Posted in audiObelisk on July 22nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Because their transitions are so fluid, it’s almost easy to miss the parts on the self-titled Pink Tank Records debut (out Aug. 14) from Helsinki trio Kaleidobolt where the band shifts from weighted stoner nod into a kind of classic shuffling prog-jazz fusion, Sampo, Marco and Valtteri careening as they make their way through album opener “Rocket to the Moon,” which, if we’re to judge by the noisy finish they give the song, does not result in an according-to-plan landing. For an outfit who got their start in 2014, Kaleidobolt‘s first offering bypasses the “getting our feet wet” vibe of many acts’ early work and while three albums from now they might go on to make it sound primitive, as it stands, songs like the aforementioned opener, the subsequent “Momentum” and “Liskodisko” impress not only with how smoothly their make turns between them, but within them as well, the three-piece showcasing jammers’ chemistry and a progressive sense of drive as “Momentum” moves from its initial insistent rhythm to a more open, airy section of guitar that lets the bass and drums hold the tension. Not a new method, but presented freshly and devoid of pretense in a manner that makes Kaleidobolt an even more engaging listen.
The fluidity becomes the defining theme, musically. “Into the Crevice” starts off at a quiet run and winds its way around echoing vocal lines and trades back and forth with more full-on fuzz until an unexpected slowdown in the second half brings a doomier vibe that, gracefully, gets quick again toward the finish. This eases the transition to “Liskodisko,” which opens side B with call-and-response noodling between the lead guitar and drums, verses emerging and receding behind instrumental passages that, to call them a jam would be to rob them of their complexity. Kaleidobolt obviously thrive on catching listeners off guard, which is something a band can usually do once on a record, maybe twice, but the chops they showcase between them as “Liskodisko” moves toward its prog-grunge head hold much potential for further songwriting adventurousness. A band who can play the way these guys play sound like they’re going to be conscious of not getting bored or bogged down in a songwriting routine. Their debut certainly doesn’t, as the quiet, fading closing passage of “Liskodisko” gives way to the headswimming low-end fuzz of “Mountain Man.”
It’s the shortest track on Kaleidobolt‘s Kaleidobolt at 4:54, and perhaps also the most straightforward — or at least as close as they get. A riffy nod is met by fervent shouting as Kaleidobolt leave the proggy aspirations to the side for the time being and instead concentrate on tension and tonal push, the track making its way toward a fast but still weighted finish that hints at some underlying punker mischief and blinds with its leadwork and bizarro swirl in the meantime, the three-piece emerging at the end unscathed to shift into 9:52 closer, which has as many psychedelic underpinnings as it does those of heavy blues boogie rock, and in refusing to commit to either, it winds up distinguished from both while also hearkening back to the earlier progressive edge in its central bassline. As they have at several points, Kaleidobolt round out the instrumental finale with a touch of speedy chaos, but by the time you get there listening, it’s apparent just how in-control of their approach these cats are. Their debut might take a couple passes to sink in, but it’s a deceptively rich stylistic base from which Kaleidobolt operate, and they only seem interested in becoming more forward-thinking. Consider notice served.
Today I have the pleasure of hosting “Mountain Man” for streaming ahead of the Aug. 14 Pink Tank Records release. Please find it on the player below, followed by more about the band, album and accompanying tour, and enjoy:
Kaleidobolt is a power trio that came together in early 2014 in Helsinki. In the short time they’ve been together, they’ve gained the reputation of being one of the most exciting live bands in Finland. Their music is a dizzying maelstrom of progressive song structures, crushing riffs and loose psychedelic soundscapes, delivered with joy and ferociousness. Their first album was recorded in 2014 with an effort on delivering a production as truthful as possible to the live experience and it’s scheduled for release in summer 2015 by Pink Tank Records.
VINYL FACTZ: – 300 copies total – 100 copies opaque purple incl. poster and download code (exclusive Pink Tank edition) – 100 copies black incl. poster and download code (exclusive band edition) – 100 copies white standard edition (wholesale) – all on high quality vinyl made in Germany
CD FACTZ: – CD comes in a jewel case – first 50 go out with an extra Kaleidobolt sticker
TRACKS: 1. ROCKET TO THE MOON 06:38 2. MOMENTUM 07:34 3. INTO THE CREVASSE 05:23 4. LISKODISKO 07:41 5. MOUNTAIN MAN 04:54 6. SHOWDOWN 09:51
[Please press play above to hear a full stream of Sacri Monti’s Sacri Monti, which is out July 24 on Tee Pee. Preorders are available here. Thanks to the label, PR and band for allowing me to host the album.]
SoCal five-piece Sacri Monti traffic in liquefied kosmiche bliss. The natural word to follow that is “exclusively,” but that’s not quite true in this case, as it would indicate a single-mindedness that neither they nor their self-titled six-track/43-minute Tee Pee Records full-length debut actually possess, the album instead working in a natural-flowing, bright toned spectrum of guitar-driven, organ-laced classic heavy psych, six-stringers Brenden Dellar (also vocals) and Dylan Donavon, Evan Wenskay (organ, synth, Echoplex), bassist Anthony Meier (also of Radio Moscow) and drummer Thomas Dibenedetto (also of JOY) touching on progressive ideas and methods without going full-on krautrock noodle or losing their sense of groove, which remains paramount through the initial shuffle of “Staggered in Lies” and the harder-hitting swing of “Glowing Grey” in the 14-minute one-two punch that leads off.
The established track record of their rhythm section should speak for itself, but it’s worth pointing out that as is the case in the best of heavy psych scenarios, it’s the drums and the bass anchoring the bulk of this material, the especially memorable “Slipping from the Day” seeming that much dreamier because of the solid foundation from which it spreads itself out. Dellar, Donavon and Wenskay enact an immersive swirl on “Staggered in Lies” and vibe remains prevalent throughout the cuts that follow, Sacri Monti‘s Sacri Monti kaleidoscoping through a wash of fuzzy distortion that seems to revel in the chaos of its own making.
Improv seems to play pretty heavily into the band’s methodology, so it’s not really such a surprise that “Slipping from the Day,” “Glowing Grey” and “Sitting around in a Restless Dream” would differ from the versions included on Sacri Monti‘s Demo 2014, released on tape by Under the Gun Records. “Slipping from the Day,” formerly a 12-minute jam, is here trimmed down to six and a half, and it proves a highlight toward the middle of the record, soaked in wah and centered around the repeated line, “Hold on, you’re really slipping from the day,” and variations thereupon. The psychedelic fervor Sacri Monti conjure isn’t to be understated, and it really is an album-long vibe, but far from monochromatic, “Sitting around in a Restless Dream” takes ’70s biker riffing and launches it into a stratosphere of swirling boogie, Dellar‘s voice echoing out as Wenskay seems to manipulate the Echoplex for further looped intricacy — just in case things weren’t freaked out enough.
At just over five minutes, “Sitting around in a Restless Dream” is the shortest of the six cuts, but it packs plenty of space into that time and one has the feeling that on any given night Sacri Monti happen to play it, it might range much further. The subsequent “Ancient Seas and Majesties” brings a turn that pushes the guitar forward, finding a middle ground between the otherworldly mastery of “Slipping from the Day” and the earthier “Staggered in Lies,” the organ seeming to follow the vocals as much as it sets matches step with the bass and drums and adds to the melody proffered by the guitar. In short, it’s everywhere, and it works much to the advantage of the song and the album as a whole.
If you thought by the time you got there that Sacri Monti had no more tricks up their collective sleeve, the languid, bluesy initialization of “Sacri Monti” serves as a swift correction, unfolding gracefully over the course of its first two-plus minutes with a building wave of keys and guitars, the latter introducing the next movement’s riff at 2:40 into the total 12-minute run. It’s mostly instrumental, which is fitting since the band have toyed with structures throughout, but when the vocals do arrive in the second half of the song one can’t help but be reminded of some of Hypnos 69‘s proggy triumphs, and Sacri Monti seem to be working form a similar base of influences in their finale.
As the song comes to its head — hypnosis long since enacted on the listener — and spends its last minute or so wrapping up, one can’t help but hope that the fivesome continue to explore that side of their sound, and begin to mold energy as readily as they do volume, resulting in a shift of atmospherics no less molten than the overarching affect of their debut. As it stands, Sacri Monti is an exciting opening salvo from an act whose promise feels written into each of its jams, and whose balance between songcraft and improvisation serves as an immediately distinguishing factor amid an increasingly crowded Southern Californian heavy psych scene.
The way their songs play out here, they’d almost have a harder time not sounding like themselves, since so much of what they do is based around the forming chemistry of their lineup that one hopes will continue to grow the more time they spend on stage. How much that will happen owing to members’ obligations elsewhere, I don’t know, but if Sacri Monti‘s debut is an alert to the lysergic converted of a pursuit under way, it’s one that well earns any and all attention paid.
The 2011 self-titled debut from French heavy psych rockers Mars Red Sky has remained special to me for the last four years since it was released. Easily one of my top five albums of the last half-decade, its arrival with well-hewn tonal warmth, gorgeous melodies, easy-rolling grooves and memorable songwriting made it a perfect summer offering, and I’ve spent many nights since with it on during the warm weather, the hooks of “Strong Reflection” and “Curse” giving way to the spacious jam in “Falls,” guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist Jimmy Kinast (also vocals on “Marble Sky”) and then-drummer Benoit Busser crafting a presence that would send ripples through the heavy rock underground. It’s also a particular standout for me, because it coincided so much with Hurricane Irene in 2011. In fact, the day I reviewed it — Aug. 29, 2011 — was the day after the storm hit the northeastern part of the US.
New Jersey had been slammed, the power and water was out, and The Patient Mrs. and I wound up at a packed-out Panera Bread to work for the afternoon. I brought the CD with me, its thick-stock digipak and silver lettering no less lush than the sonics contained within, and reviewed it there, post-storm chaos all around me in downed trees, a crowded mall parking lot, people shoving past each other to get lousy sandwiches and/or halfway decent coffee. “Way to Rome,” “Strong Reflection,” “Saddle Point,” the swinging “Marble Sky,” and the quiet closer “Up the Stairs” were my escape from that, and they’ve remained an escape ever since.
I have no problem saying that Mars Red Sky — now Pras, Kinast and drummer Matgaz — outdid their self-titled with their second album, 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here), which was also their debut on Listenable Records, but that doesn’t make the debut any less of a landmark on its own level. I’ve heard rumblings about a new LP in the works for 2016 and that’s one I’ll very much look forward to, but in the meantime the trio continue to support the second offering, this very weekend playing festivals in Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as a gig in their native France that, with the time difference between the US and Europe, is probably already winding down.
So be it. I could’ve dipped back and found something from the heavy ’70s to close out the week, or another older offering of one sort or another, but that Best Songs of the Last Five Years post had me thinking about Mars Red Sky‘s Mars Red Sky again, and with the beautiful weather around, it seemed high time for a revisit. I very much hope you enjoy.
Well, I made it. I’m back on the East Coast. I left the conference I was at in San Francisco for work yesterday afternoon and went to SFO airport, pretty much to sit around for a few hours, get most of today’s writing done (everything except this post) and essentially have a chance to be quiet and not have to socialize for a while, which, after the last couple days, was about as good as “sitting at the airport” gets. SFO, though, is very much in need of the revamping that is apparently in progress. Still, they had coffee, which was what I wanted. My flight was 10:50PM Pacific time, and I got in at 7:30AM Eastern. Bumpy ride. I did not sleep on the plane at all.
That was kind of a bummer in itself, but really I was too busy counting down the minutes until I landed and waiting for the aircraft to jolt and drop out of the sky, plunging us all to our fiery death, to get any substantial shuteye. I nodded off here and there, but snapped back to consciousness quickly each time.
The Patient Mrs. picked me up at Boston Logan — we came in swooping around Boston and its harbor in the morning sunlight, which was not unpleasant — and drove us both down to Connecticut, where we are for the weekend. I would’ve done a post to close out the trip, but it wasn’t really a music thing in the first place, and it seemed like if I wasn’t record shopping, it didn’t really matter what state I was in. Yesterday, I was in Cali. Today I’m in CT. I slept for about two hours this afternoon but I expect I will crash pretty hard tonight when the time comes.
On Monday, look out for a full-album stream of Sacri Monti‘s self-titled debut. It’s out next Friday, July 24, on Tee Pee and it’s killer, so that will be a blast. Then on Tuesday, another full-album stream, this one for Goya‘s new record, which just so happens to be called Obeliskand is coming out on STB Records Aug. 1. Wednesday will bring a track premiere from Kaleidobolt and Thursday one from Sweat Lodge, so there’s a lot of really cool stuff in the works. I’ll have reviews with those and one somewhere in there for T.G. Olson‘s vinyl of The Rough Embrace as well. I think I’ll try and get some Radio Adds done too, as it’s been a while, and somewhere in there I’ll have a ticket giveaway for Portland’s North West Hesh Fest, which I’m thrilled to be involved in sponsoring. But of course we’ll see how it all comes together. I’m already behind on news too, so that’s always a constant.
I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please check out the forum and the radio stream.
Posted in audiObelisk on July 15th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
North Carolina two-piece Wildlights will no doubt earn a comparison or two to their Season of Mist labelmates in Floor with tracks like “Hellfire Forever” and “Onward Upward” from their impending self-titled debut full-length, out Aug. 21 via the aforementioned, but neither is that the beginning and end of their sonic sphere. Comprised of guitarist/vocalist Jason Shi of ASG and Thunderlips‘ Johnny Collins on drums, the duo hit on a blend of upbeat vibes, resonant melodies and weighted groove that find a middle-ground between accessibility and weight. Shi‘s vocals are immediately identifiable for anyone who’s listened to ASG — and perhaps they’re an underappreciated distinguishing factor in that group as well — but the dynamic in Wildlights is on its own trip, shorter cuts like “Lights Out” and the airier-into-a-big-finish closer “Big Frontier” shooting for unabashed catchiness in their hooks, while “New Year Repeat” and the earlier “Snow Song” add arrangement flourishes via a quiet guitar line at the start and an organ (or organ-sounding) finish, respectively.
Worth mentioning plainly is the production of Matt Hyde (Monster Magnet, Slayer, etc.), whose crispness in the guitar and drums suits Wildlights‘ presentation remarkably well. Cuts throughout the 12-track/41-minute release are relatively short — “Hellfire Forever” is the longest at 4:33 — but for the kind of efficiency they’re looking to convey, it wouldn’t work if they weren’t, and while still vinyl-ready in its runtime, it’s not as though the album is lacking substance. As it is, small shifts like the tempo change of “Climb in the Throne” and the departure from the early rush of “Anchors” and “Rebel Smiles” that “Part of the Sea” brings with its winding riff feed into each other over the course of the front-to-back listen, and Wildlights proves to be more of a full-album experience than it at first seems, as memorable as individual tracks and parts can be over its span. At their root, Shi and Collins benefit from the songwriting experience both have and execute a record that seems barebones because its structures are so apparent and so much of the appeal but also has a considerable amount of atmosphere to go with, immersing the listener almost before they know what’s happened.
By way of evidence, I have the pleasure of hosting the premiere today for “Lights Out.” One of four cuts on Wildlights‘ Wildlights under three minutes long, it nonetheless engages with its heft, the tonal presence of Shi‘s guitar and the push of Collins‘ drums. Please find it on the player below, followed by more info from the PR wire, and enjoy:
WILDLIGHTS’ brand of hard rock is truly timeless. Featuring ASG’s Jason Shi and THUNDERLIP!s’ Johnny Collins, their direct, honest sound draws equally from the driving, melodic, SoCal-spawned skate/desert rock and the heavy, blues-based sound of the South. Their self-titled, Matt Hyde (PORNO FOR PYROS, MONSTER MAGNET, FU MANCHU, SLAYER) produced album shines with stunning tracks like “Rebel Smiles”, “Anchors”, “Lights Out”, “Lions”, “Part of the Sea” and more. More than just a mere collection of tracks, WILDLIGHTS is a soundtrack to life that resonates hope.
Track List: 1. Anchors 2. Rebel Smiles 3. Part of the Sea 4. Snow Song 5. Hellfire Forever 6. Pictures 7. Onward Upward 8. Lights Out 9. New Year Repeat 10. Climb in the Throne 11. Lions 12. Big Frontier
Line-up: Jason Shi (ASG)- Vocals, Guitars Johnny Collins (Thunderlip) – Drums
Posted in Whathaveyou on July 14th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Palm Desert-based trio You Know Who will release their self-titled debut album on Oct. 13 via Self Destructo Records. The band features members of John Garcia‘s touring band, as well as Hermano, Mondo Generator, Waxy, The Dwarves, Sort of Quartet, on and on. And perhaps in an effort to distinguish themselves from their rather considerable pedigree, they’ve unveiled the new song “Marshall Stacks and Alcohol” which, by the sound of the thing, also seems to be a look at the creative process itself.
The PR wire brings details and audio:
You Know Who announce release date of LP; Debut track “Marshall Stacks and Alcohol”
Mike Pygmie: Guitar/Vocals, Dylan Brown: Bass, Greg Saenz: Drums
On October 13th, Self Destructo Records will release the debut album by You Know Who on five hundred pieces of all white vinyl that are packaged in hand numbered silk screened covers with design and illustration created by graphic artist Casey Howard. Recorded and mixed at Dead End Studios in Palm Desert, CA and mastered at What? Studios in Denver, CO, the album consists of eleven tracks of crushing crossover metal/punk that we feel is a throwback to the days of yore when skate punks would head out from West LA to a Discharge/Anthrax gig at the Reseda Country Club and slam dance themselves to sleep. Songs like “Save Me Jebus” are chock full fast paced riffage and drop of the dime time changes while “Marshall Stacks in Alcohol” is circle pit inducer in itself from start to finish and “Chinese Shoes” is a breakneck verbal/sonic assault against multinational corporations incorporates Jello Biafra worthy lyrical content and humor with D.R.I. speed.
The low desert area of Southern California is a breeding ground to some of underground music’s most well regarded and celebrated acts such as: Kyuss, Fatso Jetson, Unsound, Masters of Reality, Yawning Man and of course Queens Of The Stone Age. DIY generator parties, legendary venue Rhythm and Brews on Highway 111 in Indio, CA and The Desert Sessions recordings played a big part in the development of the scene and for having music audiences and players looking to the area for new artists/bands to emerge since then.
However, what sets desert natives You Know Who apart is that they’re not a Kyuss clone at all, they play fast, heavy and technical punk/metal, the polar opposite of what mainstream music press has coined the desert sound to be. You Know Who consists of Mike Pygmie, Dylan Brown and Greg Saenz who got together in 2009 after cutting their chops in such bands as Excel, Dwarves and Invitro. What best describes their sound is taking the technicality and complex time changes of Bl’ast, mix in the speed and tongue n’ cheek humor of Suicidal Tendencies and Mr. Bungle and the virtuoso musicianship from each guy that forges a sound as harsh as the desert heat on a summer afternoon. Trust us, these guys have chops!! Since they brought their music to audiences across most of California and have shared the stage along such bands as: Jello Biafra & The Guantanamo School Of Medicine, Kyuss Lives, The Freeks, Dwarves, Angry Samoans, John Garcia, Agent Orange, The Chuck Norris Experiment, Nick Oliveri & The Uncontrollable, Mondo Generator & Fatso Jetson.
CA TOUR DATES IN SEPTEMBER!
Track listing: 1. Napoleon Blownapart 2.Save Me Jebus (w/John Garcia) 3. Marshall Stacks and Alcohol 4. Wastoid (w/Nick Oliveri) 5. Cobra Twist 6. Bahbudabah 7. Whoa Dude 8. Chinese Shoes 9. You Know What 10. Knuckle Buster 11. Recycler (w/Sean Wheeler)
The crucial relationship involved in Bloodrock‘s self-titled 1970 debut is that between the band and Terry Knight, who at the same time he helmed these tracks was the producer and manager for Grand Funk Railroad. That band’s self-titled had been issued in Jan. 1970 and wound up going Gold, and so when Knight approached Capitol Records with Bloodrock‘s Bloodrock, which came out that March, he had some clout behind him. The Fort Worth five-piece would make more of a splash with their second outing, later 1970’s Bloodrock 2 — which Knight also produced — but by then the first of a slew of lineup changes for the band had taken place, putting Rick Cobb on drums so Jim Rutledge could concentrate on lead vocals, and while that was a plenty worthy endeavor for Rutledge, I’ve always dug the vibe of the first album, the way “Fatback” rocks and swings around its backward guitar and early Rainbow-style vocals, the keyboard work throughout from Steve Hill, Eddie Grundy‘s bass and Lee Pickens‘ and Nick Taylor‘s bluesy riffing on “Wicked Truth” and the strange, key-driven turn that song takes, the multiple singers on “Double Cross” and how deep side B seems to roll with “Fantastic Piece of Architecture” and “Melvin Laid an Egg” at the end.
I think if you look at it and even go beyond the bands who are directly trying to mimic a ’70s sound in terms of their production or presentation, there are a lot of parallels between the boom of the early ’70s and now. Heavy rock and roll is certainly a less commercially viable property than it was at that point, but it seems like as rock was turning away from the psychdelia of the mid and late ’60s and toward something rawer in sound — what would gradually become metal, heavy rock and punk — there was a seemingly endless string of acts adopting the mode of expression, and substitute words like “private press” for “limited edition” and the situation isn’t really much different today. You could listen to brand new records every day for a year and still not hear everything that’s come out. It’ll thin out over time, but I think if the continued proliferation of ’70s rock shows anything, it’s that stuff like Bloodrock‘s Bloodrock never really goes away. Shit, look at Texas today. The state is huge and I still don’t think you can go five feet and not walk into a heavy band of one stripe or another. I like the thought of, 40 years from now, someone finding that stuff and being able to explore a world they didn’t really know about, or if they did, had only touched the surface. An awful lot of stuff has been dug up over the last decade or so, including Bloodrock, which was put out last year on vinyl by Kotay, but however much seems to come out, there always seems to be more underneath.
Not a hardship at all, especially when stuff like this record winds up experienced by and influencing another generation of heavy rock and rollers, even if it’s just influencing them to hunt down an original copy. A call to action. Ha. I hope you enjoy.
I’m traveling next week, going out to San Francisco for a conference for work. I know I’ll be able to do some record shopping while I’m out there — Amoeba Music and Aquarius Records, I’m comin’ for you — but not sure how much else. In any case, I’ll be in town from Monday night to Thursday night. If you’re around, hit me up and we’ll figure something out. I’d be happy to talk rock and roll over some iced tea or a nice caesar salad, all responsible-like.
I absolutely mean that, by the way.
A lovely bit of genius on my part: Traveling next week, I’ve lined up a premiere for every day Monday through Friday. Look out for new audio from Agusa, Yellowtooth, Wildlights and Pastor and a new video from Atavismo, because god damn it, if I sleep, I lose.
Don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet, but I also joined Instagram last week and have been posting stuff there, if you’re into that kind of thing: https://instagram.com/hptaskmaster/
Still kind of figuring that one out.
Work is going well, if you’re wondering. It’s been an adventure to say the least, but I feel like I’m at the point where I’m starting to get settled in and but for the hour-plus it takes me to get to or from the office, I have no real complaints. The people here are nice and seem willing to kind of let me do my thing so long as the work is done, which as far as I’m concerned is the best-case scenario. I’m pretty lucky, all in all. Just got business cards today. They have my name as “J. J.,” but other than that, are fine. Somehow Massachusetts doesn’t really know what to make out of “JJ Koczan.” I should’ve told them to put H.P. Taskmaster on there. Ha.
Have a great and safe weekend. I’m heading down to Connecticut for the next couple of days, which is always a good time, and may or may not put together a new podcast while I’m down there. We’ll see how it all shakes out. In any case, thanks for reading, and please check out the forum and the radio stream, which has been absolutely killing it today.
Posted in Features on July 6th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
If 2015 ended tomorrow, I think you’d still have to say it was a pretty good year for heavy rock. Doom veered into a swath extremes — its own subgenres emerging almost one by one in a growing splinter that nonetheless continues to draw water from its roots — while the neo-stoner ignition of the West Coast continued its boom of new acts proffering classic groove. The East reveled in a progressive vision just waiting to be picked up by others, and in Europe, the ’70s traditionalist movement spread ever wider, essentially defining a modern sound in organic sounding, sometimes-vintage elements. Whether you’re going for crushing, oppressive barbarism or cosmos-bound blissouts, it is, in short, a good time to be alive.
Of course, 2015 doesn’t end tomorrow, and there’s still a whole lot of year to come. About half, as it happens. So, as has been the tradition around here for the last half-decade — and seems to be the tradition in a growing number of outlets; not taking credit or claiming to have invented anything, just noting a proliferation — it’s time to count down the best records of the year so far. There have been more than a handful of gems, and since in December I’m planning on doing a top 30, we’ll mark half the year with a top 15. Seems only fair.
Please note that this isn’t purely a critical evaluation, but a personal list, and that what I’ve put on most is as crucial a factor in my ranking as how important I think a given record is. You know the drill by now. Let’s go:
Kiev three-piece Stoned Jesus have a varied stylistic history, and their third outing, The Harvest was ultimately a success in large part because of its complete refusal to be defined. Atop a foundation of quality songcraft, the trio proffered a sound that was not necessarily experimental in terms of anti-structure noise or effects onslaughts, but bold in each of its forays outward from its heavy rock underpinnings.
It has consistently taken me a while to get a hold on what Freedom Hawk are up to. The steady elements in their sound are held to so firmly that on the first couple listens, it seems to just be more of the same. But the more one digs in, the more there is to be found, and with Into Your Mind, the Virginia Beach trio overcome losing a member to create their most progressive outing to date, flourishes of psychedelia melding easily with their signature style of sunshiny riffing.
Five albums deep, Germany’s My Sleeping Karma are an act unto themselves. Their progress has been natural, fueled by a clear, varied sense of exploratory will, and the results on this year’s Moksha were nothing short of stunning. Branching out their arrangements might not be new to them, but the inclusion of horns, drones, percussion, etc., amid the central guitar, bass, keys and drums lent an almost orchestral feel to the flow between the tracks, and one can only hope they continue on their current path, because it is unquestionably the right one.
So much potential, so much vitality at the heart of this debut from Death Alley. The Amsterdam-based four-piece (interview here) stormed out of the gate with a ripper of a debut, and just when you seemed to have it all figured out, they hit the ignition on a 12-minute full-impulse space rock thrust, a guest vocal appearance from Farida Lemouchi (a former bandmate of Death Alley guitarist Oeds Beydals in The Devil’s Blood) adding both mystique and emotional resonance to what was already a stunning track. With all the riotousness preceding, Black Magick Boogieland readily lived up to its righteous title.
Midwestern-turned-West-Coast heavy psych rockers Mondo Drag may have taken their time in releasing their self-titled sophomore outing, which followed their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), and was recorded in 2012, but it’s easy to imagine that’s because they wanted the circumstances to be as special as the album itself, recorded with a fleeting five-piece lineup that included the one-time rhythm section of Radio Moscow who wound up leaving to further their then-nascent project, Blues Pills. Even without that lineup shift as a factor, the late ’60s vibe Mondo Drag brought out across the release proved eminently listenable and has held up on repeat visits.
A gorgeous, shimmering and melodically resonant debut from the Dutch four-piece Cigale, their self-titled gracefully maintained tonal presence and warmth while also enacting a psychedelic sprawl and grooving serenity that acted like the landscape in which the songs took place. It was a rich, bright vibe, and an utter joy to behold, tracks like “Harvest Begun,” “Feel the Heat” and “Eyes Wide Shut” proving as memorable as they were inviting. Having two former members of the much-missed fuzz rock outfit Sungrazer may have initially turned some heads in their direction, but Cigale‘s first album proved they’re an outfit with their own personality, their own development to undertake, and already much to offer.
The awaited return of The Machine brought the band’s fifth album and a further-refined sense of maturity in their processes, as well as intrigue as to where they might be headed, two dual modes of open-ended jamming and more structured songwriting playing off each other in the extended “Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and “Come to Light” and the more verse/chorus stylizations of “Dry End” and “Off Course.” To be perfectly honest, I doubt The Machine will ultimately pick one side over another, since if Offblast! proved anything it’s that they can easily handle either or both, but as they continue to grow, it’s encouraging to have their style establish itself as so multi-faceted.
First time I pressed play on Gravitron was a real “oh shit!” moment. The last release from NJ stalwarts The Atomic Bitchwax was 2011’s The Local Fuzz (review here), a single-song full-length instrumental riff onslaught that had its charm but was inherently divorced from the appeal of the band’s songwriting. Not only does Gravitron re-factor that in with songs like “Roseland,” “It’s Alright,” “Coming in Hot” and “Ice Age Hey Baby,” among others, but it hits with kick-in-the-ass production force and an all-out heaviness that 2008’s TAB4 showed the three-piece steering directly away from. Just a killer record. Utterly void of pretense. No bullshit. No need to rely on anything more than chemistry, and with the Bitchwax, that’s plenty.
7. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
Right now, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth are my band to beat for Debut of the Year, and I’m quite frankly not sure how anyone is going to be able to do it, so if list time comes in Dec. and you see Tad Doyle‘s trio marked out as such, know that it’s been that way in my head for some time. The three-piece of Doyle, bassist Peggy “Pegadeth” Tully and drummer Dave French arrived with a roar, and even when their self-titled let up sonically, the atmosphere remained viscerally heavy. Six years having passed since the release of their first demo (review here), I wasn’t sure there was ever going to be an album, but then to have Brothers of the Sonic Cloth show up and enact such thorough demolition only made it more impressive.
It can’t possibly be a surprise to have Luminiferous show up somewhere on this list. The seventh long-player by High on Fire had all the rage and bombast in “Slave the Hive” and “The Black Plot” that have become the band’s hallmarks over their 17 years together, but branched out progressively as well in songs like “The Cave” and “The Falconist,” the latter of which was brazenly catchy and about as emotionally direct as the band has ever gotten, their general modus being — and in that song too, just to a lesser extent — a metaphor-laced lyrical approach. That song was a triumph and so was the album as a whole; the second collaboration with producer Kurt Ballou building on the rampaging victories of 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis (review here) while also showing growth on the part of one of modern metal’s most pivotal bands.
Hitting more or less concurrent with a vinyl release of their prior album, 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy is not at all coincidentally titled. Over the course of now three full-lengths, the New York five-piece — about whom I feign no impartiality, let it be noted — have distinguished themselves with a sound neither noise, nor doom, nor heavy rock, but drawing on elements of all three when it suits their purposes with chemistry built from years of being in bands together of various stripes and in various genres. What stands the self-titled out from their past work, in part, is that it is the closest they’ve yet come to capturing their live sound in the studio, and accordingly, it’s a volatile kind of heavy that bends aesthetic to its will rather than capitulating to expectations of any sort. I don’t think they’re done growing by any stretch, but Kings Destroy feels like an arrival front-to-back.
This one was almost a sneak-attack. German heavy psych forerunners Colour Haze released To the Highest Gods We Know, their 11th full-length, in Dec. 2014 on CD (the vinyl was in 2015, which is what we’re counting in this instance), with very, very little fanfare of any sort. There was a track premiere here that came shortly after the album was announced, but I think it was officially out less than a month after its existence was made public, which for a band of Colour Haze‘s stature and influence was surprising. Less devoted to grandeur than 2012’s 2CD She Said (review here), it nonetheless pushed the band’s sound forward and found them experimenting in their studio, particularly on the string-quartet-inclusive finale title-track, which offset jams like “Überall” and the laid back highlight “Call” with a rhythmic oddness that was somehow still Colour Haze‘s own. I couldn’t help but wonder where it was leading, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t masterful in its own right.
Goatsnake didn’t have it easy going into their third album. It had been 15 years since their sophomore outing, Flower of Disease, 11 since their last EP, and five since they first started playing shows again. Expectations? Through the roof. Among heavy rock heads, a new Goatsnake was like seeing the mountaintop. I mean, a big fucking deal and then some. Then the record hits, and there’s just about no way it can live up to the anticipation, but god damn if Goatsnake not only finally put out a third album, but one that was better than I think anyone could’ve hoped for. Hearing Pete Stahl with however many backup singers he had on “Another River to Cross” et. al. was like finding an animal in its native habitat, and between his soul, Greg Anderson‘s riffs, bassist Scott Renner‘s low end rumble and drummer Greg Rogers‘ roll, Black Age Blues won almost immediately and then spent the rest of its 47 minutes throwing itself a victory party. “Elevated Man,” “House of the Moon,” “Jimi’s Gone,” “Grandpa Jones,” almost on a per-track basis, Goatsnake added to the reasons they’ve been so heralded despite a decade-plus’ absence from the studio.
On the level of achievement alone, Elder‘s Lore will be the album of the year for many, and there are times (such as right now) when I listen to it and question whether or not it isn’t also my pick for that honor, but wherever it falls on whatever list, far more important is what the Massachusetts/Rhode Island/New York trio manage to accomplish across their third LP’s formidable five-track/59-minute span, songs like “Compendium” and “Deadweight” bridging a rarely approached gap between heavy and progressive rocks while maintaining a flow consistent with the psychedelic vibing of 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) but grown outward in another aesthetic direction and no sooner setting foot on the ground than seeming to master it in a flurry of blinding turns, sprawling soundscapes and clarity of mind that found perhaps its greatest expression in the centerpiece title-track, the 15-minute “Lore” itself, which I’ve no doubt will stand among if not atop the best songs of 2015 when the year is over and encapsulates the ambition and the corresponding breadth of Elder‘s songwriting, the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan, and drummer Matt Couto rising as one of the East Coast’s most pivotal acts, with a sound completely their own.
1. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
I use the word “molten” pretty regularly to describe an album or song that seems to just ooze its way out of the speakers or shift seamlessly between its songs, but Acid King set an entirely new standard for the term with Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere. Their first outing for Svart and their first release in a decade, its 55 minutes were a riff-rolling nirvana of lurching fuzz and tonal excellence, the guitar of Lori S. at the fore accompanied by Mark Lamb‘s bass and Joey Osbourne‘s drums, the swing of which propelled a highlight track like “Coming down from Outer Space” right back into it, while elsewhere on the record, “Silent Pictures,” “Red River” and “Infinite Skies” torched stoner conventions into a new space-biker rock, culminating in the heavy psych of “Center of Everywhere,” which seemed to emanate from the place it was describing, at once empty and full. More than just a welcome return after a long dearth of releases, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere found Acid King progressed even beyond where they were with 2005’s III, though more than anything else, what makes it my top pick for the year so far is the fact that I can’t seem to walk away from it for too long before going back, and ultimately, that’s what it all comes down to with his kind of thing. I’ve yet to find a standard to which these songs don’t live up.
A few others worth noting. The Sun Blood Stories album (streamed here) continues to resonate. Also Monolord, Valkyrie, Lamp of the Universe, Garden of Worm, Wo Fat‘s live record, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s Cold was the Ground and Ufomammut‘s Ecate. The Black Rainbows was a joy, as was Spidergawd‘s second LP, and while I still feel like I haven’t given it its due, the Sumac won many over and should get a mention. Steve Von Till‘s solo outing and the latest from Enslaved are worth seeking out as well for anyone who hasn’t heard them yet.
More to Come:
The year’s only half over, which is kind of a scary thought but true nonetheless. Watch out in the coming months for new stuff from Bloodcow, All Them Witches, Clutch, Graveyard, Zun, Sacri Monti (if that one’s not already out), Snail, Uncle Acid, and Kind. The new Kadavar is a sure-fire top tenner, and between that, the potential for a new Neurosis album and stuff like Magnetic Eye Records‘ Electric Ladyland [Redux], there’s no way the book is written on the best of 2015.
So stay tuned.
And if I’ve still got your attention, thanks for reading.
Posted in Whathaveyou on July 2nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
If there was such a thing to be sounded as a “good dude alert,” it would be ringing. The reigning Prince of Long Island, drummer Joe Wood — known best for his work in long-running hard rockers Borgo Pass, but also formerly of sludge-slingers 12 Eyes, a former bandmate of mine and all around one of the best guys you could hope to know on the Eastern Seaboard — has a new band going. The Brooklyn-based trio, with Wood on drums, Ken Wohlrob on guitar/vocals and Hal Miller on bass, are called Eternal Black after an initial introduction as The Black Hand, and their self-titled EP has just been released through their own Obsidian Sky Records.
Announcement and stream follow. More to come:
Eternal Black Unleashes Their Doomy Self-Titled EP
Brooklyn-based doom band Eternal Black have unleashed their debut self-titled EP via their own Obsidian Sky Records. Steeped in the American doom tradition of Saint Vitus, The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan, and EyeHateGod, Eternal Black’s music is full of heavy and bluesy riffs, Bonham-esque drums, and rumbling low-end. Sonically and lyrically, the three tracks on the EP are Armageddon blues songs.
Formed in late 2014, Eternal Black is made up of Joe Wood on drums (Borgo Pass, Bloody Sabbath), Hal Miller on Bass, and Ken Wohlrob on guitar and vocals. The group came together out of a desire to create dark songs driven by fuzz-drenched riffs and old-school heavy grooves.
The Eternal Black EP was produced by Kol Marshall (King Diamond, Mercyful Fate, Absu, Ministry) and Joe Kelly (Provan, John Hovorka and the Dawn of Mechanized Farming) at the latter’s Suburban Elvis studios. Digital downloads of the album are available now via Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon, and other digital music retailers. https://eternalblack.bandcamp.com https://itun.es/i6L54nk
Details for Eternal Black’s self-titled EP
Track listing: 1. Obsidian Sky 2. The Dead Die Hard 3. Armageddon’s Embrace
Produced, mixed, and mastered by Joe Kelly and Kol Marshall Recorded at Suburban Elvis Studios, May 2015 Released by Obsidian Sky Records
Band members: Hal Miller: Bass Joe Wood: Drums Ken Wohlrob: Guitars, Vocals