Freak Valley 2020 First Announcement: Fu Manchu, Endless Boogie, Slomatics, Monomyth and Temple Fang

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 17th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

All I know is this: 2020 is my year for Freak Valley. I’ve been invited for years. In 2020 I’m going. And further, I’m saying it now. Normally I don’t commit really to anything that involves even a modicum of traveling until after all the plans are locked in and I’ve checked in at the airport, but Jens Heide at the fest passed along the invite once again, as he’s patiently done for a while now, and unless a piano falls on my head between now and then or my flight to Siegen crashes into the Atlantic, I’m gonna be there. Hell or high water, as it were.

I wrote the lineup announcement below, as I’ve done for the fest for a couple years now, and happily. It’s a great first round showing international reach and a range of styles, but of course look out for much more still to come. Freak Valley over the last few editions has begun to branch out in some fascinating ways, and I’d expect that to continue while also retaining its heavy core.

I can’t wait to get over there for it.

freak valley 2020 fu manchu

Freaks, the time is nigh!

Did you miss us? We missed you. Tickets go on sale TOMORROW (10/18) for Freak Valley 2020 and we couldn’t be more excited to bring you the first lineup announcement for next year’s fest! Get your calendar marked for 11-13 June and remember this is just the beginning and over the next couple months we’ll have so much more to come in terms of bands and other happenings for you. 2019 was our best year yet and we’re looking forward to topping it once again!

Tickets are officially on sale at our Freak Sabbath Vol.5 // Freak Valley Ticket Sale Kick Off, with Church of Misery and many more, but it’s time to dig into the first bands for Freak Valley Festival 2020 and we think you’ll agree it’s a great way to start.

FU MANCHU (30th Anniversary)

30 years of the Fu! Fuzz legends and heavy rock mainstays Fu Manchu are one of the most influential riff purveyors of all time. From the original stoner rock era in the ’90s through their modern takes on punk and spacey groove, Fu Manchu are, simply put, one of the most essential live bands you’ll ever see. They’ll mark three full decades of rock in 2020, and bringing them to Freak Valley was an absolute must. Of course we’re all huge fans and to have them on our stage is an honor no matter what the occasion, but this one is even more special considering their celebration. Happy birthday, Fu Manchu! Welcome to Freak Valley!

SLOMATICS

It was something of a tragedy in 2019 when our plan to bring Northern Ireland’s Slomatics over to play was cut short because of airline difficulties. That’s no way to go. We knew immediately we’d invite them back for 2020 and try it again and we’re glad to report that the band is on board as well. They’ll still be supporting their 2019 album, ‘Canyons,’ but where it was going to be brand new when they played this year, we’ve all had a little time to digest the massive riffs and wide-sprawling vibes that make their sound so distinctive. 2020 is the year! We can’t wait to finally see this band.

ENDLESS BOOGIE

There’s nothing better than a band with the perfect name, and New York-based mellow jammers Endless Boogie most certainly have that. The band are masters of hypnotic and class-style jams brought to life not with a wash of effects, but through sheer repetition and builds that are subtle in their dynamic but seem able to cover an infinity of ground that goes however far they choose at any given moment. Even among heavy and psychedelic rock, there’s nothing quite like them in terms of the character they bring to how they play. With onstage charisma, periodic improv vocals, and righteous jams, they’ll come to Freak Valley 2020 as one of our most anticipated acts.

MONOMYTH

From Den Haag in The Netherlands, Monomyth are a beacon of heavy progadelic instrumentalism. Their latest opus is ‘Orbis Quadrantis’ on Suburban Records, and its lush melodies and exploratory vibe carry the listener across its span with all the grace of masters of the form. They’ve been kicking around Europe and the festival scene for the last six years since their self-titled debut came out, and it feels only overdue to have them at Freak Valley as part of our 2020 lineup. Just look for the sea of nodding heads in front of the stage and you’ll know you’re in the right place. They are one not to miss.

TEMPLE FANG

Space, as ever, is the place, and Amsterdam’s Temple Fang are sure to take us there as they come to Freak Valley for the first of what we hope will be many happy returns. With former members of Death Alley and the vastly underrated Mühr, Temple Fang set out on a new voyage of their own last year, and while we anxiously await a debut release, the chance to bring them to Siegen to play was too good to pass up. Maybe you’ve heard them yet and maybe you haven’t, but trust us when we tell you that these guys are up to something special and this is a band you want to see or you’ll regret it later. We promise.

Many more to come!

Tickets will be available at these booking offices by Monday morning Oct 21st: Die Tintenpatrone & Siegener Zeitung

Online Tickets (print at home and Hardtickets) will be available Wednesday Oct 23rd 6pm cet

Ticketprice will be €95 for all 3 dayz incl. camping.
Camping will be possible from Wednesday June 10th next year!

FREAK VALLEY 2020
No Fillers – Just Killers

https://www.facebook.com/events/2434350453469407/
https://www.facebook.com/freakvalley/

Temple Fang, “Not the Skull!” live in Haarlem, March 2019

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Slomatics Post “Telemachus, My Son” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 28th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

slomatics telemachus my son better

You’re going to have a hard time unseeing some of the stuff in Slomatics‘ new video, and I think that’s the idea, but I’ll just say this outright: I’d play this video game. I’m not much of a gamer — mostly I use the PlayStation to watch baseball, or at least that’s been the case since The Patient Mrs. and I finished Final Fantasy XV, which we bought the thing to play — but “Telemachus, My Son” kind of looks like Metroid happening on some alien wasteland, and I’m not saying it needs to be a first-person shooter or anything — because really, enough is enough with that Unreal Engine, or whatever equivalent is being used these days — but something grim and atmospheric like this would kind of rule. Plus a water level! Plus the big crab monster! Plus the all-black Destroyer at the gate. I don’t think it’d be one for the kids, but especially given the soundtrack, I have to think it would be awesome. I’d preorder it, even.

The bummer of this festival-laden past weekend was that Slomatics didn’t make it to Freak Valley. They’d been announced as making the trip from Belfast since last November, and it was to be a set celebrating their new album, Canyons (review here), which is newly out on Black Bow Records. Lufthansa, it would seem, had other ideas. Ideas like losing Chris Couzens‘ guitar and delaying him, fellow guitarist David Marjury and drummer Marty Harvey so long that they didn’t get to Siegen in time. They’ve already been invited back for next year — they’re the first band announced for Freak Valley 2020; I want to go — and no doubt their arrival will be doubly triumphant for the trouble this year, despite not being so timely to the new release. Just means people will know the songs. It’ll be fine.

Just to tie things together a little bit, a few weeks ago, when I just happened to be in Northern Ireland — because that’s a thing that just happens, right? what a prick — and got to visit Slomatics in their practice space, they were putting together the set for Freak Valley and they ran through “Telemachus, My Son,” deciding unanimously that, yes, that should be included. If you haven’t heard the song yet, it’ll be pretty easy to tell why when you watch the video.

And you know, sometimes I say maybe you can put the video on and just let the thing play while you do other stuff and check in. Not this time. Seven-plus minutes, and you kind of need to watch the whole thing. Go fullscreen.

Enjoy:

Slomatics, “Telemachus, My Son” official video

Telemachus, My Son – Slomatics
From the Album: Canyons
Released via Black Bow Records June 2019

Created by Dermot Faloon using C4D, Octane Render, Mixamo and using assets from Scan The World. Plug-ins from Merk.

Slomatics, Canyons (2019)

Slomatics on Thee Facebooks

Slomatics on Bandcamp

Black Bow Records webstore

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So, I Went Down to Slomatics Rehearsal Last Night…

Posted in Features on May 30th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

slomatics practice

I’ve been fortunate enough to do some cool stuff in my quickly-increasing number of years, but being invited to a band’s practice space is no small thing. Even putting aside whatever clichés you want about inner-sanctums or where-the-magic-happens or that kind of thing, the fact is that a band in rehearsal is much different than a band on stage, and the practice space isn’t just where songs are run through, it’s where a band finds and develops their sound to then go and refine it live or in the studio. It is a personal place.

My brilliant-ass college professor wife, The Patient Mrs., has been leading students on a study-abroad trip for this past week. We were in Dublin and got up north to Belfast on Tuesday. I’m along basically to provide childcare for The Pecan — now 19 months old and screaming brutally enough to make every black metal band you’ve ever heard sound lightweight — and the first thing I thought of when I found out we were going to be in Northern Ireland was, “I wonder what Slomatics will be up to?”

The Belfast-native three-piece are on the cusp of releasing their new album, Canyons (review here), through Black Bow Records, and their rehearsal space is in an industrial park tucked away in a corner just off the city-center, above Jimmy’s TV Repair (and Allegedly Etc.), in a room with show posters and old Terrorizer foldouts put up. Guitarist David Marjury was kind enough to pick me up at the hostel where we’re staying — that’s right: baby in a hostel; it’s going swimmingly — as he happens to live nearby, and we drove about five minutes to get to the spot through Belfast’s curvy, carved-by-livestock-then-industrialized streets, where guitarist Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist Marty Harvey (who also plays in War Iron) were already waiting.

With the new record coming out, they obviously weren’t writing or working on anything new or anything like that, but they’re booked to fly to Siegen, Germany, next month to play Freak Valley Festival, so the task was to work out the set for that. Some debate ensued about focusing on new songs versus older material — I’m generally in favor of new — and they ran through the first half of Canyons in succession, with opener and longest track (immediate points) “Gears of Despair” leading to “Cosmic Guilt,” “Seven Echoes” and “Telemachus, My Son,” the last of which was a unanimous pick to feature at the fest. To the side of where I sat, a marker board was littered with potential setlists in what was clearly an ongoing conversation.

In between the songs, the banter was light and familiar. Chris had been all sinus’ed up earlier in the day, Marty had gotten his face scratched by a patient at work, Dave had some amp buzz that might’ve been input trouble, and so on. Everyone talked about family, and as I’ve had the pleasure to meet the band on two prior occasions, seeing them first at Høstsabbat 2016 (review here) in marker boardOslo and then again the next year at Roadburn (review here) in The Netherlands, I knew going into it they were all friendly guys and my persistent, painful awkwardness would potentially have some manner of offset by their hospitality. Sitting in front of a drum kit that was either spare or some other band’s, laughing at some story or other, I was glad to be right about that.

They played through “Mind Fortresses on Theia,” again from the new album, and one other — was it “Beyond the Canopy?” — and then dipped back to older material, which sounded very much like a refresher as opposed to stuff they were still working out how to present live. That difference was palpable mostly in ways it wouldn’t have been on stage, in things like body language and during-song communication between Marjury and Couzens, Harvey all the while devastating his already-cracked cymbals in go-hard-at-practice fashion while belting out lyrics with no less force than I’ve been lucky to see him do on stage.

Even without a mic, his snare cut through the extra-low low-end of the two guitars, and some of it was interesting to see him count through some of the ambient parts of the newer material, which indeed is even more atmospheric than what the band had on offer with 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here), as both Couzens and Marjury would periodically depart from the central lumbering riffs in which the band has long specialized to add keyboard-style effects that lent melody to the coinciding crush. I was glad that I make it a habit to travel with earplugs. The whole place seemed to rumble, or maybe it was just me.

All told, it was about two hours of time in the room, and while I don’t know what the final setlist will be for Freak Valley, it’s safe to say it’s going to be a powerful show. Slomatics have existed for 15 years at this point, and it’s clear Harvey, Marjury and Couzens have known each other for longer than that. Harvey had to call it a night, but Marjury, Couzens and I adjourned afterward to a coffee shop around the corner from where I’m staying — not the Nordic one with the espressos I’ve been habitually downing since we got into down, that’s across the street, but a different one that was also good — and spent some time shooting the shit about the band and laughing about family stuff, their embarrassing themselves in front of Goatsnake (I’ve still never seen them live, so not had the opportunity, of which I’d inevitably take advantage), the time Marjury saw Ozzy on tour for The Ultimate Sin, and whatever else. It was pretty laid back, even with the late coffee, and I was no less glad to be there than I’d been at the rehearsal space. These are good people.

Coffees done and work/baby in the morning, we said goodnight and I headed back around the corner to crash out and wake up to another day today. I’ll be honest and say it took me a while to get to sleep, not just for that last espresso, but just from the excitement of doing something like that. It doesn’t happen every day, and to be not just brought in, but actually welcomed by Slomatics was something special I’ll long remember. I’m here for another week, but it already made my trip.

Slomatics, “Mind Fortresses on Theia” official video

Slomatics on Thee Facebooks

Slomatics on Bandcamp

Black Bow Records

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 16

Posted in Radio on May 27th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

gimme radio logo

This was the first episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio to air in the new timeslot of Friday at 1PM Eastern, and I’ll just be honest, I think it was the best one I’ve done yet. The music was right on, the rhythm of one song into the next. There’s a way to make a thing like this that carries a flow — remember mixtapes? Same deal. This one had that. It tripped out when it needed to with Kandodo3 and instead of going psych-blast at the end, it went heavy with Nomadic Rituals and Thronehammer. I loved opening with 16 Horsepower as something unexpected and apart from both the riffy and the Gimme norm, and from pairing Lord Vicar and Destroyer of Light — someone book that tour! — to Sacri Monti and Wild Rocket, everything just came together right.

Tapping Monster Magnet for a classic track (classic track! yay!) didn’t hurt either, but even aside from that, it was a cool show. I’m not sure of the timing on re-airings — they’re every Sunday now at 7PM Eastern; the old timeslot for new episodes — but Gimme also has that Brigade thing you can join and listen to their full archive of everything. I’m not trying to spend your money; just want to give you options and not be like, “Hey this awesome thing happened and you missed it!” On that thought, maybe I should start posting these playlists before the show airs. Hmm… Things to consider.

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 05.24.19

16 Horsepower Hutterite Mile Folklore (2002)
Abrahma Last Epistle In Time for the Last Rays of Light*
Giant Dwarf Repeat After Defeat Giant Dwarf*
BREAK
Monster Magnet Ozium Spine of God (1992)
Vorrh Myths Nomads of the Infinite Wild (2018)
Kandodo3 Everything – Green’s – Gone K3*
Lord Vicar The Temple in the Bedrock The Black Powder*
Destroyer of Light Eternal Death Mors Aeterna*
Faerie Ring Lost Wind The Clearing*
Ruff Majik Speed Hippie Tarn*
BREAK
Sacri Monti Waiting Room for the Magic Hour Waiting Room for the Magic Hour*
Wild Rocket Caught in Triangle Again Disassociation Mechanics (2017)
Slomatics Mind Fortresses on Theia Canyons*
BREAK
Nomadic Rituals Face Down in the Sea of Oblivion Marking the Day (2017)
Thronehammer Behind the Wall of Frost Usurper of the Oaken Throne*

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Friday at 1PM Eastern, with replays every Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next show is June 7. Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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Review & Video Premiere: Slomatics, Canyons

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on May 15th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Slomatics Canyons

Slomatics, “Mind Fortresses on Theia” official video premiere

[Click play above to stream the video premiere of “Mind Fortresses on Theia” from Slomatics’ Canyons. Album is out June 14 on Black Bow Records.]

2019 marks 15 years since the advent of Northern Irish riffslayers Slomatics, and Canyons finds them charting a new path forward. Their last three albums, 2012’s A Hocht, 2014’s Estron (review here) and 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here), followed a narrative structure and made for a play in three acts happening over developing sonic depth in such a way that made the last installment truly feel like a conclusion. Released by Black Bow RecordsCanyons follows 2017’s Futurians: Live at Roadburn (review here) — which was something of a victory lap for those three records — and the Belfast three-piece’s 2018 split with Mammoth Weed Wizard BastardTotems (review here). It’s the latter, which was by my estimation the best short release of last year, that would relate closest to what guitarists David Marjury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/synthesist Marty Harvey are doing with Canyons.

Those familiar with the band will know that their ply and trade is massive tonal heft with Harvey‘s shouted melodic vocals cutting through, atmospheric sampling and whatnot bolstering an otherworldly feel that never really touches on psychedelia in the effects-wash sense of execution, but has plenty of “out there”-ness to it just the same. It’s a sound that was and remains remarkably well suited to a sci-fi thematic, and though they’ve let go of some of that from the narrative arc they ended in 2016, songs like “Cosmic Guilt,” on which the vocals seem to be directly referencing Cathedral in their style, and “Mind Fortresses on Theia” and the 9:28 opener and longest track (immediate points) “Gears of Despair” have that element to them, even as side A finale “Telemachus, My Son” acts as an apparent sequel to “Ulysses, My Father,” which appeared on the band’s 2014 split with Holly Hunt (discussed here) and album-closer “Organic Caverns II” follows up on who knows what. Someone else’s song named “Organic Caverns,” maybe? Because Slomatics don’t have one. So there. Still an air of mystery around them.

Where the “new path” idea comes from is the increased use of synth and melody alongside all that nod and crush. Slomatics aren’t necessarily going prog, at least not any more than they already were, but the balance of elements in their sound is shifting here, so that “Beyond the Canopy” leads off side B with a break into a stretch of quiet guitar before its ultra-slow, deeply-weighted lumber kicks back in, and that even its opening crawl welcomes a melodic lead either of guitar effects or keys before the next verse. The increased melodic base of the vocals is something that comes forward in the midsection of “Gears of Despair,” and there along with the rest of the record, it’s not about Slomatics being less heavy — because, quite simply, they aren’t — but about adding range to that weight and pushing into places they haven’t been before.

They’ll be well recognizable to those who’ve encountered them before, but as the synth-topped interlude “Seven Echoes” provides a bridge between “Cosmic Guilt” and “Telemachus, My Son,” and side B’s mellotron-into-noise-wash “Arms of the Sun” bridges “Beyond the Canopy” and “Mind Fortresses on Theia,” it’s clear that mood has become a different level of concern for Slomatics, and that their songwriting has expanded in order to allow for that. I’ll say again that Slomatics remain a very, very heavy band, and they don’t sound like they’re looking to depart from the core tonality that has driven them toward their best work, but perhaps taking some influence from the aforementioned Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, they move in and out of volume changes with ease, crafting a more dynamic and broader sound that only enhances the densest moments of groove, like the chugging plod that rounds out “Organic Caverns II” at the end of Canyons or the slow-motion stomp and forward roll of “Beyond the Canopy.”

In kind, there is a level of symmetry to Canyons that the linear nature of storytelling couldn’t really allow for on other recent releases; a conversation between the two sides of the eight-song/44-minute release. The most obvious example is that each half of the LP has its interlude in “Seven Echoes” or “Arms of the Sun.” They’re differently placed, but both well positioned to act both as transitions and a hypnotic moment to help put the listener in the world the album is making. Further, “Mind Fortresses on Theia” shares some of “Cosmic Guilt”‘s post-Lee Dorrian vocalizing, and the harsher low-end of “Gears of Despair” seems to find an answer as well in the early going of “Organic Caverns II.” “Beyond the Canopy” might be the most outwardly heavy moment on Canyons, but it still finds room for a cinematic push of synth, and that’s also something “Gears of Despair” introduced. So while the songs may not — or they may; Slomatics were never really clear on just what was happening — tie into the plot of the offerings before it, it works in different ways to have the material relate to itself, and that’s before one considers “Telemachus, My Son” in relation to “Ulysses, My Father.”

The underlying point, I suppose, is that Slomatics have grown to be a more complex band, and that Canyons demonstrates that in multiple facets of its songwriting and arrangement. That kind of thing can garner a mixed response sometimes from a fanbase, but the way they go about it here doesn’t lead one to think they’re going to run into many detractors. Without diving headfirst into hyperbole — though a sound so big could arguably warrant it — theirs is an approach that has it both ways, and they pull it off by adding to the mix rather than taking something away. Canyons are huge, and Slomatics carve out a few here, but what matters most of all is that a decade and a half later, they refuse to be restrained either by their own approach or the outside tenets of genre. They sound like a band writing the songs they want to write, exploring the reaches they want to explore, and as a result of that, their every lurch, push or wash is more resonant. If that’s to be the narrative they’re working with now, then all the better.

Slomatics on Thee Facebooks

Slomatics on Bandcamp

Black Bow Records

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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.

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Freak Valley 2019 First Lineup Announcement: The Vintage Caravan, Electric Moon, Arc of Ascent, Spaceslug & Slomatics Confirmed

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 5th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

It’s fest-announcement cliche to say that if no more bands were added, the event in question would still be worth attending. Yet, five bands deep, I nonetheless feel precisely that way about Freak Valley 2019. Aside from the long-dreamt-of prospect of watching Craig Williamson (Datura, Lamp of the Universe) play live with Arc of Ascent, seeing Electric Moon, Slomatics or The Vintage Caravan, there’s Spaceslug from Poland, who are absolutely unreal on record and I can only imagine what they’d bring to the stage. So yeah, it’s cliche. I don’t give a damn. If Freak Valley 2019 turned out to be a five-band bill, it would still kick ass. They’d have a hard time making it fill three days, but you know, I bet it could work if it had to.

And spoiler alert: These aren’t the last bands who’ll be added. They’re the first.

Here’s what the fest has to say, and if the sentence construction looks familiar, it’s because I wrote the announcement:

freak valley 2019 the vintage caravan

Freaks!

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for, and let’s face it, the moment we’ve been waiting for too. We’ve been working away behind the scenes to bring you the best Freak Valley ever in 2019, and while there are a lot of announcements still to come, we’re already so proud of what the eighth installment of the festival holds, and we can’t wait to welcome you all back to Siegen next June 20-22!

Tickets for Freak Valley Festival 2019 go on sale tomorrow online, and are available as of today in local booking offices (Die Tintenpatrone / Konzertkasse Siegen). While we’re still reeling from this year’s fest and we know there’s still the Freak Valley X-Mas Fest 2018 to come on Dec. 15, we fully expect Freak Valley 2019 to sell out, and can’t stress it enough: Get your tickets now!

Of course, we wouldn’t put that out there without giving you some reasons why. Please bid welcome to the first five acts revealed for the 2019 Freak Valley Fest: The Vintage Caravan, Electric Moon, Spaceslug, Arc of Ascent and Slomatics!

The Vintage Caravan

Iceland’s favorite heavy rock sons return to the Freak Valley stage! After hearing their latest album, ‘Gateways,’ we knew we had to get The Vintage Caravan back to follow-up their performance in 2015. They’re a constant request every year and an absolute favorite of ours, so don’t miss out as The Vintage Caravan show the world once again why they’re one of the most powerful power trios around!

Electric Moon

Who doesn’t love a mission to outer space? Electric Moon jam their way to the heart of the sun and back every time they play, and create an atmosphere unlike anyone else. Led by Sula Bassana’s guitar and Komet Lulu’s bass, they’ve brought back original drummer Pablo Carneval and will make their Freak Valley return in 2019 with some of the trippiest inner peace you’ve ever heard. Get ready to have your mind expanded.

Arc of Ascent

Coming all the way from New Zealand, heavy psych rockers Arc of Ascent have long been on the Freak Valley wishlist. In 2017, they made a return with their third album, ‘Realms of the Metaphysical,’ and secured their place between psychedelia and grunge with a sound that pulls the best from both. Fronted by the lysergic master Craig Williamson (also Lamp of the Universe), we couldn’t me more thrilled to have them in Siegen in 2019!

Spaceslug

Quite simply, this is one of our favorite new(er) bands out there. From their home in Poland, Spaceslug have worked quickly to put out three albums in three years, and the latest, ‘Eye the Tide,’ found them embracing not only the massive walls of fuzz and melodies for which they’ve become known in Europe and beyond, but also textures out of more extreme metal and a progressive sound that’s all the more their own. They just keep getting better.

Slomatics

If you’ve never witnessed Slomatics live, the only thing to do is correct that oversight. That’s all there is to it. The Northern Irish sci-fi doom rockers are unlike anyone else, with ethereal melodies and inhuman tone brought to bear with two guitars on opposite sides of the stage working together and with the drums to pummel the audience into cosmic dust? Never been cosmic dust before? Well, 2019’s your year to get on it. And you should. They don’t tour much, so this is a special opportunity. Don’t let it pass by.

Freak Valley 2019
Eight Years of All Killer – No Filler

Tickets on sale online TOMORROW. Don’t miss out, and stay tuned for more lineup announcements to come soon!

Thanks so much for your support. Freak Valley wouldn’t exist without you.

Your Rock Freaks

www.freakvalley.de
https://www.facebook.com/freakvalley
https://www.facebook.com/events/299339670806919/
https://twitter.com/FreakValley

Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical (2017)

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Review & Track Premiere: Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on January 22nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

mammoth weed wizard bastard slomatics totems

Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, ‘Eagduru’ track premiere

[Stream Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ‘Eagduru’ by clicking play above. The Totems split LP with Slomatics is out in March via Black Bow Records and available to preorder here.]

“Exceptional” can be a pretty lofty mark by its nature, but Totems, hits it on a number of levels. The split release between Welsh and Northern Irish crushers Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and Slomatics — issued with the significant endorsement of founding Conan guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis through his Black Bow Records imprint — probably won’t offer an abundance of surprises to those familiar with the bands or their methods, but in coming together across the five tracks and two sides of this limited vinyl, they reach a degree of impact that not only few splits manage, but go even further convey a spirit of sonic kinship that the Samantha Muljat cover art would seem to recognize: a single figure standing with her back to the viewer, a sword raised to a surrounding landscape. We don’t know if it’s ritual, defiance or an attack, but there’s a sense of union between the woman and that weapon, and the same applies between Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and Slomatics throughout Totems in a way that is genuinely rare.

Side A brings two tracks in the extended “The Master and His Emissary” (12:30) and “Eagduru” (11:03) from Wrexham’s Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, whose ethereal and melodically-focused brand of riff-rolling doom was last heard on their engaging sophomore long-player,Y Proffwyd Dwyll (review here), which came out via New Heavy Sounds in 2016 and lived up to the promise the band showed in the prior grimness of Noeth Ac Anoeth (review here), their 2015 debut. Comprised of vocalist/bassist Jessica Ball, guitarists Paul Michael Davies and Wez Leon, and drummer James “Carrat” Carrington — and perhaps as their moniker would indicate — Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard are no strangers to being willfully cumbersome.

Both of their full-lengths and the prior 2015 half-hour-long single-track EP, Nachthexen (review here), worked in longer forms, and so what they bring to Totems in “The Master and His Emissary” and “Eagduru” feels very much in their wheelhouse of grooving largesse and layers of otherworldly echoing vocals from Ball, whose harmonies lay out over top of the proceedings masterfully without dominating the mix, but there’s progression to be heard in their style as well. The elements they’re working with, from the deceptively active hook of “The Master and His Emissary” to the hypnotic tumble of “Eagduru,” which fades in with an intense build of chug before unfolding a sprawl that seems to ensnare the listener as it plays out, and, like some slow herbal poison, drain them of their consciousness — a compliment, mind you; this is precisely what the track is intended to do — are more recognizably their own, and while one can still draw a line from the likes of Windhand in terms of influence, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard set themselves up here to fully establish their style as individual, and thereby greatly raise expectations for the kind of achievement they might attain with their next album proper. They may not think of it this way, and in fact one hopes they don’t, but they’re throwing down a gauntlet for themselves with these tracks and setting a high standard to be surpassed.

mammoth weed wizard bastard slomatics totems 8-bit

What they’re not doing — and this is perhaps where Totems is at its most exceptional — is competing with the side B onslaught from Belfast three-piece Slomatics. In its info for the release, Black Bow calls Totems a “collaboration” rather than a “split” and while I’d generally take that to indicate the two groups were working together as one unit — which, to the best of my knowledge, they didn’t — they are exceedingly well paired to complement each other’s work. In addition, having both recorded at Skyhammer Studio with Conan bassist Chris Fielding at the helm — who’s a stranger to neither act, having produced both Y Proffwyd Dwyll and Slomatics‘ 2016 fifth LP, Future Echo Returns (review here) — there’s a consistency of sound and a blend of spacious atmosphere in “Ancient Architects” (8:29), the ambient instrumental/interlude “Silver Ships into the Future” (3:49) and “Master’s Descent” (8:30) that helps create the full-album-style flow that so much bolsters the front-to-back listening experience of Totems.

This would seem to be something of which the bands themselves were aware going into the split’s making, since we see in Slomatics‘ closing “Master’s Descent” a mirror or at least a nod toward Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard‘s opener, “The Master and His Emissary.” Whether that’s indicative of an overarching narrative between the bands across the five tracks, I can’t confirm, but it speaks to the coherence of the delivery throughout Totems, which is yet another element making it an outlier from the norm as regards split releases in a positive way. Further, as Slomatics — the returning trio of guitarists Chris Couzens and David Marjury and drummer/vocalist Marty Harvey — tumble out riffs like they’re pushing their grooves down flights of stairs in the second half of “Ancient Architects” and roll through “Master’s Descent” in a fashion that recalls some of Future Echo Returns‘ most triumphant moments while still feeling expanded outward from them — “epic” is the word, though one is generally loath to use it — they remind via the curveball cinematic keyboard of “Silver Ships into the Future” that their approach is as much about reach as it is about crush.

While it’s easy to write off superficially as “just an interlude,” “Silver Ships into the Future”  is effective as well in emphasizing the linear feel of Totems and precisely the sort of sonic detail for which the split will no doubt stand as one of the finest joint offerings of 2018. There are a lot of reasons two groups might pair up. Maybe they’re touring together and need something for a merch table. Maybe they’re friends and just want to work together on a project. Maybe they were directed to do so by a label or shared management or something of that sort. Totems, at least going by the impression left behind from the release itself — boot-shaped-and-on-skull as it is — is once again of a rarer breed here, in that it comes across more as a creative expression than a matter of convenience or logistics. One finds shared intent between Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and Slomatics in aesthetic drive, and that proves to be the ultimate difference when it comes to Totems‘ exceptionality. From concept to production to execution to presentation, it works so as to make itself utterly essential. Recommended.

Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard on Thee Facebooks

Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard on Bandcamp

Slomatics on Thee Facebooks

Slomatics on Bandcamp

Black Bow Records webstore

Black Bow Records on Thee Facebooks

Black Bow Records on Bandcamp

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