Hard to believe that by the time they finish this upcoming US tour, complete with stops at Maryland Deathfest as well as the 71Grind in Colorado and Northwest Terrorfest in their native Seattle, it will have been almost exactly half a decade since Samothrace released their last album, Reverence to Stone (review here). I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live their life or anything, but I think it might be time for a follow-up. Of course, the megadoomers have toured regularly since that offering landed like a giant-sized concrete slab carrying other concrete slabs — also it landed on a slab of concrete, and from a considerable height — but still, a third album would be welcome, even after they did the Live at Roadburn outing capturing their set from 2014 at the Netherlands-based fest, at which they, naturally, killed (review here).
They go in the good company of prog-sludge rockers He Whose Ox is Gored, and will be joined on select shows by Void Omnia as well. Their announcement went an awful lot like this:
It’s been a while since we have done a run in the States. Time to change that!! Headlining dates with appearances at Maryland Death Fest, 71Grind Fest and Northwest Terror Fest
This time being joined by our friends in Hewhoseoxisgored and select dates with our friends in Void Omina!!
See you soon!!
Wed 5/17/17 Great Falls, MT Back Alley Pub Fri 5/19/17 Fargo, ND The Aqurarium Sat 5/20/17 Minneapolis, MN The Reverie Sun 5/21/17 Chicago, IL Reggies Joint Mon 5/22/17 Cleveland, OH Now Thats Class Tue 5/23/17 Brooklyn, NY Saint Vitus Thur 5/25/17 Baltimore, MD Maryland Death Festival Fri 5/26/17 Atlanta, GA Club 529 Sat 5/27/17 New Orleans, LA Siberia Sun 5/28/17 Houston, TX Rudyards Tue 5/30/17 Austin, TX The Lost Well Wed 5/31/17 Dallas, TX Three Kings Thur 6/1/17 Oklahoma City, OK 89th St. Fri 6/2/17 Colorado Springs, CO 71 Grind Festival Sat 6/3/17 Salt Lake City, UT Loading Dock Sun 6/4/17 Las Vegas, NV Beauty Bar Tue 6/6/17 Tempe, AZ Yucca Tap Room Wed 6/7/17 Tucson, AZ Hotel Congress Thur 6/8/17 Los Angeles, CA Complex Fri 6/9/17 San Diego, CA Soda Bar Sat 6/10/17 Oakland, CA Golden Bull Thurs 6/15/16 Seattle, WA Northwest Terror Fest
[Click play above to stream ‘Scum of the Earth’ by Wounded Giant. Vae Victis is out April 1 on STB Records.]
Translated from the Latin, the title of Wounded Giant‘s second long-player, Vae Victis, reads as ‘woe to the defeated.’ I’m not sure what contextually that might have to do with the image of Grigori Rasputin, whose wide-eyed glare haunts the mushroom-laden front cover of the regularly-topless Seattle band’s first full-length for STB Records, which arrives following their 2015 split with Goya (review here) on the same label and a self-released 2013 debut album, Lightning Medicine, unless they’re somehow making reference to the Russian Revolution, but if defeat is the theme throughout Vae Victis, the band seem to do an awful lot of conquering for it to work on a meta level.
Rather, from the nine-minute opening title-track — also the longest cut of the seven included (immediate points) — the three-piece stomp and chug their way triumphantly through a dense slog of riffly mud and Pacific Coast grode, gleefully coated in hesher grungus on the Matt Pike-schooled “Vae Victis” itself and all that follows, whether it’s the interlude “Emmanentize the Eschaton” with samples from the Jonestown death tape or the nodding groove they bring to the politically suspect and woefully catchy take on Devo‘s “Mongoloid” that closes. One does not imagine guitarist/vocalist BobbyJames,bassist Dylan A. Rogers or drummer Alex Bytnar would be quick to claim any such victories unless perhaps the requisite trophy came coated in mud and had a statue on top flipping the bird, but the LP-limit-stretching 49-minute run of Vae Victis, produced by Billy Anderson and presented in STB‘s usual gorgeous array of limited and deluxe vinyl editions (one includes a ring), could easily put a few notches in its belt if it so chose.
To wit, Wounded Giant have their own nine-percent ABV beer courtesy of Oliver Brewing. Woe to your defeated liver.
The first line of the album? “I love corruption.” What unfolds from there in the title-cut — which includes its own translation — is a deceptive hook that arrives amid blown-out, riff-led sludge rock, somewhere between Sleep and High on Fire that establishes the tones but not necessarily the complete methodology or scope with which Wounded Giant will work on subsequent tracks. As an opener and accounting for roughly 20 percent of the album, though, its willful filth resounds amid all the drop-out-of-life proselytizing and increasingly harsh, noise-soaked paranoia, ending finally in a scream that gives way to the tom hits and rumble at the start of “Dystheist.”
Shorter, the second cut takes momentum from the end of “Vae Victis” and shoves it along via chugging guitar and double-kick from Bytnar, a more subdued vocal from James marking out a low-fuzzed verse that shifts into an explosive chorus, underlining an influence from thrash in its interplay between tension and release and leaving space in the second half for a guitar solo still too slow to call shredding but that gets the job done anyway and adds depth under the resurgent vocals as the apex hits.
An apparent drawdown is in the works, however, as the organ (or effects-guitar) of “Emmanentize the Eschaton” backs an even slower and even quieter launch for that four-plus-minute break, Wounded Giant moving toward the hypnotic perhaps in an effort to lull listeners into a false sense of security prior to the bludgeoning they’ll receive with centerpiece “Scum of the Earth” and “The Room of the Torch,” the two seven-minute slabs that follow. Either way, the Jonestown clips are manipulated for a suitably otherworldly feel and the ambience builds to some measure of payoff, though purposefully restrained.
Effectively so in making “Scum of the Earth” seem like a return to ground. Unless “Mongoloid” is a bonus track left off one or the other of the LP editions, I don’t know where the split between vinyl sides occurs, but presumably it’s “Scum of the Earth” starting side B, and if so, it seems fair to call the ensuing final four tracks of Vae Victis more straightforward than the first three, and as a (potential) second opener, “Scum of the Earth” sets that in motion. Rolling motion. Tense motion. Furious motion. The middle cut offers a hook and a payoff ending that make it a standout among its peer inclusions, again propelled by Bytnar‘s drumming, and the flow into the organ and tambourine intro of “The Room of the Torch,” over which James declares, “This is a love song,” before howling, is palpable; the groove of the subsequent track about as dug in as Wounded Giant get on their second outing. They execute it with a patience that seems far removed from “Dystheist,” but still maintain an energy especially in the later moments, the guitar working in some melody in a plotted lead over galloping kick and metallic winding basslines.
It comes apart at the end rather than claiming its ultimate victory — so close — but the slowdown into the post-Electric Wizard “Green Scar” is another marked win anyhow, with cleaner vocals and a grueling downer vibe that echoes some of what they did in the first half of the album without such a drastic departure in songwriting. As the last of the originals, “Green Scar” does right to finish with its chorus and a move into fading rumble and noise, as if to highlight the underlying core of structure that’s been at work on Vae Victis all along, if barely recognizable as such for the roughing-up it has received on an aesthetic level. “Mongoloid,” which was controversial upon its release in 1979, rounds out, and to their credit, Wounded Giant do well in recognizing what they can bring to its nodding rhythm tonally. I’m not sure they need it given the heavy lifting their own songs do in conveying their progression since the debut, but I doubt it’ll meet with much protest. Heavy Devo? Yeah, okay.
Across its two halves and six original inclusions, Vae Victis is quick to make a show of its corrosive aspects, but the ultimate story of the record is as much about what Wounded Giant accomplish in putting a spin on the churning semi-metal morass as it is about the thematic woes and defeats that may or may not outwardly define it. That duality can be heard in the interplay between songs on each side as well as in the fuckall that the trio proffer in their general attitude, but though it may seem incongruous at first, over repeat listens it provides Vae Victis with a depth that only makes the experience richer and more satisfying over a longer term. Wounded Giant are good at wallowing, in other words. They get sonic dirt under their fingernails and aren’t shy about putting it on display. And in so doing, they find a way to celebrate defeat without sacrificing the edge of loss amid the revelry.
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
No strangers to spending time on the road at this point, Year of the Cobra are set to make their first trip abroad. The occasion is an appearance set for March 4 at Hell Over Hammaburg, but they’ll be doing headlining gigs starting March 1 in Lille, France, with other shows in Germany as they continue to support their 2016 STB Records debut album, …In the Shadows Below (review here), as well as the limited single you can see above, originally put out by H42 Records and sold through last year, but the final copies of which the Seattle duo will have with them for the shows.
Upon their return, Year of the Cobra will take part March 11 in this year’s Ceremony of Sludge in Portland (info here), and they were also recently confirmed for adding a Pink Floyd cover to the impending Magnetic Eye Records tribute, The Wall [Redux], for which a crowdfunding campaign is on now (info here).
To top it all off, the band gives the hint below that they’ll be back in Europe this fall for a more complete tour. I would be downright amazed if that didn’t include one or more of the autumn festivals — Desertfest Belgium or Athens, Keep it Low, etc. — but that’s speculation on my part for now and we’ll have to see what comes together over the next few months. Seems fair to expect Year of the Cobra to have more US activity in the works as well, so keep an eye out.
Here’s the latest info:
This is YOTC’s first European tour and we’re heading over to play Hell Over Hammaburg Festival in Hamburg, Germany. We’re playing a handful of headlining dates around the festival in Germany and France.
H42 Records released a limited edition 7″, specifically for Hell Over Hammaburg and our tour – which sold out online within hours. We’ll have a small number of these for sale at our shows, they are the only copies available.
We’re planning on heading back to Europe in the fall for a full European tour.
Year of the Cobra on tour: March 1 Lille FR March 2 Essen DE March 3 Berlin DE March 4 Hamburg DE – Hell Over Hammaburg March 5 Freiburg DE
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
It’s a mini-tour in that it’s four dates, but it also covers the bulk of the geography of the West Coast, so you know, not really all that ‘mini.’ Seattle’s He Whose Ox is Gored are heading out as they continue to support their 2015 debut full-length, The Camel, the Lion, the Child (review here), and over the course of four nights, they’ll trek from Portland to San Francisco to Los Angeles to Sacramento. It’s that Portland to SF part that’s the real trouble, but the ride back northbound from L.A. to Sacramento is hardly an afternoon jaunt either.
Of course, the band aren’t exactly novices at this point when it comes to putting in time on the road, so it’s not like they’re not gonna make it, but one would hardly accuse them of taking it easy on themselves. Or, I suppose, on Dust Moth, with whom they’ll be touring.
The PR wire has it all like this:
HE WHOSE OX IS GORED: Ethereal Sludge Collective Confirms February Headlining Mini-Tour With Dust Moth; Video Teaser Posted
Ethereal progressive sludge collective HE WHOSE OX IS GORED will kick off the New Year with a West Coast headlining tour. The four-date mini excursion will commence on February 16th and make its way through Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. Support will be provided by shoe gazing experimentalists Dust Moth featuring Ryan Frederiksen of These Arms Are Snakes.
“We are covering songs off all four releases, and may have a few surprises in the set as well,” issues the band of the upcoming dates. “We can’t wait to hit the road with our dear friends in Dust Moth. They are some of the hardest working, best people we know, and we couldn’t be more excited to share the stage with them for four nights.”
HE WHOSE OX IS GORED w/ Dust Moth: 2/16/2017 Ash Street Saloon – Portland, OR 2/17/2017 Thee Parkside – San Francisco, CA 2/18/2017 The Echo – Los Angeles, CA 2/19/2017 The Colony – Sacramento, CA
HE WHOSE OX IS GORED continues to tour in support of their critically-lauded The Camel, The Lion, The Child issued in 2015 via Bleeding Light Records. A monolithic, eight-track, near hour-long exercise in sonic alchemy, with The Camel, The Lion, The Child the Seattle unit travels far beyond the confines of traditional musical boundaries with a sound that’s at once cinematic, ethereal, and sprawling yet unequivocally heavy. Captured at Red Room and Ex Ex Audio in Seattle by Robert Cheek (Serial Hawk, Noise-A-Tron etc.) with additional recording at Avast Studios with Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth, Wolves In The Throne Room etc.), mixed by Matt Bayles (Isis, Mastodon etc.) and mastered by frequent collaborator, Blake Bickel, The Camel, The Lion, The Child is a truly cathartic audio expedition not to be ignored.
If you’ll allow me a sentimental moment: I remember quite clearly standing in front of the stage at Kimo’s in San Francisco in 2010 and singing along with Snail‘s Mark Johnson and Matt Lynch to the titular hook of their 2009 return album, Blood (review here). It was among the greatest joys of the day to do so again this past August at The Obelisk All-Dayer at the Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. Some time passed between the two events, obviously, and Snail have put out two more records in the meantime in 2012’s Terminus (review here) and 2015’s Feral (review here) and shifted from a four-piece back to the original trio of Johnson on guitar, Lynch on bass and drummer Marty Dodson, but still, it was something special.
When I announced The Obelisk All-Dayer was a thing that was happening, Snail were among the first acts who got in touch with me, offering to make their way across the continent for what would be their first East Coast appearance ever in a history that stretched as far back as their 1993 self-titled debut (review here). The generosity of that gesture was unbelievable, but the truth of the matter is I’d already dreamed of having Snail involved in the show, as Feral was so decisively their best album to-date and those songs ones I very, very much wanted to see brought to life onstage. I’m hardly an impartial observer at this point, but they were even better in Brooklyn than they’d been six years earlier in California.
The video below for “Blood” was recorded at The Obelisk All-Dayer and takes footage captured by the esteemed Frank Huang and Jennifer Hendrix and manipulates it with some additional psychedelic weirdness suited to the overall vibe. But listen to the sound as well. Snail were so on-point that I was just blown away, and as I watch “Blood,” I can only keep my fingers crossed they follow this up with a companion clip for “Thou Art That,” or, you know, a tape release of the whole set. Either way. No pressure. Ha.
I’ve included the full-stream of Feral at the bottom of this post also. I know you’ve heard it, but hell, you should hear it again.
And please enjoy:
Snail, “Blood” at The Obelisk All-Dayer official live video
Happy New Year! The high point of 2016 (for us) was getting to play The Obelisk All-Dayer in Brooklyn. Matt combined footage from a variety of sources and the board tracks and created a really trippy video of our performance of ‘Blood.’ Check it out! See if you can find the footage of a person giving blood at a blood bank…
Video and Sound Production: Matt Lynch Footage courtesy of Frank Huang and Jennifer Hendrix. Photos by Jennifer Hendrix.
Special Thanks to: Jennifer Hendrix, Frank Huang, JJ Koczan and The Obelisk and all the folks who came to rock.
Posted in audiObelisk on December 27th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Seattle-based folk-blues guitarist Michael Wohl will release his new album, Windblown Blues, early next month. He’ll offer the full-length on CD and tape as he did with his prior Eight Pieces for Solo Guitar (review here) in 2013, but while both bask in a warm and organic creative spirit, the two outings could hardly be confused for each other. True to its title, that album was a minimalist affair, Wohl with a recording-into-a-tin-can-in-a-room sensibility to his approach, the whole thing feeling as DIY as it was and instrumental in its entirety. For Windblown Blues, Wohl expands the scope significantly. Still humble in its acoustic and organic roots, the 12-track/43-minute sophomore outing signals an immediately different intent on opener “Animals” via cello accompanying the guitar, and the arrangements continue to flesh out with fiddle, bass, pedal steel, drums, piano, all played by a range of guests, and — perhaps even more notably — vocals from Wohl and others as he takes on new original songs like the countrified “If I Could,” the semi-plugged “I Said too Much” and relatively minimal “Leaving the House of a Friend,” as well as traditional pieces like “In the Pines” (popularized by Lead Belly, also interpreted by Nirvana and countless others), “Cocaine Blues” (you may have heard Robert Johnson‘s version), and “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” (see also Mississippi John Hurt). There are still plenty of instrumental pieces, from the aforementioned opener to the rambling solo guitar of “Ship of No Port” and electric-and-drum toe-tapper/near-samba “Ribosome,” but it’s a marked departure Wohl is making here, and one that ultimately serves him well over the course of the record.
The confidence of his vocals should be highlighted outright. Hailing from now-defunct classic-style heavy rockers Mystery Ship, he did sing in that band, but to do so in a context like Windblown Blues, with no distortion or tonal blast to hide behind, feels especially bold. Granted, he’s joined by no fewer than four other guest vocalists throughout — Alex Hagenah (also bass/guitar), Aaron Semer (also guitar), Danica Molenaar and Kate Voss — but his versions of “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” and “In the Pines” find him standing alone and shining in the performance nonetheless, and as broad as the almost-CSNYian “Drown” seems next to the wholesome fiddle-laden finish of “Eastern Avenue Rag,” Wohl himself remains at the core of Windblown Blues and is responsible for guiding it down its deceptively varied path. That becomes a significant task as the lush melodies of “I Said too Much” shift into the piano-and-guitar “Pajaro,” but Windblown Blues holds firm to a clean-sounding sensibility no matter what its arrangements might bring — it was produced by Wohl and Tom Meyers, who also recorded at Ground Control in Ballard, Washington — and is united across its span by that while still coming across as natural and fluid in its transitions thanks to traditional songwriting and a generally subdued feel to the material. I wouldn’t at all call it humble in the same way as Eight Pieces for Solo Guitar, and Wohl seems to be moving at least partially away from willful primitivism in these songs — there are stretches on Windblown Blues that sound like a full band is playing because, essentially, one is — but this is still genuine Americana and carries with it a ready familiarity, whether that’s in the originals or the other pieces Wohl has chosen to include, and no doubt that will carry forward into whatever he decides to do from here.
Today I have the pleasure of hosting the premiere of “In the Pines” ahead of the proper record release next month. Amid this sonic expansion, it seemed only fair to get Wohl‘s perspective on the changes in approach that Windblown Blues represents, and he was kind enough to offer thoughtful introspection and insight into what went into the album’s making below.
Michael Wohl on Windblown Blues:
I started work on this record about two years ago. It represents a period of initial frustration that became one of a lot of musical growth and development . I was writing a lot of the songs as my old band, Mystery Ship, was coming undone. We had put in a lot of work, and I felt like our best days were around the corner, but things didn’t turn out that way. I’d started developing a solo style during the last part of those days, writing, recording, and playing out by myself. All of a sudden I found that to be my only outlet, which was scary and liberating at the same time.
My first solo recordings were all instrumental acoustic guitar explorations. As I continued to play shows by myself, I found that I wound up singing more and more, so this album represents a change in style. It’s not acoustic album; I’ve tried to push myself to write and arrange with respect to what the song calls for, rather than setting up initial parameters in which to work. I was also fortunate to have a huge stable of phenomenal players backing me up. Trying t o figure out which musicians would fit best in what songs as well as which would be better solo was a really cool part of the process. It was a new experience for me, and it brought the songs to a lot of places that I wouldn’t have expected. I’ve found that freedom to pursue whatever sounds I’m feeling to be one of the most rewarding things about my own music. I have a hard time zeroing in on a style to work within, so many times in my life I’ve shelved a song because it didn’t fit in with the aesthetic of a band I was with. I don’t have that problem any more.
In the process of recording, I think I developed as a singer a lot — “found my voice” so to speak — and more confidence in that. I also realized I pretty much blew my voice out and messed up my throat every time I sang with a loud band because I was trying to keep up with the volume.
I didn’t necessarily set out to do so, but I think the album paints a pretty good picture of the threads of my influences. I guess I’m trying to connect the dots and demonstrate that though there are some seemingly-disparate elements, it’s all a cohesive scene in my head. I started playing “In the Pines” a few years ago. I remember singing it with some friends on a lake up on Vancouver Island beneath a black blanket of stars and thinking it would be a good tune to offer up. I’d heard so many versions of it; Lead Belly’s original, the Kossoy Sisters version with the beautiful, haunting close harmony singing, Dave Van Ronk, Joan Baez, and of course the Nirvana version from “Unplugged in New York”.
It got me thinking about how these days I listen to a lot of these old folk and blues singers, but I’ve known that song through a different lens since I was very young. Like a lot of kids who were picking up guitars in the early-mid 90s, Nirvana and the Seattle scene had a huge influence on me. It was heavy, honest, and intense. Thinking about that really drove home the sense that there is a continuum from the folk, country, and blues tunes of the pre-WWII era through the folk revivals, psychedelia, and singer-songwriter eras of the ’50s/’60s/’70s, through the music of the ’90s and ’80s I was so inspired by when I first picked up a guitar.
Lori Goldston, who played the cello on the album on “Animals” played with Nirvana on that recording. When I thought about that, a lot of things kind of felt like they were folding inwards and like maybe musical development is not a linear thing. When the tunes all sound so superficially different, you start to think of the underlying fundamental quality – – what is it that draws you to a song in the first place, and what keeps you coming back? There’s an intense, unpolished quality to all of it, in which I think some grain of truth can be found. Trying to tap into that feeling is the guiding force for my music. If I feel that way upon playback, I’ll have done what I set out to do.
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 26th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Set to consume any and all light around them, as ever, SunnO))) have issued a new single as a name-your-price download and announced tour dates in the Northeastern US and Southeastern Canada for March 2017. In addition, the magnates of the form have also enacted a Bandcamp sale through the remainder of 2016 offering 35 percent off presumably as a favor to those of us whose finances are depleted as will happen circa the holidays. Some rare kindnesses on the part of SunnO))), who are much more known for the inherent cruelties and coldness of their approach, but take it either way while you can, since there are fewer darknesses out there more suited to January’s dismal stretch than that of the rumble and gurgle SunnO))) emit.
The PR wire has details, links and all that good stuff:
SUNN O))) To Tour Northeastern USA, Southeast Canada In March; Digital Bandcamp Sale And Free Track Available Through The Year’s End
The first set of SUNN O))) tour dates for 2017 sees the collective bringing their dense and arrhythmic blend of metal, drone, and minimalist music back to the Northeast USA and Southeastern realms of Canada for a week of performances. SUNN O))) will converge in Washington DC on March 12th, following with shows in Pittsburgh, Toronto, Montreal, Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia confirmed through March 18th. Support on all shows will be provided by Southern Lord labelmates, Montreal-based Big | Brave, whom have also joined SUNN O))) on their recent tours of the Southwest, Southeast and Midwest states and Europe.
This follows the recent announcement of SUNN O)))’s appearance at London’s massive performing arts venue, Barbican Centre, as part of this year’s Convergence Festival on March 21st. Support for the performance will come from Icelandic singer and cellist, Hildur Guðnadóttir, who has played and recorded with bands such as Pan Sonic, Throbbing Gristle, and Múm. Guðnadóttir also wrote the arrangements for the Wildbirds & Peacedrums session as part of the Barbican’s Nils Frahm curated Possibly Colliding marathon weekend in July.
Tickets for the East Coast shows go on sale this Friday, December 23rd at 10am local time. Tickets for the Barbican performance are available HERE.
As Winter Solstice approaches, SUNN O))) extends thanks to their fans for their support throughout 2016, and as a token of their appreciation, offer a free track as well as a digital sale through the rest of the year. Fans can now find the exclusive track «???? // ??» (aka “Aokigahara // Jukai” from the flexi 7″ which was released together with some vinyl copies of Kannon) for free download through the end of December at THIS LOCATION. To take advantage of the 35% Bandcamp discount, go to sunn.bandcamp.com or sunn-live.bandcamp.com and enter discount code SOLSTICE2016.
SUNN O))) Tour Dates: 3/12/2017 930 Club – Washington, DC w/ Big | Brave 3/13/2017 The Rex – Pittsburgh, PA w/ Big | Brave 3/14/2017 Queen Elizabeth Theatre – Toronto, ON w/ Big | Brave 3/15/2017 La Sat – Montreal, QC w/ Big | Brave 3/16/2017 The Coolidge – Boston, MA w/ Big | Brave 3/17/2017 Knockdown Center – Brooklyn, NY w/ Big | Brave 3/18/2017 Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA w/ Big | Brave 3/21/2017 Barbican – London, UK @ Convergence Festival w/ Hildur Guðnadóttir
Posted in Features on December 15th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
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:
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
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 Lama, Red 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.
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.