THE OBELISK ALL-DAYER: Official Poster & Runtimes Revealed

Posted in The Obelisk Presents, Visual Evidence on June 30th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

the obelisk all-dayer poster skillit

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Gaze upon its countenance and realize just how fucking awesome this show is going to be.

Aug. 20 at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn marks the first-ever The Obelisk All-Dayer, a one-of-a-kind celebration of things heavy, noisy, psychedelic, progressive, and weird. In addition to being the first New York appearances for French heavy psych mavens Mars Red Sky, Amsterdam-based motor-rockers Death Alley, West Coast riff-rollers Snail and bizarro Texas punks Funeral Horse, The Obelisk All-Dayer will feature food on-hand, full and recorded sets, limited-edition posters and other merch, and an afterparty with DJ Adzo (aka Adam Kriney of Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass) and Walter Roadburn (the man behind the internationally renowned Roadburn festival).

Today the official poster, which will be available at the Vitus Bar in a limited and one-time run of 50, has been revealed. Art is by Los Angeles-based designer Sean “Skillit” McEleny, who has worked with numerous acts across both coasts as well as the header for this site and perfectly captures the strange awe and wonder that the show is certain to elicit front-to-back.

Following the revelation earlier this month of the complete lineup, the set runtimes are now also available:

the obelisk all-dayer logo skillit-700

Mars Red Sky* 10:10-11:40
Death Alley* 8:50-9:50
Snail* 7:30-8:30
Kings Destroy 6:30-7:10
EYE 5:30-6:10
Funeral Horse* 4:30-5:10
King Buffalo 3:30-4:10
Heavy Temple 2:30-3:10
(Afterparty with DJ Adzo & Walter Roadburn* 12-2AM)
* Debut appearance in NYC

Set times are firm. The Obelisk All-Dayer is proud to be giving these bands enough time to flesh out their performances, as opposed to rushing one into the next in a festival. The intent is that the day will be a laid-back party more than a festival, from the start of Heavy Temple‘s cult-worthy riffing through the psych-blues bliss of King Buffalo, the possibly-cape-inclusive doings of Funeral HorseEYE‘s lush progressive rock, locals Kings Destroy‘s aggro noise push and the one-two-three punch of SnailDeath Alley and Mars Red Sky, none of whom has ever played New York before.

Get your tickets immediately.

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SNAIL Confirmed for The Obelisk All-Dayer, Aug. 20 at Saint Vitus Bar

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on March 17th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

the obelisk all-dayer

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I’m happy to report the first-ever The Obelisk All-Dayer, Aug. 20 at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, NY, will also mark the first-ever East Coast appearance of Snail.

The band, who released their finest outing to-date in last year’s Feral (review here), go back some 23 years, having gotten their start with an underrated self-titled album that was followed the next year by an EP and then 16 full years of silence before 2009’s Blood (review here) brought them back. That record, 2012’s Terminus (review here), and Feral established them as masters of heavy psych grooves, rolling maximum-density riffs with a laid back vibe that few dare to be chill enough to match, full in sound and soothing even in its most chaotic moments.

I was fortunate enough to see Snail play a few years back in San Francisco (review here), and snailthey were killer then. Now, back to their original trio incarnation with guitarist/vocalist Mark Johnson, bassist Matt Lynch and drummer Marty DodsonSnail will hit the Eastern Seaboard for the first time to play a full-hour set and join the bill with France’s Mars Red Sky (also their first East Coast appearance), Texas trio Funeral Horse, Rochester, NY’s King Buffalo, and more TBA at The Obelisk All-Dayer. It wouldn’t be a party without them.

Comments Mark Johnson on making the trip from the West Coast to play: “People have been asking us to play on the East Coast for years. Honestly, personally, this is one of the most exciting things in my life. I’ve been to Manhattan once and completely fell in love — so super-happy to be going back to NY… this time Brooklyn!!! And it feels like going home in some way since we’re all friends and you are putting this on.”

That’s precisely the vibe I’m going for with this whole idea. We’re all friends, it’s gonna be a good time, and we’re all hopefully going to feel at home in some big ol’ heavy hippie kind of way. I’m dead serious. The closer we get to this thing happening, the more excited I am. I hope you feel the same, and I hope to see you there.

The Obelisk All-Dayer is Aug. 20, 2016, at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, New York, and will feature full sets, after-show DJs, food truck on-hand, live recordings, limited edition merch and much more. Stay tuned for announcements to follow.

More to come!

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2015

Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

top 30 albums of 2015 1

Please note: This list is not culled in any way from the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2015 to that, please do.

It’s damn near impossible to start one of these posts without some derivation of, “Whew! What a year it’s been!” The truth is that, since 2014, I’ve been keeping a list of the best releases of 2015, and the list has just grown and grown and grown over the last 12 months. Could have been a top 40, easy. Could have been a top 50, 60, whatever. It was complete inundation.

If you’ve been checking in on any of the lists that have gone up so far, you might notice that some of these records have appeared elsewhere, and possibly in a different order. How does an album end up ahead of another on one list and not on another? Different criteria. Different basis of judgment. As always, the big year-end list (this one) is derived both from what I think are the most important offerings of the year plus what I listened to the most, because while I believe deeply in the critical value of a given work, I also believe there’s value in the kind of record you just can’t put down.

Basically, I believe records have value. Stay tuned for more daring adventures in understatement.

A few emergent factors for 2015 to note: The increasing expansion of subgenres. Psychedelia and what I’ve come to call the heavy ’10s sound finding further root as prominent styles of the day, as well as a budding of emotive doom in the post-Pallbearer vein. At the same time, a more straightforward heavy rock is also making a return, and look for that to continue as new listeners discover past landmarks and modern plays thereupon. Everything is cyclical, and I’m interested to see what the next two or three years bring, both as Millennials hit 30 (and beyond) and as younger kids come up and fuzz out.

But that’s a conversation for a different time, and before we get there, it’s time to take a look back at the best full-lengths of 2015. I hope if I’ve left something out, you’ll let me know about it in the comments, but until then, here we go:

30. High on Fire, Luminiferous

high on fire luminiferous

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed June 15.

Going by some of the results I’ve seen from the Readers Poll, I’m guessing there will be some disagreement on the placement of High on Fire‘s seventh full-length, third for eOne and second to be produced by Kurt Ballou behind 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), but for me it came down to what I went back to more. The brilliant “The Falconist” would be enough on its own for Luminiferous to be included on this list, and taken as a whole, the record affirmed the trio as pivotal heavy metal marauders, an act whose devastation is undulled by the wear they’ve put on it touring the world over and again.

29. CHRCH, Unanswered Hymns

chrch unanswered hymns

Released by Battleground Records. Reviewed June 30.

Undaunted by a name change from Church to CHRCH, the Sacramento five-piece unleashed rare doom extremity on their debut album, but peppered that with a stylistic nuance that many in the pummel-pummel-pummel game cast off, whether it was psychedelic flourish in the guitar or some eerie atmospheric. Among the post potential-filled debut offerings of the year, that’s not a guarantee they’ll find future success on the same level, but it does mean that if you didn’t hear the 19-minute “Dawning,” you missed out.

28. Golden Void, Berkana

golden void berkana

Released by Thrill Jockey Records. Reviewed Sept. 22.

Coherent bliss. The second full-length from the four-piece Golden Void was a logical step forward from the band’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), but that was precisely what it needed to be. With an emerging dynamic of dual vocals between guitarist Isaiah Mitchell (also Earthless) and keyboardist Camilla Saufley-Mitchell on cuts like “Astral Plane” and “Silent Season,” Berkana was less adherent to space rock overall than its predecessor, but gave a more individualized take and was all the richer for it.

27. Stoned Jesus, The Harvest

stoned jesus the harvest

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Probably should have a higher number. Part of the enduring appeal for The Harvest for me is not only how Ukrainian three-piece Stoned Jesus so absolutely pushed back from the album before it, 2012’s sophomore outing, Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but how much reasoning they put behind the moves they made on the six included tracks. Each song had its purpose and place in the overarching flow, and The Harvest continues to deliver something new on thoroughly-earned repeat listens. Perhaps most encouraging of all, I have no idea what they’ll do next.

26. Graveyard, Innocence and Decadence

graveyard innocence and decadence

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 7.

Swedish retro forerunners are hands-down one of the most influential European heavy rock acts of their generation. The ’70s revivalism they helped spearhead on their first, second and third LPs has given them rich ground to develop, and they still managed to bring something new to their sound with the soulfulness of Innocence and Decadence, as well as increasing command and diversity in the vocals. Drummer Axel Sjöberg turned in a career performance, and although there are heaps upon heaps of bands out there indulging in post-Graveyard boogie, they showed once again that they’re able to stand both out from the crowd and well above it. Plus, any swing-rocking album that dares to break out soul-singer backing vocals and blastbeats, and pull both off without blinking deserves respect, no matter what else it might have going on.

25. Death Hawks, Sun Future Moon

death hawks sun future moon

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Nov. 3

It felt so good to put on Death HawksSun Future Moon for the first time and be completely blindsided by its serene psychedelic ritualizing. The Finnish four-piece reveled in classic progressive methods, and where it would’ve been so easy for songs like “Hey Ya Sun Ra” or “Dream Life, Waking Life” to come across as pretentious, the naturalism in the recording gave the band’s third album such a liquefied flow that it was impossible not to be swept up by it until, at last, “Friend of Joy” launched into and beyond a peaceful stratosphere in spaced-out ambience. My first exposure to the group and their first outing for Svart, it’s a record so textural and so graceful that it seems to unfurl itself more each time through.

24. Spidergawd, II

spidergawd ii

Released by Stickman Records and Crispin Glover Records. Reviewed Jan. 5.

A quick and strong turnaround from this Norwegian sax-inclusive foursome, who might seem to come out of nowhere were it not for the pedigree of Kenneth Kapstad and Bent Sæther in long-running progressives Motorpsycho. Together with Per Borten and Rolf Martin Snustad, Spidergawd spoke to more primal rock instincts — their two LPs to-date and soon to be three are testaments to the ability of music to move, to shove, and to shake; or as they put it, “Get Physical” — but as there is breadth as well, as the psychedelic “Caereulean Caribou” demonstrated. Anchored by the hook of “Fixing to Die Blues,” Spidergawd‘s second wandered far and wide, but welcomed listeners along for each step of the journey.

23. The Midnight Ghost Train, Cold was the Ground

the midnight ghost train cold was the ground

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 26.

As the title promised, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s third offering and Napalm Records debut delivered harsh truths. They came at breakneck speed and delivered with stage-hewn chemistry by the Midwestern power trio, whose years of road-dogging were brought to bear in the gruff, gravel-throated voice of guitarist Steve Moss, who led drummer Brandon Burghart and newcomer bassist Mike Boyne across nigh-unparalled riff torrents, with all the boogie of any number of ’70s-style sidewinders, but also with a tonal thickness that seemed a miracle it could move at all. Not without its adventurous side in the quieter “The Little Sparrow,” Cold was the Ground brimmed with intensity that brought the band to new levels in every conceivable fashion.

22. Leeches of Lore, Motel of Infinity

leeches of lore motel of infinity

Released by Lorchestral Recording Company. Reviewed Sept. 15.

Blessed art the weirdos, whose records might be few and far between, who might not tour, but whose bold fits and starts span genres easily and whose work truly stands alone. Leeches of Lore‘s Toshi Kasai-produced Motel of Infinity was a godsend in the enduring battle against normality. It was a grinding, grooving anti-punk stampede, at times frenetic and at other times whatever the opposite of frenetic is, and to-date, it’s the Albuquirky outit’s masterpiece, from the low-end buzzsaw, gang-shout and falsetto of “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” through the bass and organ bounce of “Noah’s Soul (is Burning).” They have been and still are a band unto themselves, and the we-do-this-every-day confidence of their execution across Motel of Infinity‘s run only emphasizes how utterly necessary they are.

21. With the Dead, With the Dead

with the dead self titled

Released by Rise Above Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

With the Dead vocalist Lee Dorrian (also head of Rise Above Records, also ex-Cathedral) basically laid it all out there in the interview here when he said, “We wanted to make the most skull-crushing record we possibly could.” That’s precisely what With the Dead‘s self-titled debut is. It’s as heavy as possible, as filthy as possible, all the way through. In some ways very much the sum of its elements with Dorrian on vocals, Tim Bagshaw on guitar/bass and Mark Greening on drums (both ex-Ramesses), it was also of course more than just that, and while so much of their story has yet to be told as they move into their initial live appearances in 2016, their opening salvo was nothing if not as destructive as its intent.

20. Clutch, Psychic Warfare

clutch psychic warfare

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Oct. 6.

How could anyone possibly have even remotely reasonable expectations for a Clutch record after 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here). I won’t say the Maryland stalwarts didn’t deliver with Psychic Warfare, and I doubt any fan of the band who’s dug into “X-Ray Visions,” “A Quick Death in Texas” or “Noble Savage” would, but their returning to producer Machine for the second time in a row made it almost too easy to compare Clutch‘s 10th and 11th long-players. Four years between albums was shortened to just two, and that may have had something to do with it as well, but while the songs were there and I’ve no doubt that Psychic Warfare will endure over the long term — ask me sometime how long it took me to get into Pure Rock Fury — in the moment of its release, Psychic Warfare seemed to stand in the shadow of its predecessor rather than in its own light.

19. Mondo Drag, Mondo Drag

mondo drag self-titled

Released by Kozmik Artifactz and RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Jan. 8.

An awaited return for Midwestern-turned-West-Coast psychedelic rockers Mondo Drag, their self-titled sophomore outing had three years between its recording and release, and was made in 2012 with a shortlived incarnation of the band with bassist Zack Anderson and drummer Cory Berry, both formerly of Radio Moscow and then-soon to be of Blues Pills. Unsurprisingly, the grooves were tight, but even better, Mondo Drag blew past the peaceful headtrippery of their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), toward more expansive and proggy fare. They’ll look to continue that thread on their third outing, The Occultation of Light, in 2016, but the self-titled captured a special moment worthy of celebration, still rife with the classic-minded ethereal spirit of the first outing, but clearly bent on defining its own sonic dogma in hooks and synthy vibes.

18. Lamp of the Universe, The Inner Light of Revelation

lamp of the universe the inner light of revelation

Released by Clostridium Records and Astral Projection. Reviewed April 27.

At the risk of sounding biased, just about any new release from New Zealand tantric psych outfit Lamp of the Universe is going to be welcome by me. Comprised solely of Craig Williamson (also Arc of Ascent), the long-running project nonetheless casts out gorgeously textured meditative psychedelia, at times delving into drone or Eastern folk, but always marking out its own sonic space, whether in the more rock-minded groove of “God of One” or the drumless acoustic swirl of “Ancient Path.” Lamp of the Universe is a rare band — as much as it is a band — that covers a swath of ground stylistically and manages to sound like nothing but itself as it does so, and Williamson‘s commitment to his cosmic mantras remains firm and creatively fertile as the seeds he planted early on continue to bear fruit in complex arrangements that never distract from the central, spiritual purpose of the music.

17. Mammatus, Sparkling Waters

mammatus sparkling waters

Released by Spiritual Pajamas. Reviewed Nov. 9.

Even with its title-track broken into two 20-plus-minute side-consuming halves, it was abundantly plain to hear that Sparkling Waters was the most realized Mammatus outing yet. The four-song, 75-minute offering brimmed with a clarity that even their late-2013 third album, Heady Mental (review here), could only partially claim, leaving behind the fuzz and fog of their earlier work almost entirely while remaining open to employing sonic heft when suitable to their more complex motives. Most effective about Mammatus at this stage was the way they eased into and through varied parts while tying together a coherent whole piece, the builds and cascades of “Sparkling Waters Part One” setting up an expectation of fluidity that held firm even through the more jagged buzz in the early going of closer “Ornia,” the grand finale of which resonates as a cacophony without letting itself actually lose control.

16. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, The Night Creeper

uncle acid the night creeper

Released by Rise Above Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

UK ladykillers Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats have emerged as one of the most essential bands of the ’10s. The Night Creeper is their fourth album and it takes the defining eeriness of their melodies and roughs it up with a mostly-live recording job — something which, now that they’re a touring act, they can do — for their grittiest, dirtiest-sounding offering yet. Songs like “Melody Lane,” “Pusher Man” and opener “Waiting for Blood” speak to what’s let their methodology spread so widely in the first place, the VHS grain of their guitars and vocals resting over classic swing and proliferating maddening hooks with lethal intent. Between the nine-minute gruel of “Slow Death” and the hidden acoustic track “Black Motorcade,” The Night Creeper wasn’t without its element of sonic progress, but with Uncle Acid, it’s still the combination of threat, swing and memorable songwriting that brings listeners back to their dark alleyways for another taste.

15. Death Alley, Black Magick Boogieland

death alley black magick boogieland

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 8.

Easily one of 2015’s most encouraging debuts. Making its opening salvo with the propulsion of Motörhead-derived heavy rock in songs like “Over Under” and “Black Magick Boogieland,” the first outing from Amsterdam-based foursome Death Alley touched on classic ideals without going retro on “Bewildered Eyes,” nodded toward psychedelic melodicism and more patient intentions in “Golden Fields of Love,” and portrayed its punker roots in “Dead Man’s Bones” — all before the 12:40 space rock extravaganza that took hold with closer “Supernatural Predator.” It was a lot of territory to cover, but Death Alley not only made it sound cohesive, they made it rock and they made it a good time. In just about 41 minutes, Black Magick Boogieland was not only a voyage well worth taking, it was a potential-filled, headbang-worthy ripper of an album from an outfit who deserves every bit of attention they seem to be shouting for. Hope they don’t wait long for a follow-up.

14. The Machine, Offblast!

the machine offblast

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed May 28.

Five records in, Dutch trio The Machine have found a niche for themselves between heavy psych rock, desert fuzz and exploratory jamming. Offblast!, with a title that seemed more reminiscent of Europunker speed rock, was as spacious as it was driving, and whether it was the more structured material like “Dry End” or “Coda Sun” or the two extended cuts, 16-minute opener ““Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and 12-minute closer “Come to Light,” their dynamic remained natural and held firm to a spontaneous sensibility, like at any turn, any part might take off for an eight-minute ride to who knows where. That that didn’t always happen only made Offblast! a richer listening experience, its varied ideas coming through consistent tonality to affect a more than satisfying front-to-back flow that toyed with momentum even as it built more and more of it. Was a while in the making, coming three years after 2012’s Calmer than You Are (review here), but easily worth the wait.

13. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth

brothers of the sonic cloth self titled

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed March 3.

There were moments where the self-titled debut from Brothers of the Sonic Cloth was almost too much to take in one sitting. By the time the Tad Doyle-led trio got around to the 11-minute “La Mano Poderosa,” sometimes I felt like I needed a second to catch my breath before diving further, always further, into the smoldering abyss their tones, growls and lurch seemed to create. Six years after their demo (review here) served notice like a tectonic rumble in the distance, the album arrived with comet-into-planet heft, and its oppression was as much about atmosphere as it was sheer aural assault. Imagine an arm reaching down your throat, grabbing your lungs, and forcibly deflating them one at a time. Is that hyperbole? Absolutely, and well earned. Every bit the debut of the year.

12. Kind, Rocket Science

kind rocket science

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Dec. 2.

No, Boston supergroup Kind aren’t so high on this list just because they called a song “Pastrami Blaster.” Granted, that didn’t hurt, but ultimately it was the blend of cavernous psychedelics and heavy rumble that made Rocket Science so infectious. Comprised of vocalist Craig Riggs (Roadsaw), guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, The Scimitar, etc.), bassist Tom Corino (Rozamov) and drummer Matt Couto (Elder), Kind earned immediate interest for their pedigree, but it was more the breadth of jams like “Hordeolum” and “The Angry Undertaker” that defined their first outing, various impulses toward structure and open-endedness not so much pushing against each other as working in tandem to craft something that drew from the best of both mindsets. Obviously these are busy guys, but hopefully Kind doesn’t all by the wayside for other ongoing projects. Rocket Science was unmistakable in its demonstration that they have much to offer.

11. Bloodcow, Crystals and Lasers

bloodcow crystals and lasers

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 4.

Iowa five-piece Bloodcow hadn’t put out a record since 2007’s Bloodcow III: Hail Xenu, but that didn’t stop Crystals and Lasers from being their best work yet. As much punk as metal as heavy rock, it wasn’t for everybody, but it was most definitely for me. With a constant thread of satire in songs like “Ultra Super Sexual,” “Sock,” “Dick for Days” and the oh-shit-I’m-middle-aged-how-the-fuck-did-this-happen (not saying I relate or anything, but holy shit I can relate) “After Party,” it was nonetheless a stylistically varied and universally professional-sounding 13-track collection, offering weirdo quirk in “Blood and Guts,” “Exploding Head” and “Little Chromosome” and finding room for a bit of scathing social commentary in its title-track and “HIVampyre.” If they’re working at an eight-year pace, I don’t know that we’ll get another Bloodcow record, but they very clearly put everything they had into Crystals and Lasers and the result was a defining statement.

10. Kadavar, Berlin

kadavar berlin

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed July 7.

After two wallops in the form of 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) and 2012’s self-titled debut (discussed here), German trio Kadavar continued to prove the effectiveness of their songwriting on Berlin, a return that front-to-back brimmed with vitality and bounce rare enough for heavy rock generally more content to be downtrodden or attempting to feign bluesy substance. Unabashedly poppy at times, Berlin was the party that brought everyone along who was up for taking the ride, and whether it was the hook of “Lord of the Sky” showing how just a tiny melodic turn could make a track infectious or cuts like “Thousand Miles Away from Home,” “Filthy Illusion,” “Stolen Dreams,” “Spanish Wild Rose,” “See the World with Your Own Eyes” — all of them, really — working their way into the consciousness, Berlin felt like it was primed to be the soundtrack of many summers to come. They moved away from the retro style of their first two outings, but in so doing took fuller command of their sound and put it to remarkable use.

9. Goatsnake, Black Age Blues

goatsnake black age blues

Released by Southern Lord. Reviewed May 19.

Picking up right where Flower of Disease closer “The River” left off with “Another River to Cross,” Goatsnake‘s third full-length arrived a full 15 years after its predecessor, and as one might expect that brought some considerable changes in the band’s sound. Oh, they still rolled the hell out of a riff, guitarist Greg Anderson (he of SunnO))) and Southern Lord Recordings) very much at the fore tonally, but a bluesy inflection from vocalist Pete Stahl (also earthlings?) and some well-placed backing vocals added personality in a daring and unexpected fashion. Songs like “Jimi’s Gone,” “Elevated Man” and “Grandpa Jones” sat comfortably in the band’s influential pantheon of heft, but it was how Black Age Blues pushed beyond what Goatsnake did in their initial run that made it so satisfying. For a record that arrived five years after they got back together, it could have easily been disaster, but Black Age Blues built on what Goatsnake was without detracting from the legacy that has influenced a generation of heavy rock.

8. Kings Destroy, Kings Destroy

kings destroy self titled

Released by War Crime Recordings. Reviewed April 15.

I’m proud to call the members of Kings Destroy friends and I won’t attempt to feign impartiality when it comes to considering their work as a band, but I felt in listening to their self-titled third LP that they had finally gotten to the point where they were bringing the onstage confrontationalism of their live show to the studio. Yeah, “Mr. O” was upbeat and catchy and gave side A some thrust, but even in chugging opener “Smokey Robinson” or the moody “Mytho” and “Embers,” Kings Destroy not only came further into their own in terms of style, building on the anti-genre defiant stance of 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), but did so with a clearheaded progressivism, a better sense of who they are musically and what they want the band to be. I wouldn’t trade seeing them play “Embers” or “W2” as many times as I have for anything, but even unto the gang-shout half-speed hardcore of “Time for War,” Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy made no bones about how it wound up with the eponymous title. It’s them through and through.

7. Cigale, Cigale

cigale self titled

Self-released. Reviewed May 4.

It may never be possible to listen to the self-titled debut from Cigale outside the context of the death of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets (ex-Sungrazer). That loss casts a dark shadow over a collection that otherwise radiates colorful sweetness and serenity, the peaceful depth beginning with “Grey Owl” and only broadening as it turns and weaves through “Steeplechase,” “Feel the Heat,” “Harvest Begun” and so on, but the record remains a gorgeous, engrossing wash of resonant melody and underlying presence. Not without its moments of melancholy, the more overarching impression was of beauty not tied to any notion of playing to genre or style, and while I don’t know what the future will hold for the band, if they’ll keep moving forward or not or if they’re even in a place yet to consider such things, they helped broaden the context of European heavy psychedelia with their first album, and that is no minor achievement.

6. Sun Blood Stories, Twilight Midnight Morning

sun blood stories twilight midnight morning

Self-released. Reviewed June 19.

Another one that just kind of smacked me in the face. Idahoan heavy psych explorers Sun Blood Stories‘ second album, Twilight Midnight Morning was soaked in vibe and moved fluidly between experimentalist noisemaking and patient, memorable songwriting. Tracks like “West the Sun,” “Witch Wind” and “Found Reasons Found Out” never raged, exactly, but had enough weight to their rhythm to let you know they were there and interested in groove, while later pieces “Time Like Smoke,” “Moon Song: Waxing” and “Misery is Nebulous” drew exponentially from earlier freakout impulses and shifted into a dronier and more ambient approach. The combination of the two — semi-structure up front, open expansion in the back — made the three-part Twilight Midnight Morning engaging and hypnotic in kind, and though I hope they get weirder and experiment and develop the atmospheric side of their sound, I’ve also got my fingers crossed they hold firm to their more grounded aspects, since its the range between the two that gives their sophomore outing its defining fluidity.

5a. Colour Haze, To the Highest Gods We Know

colour haze to the highest gods we know

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Jan. 6.

I’ll cite precedent in last year’s list for including a “5a.” The intent in doing so is to convey the idea that Colour Haze‘s latest outing, To the Highest Gods We Know, is worthy of top five consideration, but its release date was split between 2014 (CD) and 2015 (LP), so it was a little unclear where to put it. As the album is basically a year old at this point, it seems fair to say it’s held up, drawing back from the grandiose vision of 2012’s She Said (review here) without losing sight of the progressive elements that have taken root in the German trio’s sound. Their work has been and remains essential to the development of heavy psychedelic rock in Europe and beyond, and even though To the Highest Gods We Know felt like something of a reset — a stripping down of arrangements in places and getting back to a trio-in-a-room feel — it still stepped forward in its title-track and in songs like “Überall” and “Call” and showed that even when it seems Colour Haze have pushed their approach as far as it can go, there’s always new ground to explore, and their pull to do so is undiminished.

5. The Atomic Bitchwax, Gravitron

the atomic bitchwax gravitron

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 20.

Doesn’t exactly seem like giving away state secrets to note that a record with songs like “Sexecutioner” and “Fuck Face” is aggressive, but it’s particularly interesting in light of the past work of New Jersey trio The Atomic Bitchwax, who I don’t think sounded as barn-burning as they do on Gravitron even in their earliest going. The trio of bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella kept their signature winding riff style intact — demonstrated most expansively over 2011’s single-song full-length instrumental The Local Fuzz (review here) — but while their turns were as blinding as ever, their tones were more pointed and Pantella‘s snare more upfront on the beat, which gave Gravitron a newfound sense of urgency. It worked. Even poppier songs like “Roseland” or the closing “Ice Age Hey Baby” benefited from the additional thrust, and the album overall felt lean, mean and ready to be taken on the road, which of course is exactly what they did with it. Six albums in, The Atomic Bitchwax were at their most vital yet.

4. All Them Witches, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker

all them witches dying surfer meets his maker

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

Nashville four-piece All Them Witches probably could’ve gone into the studio, churned out a record of crunchy riffs with a quiet part or two for flavor and positioned themselves at the forefront of American heavy rock with their New West Records debut and third full-length overall, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. Instead, they defied expectation boldly and brought their growing audience into the room with them and producer Mikey Allred as they captured the album, which finds its most affecting moments not in tonal weight, but emotional resonance, the melody at the midpoint of “Talisman” or the string arrangement gracefully tucked into “Open Passageways.” There’s still the push of “Dirt Preachers,” and entrancing closer “Blood and Sand – Milk and Endless Waters” has its heft as well, but All Them Witches‘ success ultimately came from being the album they wanted to make, built from the dynamic that’s developed on stage between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeodAllan Van Cleave on Fender Rhodes/strings, and drummer Robby Staebler, and alive in its feeling of exploration. I won’t predict what they might do from here, but I’m willing to say outright it’ll be worth hearing one way or another.

3. Snail, Feral

snail feral

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Oct. 13.

My expectations for Snail‘s third post-reunion full-length and Small Stone label debut, Feral, were pretty high. Not unreasonably so, though. Their 2012 outing, Terminus (review here), built on the blend of heavy psych riffs, laid back roll and melodicism that 2009’s Blood (review here) established as the band’s working modus, but Feral was going to be a different beast from the start because it was the West Coast outfit’s first full-length as a trio since they made their self-titled debut (reissue review here) in 1993 before splitting up the next year. Whatever my expectations were, however, Snail shattered them almost immediately. In the progression of their songwriting as shown across the strong opening salvo of “Building a Haunted House,” “Smoke the Deathless” and “A Mustard Seed” through one of the year’s best songs in the expansive and crushing “Thou Art That,” the three-piece showcased a breadth unlike anything they’d conjured before, and it only continued through “Born in Captivity,” the catchy “Derail,” “Psilocybe” and the soul-infused wah leads that peppered the pleading closer “Come Home.” Where Terminus offered intensity, Feral offered patience in its execution, and the atmosphere it created suited the band’s sound as well as the Seldon Hunt cover art seemed to summarize the alternate reality in which the music took place. Everything about how it came together worked just right, and even as a fan of the band’s work since they got together again, I was taken aback by the unflinching quality of Feral front to back.

2. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere

acid king middle of nowhere center of everywhere

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 19.

Ten years is a long, long time. Especially in music. The prospect of a fourth Acid King record has been tossed around for at least the last six of those 10 years, but to finally have it realized was something else entirely. Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere was without a doubt my most-listened-to album of the year, and its combination of tonal haze, low-end heft and spacious atmosphere was perfect. There’s just no other way to say it. It was perfect. From “Silent Pictures” and “Coming down from Outer Space” through “Red River,” “Infinite Skies” and the sprawling “Center of Everywhere” itself, guitarist/vocalist Lori S., bassist Mark Lamb and drummer Joey Osbourne crafted an absolutely perfect heavy psych record. How many bands walking the earth could even get away with calling a track “Laser Headlights,” let alone make it kick ass? Yeah, Goatsnake came back this year, and that was great, but for me, the return of Acid King to their throne of nod was even more the story of the year. Together with producer Billy Anderson, they offered a depth of tone that was simply unmatched, and without an ounce of pretense, they unveiled a roll that continues to resound. I’m a big fan of getting lost in a record, and Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere eased the listener in with its “Intro,” pulled reality apart from with “Silent Pictures” and set about doing the universe a favor by remaking the cosmos as the kind of place where one might find a wizard riding a tiger past the craters of the moon, until, at last, it deposited you back where you started. Best trip of 2015, no question.

1. Elder, Lore

elder lore

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed Feb. 19.

Make no mistake, 2015 was Elder‘s year. We were all just living in it. Truth be told, I’ve been back and forth between Elder and Acid King in the top spot for the last couple months (you might recall in July they were reversed), but when it finally came to it, there was no way I could feasibly call anything other than Lore the album of the year. From the gorgeous Adrian Dexter artwork (discussed here), through the progressive clarion of “Compendium”‘s noodling guitar line and into the massive scope of the title-track (discussed here), Lore was the moment in which Elder — guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto — tore down the walls of genre, whether it was heavy rock, psychedelia or anything else, and emerged with their own approach and complex, varied modus of songwriting. They’ve been turning heads since their self-titled debut arrived in 2008, but with 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), they began to demonstrate the potential for really adding something to the patchwork of underground heavy. In moving forward by making clarity a hallmark both of their sound and of their purpose, Elder came into their own with these five tracks, and do not at all be surprised a couple years from now when bands start showing up aping DiSalvo‘s style of riffing, since such a bold and successful foray of individualism can only be influential in the longer run. At nearly an hour long, Lore was not a minor undertaking, but each song seemed to set up its own atmosphere, feeding not only its own singular focus, but that of the album overall. Its turns blinding, its impact forceful and its affect drawing from the best of the sonic personalities of all three players, Elder‘s Lore reaped wide acclaim and earned it every step of the way. Its progressive vision has only begun to be digested.

Honorable Mention

Killer Boogie, Detroit – Impressive debut from the retro-minded offshoot of Black Rainbows brought ’70s boogie to Italy. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a quick turnaround, but either way, their first outing knew its audience and spoke directly to it.

My Sleeping Karma, Moksha – This one was on various incarnations of the list. Very interested to see where the German heavy prog outfit wind up in terms of expanding their arrangements, but Moksha was a satisfying step forward in that process.

Egypt, Endless Flight – Should probably have a number, but the fact is it’s only been out for like two weeks, so it hasn’t really been given the test of time at this point. Still, Egypt always deliver and this was no exception.

Valkyrie, Shadows – An awaited third full-length from Virginia’s Valkyrie and also their Relapse Records debut offered enough blazing guitar work to meet any quota, and was a welcome return after a long absence.

Magic Circle, Journey’s End – The second LP from this Massachusetts outfit pushed beyond doomly confines into more traditional metallurgy but held its eerie atmospherics intact, and the combination suited them remarkably well.

Monolord, Vænir – This was my go-to for 2015 when nothing else seemed quite crushing enough. The Swedish trio have very quickly stomped their way into the hearts and minds of the international underground, and rightfully so.

Freedom Hawk, Into Your Mind – After making a transition from a four-piece to a trio, this Virginian outfit proceeded to take a few stylistic risks on their second Small Stone long-player, and they paid off.

TombstonesVargariis – Fourth full-length from this Norwegian trio pushed them outside of doom’s confines into a darker and more extreme version of heaviness that pulled from death and black metals in addition to its sludgy underpinnings. The meld was punishing and lost nothing of its groove, wherever it went at any given moment.

Faces of Bayon, Ash and Dust Have no Dominion – I guess my only hesitation with including Faces of Bayon‘s second outing in any kind of year-end fare is I’m not sure if the album has actually been released yet. Even if not, they’re easily worth a mention.

Ice Dragon, A Beacon on the Barrow – Kind of a down year from Ice Dragon in terms of overall productivity, but if the quantity was down compared to some, A Beacon on the Barrow was quality enough to carry them through. In a way, I think the album actually benefited from the band giving listeners time to take it in.

Arenna, Given to Emptiness – Ah, so good. The Spanish heavy psych troupe dug in deep on Given to Emptiness and conjured sonic and emotional resonance on their second full-length. It’s one that still gets repeat listens.

Monster Magnet, Cobras and Fire – The long-running New Jersey outfit’s reworking of their 2010 album Mastermind was excellent, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t seem fair to list it when they’re working mostly from already-released source material. But still, if you haven’t heard it, go find it.

Various Artists, Electric Ladyland [Redux] – Even if the results hadn’t been so spectacular, Electric Ladyland [Redux] would deserve a mention for the sheer scope and logistical nightmare that the project must have been. Kudos to Magnetic Eye Records all around.

There are so many others: Abrahma, GoyaSun and Sail Club, DevilleSacri MontiDirty StreetsUfomammutWo Fat‘s live album, Mirror Queen, PentagramTorcheSumacGarden of WormBlack RainbowsHoly SerpentMinskBaronWeedpeckerElectric MoonFuzzBell WitchWindhand, Niche, We Lost the SeaSeremoniaSunderDomovoyd, The Heavy EyesDemon HeadFoggStars that MoveEnslavedRuby the Hatchet, on and on and on. That’s not even to mention the stuff I didn’t hear — Baroness will be on many people’s lists, no doubt, as well as Mutoid Man, Ghost and Kylesa — so yeah, I could pretty much keep going ad infinitum.

I, however, cannot. It’s been an absolute pleasure trying to keep up with 2015’s barrage the last 12 months, and I expect 2016 will only bring more. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading or that you’re able to get some use out of this post, whatever that might mean, and I thank you deeply, from the bottom of my heart, for your time and for reading. It means more to me than I can say that you might check out even any portion of this site or be involved, whether it’s sharing a link, leaving a comment to let me know who I forgot to mention or correct my spelling, signing up for the forum, listening to the radio, whatever it might be.

Thank you for an amazing 2015. And please stay tuned, because of course, there’s much more to come.

 

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audiObelisk Transmission 055

Posted in Podcasts on December 14th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Click Here to Download

 

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

Before we get to all the tracks and this and that, I have to say, this double-size year-end podcast was an absolute pleasure to put together. Fun. Actual fun. I don’t know if it was the preponderance of excellent songs to work from that came out in 2015 or what, but I had a really good time making my way through the near-four-hour run, and I hope you feel that way too as you listen.

It should go without mentioning, but I’ll give the disclaimer anyway that this is in no way, shape or form a complete rundown of everything awesome produced this year. My own Top 10 has bands on it who aren’t represented here, so if you don’t see something you think belongs in the mix below — looking at you, Baroness fans — please keep in mind that it’s not my intent to offer anything more than a partial summary. Otherwise, I’d have to make it a year long.

Thanks for listening if you get the chance to do so, and if there’s something here you haven’t yet checked out, I hope you dig it. The flow is pretty easy front to back, but we get into some more extreme stuff in the third hour for a bit before going grand with Elder and the “Digestive Raga” from Øresund Space Collective, which seemed an appropriate way to end off giving everyone a chance to process what’s just been heard. Please enjoy.

Track details follow:

First Hour:
0:00:00 Acid King, “Red River” from Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
0:08:24 Clutch, “Firebirds” from Psychic Warfare
0:11:23 Bloodcow, “Crystals and Lasers” from Crystals and Lasers
0:14:28 Stoned Jesus, “Rituals of the Sun” from The Harvest
0:21:25 Ufomammut, “Plouton” from Ecate
0:24:33 Geezer, “So Tired” from The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter One Split w/ Borracho
0:32:36 Wizard Eye, “Thunderbird Divine” from Wizard Eye
0:37:40 Mondo Drag, “Crystal Visions Open Eye” from Mondo Drag
0:42:08 Fogg, “Seasons” from High Testament
0:48:26 Goatsnake, “Grandpa Jones” from Black Age Blues
0:53:02 Snail, “Thou Art That” from Feral

Second Hour:
1:03:17 Sergio Ch., “Las Piedras” from 1974
1:06:40 All Them Witches, “Blood and Sand – Milk and Endless Waters” from Dying Surfer Meets His Maker
1:13:54 Death Hawks, “Ripe Fruits” from Sun Future Moon
1:18:45 Colour Haze, “Call” from To the Highest Gods We Know
1:26:46 Kadavar, “Last Living Dinosaur” from Berlin
1:30:50 Spidergawd, “Fixing to Die Blues” from Spidergawd II
1:35:02 The Machine, “Dry End” from Offblast!
1:38:01 The Midnight Ghost Train, “Straight to the North” from Cold was the Ground
1:42:00 Kind, “Pastrami Blaster” from Rocket Science
1:48:29 Valley, “Dream Shooter, Golden!” from Sunburst
1:54:22 Graveyard, “From a Hole in the Wall” from Innocence and Decadence
1:58:09 Demon Head, “Book of Changes” from Ride the Wilderness

Third Hour:
2:02:50 Egypt, “Endless Flight” from Endless Flight
2:12:29 Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, “Empires of Dust” from Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
2:20:09 With the Dead, “I am Your Virus” from With the Dead
2:25:45 Ahab, “Red Foam (The Great Storm)” from The Boats of the Glen Carrig
2:32:08 Kings Destroy, “Mr. O” from Kings Destroy
2:36:37 Sun and Sail Club, “Dresden Firebird Freakout” from The Great White Dope
2:38:33 Sunder, “Wings of the Sun” from Sunder
2:42:41 Weedpecker, “Into the Woods” from Weedpecker II
2:50:50 Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, “Pusher Man” from The Night Creeper
2:56:26 Eggnogg, “Slugworth” from Sludgy Erna Bastard split w/ Borracho

Fourth Hour:
3:02:48 Golden Void, “Astral Plane” from Berkana
3:09:34 Elder, “Lore” from Lore
3:25:24 Øresund Space Collective, “Digestive Raga” from Different Creatures

Total running time: 3:55:26

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 055

 

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 10 Songs of 2015

Posted in Features on December 10th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

top-10-songs-(the-castle-at-Meudon-near-Paris)

Please note: This list is not culled in any way from the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2015 to that, please do.

Last year, I did a Song of the Year post, but it wound up having basically a list’s worth of honorable mentions at the bottom, so as we move further into year-end season, it seemed only fair to give more releases their due.

One of the trickier aspects of putting this list together is trying to separate songs from the context of the albums on which they appear. That is, thinking of a given song as a standalone entity, apart from the track before, the track after and whatever else the record on which it appears might have on offer. I did my best to make sure these tracks had enough power and presence within them to be considered on their own as well. I’d expect that much of whether or not you think I was successful in that will depend on how much you agree with the picks. That’s fair enough.

And to that end, as always, please let me know if you think something was omitted here, if there was a song that really stood out to you this year — somebody’s single, or something from a record, whatever it might be — that doesn’t show up on the list. Hell, there are only 10 included. That’s bound to not be everything. Still, these are what hit me especially hard this year:

elder-lore

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 10 Songs of 2015

1. Elder, “Lore”
2. Acid King, “Center of Everywhere”
3. High on Fire, “The Falconist”
4. Death Alley, “Supernatural Predator”
5. Snail, “Thou Art That”
6. All Them Witches, “Open Passageways”
7. Sun Blood Stories, “Witch Wind”
8. The Atomic Bitchwax, “Hey Baby Ice Age”
9. Goatsnake, “Grandpa Jones”
10. Øresund Space Collective, “20 Steps Towards the Invisible Door”

Honorable Mention

A few honorable mentions: Kings Destroy‘s “Mr. O” remains a sentimental favorite and a song I go back to on many occasions when I need a boot to the ass. Clutch‘s “X-Ray Visions” efficiently reaffirmed the righteousness of their direction since Earth Rocker, while Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ “Melody Lane” did likewise for that UK outfit’s malevolent grit-pop.

It was buried under a morass of riffs, but Windhand‘s “Kingfisher” was a standout, while Kadavar‘s “See the World with Your Own Eyes” skillfully walked a fine line between inspirational and cornball without any concern for sliding from one to the next, and so didn’t. If this list went to 11, Graveyard‘s “Too Much is Not Enough” would’ve been my next pick for the unabashed soulfulness pervading its melancholy atmosphere.

Notes

What was to be done with Elder‘s “Lore?” In the end, I’m not sure any other single track showed the kind of scope, the emotive presence, the poise, the progression and, pivotally, the groove it did. In its three stages, the 16-minute album centerpiece and title-track underlined the sheer mastery Elder put on display across their third full-length’s span. Wait a few years and you will find bands coming out who sound like this.

I had a hard time picking a song from Acid King‘s Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere. “Coming Down from Outer Space” has that mega-hook. “Red River” rolls so fluidly. In the end, “Center of Everywhere combines all those aspects with the atmospheric breadth that played such a huge role in making the album so special. It simply would not be denied. Similarly, High on Fire‘s “The Falconist” from 2015’s Luminiferous is arguably that trio’s most melodic, progressive work to-date. Infectious, heavy and emotionally resonant in a way that a lot of their material actively works against being, to my ears it’s the boldest thing they’ve done.

Scope was a big part of the appeal of Death Alley‘s “Supernatural Predator,” the Dutch band running between Motörhead and Hawkwind in one song and bringing in former The Devil’s Blood vocals Farida Lemouchi to help them do it. At nearly 13 minutes long, its hypnosis feels like it could push even further if it wanted to, and that’s one of my favorite aspects of it. Also over 10 minutes long, Snail‘s “Thou Art That” was for me the defining moment of their excellent Feral album, a whopper of a riff marking a place within a brooding psychedelic landscape that even just three years ago I’m not sure they would have been able to conjure in the same way. One of those tracks that eats like an album.

There was a video of All Them Witches playing “Open Passageways” at a radio station in Nashville that was out before the song had a title, and since I first saw that earlier this year, I’d hoped it would make its way onto their third album, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. It did, and the arrangement was stunning from the propulsive drum work and sustained consonants of the vocals to the weeping violin. It was between “Witch Wind” and “West the Sun” from Sun Blood Stories‘ Twilight Midnight Morning, but the former was the hook that first caught my ear and made me dig deeper into the Boise natives’ 2015 offering, and I couldn’t discount that factor. A release that continues to deliver every time I put it on.

I remain a sucker for The Atomic Bitchwax, and while their Gravitron album was harder hitting overall than anything they’ve done in a while, “Hey Baby Ice Age” balanced that with a bit of their penchant for a poppier hook, and the result nestled into my mental jukebox, where it remains in high rotation to this day. Goatsnake‘s “Grandpa Jones” had a similar effect, its megagroove and ultra-catchy chorus continue to be stuck in my head more often than not. If I had any desire to escape from either whatsoever, it might be a problem.

Rounding out the list of 10 and worthy of special note is Øresund Space Collective‘s “20 Steps Towards the Invisible Door” from their recently-issued Different Creatures album. I think it’s the most recent release on this list, but I had to get the song in somewhere. It’s a sprawling 45-minute jam that could just as easily have been put out as its own full-length, but closes out the 140-minute double-CD gorgeously by pushing the listener farther and farther out to the very limits of the reaches of space rock. Progressive improvisation is no easy feat, but “20 Steps Towards the Invisible Door” left the band with no option but to include every second of its extended span. It’s all essential.

These are just my picks. If you agree, disagree, have more to add, I’d love to know about it in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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The Obelisk Presents: 10 of 2015’s Best Album Covers

Posted in Features, Visual Evidence on December 4th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

I didn’t get to do this list last year — at least not that I can find — but especially as vinyl continues to grow as the dominant media for underground and/or heavy genres, it seems more and more necessary to highlight quality cover art as a focal point. This is, of course, not an exhaustive list. There were way more than 10 badass album covers, and I’m hoping you’ll add your favorites to the comments on this post, but these were some of the ones and some of the artists who most caught my eye. A few of the names are familiar — one artist also appeared on the 2013 list — and the work of some was new to me, but all made striking impressions one way or another in a range of styles, and I hope you’ll agree.

No need to delay. Let’s dive in:

Ordered alphabetically by artist

Ruby the Hatchet, Valley of the Snake

ruby the hatchet valley of the snake

Cover by Adam Burke. Artist website here.

Formerly (or at least sort-of-formerly) of Fellwoods and currently also playing in Pushy, Adam Burke‘s style has become essential to the aesthetics of doom and heavy rock. His work for bands like Ice Dragon, Mystery Ship, Pastor, Mos Generator and a slew of others — including me — never fails to impress with its deep colors, natural tones and, in many cases, a sense of underlying threat. So it is with Ruby the Hatchet‘s Tee Pee Records label debut, Valley of the Snake (review here). Burke presents the title literally as a winding serpent in the sky becomes a river leading to a waterfall, the colors of a sun either rising or setting giving a glimpse of the otherworldly while the earth below is presented in darker browns and the jagged rocks in the foreground. There were a few candidates for Burke this year, but this one continues to stun.

Elder, Lore

elder lore

Cover by Adrian Dexter. Artist website here.

A record that, for many, defines 2015 in a major way, Elder‘s Lore (review here) is not the first collaboration between the Massachusetts trio and artist Adrian Dexter, but the results this time around are particularly satisfying. And since we’re talking about vinyl, the creativity in the gatefold design and the other pieces Dexter contributed to the album proves no less impressive than the progressive turn Elder took in their songwriting — a fitting match in scope and execution. Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman RecordsLore has pushed Elder into a different echelon entirely, and this will not be the final year-end-type list on which it appears around here, but Dexter‘s work, detail, subtlety and use of color for the cover simply had to be seen to be believed.

Kings Destroy, Kings Destroy

kings destroy self titled

Cover by Josh Graham. Artist website here.

Though he’s perhaps best known for his work doing live visuals over a stretch of years for Neurosis, Brooklyn-based Josh Graham‘s list of cover art accomplishments also include Soundgarden, KENmode, Vattnet Viskar and his own projects, A Storm of Light, Battle of Mice and Red Sparowes. With the cover for the self-titled third album from fellow New Yorkers Kings Destroy (review here), he seemed to encapsulate everything the War Crime Recordings release was driving toward with its urban crunch, aggression, and the feeling that all of this is a part of something larger and barely understood. Is it a bowl? Part of some ritual offering? Is it a drain? The expertly manipulated photography takes landmarks from the city and turns them into something as beautiful as it is malevolent, and Kings Destroy lived up to that standard on the album itself.

Snail, Feral

snail feral
Cover by Seldon Hunt. Artist website here.

Every bit worthy of the frame it has. Going back to pieces for Neurosis, Isis, Made out of Babies and more, Seldon Hunt‘s work is always widely varied, covering a range of styles and media. His piece for Feral (review here), a pivotal fourth album by West Coast heavy psych rockers Snail (released by Small Stone), seems to play off the single-word title in portraying a threatening vision of nature. At the bottom, we see human skulls as giant snails, weird glowing dogs and a deer with yellow eyes and snakes entwined in its antlers survey the landscape of huge mushrooms and sparse grass. Behind, two tangled trees add to the sense of foreboding, and a sky that runs from black to red speaks to a night that doesn’t look like it’s about to end anytime soon. Is this Hunt‘s vision of nature’s revenge? Either way, it’s engrossing in its three-dimensionality.

Valkyrie, Shadows

valkyrie shadows

Cover by Jeremy Hush. Artist website here.

Valkyrie‘s third full-length, first for Relapse Records and first in seven years, Shadows (review here), was a classic guitar rock fan’s dream come true. Brothers Jake and Pete Adams led the band through cascading solos, memorable songs and unpretentious vibes. The cover art by Jeremy Hush stood out to me particularly for the violence of its depiction. We see smaller blackbirds using spears or arrows to attack a hawk, and three on one is hardly a fair fight, even with a bird of prey, as a skull looks on from nearby grass. What I don’t know, ultimately, is whose side we’re on — ravens are hardly a traditional harbinger of good fortune — but somehow not knowing that only makes the piece more evocative, and from the detail and use of empty space in its parchment-style background to the struggle it portrays, Hush‘s work certainly grabbed attention.

Ahab, The Boats of the Glen Carrig

ahab the boats of the glen carrig
Cover by Sebastian Jerke. Artist website here.

A Germany-based painter who’s done art for Desertfest Berlin, Colour Haze, as well as the Freak Valley and Keep it Low festivals, Sebastian Jerke contributed several artworks to Napalm Records this year. He’ll continue that thread in 2016 with Greenleaf likely among others, but in 2015, his pieces for My Sleeping Karma and Ahab especially stood out, and the latter most of all. The funeral doomers don’t to anything on a scale less than grand, and Jerke‘s cover for The Boats of the Glen Carrig (review here) offered scope to match. Its sea monsters have breathtaking color and detail, and are familiar and alien at the same time, the central figure’s human-esque hand drawing a crowd either awed or looking to feast. This was one you could stare at over and over again and still always find something new.

Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere

acid king middle of nowhere center of everywhere
Cover by Tim Lehi. Artist website here.

I actually saw when Acid King unveiled the cover for their first album in a decade, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere (review here), that there were some people giving them shit for the artwork out front. Don’t get me wrong, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and if you ever wanted to find a bunch of conflicting ones look no further than the internet, but excuse me — it’s a wizard (Hell, that might be Gandalf), riding a tiger, in outer space. If there’s any part of that that isn’t frickin’ awesome, I’m not sure what it might be. What directive tattoo artist Tim Lehi was given going into the project, which would eventually surface on Svart Records, I don’t know, but it’s hard for me to listen to the far-no-farther out riffs of “Center of Everywhere” and not at very least want to be that wizard. Riding that tiger. In outer space. I’ll defend this one all day if necessary.

Serial Hawk, Searching for Light

serial hawk searching for light
Cover by Samantha Muljat and Sara Winkle. Artist websites here and here.

If I had gotten to do this list in 2014, Samantha Muljat could have easily appeared on it for her manipulated landscape that adorned Earth‘s Primitive and Deadly. For Serial Hawk‘s debut album, Searching for Light (review here), she’s partnered with Sara Winkle, whose work ranges from commercial design and album covers to animation and more. What the two offer in their work for Serial Hawk is a blend of the real and the unreal. We don’t see the face of the photographed subject, but she leads our eye toward the white circle, which, on a horizon could be the sun, but here seems to have descended to the field, landed there toward some unknown purpose. The tall grasses seem to fade into a wash of lighter green, but note the angle of the arm on the right side and the legs toward the center is nearly identical and seems to be working opposite the windblown direction of the field surrounding. Like the piece as a whole, it’s as much natural as unnatural.

Various Artists, Electric Ladyland [Redux]

various artists electric ladyland redux
Cover by David Paul Seymour. Artist website here.

My notes for this list contain no fewer than three separate entries for Minneapolis artist David Paul Seymour. There’s one for ChiefsTomorrow’s Over (review here), and one for Wo Fat‘s Live Juju (review here), but when it came time to pick just one, nothing stood out like Magnetic Eye RecordsElectric Ladyland [Redux] (review here). The full-gatefold spread is my favorite album cover of the year — and a good deal of this year’s covers were by Seymour, who has become nigh on ubiquitous in heavy and psychedelic rock — and for Jimi Hendrix, who’s been portrayed so many times it would be impossible to count, to show up in an original way in an original setting, it showed creativity on a scale fitting to the logistics of the compilation itself, which pulled together groups from around the world in due homage to Hendrix‘s 70th birthday. Its colors, its shading, its strange mercurial pool and waterfall — it’s just perfect for what it was intended to do.

Kind, Rocket Science

kind rocket science
Cover by Alexander von Wieding. Artist website here.

He’s split his time these last several years with his one-man band incarnation Larman Clamor, but Hamburg’s Alexander von Wieding continues to find time for copious design work for the likes of Brant BjorkKarma to BurnEnos and more. This year, in addition to a logo for a forthcoming The Obelisk t-shirt, he also did a cover for a split between Larman Clamor and Blackwolfgoat, whose Darryl Shepard also plays guitar in Kind, so to have him also illustrate that project’s Ripple debut, Rocket Science (review here), only seems fair. I’ll make no pretense of being anything other than a fan of von Wieding‘s work, and he’s in his element with Rocket Science, line drawing a spacescape with a crashed ship manned by what appears to be a frustrated chicken and rabbit (“Rabbit Astronaut” is one of the song titles). A lizard looks on and sticks a forked tongue out at the scene, and as mountains and planets loom behind, von Wieding reinforces a charm in his work that has drawn bands and labels his way for the better part of the last decade.

Like I said at the outset, there were far too many covers for me to call this list comprehensive — right off the top of my head: SunderGroanMos Generator/StubbMonolord (that solo figure walking into the lake continues to haunt), BaronessHigh on FireGraveyardMonster MagnetThe MachineEggnogg/BorrachoEcstatic Vision, Uncle Acid, on and on — but these were just some that particularly resonated with me. If you feel like something was criminally ignored — maybe I missed it — please let me know in the comments.

And thanks for reading.

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Snail, Feral: Where the Wild Things Are

Posted in Reviews on October 13th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

snail-feral-seldon-hunt

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.

snail

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.

Snail, Feral (2015)

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Snail Confirm Sept. 25 Release for Feral

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:

snail-feral-seldon-hunt

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.

Preorder on limited edition 180gr vinyl, CD and digital at this location

TRACK LISTING:
1. Building A Haunted House
2. Smoke The Deathless
3. A Mustard Seed
4. Thou Art That
5. Born In Captivity
6. Derail
7. Psilocybe
8. Come Home

SNAIL IS
Mark Johnson – Guitars, lead vocals, keys
Matt Lynch – Bass, keys, vocals
Marty Dodson – Drums, percussion, vocals

SNAIL LINKS
www.snailhq.com
www.facebook.com/snailhq
www.twitter.com/Snailhq
www.smallstone.com

Snail, Feral (2015)

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