned during the longer stretch between releases. To wit, all the turns and pivots even out in the last movement of “Rolling Hitch” and Revelers caps with a classic heavy rock groove that’s neither in a hurry nor staid – Operators finding crucial balance amidst all their revelry, and much to their credit.

Operators on Thee Facebooks

Fuzzmatazz Records on Bandcamp

 

MaidaVale, Tales of the Wicked West

maidavale tales of the wicked west

Blues Pills. There. I said it. Now that the blues-rocking elephant in the room has been acknowledged, perhaps we can get on with Swedish four-piece MaidaVale’s debut full-length, Tales of the Wicked West (on The Sign Records). Yes, the Fårösund-based band owe a bit of their soulfulness to the aforementioned, but the nine-track/44-minute long-player thrives most of all as Linn Johannesson, Sofia Ström, Matilda Roth and Johanna Hansson purposefully meander into psychedelic flashes, as in opener “(If You Want the Smoke) Be the Fire,” the midsection of “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” the penultimate Zep-vibing/Bukowski-referencing “Find What You Love and Let it Kill You” and the 11-minute post-“Maggot Brain” closer “Heaven and Earth.” It’s in these moments and the manner in which they blend with the driving rock of “Dirty War,” the bluesy swagger of “Restless Wanderer” and the deft turns of “Colour Blind” early on that MaidaVale’s individualism is beginning to take shape, and if that’s the story that Tales of the Wicked West is telling, then it’s one well worth following through subsequent chapters.

MaidaVale on Thee Facebooks

The Sign Records on Thee Facebooks

 

Audion, La Historia de Abraham

audion-la-histora-de-abraham

Audion’s debut, La Historia de Abraham, is immediately noteworthy in no small part because it brings the rhythm section of Los Natas back together for the first time since that band’s breakup following 2009’s excellent Nuevo Orden de la Libertad (review here). Drummer Walter Broide and bassist Gonzalo Villagra join forces in the new outfit with guitarist Dizzy Espeche, and all three contribute vocals throughout at least in backup capacity, adding variety to go with the instrumental breadth that runs from the serene end of “Llegaron Sordos” right into the rush of “La Maquina del Tiempo” and well beyond later as the interlude “Para Rosita” introduces an earthy acoustidelic feel and “El Carancho” explores ‘70s anthemic rock before the fuzz- and horn-laden finisher “Queruzalem” closes out with a surprising progressive wash. Cuts like opener “Clarence,” the title-track and “Colmillo Blanco” can call to mind Villagra and Broide’s previous work, but Audion make a fresh impression on La Historia de Abraham in the variety throughout, and as they make their way through “Lesbotrans” and “Diablo vs. Dios” and into the second half of the album, it becomes increasingly clear how distinct this first offering actually is.

Audion on Thee Facebooks

Audion on Bandcamp

 

Bone Man, III

bone man iii

To go along with the propulsive rhythm of “False Ambition” and the wash in the payoff of the earlier “These Days are Gone,” there’s a sense of gothic drama to vocalist Marian’s delivery that adds further atmosphere to Bone Man’s III (on Pink Tank Records), and in kind with the cohesive foundation of Arne’s bass, Ötzi’s drumming and his own scorch-prone guitar, that gives cuts like “Cold Echo” and the alternately brooding and explosive centerpiece – layered acoustic and electric guitar filling out the sound further – even more stylistic depth. That moodiness comes perhaps most into focus on the more subdued “Incognito,” but it’s there from the boogie-laced opener “Pollyanna” onward, and in the jagged push of “Years of Sorrow” and the more spacious finale “Amnesia” (still a tightly structured four minutes in length), it lends III a persona stretching beyond what one might think of as the standard genre fare and gives the Kiel, Germany, outfit a presence decidedly their own. It’s their third record, so maybe that’s not a surprise for a band who made their first offering eight years ago, but it serves as a major source of resonance in the material nonetheless.

Bone Man on Thee Facebooks

Pink Tank Records website

 

Riff Fist, King Tide

riff fist king iii

Going back to 2013, Melbourne, Australia, trio Riff Fist have basically summed up their approach in the eight letters of their name: a tight-knit approach to guitar-led heavy rock, as straightforward as a fist in your face. King Tide is their debut album after three EPs named for the Clint Eastwood Dollars trilogy of westerns – 2015’s The Good, the Loud and the Riff, 2014’s For a Few Riffs More and 2013’s Fistful of Riffs (review here) – and it significantly expands their breadth. Opening with its longest track (immediate points) in the 11-minute title cut (video premiered here), King Tide covers new, more patient and encompassing ground from bassist/vocalist Cozza, guitarist Casey and drummer Joel than anything they’ve touched on before, and while the subsequent “D.T.U.B.,” fuzz-laden “Fist Bier (Noch Eins)” and even the first half of eight-minute centerpiece “Chugg” bring that all-ahead sensibility back into focus, King Tide remains effectively and engagingly informed by its leadoff impression through its total 33-minute run, which is rounded out as “Beer and a Cigarette” melds the more spacious and atmospheric take with a still-swinging post-Clutch groove. There’s more work to do in tying the various sides together, but King Tide is a rousing introduction to the process through which the band can make that happen.

Riff Fist on Thee Facebooks

Riff Fist on Bandcamp

 

Helén, Helén

helen helen

Hexvessel multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Kimmo Helén makes a willfully peculiar and experimentalist self-titled debut with the solo-project Helén via Svart Records, setting a course through melodic indie wash in “Uusi Olento” even as “Jumalan Hullu” threatens in its bounce and the later “Lystia” moves into yet-darker expanses. Keys, electric and acoustic guitar, sax, and of course Helén’s own Finnish-language vocals, there’s very little that feels like it might be outside his comfort zone in terms of craft, and Helén, the album, is just as effective in the plus-cello-acoustic-minimalism of the penultimate “Lopussa” as in the earlier atmospheric breadth of “Puolen Metrin Syvyydessä.” Closing out with the alternately melancholy and dreamy “Kaikki Isä,” the record brings out a full-band feel despite Helén having handled the vast majority of the instrumentation on his own and impresses in that as well as in its range of moods and overarching sense of purpose. May it be a first exploration in a series of many.

Helén on Thee Facebooks

Helén at Svart Records webstore

 

Savanah, The Healer

savanah the healer

I won’t take away from a wah-drenched rocker like “The Healer,” which still jams out plenty before digging into doomier lumbering, but where Austrian trio Savanah’s Stone Free Records debut album, The Healer, really gets its point across is in the fluidity of its longer-form material, whether that’s post-“Intro” opener “Mind,” the ebbing and flowing heavy psych instrumental “Pillars of Creation” or the over-10-minutes-apiece closing pair of the doom rocking “Black Widow” and “Panoramic View of Stormy Weather,” which effectively draws together the multiple aesthetic faces the three-piece demonstrate throughout the record preceding, culling rock, psych and doom into a single riff-driven entity and, most importantly, making it theirs. Guitar leads the way with big, natural fuzz, but the rhythm section is crucial here, and as Benny, Felix and Jakob follow-up their 2015 EP, Deep Shades, they seem to establish a path along which they can flourish and hopefully continue to capture the listener’s attention as they do here.

Savanah on Thee Facebooks

StoneFree Records website

 

Puta Volcano, Harmony of Spheres

puta volcano harmony of spheres

The kind of release where by the end of the first song you want to own everything the band has ever put out. Don’t let Athens’ Puta Volcano get lost in the wash of bands coming out of Greece these days, because there are many, but if you miss out on the blend of desert-style tones and graceful melodies of “Bird,” it’s to your general detriment. I’m serious. In craft and performance, Puta Volcano’s third album, Harmony of Spheres, takes on unpretentious progressivism in songwriting and blends it with a post-Slo Burn/Hermano sense of freedom from genre. Witness the funky “Zeroth Law” or the later, more subtle post-grunge linearity of “Moebius,” the odd chanting repetitions in closer “Infinity” or the nigh-on-maddening hook of “Jovian Winds.” Really, do it. With the lineup of vocalist Luna Stoner, guitarist Alex Pi, bassist Bookies and drummer Steven Stefanidis, Puta Volcano are onto something special in aesthetic and delivery, and if Harmony of Spheres might be your first experience with the band as it’s mine, it’s one that will no doubt warrant multiple revisits. Consider it sleeper fodder for your year-end list – I know I will.

Puta Volcano on Thee Facebooks

Puta Volcano on Bandcamp

 

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