The Top 20 of 2018 Year-End Poll — RESULTS!

Posted in Features on January 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

derp

If you’re reading this, congratulations on making it all the way through the existential rollercoaster that was 2018.

I hope you celebrated that year’s end and this year’s beginning in riotous fashion if that’s your thing, and if you’re more the stay-at-home-and-don’t-break-stuff type, I hope that was fun too.

Over the last month, best-of lists have been collected from all around the world and as we move into 2019, it’s time to do the results of the Year-End Poll for 2018.

What a year. As I look back on the lists submitted, of course I can’t help but think how absolutely incredible 2018 was for music. With the world crumbling around, creativity surged, and the quality of output was off the charts. I published my own list last week and was quickly inundated with stuff I forgot or that I missed owing to being robbed earlier this year — I guess I didn’t even realize until the post went up just how much that screwed me — and I’m sure there’s more still out there from what everyone turned in. It’s infinite. It keeps going. Trends change. Sounds change. People change. Creativity flourishes.

But I think if you’re reading this, you know why we’re here. We wound up with somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 discrete releases submitted. That’s more than five for every day of the year. And they came from 547 people, which is amazing. Accordingly, there should be plenty here to keep you busy for a while.

Not exactly suspenseful as to which was the album of the year, but it’s still interesting to see where stuff landed. Just to remind, there are two lists, one of the raw votes, and one in which a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. Thanks as always to Slevin for the help in setting up the back end functionality and compilation scripts.

Let’s go:

Top 20 of 2018 — Weighted Results

sleep the sciences

1. Sleep, The Sciences (1,087 points)
2. YOB, Our Raw Heart (721)
3. High on Fire, Electric Messiah (478)
4. Earthless, Black Heaven (413)
5. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain (408)
6. Windhand, Eternal Return (387)
7. All Them Witches, ATW (373)
8. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland (354)
9. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions (323)
10. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe (315)
11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers (285)
12. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II (274)
13. Graveyard, Peace (225)
14. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman (222)
15. Weedpecker, III (212)
16. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown (197)
17. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker (189)
18. Conan, Existential Void Guardian (188)
19. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark (167)
20. ASG, Survive Sunrise (164)

Honorable Mention:
Messa, Feast for Water (150)
Gozu, Equilibrium (148)
Judas Priest, Firepower (148)
Naxatras, III (148)
Forming the Void, Rift (146)

I’m not saying everyone had to love the Sleep record, but there’s no way it wasn’t the biggest underground heavy release of the year. That top spot was established the first day the poll went up and while YOB caught up as both neared 100 votes, there was no doubt how it would ultimately shake out. It was pretty clear early on what people were passionate about, but there are some interesting differences between the raw vote and the weighted results even high on the list, as you’ll see below.

Top 20 of 2018 — Raw Votes

sleep the sciences

1. Sleep, The Sciences (263 votes)
2. YOB, Our Raw Heart (185)
3. High on Fire, Electric Messiah (141)
4. Windhand, Eternal Return (115)
5. Earthless, Black Heaven (109)
6. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain (102)
7. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland (101)
8. All Them Witches, ATW (95)
8. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions (95)
9. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe (93)
10. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers (77)
10. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II (77)
11. Graveyard, Peace (69)
12. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman (67)
13. Weedpecker, III (63)
14. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker (57)
14. Conan, Existential Void Guardian (57)
15. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown (54)
16. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark (50)
17. ASG, Survive Sunrise (48)
18. Gozu, Equilibrium (46)
19. Forming the Void, Rift (45)
20. Judas Priest, Firepower (43)
20. Khemmis, Bloodletting (43)
20. Mos Generator, Shadowlands (43)
20. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back (43)

Honorable Mention:
Messa, Feast for Water (41)
Domkraft, Flood (40)
Naxatras, III (40)
Thou, Magus (40)

Everything else got fewer than 40 raw votes. Why cap it at 40? I don’t know. Good a place as any. And when a top 20 has 26 releases on it, I don’t imagine there will be too many complaints about not enough stuff being included. One can hope, anyhow. You can see the difference between Sleep and everyone else here as well, a pretty precipitous drop after both them and YOB, and YOB and High on Fire — the top three being well ahead of everyone else in terms of general agreement.

The ‘Respect the Hustle’ Award

Somewhere around the middle of the month, I noticed a massive surge of votes for a band called Entropía and their debut album, Invisible. A bunch of people with lists of 20 just including Entropía. I’ve included them below, you can see them. I didn’t know what was up, whether it was the band spamming the vote or what, so I sent them a message. Turns out they had sent the link to their email list and asked for votes, and that’s how they all got in. Well, okay.

They wound up with well over 750 raw votes (to remind, Sleep got 263), and it didn’t feel representative to have them be album of the year, but hey, I respect the hustle, so they get the award accordingly. Nicely done, folks. I’ve been doing Year-End Polls since like 2010 and that’s never happened before. Their totals were 2,367 points and 777 votes.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading. Whether this is the only post you’ve seen this year or you click ‘Like’ on everything that comes across your Facebook feed, your support is tremendously appreciated. This is the only post that will go up today, but we’ll be back to business as usual tomorrow, and in the meantime, you’ll find everybody’s list included after the jump.

All the best for 2019.

Read more »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the-top-30-of-2018

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 2018 to that, please do.

It just wouldn’t be a year if it wasn’t completely overwhelming, right?

2018 has certainly met that standard and then some. The swath of output, whether it’s a new generation adopting and adapting established methods or out and out reinventing the stylistic wheel and then pushing it uphill on a seemingly endless barrage of tours, has been staggering, and it’s still happening. There’s a little more than a week to go in the year. You think a band isn’t putting something out today? Of course they are. It’s every day. It’s all the time.

But this year wasn’t just about quantity either. I think one of my biggest struggles in writing about albums in 2018 — and with the last Quarterly Review and various premieres and video posts that were basically album reviews in disguise, let’s estimate we’re somewhere past 300 records reviewed one way or another — was in conveying just how killer so much of the stuff coming through was. How many times can you say the word “awesome?” Well, I’m sure we’ll see it a few more times before this list is over, so there you go.

I say something like this every time I do a list, but please keep in mind these are my picks and I’m one person. But I am a person. I know there’s the whole internet-anonymity thing, but I assure you, I’m a human being (more of a cave troll, really) typing these words. I’m all for everyone sharing their own picks in the comments, and all for passionate advocating, but please, let’s keep it civil and respectful. These things can spiral out of control quickly, but let’s remember that we’re all human beings and worth of basic courtesy, even if some of us are dead wrong about a good many things. You should definitely punch nazis, though.

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

[UPDATE: You’ll notice the inclusion of an ’18a.’ I had Stoned Jesus in my notes as number 18 initially and they got dropped as I was adjusting things along the way. I’ve added them back in, but it didn’t seem fair to bump everyone else down after the post had already been published. That was the best I could come up with for a solution. If you’re pissed about one more killer record being added, please feel free to email me and tell me all about it.]

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Chicago’s The Skull had no small task before them in following up their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) — let alone living up to their pedigree — but their second album demonstrated a creative growth that sacrificed nothing of memorability when it came to songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “All that Remains (Is True).” They got down to work and got the job done, which is what a working band does. 2018 was by any measure a fantastic year for doom, and The Skull were a big part of why.

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

The Dec. 2017 murder of Rev. Jim Forrester was tragic. No other way to say it. Foghound, who were in the midst of making Awaken to Destroy at the time, put together an album that not only features Forrester‘s last recorded performance, but pays respect to his memory while the wound is still raw and manages to kick ass all the while. It’s a record that can’t ever be divorced from its circumstances — just can’t — and so it can be a heavy listen in more than just its tones, but it’s basically Foghound proving they’re unstoppable. And so they are.

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

Who among us here today is not a sucker for Orange Goblin? Come forward an be judged. I mean, really. Nine records deep, the London sceneforgers are nothing less than an institution, beloved by boozehounds, riffhounds, doomhounds, and really, a wide variety of hounds the world over. Also dudes. With its essential title-track hook and highlight cuts in “Ghosts of the Primitives” and “Burn the Ships” — or, you know, any of them — they added to one of heavy’s most unshakable legacies with an album as furious as it is welcoming to its generations-spanning fanbase.

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

fu manchu clone of the universe
Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed Feb. 15.

There are two kinds of people in this world, and they’re both Fu Manchu fans. Clone of the Universe turned heads with a guest appearance from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson on the 18-minute side-B-consuming “Il Mostro Atomico,” but really to focus on that instead of “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” etc., is only seeing half the point of the album in the first place. The long-running lords of fuzz hit a new stride with 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), and Clone of the Universe was in every way a worthy successor.

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain
Released by Svart Records. Reviewed May 16.

It was an unenviable task before Witch Mountain in replacing vocalist Uta Plotkin, but founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson found the right voice in Kayla Dixon and solidified the lineup with her and bassist Justin Brown enough to make a declarative statement in Witch Mountain‘s self-titled LP. That’s the story of it. They pulled it off. Met with what was unquestionably a bummer circumstance, they pushed through and moved their sound forward through a new beginning — and not their first one. Watch out when their next record hits.

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Richmond, Virginia, doomers Windhand‘s second collaboration with producer Jack Endino produced a marked and purposeful expansion of their sound, encompassing classic grunge influences and a heavy psychedelic swirl that added color their previously-greyscale sonic haze. Resonant in tone and emotionalism, Eternal Return readjusted Windhand‘s trajectory in such a manner that, where one might’ve thought they knew where the band were headed in terms of their progression, they’ve made themselves a less predictable outfit on the whole. For that alone, it’s a triumph. Then you have the songs.

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

I don’t even want to admit how long I was waiting for Sun Voyager‘s first long-player to show up, but when it finally did, the New York trio did not disappoint. Catchy, energetic, fuzzed-out tunes with driving rhythms and a heavy psych flourish, they tapped into shoegaze and desert vibes without losing any sense of themselves in the process, and if the extra wait was so they could be so remarkably coherent in their expression on their full-length, then I wouldn’t want it to have shown up any sooner. An easy pick to stand among 2018’s best debut albums. Now to wait for the next one.

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

It should tell you something that after working quickly to produce three albums, Louisiana’s Forming the Void are still defined by their potential. If I had my druthers, I’d put the recent Ripple signees on tour for the bulk of 2019, across the US and in Europe for festivals and support-slot club shows, really give them an opportunity to hammer out who they are as a band and then hit the studio for LP four. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but they’d only be doing the universe a favor by kicking into that gear. As it stands, their progression is palpable in their material and they stand absolutely ready for whatever the next level might be for them.

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

Released by BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed June 29.

Aside from the speed at which Spaceslug have turned around offerings — with Eye the Tide following 2017’s Mountains and Reminiscence EP (review here) and Time Travel Dilemma (review here) full-length and their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here) — the Polish outfit have undertaken significant progression in their sound, moving from pure heavy psychedelic warmth to incorporating elements out of extreme metal as they did on Eye the Tide. Adding to the latest record’s accomplishment is the smoothness with which they brought seemingly opposing sides together, only adding depth to an approach already worthy of oceanic comparison.

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

Conan Existential Void Guardian
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Conan‘s reign of terror has been unfolding for more than a decade now, and each of their albums has become a kind of step along a path of incremental growth. Consider the melody creeping into the shouts of founding guitarist Jon Davis, or the emergence of bassist Chris Fielding as a vocal presence alongside, the two sharing a frontman role more than ever before while welcoming drummer Johnny King to the fold of destructive tonality and doomly extremism. Existential Void Guardian may end up just being another stomp-print on their way to the next thing, but it affirmed the fact that as much as Conan grow each time out, their central violence continues to hold sway.

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

PALE DIVINE S/T
Released by Shadow Kingdom Records. Reviewed Nov. 21.

Look. A new Pale Divine record doesn’t come along every day, so yeah, their self-titled was probably going to be on my list one way or the other, but it definitely helps that not only was it their first outing in six years since 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here), but it had the songs to live up to a half-decade-plus of anticipation. It marked the first studio appearance from bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis alongside guitarist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey — now both of Beelzefuzz as well — and made a strong argument for how much Pale Divine deserve more than 20 years on from their initial demo to be considered classic American doom.

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands
Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed May 11.

The return and rise to prominence of Washington pure heavy rockers Mos Generator might be the underground’s feelgood story of the decade, but it hasn’t by any means been easily won. In addition to rebuilding the band however many albums ago, guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed has put in innumerable hours on tour and worked to actually develop the group creatively in addition to in terms of stage presence. This is shown throughout some of the classic prog elements making their way onto Shadowlands, and perhaps some of the collection’s moodier aspects are born of the aforementioned road time as well. Hard for that kind of thing not to be a slog after a while, but at least they have killer tunes to play.

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

The only safe bet about Stoned Jesus‘ fourth long-player, Pilgrims, was that it was going to sound different than the third. That 2015 outing, The Harvest (review here), preceded the band touring to celebrate the fifth anniversary and after-the-fact success of 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but Pilgrims defied narrative in that instead of incorporating elements from the second record in more of a heavy psych or jam sound, Stoned Jesus instead showcased a tighter, more sureheaded sense of craft than they’ve ever displayed before, and arrived on Napalm Records with a collection of songs that demonstrated the growth and sense of creative will that drives them. While one can take a look at their moniker and think immediately they know what’s coming, Stoned Jesus have made themselves one of the least predictable bands in heavy rock.

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

“Pirate Smile.” “Lines.” “Whatever.” “It Ain’t Right.” “Threes.” “Cinderella.” “Generals.” “Big Enough.” “Alone.” “Lucky. Mike Cummings, Jessica Baker, Erik Larson. Every player, every song, every minute. If you want to know what heart-on-sleeve sounds like, it fucking sounds like Backwoods Payback. In their line from hardcore punk to grunge to heavy rock, they encompass experiences and emotionalism that are both shown in raw form throughout Future Slum, and build all the while on the chemistry they set out in developing with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), when they welcomed Larson to the lineup on drums and revitalized their mission. Also worth noting, they were the best live band I saw this year. Anywhere.

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

No question the excitement of C.O.C. putting out their first record with frontman Pepper Keenan involved since 2005’s In the Arms of God was one of this year’s top stories in heavy. And No Cross No Crown tapped directly into the spirit of 1994’s Deliverance (discussed here) and 1996’s Wiseblood (discussed here) in terms of direction, while updating the band’s style with a four-part 2LP in mind. In some ways, it’ll be their next album that really gives listeners a sense of where they’re at and where they might be headed, but as welcome returns go, having Keenan alongside Mike DeanWoody Weatherman and Reed Mullin is in no way to be understated, and neither is the quality of their output together, then and now.

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It is no simple feat to hypnotize an audience and convey serenity while at the same time holding attention with songcraft, so that the listener isn’t actually so much unconscious as malleable of mood and spirit in such a direction as the band suggests. Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to become experts at this, and their third full-length fosters tonal warmth and jammy progressions with an overarching naturalism that finds them so committed to analog recording that one can buy direct transfers of the tape master of III. Some acts take classic-style practices as an aesthetic choice. With Naxatras, it seems to be the stuff of life, yet their sound is only vibrant and human in a way that, at least one hopes, is even more representative of the future than the past.

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

It was time for Clutch to make a change in producers, and the Maryland overlords of groove seemed to know it. Known as a live band, they went with Vance Powell, who’s known a live band producer. The results on Book of Bad Decisions might not have been so earth-shatteringly different from 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here), which was the too-soon follow-up to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — both helmed by Machine — but the inimitable four-piece indeed succeeded in capturing the electricity of their stage performance and, as ever, treated fans to a collection of songs bearing Clutch‘s unmistakable hallmarks of quirky lyrics, funky rhythms and heavy roll. They may always be a live band, but Clutch‘s studio work is in no way to be discounted, ever, as this record reaffirmed. Plus, crab cakes.

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

After 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), I wasn’t sure Ancestors were going to put out another record. They kicked around word of one for a while, but it wasn’t until the end of last year that it really seemed to congeal into a possibility. And by then, who the hell knew what they might get up to on a full-length? With Suspended in Reflections, in some says, they picked up where they left off in terms of finding a niche for themselves in progressive and melodic heavy, but I think the time showed in the poise of their execution and the control of the material. Suspended in Reflections can’t help but be six years more mature than its predecessor, and that suits its contemplative feel. In tracks like “Gone,” and “The Warm Glow,” they tempered their expansive sound with an efficiency that can only be had with time.

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

The narrative here was hard to beat. Matt Pike spending an album cycle talking about Lemmy Kilmister and paying homage to his dirt-rock forebear and the gods of old? It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Electric Messiah was the third collaboration between High on Fire and producer Kurt Ballou behind 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), and while it seemed after the last record that the formula might be getting stale, the band only sounded more and more lethal throughout the latest offering. Even putting aside their contributions to underground heavy, they’ve become one of the most essential metal bands of their generation. Metal, period. Doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re talking about it. If you’re listening to High on Fire, you know it. Usually because you’ve just been decapitated.

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

You know, if you take the time to separate Yawning Man from their 30-plus-year history and their legacy as one of the foundational acts of what later became desert rock, and you listen to The Revolt Against Tired Noises, you’re still left with basically a dream of an album. Mostly instrumental, as is their wont, they nonetheless had bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) sing this time around on a version of the previously-unreleased “Catamaran,” which Kyuss covered once upon a whenever although Yawning Man had never officially put it to tape. But really, that and all other novelty aside, guitarist Gary Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are a chemistry unto themselves. I don’t know if they’ll ever be as huge as they should be, but every bit of acclaim they get, they’ve earned, and if The Revolt Against Tired Noises helps them get it, all the more so.

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

Swedish heavy rock mavens Greenleaf have become an entirely different band than they once were. No longer a Dozer side-project from guitarist Tommi Holappa with a rotating cast of players, they’re a solidified, road-tested, powerhouse unit, and Hear the Rivers bleeds soul as a result. Holappa, frontman Arvid Hällagård, bassist Hans Fröhlich and drummer Sebastian Olsson sound like they’re absolutely on fire in the album’s tracks, and far from being staid or formulaic as one might expect a sixth long-player to be, Hear the Rivers built on what the band accomplished with 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) and came across as all the more vital and nearly frenetic in their energy. I won’t say Greenleaf has seen their last lineup change, because one never knows, but the band as they are today is the realization of potential I don’t think even Greenleaf knew was there.

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 4.

Five records deep into a career into its second decade, Gozu haven’t had a miss yet. Admittedly, some of their early work can seem formative considering where they are now, but still. And after the 2016 rager, Revival (review here), to have the band return to the same studio — Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where strides producer Dean Baltulonis — for the follow-up allows for the four-piece to directly show how their sound has grown more encompassing in the last couple years. And it has. Equilibrium is a rich and varied listen that holds true to Gozu‘s well-established penchant for soulful vibes and crunching, hard-hitting riffs and groove, but while it shares the directness of approach with Revival, it makes moves that a band could only make moving from one record to the next. I expect nothing less their next time out as well, because a decade later, that’s Gozu‘s proven track record.

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

monster magnet mindfucker
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 23.

The battle for the best album title of 2018 ended early when New Jersey everything-rockers Monster Magnet announced the release of Mindfucker. And what else to call a Monster Magnet LP at this point? They’ve stopped writing to genre. They’re driven by the creative mania of frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf, and they’ve seen psychedelic expanses and commercial success the likes of which would serve the tenure of four lesser bands. What’s left to do but whatever the hell you want? So that’s what Monster Magnet are doing. It just so happens that while they’re doing it, they’re still basically outclassing the entirety of the former planet earth as songwriters. As Monster Magnet fan in 2018, there was nothing more I could’ve asked than what Mindfucker delivered. And if you’re still trying to get your brain around it however many months later, you’re not alone. I think that’s the idea.

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Best doom album of 2018. The combination of craft and passion behind the delivery. The way the dark tones fed into the emotions so clearly on display and sheer presence of it in listening to songs like “Keeping the Lighthouse,” “Ruination by Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here.” Apostle of Solitude never seem to be the highest profile band out there, but their work seems never to be anything less than outstanding, and I refuse to accept them as anything less than among the most pivotal American acts out there making traditional doom. And not just making it, but making it their own, with a sense of new pursuits and individualism that extends to playing style as well as atmosphere. I know doom isn’t exactly in short supply these days — figuratively or literally — but if you miss out on what Apostle of Solitude are doing with it, you’ll only regret it later. I’ll say it one more time: Best doom album of 2018.

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

holy grove ii
Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 31.

Every now and again, anticipating the crap of an album really pays off, and such was the case with Holy Grove II, the Ripple Music debut from the Portland outfit whose 2016 self-titled (review here) seemed like such a herald of excellence to come while also, you know, being killer. Holy Grove II brought the four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis to entirely new levels of composition and execution. In songs like “Blade Born,” the shorter, sharper “Aurora,” the patiently rolling “Valley of the Mystics,” “Solaris” and closer “Cosmos,” which boasted a not-really-necessary-but-definitely-welcome guest vocal appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt, — and oh wait, that’s all of the tracks — Holy Grove entered a different echelon. Anticipation will likewise be high for Holy Grove III, but it’ll be hard to complain with this record to keep company in the meantime.

6. All Them Witches, ATW

all them witches atw
Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Over five All Them Witches albums, the Nashville four-piece have gone from a nascent heavy Americana jam band to one of the most distinct acts in the US underground. Their development in sound is chemistry-driven, so it was a risk when the founding trio of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) and drummer Robby Staebler welcomed new keyboardist Jonathan Draper into the lineup to take the place of Allan van Cleave. Amid a more naturalist production than that of 2017’s Sleeping Through the War (review here), the revamped four-piece flourished in terms of songwriting and conveying their stage-born sonic personae. From the gleeful fuckery of opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” to the memorable moodiness of “Diamond” and the back-end jam “Harvest Feast” en route to the stretched-out end of “Rob’s Dream,” All Them Witches essentially confirmed they could do whatever they wanted and make it work.

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

yob our raw heart
Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed June 7.

Actually, if you want a sample of YOB‘s raw heart, the place to go is probably 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), but whatever the Eugene, Oregon, shapers of cosmic doom might’ve lacked in titular accuracy on their eighth long-player, they made up for in a new, statesman-like posture. Their approach was mature, hammered out to a professionalism working completely on its own terms, and they never sounded so sure of who they are as a band or as confident of their direction. In extended cuts “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and “Our Raw Heart,” they explored new and progressive textures and melodies, and managed to reaffirm their core aspects while finding room for conveying emotion that came across as nothing but ultimately sincere. They have been and still are one of a kind, and as they continue to move forward, they remain a band that makes one feel lucky to be alive to witness their work. Our Raw Heart was perhaps more refined than it let on, but the heart was there for sure, as always.

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t a fan of the (relatively) harder-hitting approach Brant Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band took on 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), but Mankind Woman brought in some more of his soul influences, and whether it was the subtly subversive funk of “Chocolatize” and “Brand New Old Times” or the callout “1968” and laid back vibes of the title-track and “Swagger and Sway,” Bjork — working with guitarist Bubba DuPree on songwriting and production — offered a definitive look at what has made his 20-year solo career so special and demonstrates not only his longevity and his legacy, but his will to continue to progress as an artist honing his craft. His discography is well populated by now to be sure, but Mankind Woman represents a turn from the last couple records, and if it’s in any way portentous of things to come, it bodes well. Bjork is right at home nestled into classic-style grooves, and his legacy as one of the principal architects of desert rock is continually reaffirmed.

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

They’ve been great, not just good, for a long time now, and as forerunners of the San Diego heavy scene, they’re godfathers to an up and coming generation of bands taking their influence — let alone acts from the rest of the world — but Black Heaven is a special moment for them because of its departure. No, it wasn’t not the first time guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sang on an Earthless recording, but it did represent a tip of the balance in that direction for the band on a studio full-length, and that resulted in a special moment. Album opener “Gifted by the Wind” was one of the best songs I heard this year, and while “End to End” and the all-thrust “Volt Rush” affirmed that more traditional songwriting was well within the grasp of Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, they still found space for a sprawling jam or two, keeping their claim on the instrumentalism that’s (largely) fueled their tenure to date. Earthless don’t want for acclaim, but every bit of it is earned, and while their primary impact has always been live, Black Heaven saw them construct a traditional-style LP that still bore the hallmarks of their collective personality. It was the best of all worlds.

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

king buffalo longing to be the mountain
Self-released/released by Stickman Records. Reviewed Sept. 27.

In the dark early hours of 2018, the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson issued the Repeater EP (review here) as a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), so Longing to Be the Mountain didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but even with Repeater preceding its arrival, I don’t think anyone necessary expected King Buffalo‘s second album to have such a scope or to be so engrossing with it. In its melody, patience, atmosphere and heft, it was an absolute joy to behold. Its songs were memorable at the same time they were far-reaching, and while Orion was already my pick for the best debut of 2016, Longing to Be the Mountain realized even more potential than that record had hinted toward. It could be intimate or majestic at its whim, and its dynamic set an individual characterization of heavy psychedelia and blues-style sprawl that the band wholly owned. With production by Ben McLeod of All Them Witches behind them, they worked to serve notice of a progression undertaken the results of which are already staggering and still seem to be looking ahead to the next stage, literally and figuratively. One of the principal standards I use in constructing this list every year is what I listen to most. That’s this record.

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

Obviously, right? To some extent, when Sleep surprise-announced on April 19 they’d release their first album in 15 years the next day, and then did, they took ownership of 2018. Even with records still to come at that point from YOB and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike‘s own High on Fire, there was no way that when the end of the year came around, it wasn’t going to be defined by the advent of a new Sleep record. And even if it sucked, it would probably still be Album of the Year, but fortunately, as Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om) and drummer Jason Roeder (also Neurosis) took their long-running stage reunion to the studio, they brought material that highlighted the best elements from all players. Pike‘s wild soloing, Cisneros‘ meditative vocals and Roeder‘s intricate but smooth style of roll all came together in older pieces like “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Sonic Titan” and newer highlights “Giza Butler” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” and aside from the excitement at their existence, they showed the mastery of form that Sleep had been demonstrating live since 2009 and which they hinted toward in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here). A new Sleep full-length was something long-discussed, long-rumored and long-considered, but when it finally happened, I think the results vaporized expectation in a way no one could’ve anticipated. There’s a reason Sleep are Sleep. Having The Sciences as a reminder of that brought about the defining moment of 2018.

The Next 20

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a Top 30 at all if it didn’t go to 50. Don’t try to make sense of it, just look at the records.

31. Atavismo, Valdeinfierno
32. Grayceon, IV
33. Clamfight, III
34. Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique
35. Megaton Leviathan, Mage
36. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland
37. Arcadian Child, Superfonica
38. Freedom Hawk, Beast Remains
39. The Machine, Faceshift
40. Messa, Feast for Water
41. Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium
42. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Science Fiction
43. Domkraft, Flood
44. Träden, Träden
45. Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
46. Samavayo, Vatan
47. Foehammer, Second Sight
48. Bongripper, Terminal
49. Mansion, First Death of the Lutheran
50. Sunnata, Outlands
51. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Come and Chutney

Believe me when I tell you, I sweated over this section more than I did the actual top 30. Mansion should be higher. So should Chubby Thunderous, though something in me thought they might like being #50 on a list of 30. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Clamfight, Black Rainbows, Foehammer, Seedy Jeezus, Messa, Domkraft. All of these were fucking awesome. And there are more (we’ll get there). Eventually numbers add up. I won’t say a bad word about any of these. That’s it.

Honorable Mention

This section always winds up expanded as other people point out things I missed and so on, but here’s what I’ve got in the immediate, alphabetically:

  • Alms, Act One
  • Ape Machine, Darker Seas
  • Belzebong, Light the Dankness
  • Black Moon Circle, Psychedelic Spacelord
  • Blackwater Holylight, Blackwater Holylight
  • Bong, Thought and Existence
  • Carpet, About Rooms and Elephants
  • Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery
  • Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree
  • Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need
  • Death Alley, Superbia
  • Drug Cult, Drug Cult
  • Dunbarrow, II
  • Electric Citizen, Helltown
  • Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn
  • Evoken, Hypnagogia
  • Funeral Horse, Psalms for the Mourning
  • Fuzz Evil, High on You
  • Graven, Heirs of Discord
  • Graveyard, Peace
  • Green Dragon, Green Dragon
  • Green Druid, Ashen Blood
  • Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing
  • High Priestess, High Priestess
  • Horehound, Holocene
  • IAH, II
  • JIRM, Surge ex Monumentis
  • Killer Boogie, Acid Cream
  • Lonely Kamel, Death’s Head Hawkmoth
  • MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure
  • Moab, Trough
  • Mountain Dust, Seven Storms
  • Mouth, Floating
  • Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence
  • T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid
  • Onségen Ensemble, Duel
  • Orango, Evergreen
  • Owl, Nights in Distortion
  • Pushy, Hard Wish
  • Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground/Meditation
  • River Cult, Halcyon Daze
  • Rotor, Sechs
  • Somali Yacht Club, The Sea
  • Sumac, Love in Shadow
  • Sundrifter, Visitations
  • Svvamp, Svvamp II
  • Thou, Magus
  • Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse
  • Weedpecker, III

Special Note

Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to include these in the list proper because they’re not really underground releases, but there were two more records I especially wanted to highlight for their quality:

  • Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
  • Judas Priest, Firepower

Best Short Release of the Year

Normally I’d do this as a separate post, but as a result of being robbed earlier this year, I feel like my list is woefully incomplete. If you have any demos, EPs, splits, singles, etc., to add to it, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Still, the top pick was clear:

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Rarely do two bands work in such coherent tandem to their mutual benefit. Here are a few other essential short releases for 2018, alphabetically:

  • All Them Witches, Lost and Found
  • Alunah, Amber & Gold
  • Canyon, Mk II
  • Demon Head, The Resistence
  • Destroyer of Light, Hopeless
  • Ecstatic Vision, Under the Influence
  • Godmaker & Somnuri, Split
  • Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul
  • King Buffalo, Repeater
  • Minsk & Zatokrev, Split
  • Sleep, Leagues Beneath
  • Stonus, Lunar Eclipse
  • Sundecay, Gale

Looking Forward

A good many albums have already been announced or hinted at for 2019. I in no way claim this to be a complete roundup of what’s coming, but here’s what I have in my notes so far, in absolutely no order:

Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Cities of Mars, Heavy Temple, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan (LP), Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Om.

Okay, That’s It

Yeah, no, I’m serious. List is done. Everybody go back to your lives. Your families miss you.

Really though, while this is by no means my last post of 2018, I can’t let it pass without saying thank you so much to everyone for checking out the site this year, or for just digging into this, or for sending me music, or hitting me up on social media, sharing a link, anything. Thank you. Thank you. I could never have imagined when it started out where it would be now. Or that I’d still be doing it. Your support means more to me than I can say, and I thank you so much for being a part of this with me.

So thanks.

If you have something to add to the list, please do so by leaving a comment below, but keep in mind as well the above note requesting civility. Please don’t make me feel stupid because I forgot your favorite record. I forgot a lot of people’s favorite records. I’m one dude. I’m doing my best.

And please keep in mind if you’ve got a list together that the Year-End Poll is open and results will be out Jan. 1.

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 06

Posted in Radio on December 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

gimme radio logo

Okay, so I guess the first thing you should know if you don’t know is I sort of have a radio show. It’s called The Obelisk Show. I’ve been in league with the good peoples at Gimme Radio for a couple months now, and it seems like it’s sticking, which is nice. They’ve been kind enough to give me a forum through which to share music, and I’m happy for the opportunity. I’ve guested with Diane Farris (also now on Gimme) on WFMU a few times over the years, but haven’t hosted a show since I was in college at WSOU in New Jersey, so it’s been a thrill to do so again. I had missed it more than I realized.

Since it doesn’t look like I’m about to be immediately shitcanned by Gimme on account of general suckdom — can’t help but feel like I’m getting away with something there — I wanted to get an archive going of playlists on here, basically so I can refer to it later and know what I’ve already played and when. Otherwise, I’ll just do the same stuff all the time, because I’m kind of a doof generally. So here we are.

The latest episode — the sixth — was a wrap-up of what I thought were some of the best tracks from 2018. You can see the playlist below in the kind oldschool-looking spreadsheet form. Ignore the asterisks by the album titles; they just mean something that came out this year. Which, in the case of this episode, was everything.

If you didn’t get to hear it the first time around or want to dig into other episodes, Gimme has an archive available on the cheap, and they reair the show as well. Thanks either way if you get to check it out.

I thought this was a decent one. Here’s the playlist:

The Obelisk Show Ep. 06 – 12.16.18

Gozu Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat Equilibrium* 0:06:24
Mos Generator The Destroyer Shadowlands* 0:04:27
BREAK
Traden Hymn Traden* 0:07:20
Sandrider Hollowed Armada* 0:06:06
Grayceon Let it Go IV* 0:06:22
Sunnata Outlands Outlands* 0:07:37
BREAK
Monster Magnet When the Hammer Comes Down Mindfucker* 0:05:42
Fu Manchu Don’t Panic Clone of the Universe* 0:02:04
Foghound Known Wolves Awaken to Destroy* 0:03:59
Naxatras You Won’t be Left Alone III* 0:11:17
King Buffalo Morning Song Longing to be the Mountain* 0:09:49
Weedpecker Liquid Sky III* 0:06:33
Black Rainbows Riding Fast Till the End of Time Pandaemonium* 0:04:07
Witch Mountain Burn You Down Witch Mountain* 0:07:40
BREAK
Sleep Sonic Titan The Sciences* 0:12:27
YOB Ablaze Our Raw Heart* 0:10:13

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Sunday night at 7PM Eastern, with replays the following Tuesday at 9AM. Next show is Jan. 13. Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sleep to Headline Roadburn 2019; Tomas Lindberg Curating & More Bands Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

roadburn 2019 banner

I mean, who’s gonna argue? Roadburn 2019’s first real lineup announcement — Heilung and Gore and Louise Lemón were announced at this year’s festival, so technically that’s the first announcement — already paints an unreal picture of what’s to come. Sleep playing two sets spanning their 27-year career. Tomas Lindberg of At the Gates curating in what would seem to be Roadburn specifically doing High School Me a personal favor — I bet that’s gonna be crusty as hell — as well as the likes of Seven That Spells, Midnight, Birds in Row and more. Seriously.

You know what the thing about this is, too? It’s just the beginning. Roadburn 2019 just started out with what would otherwise be a grand finale of an announcement. Get ready, because the next few months are only going to get more unbelievable. That’s pretty much what Roadburn specializes in at this point.

Till then, this from the PR wire:

Headliner, curator and more announced for Roadburn Festival 2019

– SLEEP will headline with two career-spanning sets
– TOMAS LINDBERG to create The Burning Darkness curated event
– HAVE A NICE LIFE to perform two rare sets
– Plus more…

TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS OF SLEEP

Roadburn is thrilled to welcome SLEEP back to the festival as our main headliners for 2019. In two career-spanning sets, SLEEP will shine the spotlight first on their iconic album, Holy Mountain, and then the following night focus on their latest – crushing – release, The Sciences. There will be enough time for some bonus tracks and surprises, adding to the once-in-a-lifetime feel of this pair of sets.

For almost 30 years, SLEEP have been penning anthems for stoners, dropouts and appreciators of thee riff. It’s something of an understatement to say that Sleep have been an influential band in the world of heavy music – and directly on us at Roadburn too.

Whilst our relationship with the individuals in Sleep pre-dates their 2012 Roadburn performance (Om, High on Fire and Neurosis being no stranger to the Roadburn stages), that show, six years ago cemented the bond between band and festival; our histories forever entwined. It feels appropriate to celebrate together – another chapter in this incredible band’s tale.

SLEEP will perform on Saturday, April 13 and Sunday, April 14. Read more here.

CURATOR: TOMAS LINDBERG
Roadburn has a diverse history of curators. Each year, one creative is selected to put their stamp on a corner of the festival, imprinting a little bit of themselves on the Roadburn map. Carrying the torch for the curator tradition in 2019 is Tomas Lindberg who will present bands under the banner The Burning Darkness.

Having performed at Roadburn in 2016 with Disfear, Lindberg will be a familiar face to Roadburners. Although best known for his work with At The Gates and Disfear, stints in Skitsystem and Lock Up plus his output with The Great Deceiver likely mean that he’s gotten a look in on many a Roadburner’s record collection.

Tomas says: “Roadburn for me has always been about eclecticism, and underground music of all styles that desperately demand your attention. Walter and I have already started talking about possibilities, and I am super excited about the direction of these talks. See you there!”

Tomas Lindberg’s The Burning Darkness curated event will take place across multiple stages on Friday, April 12 and Saturday, April 13.

HAVE A NICE LIFE
HAVE A NICE LIFE released Deathconsciousness ten years ago, and the slow, quiet ripples have been making an impact ever since. With only a select few shows under their belts, we’re thrilled that HAVE A NICE LIFE will be playing not one, but two shows at Roadburn 2019. With one show dedicated to Deathconsciouness and another “regular” show (as regular as such a rare treat can be!), HAVE A NICE LIFE will truly celebrate the big gloom at Roadburn.

HAVE A NICE LIFE will perform on Saturday, April 13 and Sunday, April 14.

BIRDS IN ROW
BIRDS IN ROW’s much-anticipated second album, We Already Lost The World, is a solid, varied and tremendously mature record that can be filed under the very inclusive banner of post-hardcore, but also a record which nevertheless maintains that anguished, raw intensity that has always been their trademark. We didn’t need much convincing, but it sealed the deal – we couldn’t resist having them at Roadburn 2019.

BIRDS IN ROW will play on Sunday, April 14.

VILE CREATURE
A heady mix of droning doom and sludgy bang-your-head-slowly moments, VILE CREATURE wear their collective hearts on their sleeve and don’t hold back. Whilst their latest album, Cast of Static and Smoke may have its roots in a sci-fi-influenced short story that the duo concocted together, a immovable streak of socio-political commentary and compassion run through the very core of the band. Self-described “weird queer kids with lofty ambitions”, we’re hopeful that at least one of their ambitions will be fulfilled come April.

VILE CREATURE will play on Thursday, April 11.

MIDNIGHT
Pack your leather jackets, bullet belts and face masks, because you’ll surely need them when Midnight ride to Roadburn…On The Wings Of Satan! We have a Melting Brain just thinking about it, but 2019 is finally the year when we will be Crushed By Demons, as MIDNIGHT will finally rip our stages apart and Take You To Hell with their unholy Black Rock ‘n’ Roll!

MIDNIGHT play Roadburn on Thursday, April 11.

SEVEN THAT SPELLS
Ten years have passed since the last visitation of SEVEN THAT SPELLS to Roadburn Festival. In that time, the Croatian progressives have embarked on and completed the wildly ambitious trilogy The Death and Resurrection of Krautrock, offering its three different parts – Aum, Io and Omega, in 2011, 2014 and 2018, respectively.

Here at Roadburn HQ, we pride ourselves on bringing you the very best and most forward-thinking acts from all around the world, and we can’t wait to welcome back SEVEN THAT SPELLS to the 013 venue with their cross-genre epic in tow. Krautrock will be reborn at Roadburn 2019!

SEVEN THAT SPELLS will play on Friday, April 12.

ALREADY ANNOUNCED
Before Roadburn 2018 was even complete, a trio of acts for 2019 were announced. Headed up by HEILUNG who are making monumental waves at the moment, the blueprint for Roadburn 2019 started to come into focus. Describing their ethos as “amplified history” from early Medieval Northern Europe, their daring and thought-provoking attitude will fit in perfectly at Roadburn.

Elsewhere, LOUISE LEMÓN’s “death gospel” will lend an ethereal, otherworldly vibe to proceedings, whilst Dutch hardcore legends GORE will signal their return with an intense reunion show.

The artists performing at Roadburn 2019 are:
Birds In Row
Curator: Tomas Lindberg
Gore
Have A Nice Life
Heilung
Louise Lemón
Midnight
Seven That Spells
Sleep
Vile Creature

Ticket information for Roadburn 2019 will follow in the coming weeks.

https://www.facebook.com/roadburnfestival/
http://www.twitter.com/Roadburnfest
http://www.instagram.com/roadburnfest
http://www.roadburn.com

Roadburn 2019 First Announcement Video

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Live Review: Sleep and Dylan Carlson in Brooklyn, 07.27.18

Posted in Reviews on July 30th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Sleep (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I hadn’t yet had occasion to visit Brooklyn Steel, nestled in among a bunch of still-warehouses in East Williamsburg, and if there was ever to be an occasion, Sleep rolling through supporting their first new album in 15 years, The Sciences (review here), was probably it. It was the second of two nights in New York for the California-based rifftree growers on a run of select dates, and with support from Earth founder and drone-guitar innovator Dylan Carlson, the trip was all the more essential. I got there about 45 minutes before doors, it was lightly raining, and the line was building outside the door. I and my umbrella and my cosmic backpack joined the growing sea of black t-shirts, many of them with Sleep logos on front. Given that they’ve been playing the borough since eight years ago (review here) when their then-fledgling reunion was just getting started, seems fair enough they’d have sold some merch along the way. The line was certainly long enough for just about the entirety of this show to run out of the night’s stock in wearables.

The due sacrifices to Apollo and whichever of the old gods is in charge of such things had been made en route from New Jersey to Brooklyn, and they were merciful, so Brooklyn Steel had a photo pit. I was right in there as Carlson — and only Carlson — took stage playing through two small amps in front of Sleep‘s massive setup. In a vest and cowboy-ish hat, he looked every bit the American folk troubadour, and though later in his set there would be blues and greens, he started out playing under twin sunset-shaded orange lights that perfectly suited his spacious guitar evocations. His new album, Conquistador, was one of those lost on my old laptop, but he played several songs from it, among them the sprawling Westernisms of the title-track and “Reaching the Gulf,” which he dedicated to someone from the stage and temporarily re-titled “Roll Tide.” Fair enough, especially for the “roll” aspect of it, hills drawing out from each note in a manner astounding when one considers how vividly Carlson and Coleman Grey were able to call to mind British folk pastoralia with 2016’s Falling with a Thousand Stars and Other Wonders from the House of Albion.

Different styles, sure, but still incredible what Carlson can do with essentially the same method: him and a guitar. Parts of his set did seem to reference some of Earth‘s groundbreaking dives into Americana, but the effect of his being alone on that stage isn’t to be understated either. Brooklyn Steel is not a small room, and it was getting more and more packed with the sold-out crowd as he played. He’s not light on years served, but even if what he’s doing now isn’t revolutionary for him in terms of aesthetics, the methodology is new and the explorations are fresh. Watching him from upstairs, I couldn’t help but think of the enduring boldness in his craft. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing him a few times over the years, and he’s always humble and thoughtful and reserved, and his stage persona is much the same, but there’s a bravery beneath that which underscores everything he does and which, one imagines, has played no small part in his will toward sonic pioneering, in Earth and out. It was a pleasure to watch him bring these sounds to life, even if the crowd murmur got louder as the set went on.

It was a little after 10PM when Sleep went on, and the crowd seemed good and greased. Friday night, riffs, beers, a cool new space with good sound — hell of a way to spend an evening. As is my wont, I’d set up shop in the back of the room, shaped somewhat like a stretched out Irving Plaza with a balcony in back and around the sides and two sets of stairs, one reserved for those with VIP passes, but I made my way up for pictures and it was absolutely jammed. One could leave the main space and go to the hallway for easier back and forth, but between bands, the outside bar, food area and merch space was also packed-house. Fair enough. A recording of what seemed to be astronauts talking to mission control from orbit — one of them kept saying “rodge” instead of “roger” — played as the band’s extended introduction, and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, guitarist Matt Pike and drummer Jason Roeder eventually came out to the delight of all parties, feedbacking their way into “Marijuanaut’s Theme” from the new album.

The Sciences would feature prominently in the set, and rightly so. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I was there to see them play the new stuff. I’ll never, ever, complain about watching Sleep do cuts from 1993’s classic and hugely influential Sleep’s Holy Mountain (reissue review here), and it’s a thrill every time they dig into pieces of the no-less-landmark Dopesmoker (discussed here) — they wouldn’t this time, but reportedly had the night before — but The Sciences is the first longer-form presentation of who Sleep are today, and that’s what I was there for. They played their 2014 single “The Clarity” (review here), which fit right in the set alongside “Marijunaut’s Theme,” the later jam on “The Botanist” and “Giza Butler,” which in terms of sheer riffing might’ve been the highlight of the show. Its bouncing progression is peak-stoner on the record, and it was fun to watch Cisneros actually bounce while playing it, and as Roeder rolled out groove after groove after groove, not only tapping the snare on older songs like “Holy Mountain” and “From Beyond” and “Aquarian” from Sleep’s Holy Mountain in the spirit of original drummer Chris Hakius, but showcasing his own style as well there and in the cymbal and tom work of the new material, Pike made each solo an epic, leaning back with the stage presence of a gritty veteran, still a rousing complement to Cisneros‘ shamanic aura. As with any of history’s best power trios, the drums are the anchor.

I won’t debate the impact of Sleep‘s riffing, Sleep‘s volume, Sleep‘s stage chemistry or — just to keep the thing going with possessives — Sleep’s Holy Mountain, but it’s worth noting that as the set lumbered into its second hour, their quiet moments seemed to have as much to do with the overall vibe as the loud. The dip in “Holy Mountain” early, and certainly righteous plunge of the post-The Sciences surprise single “Leagues Beneath” (discussed here) provided subdued and/or exploratory stretches, and these brought a sense of atmosphere to the proceedings, not necessarily to offset the distorted barrage from the mass of speaker cabinets assembled on stage — Cisneros‘ four Ampeg 8x10s lined up in a row with a head on each, Pike‘s Orange cabs built up like a pyramid behind him, heads peppered about — but to add to it in much the same way that the band members’ individual stage presences complement each other. As they made their way through “The Botanist” toward “From Beyond” at the end of the regular set, the dynamic only grew, and when they came back out for “Dragonaut” as an encore, though they were coming up against midnight, the crowd, many of whom were also on their second show in two nights, was still more than willing to be astounded one more time. And so they were.

For me to sit here and call Sleep legends says nothing. Far more respected sources have said the same for years, and likely more eloquently/efficiently than I could. Whatever. The more important thing, particularly as regards this show, is how fluidly Sleep have transitioned from a reunion band to a working one. Their reunion started nine years ago, so it’s not exactly a surprise to see at this point, but the context has changed now that they’re supporting a new album, not just playing songs from a back catalog. The new material fit seamlessly with the old, and the band was both comfortable and actively enjoying playing it, and the audience was as dug into “Giza Butler” — though really, who wouldn’t be if you’re there? — as they were into “Aquarian” just before. Sleep weren’t exactly lacking in relevance before, but it was a welcome opportunity to watch them arrive at new heights in that, and after they released what’s arguably 2018’s most crucial heavy album, to see the force with which they manifest it on stage made one feel lucky to be alive.

Special thanks to Damon Kelly and Tim Bugbee and Suze Wright for making this one happen. More Sleep pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

Sleep

Tags: , , , , ,

Friday Full-Length: Various Artists, Burn One Up: Music for Stoners

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 8th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Various Artists, Burn One Up: Music for Stoners (1997)

21 years ago, Roadrunner Records gathered together 15 bands on one compact disc, slapped a picture of an 18-wheeler truck in the desert on the front of it, and called it Burn One Up: Music for Stoners. It’s not easy to find a copy of it these days — I looked for a while before finally getting it in London in 2010 — but with bands like Queen of the Stone Age, Karma to Burn, Sleep, The Heads, Cathedral and Fu Manchu on board, it’s worth the search. Dig the full tracklisting:

1. Queens of the Stone Age, 18 A.D.
2. Karma to Burn, Ma Petit Mort
3. Fu Manchu, Asphalt Risin’
4. The Heads, GNU
5. Spiritual Beggars, Monster Astronauts
6. Floodgate, Feel You Burn
7. Slaprocket, Holy Mother Sunshine
8. Leadfoot, Soul Full of Lies
9. Celestial Season, Wallaroo
10. Cathedral, You Know
11. Acrimony, Bud Song
12. Blind Dog, Lose
13. Sleep, Aquarian
14. Hideous Sun Demons, Icarus Dream
15. Beaver, Green

It’s easy to argue that, as far as “stoner rock” goes, these are some of the bands who would most shape it. Yeah, Slaprocket never got an album out, but the New Jersey-based outfit divided into Solace and The Atomic Bitchwax, and both of them continue to make their mark to this day. Europe is represented through Dutch outfits Celestial Season, Hideous Sun Demons and Beaver, Sweden’s Spiritual Beggars and Blind Dog, and the UK shows off some of its best in The Heads, Cathedral and Acrimony. The aforementioned Slaprocket speak for the Northeast, while Floodgate hail from Louisiana, Karma to Burn from West Virginia and Leadfoot from North Carolina, so the Southeast is accounted for as well.

And of course we wouldn’t even be talking about the genre if it weren’t for California, which brings Fu Manchu, Sleep and an early incarnation of Josh Homme‘s then-new, on-the-rebound-from-Kyuss outfit, Queens of the Stone Age, which featured a frontman known only as “The Kid”. That’s a particular point of fascination unto itself, but with a first-album-era vocalized Karma to Burn as well and an off-album track from Cathedral, there’s plenty of fodder to make Burn One Up worth seeking for anyone who’d do so, but while the comp wouldn’t serve as a debut for Cathedral, or Celestial Season — who followed a similar path from doom to stoner rock and didn’t stick around long enough to make the turn back before reuniting in 2011 — or Acrimony or Sleep, etc., it’s still amazing to look at it and think of the legacy many of these bands cast. Shit, Sleep just put out their first record in 15 years and took over the world. Would instrumental heavy rock be where it is today without Karma to Burn? And Slaprocket through their already noted ties and Floodgate‘s vocalist, Kyle Thomas (also Exhorder) is currently fronting a little band called Troublem so you know, not exactly minor shakes there.

Blind Dog put out two records through MeteorCity before splitting up, closers Beaver would soon have a split out with openers Queens of the Stone Age via Man’s Ruin Records, and this would be the final appearance for Hideous Sun Demons, who released their only album, Twisted, in 1995. Spiritual Beggars gave an early look at their third album 1998’s Mantra III, with “Monster Astronauts,” while The Heads showcased how far out aural weedism could go with “GNU,” inarguably the trippiest cut on the release.

And The Heads are just one of the several bands who continue to make an impact. Fu Manchu. QOTSA. Karma to Burn. Sleep. Spiritual Beggars. One could argue the only dude missing here is Wino, and he would’ve been coming off The Obsessed and just getting going with Shine — later Spirit Caravan — so that could just as easily be a question of timing as anything else. Okay, maybe a bit of Orange Goblin and Electric Wizard would’ve been cool. You can’t have everything.

As with most compilations, the sound is somewhat disjointed, as the material was recorded by different players in different studios often enough in different countries, but Burn One Up gives an amazing summary of where the genre was in the wake of Kyuss‘ breakup and as it looked forward to developing in the 21st century into the multi-headed beast it is now. You can hear the crunching influence of grunge in Beaver, Floodgate and Slaprocket, but clearly these bands and the rest were on their own wavelength already, and whether new or old, whether they went on to lead the aesthetic or folded soon after — that reminds me, I need to break out those old Leadfoot discs — Burn One Up: Music for Stoners shows an admirable prescience in its picks and is a true piece of treasure for anyone who’d seek it out in its summary of what heavy rock and roll was at the time and what it would go on to be.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Went to bed last night around 8PM. I’d been up since one in the morning, so somehow it made sense, plus The Patient Mrs. was having trouble getting The Pecan to go to sleep and she had half a cocktail to finish, so it seemed only fair to tag in. I’d woken up early on account of said Pecan as well, his sort of nighttime mumblings varying between actual fuss, crying and a kind of sleepy coo, and decided to spend the extra hours organizing stuff on my new laptop, which I’ve dubbed The Silver Fox. Because it’s silver, you see. Yes, we’re all very clever over here.

Anyhoozle, kind of another rough night with the baby last night had me up at three. He was in the bed — something I swore up and down I wouldn’t let happen and then of course did — and had rolled toward me in such a way that I was against the wall pretty much pinned. By a kid who, at seven months, weighs about 18.5 pounds. Life does funny things to you. I woke up, enjoyed the snuggle-time for a bit, and then got up to work on the above post. Circa 5:30, The Patient Mrs. came out of the bedroom carrying the again-complaining baby — whose diaper I’d already changed at some point — and kind of at a loss for what to do. I went back to bed with both of them and sort of rocked him while standing up, a gentle bounce with his head on my shoulder and swayed back and forth until he was falling asleep, then got into bed while holding him basically the same way and he went out. We all caught a solid two hours of rest in that position and it’s early yet to call it (a little after 8 as I type this), but I think that might be the difference-maker on the day.

We’ll get in the car soon enough and head south from Connecticut, where we drove to yesterday for two magical hours of screaming-baby-in-the-car fun, to New Jersey, where once again we’re basically setting up shop for the summer. We’ll be back and forth between there and CT to hit the beach probably on weekends and/or various other times, and there’s still stuff that will need tending to in Massachusetts — The Patient Mrs.’ work commitments and the like — but it’ll be a lot of good family time over the summer with my people and her people and I’m looking forward to being in the New York area for probably the greatest amount of time in the half-decade since we moved away.

Around here, things will likely proceed as normal, if there is such a thing. Notes for next week look like this currently, but these things can and do change as you well know by now:

Mon: Demande a la Poussiere review/track premiere; Dust Lovers video premiere maybe.
Tue. Oresund Space collective review; Kal-El live video.
Wed. Orange Goblin review.
Thu.: Currently open. Maybe Astrosoniq review.
Fri.: King Heavy review/album stream.

Plus plenty of news and whatever else happens my way.

Ups and downs this week as ever, but I’m getting through. That’s the story from here.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Thanks for reading and stick around as there’s more good stuff to come. All the best. Forum and Radio.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Just in Case You Thought You Heard All the New Sleep, There’s More New Sleep

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 8th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

sleep

So in case you didn’t feel the universe caving in on itself at the time, it’s now been nearly two months since Sleep released The Sciences (review here), their first album in 15 years and first since getting back together to play shows starting in 2009. Dropped with mere hours of notice beforehand, it was an event that for many will define the soundscape of 2018, not just for the sheer existence of the record as something that was rumored for so long and finally realized, but for the quality of the material itself, songs like “Sonic Titan,” “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Giza Butler” providing all the march to the riff-filled land Sleep‘s generations-spanning audience could hope for while at last giving representation to the band as they are today, both in the lineup of bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, guitarist Matt Pike and drummer Jason Roeder, and in terms of their actual sound.

About two weeks ago, Sleep offered something of another shocker — a new track called Leagues Beneath — through the ongoing Adult Swim Singles Program. A bit of symmetry there, since that’s how Sleep issued their first post-reunion studio recording in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here), which was also a surprise when it came out, but 16 more new minutes of Sleep just the same. It doesn’t seem outlandish to imagine it was recorded during the same sessions as The Sciences — though I suppose Sleep could’ve gotten together at some point since the album was done and put it to tape; anything’s possible — and though its arrival might be seen as anticlimactic in comparison to the full-length LP, if you’re the type of person to complain about things like all that new music Sleep are putting out simply being too much to bear, you should probably sit down and take an honest look at your perspective on life. I’m just trying to help. I’m your friend out here.

Okay, so “Leagues Beneath” itself. 16:45 of hypnotic groove, pickled-liver tone and pointedly Iommic worship. Pretty much what you get on The Sciences, right down to the sense of PikeCisneros and Roeder playing together in a room riding the warbles from their speaker cabinets. It’s five minutes before Cisneros‘ vocals kick in, and when they do, it’s kind of a reminder that there are humans at work behind the proceedings at all, let alone a songwriting process. At 53 minutes, The Sciences is a pretty air-tight 2LP. It doesn’t overstay its welcome — would be a challenge — and at the same time, it offers a far-out glimpse at stonerized space as seen through the eyes of the band. “Leagues Beneath,” as its lumbering forward motion continues, is held together by its drums and seems to range even further. Including it would’ve pushed the album over 70 minutes long, and even Dopesmoker (discussed here) was only 63, so I get why they left it off. It has a flow of its own as it veers into pulled-string weirdness after 10 minutes in and swirls forward its multi-layered lead before hitting minute 12 and embarking from there on its drifting finish, and as much as the material on The Sciences is fluid one song into the next, “Leagues Beneath” stands on its own. In other words, it makes a fitting single.

When Sleep put out The Clarity, it was a little while before vinyl surfaced, so I have to wonder if they’ll do a physical pressing of Leagues Beneath at some point — this is me casting my vote for a live version of “Giza Butler” as a B-side unless there’s yet more unheard studio stuff sitting around; by the way, I don’t get a vote — but for now it’s available digitally through Adult Swim and streaming on the usual webular haunts, and I’ve included it for the purposes of instant gratification. I’m sure you’ve already heard it, but somehow I doubt a revisit is going to bring many complaints.

Dig:

Sleep, “Leagues Beneath”

Listen to a new song by metal behemoth Sleep, courtesy of Adult Swim Singles. Available now @ http://adultswim.com/singles.

Sleep on Thee Facebooks

Sleep on Twitter

Sleep website

Adult Swim Singles Series

Tags: , , , , ,

Friday Full-Length: Massive Gratitude and Some New Sleep for the Hell of It

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I try to say thank you as often as I can on here. I really do. I’ve considered getting a ‘thanks for reading’ tattoo. Maybe for the 10th anniversary. Anyhow, this week, you’ve really saved my ass, and I don’t even know how to start showing my appreciation.

If you didn’t read the Elephant Tree live review yesterday or haven’t seen on the social medias, I’ve been in England this week with my wife, who along with another professor is leading a study abroad trip for some of her undergrad and graduate students. The three of us were staying in a house in Canterbury earlier this week, and overnight on Tuesday the place was robbed — or “burgled” as Constable Toby put it the next morning — while we slept in the bedrooms upstairs.

Well, first off, nobody got hurt. Nobody’s passport was taken. The baby didn’t even wake up. It could’ve been much worse.

Along with some other stuff, they took my laptop Big Red, camera, lenses and backpack, all of which was set up on the kitchen table so I could come downstairs early in the morning Wednesday and start to write. When the alarm went off at 5AM — a luxury for being away; usually it’s 4:30 these days — I found the door was wide open and the kitchen table had been cleaned off.

I lost stuff. Stuff can be replaced. Even my laptop and camera, which, as I’ve said, were by a wide margin the two nicest pieces of stuff I owned.

What really hurt was the years of writing on Big Red and my notes for The Obelisk. Upcoming releases, ongoing best of the year lists, Quarterly Review slots, and a calendar of upcoming premieres. Now I don’t even know what I’m reviewing on Monday. I know I’ve got commitments to host things into June and I just have no idea what they are. Online backups? Nope. Why would I need those? What, am I gonna get robbed?

Plus the years’ worth of past writings. A half decade or so of bios, press releases, my own personal stuff. That collection of Star Trek-themed poetry I was never going to finish. All that. And the music. The music on my desktop alone — new records from YOB, the Sleep album above, so many others I can’t even remember. I’ll get a new computer. But that other stuff I’ll never get back. It’s just gone.

Within hours, I couldn’t even hang my head. Scott Harrington, a friend at this point for more than a decade and the dude whose passion drives Salt of the Earth Records, sent a text and asked if he could set up a GoFundMe.

I’m not comfortable asking for money. I’m not comfortable handling money. But the fact of the matter is I’m a homemaker. I don’t work except to take care of the house and the baby and therefore I’m in a much different financial position than I was in when I purchased these things.

Scott set up a GoFundMe for $3,000, which would be enough to cover most of what I lost. It would get me a new laptop of some color — red, green, blue, banana yellow (?), whatever — a comparable camera and pay for part of the cost of a professional-grade lens like the one I had.

By the time it was Wednesday night here in the UK, as I was using a camera loaned to me by one of my wife’s students to take pictures and banging my head to Elephant Tree’s “Aphotic Blues” — maybe if I get a blue laptop I’ll name it ‘Aphotic Blue’ — the $3,000 goal was met and surpassed. Here’s where it’s at currently:

Over $4,000. More than a third beyond the original goal. I don’t even know what to say. It’s fucking insane. All of a sudden I’m looking at the Canon 5D Mark IV as a real possibility of something I can bring into my life. It’s something I never expected, and I’m absolutely floored and humbled and just given this incredible sense of warmth from the support I’ve received and all the kind words people have said about me, and this site, and everything. It’s been two days now. I still can’t get my head around it. Does not compute.

From the deepest part of me, thank you. The money’s gonna help, make no mistake, but the feeling of community, of belonging, and of being appreciated has been so incredibly validating that I’m astounded. Astounded and touched and, yeah, just made to feel like something I’ve done has mattered to somebody. It makes me want to be a better person, to be better at this, and it’s utterly renewed my faith in this project as a whole, which if I’m honest wasn’t exactly lagging but could only benefit from a kick in the pants.

So once again, thank you. The only thing I could think to do was close out the week by saying thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I’d put the notes here for what’s coming up next week, but again, I haven’t got a clue. I know at some point I was supposed to do something with Saturno Grooves and I think maybe review the new Graveyard (which, whoops, was on Big Red), and maybe a House of Broken Promises video premiere? I honestly don’t know. I’ll be seeing Colour Haze on Tuesday night, so will hope to have a review of that up Wednesday. I also travel back to the US on Wednesday, so might take Thursday off? I’m going to play it by ear a little bit and see what surfaces.

But in the meantime, thank you once again for your incredible support, whether you’ve made a donation or just shared the link, it’s huge for me. Genuinely life-changing. I will aspire to live up to the faith shown in me.

Oh, and I put a YouTube playlist with the new Sleep at the top of the post because if my gratitude was a new record, that’s the one it would be, and on the off-chance you haven’t heard it yet, you really should. I reserve the right to close out a week with a proper discussion of it again sometime probably years down the line. If you’d like to read the review of it, it’s here.

For not at all the last time, thank you. I promise something will be up Monday one way or the other.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

Tags: , , , , , , ,