[Click play above to stream L’Ira del Baccano’s Paradox Hourglass in its entirety. Album is out now on Subsound Records.]
Roman heavy instrumentalists L’Ira del Baccano made their studio debut in 2014 with Terra 42 (review here), as a follow-up to their summer-2013 live offering Si Non Sedes iS …LIVE. It’s important to keep in mind as one makes their way through their second studio long-player, Paradox Hourglass, that the band’s roots are in playing live, and that when it came to what they wanted to put out into the world first, it was a live album rather than something more polished. Issued through Subsound Records, Paradox Hourglass is that something more polished, but it still maintains its core of live performance beneath its progressive overtones, and across its evenly-split two sides, four tracks and 39 minutes, guitarist Alessandro “Drughito” Santori, guitarist/synthesist Roberto Malerba, bassist Ivan Contini Bacchisio and drummer Sandro “Fred” Salvi don’t sacrifice one sensibility in emphasis of the other.
While Paradox Hourglass brings forward a proggier mindset than did Terra 42 — something the band credits in part to a Rush influence and I’m not inclined to argue — it keeps its tonal edge and strips away nearly 20 full minutes of runtime, so that the material is not only vinyl-ready, but all the more efficient in making its stylistic point known without lingering. That in itself isn’t to be understated as a recognized step forward for the band, as it shows an editorial mindset developing alongside these progressive tendencies, which is something all the more crucial for a group whose sound is only growing richer.
As to the origins of the title, it’s obviously harder to say without any lyrics to work from, but it’s another evocative element from L’Ira del Baccano, which seems to find its core in the partnership between Santori and Malerba. The two weave layers of riffs and synth and effects fluidly around each other throughout Paradox Hourglass, and while ultimately there isn’t much about the record that one might consider a paradox — that is to say, they’re not making it hard to figure out where they’re coming from or purposefully melding together disparate sonic elements — the new stage their approach has reached is plain to hear from the start of 11-minute opener. And, if we’re looking for clues as to where Santori, Malerba, Bacchisio and Salvi are coming from this time around, it is telling that the first piece of the two-parter title-track is subtitled “L’Ira del Baccano,” eponymous to the band itself.
Across its span and that of the complementary eight-minute “Paradox Hourglass – Part 2: No Razor for Occam,” the band touch on psychedelic melody without losing their real-world footing tonally or their underlying crunch of riff. Salvi‘s drums hold together the proceedings as they no doubt did the jams that birthed them, but whether it’s the departure-to-drift in the second half of “Paradox Hourglass – Part 1: L’Ira del Baccano” or the guitar scale-work fleshed out by layers of keys and effects swirl in the follow-up, a sense of control remains prevalent in their approach. The digital version of Paradox Hourglass presents a 19:42 bonus track that brings these two pieces together as one entirety, and while there’s still an audible break between one part and the next, hearing them in that form only highlights the nuance developing in L’Ira del Baccano‘s sound and the manner in which the band is drawing from multiple sides as they stomp and roll their way through movements tied to each other through rhythmic flow and conceptual consistency.
Side B brings a like-minded pair of tracks, also 11 and eight minutes, respectively, that push the aesthetic somewhat further out. “Abilene” leads off with a bit more patience than “Paradox Hourglass” and more of a psychedelic flourish to its beginnings, and unfolds to a blend of desert-style riffing and the progressive course-setting that the first half of the record had as its foundation — the notion that L’Ira del Baccano know where they’re headed even if they’re keeping it a surprise from their audience. They settle into a mid-paced chug at about two minutes into “Abilene” but have more spaciousness to offer from there, and the theremin-infused (or theremin-sounding, anyhow) reaches in which they wind up are perhaps the most satisfying stretch Paradox Hourglass has to offer in terms of immersing the listener in a hypnotic flow, pushing gradually toward an apex that brings together both sides — the breadth and the crunch — on the way to a clean, purposeful finish.
At 8:06, “The Blind Phoenix Rises” ends out with no less clarity of intent than its predecessor, synth and guitar once more working together to cast an impression both psychedelic and progressive. At about 4:45, there’s a turn toward straightforward riffing, and it seems like L’Ira del Baccano made a conscious decision at that point to let loose a little bit in the studio. No complaints. The uptick in tempo from the first half of the track is welcome and though to close out they fall back into the “chorus,” such as it is, the moment of airing out a more rocking impulse is welcome as an answer to the riff that started “Paradox Hourglass – Part 1: L’Ira del Baccano” and makes as fitting an end as one could ask.
They stretch a couple seconds of silence to get over the eight-minute mark, but with the clear drive toward symmetry, one is inclined to give that ground in service to the presentation of the album as a whole. With Paradox Hourglass, L’Ira del Baccano are less marking their arrival than they are establishing the path they want to take as a group, but the prevailing vibe toward direction is something of a landmark for them nonetheless, even if that landmark is in the shape of an arrow pointing toward the next one. I still won’t venture a guess as to what the overarching paradox here is, though, because from where I sit, it sure seems like L’Ira del Baccano have it all figured out as to who they want to be and what they want to accomplish as a band.
Italian cosmic doom masters Ufomammut will issue their new album, 8, Sept. 22 on Neurot Recordings. A behind-the-scenes video of the band in the recording studio has been posted, and festival dates announced before and after the release, which follows the band’s 2015 outing, Ecate (review here), and true enough to its title, is their eighth full-length. The long-running three-piece haven’t exactly been shy about their studio process, and last year found them posting regular updates, photos, videos, etc., as they put the record together, and it seems some more of that has made its way out too, so right on. The more the merrier, and as far as the rest of 2017 goes, hold a spot on your top 20 list, because Ufomammut never disappoint.
This just came in off the PR wire to make my day:
Ufomammut announce new album “8” incoming September 22nd via Neurot Recordings; plus live dates announced
Speak to any purveyor of the darkened heavy sonic and they’ll recommend Ufomammut. Masters of melding uncompromisingly heavy magic with psychedelic swirls, it is now with the heaviest and most immense pleasure to announce that the Italian alchemic juggernaut will be offering a new album this September 22nd (Neurot Recordings) consisting of eight darkened gems, aptly titled 8.
Sonically and symbolically, 8 is not only wickedly limitless in its heaviness, powerfulness and commanding nature, but how it arrests the listener’s mind creating a wholly unbounded and impenetrable sensory experience. Laden with symbolic nuances, 8 most obviously gestures towards this being Ufomammut’s 8th offering, comprised of 8 stunningly immersive tracks that flow into each other without interruption. This flow can also be seen when you tip 8 horizontally, thus it morphs into the leniscate from algebraic geometry – a plane curve that meets at central point – or more commonly known as the infinity symbol. A continuous stream of movement reflective of the uninterrupted nature of the album but also the continued togetherness of the essential elements of the band – Urlo, Poia and Vita – since the beginning of the band’s history. ? tipped vertically sees us return to the number 8. It must be stressed there is no singular pronunciation of the title, 8 is to be spoken in every language e.g. “eight” in English, “otto” in Italian, “acht” in German and so on.
As stated, 8 is a continuous flux of music, a singular entity, which can be defined in micro measurements by its eight satellite songs. Each track expands upon the preceding song, unfolding into an exceedingly dense, malevolent and formidable journey, resulting in this being Ufomammut’s most extreme venture yet, with no permittance for breathing space in the 48 minutes. The album’s predecessor Ecate has now been put to rest and we can be assured that 8 is an essential turning point in the infinity that is Ufommamut’s sonic.
Recorded at Crono Sound Factory in Vimodrone, Milano (IT), 8 is a major turning point in the heavy alchemic arts, with the elements of Ufomammut’s recording constellation being re-aligned. Although the musicians within Ufomammut’s collective remain unturned, a change in recording approach saw the trio playing and recording live together in the same room, even utilising their live sound engineer Ciccio and his project FEMORE for production purposes, with Fabrizio San Pietro on mixing duties. Overdubs were used only for vocals, synth sounds and small details with the result of such endeavour being a stricter focus on the soul, darkened groove and overall cohesion of the music and themselves as musicians. In turn, 8 clarified to Ufomammut who they are as a unit now and their new sonic path…
8 is due for release on September 22nd on vinyl and CD formats via Neurot Recordings and on a limited and regular edition vinyl via Supernatural Cat. Pre order information, album tracks and more to be revealed over the coming months.
In anticipation of Ufomammut’s 8 you can catch the conjurers of heavy mind swirls at the following:
UFOMAMMUT LIVE DATES 16/06 – Freak Valley Fest (Netphen, DE) 18/06 – Hellfest (Clisson, FR) 04/08 – Disintegrate Your Ignorance Fest (Giavera del Montello, IT) 06/10 – Up in Smoke Fest (Pratteln, CH) 13/10 – Korjaamo BlowUp Vol.3 Festival (Helsinki, FI)
Keep your ears and mind open for more news about 8 in the coming weeks…
Italian space metal instrumentalists L’Ira del Baccano will issue their new album, Paradox Hourglass, via Subsound Records on April 14. It’s listed below as their third full-length, but my count has it as their second behind 2014’s Terra 42 (review here) — entirely possible and indeed likely I’m mistaken; the band did have a live release and a split before the studio offering, if one goes by their Bandcamp discography — but either way, preorders are up now for the new one, and after Terra 42‘s blend of cosmic impulses and crunchier, solidified riffing, it seems like one to keep an eye out for.
Comprised of four likely extended-length tracks, Paradox Hourglass will be on vinyl and CD, as the PR wire affirms:
Subsound Records proudly unveil details and pre-orders for the doomdelic instrumental heavy rockers L’IRA DEL BACCANO 3rd album “PARADOX HOURGLASS”
The album will be released on 14th April, distributed by Goodfellas in Italy, Cargo Records Germany, on 5th May via CODE 7 Distribution / Plastic Head in UK and Cobraside Distribution Inc. in USA.
Available in Digipack Cd, 180 gr Coloured Vinyl and Digital
2 years and half after the critically acclaimed “TERRA 42″ the italian band returns with ” PARADOX HOURGLASS ” and continue the instrumental journey through different songs structures while melting in their unique style and sound vibes going from the doom influences of Black Sabbath with the 60’s/70’s psychedelia of Pink Floyd and Hawkwind, to heavy-prog vibes of bands like Rush, as well as the performing freedom of jam bands as The Grateful Dead.
The album has been produced in Rome at Kick Recording Studio by Marco Mastrobuono and the band mastermind Alessandro Drughito Santori. Mixed/Mastered by Mastrobuono & Matteo Kutso Gabbianelli
“PARADOX HOURGLASS” signs again the collaboration and link between the band and the Italian artist Fabio Listrani, who also did all the marvelous artwork for the previous album Terra42.
This time Listrani translate the band music and album main theme, paradoxes, in his fascination for tarots and symbolism..
Tracklist: – Paradox Hourglass part 1 (L’Ira Del Baccano) – Paradox Hourglass part 2 (No Razor For Occam) – Abilene (The trip to) – The Blind Phoenix Rises
The label compilation is kind of a lost art in this age of digital whathaveyou. Used to be imprints put together comps on the regular. Some had rough mixes, some had exclusive tracks or things that wound up getting dropped off albums, and they kind of became a place where you might find something special once and then not run into it again. Italy’s Heavy Psych Sounds, with an ever-expanding roster and an already-full slate of releases as a result, seems intent on reviving the tradition. In addition to the label, booking agency, four-way split series and now two organized festivals under its belt, last year saw the release of Heavy Psych Sounds Volume I, and it seems that, indeed, it was the beginning of a series.
Heavy Psych Sounds Volume II will feature exclusive tracks from Black Rainbows and Killer Boogie and will be released on March 24. The same day, Black Rainbows will release their “The Red Sky Above” as a digital single following-up on last year’s Stellar Prophecy (review here) and leading to speculation of a sixth long-player in the works from them.
From the PR wire:
Heavy Psych Sounds Records presents: HPS CD SAMPLER VOL II (2017)
HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS Records & Booking is stoked to announce: The HPS Records Sampler Vol 2
Europe’s ever-growing riff powerhouse HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS is set to release the second chapter of its “Heavy Psych Sounds Sampler”, featuring 15 bands of the roster among which two exclusive new songs!
This new compilation features 15 tracks taken off the label’s most recent releases (Fatso Jetson, Nick Oliveri, The Freeks…) as well as a nice preview of some upcoming gems from The Sonic Dawn, Farflung, Duel or Cachemira. As an icing on this rifftastic cake, “Heavy Psych Sounds Sampler Vol. 2” offers two exclusive new singles from the mighty Black Rainbows and Killer Boogie.
HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS VOLUME II TRACK LISTING: Black Rainbows “The Red Sky Above” (exclusive track!) Cachemira “Overpopulation” Doctor Cyclops “Lonely Devil” Duel “Witchbanger” Farflung “You Will Kill For Me” Fatso Jetson “Wire Wheels And Robots” Giöbia “This World Was Being Watched Closely” Glitter Wizard-Mycelia Killer Boogie “Eight Ball” (exclusive track!) Mothership “Crown Of Lies” Nick Oliveri “Anything And Everything” The Clamps “Must Destroy” The Golden Grass “Flashing Out Of Sight” The Freeks “Uncle Jack’s Truck” The Sonic Dawn “Summer Voyage”
Heavy Psych Sounds Sampler Vol. 2 Out March 24th on Heavy Psych Sounds
Black Rainbows, “The Red Sky Above”
Unreleased dope track for the Italian fuzzsters, 6 minutes of Doomy, Stoner, Sabbathty groove stuff, recorded specifically for the new HPS Sampler. Recorded during their last tour in a cool studio surrounded by white snow mountains in the north of Italy last January 2017. You can taste the change of direction for the band with a monolithic style, more dark, more heavy, more straight in your face!
HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS is an ever-growing European record label and booking agency specialized in stoner, hard, psychedelic, fuzzy, doomy rock and more largely, all kinds of blazing retro riffage. Since its creation in Roma in 2007, HPS has released projects for Black Rainbows, Nick Oliveri, Karma To Burn, Naam, White Hills, Farflung, Fatso Jetson, Deville, Hot Lunch, Killer Boogie, Mos Generator, Isaak, The Sonic Dawn, Mothership and many more.
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
The fuzz of the people! History counsels healthy skepticism when it comes to anything taking on the tag ‘populi,’ but to say the least, the newcomer Roman trio seem to have brought enough fuzz for everybody. Their debut single, “Lost in Time” — for which you can see the lyrics below, sent as they were down the PR wire — is up now as a name-your-price download through Bandcamp, and both a first EP and a 10-date first European tour seem set to arrive in May, and the three-piece features guitarist/vocalist Pootchie (not to be confused, or maybe to be confused, I don’t really know, with the Simpsons character), who also made a full-length debut last year as a member of Beesus (review here).
In any case, “Lost in Time” gives Queens of the Stone Age-style riffing a garage-minded kick in the pants, and if you’ve got a couple minutes, you can get a sampling of it below. Social media presence is nil, but I also included the link to their Bandcamp, in case you’d like to read all the same stuff there as well.
FVZZ POPVLI – Lost in Time
Established in Rome under the will of three potheads… FvzzPopvli: a brand new trio with musicians coming from different experiences, with an addiction for heavy fuzzy riffs from the Black Sabbath era till the Palm Desert Scene, playing with a garage attitude in a heavy psych mood! The band is ready to promote their first single “Lost In TIme”, wich is actually an exclusive for Bandcamp with an up to you download. The upcoming “EP” is composed of five roaring songs, to quench your thirst of fuzzy and fat sounds!
Lost In Time, by FVZZ POPVLI
Lost In Time by FVZZ POPVLI, released 09 February 2017 Lets get high in the sky, no more sight to try, when you’re in the sky everything will be alright, high in the sky you’re not gonna die, when you feel alright, can you? let’s ride! Are you ready ready to take the flight? Are you ready, ready for the sky? Are you ready? I’m lost in time, are you ready… I, im gonna fly, i fly so high, i bet the skyyyy. Are you lost in time? Now you see me blind! Are you lost at home! And you feel it before! Are you ready, you’re not gonna die! Are you ready, you gonna ride!
FVZZ POPVLI ARE: POOTCHIE – Guitar and Voice (BEESUS,The Wisdoom) DATIO PALATIO – Bass (The Anthony’s Vinyls) GLVE-Drums (TOOT)
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
If a three-part concept record feels like an ambitious rollout for a full-length debut, you’re right, it is. Roman post-metallers Otus issued 7.83Hz last year, digitally and as a gorgeously-packaged, limited run of CDs. On March 20, they’ll follow-through with a pressing via Argonauta Records, whose diverse roster only continues to expand at a rate with which it’s nigh on impossible to keep pace. 7.83Hz tops an unmanageable 77 minutes in its original form, and one doesn’t imagine it’s been pared down for this reissue, but as you can hear in the Bandcamp stream below, Otus have a lot of ground to cover in that time and, well, sometimes swallowing your listeners whole takes a while. Needless to say, much crushing ensues.
Info follows, culled from Argonauta and Otus‘ Bandcamp page:
Italian Doom Sludgers OTUS reveal cover artwork and first single from their forthcoming album.
Born in 2012, OTUS takes elements of post-metal/sludge bands as Isis and Cult of Luna, passing through the Black Sabbath’s doom up to the experimental music of Tool, Om and Sunn O))). The band enrich their sound playing ethnic instruments, building their own synthesizers, chanting mantras and taking particular care of their visual and symbolic identity, from poster art to visual projections.
7.83Hz is a concept album divided in 3 chapters and inspired by Timothy Leary’s quote: Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out.
This musical journey intends to be more empirical and scientific rather than religious/orthodox, showing a possible way to reach the “Doors of Perception”, to tune in with the Universe and finally to reach a lucid detachment.
The conscious “Emptiness” reached through spiritual practices such as meditation and recitation of mantra, takes shape in the 70 minutes of musical solutions contained in this record, reaching their fulcrum at the frequency of 7.83 HZ also known as “Buddha’s frequency”. Surprisingly, when analyzing the frequencies given in response by an electroencephalogram of a person in deep meditation (Alpha & Theta waves), it turns out the coincidence that the earth’s magnetic field happens to be also 7.83 HZ as discovered by the German physicist Winfried Otto Schumann.
If meditation is a way to tune in with what surrounds us, Schumann’s resonance frequency seems to emphasize this concept even more and make it concrete.
OTUS “7.83Hz” will be available in two editions: limited digipack CD with exstensive graphic and digisleeve CD. To be released by Argonauta Records and available from March 20th, 2017.
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
I guess when you’re Roadburn, you can pretty much make any occasion special by adding a handful of bands. So it is for individual day tickets going on sale, which comes accompanied by the news that, oh hey, Pallbearer are going to play, and the guys from Wolves in the Throne Room will debut a new ambient project called Drow Elixir, and because why not, Caïna, Naðra and Rome have also been added to the bill. And while we’re here, here’s more kickass poster art from Costin Chioreanu, highlighting each day’s lineup, already friggin’ staggering as it is, with more still to be added. As Mel Brooks once said, it’s good to be the king.
Click the posters below to enlarge and immediately begin sweating the making of your schedule. Then begin making your schedule. I’m thrilled, humbled and thrilled again to have also gotten confirmation of my own attendance this April, so if you’re going, I’ll see you there:
New additions to Roadburn 2017 line up; day tickets on sale this week
Ahead of day tickets for Roadburn Festival 2017 going on sale this week, a handful of new artists have been confirmed to play at the event which will take place between April 20-23 in Tilburg, The Netherlands.
Few bands have struck such a deep and emotional chord within the world of doom in the last few years as PALLBEARER. The band has spent the last couple of years touring massively around the world, sometimes headlining, sometimes supporting some of our favourite bands, like our beloved curator John Dyer Baizley’s band Baroness who have been on the road with PALLBEARER but a couple of months ago. John couldn’t resist adding an extra something to his curation, and although they will perform on Sunday, April 23, PALLBEARER will be included under John’s curatorship umbrella.
The masterminds behind Wolves In The Throne Room will present their new side project entitled, DROW ELIXIR. Shrouded in mystery for now, little is known about the project. The band commented: “Wolves in the Throne Room will debut our new dark ambient side project DROW ELIXIR at the Roadburn Festival. DROW ELIXIR is woven illusions, ethereal projections and sonic manipulations created with archaic techniques.”
It is an immense pleasure to host such a momentous, never before heard occasion at Roadburn; DROW ELIXIR will perform at the 013 venue on Thursday, April 20.
In 2017, CAÏNA’s second album, Mourner, will be ten years old, and some opportunities just need to be seized. So we invited CAÏNA to celebrate this anniversary in the same form as Mourner was originally born – Andrew Curtis-Brignell, alone, as CAÏNA, will therefore perform the Mourner tenth anniversary set, a unique, once-in-a-lifetime occasion to hear this cult classic performed almost in its entirety, plus a few other bonuses Andrew has in store for us on Sunday, April 23.
In 2016, we introduced our faithful Roadburners to the obscure might of the Icelandic black metal underground. By having Misþyrming as our artist in residence, we were able to feature a series of other bands connected to them on our bill; NAÐRA, which features four Misþyrming members plus the unhinged demon that is vocalist Ö, gave us one of the most enduring experiences of them all.
Like opening a Pandora’s box, all those tortured, twisting hymns of sickness that made Allir Vegir Til Glötunar one of the most harrowing records of 2016 will now resonate inside the Het Patronaat, on Friday, April 21 as if they were hissing, soul-consuming demons flying free.
ROME has been the creative vehicle for Luxembourgian singer/songwriter Jerome Reuter for over a decade already. Throughout this time, his prolific output has seen him traverse several musical plains, building what is by now a genuinely unique, distinctive and recognisable personality. ROME will have their long overdue and much anticipated Roadburn debut at the Het Patronaat, on Thursday, April 20 in Tilburg, The Netherlands.
Day tickets for Roadburn 2017 go on sale at 18:00 CET on Thursday, 12 January, priced at 59 Euro. Three and four day weekend tickets are already on sale, and links for all tickets are below. In addition, due to overwhelming demand, more flextotels have been added to the urban campsite and are now available to purchase.
Roadburn’s artistic director, Walter Hoeijmakers, commented: “Weekend ticket sales are already in full swing, and we know a lot of people have been eager to get their hands on day tickets so here we are! I’m thrilled with the response to the line up so far; Roadburn is an artistic and creative endeavour, into which a lot of thought and energy goes. It’s such a positive feeling to get feedback that people are on board with what we’re doing here.
“The line up is very nearly complete now – just a couple more surprises up our sleeve, plus of course, announcements regarding our side programme are also in the pipeline. All of this, plus the always-anticipated running orders, will be along in due course. We’re already looking forward to April, and sincerely hope that you are too!”
Artists already announced for Roadburn 2017 include Coven, Warning (playing Watching from a Distance in full), Artists in Residence – GNOD, My Dying Bride (performing Turn Loose The Swans in its entirety), Ulver, Hypnopaz?zu (David Tibet & Youth), Zeal & Ardor, Mysticum, Deafheaven, Chelsea Wolfe, and our 2017 curator, John Baizley who will perform with Baroness, plus many more. Roadburn Festival will take place 20-23 April, 2017 at the 013 venue, Tilburg, The Netherlands.
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.
Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.
The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.
This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.
Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.
I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:
Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.
Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.
There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.
A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.
Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.
Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.
There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.
Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.
Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.
Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.
For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.
I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, Neurosis‘ Fires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.
Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.
Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.
I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.
Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.
Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.
Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.
Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.
One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.
If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.
In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.
After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.
Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.
7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know
Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.
German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.
A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.
Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Che, Vista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.
What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.
Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.
2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)
It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.
Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.
The Next 20
Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:
31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll
From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.
Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:
Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment
And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:
Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.
In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.
If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.
And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.