Posted in Whathaveyou on November 9th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Not much has changed since the last time news came through about Isaak‘s new album, Sermonize, at least conceptually. The album is still coming out under the wire in 2015 on vinyl through Heavy Psych Sounds, and it will still be out on CD early next year through Small Stone. What’s changed is the release date for the LP version is now Dec. 11 and the Italian heavy-hitting four-piece have posted a lyric video for the track “Fountainhead” from the outing, which will be their third under the Isaak moniker following 2012’s The Longer the Beard, the Harder the Sound (streamed here).
Still, that’s enough of a difference to make me want to post about the record again. You’d almost think I was interested maybe in giving it an extra plug because, having listened to it, I’ve determined it’s pretty cool. Ramble on, conspiracy theorist. Either way, they get bonus points for covering Kyuss‘ “Yeah.”
The PR wire had this to say about it:
ISAAK: Genova’s badass rockers to unleash new LP “Sermonize” on Heavy Psych Sounds
If you like your rawk badass, heavy and hairy, then you’ll probably exult about the great return of Italy’s raddest stoner rockers ISAAK. With their second album to date, the Genova-based four piece is up to no good, so don’t expect to be treated cautiously: “Sermonize” is set to break down the front door this December 11.
“If you cross Genova’s narrow streets looking at people in the eyes, and reach the port and the sea, then you will understand our sound”. Leaning against their van ready for the next show, this is how ISAAK introduce theirselves in a few words. Just like their straight, powerful and uncompromising music.
Born from the ashes of Italian heavy rock four-piece Gandhi’s Gunn, it didn’t take long before ISAAK signed a worldwide deal on US label Small Stone Records, who reissued their ass-kicking debut “The Longer The Beard The Harder The Sound” in June 2013. Inspired by the big ass riffages and raw energy of leading heavy rock outfits such as Clutch, Orange Goblin or Torche, ISAAK have the knack for assembling the heaviest-sounding licks with a rip-roaring attitude that can only make you raise a fist up in the air while rocking out in the pit.
With a freshly signed deal on Heavy Psych Sounds Records, ISAAK are set to release their sophomore album “Sermonize” for a vinyl release, followed by a CD release in the beginning of 2016 on Small Stone Records.
ISAAK – New album “Sermonize” – VINYL RELEASE ONLY Out this November 27th on Heavy Psych Sounds Pre-orders from November 13that this location
TRACK LISTING: 1. Whore Horse 2. The Peak 3. Fountainhead 4. Almonds & Glasses 5. Soar 6. Showdown 7. Yeah (Kyuss) 8. Lucifer’s Roar (White Ash) 9. Lesson N.1 10. The Frown Reloaded 11. The Phil S. Theorem 12. Sermonize
ISAAK IS Giacomo H Boeddu – Vocals Andrea Tabbi De Bernardi – Drums & Vocals Francesco Raimondi – Guitars Gabriele Carta – Bass
Posted in Reviews on October 13th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
From the opening guitar howls and languid bassline that begin opener “Building a Haunted House,” West Coast (Seattle and Los Angeles) outfit Snail quickly affirm a shift in focus on Feral, their fourth album. It comes coupled with a few noteworthy changes in circumstance. Their story has been one of resurgence since first getting back together to release their sophomore album, Blood (review here), on MeteorCity in 2009 as the four-piece of guitarist/vocalist Mark Johnson, guitarist Eric Clausen, bassist/recording engineer Matt Lynch and drummer Marty Dodson. Blood arrived some 16 years after their 1993 self-titled debut (review here), which had only previously received follow-up in 1994’s All Channels are Open EP, then the swansong for the original trio of Johnson, Lynch and Dodson.
In 2012, the four-piece Snail returned with a fresh batch of material in the form of the more straightforward, bigger-riffed and independently-released Terminus (review here), which despite its ominous title was not the end of the band nor of their creative progression, as their new album, Feral, demonstrates. It is their first for Small Stone Records and topped off with cover art by Seldon Hunt, it’s also their first post-reunion release to feature only the band’s three founding members, Clausen and the remaining trio having parted ways in 2013. That in itself is probably the biggest change as regards the eight-song/47-minute offering — much of what has made Snail‘s work so enjoyable these last six years holds firm — but a generally less aggressive vibe than what they showed on Terminus serves them remarkably well throughout Feral‘s span, and from the moment the dreamy roll of “Building a Haunted House” takes hold, Snail enact a fluidity that carries through the rest of the tracks while also veering through changes in tempo and mood to enrich the listening experience. I am a fan of the band, but to be blunt, Feral is easily among the best records I’ve heard this year.
“Building a Haunted House” ends big and noisy, and “Smoke the Deathless” provides immediate contrast in a thickened shuffle that also heralds one of the catchiest choruses on offer, pulling back the forward drive to thrust into more open-sounding chug, backing vocals behind Johnson — both Lynch and Dodson contribute vocals throughout; Lynch also keyboards — preceding a quick lead that finds Johnson stepping up with no trouble as the lone six-stringer in the group. Blink and you’re in the chorus again, and blink again and “Smoke the Deathless”‘ 3:35 are up, Snail building considerable momentum into the middle-ground groove of “A Mustard Seed,” which brings back Clausen for a guest spot on rhythm guitar, the mix thick and encompassing with the rumble of Lynch‘s bass and Dodson‘s hi-hat cutting through even as his ride seems to add to the wash.
Another hook enters a quick build that cuts back to the verse — which one might almost be tempted to call “bouncing” if it weren’t so substantial; elephants don’t bounce — and ends even quicker than did “Smoke the Deathless,” but if Snail seem to be working at a sprint, it’s all a setup. A brilliant setup, but a setup all the same. Already they’ve gone from the repurposed ’80s metallisms of Terminus into more heavy psych-rocking fare, keeping a forward-moving core, but generally paying more attention to atmosphere, and much to the benefit of the songs, which remain grounded in engaging choruses despite this spaciousness. Well, the 10-minute “Thou art That” throws the formula out the window, and (wonderfully) slams into a wall of engrossing, moody psychedelic rock and features the most complex structure Snail have proffered to-date as well as the central riff of the album, which is a chorus unto itself. Starting quiet and unfolding gracefully until the keys and grandiose hits finish out, it’s the kind of cut that, on its own, can make a record, and brings to mind the best of what Snail have done since their reactivation, bridging a gap between heavy-as-hell riffing and more ethereal sonic spaces.
I have to believe that’s where the side breaks for the vinyl, and the aftermath of “Thou art That” is nothing if not a moment worthy of a breather to flip a platter. I also have to believe that when it comes to following up such a landmark track, it’s experience that led Snail to put “Born in Captivity” in the next spot, Dodson‘s drums serving as a we’re-not-done-yet signal that picks up a speedier pace and carries through an almost garage-punk boogie that seems to recall “Smoke the Deathless” until in its second half it transitions into an almost Beatlesian keyboard line for a bridge that adds a touch of classic weirdness to the otherwise forward motion, smoothing back into the chorus, which comes to incorporate that same line as it makes its way toward the end, cutting out finally to give the guitar the final say just before the five-minute mark, at which point Dodson and Lynch begin “Derail,” a slower, bigger and doomier feature for Johnson‘s lead work that conjures a wash in deep-running layers of guitar and bass and then cuts them down suddenly to give the chug of the verse total sway, balancing one off the other until finally at the end everything turns to noise.
The penultimate “Psilocybe” starts with a sense of heft worthy of Torche, and plods its beginning as the initial movement of a steady roll and nod that takes hold and does not let go for the first several minutes, even through a classy, melodic chorus, until at about the three-minute mark Snail break almost to silence and start a psychedelic build that carries them through the next two minutes until the next verse resumes the roll. The second time around, the turn is into a plotted-sounding jam, or an instrumental break at very least, that’s met with strange whispering voices, watery effects, more keys — Lynch plays a huge role atmospherically — and as the track devolves, that steady thunderplod from the beginning. After an extended wash of an outro, Feral almost sounds like it’s over, but the funky wah that commences a lonely tale in “Come Home” — its depressive lyric delivered in a soulful melody that makes the actual listening experience much more than the downer it might otherwise be — is a last-minute turn that winds up expanding the entire scope for the album as a whole, making it not only an easily-justified inclusion, but serving a genuine purpose to the record’s benefit.
A last hook, “Come home girl, I need you/You calm the voice in my head,” etc., brings together classic soul longing with a heavy rock push, once again bolstered by Lynch‘s keys, and rounds out Feral with a gorgeous, organ-laced last melodic dive into surrounds-your-head psychedelia, which has been the specialty all along. As Snail have moved past the novelty of their initial reunion, they’ve managed to amass a steady following, and Feral will no doubt add to that, but more importantly, it shows that even in the inevitably rawer form of a trio, they’re more than able and more than willing to continue to grow their sound and develop their approach. The final result is that Feral is as full creatively as it is sonically, and that four albums in, Snail are still ready to explore new ground and incorporate that into their own immediately recognizable context. It is their finest work to-date, and only seems to set up continued future expansion.
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 30th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Swedish upstart heavy rockers Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus — whose name I’d been pronouncing like “mali-bus,” as though it had a bus at the end one might ride, but have come to discover it’s actually more like the plural of Malibu; learn something new all the time — have announced the dates and cities on and in which they’ll make their first South American tour this November and into December. The run includes shows in Argentina, Uruguay, as well as a warm-up gig in the band’s native Stockholm, and is presented by Abraxas Events, which is previously responsible for bringing the likes of Kadavar and Mars Red Sky to the South American continent.
Not by any means an inconsiderable track record. Looking at the schedule, I can’t help but notice that JIRM, as they’re abbreviated, have a span of four off-nights in a row as November moves into December. They play São Leopoldo on Nov. 29 and Florianópolis on Dec. 4. Now, that’s about a five-hour drive between cities, so maybe they’re taking off a couple days to see the sights, or maybe shows are going to be added as venues are confirmed for the already-announced dates. It seems like a long drive to think that they’ll truck all the way up to Rio de Janeiro and hit Estudio Superfuzz to do some recording, maybe a follow-up to last year’s right-on Spirit Knife (review here) on Small Stone, but also interesting to note that the whole tour winds up in that same city after Dec. 6.
I haven’t even heard hints of that, so don’t go telling people or something, I’m just thinking out loud that it would be another way for Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus to get the most out of their trip. Even if it doesn’t happen that they get new recordings out of it, I’m sure the tour will be badass.
Announcement follows, courtesy of Abraxas:
Abraxas apresenta: Jeremy Irons & the Ratgang Malibus South America Tour 2015
Venues, ticket information and further info will be updated.
20.11 Stockholm (S) warm-up gig 24.11 Buenos Aires (ARG) 25.11 Córdoba (ARG) 26.11 Montevideo (URY) 27.11 Porto Alegre (BRA) 28.11 Santa Maria (BRA) 29.11 São Leopoldo (BRA) 4.12 Florianópolis (BRA) 5.12 São Paolo (BRA) 6.12 Rio de Janeiro (BRA)
Provided by Statens Kulturråd. Official Tour Poster by Mil
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 25th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Italian heavy rockers Isaak will release their new album, Sermonize, in November. Their third outing overall, it will be issued in international collusion with Heavy Psych Sounds and Small Stone. The former, countryman imprint is set for the vinyl release, whereas the Detroit label will look to have a CD out come early 2016. The band mark it as their first release under the Isaak moniker, which is fair enough, though their 2012 sophomore outing, The Longer the Beard the Harder the Sound (streamed here), also got issued as Isaak‘s Small Stone debut in 2013.
Either way, the art for the new one looks righteous, and the four-piece announced its arrival by unveiling that and the tracklisting. Isaak toured earlier this year in Spain and Portugal, and they’ll look to head out again come Feb. 2016. They also released a split with Mos Generator way back in January through Heavy Psych Sounds that I’ve pretty much been meaning to pick up since then. One of these days.
Album info follows:
Our new album SERMONIZE, the very first full length as Isaak, will be released later in November thanks to the amazing collaboration between the Italian HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS Records (for the vinyl release with a limited coloured version and a black one) and the american Small Stone Records (which will follow the CD release, expected in the very early 2016), a collaboration that will bring also several other tasty news!
Here below you can admire the cover painting by Richey Beckett (yes, THAT Richey Beckett!www.richeybeckett.com).
As always, our brother from another mother Luca SoloMacello contributed to this radness looking after the design layout.
Isaak will start an European Tour to promote Sermonize from February 2016.
There’s nothing more to say, this record will be your summer obsession even if we’re gonna release it in November, hands down!
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 1st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
By the time Snail‘s new album, Feral, arrives, it will be almost six months to the day since the Seldon Hunt artwork was premiered here. That is not an insignificant stretch, but until you actually hear it you’re just going to have to take my word for it when I say it’s worth every second of the wait. After a strong comeback outing in 2009’s Blood (review here) and a definitive step forward in 2012’s Terminus (review here), Feral takes Snail‘s songwriting to places it hasn’t yet been and retains a sense of laid back heaviness and melodicism that has become their signature these last six years. If you don’t already have it on your gotta-hear list, put it there.
The PR wire brings affirmation, the preorder link, a bio I’m pretty sure that I wrote, the tracklisting and the stream for “Building a Haunted House,” which opens the record. Dig in:
Seattle psych metal trio SNAIL return with fourth album “Feral”, this month on Small Stone Records.
Seattle based psych metal forerunners SNAIL are making a great comeback with their heavy, hazy and stirring fourth record “Feral”, to be released this September on Small Stone Records.
Stream SNAIL’s intoxicating new song Building A Haunted House
SNAIL formed in 1992 in Los Angeles, consisting of singer Mark Johnson (The Crucified, PASTE, Blessing the Hogs), bassist Matt Lynch and drummer Marty Dodson. The eponymous first album (Big Deal Records) garnered much praise in the press, and gained a loyal following from peers, leading to the DIY, 4-track cassette-recorded All Channels are Open EP, after which SNAIL sadly succumbed to the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” lifestyle and eroded to the point of breaking up.
After 15 years’ absence, SNAIL reunited in 2008 with longtime friend and guitarist Eric Clausen as a fourth member, and unleashed Blood (Meteor City), which was among the highest-rated heavy rock records of 2009, combining fuzzy guitars and a pummeling rhythm section with layered, soaring melodies rarely heard in the genre. In a time of industry turmoil, the record went from blood-red to “in the black,” even attracting the attention of underground music legend Henry Rollins, who gave it multiple plays on his “Fanatics” radio show on influential Los Angeles station KCRW.
SNAIL’s 2012 follow-up, Terminus, showcased all fresh material, infused with the enthusiasm of newly-minted collaboration. Influences that were not evident in past works came to the fore, steeped in old-school metal and psychedelia. The subject matter was noticeably more mature, delving into the themes of mortality and its implications in our modern world. From crushing doom to head-bobbing Camaro rock and hypnotic psych, Terminus was SNAIL’s most varied work to date; but most importantly, it rocked.
With the challenge of a “first new album” behind them, SNAIL set to work on Feral, their fourth full-length and first for Small Stone. Taking the varied approach of Terminus to new degrees of psychedelia and sonic heft, songs like “Smoke the Deathless” and “Thou Art That” epitomize the weighted melodic appeal of the band, while closer “Come Home” steps forward in its brazen emotionalism. Topped off with mind-bending artwork by Seldon Hunt, Feral is their best work to date, demonstrates the progressive capacity of the once-again trio of Johnson, Lynch and Dodson, and shows that Blood and Terminus may have just been the start of the wildness to come.
Posted in Reviews on July 31st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
The story of Swedish heavy rockers Greenleaf is one of perpetual evolution. There is no point in the outfit’s 16-year history at which they were doing the same thing twice. From their 2000 self-titled debut EP on Molten Universe (someday it will be mine), through the subsequent 2001 debut full-length, Revolution Rock (discussed here), the beginnings of their association with Small Stone Records on 2003’s Secret Alphabets, the grand productions of 2007’s Agents of Ahriman and 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) and the sustainable touring presence they became with 2014’s Trails and Passes, which recently led to their signing with Napalm Records for the release of their next album — currently in production — they’ve never been quite in the same place as a band. And for the most part, they haven’t had the same lineup either.
Begun as a side-project of Dozer by guitarist Tommi Holappa and Bengt Bäcke, who produced some of Dozer‘s earliest work and has played bass in Greenleaf through their entire tenure, Greenleaf has evolved from a studio outfit putting out occasional records in Dozer‘s downtime to Holappa‘s main focus — a considerable swap in position. When they released Agents of Ahriman, that transition was still a ways off, but the roots were being dug. Bäcke and Holappa were joined on drums by former Dozer drummer Erik Bäckwell and vocalist Oskar Cedermalm, who was at that time only beginning to make an impression with his own band, Truckfighters. Former Lowrider vocalist Peder Bergstrand (who was also the first singer in Greenleaf) and John Hermansen, who was then in the transition between The Awesome Machine and Mother Misery, also make notable guest appearances on vocals.
I do not at all mind telling you that Agents of Ahriman stands among my favorite heavy rock records — period. Of any era. Certainly it was one of the finest outings of the aughts, and I consider it a flawless execution of songwriting and performance. Not one second of its nine tracks/37 minutes is superfluous. Led by Holappa, Greenleaf bring a character to the modus of classic heavy rock that few have been able to parallel, let alone match, both presaging and out-boogieing the retro rock movement while still sounding modern in Bäcke‘s production, melodically complex in Cedermalm‘s arrangements, varied through the guest appearances — not at all limited to vocals; Jocke Åhslund‘s Hammond featuring on “Black Tar,” “Alishan Mountain,” “The Lake” and “Ride Another Highway,” while John Hoyles (now of Troubled Horse) adds a guitar solo to opener “Highway Officer” and Linus Arnberg brings cowbell stomp to swing-happy closer “Stray Bullit Woman” — and outright unstoppable in its righteousness of groove. Front to back, it is the kind of record one could use as a textbook to teach children about the joys of rock and roll.
And if this sounds like hyperbole, it is earned in the hyper-memorable choruses of “Alishan Mountain” and “Ride Another Highway” — Hermansen‘s one-man call and response rivaling Cedermalm‘s own — and in the spaciousness of the six-minute “Sleep Paralysis,” which in its last moments finally seems to be driving toward a payoff of its track-long tension, only to cut out at the moment of impact, breaking the rule under which it seemed to be playing, in Bergstrand doing his best Mark Lanegan on the attitude-soaked “Black Tar,” and in the riffs of “Highway Officer,” “Treehorn” and particularly organ-ic “The Lake,” which was the centerpiece of the CD and on the vinyl is the beginning point for a five-track side B that only gets richer as it pushes — and, in the case of “Ride Another Highway,” propels — toward “Stray Bullit Woman” as the closing statement. A more swaggering performance from Cedermalm there never has been, and the progression over which it comes is worthy of being called Mountain-esque — not a comparison to be made lightly.
There is one last guest appearance before Agents of Ahriman is finished, and it’s Emil Leo, who after emerging from a swirl of effects asks the simple question “And now what?” Eight years after the album’s initial release — worth noting this is the first time it’s out on vinyl — we know to some extent. Dozer would issue their final (to-date; one can always hope) full-length in the form of 2008’s Beyond Colossal, and after a few years of inactivity, Greenleaf would be resurrected again, this time with Dozer‘s Johan Rockner on guitar and Olle Mårthans on drums for Nest of Vipers — Dozer bassist/vocalist Fredrik Nordin also made a guest appearance, along with Bergstrand and keymaster Per Wiberg — and began a touring cycle. That would be the end of Cedermalm‘s run with the band, Truckfighters taking priority as a worldwide touring entity and an outfit of increasing profile, and vocalist Arvid Jonsson took up the difficult mantle ably on Trails and Passes, Sebastian Olsson also stepping into the drummer role.
Greenleaf remains in seemingly permanent flux, and what their next record might bring when it arrives I wouldn’t speculate to say other than to note the reliable quality of Holappa‘s songcraft, which in partnership with Bäcke‘s production, was so plainly on display with Agents of Ahriman in its whole-album, all-killer impact. The LP version is a somewhat different experience, the sides not quite breaking evenly with the second longer than the first, but whether you’ve experienced what I consider Greenleaf‘s finest hour yet — Nest of Vipers was a grander affair and showed progression, but these songs are tattooed on my brain — or whether you’ve never heard the thing, it still proves itself to be an utterly essential listen for anyone and everyone who wants to know what heavy rock sounds like at its most right. You can say I’m overstating it if you want. You’re wrong. It’s already stood up to eight years, and listening to the vinyl, I hear no reason Agents of Ahriman won’t continue to endure into perpetuity. Recommended.
Posted in Whathaveyou on July 22nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’ll have much more about Snail‘s fourth album, Feral, as we get closer to the Sept. 25 release date, but by way of an early heads up, it’s killer. The tones, the vibe, it all takes the steps the band made with 2012’s Terminus (review here) and matches them in force with the memorable songwriting and thick-toned rolling psychedelia of 2009’s return, Blood (review here), the effect both crushingly heavy and airborne all at once. Their first album as a trio since their 1993 self-titled debut (reissue review here), Feral marks the beginning of a new era for the West Coast outfit, and it’s only fitting they should get out and tour a bit to mark the occasion.
They’ll hit the road starting July 30 with company along the way from Sasquatch, The Freeks and Virginia’s Akris, so if you happen to be on the West Coast, keep an eye out. Info follows as seen on the PR wire, along with the album preorder link and paragraph of their new bio that I wrote this past weekend, way overdue as it was:
With the challenge of a “first new album” — 2012’s Terminus — behind them, Snail set to work on Feral, their fourth full-length and first for Small Stone. Taking the varied approach of Terminus to new degrees of psychedelia and sonic heft, songs like “Smoke the Deathless” and “Thou Art That” epitomize the weighted melodic appeal of the band, while closer “Come Home” steps forward in its brazen emotionalism. Topped off with mind-bending artwork by Seldon Hunt, Feral is their best work to date, demonstrates the progressive capacity of the once-again trio of Johnson, Lynch and Dodson, and shows that Blood and Terminus may have just been the start of the wildness to come.
Snail will be slowly and deliberately crushing the West Coast with tourmates Akris and The Freeks in late July/early August 2015. See dates below:
July 30 – Tower Bar, San Diego, CA with Sasquatch and Desert Suns July 31 – Cafe Nela, Los Angeles, CA with The Freeks and The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic August 1 – Cellar Door, Visalia, CA with The Freeks August 2 – The Golden Bull, Oakland, CA with Blackwulf, Forgotten Gods, Lowcaster August 4 – Starlite Lounge, Sacramento, CA with Akris and Amarok August 6 – Ash Street Saloon, Portland, OR with Akris and Night of Elegance August 7 – The Astoria Pub, Vancouver, BC with Akris, Mendozza and Bog August 9 – The Highline, Seattle, WA with Akris and Dura Madre
Posted in Features on July 6th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
If 2015 ended tomorrow, I think you’d still have to say it was a pretty good year for heavy rock. Doom veered into a swath extremes — its own subgenres emerging almost one by one in a growing splinter that nonetheless continues to draw water from its roots — while the neo-stoner ignition of the West Coast continued its boom of new acts proffering classic groove. The East reveled in a progressive vision just waiting to be picked up by others, and in Europe, the ’70s traditionalist movement spread ever wider, essentially defining a modern sound in organic sounding, sometimes-vintage elements. Whether you’re going for crushing, oppressive barbarism or cosmos-bound blissouts, it is, in short, a good time to be alive.
Of course, 2015 doesn’t end tomorrow, and there’s still a whole lot of year to come. About half, as it happens. So, as has been the tradition around here for the last half-decade — and seems to be the tradition in a growing number of outlets; not taking credit or claiming to have invented anything, just noting a proliferation — it’s time to count down the best records of the year so far. There have been more than a handful of gems, and since in December I’m planning on doing a top 30, we’ll mark half the year with a top 15. Seems only fair.
Please note that this isn’t purely a critical evaluation, but a personal list, and that what I’ve put on most is as crucial a factor in my ranking as how important I think a given record is. You know the drill by now. Let’s go:
Kiev three-piece Stoned Jesus have a varied stylistic history, and their third outing, The Harvest was ultimately a success in large part because of its complete refusal to be defined. Atop a foundation of quality songcraft, the trio proffered a sound that was not necessarily experimental in terms of anti-structure noise or effects onslaughts, but bold in each of its forays outward from its heavy rock underpinnings.
It has consistently taken me a while to get a hold on what Freedom Hawk are up to. The steady elements in their sound are held to so firmly that on the first couple listens, it seems to just be more of the same. But the more one digs in, the more there is to be found, and with Into Your Mind, the Virginia Beach trio overcome losing a member to create their most progressive outing to date, flourishes of psychedelia melding easily with their signature style of sunshiny riffing.
Five albums deep, Germany’s My Sleeping Karma are an act unto themselves. Their progress has been natural, fueled by a clear, varied sense of exploratory will, and the results on this year’s Moksha were nothing short of stunning. Branching out their arrangements might not be new to them, but the inclusion of horns, drones, percussion, etc., amid the central guitar, bass, keys and drums lent an almost orchestral feel to the flow between the tracks, and one can only hope they continue on their current path, because it is unquestionably the right one.
So much potential, so much vitality at the heart of this debut from Death Alley. The Amsterdam-based four-piece (interview here) stormed out of the gate with a ripper of a debut, and just when you seemed to have it all figured out, they hit the ignition on a 12-minute full-impulse space rock thrust, a guest vocal appearance from Farida Lemouchi (a former bandmate of Death Alley guitarist Oeds Beydals in The Devil’s Blood) adding both mystique and emotional resonance to what was already a stunning track. With all the riotousness preceding, Black Magick Boogieland readily lived up to its righteous title.
Midwestern-turned-West-Coast heavy psych rockers Mondo Drag may have taken their time in releasing their self-titled sophomore outing, which followed their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), and was recorded in 2012, but it’s easy to imagine that’s because they wanted the circumstances to be as special as the album itself, recorded with a fleeting five-piece lineup that included the one-time rhythm section of Radio Moscow who wound up leaving to further their then-nascent project, Blues Pills. Even without that lineup shift as a factor, the late ’60s vibe Mondo Drag brought out across the release proved eminently listenable and has held up on repeat visits.
A gorgeous, shimmering and melodically resonant debut from the Dutch four-piece Cigale, their self-titled gracefully maintained tonal presence and warmth while also enacting a psychedelic sprawl and grooving serenity that acted like the landscape in which the songs took place. It was a rich, bright vibe, and an utter joy to behold, tracks like “Harvest Begun,” “Feel the Heat” and “Eyes Wide Shut” proving as memorable as they were inviting. Having two former members of the much-missed fuzz rock outfit Sungrazer may have initially turned some heads in their direction, but Cigale‘s first album proved they’re an outfit with their own personality, their own development to undertake, and already much to offer.
The awaited return of The Machine brought the band’s fifth album and a further-refined sense of maturity in their processes, as well as intrigue as to where they might be headed, two dual modes of open-ended jamming and more structured songwriting playing off each other in the extended “Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and “Come to Light” and the more verse/chorus stylizations of “Dry End” and “Off Course.” To be perfectly honest, I doubt The Machine will ultimately pick one side over another, since if Offblast! proved anything it’s that they can easily handle either or both, but as they continue to grow, it’s encouraging to have their style establish itself as so multi-faceted.
First time I pressed play on Gravitron was a real “oh shit!” moment. The last release from NJ stalwarts The Atomic Bitchwax was 2011’s The Local Fuzz (review here), a single-song full-length instrumental riff onslaught that had its charm but was inherently divorced from the appeal of the band’s songwriting. Not only does Gravitron re-factor that in with songs like “Roseland,” “It’s Alright,” “Coming in Hot” and “Ice Age Hey Baby,” among others, but it hits with kick-in-the-ass production force and an all-out heaviness that 2008’s TAB4 showed the three-piece steering directly away from. Just a killer record. Utterly void of pretense. No bullshit. No need to rely on anything more than chemistry, and with the Bitchwax, that’s plenty.
7. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
Right now, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth are my band to beat for Debut of the Year, and I’m quite frankly not sure how anyone is going to be able to do it, so if list time comes in Dec. and you see Tad Doyle‘s trio marked out as such, know that it’s been that way in my head for some time. The three-piece of Doyle, bassist Peggy “Pegadeth” Tully and drummer Dave French arrived with a roar, and even when their self-titled let up sonically, the atmosphere remained viscerally heavy. Six years having passed since the release of their first demo (review here), I wasn’t sure there was ever going to be an album, but then to have Brothers of the Sonic Cloth show up and enact such thorough demolition only made it more impressive.
It can’t possibly be a surprise to have Luminiferous show up somewhere on this list. The seventh long-player by High on Fire had all the rage and bombast in “Slave the Hive” and “The Black Plot” that have become the band’s hallmarks over their 17 years together, but branched out progressively as well in songs like “The Cave” and “The Falconist,” the latter of which was brazenly catchy and about as emotionally direct as the band has ever gotten, their general modus being — and in that song too, just to a lesser extent — a metaphor-laced lyrical approach. That song was a triumph and so was the album as a whole; the second collaboration with producer Kurt Ballou building on the rampaging victories of 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis (review here) while also showing growth on the part of one of modern metal’s most pivotal bands.
Hitting more or less concurrent with a vinyl release of their prior album, 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy is not at all coincidentally titled. Over the course of now three full-lengths, the New York five-piece — about whom I feign no impartiality, let it be noted — have distinguished themselves with a sound neither noise, nor doom, nor heavy rock, but drawing on elements of all three when it suits their purposes with chemistry built from years of being in bands together of various stripes and in various genres. What stands the self-titled out from their past work, in part, is that it is the closest they’ve yet come to capturing their live sound in the studio, and accordingly, it’s a volatile kind of heavy that bends aesthetic to its will rather than capitulating to expectations of any sort. I don’t think they’re done growing by any stretch, but Kings Destroy feels like an arrival front-to-back.
This one was almost a sneak-attack. German heavy psych forerunners Colour Haze released To the Highest Gods We Know, their 11th full-length, in Dec. 2014 on CD (the vinyl was in 2015, which is what we’re counting in this instance), with very, very little fanfare of any sort. There was a track premiere here that came shortly after the album was announced, but I think it was officially out less than a month after its existence was made public, which for a band of Colour Haze‘s stature and influence was surprising. Less devoted to grandeur than 2012’s 2CD She Said (review here), it nonetheless pushed the band’s sound forward and found them experimenting in their studio, particularly on the string-quartet-inclusive finale title-track, which offset jams like “Überall” and the laid back highlight “Call” with a rhythmic oddness that was somehow still Colour Haze‘s own. I couldn’t help but wonder where it was leading, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t masterful in its own right.
Goatsnake didn’t have it easy going into their third album. It had been 15 years since their sophomore outing, Flower of Disease, 11 since their last EP, and five since they first started playing shows again. Expectations? Through the roof. Among heavy rock heads, a new Goatsnake was like seeing the mountaintop. I mean, a big fucking deal and then some. Then the record hits, and there’s just about no way it can live up to the anticipation, but god damn if Goatsnake not only finally put out a third album, but one that was better than I think anyone could’ve hoped for. Hearing Pete Stahl with however many backup singers he had on “Another River to Cross” et. al. was like finding an animal in its native habitat, and between his soul, Greg Anderson‘s riffs, bassist Scott Renner‘s low end rumble and drummer Greg Rogers‘ roll, Black Age Blues won almost immediately and then spent the rest of its 47 minutes throwing itself a victory party. “Elevated Man,” “House of the Moon,” “Jimi’s Gone,” “Grandpa Jones,” almost on a per-track basis, Goatsnake added to the reasons they’ve been so heralded despite a decade-plus’ absence from the studio.
On the level of achievement alone, Elder‘s Lore will be the album of the year for many, and there are times (such as right now) when I listen to it and question whether or not it isn’t also my pick for that honor, but wherever it falls on whatever list, far more important is what the Massachusetts/Rhode Island/New York trio manage to accomplish across their third LP’s formidable five-track/59-minute span, songs like “Compendium” and “Deadweight” bridging a rarely approached gap between heavy and progressive rocks while maintaining a flow consistent with the psychedelic vibing of 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) but grown outward in another aesthetic direction and no sooner setting foot on the ground than seeming to master it in a flurry of blinding turns, sprawling soundscapes and clarity of mind that found perhaps its greatest expression in the centerpiece title-track, the 15-minute “Lore” itself, which I’ve no doubt will stand among if not atop the best songs of 2015 when the year is over and encapsulates the ambition and the corresponding breadth of Elder‘s songwriting, the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan, and drummer Matt Couto rising as one of the East Coast’s most pivotal acts, with a sound completely their own.
1. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
I use the word “molten” pretty regularly to describe an album or song that seems to just ooze its way out of the speakers or shift seamlessly between its songs, but Acid King set an entirely new standard for the term with Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere. Their first outing for Svart and their first release in a decade, its 55 minutes were a riff-rolling nirvana of lurching fuzz and tonal excellence, the guitar of Lori S. at the fore accompanied by Mark Lamb‘s bass and Joey Osbourne‘s drums, the swing of which propelled a highlight track like “Coming down from Outer Space” right back into it, while elsewhere on the record, “Silent Pictures,” “Red River” and “Infinite Skies” torched stoner conventions into a new space-biker rock, culminating in the heavy psych of “Center of Everywhere,” which seemed to emanate from the place it was describing, at once empty and full. More than just a welcome return after a long dearth of releases, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere found Acid King progressed even beyond where they were with 2005’s III, though more than anything else, what makes it my top pick for the year so far is the fact that I can’t seem to walk away from it for too long before going back, and ultimately, that’s what it all comes down to with his kind of thing. I’ve yet to find a standard to which these songs don’t live up.
A few others worth noting. The Sun Blood Stories album (streamed here) continues to resonate. Also Monolord, Valkyrie, Lamp of the Universe, Garden of Worm, Wo Fat‘s live record, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s Cold was the Ground and Ufomammut‘s Ecate. The Black Rainbows was a joy, as was Spidergawd‘s second LP, and while I still feel like I haven’t given it its due, the Sumac won many over and should get a mention. Steve Von Till‘s solo outing and the latest from Enslaved are worth seeking out as well for anyone who hasn’t heard them yet.
More to Come:
The year’s only half over, which is kind of a scary thought but true nonetheless. Watch out in the coming months for new stuff from Bloodcow, All Them Witches, Clutch, Graveyard, Zun, Sacri Monti (if that one’s not already out), Snail, Uncle Acid, and Kind. The new Kadavar is a sure-fire top tenner, and between that, the potential for a new Neurosis album and stuff like Magnetic Eye Records‘ Electric Ladyland [Redux], there’s no way the book is written on the best of 2015.
So stay tuned.
And if I’ve still got your attention, thanks for reading.