The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016

Posted in Features on December 15th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 20 debut albums of 2016

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.

Of all the lists I do to wrap up or start any given year, this is the hardest. As someone obviously more concerned with first impressions than I am and thus probably better-dressed once said, you only get one chance at them. For bands, that can be a vicious bite in the ass on multiple levels.

To wit, you put out a great debut, fine, but there’s a whole segment of your listeners who’re bound to think you’ll never live up to it again. You put out a meh debut, you sell yourself short. Or maybe your debut is awesome but doesn’t really represent where you want to be as a band, so it’s a really good first impression, but a mistaken one. There are so many things that can go wrong or go right with any LP, but with debuts, the stakes are that much higher because it’s the only time you’ll get the chance to engage your audience for the first time. That matters.

And when it comes to putting together a list of the best debuts of the year, how does one begin to judge? True, some of these acts have done EPs and singles and splits and things like that before, and that’s at least something to go on, but can one really be expected to measure an act’s potential based on a single collection of songs? Is that fair to anyone involved? Or on the other side, is it even possible to take a debut entirely on its own merits, without any consideration for where it might lead the band in question going forward? I know that’s not something I’ve ever been able to do, certainly. Or particularly interested in doing. I like context.

Still, one presses on. I guess the point is that, like picking any kind of prospects, some will pan out and some won’t. I’ve done this for enough years now that I’ve seen groups flame or fade out while others have risen to new heights with each subsequent release. It’s always a mix. But at the same time, it’s important to step back and say that, as of today, this is where it’s at.

And so it is:

KING BUFFALO ORION

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016

1. King Buffalo, Orion
2. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree
3. Heavy Temple, Chassit
4. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
5. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
6. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
7. Wretch, Wretch
8. Year of the Cobra, In the Shadows Below
9. BigPig, Grande Puerco
10. Fuzz Evil, Fuzz Evil
11. Bright Curse, Before the Shore
12. Conclave, Sins of the Elders
13. Pale Grey Lore, Pale Grey Lore
14. High Fighter, Scars and Crosses
15. Spirit Adrift, Chained to Oblivion
16. Bellringer, Jettison
17. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Is Satan Real?
18. Merchant, Suzerain
19. Beastmaker, Lusus Naturae
20. King Dead, Woe and Judgment

Honorable Mention

There are many. First, the self-titled from Pooty Owldom, which had so much weirdo charm it made my head want to explode. And Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun‘s acoustic solo record was technically a debut. And Atala‘s record. And Horehound. And Mother Mooch. And Domkraft. And Spaceslug. And Graves at Sea? Shit. More than a decade after their demo, they finally put out a debut album. And Second Grave‘s full-length would turn out to be their swansong, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the thing. There were a lot of records to consider in putting this list together. As always, it could’ve been a much longer list.

For example, here are 20 more: Swan Valley Heights, Arctic, Blues Funeral, Teacher, Psychedelic Witchcraft, Nonsun, Duel, Banquet, Floodlore, Mindkult‘s EP, Mountain Dust, Red LamaRed Wizard, Limestone Whale, Dunbarrow, Comacozer, Sinister Haze, Pants Exploder, Akasava, Katla and No Man’s Valley. That’s not even the end of it. I could go on.

Notes

It was a fight to the finish. There’s always one, and as late as yesterday I could be found kicking back and forth between King Buffalo and Elephant Tree in the top spot. What was it that finally put King Buffalo‘s Orion over Elephant Tree‘s self-titled? I don’t know. Ask me tomorrow and the answer might be completely different.

They had a lot in common. Not necessarily in terms of style — King Buffalo basked in spacious Americana-infused heavy psych jams while Elephant Tree proffered more earthbound riffing and melodies — but each executed memorable songs across its span in a way that would be unfair to ask of a debut. The potential for what both bands can turn into down the line played a part in the picks, but something else they share between them is that the quality of the work they’re doing now warrants the top spots. Orion and Elephant Tree were great albums, not just great first albums.

From there, we see a wide swath of next-generation encouragement for the future of heavy rock, whether it’s coming from Sweden’s Vokonis or Philadelphia’s Heavy Temple, or London’s Bright Curse, or Los Angeles duo BigPig. The latter act’s punkish fuzz definitely benefited from guitarist/vocalist Dino von Lalli‘s experience playing in Fatso Jetson, but one hopes that as the years go on his own multifaceted songwriting style will continue to grow as well.

A few offerings weren’t necessarily unexpected but still lived up to the anticipation. High Fighter‘s EP prefaced their aggro sludgecore well. Ditto that for the grueling death-sludge of Massachusetts natives Conclave. The aforementioned Bright Curse, Merchant, Fuzz Evil, Atala, Bellringer, Holy Grove, Wretch and Worshipper all had offerings of one sort or another prior to their full-length debuts — in the case of Bellringer, it was just a series of videos, while Wretch had the entire The Gates of Slumber catalog to fall back on — but each of those albums offered surprises nonetheless.

It would’ve been hard not to be taken by the songwriting on display from the likes of Holy Grove, Year of the Cobra, Pale Grey Lore and Beastmaker, who between them covered a pretty broad variety of atmosphere but found ways to deliver high-quality crafted material in that. Those albums were a pleasure to hear. Put Boston’s Worshipper in that category as well, though they were just as much a standout from the pack in terms of their performance as what they were performing. Speaking of performance, the lush melodies from Church of the Cosmic Skull and classic progressive flourish were enough to make me a believer. Simply gorgeous. And one-man outfit Spirit Adrift shined, if in that matte-black doom kind of way, on an encouraging collection of modern melancholic heavy that seemed to hint at sprawl to come.

As we get down to the bottom of the list we find Pennsylvania ambient heavy post-rockers King Dead. Their Woe and Judgment was released digitally last year (2015) but the LP came out earlier this year, so I wasn’t quite sure where to place them ultimately. I know they got some mention on the 2015 lists somewhere, but while they’re an act who’ve flown under a lot of people’s radar as yet, I have good feelings about how they might continue to dig into their sound and the balance of bleakness and psychedelic color they bring to their material. They’re slated for a follow-up in 2017, so this won’t be the last list on which they appear in the next few weeks.

Like I said at the outset, putting out a debut album is a special moment for any band. Not everyone gets to that point and not everyone gets beyond it, so while a list like this is inherently bound to have some element of speculation, it’s still a worthy endeavor to celebrate the accomplishments of those who hit that crucial moment in their creative development. Hopefully these acts continue to grow, flourish, and build on what they’ve thus far been able to realize sonically. That’s the ideal.

And before I go, once again, let me reinforce the notion that I recognize this is just a fraction of the whole. I’d like it to be the start of a conversation. If there was a debut album that kicked your ass this year and you don’t see it here, please drop a note in the comments below. I’m sure I’ll be adding more honorable mentions and whatnot over the next couple days, so if you see glaring omissions, let’s have ’em.

Thanks for reading.

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High Fighter Post “Darkest Days” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 28th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

high-fighter

Among the benefits of the democratization of the digital media apparatus is that it lets bands show what they’re all about on their own terms. It raises the possibilities of what an outfit working DIY to whatever degree can accomplish. One still needs skill, but skill and some editing software can get you pretty far in making your own video, without the need for a cutting room, a floor, scissors, or whatever else might’ve been involved in that process in years gone.

When it comes to showing what they’re all about, Hamburg sludge metallers High Fighter — whose new video for “Darkest Days” was put together by bassist Constantin Wüst as a DIY effort — have little use for ambiguity: They’re about kicking ass on stage, having a good time and occasionally tripping out with some psychedelic edge in their music. That was the case across their 2016 Svart Records debut album, Scars and Crosses (review here), and “Darkest Days” summarizes it well, bringing together onstage and backstage footage with a few visual effects, quick cuts to match the song’s intensity of drive, and a fitting depiction of the energy High Fighter bring to their delivery.

The clip also finds the five-piece of Wüst, vocalist Mona Miluski, guitarists Christian “Shi” Pappas and Ingwer Boysen, and drummer/backing vocalist Thomas Wildelau marking their second anniversary as a band. It’s been a productive two years, to say the least. They made a quick debut in 2014 with the EP The Goat Ritual (review here) and have toured steadily to support their offerings — and, as a result, compiled footage from which to build videos — appearing at club shows and festivals around Europe’s heavy underground alongside the likes of Earth Ship and, most recently, heavy prog forerunners Elder.

Cheers to High Fighter on the anniversary and all the fruits their fervency has yielded thus far. One can’t help but get the sense they’re still just getting started.

Enjoy “Darkest Days” below, followed by PR wire info and some comment from Miluski:

High Fighter, “Darkest Days” official video

The Hamburg based 5-piece sludge and stoner metal band has just returned from a quick tour with Elder in October, a busy festival summer with live appearances at such as Summer Breeze Festival, Desertfest Berlin, Up in Smoke and alongside many more shows and tours around Europe in 2016, with their first and critically acclaimed debut album ‘Scars & Crosses’, which came out this summer on Svart Records, HIGH FIGHTER have just released a brand new video for the album track ‘Darkest Days’!

In the typical High Fighter manner, this new video comes like the previous visual works of the band, in a 100% DIY-production. Fuzzy, dark, lots of headbanging and with a wild soundmix of bluesy stoner riffs, screams you will feel to your bone and some heavy sludge tunes, get on your next trip with High Fighter right HERE.

Mona Miluski, vocalist of the band, explains: “Since we’re releasing this video today, exactly two years ago when we unveiled the band to public & released our first EP that day, so many great moments, shows, new friends and experiences followed for us, I see this new video for ‘Darkest Days’ as some cool and trippin summary. Of two more than amazing years of our short and young band history already. Our bassist Constantin again did such great job on the video! He edited it all by himself and it’s again a pure do-it-yourself production. We used several live footage from our shows the past two years, and took some behind the scenes from tours & when we’ve been on the road…It’s a very dark track and video but also visually weird, wild and psychedelic on the other hand. But that’s what you get with High Fighter and on our album ‘Scars & Crosses’ in general: It’s not an easy-listening record, it’s more of a trip, and there’s also a lot of pain and beauty happening to the same time. Choosing the track ‘Darkest Days’ for a new video of High Fighter has only been a matter of course, soundwise, we all dig that song, from the lyrics’ perspective and its representation of our album vibe, but then this heavy contrast which comes with the visual footage of two awesome years with High Fighter. Seems we love contrasts!”

High Fighter on Thee Facebooks

High Fighter website

High Fighter on Bandcamp

Svart Records website

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High Fighter, Scars and Crosses: Trials to Bear

Posted in Reviews on July 27th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

high fighter scars and crosses

What ultimately stands High Fighter‘s Svart-delivered debut long-player, Scars and Crosses apart, aesthetically, is its aggression. The Hamburg, Germany, five-piece of vocalist Mona Miluski, guitarists Christian “Shi” Pappas and Ingwer Boysen, bassist Constantin Wüst and drummer/backing vocalist Thomas Wildelau made their debut in 2014 with the impressively cohesive The Goat Ritual EP (review here), and at its foundation, the story was much the same. Though High Fighter have been duly embraced by the heavy rock community in Europe and beyond, they’re really a metal band. That’s audible in their tonality, their attention to detail, in the clean singing and screams and growls of Miluski and in the arrangements of how and when she switches between them.

Mixed and mastered by Toshi Kasai (Melvins, Leeches of Lore, etc.) from a recording by Jens Siefert at RAMA Studio in Mannheim, the album’s 41-minute span is vehemently straightforward, with some flourish of effects in the guitars and bluesy undertone, but interested primarily in thrust, and when there’s any letup at all as on the swaying start of “Portrait Mind,” it doesn’t last long. It’s an active listen, and the energy with which they deliver the included eight tracks gives the impression of an active band — punching someone in the face, after all, can be a real workout — but what’s going to be the deciding factor for many listeners particularly within the sphere of the heavy underground is whether they view High Fighter‘s metallurgy as righteous in its defiance of a genre status quo that’s only gotten lazier over the last half-decade or a group simply trying to meld styles to whatever degree of success depending on the audience’s point of view.

Listening to the command with which Miluski and the band behind her execute this material makes it easier to argue toward the former. Adrenaline is a major element at work even in the slower chug and wah of the penultimate “Down to the Sky,” but in its more intense moments — looking at you, “Blinders” — Scars and Crosses plays to modern metal sensibilities with a viscerally screamed verse and soaring clean chorus. The dual guitars of Pappas and Boysen careen through riffs of winding thrash on that song but are no less comfortable dug into the more rolling groove of the preceding “The Gatekeeper,” which also trades melody for screams between its verses and choruses, but swaps the structure to suit the groove and the linear built taking place over the song’s five and a half minutes.

high fighter

Following 6:33 opener and longest track (immediate points) “A Silver Heart” and the subsequent “Darkest Days” — which features a choice “ough” grunt from Miluski and the most satisfying direct linear build on offer — “The Gatekeeper” expands the context of Scars and Crosses to a degree, finds High Fighter leaning more toward groove than assault, but as noted, “Blinders” is perhaps the most raging cut on the record, so the balance is readjusted almost immediately as side A rounds out. What unites those two tracks, the first two, and the four still to come on side B is the songwriting and the confidence in execution that High Fighter show across the board. The Goat Ritual showed solid potential, but Scars and Crosses takes pivotal steps in positioning High Fighter where they would seem to want to be sound-wise — in a space between worlds that few bands would be so bold as to willfully inhabit.

“Portrait Mind” continues the thread at the launch of the album’s second half but also boasts a highlight guitar solo, while the subsequent “Gods” seems to nod back at “The Gatekeeper” with a desert rock riff reconstituted to suit High Fighter‘s purposes, giving a fuller look at what might become an expanded context over time for their approach. That continues in “Down to the Sky” as they draw back on some of the urgency in order to let a fluidity take hold for a few minutes in the song’s first half, Wildelau‘s kick offering firm punctuation throughout and signaling the launch of the solo section in the final third with an uptick in pace leading back to the chorus. This leaves the title-track with an even more difficult task of summarizing the album as a whole.

It does so with a central push derived in part from Kyuss‘ “Odyssey” that arrives offset by a slowdown hook and layered-in lead work that solidifies around a still-upbeat but nod-ready groove before expanding outward with effects on the guitar, vocal harmonies and a move into the apex of the record itself before a final minute filled only by the hum of feedback. Certainly that says it all as much as anything I could come up with, and “Scars and Crosses” rounds out the album by emphasizing what are already the band’s strengths in songwriting and performance while also giving a look at possible sides of their personality they might play with going forward. Make no mistake, they’re already a solid band, and I think Scars and Crosses deserves consideration among 2016’s most accomplished debuts, but High Fighter give no indication in these songs that this is the sum total of what they have to say as a unit, and that only bodes well for their future progress.

High Fighter, “Blinders” official video

High Fighter on Thee Facebooks

High Fighter website

High Fighter on Bandcamp

Svart Records website

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High Fighter Premiere “Blinders” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 27th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

high fighter

Hamburg-based purveyors of sludgy punishment High Fighter are getting ready to release their debut full-length, Scars and Crosses, via respected purveyor Svart Records on June 10. Like the 2014 EP that preceded it, The Goat Ritual (review here), the album mixes aggressive modern metal with heavy-riffing impulses, the vocals of frontwoman Mona Miluski switching fluidly between raspy screams, low growls and clean-sung choruses naturally, as on the track “Blinders,” for which the five-piece have a brand new video premiering today.

The song is an excellent choice to feature ahead of the album’s release, because it emphasizes the manic sensibility that the band is able to bring to their material. With guitarists Christian “Shi” Pappas and Ingwer Boysen tearing into thrashy riffs as bassist Constantin Wüst and drummer/backing vocalist Thomas Wildelau hold the course together, “Blinders” runs full-speed and seems to time its punch just right to land on the unsuspecting listener’s jaw. Even the video — three solid minutes of a dude walking angrily toward the camera, with various manipulations and so on — has this sense of tension that Miluski‘s quick-changing vocal approach shoves over the line between raucous and raging.

And, as noted, that rage comes accompanied by a fervent sense of melody, particularly in the chorus, which remains catchy and informs a structured feel despite how out of control other parts might seem. It’s something else to witness, so by all means, feel free to do that.

High Fighter recently announced tour dates for July with Earth Ship and Mammoth Storm, and you’ll find them (along with all the other upcoming live shows, including tonight’s), as well as a quote from Miluski giving some thematic insight into “Blinders,” under the video below.

Please enjoy:

High Fighter, “Blinders” official video

Mona Miluski on “Blinders”

Think this track perfectly represents one of the main issues we deal with on our debut record, Scars & Crosses. it’s about a dark past, about the wounds and scars of your soul that life may have given you. It’s about your inner demons, and especially people in society or in any relationships will find your scars as a bad attitude, a bad character. You often need to be a ‘Blinder,’ change yourself until you will be accepted, liked or loved. On this album we say no, having your scars is not bad character and you should not change yourself or try to ignore these scars until you’re “worth” being loved. Learn to also love those who have their scars, we all have them… These darkest days, moments and demons in life, your entire history — our scars engrave us — they belong to you as much as the good sides.

High Fighter live:
27.05 Stadtfest Bad Oldesloe
10.06 Hamburg, Album Release show – with Jucifer & The Moth
17.06 Würzburg – with The Midnight Ghost Train
18.06 Karlsruhe – with The Midnight Ghost Train
02.07 Stadtfest Mücheln

Album summer release tour with Earth Ship & Mammoth Storm:
22.07 Kiel, DE – Kieler Schaubude
23.07 Naaldwijk / Den Haag, NL – De Flatertheek
24.07 Le Havre, FR – Mac Daid’s
25.07 Nantes, FR – Le Ferrailleur
26.07 Köln, DE – Underground
27.07 Weinheim, DE – Cafe Central
28.07 Berlin, DE – Badehaus Szimpla
29.07 Erfurt, DE – From Hell
30.07 Hamburg, DE – Fundbureau

17.08 Summer Breeze Festival
02.09 MetallerGrillen
10.09 Open Air Fraureuth

High Fighter website

High Fighter on Thee Facebooks

Svart Records

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High Fighter Announce Scars and Crosses Album Details

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

high fighter

German sludge metallers High Fighter have set a June 10 release for their debut album, Scars and Crosses, through Svart Records. It’s been something of a whirlwind for the hardcore-influenced five-piece since issuing their debut EP, The Goat Ritual (review here), in 2014, playing shows around Europe and finally announcing they’d hooked up with respected purveyor Svart last month. As they did for the EP, they’ll be touring for Scars and Crosses, and it seems fair to expect that the dates below are the first list of many to come. I’ll post more when I know more.

For now, check out the frickin’ excellent cover art by Dominic Sohor for Scars and Crosses, as well as the tracklisting, below, courtesy of the PR wire:

high fighter scars and crosses

HIGH FIGHTER ANNOUNCE NEW ALBUM DETAILS!

And unveil album cover, title & tracklist!

Hamburg-based Sludge Metal / Stoner / Power Doom band HIGH FIGHTER, who already gained high praise in the scene for their self-released demo EP ‘The Goat Ritual’ back in the end of 2014, have just unveiled some new details about their upcoming, first full length album! After the band formed in the summer of 2014 and in one band year only, High Fighter heavily toured across Europe including UK dates, shared the stages with bands such as Ahab, Mammoth Storm, The Midnight Ghost Train, Corrosion of Conformity or Greenleaf, and played festivals in 2015 such as Stoned from the Underground, Sonic Blast in Portugal, Red Smoke Poland, Hamburg Metaldayz or an exclusive press showcase live at Wacken Open Air 2015.

Now High Fighter have finished the work on their debut studio record, and unveil first details about “Scars & Crosses”, set to be released June 10th 2016 on Svart Records!

“Scars & Crosses” has been recorded live at RAMA Studio in Mannheim, Germany ( Ahab, The Hirsch Effekt, Fjørt & many more ) by Jens Siefert, and is mixed & mastered by none else than Toshi Kasai (Melvins, Big Business) in Los Angeles. Again the band worked with artist Dominic Sohor from the UK, who has already been responsible for the stunning artwork of ‘The Goat Ritual’ back in 2014, on the band’s upcoming album:

The tracklist will read as follows:

1) A Silver Heart
2) Darkest Days
3) The Gatekeeper
4) Blinders
5) Portrait Mind
6) Gods
7) Down To The Sky
8) Scars & Crosses

On “Scars & Crosses”, High Fighter continue their exciting mix of Stoner Rock, Sludge, Doom, Blues and Metal. The album will be coming out June 10th 2016 on Finland’s cult-label Svart Records, and will be available as a 6-page CD Digi Pack, Digital Download & LP Gatefold.

To support High Fighter’s new album live, the band will be heavily hitting the road again this year. Make sure to catch their energetic stage shows live on the following dates:

28.04.2016: Desertfest Berlin, DE
27.05.2016: Stadtfest Bad Oldesloe, DE
10.06.2016: Bambi Galore, Hamburg, DE – High Fighter Album Release Show, w/ Jucifer, The Moth & Doperuler!
17.06.2016: Immerhin, Würzburg, DE – w/ The Midnight Ghost Train!
18.06.2016 Alte Hackerei, Karlsruhe, DE – w/ The Midnight Ghost Train!
02.07.2016: Stadtfest Mücheln, DE
17-20.08.2016: Summer Breeze Festival, DE
02.09.2016: MetallerGrillen Festival, DE

www.highfighter.de
www.facebook.com/highfighter
www.highfighter.bandcamp.com
www.svartrecords.com

High Fighter, The Goat Ritual (2014)

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