The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2019

Posted in Features on December 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk best of 2019

[PLEASE NOTE: These are not the results of the year-end poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t contributed your list to the cause yet, please do so here.]

Make no mistake, my friends. 2019 was the year it went off the rails.

Every 12-month period brings a lot of records, and they all seem overwhelming, but this was the first year I’ve ever felt quite so helpless when it came time to sit down and actually make my list. Of course, I keep running notes all year long, but even so, ordering everything, bringing it all together? What a mess.

I almost thought of breaking it down into smaller lists in addition to the big one, subgrouped by style. But then, where does doom end and sludge begin? What about psych and heavy rock? Should prog get its own list? And what the hell counts as prog?

In the end, that didn’t seem like it would be doing me any favors, so we’ll stick with the one big list and then others for debut releases and another for EPs, splits, demos and so on. You know, the usual.

Pretty sure I say this every year too, but it bears repeating: if you read any of the below — and thanks if you do — and have a response, be nice. If I’ve forgotten something — and yes, I have; I’m sure of it — that you think needs to be included, and you want to leave a comment that says so, please, by all means. But keep it civil. I know people are passionate about this stuff and so am I, but consider there are probably over 200 offerings covered here by the time you get through all the lists and honorable mentions, and I’m one person. I’m doing my best, and though I try not to, I tend to take being called a dumbass personally. So yeah, chill out and please be constructive in calling me a dumbass. Words matter.

A few hard choices here, most especially for album of the year. I was back and forth with each of the top three in the top spot for a good long while, and it might change again between now and when this post goes up. But it’s been that kind of year. In 2018, there was no question. It was Sleep all the way. The question was what came after that. This year has been different without that kind of duh, punch-in-the-face obvious pick. Relative parity isn’t a bad thing though.

Enough delay. The usual parameters apply. These are a combo of my personal listening habits and what I think are the most important records/achievements of the year, critical importance, etc.

Here we go:

The Top 50 Albums of 2019

#50-31

50. Hazemaze, Hymns of the Damned
49. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
48. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Grandmother
47. PH, Osiris Hayden
46. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
45. Abrahma, In Time for the Last Rays of Light
44. Uffe Lorenzen, Triprapport
43. Swallow the Sun, When a Shadow is Forced into the Light
42. Caustic Casanova, God How I Envy the Deaf
41. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Tre
40. SÂVER, They Came With Sunlight
39. Ogre, Thrice as Strong
38. Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension
37. Vokonis, Grasping Time
36. Sacri Monti, Waiting Room for the Magic Hour
35. Across Tundras, The Rugged Ranges of Curbs and Broken Minds
34. Duel, Valley of Shadows
33. Orodruin, Ruins of Eternity
32. Zaum, Divination
31. Inter Arma, Sulphur English

Notes: Honestly, if this had been the top 20 of the year, I’d still call 2019 a win. Aside from the fact that I somehow thought Caustic Casanova would enjoy coming in a number 42, the sheer quality of this stuff should tell you what kind of year 2019 was. Inter Arma’s Sulphur English was a significant achievement in genre melding, and Orodruin’s return after more than a decade since their last LP was a masterclass in doom worship. Debut albums from SÂVER and Thunderbird Divine and Lightning Born showed marked promise of things to come — and there’s more on them below as well — while Zaum’s, Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree’s and Lamp of the Universe’s meditations, Vokonis’ noise, Abrahma’s emotive progressivisim, Swallow the Sun’s melodic melancholy, Sacri Monti’s boogie, and whatever the hell PH were doing on Osiris Hayden remind just how much the word “heavy” can encompass. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Duel and Uffe Lorenzen and Hazemaze were musts here, and Ogre are perennial favorites whose work always brings a doomly grin. Don’t sleep on any of it.

30. Sun Blood Stories, Haunt Yourself

sun blood stories haunt yourself

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 6.

Until they put out a complementary follow-up record of such fare, one might’ve accused Idaho three-piece Sun Blood Stories of becoming less experimentalist/droned-out/noisy on Haunt Yourself, but they seem to have met their quota one way or the other with the Oct. 2019 advent of Static Sessions Vol. 1. Still, it’s melody, heavy post-rock/psychedelic drift and emotive soul that rule the day on the crushing and enriching Haunt Yourself, and no complaints from me on that.

29. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Everybody’s Going to Die

Church of the Cosmic Skull Everybodys Going to Die

Released by Septaphonic Records. Reviewed Dec. 10.

I don’t have to do anything more than read the name of the album to have the chorus of the title-track stuck in my head, and it’s a reminder that although the Nottingham troupe put so much into their progressive style and vocal harmonies and arrangements, and a more conceptual theme in the case of Everybody’s Going to Die — their answer to 2018’s excellent Science Fiction (review here) — their roots are in songcraft, and it’s the foundation of songcraft that lets them soar. Would be higher on the list if it weren’t so new.

28. Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

devil to pay forever never or whenever

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 4.

With their sixth album, Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay collect 10 tracks of unpretentious-almost-to-a-fault of straightforward heavy rock songwriting that continues to be woefully underappreciated. They have become utterly reliable in that regard — you know, to a certain extent, what’s coming — but the vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (also Apostle of Solitude) and some more metallic turns to the riffing give Forever, Never or Whenever a subtlety that holds up all the more on repeat visits. I don’t know if Devil to Pay will ever get their due, but suffice it to say, they’re due.

27. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds

howling giant the space between worlds

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Oct. 11.

If you’re of a certain age, you remember when the first Playstation came out and everyone looked around at their Nintendos and Segas like, “What the hell am I messing around with Mario Golf for? I could be playing Resident Evil!” That’s kind of what Howling Giant are as compared to “regular” rock bands. They’re the Playstation of heavy: that next progressive step forward carrying an inhuman amount of swagger and personality while still delivering a stepped-up product from their would-be peers. The scariest thing about The Space Between Worlds is it’s their first LP. One looks forward to the next generation.

26. Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

saint vitus saint vitus

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 19.

I know for a fact that bassist Pat Bruders and drummer Henry Vasquez had a hand in writing some of the material on Saint Vitus’ second self-titled LP, and yet the album so much bears the indelible mark of guitarist Dave Chandler that it’s hard not to think of it all as his. The album marked their first release with original singer Scott Reagers since 1995’s Die Healing (discussed here) and featured among their trademark low-tuned slog, an actual punk song, which showed the grinning glee that underlies all they do. Four decades on, Saint Vitus sound like they’re having fun. How is that not a win?

25. Ealdor Bealu, Spirit of the Lonely Places

ealdor bealu spirit of the lonely places

Self-released. Reviewed July 10.

Woodsy Rocky Mountain psychedelia abounded on Boise foursome Ealdor Bealu’s second full-length, and their blend of landscape meditations and grounded heavy progressive melodicism made Spirit of the Lonely Places as much about impact as about space, though of course the real joy was the experience of the entirety. Very much a sophomore album, it learned lessons from 2017’s Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain (review here) that one only hopes the band will continue to push forward in scope as they so gracefully did here.

24. Yatra, Death Ritual

yatra death ritual

Released through Grimoire Records. Discussed Nov. 13, 2018..

Though hard- and to-date quick-working Maryland trio Yatra have already moved on and are looking ahead to releasing their second album, Blood of the Night (review here), their Grimoire-delivered debut, Death Ritual, is impossible to ignore for the impact it had on reminding listeners of the impact that primeval extreme sludge can have. Another couple tours and some bigger label — Relapse, Prosthetic, eOne, Season of Mist, whoever — will decide they’re “ready,” whatever that means, and then sign them and I won’t be cool enough to do track premieres for them anymore, but as far as accolades go, Yatra earn whatever they get and Death Ritual stands among 2019’s most landmark debuts. They’ve already outdone it, but it’s a stunner just the same.

23. Ecstatic Vision, For the Masses

ecstatic vision for the masses

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 17.

Ecstatic Vision frontman Doug Sabolik has cast himself in the mold of Arthur Brown or Dave Wyndorf or probably seven or eight dudes who were in Hawkwind at some point as a manic-but-stoned space rock preacher with as he and his band behind him plunge headfirst-or-feetfirst-it-doesn’t-matter-because-your-body-is-an-illusion-man into the molten multicolor void. For the Masses. The ‘masses,’ such as they are, should be so lucky, but the double-meaning is the real tell for where the Philly unit are coming from. Their shows are the masses — gatherings of spirit and song to give praise to the willful expansion of mind. If you can’t get behind that, you might as well go get a job or something. This ain’t no lightweight party for squares and dabblers. This is a high-potency happening for werewolves on motorcycles and freaks of all stripes. Get weird stay weird. Ecstatic Vision are one mostly-mellow 15-minute “Spine of God”-style psych-epic away from perfection.

22. Beastwars, IV

beastwars iv

Released by Destroy Records. Reviewed June 27.

But for the circumstances that brought it about — i.e. Beastwars vocalist Matt Hyde’s cancer — the unexpected fourth installment in the Beastwars trilogy was nothing if not welcome. An grand-feeling sense of largesse was nothing new to the New Zealand four-piece, but after breaking up and getting back together to make the album, the grim sincerity with which they presented this exploration of mortality and betrayal by one’s own body was no less palpable than the undulating riffs that threatened, as ever, to consume all in their path. I don’t know their future plans in terms of continuing to write and/or record, but there are reports of touring beyond Aus/NZ for 2020, so one way or another, stay tuned for more from them. Whether or not they do anything else, IV was a triumph in spirit and execution.

21. Eternal Black, Slow Burn Suicide

eternal black slow burn suicide

Self-released. Reviewed June 7.

With the nine songs of Slow Burn Suicide, Brooklyn’s Eternal Black began to unveil the true depth of their project. Their 2017 debut, Bleed the Days (review here), was well received, and rightly so, but operated more in a straight-ahead doom sphere. The second outing, by contrast, delved into a particular vision of the style informed by the crunch of peak-era New York noise and crossover hardcore, and it succeeded not just because it did this, but because it did so around a conjuration of memorable riffs and tracks building on accomplishments carried over from its predecessor. Is this an awaited arrival of next-generation ‘New York doom’? Will theirs be a blueprint others will follow? It’s impossible to know now, and their next album will be telling either way, but the course they’ve set is significant.

20. Candlemass, The Door to Doom

candlemass the door to doom

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 22.

It may have been the Tony Iommi guest appearance that got Swedish doom legends Candlemass — the world’s earliest and foremost purveyors of doom both classic and epic — their recent Grammy nomination, but it was the long-overdue reunion with original vocalist Johan Längquist that made the album as a whole as powerful as it was. Pairing Längquist’s theatrical and vital approach with founding bassist Leif Edling’s second-to-none doomcraft, The Door to Doom was a catapult not to the bygone days of the band’s landmark debut, 1986’s Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, but an inspired look at not just what might’ve been had Längquist remained with the band longer, but what might still be if he does this time around. Candlemass have been through their share of singers, but as fresh as The Door to Doom sounded, it’s hard not to hope for something more than a one-off with he who got there first. The songs, the spirit, the sheer heart poured into Candlemass’ doom some 35 years past the band’s start only emphasizes how special they have always been.

19. Nebula, Holy Shit

nebula holy shit

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed June 13.

Anyone who might’ve predicted Nebula getting into the studio and making a new album was either in the room when it happened or talking out their ass. And speaking of, was Nebula’s Holy Shit named for the shock one might’ve felt at its existence, or the surprise at how good it actually sounded when you put it on? I don’t know. I probably won’t ever know. It was the best title I saw all year, but more than that, it was a Nebula record, fueled by the classic riffing and unmitigated desert punk soul of founding/guitarist Eddie Glass, whose absence from the heavy underground for the last decade left a void only too many others whiffed on filling. Holy Shit showed just how singular a player Glass was and is, and how much character there is in his style, particularly in solos, but also in rhythmic changes, and so on. I won’t discount the work of bassist Tom Davies and drummer Mike Amster in making Nebula what they are in this incarnation — they’re essential, obviously — but there’s simply no denying that presence at the band’s core.

18. Valley of the Sun, Old Gods

valley of the sun old gods

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed May 21.

This was a heavy rock record that had everything. Everything. It had songs, style, ups, down, purples, greens, ins, outs, all kinds of whathaveyou. Riffs forever. Valley of the Sun should keep their eyes on Sasquatch, because if they want it, that path is theirs. I know the Cincinnati outfit have had trouble keeping lineups together, but if they can hold onto one, and maybe after their next record start touring more, domestically and abroad — not at all a minor ask, I know — then people will catch on. Old Gods is evidence of the fact that they genuinely have something to offer, and frankly, it’s not at all the first such effective case they’ve made in their career. But they’ve never put anything out that wasn’t a step forward, and yet they’ve never lost sight of the roots of their initial inspiration. And they’ve never sacrificed the song for the riff, which so many do. They’ve only ever gotten better. Let Old Gods be a step toward them getting attention they’ve long since deserved.

17. Kadavar, For the Dead Travel Fast

Kadavar For the Dead Travel Fast

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 28.

In style and production, For the Dead Travel Fast is the most vintage-sounding offering Berlin trio Kadavar have made in over a half decade, yet neither is it looking backward wistfully toward 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) or giving up the modern clarity of 2017’s Rough Times (review here) or 2015’s Berlin (review here). Instead, it strikes a balance with a more sinister edge à la Uncle Acid in songs like “Children of the Night” and “Demons in My Mind” — both singles — and makes a home for itself between proto-metal and garage doom. Whatever genre tag you want to give it — and that might vary from track to track, mind you — it’s unmistakably Kadavar, with the signature hooks and memorable craftsmanship that have made them one of the decade’s most pivotal heavy bands. The real challenge at this point in their career is not to take for granted that Kadavar will produce material of such quality, because, frankly, that’s all they’ve ever done.

16. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Yn Ol I Annwn

mammoth weed wizard bastard yn ol i annwn

Released by New Heavy Sounds. Reviewed Feb. 7.

Welsh sci-fi cosmic doomers Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard billed Yn Ol I Annwn as the final installment of a trilogy that includes their two prior LPs, 2015’s Noeth Ac Anoeth (review here) and 2016’s Y Proffwyd Dwyll (review here), and while that may be true thematically, there’s also no question the third is a marked step forward from anything they’ve done before. They’re one foot out of the airlock and into space as their synth-laden longform riffing and melodies take them to places they’ve not yet gone, explorations of sight as much as sound, aural translation of colors humans aren’t gifted to see. Their songs across the 65-minute span unfold with the grace of a gravity spiral, pulling the listener deeper into the proceedings with each new phase that emerges until, what, obliteration? Stellar genesis? I’m not sure. They’ve reportedly got one more record to make and then they’re done. If that’s true, they’ll be missed then they’re gone.

15. Magic Circle, Departed Souls

magic circle departed souls

Released by 20 Buck Spin. Reviewed April 3.

They’ve found their way to die, and it’s upon an altar of classic metal and doom. And honestly, they make a pretty good case for it. Departed Souls is the third full-length from the Boston unit and their most stylistically realized work yet, with vocalist Brendan Radigan giving a standout performance alongside the guitars of Chris Corry and Renato Montenegro, the bass of Justin DeTore and Michael “Q” Quartulli’s drums, as the entire band taps into vibes from mid-’70s Black Sabbath and brings them to bear with an energy that is unlike anything in Magic Circle’s history. 2015’s Journey Blind (review here) brought in NWOBHM flash in the guitar work, sure enough, but Departed Souls doesn’t so much carry the torch of classic metal as it does use it to burn down the whole village and rebuild it in the five-piece’s image. From their doomed beginnings on their 2013 self-titled debut (review here) to now, they’re an act who’ve genuinely earned cult status. If you can find a backpatch, buy it.

14. Spaceslug, Reign of the Orion

Spaceslug Reign of the Orion cover

Released by BSFD Records. Reviewed Nov. 22.

Controversy! Drama! Well, probably not, but at very least some respectful disagreement on my part. You see, Poland’s Spaceslug have stated publicly that their latest release, the late-2019 surprise Reign of the Orion is an EP. Their albums regularly top 50 minutes, and at 36 minutes, I guess relative to that, you can see where they’re coming from. However, with the flow of these five songs and the ease with which they carry the listener from front-to-back through the listening experience, I’m sticking to my guns and calling Reign of the Orion an album. Sorry guys. True, it’s shorter than the other full-lengths, but it’s got everything you could ask an album to have in terms of how tracks like “Spacerunner” and the shouty “Half-Moon Burns” play into each other, and the fluidity of the outing on the whole is inarguable. An LP by any other name? Whatever you or they want to call it, there’s no question in my mind Reign of the Orion is one of 2019’s best records. If they insist on it being an EP, then it’s the best one of the year, but I still say it belongs in another category altogether, so here it is.

13. Green Lung, Woodland Rites

green lung woodland rites

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Jan. 28.

As hyper-crowded as London is with bands at this moment in history, there continue to be acts who sneak through with an individualized and intriguing perspective on doom and heavy rock, and Green Lung are a perfect example, learning from fellow Brits like Alunah and Elephant Tree and incorporating folk and forest goth vibes to their debut album, Woodland Rites. Laced with organ and stuck-in-the-head choruses like “Let the Devil In” and the creeper “Templar Dawn,” the record also pushed into drifting verses on “Into the Wild,” setting up future experimentation with atmospheric variety and genre manipulation. If part of any first album’s appeal is the potential it represents, Green Lung’s offers plenty, but wherever their subsequent course may or may not take them, their accomplishments here shouldn’t be overlooked. Woodland Rites is nothing less than the heavy rock debut album of the year, and though they emerge from a packed field, the work they do to stand themselves out already carries their mark and an apparent will toward progression. They’re on their way.

12. Lo-Pan, Subtle

lo-pan subtle

Released by Aqualamb Records. Reviewed May 9.

My head immediately goes to the hooks of “Ten Days” and “Ascension Day” and “Savage Heart,” but the up-down surges of guitar in “Old News/New Fire” and the midtempo soulfulness in “A Thousand Miles” are no less resonant when it comes to the actual listening experience of the fifth Lo-Pan LP. Subtle, when it came to living up to its name, as much wasn’t as it was. Flourishes of harmony in the vocals of Jeff Martin, the pops in Jesse Bartz’s snare punctuating and propelling in kind, turns in Scott Thompson’s bass work twisting around the guitar of Chris Thompson, a relative newcomer to the fold making his debut with the band and showing no apparent trouble fitting in. I don’t imagine Lo-Pan is an easy band to join, especially at this point. They thrive on personality clash and, through years of touring, have a chemistry they’ve built between them that comes through even on their recordings. Nonetheless, Subtle is their clearest, sharpest-edged work yet, and as tight as their songwriting has become, they still groove and groove mightily. They are a treasure of American heavy rock and roll. Believe it.

11. Roadsaw, Tinnitus the Night

roadsaw tinnitus the night

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 12.

While members of Roadsaw have spent the intervening years in projects like Kind, White Dynomite, Sasquatch and Murcielago, the Boston heavy rock kingpins have indeed been missed, and Tinnitus the Night works quickly to show why. It’s been well over 20 years since their first LP — hell, it’s been eight since they put out their 2011 self-titled (review here) — but their craft is at its own level, and Tinnitus the Night comes barreling through with “Shake” and “Along for the Ride” and “Final Phase” before opening up to broader fare on side B with “Find What You Need,” “Under the Devil’s Thumb” and “Midazolam” ahead of the subdued finale “Silence,” and the result is nothing less than a classic heavy rock LP structure as befitting what is itself a classic heavy rock LP. What’s Roadsaw’s future? I don’t know. It took them the better part of a decade to make this one happen, so take from that what you will, but to me, all it says is there’s even more reason to be grateful they got it done and out. To say the songs deserve that is putting it mildly.

10. Worshipper, Light in the Wire

worshipper light in the wire

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 24.

I’m not doing a ‘song of the year’ post, but if I was, Worshipper’s “Coming Through” might be it. The opening track from the Boston four-piece’s second album, Light in the Wire, marries classic pop drama in its melody with careening progressive riffing, and sets the tone for a record that is of both future and past, twistingly complex and yet immediately accessible, immersive as an entirety and still comprised of standout moments. These aren’t contradictions in Worshipper’s skillful hands, but the stuff of what’s already becoming their own take on rock. Tied together through melody, skillful rhythmic intricacy and solid structural foundations, “Light in the Wires,” “Visions from Beyond,” “Wither on the Vine” and others throughout post their own triumphs en route to enhancing the album as a whole, while “Nobody Else” and closer “Arise” underscore the emotive basis from which the perspective of the whole LP emanates. There are a lot of “next-gen” heavy rock bands out there weaving prog elements and traditional riffing together to some degree or other. Few, if any, can write a song like Worshipper can. I mean it. This band is something special.

9. Solace, The Brink

solace the brink

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Nov. 21.

What is there to say about Solace? A band who, nine years after revealing the expectation-slaughtering masterpiece A.D. (review here), return with three-fifths of a swapped-out lineup and simply do it again? This band is explosive. Really. Like, they might explode at any minute. It’s a miracle The Brink ever happened. I’ll be honest, I had my doubts. But Solace are a force like nothing else I’ve ever encountered in music. They take metallic aggression, hardcore’s sense of self-righteousness and heavy rock’s groove, set it all to a doomly swing and they play it in such a way as to leave you utterly dumbfounded by what you just experienced. Here’s a challenge though, for the band personally. From me to them. Do another one. Go ahead. Put out another album. You don’t even have to do it in 2020. Do it 2021. Write the songs and give me a no-holds-barred 45-minute LP of the tightest, meanest shit you’ve ever written. Because massive as the accomplishments are on The Brink, it’s the potential to build from them that resonates most here. So do it, guys. Step up and take advantage of the moment. Call me greedy if you want, I don’t care. Give me another Solace record. I dare you.

8. Brume, Rabbits

brume rabbits

Released by Doom Stew Records & DHU Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

Simply a case of a band wildly outdoing themselves. Easy story, yeah? In some ways, maybe, but the truth of what Brume achieve on Rabbits. Their second long-player behind 2017’s Rooster (review here), the five-track offering sees the San Francisco three-piece of vocalist/bassist Susie McMullan, guitarist/vocalist Jamie McCathie and drummer Jordan Perkins-Lewis working with producer Billy Anderson to bring theatricality and emotionalism together in a flowing post-heavy context that’s neither derivative nor working at cross purposes. Instead, it is a gorgeous and blooming undertaking across its 43-minute span, working in its own light/dark spectrum and bringing not just the sense of trapped fragility evoked by the cover art, but a corresponding sureness of intent to its ascendant heavy surges. Like Rooster before it, it is loaded with potential, but in “Scurry” and “Lament” and “Despondence” and “Blue Jay and “Autocrat’s Fool,” there’s a patience and command that absolutely does not waver. So yes, a band outdoing themselves. But so much more too.

7. Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal

mars red sky the task eternal

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Sept. 20.

This may forever be known as the Mars Red Sky album they wrote in a cave, but the Bordeaux three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matieu “Matgaz” Gazeau nonetheless plunged forward along the progressive course they charted back on 2014’s sophomore outing, Stranded in Arcadia (review here), and continued to manifest in 2016’s Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here). Their blend of melody and tonal heft has become a hallmark of their work to this stage in their career, but The Task Eternal continues to add a sense of breadth to the proceedings, giving their sound a full three-dimensional pull that feels tailor-made for headphones and is consuming in its entirety. With experiments in structure like the pairing of “Recast” and “Reacts,” and the rushing sweep of melody in “Hollow King,” Mars Red Sky’s latest is, as ever, their finest. Outdoing themselves would seem to be the task from which the record derives its title. Fine. Just keep going. Please.

6. Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 15.

Every time I think I understand where Kings Destroy want to go as a band, they pull the rug out. That’s what Fantasma Nera is. After their 2015 self-titled (review here) third LP seemed to declare them once and for all in a space between doom and noise rooted in their respective hardcore pasts, the Brooklynite five-piece hooked up with producer David Bottrill (Tool, etc.) and composed a rock album. A real live rock album! With progressive undertones in the guitar work and the most accomplished melodicism of their career, Kings Destroy put everything they had into making Fantasma Nera and one need look no further than the title-track to hear the result of that monumental effort. It is the realization of a band challenging themselves to go so far out of their comfort zone as to be only recognizable in the most rudimentary of ways, and to say it as plainly as I can, “Dead Before” on its own is enough of an accomplishment — and enough of a full-length, at all of 4:25 — to make this list on its own, whatever surrounds it. Song of the year. I’ll say every time I’m a Kings Destroy fan, but I’ve never been gladder to say it than I am in talking about Fantasma Nera.

5. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Dec. 3.

If you’re saying to yourself, “Ah come on, Colour Haze are always on the list when they put out records,” I have two answers. One, you’re right, and two, if you have a problem with that, blow it out your ass. The Munich forefathers of the European heavy psychedelic underground — yup — marked their 25th anniversary this year, and did so not just by putting out an album, but by putting out We Are, which introduces a full-fledged fourth member to what’s been a three-piece since 1998. Granted, it’s not the first time guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald have worked with organist/keyboardist/synthesist Jan Faszbender, but never has the presence of keys been so integral to their work, and never has the dynamic between players shifted in the way it does on tracks like “The Real” and “Life” and “I’m With You,” with keys fleshing out melodies and enriching the bass and guitar. Add to that the Spanish-style guitar on centerpiece “Material Drive” or the operatic flash in the penultimate “Be With Me,” and it’s one more example of one of the best bands on earth refusing to rest on their laurels. Which, as it happens, is why they’re one of the best bands on earth. So hell yes, they’re on all my lists. Fact is my lists are lucky to have them.

4. Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter

blackwater holylight veils of winter

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Sept. 26.

Like nothing else I heard in 2019, Veils of Winter had repeat listenability. It was the album that, most often, when I was choosing something I actually wanted to hear, I went back to time and again. Its dark, moody psychedelic and heavy vibe stands alone among the year’s releases, and is a stylistic milestone that one only hopes other artists will pick up on. Toying with pop melodies on tracks like “Death Realms” and bringing hypnosis and clarity in kind to the subtly traditionalist winding riff of “Moonlit” — would it have been out of place on the first Witchcraft LP? — the Portland, Oregon, five-piece worked on a speedy turnaround and squashed even the significant expectations I had after their self-titled debut (review here) last year. They’ve begun to tour, so I don’t know if another full-length is in the works for 2020, but their craft is enviable in its flow and their songs are shimmering in tone and cohesion alike. Given how bold a step forward Veils of Winter is, I hear nothing in their material to this point to make me think their momentum won’t continue to carry them forward. But, you know, if not, I’d also take about six or seven records just like this one. That’d be fine too. Whatever they want, really.

3. Slomatics, Canyons

Slomatics Canyons

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed May 15.

Belfast, Northern Ireland, three-piece Slomatics — guitarists David Marjury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/synthesist Marty Harvey — finished a narrative trilogy with 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here), and though the storyline was always vague throughout that and the preceding two offerings, the question of how they would proceed nonetheless hung over Canyons prior to its release. The answer is in the songs themselves. From the sci-fi majesty of lumbering, rolling groove in opener and longest track “Gears of Despair” — oh, they grind — through the mega-stomp of “Telemachus, My Son” and the righteously synth-laden wash that consumes “Mind Fortresses on Theia,” Slomatics bring together concept and execution with a readiness that highlights the fact of their 15th anniversary. They are mature in their approach, yes, but the fact is their approach is so much their own and so given to their particular mode of progression that it almost can’t help but feel fresh. How could something so utterly crushing also feel rejuvenating? As they plod through finale “Organic Caverns II” ending with more waves of synth and tectonic guitar — no bass, remember — they are as restorative as they are punishing, and they stand astride that duality with neither mercy nor pretense. Canyons, whether it’s setting up a new story, building from the old, or doing something completely different, stands on its own.

2. Year of the Cobra, Ash and Dust

year of the cobra ash and dust

Released by Prophecy Productions. Reviewed Oct. 24.

My anticipation for and expectations of Year of the Cobra’s second long-player were high most especially after 2017’s Burn Your Dead EP (review here), which along with the dead, set alight the notion that the Seattle duo of bassist/vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith and drummer Jon Barrysmith were simply a heavy/doom band. With elements of post-punk, psych wash, minimalist stretches and propulsive gallop, Ash and Dust cast itself out over an aesthetic range that set a new standard not just for Year of the Cobra, but for anyone who’d dare match them at their own game — and that list will grow with time, absolutely. As their first outing through Prophecy Productions, Ash and Dust threw itself into the very melting pot of its own ambition and emerged with songs that didn’t just bring together disparate ideas, but made them flourish and engage and challenge the listener while still proving consistent in tone and underlying groove. For a two-person, two-instrument outfit (not counting voice, though I should), they proved more malleable than many with more than twice the number of hands on deck, and pushed the notion of what heavy rock is and does forward without stopping to look back or ask for permission. They just did it, and maybe Ash and Dust is the aftermath of all that burning.

2019 Album of the Year

1. Monolord, No Comfort

monolord no comfort

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Look back over the course of this list, and you will find no shortage of bands and releases that surpassed the group in question’s past work. With Gothenburg, Sweden’s Monolord, it wasn’t just about No Comfort — their debut on Relapse, fourth full-length overall — being better than 2017’s Rust (review here), because that was pretty jolly gosh darn enjoyable, but about the band reaching a moment of transcendence to which Rust and all their prior work across 2015’s Vænir (review here) and 2014’s Empress Rising has been leading. With the six tracks of No Comfort, guitarist/vocalist Thomas Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and drummer Esben Willems not only overcome the influences that launched them — taking full ownership of their sound and defending that claim with the sheer quality of their songwriting — and they not only become as identifiable as those influences themselves, but they overcome themselves. No Comfort means no comfort. Monolord take the simplicity that once fueled their riffing, the willful primitivism of their earliest work, and with songs like “Larvae” and “The Bastard Son” and the closing title-track use it as the foundation it was apparently always intended to be. Monolord have toured plenty and certainly their studio output has shown an increasing complexity from one LP to the next, so progression isn’t unexpected, but the manner in which Monolord have executed that progression has been. Even on “The Last Leaf,” which is arguably the most straightforward fare on the album, one hears it as them rather than the manifestation of the acts that inspired them. The same holds for “Skywards” later on, and for the immersion that takes hold as the mournful “Alone Together” plays into “No Comfort” itself. Monolord take their place among the best bands on the planet, and deliver an Album of the Year for 2019 that, like the absolute best, will have an impact lasting much longer than any period of 12 months might convey.

The Top 50 Albums of 2019: Honorable Mention

You didn’t think we’d stop at 50, did you? Come on. You know me better than that. The fact is that the list itself, humongous as it is, is just the start of the tip of an iceberg attached to a glacier that’s somewhere on an entire planet constructed of ice.

Honorable mentions, you say? Yeah, a few. Here they are in no order whatsoever:

Lord Vicar, Goatess, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, Zone Six, Lykantropi, Earth, White Manna, Atala, Tia Carrera, Merlin, WEEED, Híbrido, Cities of Mars, Stone Machine Electric, Bretus, Blackwolfgoat, The Black Wizards, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Alunah, V, Pale Grey Lore, Leeds Point, Sons of Alpha Centauri, Spidergawd, Bus, Death Hawks, BBF, Vessel of Light, Crypt Trip, The Pilgrim, Uffe Lorenzen, Brant Bjork, Doomstress, Black Lung, Kandodo3, Monkey3, Bask, Horseburner, Zed, Bright Curse, Spillage, Sigils, Papir, Dune Sea, Destroyer of Light, Mastiff, Warp, Centrum, Varego, Lord Dying, Volcano, Saint Karloff, Firebreather, High Reeper, Bible of the Devil, Obsidian Sea, Torche, Motorpsycho, Sunn O))), Deadbird, Russian Circles, El Supremo, Pyramidal, Holy Serpent, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Demon Head, Red Beard Wall, Onhou, Kamchatka, Iguana, Arrowhead, The Whims of the Great Magnet, Serial Hawk, Scissorfight, Monte Luna, Lingua Ignota, Valborg, Sageness, Ruff Majik, The Giraffes, High Fighter, Comacozer, Burning Gloom, Swan Valley Heights, Mark Deutrom, Cable, AVER, Superlynx, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Old Mexico, Skraeckoedlan, Godsleep, Øresund Space Collective Meets Black Moon Circle.

Seems cruel to leave it to you to sort through those, but I’m tempted to do just that. You might notice some bigger names there in bands like Earth, Russian Circles, Torche and Sunn O))). Nothing against those bands, but I think we’re seeing a moment where a different group of artists are taking point in terms of innovating heavy styles across an entire swath of microgenres. Either way it’s not a slight that something is here instead of above. And of course, there are plenty of up and coming groups here as well, with Ruff Majik, Elizabeth Colour Wheel — who I’m sure would be a top 30 if I knew the record better than I do — Pale Grey Lore, Monte Luna, Papir, Destroyer of Light, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Skraeckoedlan, and so on, but hell’s bells, there’s already a list of 50 and I’m only one man. How high is the list supposed to go and still be a list?

Bottom line: Music is as endless as space and has as much beauty in it for those willing to hear. Do more digging.

The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2019

green lung woodland rites

1. Green Lung, Woodland Rites
2. Yatra, Death Ritual
3. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds
4. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
5. SÂVER, They Came with Sunlight
6. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
7. Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Nocebo
8. The Pilgrim, Walking into the Forest
9. Sigils, You Build the Altar You Lit the Leaves
10. E-L-R, Maenad
11. Hey Zeus, X
12. Bellrope, You Must Relax
13. Asthma Castle, Mount Crushmore
14. Thronehammer, Usurper of Oaken Throne
15. Inner Altar, Vol. III
16. Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember
17. Hippie Death Cult, 111
18. Faerie Ring, The Clearing
19. Gone Cosmic, Sideways in Time
20. Haze Mage, Chronicles

Honorable Mention: Warp, Pelegrin, Lucy in Blue, Volcano, The Sabbathian, Red Eye Tales, Dune Sea, Dury Dava, Pharlee, Giant Dwarf, Ghost:Hello, Surya, Workshed, Children of the Sün, Burning Gloom, Temple of the Fuzz Witch.

Notes: As ever, I consider a band’s debut album something unique and separate from everything else they’ll ever do, and so worthy of highlighting in its own category. It’s a different standard in my mind, one that takes into account what a group might accomplish going forward as well as what they do on the record itself. Plus, putting out an album is hard. Getting two, three, four, five or more people to agree on anything is an accomplishment. Making a cohesive album? Come on. So yes. We see some crossover from the main list above, but I want to draw attention to Howling Giant, Thunderbird Divine and SÂVER particularly here. There’s a swath of genres represented and I feel like a couple of these releases — Sigils, Bellrope, Thronehammer, Inner Altar, Faerie Ring, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember — didn’t get their due attention. It’s a busy year, I get it. But if you’re skimming through looking for stuff to check out, DON’T IGNORE THIS LIST. Aside from whatever line about the best of tomorrow you want to trot out, there’s important work being done by these acts today. As somebody who’s constantly behind the times, I urge you not to

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2019

geezer spiral fires

1. Geezer, Spiral Fires
2. Ufomammut, XX
3. All Them Witches, 1×1
4. Mount Saturn, Mount Saturn
5. Dopelord, Weedpecker, Major Kong & Spaceslug, 4-Way Split
6. Horehound, Weight
7. Molasses, Mourning Haze
8. Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Split
9. Here Lies Man, No Ground to Walk Upon
10. The Golden Grass, 100 Arrows
11. Mount Atlas, Mistress
12. Midas, Solid Gold Heavy Metal
13. Glory in the Shadows, Glory in the Shadows
14. Hot Breath, Hot Breath
15. Crystal Spiders, Demo
16. Red Wizard, Ogami
17. Thermic Boogie, Fracture
18. Pinto Graham, Dos
19. High Priest, Sanctum
20. Set Fire, Traya
21. Seedium, Awake

Honorable Mention: Love Gang & Smokey Mirror Split, Forebode, Land Mammal, Very Paranoia, Plague of Carcosa, Daal Dazed, Komodor, Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge Split, High on Fire, Mount Soma.

Notes: This is probably the least complete of the lists, because it’s the hardest category for me to keep up with. EPs, singles, demos, splits and basically anything else that isn’t an album, all lumped together. Still, I stand by the picks here, and I don’t think anyone who takes on any of them will regret doing so, whether it’s All Them Witches’ surprisingly weighted first single as a trio, Mount Saturn’s debut release, or Geezer’s cosmic jams. Felt a little like cheating putting Ufomammut on there, since technically XX wasn’t new material so much as reworked stuff captured live, but if you want to call me out on it, my own listening habits also factor in, and I’ve spent plenty of time with those reimagined tracks. But anyway, I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff that hasn’t been included here, so please feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll work accordingly.

Postwax

I haven’t felt comfortable with the idea of writing about it editorially, since I’ve been involved in discussions about it since before it came together and since I did the liner notes for each of the six releases (plus one to come), but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible work done on the Postwax vinyl subscription series by Blues Funeral Recordings. Label head Jadd Shickler and design specialist Peder Bergstrand (also of Lowrider) put together six offerings that came out in the span of this year and when you hold the LPs in your hand, you can feel the passion that went into making them, from the artists in question to those curating the series in the first place. I hear tell there’s going to be a Postwax Year Two, and I don’t know if I’ll be involved or not, but I’m proud of my miniscule part in the work that went into making these and wanted to bring them to your particular attention. They are something special for those who got to partake:

  • Elder, The Gold and Silver Sessions
  • Daxma, Ruins Upon Ruins
  • Besvärjelsen, Frost
  • Big Scenic Nowhere, Dying on the Mountain
  • Domkraft, Slow Fidelity
  • Lowrider, Refractions

And while we’re talking about projects I was proud to be involved with, I also did liner notes for Acrimony’s The Chronicles of Wode box set from Burning World Records and was honored to do so. Thanks to any and everyone in question for having me involved and dealing with me blowing past deadlines one after the next. It is humbling.

Looking Ahead to 2020

A few names and nothing more about what definitely is and/or might be in the works for next year. Woefully incomplete, so feel free to add to it:

1000mods, Wolves in the Throne Room, Deathwhite, Mondo Drag, Drug Cult, Ocean Chief, Soldati, Sergio Ch., Mitochondrial Sun, Geezer, Mirror Queen, Mondo Generator, The Otolith, Asteroid, Yatra, Vestal Claret, Farer, Ryte, Shadow Witch, Six Organs of Admittance, Naxatras, Wolftooth, Snail, Elder, Pale Divine, Grey Skies Fallen, Ruby the Hatchet, Yuri Gagarin, Sasquatch, Godthrymm, Wo Fat, Red Mesa, CB3, Onsegen Ensemble, Insect Ark, Acid Mammoth, Ritual King, Ulls, Om.

Thank You

Thank you for reading, and please, if you have a thought or something you want to share in the comments, please remember to be kind to each other. We are all human beings behind our phones and keyboards, and while we’ll disagree, often in some ways and some cases, a basic level of respect is always appreciated. At least by me.

I am not so deluded as to think anyone might still be reading, but I want it on record how much I appreciate you being a part of this site and a part of my experience in making it. I’ve been ruminating all year since marking the 10th anniversary back in January about how much The Obelisk has become a part of who I am, and it’s utterly essential to my every day. The way I continue to think about it — and myself, as it happens — is a work in progress, and that would not be possible without you. One more time. Thank you. Always. Always thank you. Thank you.

More to come.

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Review & Track Premiere: Scissorfight, Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 28th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Scissorfight Doomus Abruptus Vol 1

[Click play above to stream ‘Where Eagles Drink’ from Scissorfight’s new album, Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1. Album is out Dec. 6 through Salt of the Earth Records with preorders here.]

From some bands, a line like, “Shut up and watch the flame get higher,” might be a pithy social commentary or a statement of humanity’s inaction to avert climate catastrophe. In Scissorfight‘s “Caveman Television,” rest assured, it’s about people who talk too much around a campfire. Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1 is the seventh full-length from the just-came-from-the-forest-already-drunk-and-looking-to-fight New Hampshire four-piece, and a landmark for the simple fact of its existence.

It arrives some 13 years after their last album, Jaggernaut, and some 18 after their arguable pinnacle in 2001’s Mantrapping for Sport and Profit (discussed here) — there were several short releases between those two as well, including splits with Cave In and Pelican and three other EPs: Potential New Agent for Unconventional Warfare (2002), Deathchants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes Vol. 2 (2003) and Victory over Horseshit (2005) — and follows a 2016 revamping of the band that included founding bassist Paul Jarvis and founding guitarist Jay Fortin extending the group’s by-then-legendary fuckall-and-fuck-off attitude to recruiting a new vocalist and drummer to round out the lineup.

Issued through Salt of the Earth Records, the 2016 comeback EP, Chaos County (review here), tested the waters and found them mercifully free of giardia (look it up), and the band’s positive response extended to the live arena as well, with Doug Aubin‘s formidable presence as a frontman and Rick Orcutt‘s work behind the kit helping propel them to Europe as well as through regional shows around New England — their long-established stomping ground.

Particularly after Chaos County, a full-length was an inevitable next step, and Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1 (also on Salt of the Earth) brings the AubinFortinJarvis, and Orcutt incarnation of Scissorfight to a new level in reestablishing the band’s approach. It’s got nine tracks and an LP-ready 39-minute run. Its songs are tight in structure and swing like a right arm throwing a suckerpunch, and they’re heavy like, well, like fucking Scissorfight are heavy. There’s no mistaking that sound.

In some ways, it’ll be the next album that tells the tale of their return as a working band rather than one making a comeback, but if I call Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1 business as usual for Scissorfight, I only mean it as a compliment. Whether it’s the woodsy sounds starting “Caveman Television” at the outset, or the anthemic “Rock and/or Die” playing off the Granite State motto “Live free or die,” or centerpiece “Where Eagles Drink” entering direct conversation with “Blizzards Buzzards Bastards” and “New Hampshire’s Alright if You Like Fighting” from the aforementioned 2001 album while laying the band’s ethic out in admirably plain language for the chorus: “Born on a mountain/Raised in a cave/Drinkin’ and fightin’/All I crave.”

scissorfight

Theirs is a battery of downtuned stomp and aggro burl, and they’ve always done it at their own level. Subtly clever and unsubtle in shoving you down a rhythmic flight of stairs, tying itself to the wooded northern Appalachians of their home with New England’s we-get-two-weeks-of-summer high altitude bad attitude, Scissorfight willfully and defiantly retain their core elements on Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1. That is, while the EP proved it could be done, this is the point at which Scissorfight say with no equivocation they are Scissorfight and, true to character, they don’t give a shit if you’re along for it, the ride’s going either way.

The all-out headspin of second cut “Dumpfight” is a raw punk-derived slammer in its first half, and when it breaks at about two minutes in, Aubin warns of the riff that follows, “Oh shit. Here it comes.” Thanks for the heads up. The image of collecting a swollen jaw is inescapable as the salvo that began with “Caveman Television” continues through “Dumpfight” and into “Coagulus” and “Rock and/or Die” as the record heads through a midsection that would be a beer gut were it not still so able to move.

While there’s little loss of momentum as “Coagulus” makes a grower hook of the line, “All in the name of the hunt” and its title in telling tales of bear traps and other foresty threats, “Rock and/or Die” is singularly catchy and outdone only by the subsequent “Where Eagles Drink,” with its made-for-the-stage call and response in the verse — not the only one on the record, but still a standout — though even “Piss in the Wind”‘s chorus is a masterclass in how to craft fare for drunken singalongs.

The back third of Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1 — let’s just call it the “ass-end” to keep with the mood of the release — is comprised of three final songs between five and six minutes long. With acoustic twang, “The Battle of (Mudhole Mountain)” leads off this final turn, followed by the fuzz-bass led post-industrial ode to the Merrimack Valley “Lead Venom” and closer “Whatcha Get,” which actually pulls back on some of the immediacy that’s been so prevalent throughout Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1 at its outset, but is soon enough given over to the sharpest-edged riff of the album and a chorus that feels especially pointed in remarking “That’s whatcha get for saying ‘never again’.”

And I guess that’s really the core of what the album is all about. From a certain distance, one has to chuckle at the ballsiness in a band releasing their first record in over a decade and including “abrupt” in the name of it, but ballsy is what Scissorfight do and, to one degree or another, have always done, so it’s fitting in that regard if no other. They end with more noise from the woods to leave off with a sense of completion, and while inevitably the conversation around Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1 is still the fact that their lineup has changed, that feeling of being complete is no minor consideration, and it extends to the band itself.

Once again in keeping with the spirit of the album and Scissorfight generally, I’ll say it as plain as I can: I was a fan of Scissorfight with Iron Lung up front. Like, a big fan. Those old records are earthshakers and I wouldn’t tell you otherwise. I don’t know what the impact of Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1 will be, how far it will reach or what the overall reception will be, but if you’ve ever been on board with Scissorfight, and you can’t get on board with this, it isn’t their fault.

Scissorfight on Thee Facebooks

Scissorfight on Instagram

Scissorfight website

Salt of the Earth Records webstore

Salt of the Earth Records on Thee Facebooks

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Scissorfight Open Preorders for Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1; Playing Stoned to Death 4

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 16th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

scissorfight

Welp, if fuckin’ Scissorfight are doing anything, you know there’s gonna be trouble. The fabled Granite State Destroyers have titled their new album, Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1, and you know, seeing as it’s their first full-length in 13 years, calling it ‘Vol. 1′ — as if to imply there’s a follow-up coming any minute now — feels pretty ambitious. Being somewhat familiar with fuckin’ Scissorfight, however, I’m inclined to think that’s the joke. Either way, Salt of the Earth Records has the release out Dec. 6 and preorders have been up for the better part of a month, but frankly, I was waiting to write about it until I actually heard the thing — I can be kind of a stickler that way sometimes — and now that I have, well, let’s just say I’m gonna have a hard time ever writing the word band’s name without the word “fuckin'” in front of it again.

Because fuckin’ Scissorfight.

I’ve locked in a premiere for the opening track sometime in I guess the next month and a half, so stay tuned for that, and if you’re in the band’s native New England region, which they stalk like the low-toned collective mountain skunk ape that they are, they’ll play Stoned to Death 4 next weekend in Vermont and they’ve got release shows in New Hampshire and a gig in Maine. If you live south of Massachusetts, basically you’re fucked. I bet they could tour Europe though if they wanted. Just saying.

No music from Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1 yet, but like I said, keep an eye out. Fuckin’ Scissorfight. Apparently this is their first album on vinyl. Who the hell knew?

Here’s info from the band and Salt of the Earth:

Scissorfight Doomus Abruptus Vol 1

IT IS FINALLY TIME. Decades in the making… The FIRST Scissorfight album to be released on vinyl is upon us!

Preorders start Friday 9/27 Release Date: Friday 12/06

-SCISSORFIGHT “Doomus Abruptus Vol 1” Extremely Limited Edition Hand Numbered Autographed Test Pressings Only (15) Available. Own some history. -$50
-SCISSORFIGHT “Doomus Abruptus Vol 1” -Black Vinyl (Blue Collar Edition)- -$25
-SCISSORFIGHT “Doomus Abruptus Vol 1” Digipak CD -$12

Preorder at: https://www.saltoftheearthrecords.com/music

Track Listing:
Caveman Television
Dumpfight
Coagulus
Rock And/Or Die
Where Eagles Drink
Piss In The Wind
The Battle Of (Mudhole Mountain)
Lead Venom
Whatcha Get

Produced, Recorded, and Mixed by Benny Grotto At Mad Oak Studio (Allston MA). Mastered By Alan Douches West West Side Music.

Scissorfight live:
Sat Oct 26th, The Stone Church, Brattleboro VT (Stoned to Death 4)
Wed Oct 30th, Dover Brickhouse, Dover NH
Sat Nov 9th, Genos Rock Club, Portland ME – Tickets
Fri and Sat Dec 6 and 7, The Shaskeen, Manchester NH

https://www.facebook.com/Scissorfight2016/
https://www.instagram.com/scissorfight2019/
http://scissorfight.com/
https://saltoftheearthrecords.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/SaltOfTheEarthRec/
https://www.saltoftheearthrecords.com

Scissorfight, Live at Geno’s Rock Club, Portland, ME, May 5, 2019

Scissorfight, “Unfinished Business” official video

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Scissorfight Premiere “Unfinished Business” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 22nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

scissorfight

They’ve made it clear they ain’t leavin’. They’ve warned of the dangers of drinking downstream from where the beavers live. They’ve reminisced about how much better the ’70s were. They’ve even had the devil’s shingle — and I have no idea what that means nor desire to know. Now, with their new single, reactivated New Hampshire plunderers Scissorfight call out their “Unfinished Business.” As to what that business might be, it’s something of a mystery, because frontman Doug Aubin gets pretty growly sometimes, but if I had to guess, I’d say it probably involves riffs, beer, kicking ass and, I don’t know, more riffs? Dudes have plenty of riffs to go around.

“Unfinished Business” is one of several songs the Granite State Destroyers laid down at Converse Rubber Tracks‘ studio last year. “Devil’s Shingle” was another, and they’re Scissorfight - Unfinished Businessbeing put out one at a time in order to keep momentum up between the band’s holy-shit-Scissorfight-are-back 2016 return EP, Chaos County (review here), and their next full-length, which they’ll reportedly get to recording in May. That will mark the first new Scissorfight long-player in 12 years since 2006’s Jaggernaut — not to mention their first with Aubin on the mic and Rick Orcutt on drums alongside original members guitarist Jay Fortin and bassist Paul Jarvis. If the four-piece have shown anything about themselves in the last two-plus years that they’ve been around again, however, it’s that they haven’t forgotten how to kick ass. Their stomp remains incredibly, incredibly mean.

I’m not sure whether “Unfinished Business” will end up on the next Scissorfight record or not — that would make its own business unfinished — but its video is charming and raises some interesting points. Consider that when Scissorfight faded out circa ’06, the “hipster” thing was just really getting started. That generation was just beginning to turn over. Now, “those people” have been going to shows for over a decade — is it really fair to think of them as tourists at this point? They’re the ones buying shirts. Just something to keep in mind as you see the cartoon version of the band — adorable — chase down PBR-snagging fashionistas in a giant, antler-laden monster truck that should be well familiar to any longtime fan. Hell’s bells, maybe they just wanted to start a conversation.

Either way, bonus points for the use of the theme song to Welcome Back, Kotter. Gabe Kaplan. Boom-Boom Washington. Classic.

The single is out tomorrow, March 23. Enjoy the video below, followed by a few words from the band:

Scissorfight, “Unfinished Business” official video premiere

Scissorfight on “Unfinished Business”:

These singles we are releasing are kinda one-offs that we recorded at the Converse Rubber Tracks studio last year. Right now we are working out the songs for our next full-length which we go into the studio in May. The video idea has been thrown around for a long time and I finally had some time to pull it off.

Scissorfight website

Scissorfight on Thee Facebooks

Scissorfight on Instagram

Scissorfight on Twitter

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New England Stoner and Doom Fest Adds Earthride, Scissorfight, Curse the Son and Banth to Lineup

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Quintessential Maryland doomers Earthride just wrapped up a tour with unhinged sludge mavens Buzzov*en, and their new single, Witch Gun is available now through Salt of the Earth Records. Next Spring, that same Connecticut-based imprint will also be presenting its inaugural New England Stoner and Doom Festival on April 20 and 21, and though I think if you cut them open — not literally; not advocating anyone try it — Earthride would bleed the waters of the Chesapeake River, wherever they go, doom righteousness follows and no doubt they’ll find due welcome among the other three acts announced today — Scissorfight, Curse the Son and Banth.

Frankly, I’m not sure you could legally put on something called a New England Stoner and Doom Fest and not have Scissorfight take part, though of course it’s worth noting Salt of the Earth put out the band’s reunion EP, Chaos County (review here), in 2016. So that probably helps. Likewise, Curse the Son and Banth will represent the underrated home-state sphere of Connecticut riffing when the fest kicks off at Altones in Jewett City, CT, next Spring.

Proud to have The Obelisk involved in sponsoring this one. I’ve known fest-organizer Scott “Grandpa” Harrington for at least a decade at this point and his passion for heavy music and vigorous support for same has never wavered. He’s going to put together a killer event. First announcement follows, and of course there’s much more to come:

new-england-stoner-and-doom-fest

We were going to announce the first band officially playing NEW ENGLAND STONER AND DOOM FESTIVAL today, but instead we decided it would be more fun to announce four!

So New England, make no mistake about it..
Shits about to get real heavy….

**SCISSORFIGHT
**EARTHRIDE
**CURSE THE SON
**BANTH

All performing at the
NEW ENGLAND STONER AND DOOM FESTIVAL 2018

More bands TBA soon!

https://www.facebook.com/NewEnglandStonerAndDoomFest/
https://www.saltoftheearthrecords.com/

Earthride, Live at Maryland Doom Fest 2017

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Scissorfight Premiere “We Ain’t Leaving” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 18th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

scissorfight photo muzzey

Are Scissorfight leaving? Nope. They ain’t. At least not until there’s more fucking rock than you ever have seen.

Such was the inarguable mission statement of the New Hampshire heavy riffers’ return EP, Chaos County (review here), which was issued last year via Salt of the Earth Records and served as my pick for the Best Short Release of 2016. Being the first offering of any kind from the band in a decade, “We Ain’t Leaving” is probably as much about saying “we’re back” as delaying any kind of premature departure, but one way or another, its huge, swaggering groove, granite-weighted tonality and gruff vocals get the message across to any and all willing to hear it: Scissorfight still destroy. That’s basically been their thing all along.

Chaos County returned them to the task with particular efficiency and force. The arrival of vocalist Doug Aubin and drummer Rick Orcutt alongside founding guitarist Jay Fortin and bassist Paul Jarvis only seemed to bolster the steamroller that the EP’s five tracks became, and as the leadoff, “We Ain’t Leaving” (also listed as “We Ain’t Leavin'” on the release itself) was the opening salvo that introduced listeners to the new hand from which Scissorfight‘s collective middle finger to planet Earth extended. Having hit the road in Europe this past Spring to play Roadburn 2017 (review here) and Desertfest London alongside compatriots Backwoods Payback, it seems only fair that the official video for “We Ain’t Leaving” should also come from the stage.

It finds them on their home turf — if I’m not mistaken, it’s The Shaskeen, in Manchester, NH — at a recent gig following their return from abroad, and you can see their rabble-rousing ways in full effect among the locals. Compiled in part from submitted footage from the show amid scenes of natural violence, car wrecks, and so on, “We Ain’t Leaving” portrays the riotousness for which Scissorfight have enjoyed a long-earned reputation live, and shows that while they’re long past the 20-year mark as a band, they’re still just getting (re-)started. Don’t expect them to leave anytime soon.

Some live dates follow the clip below. Please enjoy:

Scissorfight, “We Ain’t Leaving” official video

Scissorfight live:
Friday Oct 13 2017, The Stone Church – Newmarket NH
Friday Oct 20 2017, Empire – Portland ME
Friday Oct 21 2017, Great Scott – Allston MA

Scissorfight on Thee Facebooks

Scissorfight on Instagram

Scissorfight website

Salt of the Earth Records webstore

Salt of the Earth Records on Thee Facebooks

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GIVEAWAY: Win a Prize Pack from Salt of the Earth Records with Cortez, Scissorfight, Atala and More!

Posted in Features on June 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

salt-of-the-earth-records-prize-pack

[TO ENTER GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment on this post with your email address in the form. You’ll be contacted at that address if you win.]

My pleasure today to partner up with Salt of the Earth Records for a nine-album prize pack giveaway that includes releases from Cortez, Scissorfight, Buzzard Canyon, Ol’ Time Moonshine, When the Deadbolt Breaks, Atala, Oxblood Forge and Shadow Witch.

The occasion is the June 16 release of Cortez‘s new album, The Depths Below, and to mark it, the label is giving away CD copies of its entire catalog and then some out of its online distro, plus buttons and stickers and presumably any other whatnot they might have laying around the office. You never know with this kind of thing. “Here’s a stapler just for the hell of it!,” and so on.

Please note: I don’t think you’ll actually get a stapler. You will get plenty of killer releases though, which Salt of the Earth details below. Leave a comment on this post to enter. Winner is chosen one week from today, on June 8. Good luck to all:

To celebrate the much anticipated release of CORTEZ “The Depths Below”, we would like to hook a lucky The Obelisk reader up with a killer collection of heavy ass tunes!

The whole damn complete SALT OF THE EARTH RECORDS catalog!!!

CORTEZ – “The Depths Below” (not pictured, but you still get it!)
SCISSORFIGHT – “Chaos County”
BUZZARD CANYON – “Hellfire & Whiskey”
OL’ TIME MOONSHINE -“The Apocalypse Trilogies”
WHEN THE DEADBOLT BREAKS – “Until It All Collides”

Plus from the gems from the SALT OF THE EARTH RECORDS distro vaults…

CORTEZ – “Thunder In A Forgotten Town”
ATALA -“S/T”
OXBLOOD FORGE – “S/T”
SHADOW WITCH – “Sun Killer”

And of course we will also throw in some badass Stickers and Buttons too!

Don’t forget to sign up for our email list @ www.SaltOfTheEarthRecords.com

Remember: The Obelisk does not keep, sell or otherwise use any personal info submitted. Email addresses are gathered simply so the winner can be notified. The end. Thanks.

[TO ENTER GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment on this post with your email address in the form. You’ll be contacted at that address if you win.]

Cortez, “Walk Through Fire”

Cortez on Thee Facebooks

Salt of the Earth Records website

Salt of the Earth Records on Thee Facebooks

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ROADBURN 2017 Day One: Wound of the Warden

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

roadburn banner (Photo JJ Koczan)

04.21.17 – 00.14 — Thursday night — Hotel room

The process of getting up and going to finalize and print out the first issue of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch (download it here) probably couldn’t have been much easier than it was. I credit this entirely to Lee Edwards (of The Sleeping Shaman) and the 013 staff, all of whom expose me for the sulky amateur-hour schlub I am with their sheer professionalism. I continue to be astounded at how lucky I am to work with these people.

coven soundcheck (JJ Koczan)Whilst schlubbing and prior to folding my portion of the 1,000 copies of WCD, I caught a couple seconds of Coven‘s soundcheck, and so knew that was going to be a good time later in the day — not that Roadburn 2017 Day One was light on anticipation. Today actually was my busiest day here. It started intense and ended intense, with a fair bit of back and forth between, and I feel like I’m only being honest when I say I dragged ass for a decent portion of it, despite my best efforts to hyper-caffeinate and pound vitamins, but Roadburn only comes once a year. You stick it out as much as you can.

As such, I was over to Het Patronaat early to catch the start of Wretch. I’d rode in from the airport with the Indianapolis trio just by happenstance, and I knew it would be a quick stop through just to check out part of their set ahead of hoisting myself over to the Main Stage for the start of Crippled Black Phoenix, but the doom called me to the church and it was not to be missed. Before they got going, guitarist/vocalist Karl Simon recalled on stage when The Gates of Slumber played (they had canceled in 2010 owing to that goddamn volcano, only to make the trip a couple years later in 2012), only reinforcing how linked the two bands are, but that’s Wretch (Photo by JJ Koczan)not to take anything away from the presence bassist Bryce Clarke and drummer Chris Gordon bring to the rhythm section or what the new three-piece accomplished on last year’s self-titled debut (review here). Even if it’s grown out of another, it’s a new band.

They made that clear in cuts like “Icebound,” “Running out of Days,” “R.I.P.” and “Drown” from the record, and even managed to sneak in the Judas Priest cover “Winter,” as well as their take on Motörhead‘s “Sweet Revenge.” The hook of “R.I.P.” made it a personal highlight, and The Gates of Slumber‘s “The Wretch” was certainly a fit. I hear tell Wretch are recording a new single while touring the UK with Iron Void on this trip, so hopefully it’s not too long before we hear from them again. In the meantime, I rushed over to catch Crippled Black Phoenix on the Main Stage.

Call it an early headlining set from the by-now-long-ish-running UK avant rock outfit, whose blend of heavy indie, goth, melancholic rock and generally progressive undertone makes them a standout not only on this bill but also generally this planet. Crippled Black Phoenix (Photo by JJ Koczan)They’re simply like no one else. Supporting their latest album, Bronze (review here), they brought in a considerable crowd for it being so light out and managed to cast a balance between life-affirming and crushingly-depressive throughout. To wit, “No Fun” and “Scared and Alone” from Bronze were high points, the latter teased as being their last song without actually being it. They’ve become such an astoundingly different band than they were when they released their debut album, A Love of Shared Disasters, a decade ago, but have manage to lose neither their edge nor their will to push themselves forward. After being a dork for their work for so long, I felt lucky to finally see them play live.

I also knew that I was cool to stay put for the duration of Crippled Black Phoenix, because while much of Roadburn 2017 and indeed every single Roadburn involves bouncing around between stages, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa were hitting the Main Stage next, so I wasn’t going fucking anywhere. The string-laden outfit played the Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn last month and they’ll play here again tomorrow at Het Patronaat for a special “SubDued” mostly-acoustic set, but today was a front-to-back performance of 2016’s For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (review here), and as that was my pick for Album of the Year last year when it came out on Profound Lore, they were my most anticipated band of the entire festival. I didn’t cry to miss them in New York because I knew I’d see them in Tilburg.

However, I kind of did cry when they played “Troubled Cells.” At least teared up at the end when they SubRosa (Photo by JJ Koczan)brought out the backing chorus which, if I’m not mistaken, counted Nathan Carson of Witch Mountain among its ranks. Could be wrong, but the Magma shirt was a dead giveaway. Earlier in the set, I’d gone up after taking pictures to the side of the stage to watch from there for a couple minutes, which is something I let myself do only once per Roadburn. Like Crippled Black Phoenix before them, SubRosa carried the air of being early headliners, and at least for me, they most definitely were. If you’d told me I had to go back to the hotel, pack up my gear and get on a plane home when they were done, I’d have been bummed to leave the rest of the fest behind, but I wouldn’t be able to say I didn’t get my fest’s worth out of Roadburn 2017 after watching SubRosa. Yes, they were that unbelievable. “Black Majesty.” Holy shit. I scurried to the merch area when they were done like the beaten fool I was. Gladly.

There was something of a break for me when they were done. My next stop was Cul de Sac around the corner for Harsh Toke. I’d been fortunate enough to catch the San Diego jammers when they played Roadburn in 2014 (review here), and I’d taken due advantage of the lesson of watching them then, which was “Don’t Harsh Toke (sort of) (Photo by JJ Koczan)miss Harsh Toke,” and so I didn’t want to. Apparently I wasn’t the only one, however. I’d made a quick stop at the hotel to drop off my newly-acquired SubRosa merch, my laptop, coffee thermos, Weirdo Canyon Dispatch issues and other detritus from the early part of the day, and though I got to the smaller venue with 20 minutes to spare, it was still too late to get up front and get a spot where I could see. I bought a patch for five euros, took what wound up being the last open spot at the bar — a seat, no less! — and tried to let my head get into the flow. Given their propensity for groove, it wasn’t much of a challenge to catch my breath and chill out for a few minutes at least until the why-haven’t-you-ordered-a-beer stares of the staff got the better of me. I tried and failed to snap a decent picture of the band on my phone and once more sent myself packing back over to the 013, where Wolves in the Throne Room were on the Main Stage.

Didn’t take long to remember what was so easy to appreciate about them, what with their textured blackened approach, which sounded almost orchestral in that huge space. I hadn’t been in the Green Room yet, so I poked my head in to catch a couple seconds of Esben and the Witch — was bummed to see the miniature photo pit from last year was gone; that thing had been a godsend — ahead of Coven starting on the Main Stage. I didn’t know it until about 10 minutes before they went on, but apparently one needed a special photo pass to shoot Coven‘s set. Whoops. Just about everyone else and their cousin Coven (Photo by JJ Koczan)had one, but I guess I missed that memo. I went backstage to try my luck at getting one and was told in no uncertain terms in which direction to fuck (spoiler alert: “off”), so I went out to the front of the house and waited for Jinx Dawson to emerge in her sparkly mask from the coffin that had been placed in the middle of the stage. Not a hardship, but I felt like a dope. Not like I’m shooting pictures for a magazine or anything. It’s just me on here.

Once Coven got going, they dug wholesale into the classic heavy Satanic-ritual pop rock that’s made them the generational influence that they have been, and came across like the blueprint Ghost wish they could follow. Dawson was in complete command of the crowd and the sense of dark worship and drama was palpable. The biggest crowd of the day so far? I wasn’t counting heads in the Main Stage area, but it might’ve been, just by eyeballing it. i thought maybe I’d pop back over to the Green Room to watch Suma get going, but once again my timing was off and the place was packed out before I could get through the door. Would seem to have helped nothing in terms of timing that I left my watch at home this year. Speaking of amateur hour. Woof. One day I’ll have my shit together. Clearly that was not today.

Having thusly flubbed my shot at watching Suma, I lumbered over to Extase in plenty of time to await the start of The Devil and the Almighty Blues, whose second album, II (review here), was still pretty fresh in my mind. That helped — that always helps — but the truth of the matter is that in the energy of their delivery and their instrumental chemistry on-stage, the Norwegian outfit blew the record right out of the water. I looked around from in front of the stage and saw a lot of familiar faces from Roadburns past. Different genres here tend to attract niche portions of the overall crowd, and judging from how the temperature The Devil and the Almighty Blues (Photo by JJ Koczan)jumped in Extase shortly after The Devil and the Almighty Blues went on, the secret’s out. They came out to “O Death” and the mesh of blues and heavy rock they unleashed seemed in direct response to that fact. They were flat-out awesome, and the kind of act that, as an American, I simply don’t get to see anywhere but here. It wasn’t the first time in the day I felt lucky and it wasn’t the last, but the chance even to catch part of their set gave me a new appreciation for what they’re doing sound-wise, and for a band I already dug, the way they brought their material to life only added to their appeal.

My plan for ending the night would require better timing than I’d had all day, but I was relatively certain I’d be able to pull it off if I played my cards right. It meant skipping out earlier than I wanted to on The Devil and the Almighty Blues, but the basic fact of the matter is that particularly as someone who lives in New England, I’m way, way overdue for catching the reformed Scissorfight live on stage. In the back of my head, I’ve been able to justify not going to their local gigs in Massachusetts or their native New Hampshire by saying, “It’s okay; I’ll catch them at Roadburn,” so there was no way I was going to let myself not do that. Plus, it’s fucking Scissorfight. The band wrote “Granite State Destroyer.” “Blizzard Buzzards Bastards.” “New Hampshire’s Alright if You Like Fighting.” Not exactly like one needs to make excuses to show up.

To get to the bottom line of it, my ultimate opinion of the four-piece live wasScissorfight (Photo by JJ Koczan) pretty much the same as of their 2016 Salt of the Earth Records EP, Chaos County (review here), which is that if you miss this band, you’re only denying yourself an outlet of pure, crushingly heavy joy. I’m not saying that as someone who never saw Scissorfight in their original incarnation. In fact, I caught them multiple times with their original lineup, and whether they’re playing old material or new, Scissorfight in 2017 is no less a beast than they ever were. Guitarist Jay Fortin — of whom I remain embarrassed to take pictures, knowing him as an amazingly talented photographer — still has one of the finest tones in New England. Frontman Doug Aubin is absolutely insane on stage as well as off, as he showed by jumping into the crowd several times and starting a rare Roadburn mosh. Paul Jarvis‘ bass is still the source of heft behind their maddening impact, and newcomer drummer Rick Orcutt fits into those grooves with an ease and swing that makes the songs his own even as he does justice to their original incarnations. Shit was so right on. New songs or old, Scissorfight were a steamroller of riffs and growls that flattened the Green Room, and though the lesson that those who whine about this or that person not being in the band anymore are missing out was one I already knew, such fervent reinforcement of same was a pleasure to behold.

Scissorfight are touring with Backwoods Payback, and the latter Pennsylvania-based trio would be my final stop of the night, over in Extase once again. I got there early enough to get a spot up front and watched as Jeff and Kyle from Atala — labelmates all on Salt of the Earth — bonded over mutual desert connections, and kind of parked myself and made ready to round out the night, taking the last of my notes on Scissorfight — they read like, “Duh, they’re killer” — and asking and being shot done to take a photo with Jamie Cavanagh from Anathema, who was working sound at the venue. I’d already told him earlier that I thought their new record is great, which I do, so whatever. There you go. My nerd-out moment for Roadburn 2017 Day One.

Guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings, bassist Jessica Baker and drummer Erik Larson compriseBackwoods Payback (Photo by JJ Koczan) Backwoods Payback at this point, and goodness gracious, what a band. What a band. Late last year, they snuck out the full-length Fire Not Reason (review here), but they were a different level of righteous on stage, and the balance of fury and melody in what they do remains underrated in US heavy rock. I get that they haven’t been the most active group in the States over the last, say, five years, but especially with Larson on drums, they were every bit as tight as that thrash band I saw last night at the Hard Rock Hideout and had a depth of character to offer in their songwriting that most acts just can’t compete with. Heavy, but emotionally resonant, punkish in their execution but with a touch of metallic aggression as well, they not only write a solid hook like that of “You Don’t Move,” but they give that hook a purpose and an underlying sense of humanity. I’ve missed seeing them play live, and though the last time I caught them — I don’t even know what year it was — was a while back and with a different lineup, what’s always worked at their core was exactly what made me so happy I was able to finish the first night of Roadburn 2017 by watching them play. Once again, the Extase was full. That little club has been a fantastic addition to this festival, and it’s where I plan to start my afternoon tomorrow, as it happens.

Plenty to do before then, however. Including sleep, which as we press on past 3AM local time seems like an increasingly good idea.

Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

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