Quarterly Review: Harvestman, Beastmaker, Endless Boogie, Troubled Horse, Come to Grief, Holy Rivals, Mountain God, Dr. Space, Dirty Grave, Summoned by Giants

Posted in Reviews on July 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-summer-2017

Bonus round! I don’t know if you’re stoked on having a sixth Quarterly Review day, but I sure am. Basically this is me doing myself favors. In terms of what’s being covered and how I’m covering it, today might be the high point for me personally of the entire Summer 2017 Quarterly Review. Some of this stuff I’m more behind on than others, but it’s all releases that I’ve wanted desperately to write about that I haven’t been able to make happen so far and I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to be able to do so at last. It’s a load off my mind in the best way possible, and as this is the final day of the Quarterly Review, before I dig in I’ll just say one more time thank you for reading and I hope you found something in the past week that really speaks to you, because that’s what makes it all worthwhile in the first place. One more go.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Harvestman, Music for Megaliths

harvestman-music-for-megaliths

A new Harvestman album, like a harvest itself, is an occasion. Distinct entirely from the solo output released by Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till under his own name, Harvestman’s guitar-led experimentalism and ritualized psychedelia don’t happen every day – the last album was 2009’s In a Dark Tongue (review here) – and with the resonance of “Oak Drone” and the layered, drummed and vocalized textures of “Levitation,” the new collection, Music for Megaliths (on Neurot, of course), lives up to the project’s high standards of the unexpected. Pulsations beneath opener and longest track (immediate points) “The Forest is Our Temple” offer some initial threat, but the electronic beat behind the howling notes of “Ring of Sentinels” and the Vangelis-esque centerpiece “Cromlech” find more soothing ground, and though “Sundown” seems to be speaking to Neurosis “Bleeding the Pigs” from 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) in its atmosphere, the spoken word that tops closer “White Horse” provides a last-minute human connection before all is brought to a quick fadeout. If you told me Music for Megaliths was assembled over a period of years, I’d believe you given its breadth, but whether it was or not, Harvestman’s latest should provide a worthy feast for a long time to come.

Harvestman on Thee Facebooks

Neurot Recordings webstore

 

Beastmaker, Inside the Skull

beastmaker-inside-the-skull

Los Angeles three-piece Beastmaker continue their ascent with their second album for Rise Above Records, the unflinchingly cohesive Inside the Skull. Like its predecessor, 2016’s Lusus Naturae (review here), the quick-turnaround sophomore outing executes a modern garage doom aesthetic and unfuckwithably tight songwriting, this time bringing 10 new tracks that reimagine classic vibes – witness the Witchcraft “No Angel or Demon”-style riff of opener “Evil One” (video posted here) – and touch on some of the same ground pioneered by Uncle Acid without actually sounding like that UK band or sounding like anyone for that matter so much as themselves. They make darkened highlights of “Now Howls the Beast,” “Of Gods Creation,” the crashing “Psychic Visions,” closer “Sick Sick Demon” and the preceding “Night Bird,” which offers some welcome departure into drift prior to the solo in its final minute – all impeccably crisp in structure despite a dirt-caked production – but resonant, memorable hooks abound, and the trio affirm the potential their debut showed and offer a quick step forward that one can only imagine will find them turning more heads toward their growing cult following. They’re still growing, but Inside the Skull is confirmation Beastmaker on a path to becoming something really special.

Beastmaker on Thee Facebooks

Beastmaker at Rise Above Records

 

Endless Boogie, Vibe Killer

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One can’t help but think there’s a bit of tongue-in-cheekery at play in the inaccuracy of Endless Boogie titling their latest album Vibe Killer. The seven-track/51-minute No Quarter release follows 2013’s Long Island (review here) and is, of course, doing everything but killing the vibe, as the New York-based outfit proffer their nestled-in raw songs crafted out of and on top of improvised jams, the semi-spoken gutturalisms of guitarist Paul “Top Dollar” Major a defining element from the laid back opening title-track onward. Moody rock classicism persists through “High Drag, Hard Doin’” and the more active “Back in ’74,” but the true peak of Vibe Killer comes in the 11-minute “Jefferson Country,” which unfolds hypnotic drone experimentation that’s as willfully ungraceful as it winds up being flowing. Bottom line: dudes know what’s up. Endless Boogie’s languid roll is second to nobody and Vibe Killer is a vision of cool jazz reinvented to feel as much at home in rock clubs of the basement and of the chic see-and-be-seen variety. Very New York, in that, but not at all given to elitism. Everyone’s invited to dig, and dig they should.

Endless Boogie on Thee Facebooks

No Quarter Records webstore

 

Troubled Horse, Revolution on Repeat

troubled-horse-revolution-on-repeat

There were a few minutes there where one probably wouldn’t have been wrong to wonder if Örebro, Sweden’s Troubled Horse would have a follow-up at all to back 2012’s Step Inside (review here), but with Revolution on Repeat (out via Rise Above), the four-piece led by dynamic vocalist Martin Heppich prove among the most vital of the many heavy rock acts to emerge from their hometown, known for the likes of Witchcraft, Graveyard, Truckfighters and countless others. Heppich, lead guitarist Mikael Linder (also bass on the recording), guitarist Tom and drummer Jonas start with the boogie-fied opening salvo “Hurricane” (video premiere here) and “The Filthy Ones,” and run madcap through the memorable hooks of “Which Way to the Mob” and “Peasants” en route to the mid-paced “The Haunted” and into a second half marked by the semi-balladry of “Desperation” and “My Shit’s Fucked Up.” Soon, the standout chorus of “Track 7” (yup, that’s the title) and the penultimate funk of “Let Bastards Know” lead to a nine-minute epic finish in “Bleeding” – and all the while Troubled Horse hold firm to groove, momentum, poise, crisp production and songwriting as they tie varied landmarks together with an overarching sense of motion, Heppich’s charismatic soulfulness and deceptively subtle flourishes of arrangement to make an absolutely welcome return.

Troubled Horse on Thee Facebooks

Rise Above Records website

 

Come to Grief, The Worst of Times

come-to-grief-the-worst-of-times

Sometimes you just have to toss up your hands and say, “Well, that’s some of the nastiest shit I’ve ever heard.” To step back and consider them at some distance, Come to Grief aren’t near the most abrasive band on the planet, but when you’re actually listening to their debut EP, The Worst of Times, that’s much harder to believe. Launching with “Killed by Life,” the four-tracker finds the Boston outfit led by former Grief guitarist Terry Savastano – here joined by drummer Chuck Conlon, bassist Justin Christian and vocalist/guitarist Jonathan Hebert – plodding out scream-topped filth that’s actually fuller-sounding than anything Grief did back in their day and all the more devastating for its thickness. The seven-minute “No Savior” is excruciating, and though shorter, “Futility of Humanity” and even the slightly-faster closer “Junklove” bring no letup whatsoever from the onslaught. Think accessible, then go the complete other way, then bludgeon yourself. It’s kind of like that. Absolute brutality delivered by expert and unkind hands.

Come to Grief on Thee Facebooks

Come to Grief on Bandcamp

 

Holy Rivals, Holy Rivals

holy rivals holy rivals

The question of whether noise rock and sludge can coexist is largely one of tempo and tone, and recently-signed-to-BlackseedRecords Pittsburgh trio Holy Rivals’ self-titled debut answers in forceful fashion. Amid more aggro punch of opener “Locked Inn” comes the crust-laden grunge of “Voices,” and whether they’re rolling out the more spacious “Sleep” or sprinting through the post-Bleach raw punkery of “Dead Ender” on their way to the more ambient and patient seven-minute finale “Into Dust,” guitarist/vocalist Jason Orr (also T-Tops), bassist Aaron Orr (whose tone features well on the closer) and drummer Matt Langille – whose adaptability is essential to the Helmet-style starts and stops of “Loathe” that emerge from the preceding roll of “Sleep” – Holy Rivals put a superficial harshness to use as a cover for what’s actually a diverse songwriting process. They’ll reportedly have a new record out in Fall 2017, so this 2016 self-release may soon be in hindsight, but in setting the foundation for growth, it offers exciting prospects caked in an abidingly raw presentation.

Holy Rivals on Thee Facebooks

Holy Rivals on Bandcamp

 

Mountain God, Bread Solstice

mountain god bread solstice

Around what would seem to be the core duo of guitarist/vocalist Ben Ianuzzi and bassist/keyboardist Nikhil Kamineni, Brooklyn psychedelic post-sludgers Mountain God have undergone numerous lineup shifts en route to and through the release of their debut album, Bread Solstice (on Artificial Head Records). To wit, drummer/vocalist Ryan Smith (also Thera Roya), who appears on the dark, unrelenting and abyss-crafting 40-minute six-tracker, has already been replaced by Gabriel Cruz, and there have been other changes in vocalist, keyboardist and drummer positions even since they offered their 2015 EP, Forest of the Lost (review here) to set the stage for this deeply-atmospheric, it’s-acid-rock-but-with-sulfuric-acid first long-player. In light of that tumult and the overarching commitment to abrasive noise Mountain God make in pieces like the 11-minute “Nazca Lines,” “Junglenaut” or even the brooding tension of airy instrumental “Unknown Ascent,” it’s all the more impressive that Bread Solstice is as cohesive in its cerebral horror as it is, constructing a harsh and churning vision of doom as something worthy of post-apocalyptic revelry. Far from easy listening, but of marked purpose. They should play exclusively in art galleries, no matter who winds up in the band.

Mountain God on Thee Facebooks

Artificial Head Records on Bandcamp

 

Dr. Space, Dr. Space’s Alien Planet Trip Vol. 1

dr-space-dr-spaces-alien-planet-trip-vol-1

Perhaps best known for his work in spearheading the improvisational Denmark-based Øresund Space Collective, modular synth wizard Scott “Dr. Space” Heller weirds out across four cuts on the solo release Dr. Space’s Alien Planet Trip Vol. 1, which both underscores in its scope how essential he is to the aforementioned outfit and oozes beyond that group’s parameters into electronic beatmaking and waves of synthesizer drone. Pulling influence from classic progadelia, Heller unfurls longform tripping on 24-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “5 Dimensions of the Universe” and veers into and out of somewhat abrasive swirl on “Rising Sun on Mars” before landing in the more steady atmosphere of “In Search of Life on Io” and launching once more outward with the five-minute finale “Alien Improv 2.” Just how many alien planet trips the good doctor will be undertaking remains as yet a mystery, but the breadth of this first one makes it plain to the listener that Heller’s sonic universe is wide open and, seemingly, ever-expanding.

Øresund Space Collective on Thee Facebooks

Space Rock Productions website

 

Dirty Grave, So Fall and Crawl Away

dirty-grave-so-fall-and-crawl-away

Brazilian doomers Dirty Grave issue the three-song single/EP So Fall and Crawl Away (bonus points for the Alice in Chains reference) ahead of making their full-length debut reportedly any minute now with an album called Evil Desire. Comprised of two studio tracks in the eight-minute “The Black Cloud Comes” and the four-minute Howlin’ Wolf cover “Evil (Is Going On)” and with the live cut “Unholy Son – Live” as a kind of bonus track, it’s a sampling behind two similar short releases, 2014’s Vol. II and 2013’s Dirty Grave (which featured a studio version of “Unholy Son”), that sleeks through eerie doom loosely tinged with psychedelia and smoked-out vibing. “Evil (Is Going On)” is more uptempo, perhaps unsurprisingly, but is giving a likewise treatment all the same, its final solo shredding into oblivion with stoned abandon. “Unholy Son – Live” is rawer but still carries through its melody in the vocals amid a prevalent crash, and if it’s a portend of things to come on Evil Desire, then So Fall and Crawl Away serves as a warning worth heeding.

Dirty Grave on Thee Facebooks

Dirty Grave on Bandcamp

 

Summoned by Giants, Stone Wind

summoned-by-giants-stone-wind

If you have a convenient narrative for what West Coast heavy rock has become over the last decade, Summoned by Giants’ debut album, Stone Wind, is probably too aggressive on the whole to fit it neatly. Their cleaner parts, the rolling second cut “Diamond Head” and samples throughout have aspects of that post-Red Fang party vibe, but to listen to the rawness of the bass tone that starts “Return” or closer “I Hate it When You Breathe,” or even the slurring “come at me, bro”-style rant sampled at the seven-track/27-minute album’s launch, a will toward violence is never far off. Couple that with the thickened noise punk of “Saturn” and the Weedeater sludge of the penultimate “Dying Wish,” and Summoned by Giants – guitarist/vocalist Sean Delaney, guitarist Jordan Sattelmair, bassist/vocalist Patrick Moening and drummer Mel Burris – seem more interested in doling out punishment than kicking back, making a silly video and having a good time. Well, maybe they’re having a good time, but they’re doing so while kicking your ass.

Summoned by Giants on Thee Facebooks

Summoned by Giants on Bandcamp

 

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Review & Full Album Stream: Deep Space Destructors, Psychedelogy

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

deep-space-destructors-psychedelogy

[Click play above to stream Deep Space Destructors’ Psychedelogy in full. Album is out Feb. 27 on Space Rock Productions.]

Goes without saying that time is a construct and that humans’ ability to understand it only relates to our very small, very remote position in a much vaster universe and that even the figures the construct presents are utterly beyond our conception — i.e., we cannot fathom 200 of our own years, and our years are meaningless to the surrounding cosmos. That’s a given. However, three years between full-lengths still feels like a long time for Finnish (nations: also a construct) trio Deep Space Destructors. Their fourth full-length, Psychedelogy, arrives via Space Rock Productions, which is the imprint helmed by synth wizard Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective and known for releasing that band’s work as well as other projects and offshoots.

To my knowledge, Deep Space Destructors — bassist/vocalist Jani Pitkänen, guitarist/backing vocalist Petri Lassila and drummer Markus Pitkänen — have no relation to that collective (yet), so all the more it’s an endorsement that should ring in the ears among the cosmically converted. The Oulu natives earn it well in the four tracks of Psychedelogy, which follows the 2015 two-songer Spring Break from Space (review here) as well as their first three long-players, 2014’s III (review here), 2013’s II (review here) and 2012’s I (review here), and stay true to the Hawkwindian roots of the genre while exploring progressive textures of their own. At an easily-digested 38 minutes, Psychedelogy presents its two sides — side Space and side Void (the last EP did likewise) — with poise and without pretense. They’re going on this trip one way or the other. Whether or not you come along is going to be your call.

Each half of Psychedelogy pairs a shorter piece with a longer one. Opener “Journey to the Space Mountain” (7:55) will be familiar to anyone who caught wind of Spring Break from Space, since it launched that brief offering as well. It is particularly suited to the task here too, with a fervent thrust that kicks up interstellar dust almost immediately following a quick sample and enacts immersive swirl as it makes its way toward its fist-in-the-air-moment-of-galaxial-righteousness title-line hook. Both it and the 10-minute “Spacemind,” which follows, have an underlying sense of triumph, but the momentum that carries through them isn’t to be understated, Markus and Jani making for a rhythmic powerhouse beneath Petri‘s echoing solo as “Journey to the Space Mountain” pours through its midsection, eventually making its way, gloriously, back to the chorus as part of a build the apex of which strikes just before feedback caps off.

A quieter, more Floydian beginning sets the course for “Spacemind,” but there’s a tension in the bass and drums as well as the first verse takes hold, Jani‘s vocals coated in effects, keys adding to the melody of Petri‘s guitar. Before the two-minute mark, “Spacemind” hits into its chorus with even more of a feeling of arrival than “Journey to the Space Mountain,” but it’s still just the beginning, as Deep Space Destructors use that as the launchpad for an instrumental bridge of classic prog fits and turns before moving back into the soothing verse section like nothing ever happened. They’re not yet at the halfway point of the track, but the fluidity of what they’ve executed already makes “Spacemind” a particular highlight of Psychedelogy. The ensuing jam, calm but purposeful with periodic vocal overlay, seals that, and when the three-piece ignite thrusters and push toward the song’s conclusion, the payoff seems to last until the very final second, clearly making the most of its time — which, just as a reminder, is a construct and doesn’t exist. Brain goes pop.

I don’t know if there’s an intentional difference between side Space and side Void in terms of what Deep Space Destructors are looking to accomplish, but it’s easy enough to read the second half of Psychedelogy as pushing further out along the progressive path the band has thus far marched. Both “Return to the Black Star” (7:05) and closer “From the Ashes” (12:34) keep the flow molten, the overarching vibe spontaneous but subject to some command, and come fleshed out by effects and synth, creating the parameters of the alternate universe in which they dwell. With Jani and Petri together on vocals, “Return to the Black Star” echoes some of the Hawkwindiness of “Journey to the Space Mountain,” but is more patient in that exercise and more willing to bring an improvised-seeming lead to the foreground in its back end. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mark a radical departure from the album’s beginnings, but the continuation presents some subtle turns for those ready to take Psychedelogy on for multiple listens — a process through which it only grows more fulfilling.

Something else “Return to the Black Star” and “From the Ashes” have in common is being less immediately about their hooks, but the core guitar/bass figure in the finale is especially memorable nonetheless for its proggy intricacy — one can’t help but be reminded of peak-era Steven Wilson in some of the ensuing shimmer — and the additional flourish of sitar is yet another distinguishing factor. Ultimately though it’s the core guitar/bass/drums dynamic between the Pitkänens and Lassila that carries “From the Ashes” over so effectively, and beneath the swirl, the kosmiche thematics and the range, that turns out to be what most draws these songs together with the rest of Deep Space Destructors‘ body of work. Their time on “spring break” was not misspent, and whether they’ll resume the album-per-year pace of their first three outings, I wouldn’t speculate, but they’ve come into Psychedelogy with a clear sense of who they are and what they want to be as a group. If they follow through going forward on their own terms, then all the better, whatever those terms might be.

Deep Space Destructors, “Return to the Black Star” official video

Deep Space Destructors on Thee Facebooks

Deep Space Destructors on Bandcamp

Deep Space Destructors website

Space Rock Productions website

Psychedelogy order page at Sapphire Records

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Deep Space Destructors to Release Psychedelogy Feb. 27

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

deep-space-destructors-Photo-by-Tatu-Ollanketo

On Feb. 27, Finnish trio Deep Space Destructors will release their new LP, Psychedelogy, on Space Rock Productions. The Oulu-based outfit were last heard from on 2015’s Spring Break from Space EP (review here), and while to let a whole year pass without a release seems crazy from a space rock band, I’ve no doubt their time was well spent in prepping this full-length as they have. How can I be so sure without actually having heard it?

Well, over the weekend the band put up a special preview on their website with clips from the four included songs and an interactive look at the artwork by Markus Räisänen, and one can get a pretty solid sense of where they’re coming from with that. Besides, as anyone who heard their prior 2014 album, III (review here), can tell you, dudes know what they’re doing at this point.

If you need more, consider the endorsement of Space Rock Productions, the label helmed by none other than Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective himself. You know he doesn’t want any part of it if it’s not spacey as hell. So yeah, keep an eye out. I’ll hope to have a review of Psychedelogy up before the end of the month.

In the interim, you can dig into the below info and links:

deep-space-destructors-psychedelogy

Take a trip to amazing gatefold album art made by Markus Räisänen, with sounds from “Psychedelogy” out on vinyl February 27th through Space Rock Productions!

Web design by Mikko “ruottis” Ruotsalainen. Preview: http://bit.ly/2kUUmC7

Psychedelogy tracklisting:

Side Space:
Journey to the Space Mountain
Spacemind

Side Void:
Return to the Black Star
From the Ashes

Deep Space Destructors plays psychedelic space rock from Earth.

DSD was founded in the beginning of the Earth year 2011 in Oulu, Finland, on band members’ mutual love for 60’s and 70’s kraut, prog and psychedelic rock.

DSD’s journey continues towards deeper space and sounds.

Deep Space Destructors is:
Jani Pitkänen – vocals, bass
Petri Lassila – guitars, backing vocals
Markus Pitkänen – drums

http://www.dsdband.space/
https://www.facebook.com/deepspacedestructors/
https://deepspacedestructors.bandcamp.com/

Deep Space Destructors, “Journey to the Space Mountain”

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audiObelisk Transmission 060

Posted in Podcasts on December 22nd, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk podcast 60

Click Here to Download

 

Consider this your usual disclaimer that, like any of this site’s coverage of year-end whatnottery, this podcast is by no means attempting to capture all of 2016’s best tracks. It is, however, over four hours long, and frankly that seems like enough to ask. If you decide to take it on and sample what I found to be some of the best material to come down the line over the last 12 months, please know you have my thanks in advance. For what it’s worth, it was a lot of fun to put together, and that’s not always the case with these.

But about the length. I’ve done double-sized year-end specials for a while now. It’s always just seemed a fair way to go. And the last few at least have been posted the week of the Xmas holiday as well, which for me is of dual significance since it just so happens four hours is right about what it takes to drive from where I live to where my family lives, so when I look at this massive slew of 34 acts, from the riff-led righteousness of Wo Fat and Curse the Son to the crush of Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and SubRosa to the psychedelic reaches of Zun and Øresund Space Collective (who probably show up in podcasts more than anyone, oddly enough), I also think of going to see my family, which has become my favorite part of the holidays.

Whatever associations you might draw with it, I very much hope you enjoy listening. Thanks for taking the time.

Track details follow:

First Hour:

0:00:00 Wo Fat, “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind” from Midnight Cometh
0:09:35 Greenleaf, “Howl” from Rise Above the Meadow
0:14:57 Elephant Tree, “Aphotic Blues” from Elephant Tree
0:20:49 Brant Bjork, “The Gree Heen” from Tao of the Devil
0:26:27 Sergio Ch., “El Herrero” from Aurora
0:29:44 Child, “Blue Side of the Collar” from Blueside
0:35:31 Geezer, “Bi-Polar Vortex” from Geezer
0:43:59 Zun, “Come Through the Water” from Burial Sunrise
0:49:27 Baby Woodrose, “Mind Control Machine” from Freedom
0:54:11 Curse the Son, “Hull Crush Depth” from Isolator
0:59:31 Borracho, “Shot down, Banged up, Fade Away” from Atacama

Second Hour:

1:05:50 Scissorfight, “Nature’s Cruelest Mistake” from Chaos County
1:09:19 Truckfighters, “The Contract” from V
1:16:30 Spidergawd, “El Corazon del Sol” from III
1:21:24 Fatso Jetson, “Royal Family” from Idle Hands
1:26:13 Worshipper, “Step Behind” from Shadow Hymns
1:30:57 Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, “Y Proffwyd Dwyll” from Y Proffwyd Dwyll
1:39:42 Druglord, “Regret to Dismember” from Deepest Regrets
1:46:34 Moon Coven, “New Season” from Moon Coven
1:52:03 Gozu, “Tin Chicken” from Revival
1:59:49 Year of the Cobra, “Vision of Three” from …In the Shadows Below

Third Hour:

2:06:53 The Munsens, “Abbey Rose” from Abbey Rose
2:14:56 Lamp of the Universe, “Mu” from Hidden Knowledge
2:21:26 1000mods, “On a Stone” from Repeated Exposure To…
2:26:45 Church of the Cosmic Skull, “Watch it Grow” from Is Satan Real?
2:30:43 Vokonis, “Acid Pilgrim” from Olde One Ascending
2:37:35 Slomatics, “Electric Breath” from Future Echo Returns
2:43:02 Droids Attack, “Sci-Fi or Die” from Sci-Fi or Die
2:47:20 King Buffalo, “Drinking from the River Rising” from Orion
2:56:51 Comet Control, “Artificial Light” from Center of the Maze

Fourth Hour:

3:06:37 Øresund Space Collective, “Above the Corner” from Visions Of…
3:22:51 Naxatras, “Garden of the Senses” from II
3:33:14 SubRosa, “Black Majesty” from For this We Fought the Battle of Ages
3:48:23 Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, “Escape Through the Rift” from Tranquonauts

Total running time: 4:07:32

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 060

 

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2016

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 30

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.

I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.

Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.

The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.

This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.

Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.

I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:

30. Talmud Beach, Chief

talmud beach chief

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.

29. Comet Control, Center of the Maze

comet control center of the maze

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 22.

Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.

28. Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids attack sci-fi or die

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 17.

There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.

27. Beelzefuzz, The Righteous Bloom

beelzefuzz the righteous bloom

Released by Restricted Release and The Church Within. Reviewed Aug. 2.

A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.

26. Foghound, The World Unseen

foghound the world unseen

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed July 6.

Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.

25a. Egypt, Endless Flight

egypt endless flight

Released by Doomentia Records. Reviewed Dec. 11, 2015.

Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.

25. 1000mods, Repeated Exposure To…

1000mods repeated exposure to

Released by Ouga Booga and the Mighty Oug Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 20.

There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.

24. Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy

black rainbows stellar prophecy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 11.

Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.

23. Borracho, Atacama

borracho atacama

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Nov. 14.

Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.

22. The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again

the golden grass coming back again

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed April 26.

Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.

21. Curse the Son, Isolator

curse the son isolator

Released by Snake Charmer Coalition and The Company Records. Reviewed March 1.

For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.

20. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires

neurosis fires within fires

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 21.

I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, NeurosisFires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.

19. Conan, Revengeance

conan revengeance

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 19.

Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.

18. Baby Woodrose, Freedom

baby woodrose freedom

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Aug. 18.

Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.

17. Geezer, Geezer

geezer geezer

Released by Ripple Music and STB Records. Reviewed Nov. 10.

I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.

16. EYE, Vision and the Ageless Light

eye vision and the ageless light

Released by The Laser’s Edge. Reviewed Nov. 17.

Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.

15. Fatso Jetson, Idle Hands

fatso jetson idle hands

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.

14. Hexvessel, When We are Death

hexvessel when we are death

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Feb. 5.

Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.

13. Zun, Burial Sunrise

zun burial sunrise

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Feb. 16.

Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.

12. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree

elephant tree elephant tree

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Jan. 29.

One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.

11. Mos Generator, Abyssinia

mos generator abyssinia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed July 12.

If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.

10. Slomatics, Future Echo Returns

slomatics future echo returns

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed June 29.

In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.

9. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh

wo fat midnight cometh

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 21.

After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.

8. King Buffalo, Orion

king buffalo orion

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed July 29.

Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.

7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know

wight love is not only what you know

Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.

German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.

6. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 18.

A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.

5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil

brant bjork tao of the devil

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 15.

Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in KyussFu ManchuCheVista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.

4. Asteroid, III

asteroid iii

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed Oct. 21.

What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.

3. Gozu, Revival

gozu revival

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 19.

Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.

2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)

mars red sky apex iii praise for the burning soul

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.

1. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages

subrosa for this we fought the battle of ages

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Aug. 26.

Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.

The Next 20

Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:

31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll

From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.

Honorable Mentions

Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:

Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
Spidergawd, III
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment

And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:

Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.

Thank You

In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.

If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.

One more time: Thank you.

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audiObelisk Transmission 059

Posted in Podcasts on November 23rd, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Click Here to Download

 

I’ve listened to it front to back and I can honestly say this is the best podcast I’ve made in the last five months. Truth be told, I know there are plenty of people who do podcasts as their primary outlet, talk on them and whatnot (hey, I tried it once and reserve the right to do it again at some point), but if it’s between crossfading feedback from one song to another and writing a review of a new record, well, crossfading falls into the same category as just about everything else: Write first.

Fortunately, a longer span of time between casts makes it that much easier to pick tracks. Existence does not hand you a 45-minute Øresund Space Collective jam every day, so I thought that was worth featuring, and I just got Megaritual’s new vinyl for review, so I thought featuring their more recent single-song EP would work well too.

I’m happy with the blend overall, and with Asteroid setting the tone. Be patient with it. Let it unfold. Even with a rocking start, it gets pretty psychedelic pretty quickly, and only continues to move further out. My advice is go with it and see where you end up.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Track details follow:

First Hour:

0:00:00 Asteroid, “Them Calling” from III
0:05:02 Stinkeye, “Orange Man” from Llantera Demos
0:08:31 Hornss, “Prince of a Thousand Enemies” from Telepath
0:11:36 Ice Dragon, “Broken Life” from Broken Life
0:16:08 Wasted Theory, “Odyssey of the Electric Warlock” from Defenders of the Riff
0:20:59 Pelander, “True Colour” from Time
0:29:41 The Freeks, “Blow Time Away” from Shattered
0:34:26 Baby Woodrose, “Freedom” from Freedom
0:37:27 Comacozer, “The Mind that Feeds the Eye” from Astra Planeta
0:45:21 Mos Generator, “Outlander” from The Firmament
0:51:13 Megaritual, “Eclipse” from Eclipse

Second Hour:

1:16:25 Øresund Space Collective, “Visions Of…” from Visions Of…

Total running time: 1:58:36

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 059

 

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Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…: Synesthetic Pleasures (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 21st, 2016 by JJ Koczan

oresund-space-collective-visions-of

[Click play above to stream Øresund Space Collective’s Visions Of… in full. Album is out Dec. 9 and available to preorder now.]

By their own count — and we’ll just have to take their word for it — Visions Of… is the 23rd release from Danish space-jammers Øresund Space Collective since their beginnings a decade ago. Not bad for 10 years of near-constant work. This latest studio 2LP comes from the same sessions as the amorphous outfit’s last two albums, the droning Ode to a Black Hole (review here) and last year’s 3LP Different Creatures (review here), and is reportedly the last of the material the group put together in Oct. 22-24, 2014 at Black Tornado Studio, improvising, playing and recording live, as always. What’s really remarkable about the trilogy as a whole is how Øresund Space Collective has been able to take material recorded within three days of each other and use it to sculpt three releases from it, each with a vastly different personality.

Duties might change depending on the jam in which they happen to be engrossed, but the personnel is essentially the same throughout the whole session with the lineup of keyboardist/synthesist Scott “Dr. Space” Heller in the captain’s chair alongside drummer Alex, bassist Hasse (also guitar, African drums), guitarists Mattias (also pedal steel), Jonathan (also violin, theremin and bass) and Mats (also bass, percussive acoustic), keyboardist/organist Jonas (also guitar), and keyboardist/synthesist KG, and yet Øresund Space Collective seem to don different personalities like planets orbiting the same improvisational star. Coming off the droning Ode to a Black Hole, with Visions Of…, they hone a funkier and markedly jazzier take.

Nothing’s universal (pun not intended, reconsidered, then intended), but that’s the impression Øresund Space Collective give in general across Visions Of…, beginning with the sprawl of the 42-minute opening title-track. At 42:12, “Visions Of…” is not only the longest song on the album that bears its name as well as the leadoff (immediate points), but second only to “20 Steps Toward the Invisible Door” (45:13) from Different Creatures as the longest piece from the session as a whole. That might be enough to make it a landmark on its own, but runtime is far from all the track has going for it, lurching to life around intertwining guitar and bass with an initial sense of foreboding that soon enough gives way to a varied wash of color, a bustling of smooth psychedelic exploration that builds and, like the best of Øresund Space Collective‘s output, finds its way as it goes, honestly portraying the roots of creation in the chemistry between the members at play and the textures they weave working as one.

The vibe that develops is bound to be immersive, but there’s dynamic to go with all that hypnosis, so that whether you want to chill and let it flow — I do — or sit and measure out every turn they make, the results are no less satisfying. There’s no shortage of dreamscaping across the considerable breadth of “Visions Of…,” but highlight solos pepper through and at times seem to lead the way through this liquefied plane, and though it’s not until they approach the 30-minute mark, when Jonathan‘s violin enters the serene sort of fray, it’s a special moment worthy of the emphasis it’s given here as the title and opening track. If these are the visions Øresund Space Collective are looking to cast, then they’re no less vivid than the Franz Waldhör painting that adorns the front cover, the two doubtless intended as complements. It is among the more lush proceedings the band has undertaken, and as such it takes a few minutes for them to pull it all apart at the end, the process beginning with a swell of volume and crash after 39 minutes in, and culminating in residual swirl and fading space noise that loses not one beat in being met by the snare roll that starts “Above the Corner.”

oresund-space-collective

Here’s where Visions Of… really gets down. Maybe part of it is coming out of the farflung kosmiche of the title-track, but the movement that “Above the Corner” seems to commence feels rawer, funkier than just about anything I’ve heard from Øresund Space Collective. “Above the Corner” (16:17) and closer “Around the Corner” (11:03) are two parts of the same jam — though, admittedly, two different-sounding parts — and the CD release divides them with the shorter, more percussive “Piece of Seven” (8:35), but the spirit of flow coming out of “Visions Of…” is never lost, especially with “Above the Corner” unfolding so fluidly and with such swagger in its guitar interplay. Space noise complements — jabs of theremin, maybe — but the prevalent theme is wah and guitars and bass alike are happy to partake, leaving the organ, keys and drums to ground the affair while the others go for a walk.

By the end of “Above the Corner,” Øresund Space Collective have thoroughly funked out, and the switch to the rhythm-minded “Piece of Seven” (part of the seventh jam of the session, according to the CD liner) does well to break up the two “Corner” pieces, drums and percussion leading the way as the psychedelia wraps itself around and oozes in all directions, synth, keys, prominent bass and so on following the rolls and circulations of the drums, which start in with snare in the second half seemingly as a sign of winding down, though in reality it’s a while and a whole lot of cymbal crashes before they actually get there and when they do, the last remaining, held line of keyboard is met by a swirl and wah-bass return from “Around the Corner,” reprising the funktitude of its predecessor almost immediately and continuing to build on it for an initial few minutes until a guitar solo begins to lead the way into a more definitively space rock push. It seems to be the drums that finally decide on a straightforward thrust and everyone else joins in around that, but by five minutes in they’re all on full go, and they continue to work around a swinging gallop of one kind or another until “Around the Corner” caps its final build, crashes its last crash, and rounds out in a last wash of fading synth.

To say that at that point it’s been a hell of a trip is probably understating it. Visions Of… offers not only reinforcement of the spontaneity at heart in the conceptual mission behind everything Øresund Space Collective do — the explorations they undertake — but of the vitality they’re able to bring to the actual sessions in the same room with each other, the feeling of bringing the audience into that space (not to mention actual space), and sharing the heart of their creative processes in such an unadulterated, unfiltered form. Though they won’t play live much, they’ll reportedly be hitting the studio again in 2017, and while one can never be sure who might show up for any given session with Øresund Space Collective, it seems only fair at this point to expect the perpetually outbound motion to continue, because even if they could at this point, I don’t think Øresund Space Collective would have it any other way.

Øresund Space Collective on The Facebooks

Øresund Space Collective on Bandcamp

Øresund Space Collective website

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Quarterly Review: Spiritual Beggars, Øresund Space Collective, Goya, Black Shape of Nexus, Cough, Oranssi Pazuzu, Karma to Burn, Black Mood, Nebula Drag, Ommadon

Posted in Reviews on June 21st, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the-obelisk-summer-2016-quarterly-review

Day Two of The Obelisk’s Summer 2016 Quarterly Review — that’s an awful lot of capital letters. I’m not sure if it’s quite such a formal occasion, but perhaps that’s just an effect of staring at some of the names in this particular batch, who from classic heavy rock to post-black metal to stoner riffs, drone, doom and beyond offer a pretty vast range and more than a small measure of profile throughout. It’s a substantial swath, is what I’m saying. If you can’t find something here to dig on, well, I’d say look again, but of course there’ll also be another 10 reviews tomorrow, Thursday and Friday, and there were 10 yesterday as well, so I’m sure something will turn up if it hasn’t yet. Here we go.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Spiritual Beggars, Sunrise to Sundown

spiritual beggars sunrise to sundown

More than 20 years on from their self-titled debut, Sweden’s Spiritual Beggars release their ninth LP, Sunrise to Sundown (on Inside Out Music). They seem to have set themselves to the sole task of making the records that one wishes Deep Purple were making, full of righteous organ-laced classic heavy thrust, driven by top tier songwriting and performance on every level. Founding guitarist Michael Amott (also Carcass) has assembled a lineup of masters, and since 2010’s Return to Zero (review here), frontman Apollo Papathanasio (also Firewind) has provided the soaring voice to add to the keyboard majesty of Per Wiberg (ex-Opeth, Candlemass) on songs like “I Turn to Stone.” The album’s 11 cuts are catchy, universally structured, and varied in their feel enough to carry the listener through fluidly, bassist Sharlee D’Angelo (Mercyful Fate) and drummer Ludwig Witt (ex-Firebird) locking in weighted grooves and underscoring the flow of what comes across like an increasingly collaborative songwriting process. Sunrise to Sundown is the sound of a band knowing what they want to do and how they want to do it and then doing precisely that.

Spiritual Beggars on Thee Facebooks

Inside Out Music website

 

Øresund Space Collective, Ode to a Black Hole

oresund space collective ode to a black hole

How many records does Ode to a Black Hole make it for Danish improve spacelords Øresund Space Collective? I honestly don’t know. Their Bandcamp lists 52 releases. Granted, not all of them are full-length studio LPs, but they jam whether they’re live or in the studio, so after a point it’s kind of moot. However many in the ultimate tally, Ode to a Black Hole is somewhat unique among them, exploring the darker side of the cosmic reaches in a bleaker, droning psychedelia spread across two instrumental tracks put to tape at the same time as 2015’s triple-LP Different Creatures (review here). Of course, it’s Øresund Space Collective, so there is still plenty of synth and effects swirl to be had, but it’s a slower galaxial movement as “Ode to a Black Hole Part 1” feeds directly into “Ode to a Black Hole Part 2.” Whatever their method of getting there, Øresund Space Collective prove once again how apparently boundless their scope has become with nuance of guitar and key flourish beneath the surface of the mix to let the listener know there’s life out in the expanse.

Øresund Space Collective on Thee Facebooks

Øresund Space Collective on Bandcamp

 

Goya, The Enemy

goya the enemy

Phoenix, Arizona’s Goya continue their forward march with The Enemy EP (on STB Records). Still fair to say Electric Wizard are a primary influence, but as shown on their last full-length, 2015’s charmingly-titled Obelisk (review here), the trio are increasingly able to put more of themselves into their sound. In “The Enemy,” “Last” and “Light Years,” that shows in tighter songwriting, some vocal harmonies on “Light Years,” and a harder overall tonal impact than the tenets of post-Witchcult Today doomery might lead one to expect, reminding in parts of the raw in-room feel that Egypt have come to proffer, burly but more about groove than attitude. The EP closes with a nine-minute take on “The Enemy” itself, adding more harmonies, some screams at the end, and a lengthy midsection jam to flesh out its extra four minutes. Goya have been and still are a bright spot (existentially, if not in mood) in up-and-coming US doom, and The Enemy might be a stopgap coming off of Obelisk, but it reminds listeners of their growth very much still in progress.

Goya on Thee Facebooks

STB Records

 

Black Shape of Nexus, Carrier

black shape of nexus carrier

In a universe full of pretenders to the throne of Eyehategod, German six-piece Black Shape of Nexus prove there’s room for genuine creativity in sludge. Their fourth offering, Carrier (on Exile on Mainstream), finds them past the 10-year mark and lumbering their way through five varied originals, from the cavernous opener “I Can’t Play It” through the droning “Lift Yourself” and the utter spacecrush that ensues in “Facepunch Transport Layer” before the villainous laughter at the end of “Sachsenheim” leads to a 12-minute take on Hellhammer’s “Triumph of Death,” which closes. It feels like no coincidence that of the Black Shape of Nexus-penned inclusions “Sand Mountain” is the centerpiece; the tortured screaming, claustrophobic riff and blend of rawness and lush depth speak to the originality at the core of their approach. There’s a firm sense of fuckall here, and my understanding is making Carrier was something of a trial, but the results are perhaps only more vicious for that, and thus stronger.

Black Shape of Nexus on Thee Facebooks

Exile on Mainstream Records website

 

Cough, Still They Pray

cough still they pray

Six years and the ascent of an entire movement of similarly-minded acts later, Cough ooze back to activity with Still They Pray (on Relapse), their dirt-caked third full-length. That movement, by the way, includes fellow Richmonders Windhand, with whom Cough now share bassist Parker Chandler and whose Garrett Morris recorded here along with Jus Oborn of Electric Wizard, who remain a major influence in Cough’s grueling, nodding filth, brought to bear over eight tracks and a purposefully unmanageable 67-minute runtime. Stylistically it’s not so far from where Cough were on 2010’s Ritual Abuse (review here), the bleak anarchistic lurch and tonal immersion still very much at the fore of “Possession,” “Dead Among the Roses” and the organ-inclusive “The Wounding Hours,” but though they can play slow enough to make “Masters of Torture” seem positively thrashy by comparison, they never lose their sense of atmosphere, as the acoustic-led closing title-track makes plain in fashion no less heavy than the punishment meted out before it.

Cough on Thee Facebooks

Relapse Records website

 

Oranssi Pazuzu, Värähtelijä

oranssi pazuzu varahtelija

It feels factually inaccurate to call something so wilfully charred “vibrant,” but Oranssi Pazuzu’s fourth long-player, Värähtelijä (on Svart and 20 Buck Spin), not only finds light in its overarching darkness, but makes it a pivotal aspect of the album’s 69-minute course. Open structures, an enviable depth of mix between far-off guitar, keys, organ, various layers of screams, etc., songs like 12-minute opener “Saturaatio” and the later 17-minute chaoswirl of “Vasemann Käden Hierarkia” offer stylistic breadth as much prog as they are psychedelia or black metal, perhaps the next phase of the latter’s cosmic wing come to fruition. Relatively speaking, the more straightforward “Havuluu” offers listeners a moment to catch their breadth, but the organ-led experimentalism of 10-minute closer “Valveavaruus” gurgles in an exploration of ambient downward plunge. One of the most adventurous black metal releases of 2016, if you can still even tag a genre to it, which I’m not sure you can. A band doing pivotal and forward-thinking work.

Oranssi Pazuzu on Thee Facebooks

20 Buck Spin webshop

Svart Records webshop

 

Karma to Burn, Mountain Czar

karma to burn mountain czar

Though they just got off a lengthy US run, the fact that Karma to Burn’s webstore offers their new Mountain Czar EP in euro instead of dollars could easily be taken as a sign of where the band’s general priorities lie. I don’t know if founding guitarist Will Mecum is actually living abroad or remains in West Virginia, but their label, Rodeostar Records, is European, they maintain a close relationship with German artist Alexander Von Wieding, and their tour schedule keeps a definite continental focus. So be it. Mountain Czar brings five new cuts, three by-the-numbers Karma to Burn instrumentals, the highlight of which is patient, jangly-guitar closer “63,” and “Uccidendo un Sogno,” an Italian-language cover of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ down a Dream” sung by guest vocalist Stefanie Savy and featuring Manuel Bissig of Switzerland’s Sons of Morpheus on guitar. Karma to Burn very much remain Karma to Burn throughout, Mecum joined by drummer Evan Devine and bassist Eric Clutter, but they’re changing what that means in interesting ways.

Karma to Burn website

Rodeostar Records

 

Black Mood, Squalid Garden

black mood squalid garden

Comprised solely of guitarist/vocalist Sleaze and drummer Izz, German Southern metallers Black Mood begin their seven-song sophomore outing, Squalid Garden (on Daredevil Records) with a sample of Cornelius from Planet of the Apes quoting the Lawgiver to “shun the beast man,” and so on. By the time they get around to the chugging and warbling “Ohh, save my soul” in second cut “IWNAR,” the Down/Crowbar vibe has been laid on so thick that it’s unmistakable. It’s been seven years since Black Mood made their self-titled debut in 2009 – they had an EP, Toxic Hippies, out in 2012 – but their chestbeating, dudely vibes are easily sourced, even in faster, more Pantera-style moments in “Reflected,” “100 Squalid Garden” or closer “Side,” making the album ultimately a matter of taste for anyone who’d take it on. For me, some aspects ring derivative, others show flashes of individualism, but it’s a very specific vision of Southern metal at work here, and it’s not going to be for everyone.

Black Mood on Bandcamp

Daredevil Records webshop

 

Nebula Drag, Nebula Drag

nebula-drag-nebula-drag

Newcomers Nebula Drag join the ranks of a crowded heavy psych scene in their native San Diego via their self-titled, self-released debut, but the trio distinguish themselves immediately with a solidified underpinning of punkish intent, so that the airy vocals of “Sano” float over an insistent, noisy crunch. That blend is toyed with in one direction or another throughout the release, the five-minute “So Low” finding some middle-ground in grunge push, but as the subsequent “Up and Down”’s Melvins-style roll and the hardcore-style drive of “Lost Time” play out, Nebula Drag seem far less tied to any single approach. It’s a dynamic that serves them well throughout the album’s 10-track/37-minute run, and they maintain a sense of rawness in the almost thrashy breakdown of “I Can Not Explain” that speaks to a lack of pretense to go along with their potential for development. Will be curious to hear if one side or the other wins out in their sound over the long-term, but in a town where so many bands are geared on being the most laid back, it’s refreshing to hear a group with a more forceful tack.

Nebula Drag on Thee Facebooks

Nebula Drag on Bandcamp

 

Ommadon, Ommadon

ommadon ommadon

After a series of numbered full-lengths, Glasgow consciousness-stompers Ommadon offer their self-titled sixth album through Dry Cough Records, Burning World Records and Medusa Crush Recordings. Doubtless the three labels were needed in order simply lift the 41-minute, single-song release, which is so unspeakably and ridiculously heavy as to warrant comparison to Buried at Sea’s Migration. Its retching lumber is superlative, and in giving it their name, Ommadon signal (and say outright) that it’s the work they’ve been driving toward all along. Fair enough. There is no moment of relenting from the abysmal intentions of “Ommadon” itself, and if this is to be the piece that ultimately defines the band, it’s one worthy of consideration for the outright extremity it brings to doom, sludge and drone, as well as the methodical nature in which it unfolds. Whatever its ultimate impact, Ommadon have pushed themselves forward and crafted an excruciating contribution that feels like a monolith bent to their will.

Ommadon on Thee Facebooks

Dry Cough Records webshop

Burning World Records

Medusa Crush Recordings on Bandcamp

 

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