Ruby the Hatchet Announce April Tour Dates with Youngblood Supercult, Windhand and Heavy Temple

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 14th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

If this was a package tour, you’d shit a brick, right? Imagine all four of those bands on the same bill. That’s not how this one’s playing out. It’s Ruby the Hatchet — otherwise known as Philadelphia’s chief heavy psychedelic export; it’s them or Ecstatic Vision, take your pick — starting out with Youngblood Supercult for a few days in the Midwest,then picking up with Windhand on the West Coast, and then meeting fellow Philly natives Heavy Temple for a run through the South after putting in an appearance at Levitation Fest in Austin, TX. Still pretty awesome when it comes right down to it, even if it might be a different kind of deal than what you thought of at first glance at the headline. I did the same thing. So it goes.

Ruby the Hatchet are still out in support of last year’s excellent Planetary Space Child (review here), which is a better cause than most when it comes to reasons to hit the road. Shows start April 13, as the PR wire tells us:

ruby the hatchet tour poster

Ruby the Hatchet Announces U.S. Tour Dates

Philly Heavy Psych Band Set to Hit the Road in Support of New Album ‘Planetary Space Child’; Showcase at Austin’s Levitation Fest

Philadelphia psych rock quintet Ruby the Hatchet has announced U.S. headlining tour dates in support of its celebrated new album Planetary Space Child. Fresh off U.S. dates alongside Pallbearer, Ruby the Hatchet will launch the tour on April 13 in Canton, OH. The spring trek will include support from Youngblood Supercult and Heavy Temple and also see Ruby the Hatchet’s perform as part of Austin’s acclaimed Levitation Festival on April 26. From April 19-23, Ruby the Hatchet will play west coast live dates supporting Windhand.

Ruby the Hatchet tour dates:

w/ Youngblood Supercult
April 13 Canton, OH Buzzbin
April 14 Chicago, IL Reggie’s
April 15 Kansas City, MO Riot Room
April 16 Denver, CO Streets Of London

w/ Windhand
April 19 Seattle, WA Neumos
April 20 Portland, OR Stump Fest
April 21 Sacramento, CA Blue Lamp (* no Windhand)
April 22 San Francisco, CA Slim’s
April 23 Los Angeles, CA Roxy
April 26 Austin, TX Barracuda (as part of Levitation Festival w/ Dead Meadow, etc.)

w/ Heavy Temple
April 28 Houston, TX Satellite Bar
April 29 Little Rock, AR Vino’s
April 30 Nashville, TN The End
May 1 Atlanta, GA The Earl
May 2 Raleigh, NC The Pour House
May 3 Richmond, VA Champion

RUBY THE HATCHET features vocalist Jillian Taylor, guitarist Johnny Scarps, bassist Lake Muir, drummer Owen Stewart and organist Sean Hur. Find the band online at RubytheHatchet.com.

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Ruby the Hatchet, “Planetary Space Child” official video

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2017

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

top-30-of-2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here goes:

30. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
geezer psychoriffadelia

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

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

29. Orango, The Mules of Nana

orango the mules of nana

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed March 27.

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

28. Radio Moscow, New Beginnings

radio moscow new beginnings

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Oct. 6.

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

27. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma

spaceslug time travel dilemma

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

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

26. Mothership, High Strangeness

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

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

25. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days

eternal black bleed the days

Released by Obsidian Sky Records. Reviewed Aug. 1.

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

24. Kadavar, Rough Times

kadavar rough times

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Sept. 6.

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

23. Shroud Eater, Strike the Sun

shroud eater strike the sun

Released by STB Records. Reviewed June 28.

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

22. Enslaved, E

enslaved e

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 4.

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

21. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical

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

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

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

20. Causa Sui, Vibraciones Doradas

causa sui vibraciones doradas

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

19. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable

telekinetic yeti abominable

Released by Sump Pump Records. Reviewed April 10.

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

18. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust

cloud catcher trails of kozmic dust

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

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

17. Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child

ruby the hatchet planetary space child

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 29.

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

16. Alunah, Solennial

alunah solennial

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 1.

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

15. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream

mindkult-lucifers-dream

Released by Transcending Obscurity Records and Caligari Records.

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

14. Argus, From Fields of Fire

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

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

13. Uffe Lorenzen, Galmandsværk

Uffe-Lorenzen-Galmandsvaerk

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

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

12. The Flying Eyes, Burning of the Season

the flying eyes burning of the season

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 11.

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

11. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper

bell witch mirror reaper

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Dec. 27.

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

10. Monolord, Rust

monolord rust

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Oct. 26.

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

9. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn

vokonis-the-sunken-djinn

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 5.

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

8. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals

electric moon stardust rituals

Released by Sulatron Records. Reviewed April 7.

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

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

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

Self-released. Reviewed May 1.

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

6. The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field

the-atomic-bitchwax-force-field

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Dec. 7.

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

5. Atavismo, Inerte

atavismo inerte

Released by Temple of Torturous. Reviewed Feb. 21.

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

4. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe

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

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

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

3. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World

Elder-Reflections-of-a-Floating-World

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

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

2. Colour Haze, In Her Garden

colour haze in her garden

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed March 9.

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

1. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War

all them witches sleeping through the war

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Jan. 27.

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

The Next 20

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

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

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

What’s that? More records? Okay…

Honorable Mentions

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

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

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

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

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

Thank You

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

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

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

And one more time, thank you for reading.

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Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child: Oh, the Places You’ll Trip

Posted in Reviews on August 29th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

ruby-the-hatchet-planetary-space-child

It’s been a steady creep enacted by Philadelphia’s Ruby the Hatchet into the greater and expanding consciousness of American heavy psychedelia. The organ-laced five-piece from the City of Brotherly Love debuted on respected purveyors Tee Pee Records in 2015 with Valley of the Snake (review here), their second album overall behind 2012’s subsequently reissued Ouroboros and 2014’s Eliminator EP, and Planetary Space Child is their third and most cosmically expansive outing yet.

There have been and continue to be consistent themes in the band’s work — the Adam Burke cover art, the prominent vocals of frontwoman Jillian Taylor, the forward rhythmic push from bassist Lake Muir (who’s come aboard since the last record) and drummer Owen Stewart, a feel somewhere between garage heavy, doom rock and classically stoned ’70s-ism — but the seven-track/41-minute Planetary Space Child from nearly every angle simply brings their approach to a new level, whether that’s the additional percussion and Sean Hur‘s keyboard flourish amid the consuming swirl of effect from guitarist Johnny “Scarps” Scarperia in “Pagan Ritual” or the immediate landmark that the hook in the opening title-track gives the band to build from, so that the later drift of centerpiece “The Fool” after the subtly metallized “Killer” and “Pagan Ritual” has a decided outward direction in which it’s moving. One might say the same of the album as a whole in relation to the band’s preceding material. It’s going farther out.

And make no mistake, it gets there, but with Taylor‘s carefully layered vocals, a depth of mix conjured by Hur and engineers Joe Boldizar of Retro City Studios and Zach Goldstein of Kawari Sound, that easily accommodates the spaciousness required by the blend of keys, guitar, bass and drums as well as the atmosphere of Taylor‘s vocals and those backing her in, say, the seven-minute roller “Symphony of the Night” (is that a Castlevania reference?), there’s never any sense of confusion in terms of Ruby the Hatchet‘s intent. Their command of the song is never relinquished, so that as the just-mentioned “Symphony of the Night” moves toward its speedier midsection via an uptick in organ drama, the listener has no trouble following the band through the shift in ambience. Of course, the righteousness of the gallop that ensues and the clear demonstration of dynamic on the part of the group as a whole don’t hurt either in that regard, but that’s nothing new for Ruby the Hatchet, and whether they’re actively engaging galaxial grandiosity on “Planetary Space Child” — just in case you were looking for the perfect phrase to spraypaint on the back of your van to go with that mountaintop wizard you just put on the side of it — or digging into the more proto-metallic “Killer,” which feels perhaps a bit born of their time on the road alongside Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats and is just one of two songs under five minutes long in a mirror with the penultimate “Gemini,” the vibe they set in these early moments holds firm throughout.

ruby the hatchet

The album was reportedly recorded in an 1800s mansion out in the woods of Pennsylvania, and if nothing else, it’s easy to imagine the place had high ceilings, because while Stewart‘s snare has a decided grounding effect, his perfectly-balanced cymbals ring out like splashes complementing the turns in “Killer” and the momentum that boogie-fueled riff of “Pagan Ritual” thrusts toward, and there is a strong feeling of “room” throughout the proceedings as a whole. That can certainly happen in a cramped studio space as well, of course — age of technological wonders and all that — but if Ruby the Hatchet‘s choice of locale was motivated in part by setting a mood for themselves in addition to the audience, it would seem they made the right choice in that regard and the dividends can be heard as much in the unmitigated hookery of “Killer” and “Planetary Space Child” as well as in the Rocka Rolla chug of “Gemini” or the languid motion of “The Fool.”

Anyone who heard Valley of the Snake and paid even a modicum of attention to what the band was doing therein can tell you they want nothing for songcraft, but this too seems to have been refined in the last two years, and while of course “Symphony of the Night” and grand-finale closer “Lightning Comes Again” — which itself is just shy of the seven-minute line that “Symphony of the Night” so fluidly crosses — have their meandering aspects, there’s zero loss of purpose throughout. To wit, the rhythmic change at 2:14 into “Lightning Comes Again” is a masterpiece moment of transition, and the band utterly nails it, bringing the track to its next stage with unmistakable precision without sounding forced or losing the flow that has brought them so gracefully not only through the quiet opening of that song itself, but of the six prior. The band is signaling at that point that they’ve hit the summary moment for Planetary Space Child as a whole, and so they have. Before the next five-ish minutes are up, they’ll call back to the 8-track-ready circa-’73 idolatry of “Gemini” and “Killer,” the staging sensibility of the title-cut, the rhythmic churn of “Pagan Ritual” and even a bit of the horror-rock flourish of “Symphony of the Night,” with Scarperia finding room for a highlight guitar solo and Stewart marking the ending with a flurry of tom fills behind the assurance from Taylor that, “Lightning will come again.”

She makes it a believable proposition, to say the least, though if lightning is what the band caught in a bottle their last time out on Valley of the Snake, then it would seem it’s already returned. They bring the record to an end with no less a sure hand than they began it, and only bring emphasis to the point that especially if they hit the road again as hard for their third LP as they did for their second, it’s time to start considering Ruby the Hatchet among the top purveyors of heavy psych at least along the East Coast. Where so many other acts seem to get mired in the intensity of the region, the cold weather, the traffic, whatever it is, Ruby the Hatchet have plotted and made their escape from the Northeastern crush, and one can only hope that others will follow the path they’re blazing in these tracks. For its standout choruses, the unrestrained feeling of openness that unites them, the flow and richness of its presentation as a whole, front-to-back listening experience, Planetary Space Child is an absolute must and easily one of 2017’s finest offerings.

Ruby the Hatchet, “Planetary Space Child” official video

Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child (2017)

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Ruby the Hatchet Post “Planetary Space Child” Video; Playing Psycho Las Vegas and More

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

ruby-the-hatchet-Photo-Mike-Petzinger

Call me crazy, but am I wrong in thinking that at some point at least one of the sci-fi movies featured in Ruby the Hatchet‘s new video for the title-track of their third album, Planetary Space Child, was on Mystery Science Theater 3000? Aside from being a blatant take on the Star Wars opening scene, that ship underbelly at the beginning of the clip is awfully familiar. Is it Space Mutiny? Or maybe Starcrash from the new season? I can’t say for sure, and apparently there was an endless supply of budget science fiction in the wake of A New Hope in 1977, so I’m sure it could be from any number of films. Probably a few of them used the same ship models anyway.

Whether or not Tom Servo ever ripped on the visuals, what matters is the song “Planetary Space Child” itself. Aside from the righteous, righteous, righteous righteousness of the title, the cut from the album that shares its name — and how would one ever dare to call a record anything else given the opportunity to call it Planetary Space Child? — stands as a demonstration of the kind of breadth Ruby the Hatchet are exploring as they follow-up and expand the cosmic aspects of their sound from even where they were on 2015’s Valley of the Snake (review here) while also emphasizing a natural core of performance true to the live feel the Philly natives bring to their gigs.

Later this month, Ruby the Hatchet will take the stage at Psycho Las Vegas, and if the energy they carry into the Nevada desert is anything like that which they brought to their set this past April at Roadburn 2017 (review here), then those who are fortunate enough to be there to see them will be glad they were. Planetary Space Child, meanwhile, lands on Aug. 25 — it’ll be here before you know it — and the band will also play other shows around the fest. You can find all the info, dates, links, etc., under the video below, courtesy of the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Ruby the Hatchet, “Planetary Space Child” official video

Philadelphia psych rock quintet RUBY THE HATCHET will release its new album, Planetary Space Child, on August 25 via Tee Pee Records. The record showcases richly layered songs that unite heavy, doomy psychedelia with acid rock, proto-prog and melodic, hypnotic songcraft. The far-out title-track clip was created by Jordan Vance (Inter Arma, Windhand) for 3grit.com.

“We didn’t realize ‘Planetary Space Child’ was going to be the title track for the album, but it ended up being the perfect summation,” says vocalist Jillian Taylor. “Lyrically, this song is a perspective play from ancient kings to sci-fi space beings. Create. Destroy. Repeat. It’s an imaginative play on the cyclical nature of humanity, and the music rides the theme; don’t I know you from another world?”

On August 17, RUBY THE HATCHET will perform alongside Mastodon, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, SLEEP and more as one of the featured acts at the 2017 Psycho Las Vegas Festival, set for August 18-20. For more details, visit this location.

RUBY THE HATCHET tour dates:
August 14 Kansas City, MO The Riot Room
August 15 Denver, CO Streets Of London Pub
August 16 Salt Lake City, UT Metro Music Hall
August 17 Las Vegas, NV Hard Rock Hotel (* As part of Psycho Las Vegas Festival)
August 20 Albuquerque, NM Sister
August 22 Saint Louis, MO Fubar
September 9 Philadelphia, PA Johnny Brenda’s

RUBY THE HATCHET features vocalist Jillian Taylor, guitarist Johnny Scarps, bassist Lake Muir, drummer Owen Stewart and organist Sean Hur. Find the band online at RubytheHatchet.com.

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Ruby the Hatchet Announce Planetary Space Child out Aug. 25

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

ruby-the-hatchet-Photo-Mike-Petzinger

I had the remarkably good fortune to see Ruby the Hatchet preview material off their forthcoming third album at day two of this year’s Roadburn festival in the Netherlands this past April. They killed it at Extase. Absolutely owned the room. Later that night, I saw the Philly natives sitting outside at a cafe in Weirdo Canyon, and decided to ask them what the names of the new songs they played were. One was “Pagan Ritual,” and another was “Planetary Space Child,” which would turn out to be the title-track of the new record. They told me the name of the album right then and there, but it didn’t seem fair to include that in the review. Nonetheless, my response when they said it was, “God damn I hope that’s true.”

Because, you know, as far as titles go, that’s pretty over the top in the best way possible.

Turns out it is true. Planetary Space Child will be issued by Tee Pee Records this August, right after Ruby the Hatchet appear at Psycho Las Vegas. No audio from the record yet, but the PR wire brings art and info:

ruby-the-hatchet-planetary-space-child

Ruby the Hatchet to Release New LP, ‘Planetary Space Child’, August 25

Philly Psych Band Rockets its Sound into Exploratory New Realms; Group Confirmed for Psycho Las Vegas Festival

Philadelphia psych rock quintet RUBY THE HATCHET will release its new album, Planetary Space Child, on August 25 via Tee Pee Records. Recorded in an 1800’s era estate deep in the Pennsylvania woods with engineers Joe Boldizar (Retro City Studios), Zach Goldstein (Kawari Sound), and the band’s own Sean Hur, the record is the product of several weeks of self-imposed isolation. Planetary Space Child showcases seven richly layered songs that unite heavy, doomy psychedelia with acid rock, proto-prog and melodic, hypnotic songcraft.

Taking advantage of the century-plus-old manor’s natural acoustics, inherent eeriness and custom-built control room, Planetary Space Child sees RUBY THE HATCHET elevate its sound to hallucinogenic new heights. Boasting a bouncy creepiness, weighty sonic palette and dark, lush layers of experimentation, the album’s bulk forges a hypnotic, head-nodding nirvana while electric vocalist Jillian Taylor spins haunting tales of dreams and death; her voice layered in hazy smoke that infuses the sound of the band with an otherworldly element.

“From content to creation, this album is like nowhere we’ve been before,” comments Taylor. “The last two years have been spent traveling, playing and pushing; both on the road and within ourselves. ‘Planetary Space Child’ is the culmination of that work.”

Planetary Space Child is the follow-up to RUBY THE HATCHET’s critically lauded sophomore LP, Valley of the Snake (Tee Pee Records, 2015), hailed by Verbicide as “a commanding display of hard rock.” Of their last LP, The Obelisk mused “If ‘right now’ has a sound somewhere within heavy or heavy psychedelic rock, it probably isn’t far off from what Philadelphia’s RUBY THE HATCHET conjure.” With Planetary Space Child, RUBY THE HATCHET has defined itself as more than current, toeing the line between past and present while pushing towards the outer reaches of its unique psych rock universe. Moving forward without compromise, it’s clear that RUBY THE HATCHET aren’t just staying present or looking ahead; they’re simply breaking away.

Track listing:
1.) Planetary Space Child
2.) Killer
3.) Pagan Ritual
4.) The Fool
5.) Symphony of the Night
6.) Gemini
7.) Lightning Comes Again

On August 17, RUBY THE HATCHET will perform alongside Mastodon, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, SLEEP and more as one of the featured acts at the 2017 Psycho Las Vegas Festival, set for August 18-20. For more details, visit this location.

RUBY THE HATCHET features vocalist Jillian Taylor, guitarist Johnny Scarps, bassist Lake Muir, drummer Owen Stewart and organist Sean Hur. Find the band online at RubytheHatchet.com.

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Ruby the Hatchet, “Tomorrow Never Comes” live at Roadburn 2017

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