The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2019

Posted in Features on December 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk best of 2019

[PLEASE NOTE: These are not the results of the year-end poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t contributed your list to the cause yet, please do so here.]

Make no mistake, my friends. 2019 was the year it went off the rails.

Every 12-month period brings a lot of records, and they all seem overwhelming, but this was the first year I’ve ever felt quite so helpless when it came time to sit down and actually make my list. Of course, I keep running notes all year long, but even so, ordering everything, bringing it all together? What a mess.

I almost thought of breaking it down into smaller lists in addition to the big one, subgrouped by style. But then, where does doom end and sludge begin? What about psych and heavy rock? Should prog get its own list? And what the hell counts as prog?

In the end, that didn’t seem like it would be doing me any favors, so we’ll stick with the one big list and then others for debut releases and another for EPs, splits, demos and so on. You know, the usual.

Pretty sure I say this every year too, but it bears repeating: if you read any of the below — and thanks if you do — and have a response, be nice. If I’ve forgotten something — and yes, I have; I’m sure of it — that you think needs to be included, and you want to leave a comment that says so, please, by all means. But keep it civil. I know people are passionate about this stuff and so am I, but consider there are probably over 200 offerings covered here by the time you get through all the lists and honorable mentions, and I’m one person. I’m doing my best, and though I try not to, I tend to take being called a dumbass personally. So yeah, chill out and please be constructive in calling me a dumbass. Words matter.

A few hard choices here, most especially for album of the year. I was back and forth with each of the top three in the top spot for a good long while, and it might change again between now and when this post goes up. But it’s been that kind of year. In 2018, there was no question. It was Sleep all the way. The question was what came after that. This year has been different without that kind of duh, punch-in-the-face obvious pick. Relative parity isn’t a bad thing though.

Enough delay. The usual parameters apply. These are a combo of my personal listening habits and what I think are the most important records/achievements of the year, critical importance, etc.

Here we go:

The Top 50 Albums of 2019

#50-31

50. Hazemaze, Hymns of the Damned
49. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
48. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Grandmother
47. PH, Osiris Hayden
46. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
45. Abrahma, In Time for the Last Rays of Light
44. Uffe Lorenzen, Triprapport
43. Swallow the Sun, When a Shadow is Forced into the Light
42. Caustic Casanova, God How I Envy the Deaf
41. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Tre
40. SÂVER, They Came With Sunlight
39. Ogre, Thrice as Strong
38. Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension
37. Vokonis, Grasping Time
36. Sacri Monti, Waiting Room for the Magic Hour
35. Across Tundras, The Rugged Ranges of Curbs and Broken Minds
34. Duel, Valley of Shadows
33. Orodruin, Ruins of Eternity
32. Zaum, Divination
31. Inter Arma, Sulphur English

Notes: Honestly, if this had been the top 20 of the year, I’d still call 2019 a win. Aside from the fact that I somehow thought Caustic Casanova would enjoy coming in a number 42, the sheer quality of this stuff should tell you what kind of year 2019 was. Inter Arma’s Sulphur English was a significant achievement in genre melding, and Orodruin’s return after more than a decade since their last LP was a masterclass in doom worship. Debut albums from SÂVER and Thunderbird Divine and Lightning Born showed marked promise of things to come — and there’s more on them below as well — while Zaum’s, Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree’s and Lamp of the Universe’s meditations, Vokonis’ noise, Abrahma’s emotive progressivisim, Swallow the Sun’s melodic melancholy, Sacri Monti’s boogie, and whatever the hell PH were doing on Osiris Hayden remind just how much the word “heavy” can encompass. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Duel and Uffe Lorenzen and Hazemaze were musts here, and Ogre are perennial favorites whose work always brings a doomly grin. Don’t sleep on any of it.

30. Sun Blood Stories, Haunt Yourself

sun blood stories haunt yourself

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 6.

Until they put out a complementary follow-up record of such fare, one might’ve accused Idaho three-piece Sun Blood Stories of becoming less experimentalist/droned-out/noisy on Haunt Yourself, but they seem to have met their quota one way or the other with the Oct. 2019 advent of Static Sessions Vol. 1. Still, it’s melody, heavy post-rock/psychedelic drift and emotive soul that rule the day on the crushing and enriching Haunt Yourself, and no complaints from me on that.

29. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Everybody’s Going to Die

Church of the Cosmic Skull Everybodys Going to Die

Released by Septaphonic Records. Reviewed Dec. 10.

I don’t have to do anything more than read the name of the album to have the chorus of the title-track stuck in my head, and it’s a reminder that although the Nottingham troupe put so much into their progressive style and vocal harmonies and arrangements, and a more conceptual theme in the case of Everybody’s Going to Die — their answer to 2018’s excellent Science Fiction (review here) — their roots are in songcraft, and it’s the foundation of songcraft that lets them soar. Would be higher on the list if it weren’t so new.

28. Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

devil to pay forever never or whenever

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 4.

With their sixth album, Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay collect 10 tracks of unpretentious-almost-to-a-fault of straightforward heavy rock songwriting that continues to be woefully underappreciated. They have become utterly reliable in that regard — you know, to a certain extent, what’s coming — but the vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (also Apostle of Solitude) and some more metallic turns to the riffing give Forever, Never or Whenever a subtlety that holds up all the more on repeat visits. I don’t know if Devil to Pay will ever get their due, but suffice it to say, they’re due.

27. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds

howling giant the space between worlds

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Oct. 11.

If you’re of a certain age, you remember when the first Playstation came out and everyone looked around at their Nintendos and Segas like, “What the hell am I messing around with Mario Golf for? I could be playing Resident Evil!” That’s kind of what Howling Giant are as compared to “regular” rock bands. They’re the Playstation of heavy: that next progressive step forward carrying an inhuman amount of swagger and personality while still delivering a stepped-up product from their would-be peers. The scariest thing about The Space Between Worlds is it’s their first LP. One looks forward to the next generation.

26. Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

saint vitus saint vitus

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 19.

I know for a fact that bassist Pat Bruders and drummer Henry Vasquez had a hand in writing some of the material on Saint Vitus’ second self-titled LP, and yet the album so much bears the indelible mark of guitarist Dave Chandler that it’s hard not to think of it all as his. The album marked their first release with original singer Scott Reagers since 1995’s Die Healing (discussed here) and featured among their trademark low-tuned slog, an actual punk song, which showed the grinning glee that underlies all they do. Four decades on, Saint Vitus sound like they’re having fun. How is that not a win?

25. Ealdor Bealu, Spirit of the Lonely Places

ealdor bealu spirit of the lonely places

Self-released. Reviewed July 10.

Woodsy Rocky Mountain psychedelia abounded on Boise foursome Ealdor Bealu’s second full-length, and their blend of landscape meditations and grounded heavy progressive melodicism made Spirit of the Lonely Places as much about impact as about space, though of course the real joy was the experience of the entirety. Very much a sophomore album, it learned lessons from 2017’s Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain (review here) that one only hopes the band will continue to push forward in scope as they so gracefully did here.

24. Yatra, Death Ritual

yatra death ritual

Released through Grimoire Records. Discussed Nov. 13, 2018..

Though hard- and to-date quick-working Maryland trio Yatra have already moved on and are looking ahead to releasing their second album, Blood of the Night (review here), their Grimoire-delivered debut, Death Ritual, is impossible to ignore for the impact it had on reminding listeners of the impact that primeval extreme sludge can have. Another couple tours and some bigger label — Relapse, Prosthetic, eOne, Season of Mist, whoever — will decide they’re “ready,” whatever that means, and then sign them and I won’t be cool enough to do track premieres for them anymore, but as far as accolades go, Yatra earn whatever they get and Death Ritual stands among 2019’s most landmark debuts. They’ve already outdone it, but it’s a stunner just the same.

23. Ecstatic Vision, For the Masses

ecstatic vision for the masses

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 17.

Ecstatic Vision frontman Doug Sabolik has cast himself in the mold of Arthur Brown or Dave Wyndorf or probably seven or eight dudes who were in Hawkwind at some point as a manic-but-stoned space rock preacher with as he and his band behind him plunge headfirst-or-feetfirst-it-doesn’t-matter-because-your-body-is-an-illusion-man into the molten multicolor void. For the Masses. The ‘masses,’ such as they are, should be so lucky, but the double-meaning is the real tell for where the Philly unit are coming from. Their shows are the masses — gatherings of spirit and song to give praise to the willful expansion of mind. If you can’t get behind that, you might as well go get a job or something. This ain’t no lightweight party for squares and dabblers. This is a high-potency happening for werewolves on motorcycles and freaks of all stripes. Get weird stay weird. Ecstatic Vision are one mostly-mellow 15-minute “Spine of God”-style psych-epic away from perfection.

22. Beastwars, IV

beastwars iv

Released by Destroy Records. Reviewed June 27.

But for the circumstances that brought it about — i.e. Beastwars vocalist Matt Hyde’s cancer — the unexpected fourth installment in the Beastwars trilogy was nothing if not welcome. An grand-feeling sense of largesse was nothing new to the New Zealand four-piece, but after breaking up and getting back together to make the album, the grim sincerity with which they presented this exploration of mortality and betrayal by one’s own body was no less palpable than the undulating riffs that threatened, as ever, to consume all in their path. I don’t know their future plans in terms of continuing to write and/or record, but there are reports of touring beyond Aus/NZ for 2020, so one way or another, stay tuned for more from them. Whether or not they do anything else, IV was a triumph in spirit and execution.

21. Eternal Black, Slow Burn Suicide

eternal black slow burn suicide

Self-released. Reviewed June 7.

With the nine songs of Slow Burn Suicide, Brooklyn’s Eternal Black began to unveil the true depth of their project. Their 2017 debut, Bleed the Days (review here), was well received, and rightly so, but operated more in a straight-ahead doom sphere. The second outing, by contrast, delved into a particular vision of the style informed by the crunch of peak-era New York noise and crossover hardcore, and it succeeded not just because it did this, but because it did so around a conjuration of memorable riffs and tracks building on accomplishments carried over from its predecessor. Is this an awaited arrival of next-generation ‘New York doom’? Will theirs be a blueprint others will follow? It’s impossible to know now, and their next album will be telling either way, but the course they’ve set is significant.

20. Candlemass, The Door to Doom

candlemass the door to doom

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 22.

It may have been the Tony Iommi guest appearance that got Swedish doom legends Candlemass — the world’s earliest and foremost purveyors of doom both classic and epic — their recent Grammy nomination, but it was the long-overdue reunion with original vocalist Johan Längquist that made the album as a whole as powerful as it was. Pairing Längquist’s theatrical and vital approach with founding bassist Leif Edling’s second-to-none doomcraft, The Door to Doom was a catapult not to the bygone days of the band’s landmark debut, 1986’s Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, but an inspired look at not just what might’ve been had Längquist remained with the band longer, but what might still be if he does this time around. Candlemass have been through their share of singers, but as fresh as The Door to Doom sounded, it’s hard not to hope for something more than a one-off with he who got there first. The songs, the spirit, the sheer heart poured into Candlemass’ doom some 35 years past the band’s start only emphasizes how special they have always been.

19. Nebula, Holy Shit

nebula holy shit

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed June 13.

Anyone who might’ve predicted Nebula getting into the studio and making a new album was either in the room when it happened or talking out their ass. And speaking of, was Nebula’s Holy Shit named for the shock one might’ve felt at its existence, or the surprise at how good it actually sounded when you put it on? I don’t know. I probably won’t ever know. It was the best title I saw all year, but more than that, it was a Nebula record, fueled by the classic riffing and unmitigated desert punk soul of founding/guitarist Eddie Glass, whose absence from the heavy underground for the last decade left a void only too many others whiffed on filling. Holy Shit showed just how singular a player Glass was and is, and how much character there is in his style, particularly in solos, but also in rhythmic changes, and so on. I won’t discount the work of bassist Tom Davies and drummer Mike Amster in making Nebula what they are in this incarnation — they’re essential, obviously — but there’s simply no denying that presence at the band’s core.

18. Valley of the Sun, Old Gods

valley of the sun old gods

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed May 21.

This was a heavy rock record that had everything. Everything. It had songs, style, ups, down, purples, greens, ins, outs, all kinds of whathaveyou. Riffs forever. Valley of the Sun should keep their eyes on Sasquatch, because if they want it, that path is theirs. I know the Cincinnati outfit have had trouble keeping lineups together, but if they can hold onto one, and maybe after their next record start touring more, domestically and abroad — not at all a minor ask, I know — then people will catch on. Old Gods is evidence of the fact that they genuinely have something to offer, and frankly, it’s not at all the first such effective case they’ve made in their career. But they’ve never put anything out that wasn’t a step forward, and yet they’ve never lost sight of the roots of their initial inspiration. And they’ve never sacrificed the song for the riff, which so many do. They’ve only ever gotten better. Let Old Gods be a step toward them getting attention they’ve long since deserved.

17. Kadavar, For the Dead Travel Fast

Kadavar For the Dead Travel Fast

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 28.

In style and production, For the Dead Travel Fast is the most vintage-sounding offering Berlin trio Kadavar have made in over a half decade, yet neither is it looking backward wistfully toward 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) or giving up the modern clarity of 2017’s Rough Times (review here) or 2015’s Berlin (review here). Instead, it strikes a balance with a more sinister edge à la Uncle Acid in songs like “Children of the Night” and “Demons in My Mind” — both singles — and makes a home for itself between proto-metal and garage doom. Whatever genre tag you want to give it — and that might vary from track to track, mind you — it’s unmistakably Kadavar, with the signature hooks and memorable craftsmanship that have made them one of the decade’s most pivotal heavy bands. The real challenge at this point in their career is not to take for granted that Kadavar will produce material of such quality, because, frankly, that’s all they’ve ever done.

16. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Yn Ol I Annwn

mammoth weed wizard bastard yn ol i annwn

Released by New Heavy Sounds. Reviewed Feb. 7.

Welsh sci-fi cosmic doomers Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard billed Yn Ol I Annwn as the final installment of a trilogy that includes their two prior LPs, 2015’s Noeth Ac Anoeth (review here) and 2016’s Y Proffwyd Dwyll (review here), and while that may be true thematically, there’s also no question the third is a marked step forward from anything they’ve done before. They’re one foot out of the airlock and into space as their synth-laden longform riffing and melodies take them to places they’ve not yet gone, explorations of sight as much as sound, aural translation of colors humans aren’t gifted to see. Their songs across the 65-minute span unfold with the grace of a gravity spiral, pulling the listener deeper into the proceedings with each new phase that emerges until, what, obliteration? Stellar genesis? I’m not sure. They’ve reportedly got one more record to make and then they’re done. If that’s true, they’ll be missed then they’re gone.

15. Magic Circle, Departed Souls

magic circle departed souls

Released by 20 Buck Spin. Reviewed April 3.

They’ve found their way to die, and it’s upon an altar of classic metal and doom. And honestly, they make a pretty good case for it. Departed Souls is the third full-length from the Boston unit and their most stylistically realized work yet, with vocalist Brendan Radigan giving a standout performance alongside the guitars of Chris Corry and Renato Montenegro, the bass of Justin DeTore and Michael “Q” Quartulli’s drums, as the entire band taps into vibes from mid-’70s Black Sabbath and brings them to bear with an energy that is unlike anything in Magic Circle’s history. 2015’s Journey Blind (review here) brought in NWOBHM flash in the guitar work, sure enough, but Departed Souls doesn’t so much carry the torch of classic metal as it does use it to burn down the whole village and rebuild it in the five-piece’s image. From their doomed beginnings on their 2013 self-titled debut (review here) to now, they’re an act who’ve genuinely earned cult status. If you can find a backpatch, buy it.

14. Spaceslug, Reign of the Orion

Spaceslug Reign of the Orion cover

Released by BSFD Records. Reviewed Nov. 22.

Controversy! Drama! Well, probably not, but at very least some respectful disagreement on my part. You see, Poland’s Spaceslug have stated publicly that their latest release, the late-2019 surprise Reign of the Orion is an EP. Their albums regularly top 50 minutes, and at 36 minutes, I guess relative to that, you can see where they’re coming from. However, with the flow of these five songs and the ease with which they carry the listener from front-to-back through the listening experience, I’m sticking to my guns and calling Reign of the Orion an album. Sorry guys. True, it’s shorter than the other full-lengths, but it’s got everything you could ask an album to have in terms of how tracks like “Spacerunner” and the shouty “Half-Moon Burns” play into each other, and the fluidity of the outing on the whole is inarguable. An LP by any other name? Whatever you or they want to call it, there’s no question in my mind Reign of the Orion is one of 2019’s best records. If they insist on it being an EP, then it’s the best one of the year, but I still say it belongs in another category altogether, so here it is.

13. Green Lung, Woodland Rites

green lung woodland rites

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Jan. 28.

As hyper-crowded as London is with bands at this moment in history, there continue to be acts who sneak through with an individualized and intriguing perspective on doom and heavy rock, and Green Lung are a perfect example, learning from fellow Brits like Alunah and Elephant Tree and incorporating folk and forest goth vibes to their debut album, Woodland Rites. Laced with organ and stuck-in-the-head choruses like “Let the Devil In” and the creeper “Templar Dawn,” the record also pushed into drifting verses on “Into the Wild,” setting up future experimentation with atmospheric variety and genre manipulation. If part of any first album’s appeal is the potential it represents, Green Lung’s offers plenty, but wherever their subsequent course may or may not take them, their accomplishments here shouldn’t be overlooked. Woodland Rites is nothing less than the heavy rock debut album of the year, and though they emerge from a packed field, the work they do to stand themselves out already carries their mark and an apparent will toward progression. They’re on their way.

12. Lo-Pan, Subtle

lo-pan subtle

Released by Aqualamb Records. Reviewed May 9.

My head immediately goes to the hooks of “Ten Days” and “Ascension Day” and “Savage Heart,” but the up-down surges of guitar in “Old News/New Fire” and the midtempo soulfulness in “A Thousand Miles” are no less resonant when it comes to the actual listening experience of the fifth Lo-Pan LP. Subtle, when it came to living up to its name, as much wasn’t as it was. Flourishes of harmony in the vocals of Jeff Martin, the pops in Jesse Bartz’s snare punctuating and propelling in kind, turns in Scott Thompson’s bass work twisting around the guitar of Chris Thompson, a relative newcomer to the fold making his debut with the band and showing no apparent trouble fitting in. I don’t imagine Lo-Pan is an easy band to join, especially at this point. They thrive on personality clash and, through years of touring, have a chemistry they’ve built between them that comes through even on their recordings. Nonetheless, Subtle is their clearest, sharpest-edged work yet, and as tight as their songwriting has become, they still groove and groove mightily. They are a treasure of American heavy rock and roll. Believe it.

11. Roadsaw, Tinnitus the Night

roadsaw tinnitus the night

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 12.

While members of Roadsaw have spent the intervening years in projects like Kind, White Dynomite, Sasquatch and Murcielago, the Boston heavy rock kingpins have indeed been missed, and Tinnitus the Night works quickly to show why. It’s been well over 20 years since their first LP — hell, it’s been eight since they put out their 2011 self-titled (review here) — but their craft is at its own level, and Tinnitus the Night comes barreling through with “Shake” and “Along for the Ride” and “Final Phase” before opening up to broader fare on side B with “Find What You Need,” “Under the Devil’s Thumb” and “Midazolam” ahead of the subdued finale “Silence,” and the result is nothing less than a classic heavy rock LP structure as befitting what is itself a classic heavy rock LP. What’s Roadsaw’s future? I don’t know. It took them the better part of a decade to make this one happen, so take from that what you will, but to me, all it says is there’s even more reason to be grateful they got it done and out. To say the songs deserve that is putting it mildly.

10. Worshipper, Light in the Wire

worshipper light in the wire

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 24.

I’m not doing a ‘song of the year’ post, but if I was, Worshipper’s “Coming Through” might be it. The opening track from the Boston four-piece’s second album, Light in the Wire, marries classic pop drama in its melody with careening progressive riffing, and sets the tone for a record that is of both future and past, twistingly complex and yet immediately accessible, immersive as an entirety and still comprised of standout moments. These aren’t contradictions in Worshipper’s skillful hands, but the stuff of what’s already becoming their own take on rock. Tied together through melody, skillful rhythmic intricacy and solid structural foundations, “Light in the Wires,” “Visions from Beyond,” “Wither on the Vine” and others throughout post their own triumphs en route to enhancing the album as a whole, while “Nobody Else” and closer “Arise” underscore the emotive basis from which the perspective of the whole LP emanates. There are a lot of “next-gen” heavy rock bands out there weaving prog elements and traditional riffing together to some degree or other. Few, if any, can write a song like Worshipper can. I mean it. This band is something special.

9. Solace, The Brink

solace the brink

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Nov. 21.

What is there to say about Solace? A band who, nine years after revealing the expectation-slaughtering masterpiece A.D. (review here), return with three-fifths of a swapped-out lineup and simply do it again? This band is explosive. Really. Like, they might explode at any minute. It’s a miracle The Brink ever happened. I’ll be honest, I had my doubts. But Solace are a force like nothing else I’ve ever encountered in music. They take metallic aggression, hardcore’s sense of self-righteousness and heavy rock’s groove, set it all to a doomly swing and they play it in such a way as to leave you utterly dumbfounded by what you just experienced. Here’s a challenge though, for the band personally. From me to them. Do another one. Go ahead. Put out another album. You don’t even have to do it in 2020. Do it 2021. Write the songs and give me a no-holds-barred 45-minute LP of the tightest, meanest shit you’ve ever written. Because massive as the accomplishments are on The Brink, it’s the potential to build from them that resonates most here. So do it, guys. Step up and take advantage of the moment. Call me greedy if you want, I don’t care. Give me another Solace record. I dare you.

8. Brume, Rabbits

brume rabbits

Released by Doom Stew Records & DHU Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

Simply a case of a band wildly outdoing themselves. Easy story, yeah? In some ways, maybe, but the truth of what Brume achieve on Rabbits. Their second long-player behind 2017’s Rooster (review here), the five-track offering sees the San Francisco three-piece of vocalist/bassist Susie McMullan, guitarist/vocalist Jamie McCathie and drummer Jordan Perkins-Lewis working with producer Billy Anderson to bring theatricality and emotionalism together in a flowing post-heavy context that’s neither derivative nor working at cross purposes. Instead, it is a gorgeous and blooming undertaking across its 43-minute span, working in its own light/dark spectrum and bringing not just the sense of trapped fragility evoked by the cover art, but a corresponding sureness of intent to its ascendant heavy surges. Like Rooster before it, it is loaded with potential, but in “Scurry” and “Lament” and “Despondence” and “Blue Jay and “Autocrat’s Fool,” there’s a patience and command that absolutely does not waver. So yes, a band outdoing themselves. But so much more too.

7. Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal

mars red sky the task eternal

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Sept. 20.

This may forever be known as the Mars Red Sky album they wrote in a cave, but the Bordeaux three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matieu “Matgaz” Gazeau nonetheless plunged forward along the progressive course they charted back on 2014’s sophomore outing, Stranded in Arcadia (review here), and continued to manifest in 2016’s Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here). Their blend of melody and tonal heft has become a hallmark of their work to this stage in their career, but The Task Eternal continues to add a sense of breadth to the proceedings, giving their sound a full three-dimensional pull that feels tailor-made for headphones and is consuming in its entirety. With experiments in structure like the pairing of “Recast” and “Reacts,” and the rushing sweep of melody in “Hollow King,” Mars Red Sky’s latest is, as ever, their finest. Outdoing themselves would seem to be the task from which the record derives its title. Fine. Just keep going. Please.

6. Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 15.

Every time I think I understand where Kings Destroy want to go as a band, they pull the rug out. That’s what Fantasma Nera is. After their 2015 self-titled (review here) third LP seemed to declare them once and for all in a space between doom and noise rooted in their respective hardcore pasts, the Brooklynite five-piece hooked up with producer David Bottrill (Tool, etc.) and composed a rock album. A real live rock album! With progressive undertones in the guitar work and the most accomplished melodicism of their career, Kings Destroy put everything they had into making Fantasma Nera and one need look no further than the title-track to hear the result of that monumental effort. It is the realization of a band challenging themselves to go so far out of their comfort zone as to be only recognizable in the most rudimentary of ways, and to say it as plainly as I can, “Dead Before” on its own is enough of an accomplishment — and enough of a full-length, at all of 4:25 — to make this list on its own, whatever surrounds it. Song of the year. I’ll say every time I’m a Kings Destroy fan, but I’ve never been gladder to say it than I am in talking about Fantasma Nera.

5. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Dec. 3.

If you’re saying to yourself, “Ah come on, Colour Haze are always on the list when they put out records,” I have two answers. One, you’re right, and two, if you have a problem with that, blow it out your ass. The Munich forefathers of the European heavy psychedelic underground — yup — marked their 25th anniversary this year, and did so not just by putting out an album, but by putting out We Are, which introduces a full-fledged fourth member to what’s been a three-piece since 1998. Granted, it’s not the first time guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald have worked with organist/keyboardist/synthesist Jan Faszbender, but never has the presence of keys been so integral to their work, and never has the dynamic between players shifted in the way it does on tracks like “The Real” and “Life” and “I’m With You,” with keys fleshing out melodies and enriching the bass and guitar. Add to that the Spanish-style guitar on centerpiece “Material Drive” or the operatic flash in the penultimate “Be With Me,” and it’s one more example of one of the best bands on earth refusing to rest on their laurels. Which, as it happens, is why they’re one of the best bands on earth. So hell yes, they’re on all my lists. Fact is my lists are lucky to have them.

4. Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter

blackwater holylight veils of winter

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Sept. 26.

Like nothing else I heard in 2019, Veils of Winter had repeat listenability. It was the album that, most often, when I was choosing something I actually wanted to hear, I went back to time and again. Its dark, moody psychedelic and heavy vibe stands alone among the year’s releases, and is a stylistic milestone that one only hopes other artists will pick up on. Toying with pop melodies on tracks like “Death Realms” and bringing hypnosis and clarity in kind to the subtly traditionalist winding riff of “Moonlit” — would it have been out of place on the first Witchcraft LP? — the Portland, Oregon, five-piece worked on a speedy turnaround and squashed even the significant expectations I had after their self-titled debut (review here) last year. They’ve begun to tour, so I don’t know if another full-length is in the works for 2020, but their craft is enviable in its flow and their songs are shimmering in tone and cohesion alike. Given how bold a step forward Veils of Winter is, I hear nothing in their material to this point to make me think their momentum won’t continue to carry them forward. But, you know, if not, I’d also take about six or seven records just like this one. That’d be fine too. Whatever they want, really.

3. Slomatics, Canyons

Slomatics Canyons

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed May 15.

Belfast, Northern Ireland, three-piece Slomatics — guitarists David Marjury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/synthesist Marty Harvey — finished a narrative trilogy with 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here), and though the storyline was always vague throughout that and the preceding two offerings, the question of how they would proceed nonetheless hung over Canyons prior to its release. The answer is in the songs themselves. From the sci-fi majesty of lumbering, rolling groove in opener and longest track “Gears of Despair” — oh, they grind — through the mega-stomp of “Telemachus, My Son” and the righteously synth-laden wash that consumes “Mind Fortresses on Theia,” Slomatics bring together concept and execution with a readiness that highlights the fact of their 15th anniversary. They are mature in their approach, yes, but the fact is their approach is so much their own and so given to their particular mode of progression that it almost can’t help but feel fresh. How could something so utterly crushing also feel rejuvenating? As they plod through finale “Organic Caverns II” ending with more waves of synth and tectonic guitar — no bass, remember — they are as restorative as they are punishing, and they stand astride that duality with neither mercy nor pretense. Canyons, whether it’s setting up a new story, building from the old, or doing something completely different, stands on its own.

2. Year of the Cobra, Ash and Dust

year of the cobra ash and dust

Released by Prophecy Productions. Reviewed Oct. 24.

My anticipation for and expectations of Year of the Cobra’s second long-player were high most especially after 2017’s Burn Your Dead EP (review here), which along with the dead, set alight the notion that the Seattle duo of bassist/vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith and drummer Jon Barrysmith were simply a heavy/doom band. With elements of post-punk, psych wash, minimalist stretches and propulsive gallop, Ash and Dust cast itself out over an aesthetic range that set a new standard not just for Year of the Cobra, but for anyone who’d dare match them at their own game — and that list will grow with time, absolutely. As their first outing through Prophecy Productions, Ash and Dust threw itself into the very melting pot of its own ambition and emerged with songs that didn’t just bring together disparate ideas, but made them flourish and engage and challenge the listener while still proving consistent in tone and underlying groove. For a two-person, two-instrument outfit (not counting voice, though I should), they proved more malleable than many with more than twice the number of hands on deck, and pushed the notion of what heavy rock is and does forward without stopping to look back or ask for permission. They just did it, and maybe Ash and Dust is the aftermath of all that burning.

2019 Album of the Year

1. Monolord, No Comfort

monolord no comfort

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Look back over the course of this list, and you will find no shortage of bands and releases that surpassed the group in question’s past work. With Gothenburg, Sweden’s Monolord, it wasn’t just about No Comfort — their debut on Relapse, fourth full-length overall — being better than 2017’s Rust (review here), because that was pretty jolly gosh darn enjoyable, but about the band reaching a moment of transcendence to which Rust and all their prior work across 2015’s Vænir (review here) and 2014’s Empress Rising has been leading. With the six tracks of No Comfort, guitarist/vocalist Thomas Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and drummer Esben Willems not only overcome the influences that launched them — taking full ownership of their sound and defending that claim with the sheer quality of their songwriting — and they not only become as identifiable as those influences themselves, but they overcome themselves. No Comfort means no comfort. Monolord take the simplicity that once fueled their riffing, the willful primitivism of their earliest work, and with songs like “Larvae” and “The Bastard Son” and the closing title-track use it as the foundation it was apparently always intended to be. Monolord have toured plenty and certainly their studio output has shown an increasing complexity from one LP to the next, so progression isn’t unexpected, but the manner in which Monolord have executed that progression has been. Even on “The Last Leaf,” which is arguably the most straightforward fare on the album, one hears it as them rather than the manifestation of the acts that inspired them. The same holds for “Skywards” later on, and for the immersion that takes hold as the mournful “Alone Together” plays into “No Comfort” itself. Monolord take their place among the best bands on the planet, and deliver an Album of the Year for 2019 that, like the absolute best, will have an impact lasting much longer than any period of 12 months might convey.

The Top 50 Albums of 2019: Honorable Mention

You didn’t think we’d stop at 50, did you? Come on. You know me better than that. The fact is that the list itself, humongous as it is, is just the start of the tip of an iceberg attached to a glacier that’s somewhere on an entire planet constructed of ice.

Honorable mentions, you say? Yeah, a few. Here they are in no order whatsoever:

Lord Vicar, Goatess, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, Zone Six, Lykantropi, Earth, White Manna, Atala, Tia Carrera, Merlin, WEEED, Híbrido, Cities of Mars, Stone Machine Electric, Bretus, Blackwolfgoat, The Black Wizards, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Alunah, V, Pale Grey Lore, Leeds Point, Sons of Alpha Centauri, Spidergawd, Bus, Death Hawks, BBF, Vessel of Light, Crypt Trip, The Pilgrim, Uffe Lorenzen, Brant Bjork, Doomstress, Black Lung, Kandodo3, Monkey3, Bask, Horseburner, Zed, Bright Curse, Spillage, Sigils, Papir, Dune Sea, Destroyer of Light, Mastiff, Warp, Centrum, Varego, Lord Dying, Volcano, Saint Karloff, Firebreather, High Reeper, Bible of the Devil, Obsidian Sea, Torche, Motorpsycho, Sunn O))), Deadbird, Russian Circles, El Supremo, Pyramidal, Holy Serpent, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Demon Head, Red Beard Wall, Onhou, Kamchatka, Iguana, Arrowhead, The Whims of the Great Magnet, Serial Hawk, Scissorfight, Monte Luna, Lingua Ignota, Valborg, Sageness, Ruff Majik, The Giraffes, High Fighter, Comacozer, Burning Gloom, Swan Valley Heights, Mark Deutrom, Cable, AVER, Superlynx, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Old Mexico, Skraeckoedlan, Godsleep, Øresund Space Collective Meets Black Moon Circle.

Seems cruel to leave it to you to sort through those, but I’m tempted to do just that. You might notice some bigger names there in bands like Earth, Russian Circles, Torche and Sunn O))). Nothing against those bands, but I think we’re seeing a moment where a different group of artists are taking point in terms of innovating heavy styles across an entire swath of microgenres. Either way it’s not a slight that something is here instead of above. And of course, there are plenty of up and coming groups here as well, with Ruff Majik, Elizabeth Colour Wheel — who I’m sure would be a top 30 if I knew the record better than I do — Pale Grey Lore, Monte Luna, Papir, Destroyer of Light, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Skraeckoedlan, and so on, but hell’s bells, there’s already a list of 50 and I’m only one man. How high is the list supposed to go and still be a list?

Bottom line: Music is as endless as space and has as much beauty in it for those willing to hear. Do more digging.

The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2019

green lung woodland rites

1. Green Lung, Woodland Rites
2. Yatra, Death Ritual
3. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds
4. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
5. SÂVER, They Came with Sunlight
6. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
7. Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Nocebo
8. The Pilgrim, Walking into the Forest
9. Sigils, You Build the Altar You Lit the Leaves
10. E-L-R, Maenad
11. Hey Zeus, X
12. Bellrope, You Must Relax
13. Asthma Castle, Mount Crushmore
14. Thronehammer, Usurper of Oaken Throne
15. Inner Altar, Vol. III
16. Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember
17. Hippie Death Cult, 111
18. Faerie Ring, The Clearing
19. Gone Cosmic, Sideways in Time
20. Haze Mage, Chronicles

Honorable Mention: Warp, Pelegrin, Lucy in Blue, Volcano, The Sabbathian, Red Eye Tales, Dune Sea, Dury Dava, Pharlee, Giant Dwarf, Ghost:Hello, Surya, Workshed, Children of the Sün, Burning Gloom, Temple of the Fuzz Witch.

Notes: As ever, I consider a band’s debut album something unique and separate from everything else they’ll ever do, and so worthy of highlighting in its own category. It’s a different standard in my mind, one that takes into account what a group might accomplish going forward as well as what they do on the record itself. Plus, putting out an album is hard. Getting two, three, four, five or more people to agree on anything is an accomplishment. Making a cohesive album? Come on. So yes. We see some crossover from the main list above, but I want to draw attention to Howling Giant, Thunderbird Divine and SÂVER particularly here. There’s a swath of genres represented and I feel like a couple of these releases — Sigils, Bellrope, Thronehammer, Inner Altar, Faerie Ring, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember — didn’t get their due attention. It’s a busy year, I get it. But if you’re skimming through looking for stuff to check out, DON’T IGNORE THIS LIST. Aside from whatever line about the best of tomorrow you want to trot out, there’s important work being done by these acts today. As somebody who’s constantly behind the times, I urge you not to

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2019

geezer spiral fires

1. Geezer, Spiral Fires
2. Ufomammut, XX
3. All Them Witches, 1×1
4. Mount Saturn, Mount Saturn
5. Dopelord, Weedpecker, Major Kong & Spaceslug, 4-Way Split
6. Horehound, Weight
7. Molasses, Mourning Haze
8. Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Split
9. Here Lies Man, No Ground to Walk Upon
10. The Golden Grass, 100 Arrows
11. Mount Atlas, Mistress
12. Midas, Solid Gold Heavy Metal
13. Glory in the Shadows, Glory in the Shadows
14. Hot Breath, Hot Breath
15. Crystal Spiders, Demo
16. Red Wizard, Ogami
17. Thermic Boogie, Fracture
18. Pinto Graham, Dos
19. High Priest, Sanctum
20. Set Fire, Traya
21. Seedium, Awake

Honorable Mention: Love Gang & Smokey Mirror Split, Forebode, Land Mammal, Very Paranoia, Plague of Carcosa, Daal Dazed, Komodor, Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge Split, High on Fire, Mount Soma.

Notes: This is probably the least complete of the lists, because it’s the hardest category for me to keep up with. EPs, singles, demos, splits and basically anything else that isn’t an album, all lumped together. Still, I stand by the picks here, and I don’t think anyone who takes on any of them will regret doing so, whether it’s All Them Witches’ surprisingly weighted first single as a trio, Mount Saturn’s debut release, or Geezer’s cosmic jams. Felt a little like cheating putting Ufomammut on there, since technically XX wasn’t new material so much as reworked stuff captured live, but if you want to call me out on it, my own listening habits also factor in, and I’ve spent plenty of time with those reimagined tracks. But anyway, I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff that hasn’t been included here, so please feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll work accordingly.

Postwax

I haven’t felt comfortable with the idea of writing about it editorially, since I’ve been involved in discussions about it since before it came together and since I did the liner notes for each of the six releases (plus one to come), but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible work done on the Postwax vinyl subscription series by Blues Funeral Recordings. Label head Jadd Shickler and design specialist Peder Bergstrand (also of Lowrider) put together six offerings that came out in the span of this year and when you hold the LPs in your hand, you can feel the passion that went into making them, from the artists in question to those curating the series in the first place. I hear tell there’s going to be a Postwax Year Two, and I don’t know if I’ll be involved or not, but I’m proud of my miniscule part in the work that went into making these and wanted to bring them to your particular attention. They are something special for those who got to partake:

  • Elder, The Gold and Silver Sessions
  • Daxma, Ruins Upon Ruins
  • Besvärjelsen, Frost
  • Big Scenic Nowhere, Dying on the Mountain
  • Domkraft, Slow Fidelity
  • Lowrider, Refractions

And while we’re talking about projects I was proud to be involved with, I also did liner notes for Acrimony’s The Chronicles of Wode box set from Burning World Records and was honored to do so. Thanks to any and everyone in question for having me involved and dealing with me blowing past deadlines one after the next. It is humbling.

Looking Ahead to 2020

A few names and nothing more about what definitely is and/or might be in the works for next year. Woefully incomplete, so feel free to add to it:

1000mods, Wolves in the Throne Room, Deathwhite, Mondo Drag, Drug Cult, Ocean Chief, Soldati, Sergio Ch., Mitochondrial Sun, Geezer, Mirror Queen, Mondo Generator, The Otolith, Asteroid, Yatra, Vestal Claret, Farer, Ryte, Shadow Witch, Six Organs of Admittance, Naxatras, Wolftooth, Snail, Elder, Pale Divine, Grey Skies Fallen, Ruby the Hatchet, Yuri Gagarin, Sasquatch, Godthrymm, Wo Fat, Red Mesa, CB3, Onsegen Ensemble, Insect Ark, Acid Mammoth, Ritual King, Ulls, Om.

Thank You

Thank you for reading, and please, if you have a thought or something you want to share in the comments, please remember to be kind to each other. We are all human beings behind our phones and keyboards, and while we’ll disagree, often in some ways and some cases, a basic level of respect is always appreciated. At least by me.

I am not so deluded as to think anyone might still be reading, but I want it on record how much I appreciate you being a part of this site and a part of my experience in making it. I’ve been ruminating all year since marking the 10th anniversary back in January about how much The Obelisk has become a part of who I am, and it’s utterly essential to my every day. The way I continue to think about it — and myself, as it happens — is a work in progress, and that would not be possible without you. One more time. Thank you. Always. Always thank you. Thank you.

More to come.

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Quarterly Review: Torche, Spillage, Pharlee, Dali’s Llama, Speedealer, Mt. Echo, Monocluster, Picaporters, Beaten by Hippies, Luna Sol

Posted in Reviews on July 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

We meet again. The Summer 2019 Quarterly Review. It’s four in the morning and I’m getting ready to start the day. I haven’t even managed to pour myself coffee yet, which even as I type it out feels like a crime against humanity, such as it is. I’ll get there though.

Wednesday in the Quarterly Review marks the halfway point of the week, and as we’ll hit 30 reviews at the end, it’s half of the total 60 as well, so yeah. Feeling alright so far. As always, good music helps. I’ve added a couple things for consideration to my ongoing best-of-the-year list for December, so that’s something. And I think I’ll probably be doing so again today, so let’s get to it.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Torche, Admission

torche admission

15 years later and Torche‘s sound is still expanding. To that point, it’s never sounded quite as expansive as it does on Admission, their fifth album and second for Relapse behind 2015’s Restarter (review here). There are still plenty of straight-ahead heavy riffs on cuts like “Reminder” or “Slide” or the bomb-tone-laden “Infierno,” but in the title-track, in “Times Missing,” the closer “Changes Come,” “Slide” and even the 1:30-long “What Was,” there’s a sense of spaciousness and float to the guitars to contrast all that crunch, and it effectively takes the place of some of the manic feel of their earlier work. It’s consistent with the brightness of their melodies in songs like “Extremes of Consciousness” and the early pusher “Submission,” and it adds to their style rather than takes away, building on the mid-paced feel of the last album in such a way as to demonstrate the band’s continued growth long after they’d be well within their rights to rest on their laurels. Sharp, consistent in its level of songwriting, mature and engaging across its 36-minute entirety, Admission is everything one might ask of Torche‘s fifth album.

Torche on Thee Facebooks

Relapse Records website

 

Spillage, Blood of Angels

spillage blood of angels

If you, like me, believe doom to be the guardian style of classic heavy metal — you could also argue power metal there, but that’s why it’s an argument — Chicago’s Spillage might be the band to help make your case. With their own Ronnie James Dio in Elvin Rodriguez (not a comparison I make lightly) and a connection to the Trouble family tree via founding guitarist Tony Spillman, who also played in Earthen Grave, the band unfurl trad-metal poise throughout their 53-minute second album, Blood of Angels, hitting touchstones like Sabbath, Priest, and indeed Trouble on a chugger like “Free Man,” a liberal dose of organ on “Rough Grooved Surface” adding to the classic feel — Rainbow, maybe? — and even the grandiose ballad “Voice of Reason” that appears before the closing Sabbath cover “Dirty Women” staying loyal to the cause. I can’t and won’t fault them for that, as in both their originals and in the cover, their hearts are obviously in it all the way and the sound is right on, the sleek swing in the second half of “Evil Doers” punctuated by squealing guitar just as it should be. Mark it a win for the forces of metal, maybe less so for the angels.

Spillage on Thee Facebooks

Qumran Records on Thee Facebooks

 

Pharlee, Pharlee

pharlee pharlee

San Diego strikes again with Pharlee‘s self-titled debut on Tee Pee Records, a 29-minute boogie rock shove that’s marked out by the significant pipes of Macarena Rivera up front, the shuffling snare work of Zach Oakley (also guitar in JOY and Volcano) and the organ work of Garret Lekas throughout, winding around and accentuating the riffs of Justin “Figgy” Figueroa and the air-push bass of Dylan Donovan. It’s a proven formula by now, but Pharlee‘s Pharlee is like the band who comes on stage in the middle of the festival and surprises everyone and reminds them why they’re there in the first place. The energy of “Darkest Hour” is infectious, and the bluesier take on Freddie King‘s “Going Down” highlights a stoner shred in Figueroa‘s guitar that fits superbly ahead of the fuzz freakout, all-go closer “Sunward,” and whatever stylistic elements (and personnel, for that matter) might be consistent with their hometown’s well-populated underground, Pharlee take that radness and make it their own.

Pharlee on Thee Facebooks

Tee Pee Records website

 

Dali’s Llama, Mercury Sea

dalis llama mercury sea

Long-running desert rockers Dali’s Llama return with Mercury Sea, their first release since 2017’s The Blossom EP (review here) and their first full-length since 2016’s Dying in the Sun (review here), sounding reinvigorated in rockers like opener “Weary” and the subsequent grunge-vibing “Choking on the Same,” “When Ember Laughs” and the garage-style “She’s Not Here.” Persistently underappreciated, their albums always have a distinct feel, and Mercury Sea is no different, finding a place for itself between the laid-back desert blues and punkier fare on a cut like “Someday, Someday,” even delving into psychedelic folk for a while in the 6:54 longest track “Goblin Fruit,” and a bit of lead guitar scorch bringing it all together on closer “All My Fault,” highlighting the theme of love that’s been playing out all the while. The sincerity behind that and everything Dali’s Llama does is palpable as ever in these 11 tracks, an more than 25 years on from their inception, they continue to deliver memorable songs in wholly unpretentious fashion. That’s just what they do.

Dali’s Llama on Thee Facebooks

Dali’s Llama on Bandcamp

 

Speedealer, Blue Days Black Nights

speedealer blue days black nights

Speedealer ride again! And just about at top speed, too. The Dallas, Texas, outfit were last heard from circa 2003, and their turnabout is marked with the self-release of Blue Days Black Nights, a fury-driven 10-tracker that takes the best of their heavy-rock-via-punk delivery and beefs up tones to suit another decade and a half’s worth of hard living and accumulated disaffection. The Dallas four-piece blaze through songs like “Never Knew,” the hardcore-punk “Losing My Shit,” the more metallic “Nothing Left to Say,” and the careening aggro-swagger of “Rheumatism,” but there’s still some variety to be had throughout, as highlight “Sold Out,” “War Nicht Genung” and “Shut Up” find the band no less effective working at a somewhat scaled-back pace. However fast they’re going, though the attitude remains much the same, and it’s “fuck you fuck this” fuckall all the way. Those familiar with their past work would expect no less, and time has clearly not repaired the chip on Speedealer‘s shoulder. Their anger is our gain.

Speedealer on Thee Facebooks

Speedealer webstore

 

Mt. Echo, Cirrus

mt echo cirrus

Based in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, the instrumentalist four-piece Mt. Echo present a somewhat noisier take on Russian Circles-style heavy post-rock with their nine-song/46-minute debut, Cirrus. Not at all shy about incorporating a noise rock riff or a more weighted groove, the dual-guitar outfit nonetheless spend significant time patiently engaged in the work of atmosphere-building, so that their material develops a genuine ebb and flow as songs tie one into the next to give the entire affair a whole-album feel. It is their first outing, but all the more striking for that in terms of how much of a grip they seem to have on their approach and what they want to be doing in a song like “Lighthouse at the End of Time” with airy lead and chugging rhythm guitars intertwining and meeting head-on for post-YOB crashes and an eventual turn into a harder-pushing progression. Ambience comes (mostly) to the fore in the seven-minute “Monsters and the Men Who Made Them,” but wherever they go on Cirrus, Mt. Echo bring that atmospheric density along with them. The proverbial ‘band to watch.’

Mt. Echo on Thee Facebooks

Mt. Echo on Bandcamp

 

Monocluster, Ocean

Monocluster Ocean

Over the course of five longform tracks on Ocean, Germany’s Monocluster build fluidly on the accomplishments of their 2015 self-titled debut (review here), greatly expanding on the heft and general reach of their sound while, as opener “Ocean in Our Bones” demonstrates, still holding onto the ability to affect a killer hook when they need one. Ocean is not a minor undertaking at 56 minutes, but it dedicates its time to constructing a world in cuts like “Leviathan” and “A Place Beyond,” the giant wall of fuzzed low end becoming the backdrop for the three-part story being told that ends with the 11:43 “Home” standing alone, as graceful and progressive as it is brash and noisy — a mirror in that regard to the nine-minute centerpiece “Guns and Greed” and a fitting summation of Ocean‘s course. They keep this up for very long and people are going to start to notice. The album is a marked step forward from where Monocluster were a few years ago, and sets up the expectation of continued growth their next time out while keeping a focus on the essential elements of songwriting as well. If we’re looking for highlights, I’d pick “Leviathan,” but honestly, it’s anyone’s game.

Monocluster on Thee Facebooks

Monocluster on Bandcamp

 

Picaporters, XXIII

picaporters xxiii

The third full-length from Argentine trio Picaporters marks another level of achievement for them as a band. XXIII arrives three years after El Horror Oculto (review here) and is unquestionably their broadest-cast spectrum to-date. The album comes bookended by eight-minute opener “La Soga de los Muertos” and “M.I.,” an 18-minute finale jam that would give a Deep Purple live record reason to blush. Soulful guitar stretches out over a vast rhythmic landscape, and all this after “Jinetes del Universo” motorpunks out and “Vencida” pulls together Floydian melo-prog, “Numero 5” precedes the closer with acoustic interplay and the early “Despertar” offers a little bit of everything and a lot of what-the-hell-just-happened. These guys started out on solid footing with their 2013 debut, Elefantes (review here), but neither that nor El Horror Oculto really hinted at the scope they’d make sound so natural throughout XXIII, which is the kind of record that leaves you no choice but to call it progressive.

Picaporters on Thee Facebooks

Picaporters on Bandcamp

 

Beaten by Hippies, Beaten by Hippies

beaten by hippies beaten by hippies

As their moniker hints, there’s some edge of danger to Belgium’s Beaten by Hippies‘ self-titled debut (on Polderrecords), but the album ultimately resolves itself more toward songwriting and hooks in the spirit of a meaner-sounding Queens of the Stone Age in songs like “Space Tail” and “More is More,” finding common ground with the energy of Truckfighters though never quite delving so far into fuzzy tones. That’s not at all to the band’s detriment — rather, it helps the four-piece begin to cast their identity as they do in this material, whether that’s happening in the volatile sudden volume trades in “Dust” or the mission statement “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which feels geared a bit to the anthemic but would probably work just as well in whatever pub they happen to be terrorizing on a given evening. Their delivery skirts the line between heavy and hard rock as only that vaguely commercially viable European-style can, but the songs are right there waiting to take the stage at whatever festival is this weekend and blow the roof — or the sky, I guess, if it’s outdoors — off the place.

Beaten by Hippies on Thee Facebooks

Polderrecords website

 

Luna Sol, Below the Deep

luna sol below the deep

Guitarist/vocalist Dave Angstrom may be best known in heavy rock circles for his work alongside John Garcia in Hermano, but in leading the four-piece Luna Sol through their 12-song/50-minute sophomore outing, Below the Deep (on Slush Fund Recordings), he proves a capable frontman as well as songwriter. Sharing vocal duties with bassist Shannon Fahnestock while David Burke handles guitar and Justin Baier drums, Angstrom is a steady presence at the fore through the well-constructed ’90s-flavored heavy rock of “Below the Deep” and “Along the Road” early, the later “Garden of the Gods” playing toward a more complex arrangement after the strutting “The Dying Conglomerate” paints a suitably grim State of the Union and ahead of the fuzz-rich ending in “Home,” which keeps its melodic purpose even as it crashes out to its languid finish. Whether it’s the charged “Man’s Worth Killin'” or the winding fuzz of “Mammoth Cave,” one can definitely hear some Hermano at work, but Luna Sol distinguish themselves just the same.

Luna Sol on Thee Facebooks

Slush Fund Recordings webstore

 

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Brimstone Coven & Spillage Announce August Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 8th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

brimstone coven

spillage

This August, West Virginia’s Brimstone Coven and Chicago’s own Spillage will head out on tour together through Texas and various destination points in the Midwest. The run is 10 shows in 10 days, no nights off, and will begin on Aug. 8 as Brimstone Coven head out behind last year’s What Was and What Shall Be, which was their first offering as a three-piece after issuing their second album, Black Magic (review here), through Metal Blade in 2016. They also just appeared this past weekend at the New England Stoner and Doom Fest II in Jewett City, Connecticut, which by all accounts I’ve seen was a win.

Spillage meanwhile appeared at Maryland Doom Fest last year and in January released their second album, Blood of Angels, and their classic Chicago-style deep-dish doom/metal should make a fun pairing with Brimstone Coven‘s harmonies. The tour is presented by Mercyful Mike Management, which is long-since aligned with Spillage, having booked them as well as support for its Sheavy tour and featured the band on Days of the Doomed III way back when in Wisconsin. That was just about six years ago. Time flies and all that.

Texas gets its due here, but there’s plenty of non-TX dates as well for anyone not of a Lone Star persuasion. Cheers to the bands on getting out. An independent tour of 10 shows in a row could easily be a slog, but something tells me these guys will keep good company.

Dates follow:

brimstone coven spillage tour

Happy to officially announce all dates of the “Blood and Hellfire” tour featuring Brimstone Coven and SPILLAGE! See you all in August!

8/8 – Little Rock, Arkansas @ The White Water Tavern
8/9 – San Antonio, Texas @ Limelight
8/10 – Houston, Texas @ Dan Electros
8/11 – Austin, Texas @Beerland
8/12 – Kansas City, Missouri @ TBA
8/13 – Des Moines, Iowa @Lefty’s Live Music
8/14 – Bloomington, Illinois @ NIghtshop
8/15 – Indianapolis, Indiana @ Black Circle Brewing Co.
8/16 – Milwaukee, Wisconsin @ Club Garibaldi
8/17 – Lombard, Illinois @ Brauer House

https://www.facebook.com/brimstonecoven
https://brimstonecoven.bandcamp.com/

http://www.facebook.com/spillagerocks
https://spillage.bandcamp.com/

Brimstone Coven, What Was and What Shall Be (2018)

Spillage, Blood of Angels (2019)

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Spillage Announce Jan. 11 Release for Blood of Angels

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 12th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

spillage

Chicago-based doomers Spillage will play two record release shows in the coming months, one before the Jan. 11 issue date of their second album, Blood of Angels, and one after. I like the idea of a ‘pre-release show.’ Get a few copies on-hand of the record and sell it to those who show up as an early bonus for coming out, then do the actual release later on. Bands do that sometimes taking albums on tour before they’re “officially” released, but a special one-gig occasion as a pre-release show is a nifty way to accomplish something similar. Others should take note.

Spillage is of course spearheaded by guitarist Tony Spillman, who’s known as well as a guitar tech for Prong and Ministry‘s Tommy Victor and Trouble‘s Bruce Franklin, the latter of whom produced the new album. That puts the band squarely on a branch of the Trouble family tree, which suits the traditionalist doom metal aspects of their sound as they showed on their 2013 self-titled debut — man, how the years fly — and have continued to develop live since then.

The PR wire brings word of the new release on Qumran Records and No Dust Records:

spillage blood of angels

Spillage – Blood of Angels – Jan. 11

“Blood Of Angels”, is the long awaited sophomore release from Chicago’s epic power doom machine SPILLAGE, will usher in the new year with soulful leads spread across mountains of riffs. The mighty title track sets the bar high, and heavy duty tracks such as “Evil Doers” and “Living In Hell” mercifully drive the nail in. “Blood Of Angels” is an instant classic, and definite candidate for Album of 2019. Mixed by Lothar Keller (The Skull/Divinity Compromised). Produced by Bruce Franklin (Trouble).

Spillage live:
Dec 15 SPILLAGE..Pre-Release party
The Chicago Loop Sports Bar and Grill Streamwood IL

Jan 26 SPILLAGE Record Release Party
Penny Road Pub Barrington IL

Spillage line up:
Elvin Rodriguez – Vocals,
Tony Spillman – Guitars,
Nick Bozidarevic – Guitars,
Billy McGuffey – Bass,
Chris Martins – Drums,
Paul Rau – Keyboards.

https://www.facebook.com/spillagerocks/
https://spillage.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/qumranrecords/
https://nodustrecords.com/

Spillage, Bootleg Livewired (2017)

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Tour of the Doomed Launches this Weekend with The Skull, Sheavy, Apostle of Solitude and More

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on August 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

This coming Saturday, Aug. 12, sees the launch of the Obelisk-presented Tour of the Doomed at a special nine-band kickoff in Milwaukee with The Skull, Sheavy, Beelzefuzz, Castle, Spillage, Apostle of Solitude, Red Desert, Attalla and Son of the Morning. Mercyful Mike Smith, who put the shindig together, has stopped short of calling it an incarnation of the Days of the Doomed fest he formerly ran out of The Blue Pig/The Metal Grill in Cudahy, WI, which I was fortunate enough to attend a couple times, but needless to say, the spirit is there one way or the other for the all-day event that will send Sheavy, Beelzefuzz and Spillage on their way for a week-long run culminating at the Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn on Aug. 19.

Ticket links and such are below as a refresher, and take special note as you peruse the dates of the locals added to each gig. From Apostle of Solitude to Argus to Reign of Zaius, each night of Tour of the Doomed brings a local or local-ish act on board that genuinely adds something to the bill. Looks like it’s going to be an awesome tour, and though I know I said so before, I’m thrilled to be able to have a hand in presenting it.

Here’s the info:

For the first time EVER, Canadian stoner/doom legends Sheavy land in the US, and Milwaukee gets to host the kick off of the Tour Of The Doomed! In true Days Of The Doomed Fest style, we present a full day of monumental riffs by the greatest heavy bands going today! Just look at this line up:

The Skull (ONLY midwest show of the summer!)
sHeavy (first time ever in the US!)
Beelzefuzz
Castle (very special fly in show!)
Spillage
Apostle of Solitude
Red Desert
Attalla
Son Of The Morning

This monstrous marathon of molten doom metal starts at 2:00!

Tickets for this show can be purchased here:
http://daysofthedoomed.com/Tour_Dates___Ticket_Links.html
$20 Adv / $25 DoS!

Set times are as follows:
2:30 – 3:15 Son Of The Morning
3:35 – 4:20 Attalla
4:40 – 5:25 Red Desert
5:45 – 6:30 Apostle Of Solitude
6:50 – 7:35 Spillage
7:55 – 8:40 Castle
9:00 – 9:45 Beelzefuzz
10:10 – 11:10 Sheavy
11:30 – Close The Skull

TOUR OF THE DOOMED: sHeavy, Spillage & Beelzefuzz
08/12 Club Garibaldi’s Milwaukee WI w/ Apostle of Solitude, The Skull, Castle, Red Desert, Attala & Son of the Morning
08/13 Reggies Chicago IL w/ Apostle of Solitude
08/14 The Melody Inn Indianapolis IN w/ Apostle of Solitude
08/15 New Dodge Lounge Detroit MI w/ Karmic Lava & Marjorie’s Cane
08/16 The Foundry Cleveland OH w/ Argus, Sparrowmilk & Dead East Garden
08/17 Howlers Pittsburgh PA w/ Argus
08/18 The Depot York PA w/ WitchHazel
08/19 Saint Vitus Bar Brooklyn NY w/ Pale Divine & Reign of Zaius (no Spillage)

Brought to you by Mercyful Mike Management & Productions and Days Of The Doomed Fest!

https://www.facebook.com/daysofthedoomedfest/
www.daysofthedoomed.com

Sheavy, “1111111111”

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Days of the Doomed Fest Announces ‘Tour of the Doomed’

Posted in The Obelisk Presents, Whathaveyou on April 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Today I’m proud to count The Obelisk among the presenters for the Tour of the Doomed — the traveling incarnation of the Wisconsin-based festival Days of the Doomed set to take place this summer. I had some great times out in Cudahy at Days of the Doomed, so it’s awesome to see Mercyful Mike Smith take his game to this important next level, and all the better for the fact that the week-long run will head east, starting out at the fest’s home base of The Metal Grill — formerly The Blue Pig — and finishing in Brooklyn at the Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn.

The lineup is three bands strong with Sheavy headlining and supported by Beelzefuzz and Spillage, covering a swath of heavy from the doom-tinged Chicago-style deep-dishery of Spillage through the progressive oddness that always emanates from Beelzefuzz on stage to the we’ve-long-since-mastered-this riff rock Sheavy have been proffering for more than the last 20 years. Not a doubt in my mind the shows will be killer and there might be a few surprises in store along the way as well, so stay tuned for more as we get closer to August.

Poster and announcement from Mercyful Mike himself follow:

tour of the doomed 2017

After a much needed break to focus on work, family, and life in general, 2017 has presented itself as a fine time to bring back Days Of The Doomed Fest. That being said, I wanted to do something different this time around, so I revisited something I had been working on since late 2011. The planets had never lined up for this to happen before, but again, 2017 presented itself as the perfect time for this to work out.

So… prepare yourselves because we are taking Days Of The Doomed Fest on the road!!! I give you TOUR OF THE DOOMED! I am absolutely ecstatic to announce that this tour will be headlined by a legendary band that will be making its first official visit to the US! The one and only… SHEAVY! Stephen Hennessey (lead vocalist) and I have been in touch for the past 6 years trying to make this happen, and we are both stoked to finally make this a reality. Through the years of doing Days Of The Doomed Fest, sHeavy has always been one of the most mentioned bands to be added to the roster. I am so happy to now be able to honor those requests!

Direct support for the tour will be supplied by the undeniably unique, heavy riffs of the mighty Beelzefuzz, and the brilliant, “bluesy-doom” sounds of Chicago’s own Spillage! But that’s not all! Each date on the tour will feature more support acts that make Days Of The Doomed Fest what it is. You will see some favorite alumni acts along the way, and of course be witness to the new crop of riff-worshiping bands as well!

The tour kicks off on 8/12 in Milwaukee, WI, and in true Days Of The Doomed Fest style, I promise you an absolutely insane line up to literally “get the show on the road”! Rosters for each date of the tour will be announced next week, so keep an eye out!

I’m really excited to be bringing Days Of The Doomed Fest to all of you, so come on out and get heavy with us!!! See you in August!!!
–Mercyful Mike

https://www.facebook.com/daysofthedoomedfest/
www.daysofthedoomed.com

Sheavy, “0000011111”

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Maryland Doom Fest 2017: Set Times Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 14th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

So I guess we’re pretty much ready to roll on Maryland Doom Fest 2017, right? We’ve had the lineup announced, we’ve got the schedule now. Might be another couple weeks getting t-shirts together — and hoodies; should’ve gotten a hoodie this year, which admittedly is something that occurs to one way less at the end of June than in mid-November — but then I’d say we’re about good to go. No need to wait until next summer on it. Let’s do this thing.

Maybe that’s just me being excited at the prospect of that Friday night lineup, which seems particularly strong front to back — not to take away from any of the other days, but you know I dig me some Lo-Pan — but either way, if Maryland Doom Fest‘s now-three-year tenure has been marked by anything it’s a lack of bullshit. A fervent get-down-to-business-and-kick-as-doing-it mentality. It’s perhaps the most “Maryland doom” aspect to the whole event. Maryland Doom Fest 2017 is clearly no different. Here we are more than half a year from the event kicking off and I know what time I need to be there on Thursday to watch Spillage start the pre-party. This is information I’m glad to have.

If your calendar isn’t marked yet, you might want to get on that:

maryland-doom-fest-2017-poster

The Maryland Doom Fest 2017

June 23, 2017 – June 25, 2017

Cafe 611
611 N Market St, Frederick, Maryland 21701

ROSTER SLOT TIMES

**PRE FEST PARTY THURS JUNE 22
• Valkyrie 1150 – 1250
• Beastmaker 1055 – 1140
• Pilgrim 1000 – 1045
• Borracho 915 – 950
• Weed Is Weed 830 – 905
• Sweet Heat 745 – 820
• Spillage 700 -735

FRIDAY JUNE 23
• Captain Beyond 1240 – 150
• Lo-Pan 1140 – 1230
• Apostle of Solitude 1050 – 1130
• Earthride 1000 – 1040
• Beelzefuzz 910 – 950
• Wretch 820 – 900
• Demon Eye 735 –810
• Brimstone Coven 650 – 725
• Black Manta 605 – 640
• Sierra 515 – 555

SATURDAY JUNE 24
• The Skull 1245 – 150
• Bang! 1140 – 1235
• Wo Fat 1050 – 1130
• The Well 1000 – 1040
• The Watchers 910 – 950
• Hollow Leg 825 – 900
• Iron Man 740 – 815
• Dark Music Theory 655 – 730
• War Injun 610 – 645
• Thonian Horde 525 – 600
• Witches of God 440 – 515
• Black Tar Prophet 355 – 430
• Conclave 305 – 345

SUNDAY JUNE 25
• Headliner 1140 – 1245
• The Atomic Bitchwax 1045 -1130
• Serpents of Secrecy 955 – 1035
• Lightning Born 905 – 945
• Lifetime Shitlist 815 – 855
• Akris 730 – 805
• Burn Thee Insects 645 – 720
• Faith In Jane 600 – 635
• Cavern 515 – 550
• Old Blood 430 – 505
• Horehound 345 – 420

TICKET SALES START JAN 1st !!

https://www.facebook.com/The-maryland-DOOM-Fest-815331421863100/
https://www.facebook.com/events/1794418777500202/
http://www.themarylanddoomfest.com/

Earthride, Live at Jason McCash Benefit, 2014

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Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2016 Night Two

Posted in Reviews on June 26th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest poster

I don’t think it’s the record for how many bands I’ve seen in one day, but it has to be close. After a pummeling Day One at Cafe 611 (review here), Day Two of Maryland Doom Fest 2016 featured a whopping, nigh-on-overwhelming 12 acts, starting at 2:15PM and running until shortly before 2AM. Joy among joys, my camera continues to be non-functional, but I did the best I could with my phone and kept it at that. Not sure what I’m going to do about that one yet. Cry a little? Yeah, maybe. Maybe on the way home.

For now, as Jesse “The Body” Ventura once so eloquently put it, “I ain’t got time to bleed.” Day Three starts in a scant couple hours and after two days of marathon nonstop heavy, I’m ready to get back into the fray. Let’s do this thing.

Dee Calhoun

Dee Calhoun (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun recently released his debut solo record, Rotgut (review here), and provided a direct contrast in how the second day started at Maryland Doom Fest 2016 as compared to the first, which opened with Black Urn, who I think remain the most extreme sludge act of the weekend so far. “Screaming Mad Dee” played acoustic heavy metal blues, joined on semi-unplugged bass by Iron Man bandmate and all-around master of things low-end Louis Strachan, and started his set with the album-opener “Unapologetic,” which I suspect is something of a creedo for the singer. Maybe I should say singer/guitarist, since Calhoun proved his mettle on the latter throughout the set, bringing out his son, Rob Calhoun, for a particularly touching rendition of “Little Houn Daddy Houn” that was as genuinely heartwarming as anything I’ve ever seen at a heavy show, and closing out with a cover of Black Sabbath‘s “Snowblind,” the solo for which is a test for any guitar player. Bolstered by Strachan taking on Geezer Butler basslines — talk about “in your element” — Dee nailed it, and the filing-in early crowd, who caught on to shout “cocaine!” for the second verse, was glad to be along for the ride.

Thousand Vision Mist

Thousand Vision Mist (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Fronted by guitarist/vocalist Danny Kenyon and taking their name from the debut of his former band, Life Beyond, the three-piece Thousand Vision Mist offered one of the day’s most individualized takes on a doomed approach, their progressive turns enacted fluidly by the rhythm section of Tony Comulada (who’d also play later with War Injun) and drummer Chris Sebastian. It hasn’t been that long since I saw them for the first time last fall at Vultures of Volume II (review here), and the impression at MDDF wasn’t much different. People were still filing in as Kenyon and company made their way through the memorable “Darklight” and “Tears of the Moon,” the second of which also served as the centerpiece of their 2015 demo, which was available at the merch table and is their only release to-date so far as I know. They closed with another cut from that initial offering, “Heart String Wild Fire Blues,” finding a place for themselves between Rush and The Obsessed. Not at all bad territory to stake out.

Wicked Inquisition

Wicked Inquisition (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Minnesota’s Wicked Inquisition said early into their set that this was “in all likelihood” their last show ever. The band formed in 2008 and released their self-titled debut (review here) last year after a demo and a couple EPs, blending oldschool thrash, classic metal and doom fluidly on cuts like “M.A.D.” and “Death of Man.” I don’t know for sure, but I’d assume part of the reason they’re calling it quits is that guitarist/vocalist Nate Towle has joined Virginia-based Satan’s Satyrs, and that’s a hell of a back and forth from MN to VA. Whether or not the breakup is permanent is of course up to the future, but Towle, guitarist Ben Stevens, bassist Jordan Anderson and drummer Jack McKoskey leaned toward doom as one of the weapons in their arsenal to be broken out when called for and otherwise kept their metallic tinge shining via some slow-Slayer dual-guitar to keep the crowd hooked. It worked. Cheers to Towle on getting the Satan’s Satyrs gig, which seems like a good one if you want to tour, and best of luck to everyone in Wicked Inquisition going forward. I’m glad I got to see them while I could.

Ironboss

Ironboss (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Long-running Baltimorean outfit Ironboss are about to issue what may or may not be their first album in more than a decade in the form of Rock Fuck Fight, and their set brought the further intrigue of featuring Bruce Falkinburg — hardly recognizable with short-cropped hair from the last time I saw him, which admittedly was years ago when he was playing with The Hidden Hand — on guitar. The burly brand of heavy the five-piece elicited was much less sludge than I thought it would be, I couldn’t help but have a harsher impression thinking back to 2001’s Guns Don’t Kill People… Ironboss Does!!, but I guess that was 15 years ago and a different lineup. Granted, there was a touch of chaos in the atmosphere, almost punkish, but the songs resided in a mid-paced push, comfortable but still aggressive. They apparently just tracked six songs live with J. Robbins, so it would seem that Ironboss have returned to kill again.

Spillage

Spillage (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Been a couple years and a 2015 self-titled debut since I saw Chicago’s Spillage make their stage debut at Days of the Doomed II in Wisconsin (review here), but my prevailing memories of the the band were still positive. Members of the Trouble family tree via founding guitarist Tony Spillman, who’s worked with that legendary Midwestern outfit for some untold number of years, and through Spillman‘s tenure in Earthen Grave, they for sure had that aspect to their sound, but the energy of their delivery and the classic metal vibe that guest-frontman Elvin Rodriguez brought with him in his Dio-style presentation was well suited to making an impression of their own. Along with album tracks like “In Hell,” opener “The Darkness” and “Land of Opportunity,” Spillage closed out with the Cliff Richard cover “Devil Woman,” which also appeared on the record and which they played when last I saw them as well. A staple, then. Hard to argue. After 12 bands, that swinging hook remained among the most prevalent on my mental jukebox.

Wizard Eye

Wizard Eye (Photo by JJ Koczan)

What a joy it is to watch Wizard Eye play. The Philly trio roll heavy grooves beamed in from sonicstonersubspace and the obvious pleasure they take in doing so is infectious. Another act who played Vultures of Volume II last fall (review here), they’ve since released their self-titled 2015 sophomore album (review here), with its excellently crusted take on heavy vibes. Guitarist Erik Caplan had his theremin handy, as always, but along with the caveman shouts from bassist Dave Shahriari and the steady swing from drummer Mike Scarpone, what came through most to me this time around was how killer a guitar player Caplan is. With that theremin, he could easily drop out during solo sections and wail on the theremin, its squealing awesomeness taking the place of any guitar work. Instead, he absolutely shreds out leads and then lights up the theremin on a cut like “C.O.C.” from 2010’s Orbital Rites debut. So it’s adding to the sound, rather than compensating for something not there. It makes all the difference seeing them do a set, which I’m glad to do every single time I’m able.

Hollow Leg

Hollow Leg (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Along with Holly Hunt, Shroud Eater and a couple others, Jacksonville’s Hollow Leg are among the principal reasons to be sad when the polar ice caps melt and Florida sinks under rising sea levels. The four-piece of vocalist Scott Angelacos, guitarist/vocalist Brent Lynch, bassist Tom Crowther and drummer Tim Creter have never failed in my experience to deliver lethal sludge like some fucked-up cousin of Sourvein, but as 2016’s Crown (review here) showcased, their sound has only grown richer over the years and they brought that feel to Maryland Doom Fest 2016 in “Seaquake,” “Electric Veil” and “Coils” along with the earlier digital single “God Eater” (posted here). With Lynch adding to Angelacos‘ dudely rasp, the vibe was even more unhinged as they played, and next to Wizard Eye they seemed only to build on the intensity of volume and heft while keeping the vicious push moving forward. Labelmates with Dee Calhoun on Argonauta Records, they’ve been on the road with Irata for the better part of a week and sounded tight enough to make one believe they were a few shows deep. Clearly too abrasive for some, but I thought they were right on.

War Injun

War Injun (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I guess they went with the name War Injun because calling themselves Maryland Doom Allstars” would sound too much like a softball team. Fronted by Internal Void‘s J.D. Williams, featuring, as noted, bassist Tony Comulada, along with guitarists Russ Strahan (ex-Pentagram, as well as Weed is Weed and many others) and Kenny Staubs (Outside Truth), and drummer JB Matson — one of the organizers of Maryland Doom Fest 2016 — it’s a formidable grouping nonetheless. Their groove was likewise formidable. Matson didn’t make it easy for his own outfit, putting them after Wizard Eye and Hollow Leg as a lead-in for Brimstone Coven, but War Injun not only pulled one of the night’s best crowds, they absolutely leveled the place. Williams, who’d performed the night before with Internal Void, remained a complete madman on stage, and the riffs from Staubs and Strahan were classic Maryland doom through and through, peppered with more aggressive push. Last time I saw them was Stoner Hands of Doom XI in 2011 (review here), and they hit even harder than I remembered.

Brimstone Coven

Brimstone Coven (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Like Castle yesterday, I feel like I came out of Brimstone Coven‘s set with an entirely deeper appreciation for what the West Virginian outfit does. Next month, they hit the road for a handful of Midwestern dates with Castle, as it happens, and both bands are ones that you just have to see live to really understand. That’s not to take away from what Brimstone Coven — “Big John” Williams on vocals, Corey Roth on guitar/vocals, Andrew D’Cagna bass/vocals and Justin Wood on drums — were able to do on their 2016 debut LP, Black Magic (review here), but the impression they made on stage was on a different level, WilliamsRoth and D’Cagna coming together to completely nail down vocal harmonies over weighted doom riffing, shedding some of the cult rock vibe of the record in favor of an almost progressive feel with moments of brash heavy rock for counterweight. It was the kind of set that made me want to go back and take another look at the album, the highlight being “Slow Death,” which seemed at first like a strange one for Williams to shout out “to the ladies,” but ultimately made sense in light of the lyrics. They were the day’s most pleasant surprise, though I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.

Blackfinger

Blackfinger (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Of all the sets I’ve seen vocalist Eric Wagner perform — and at this point I’ve seen him perform a few — he always looks like he’s having the best time with Blackfinger. Granted, he was all smiles at Roadburn this year with The Skull as well, but there’s a level of appreciation for some of Blackfinger‘s more Beatlesian melancholy in tracks like “I am Jon” and “On Tuesday Morning,” both from their 2014 self-titled debut (review here), that comes through visually on stage and in the vibrant presentation of the material. Having Terry Weston of Penance/Dream Death on guitar doesn’t hurt either, but with guitarist Matthew Tuite, bassist Matthew Cross and drummer David Snyder, the lineup did justice to Wagner‘s legacy in Trouble as well as their own sonic persona. As always, Wagner‘s charisma as a frontman made him a focal point, but that’s nothing new for him, and he handled the room with his usual laid back flair. Somehow it wouldn’t seem like a doom fest if he didn’t show up in one outfit or another. He carries so much of the essence of the sound with him wherever he goes.

Place of Skulls

Place of Skulls (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Once again, in the tonal battle of Victor Griffin vs. the universe, Victor Griffin wins by a landslide. It took Place of Skulls a while to get going — something with the guitar stack, I don’t know — but once the set started, the trio were among the highlights of the weekend so far. With the night’s biggest crowd at attention, Griffin held court alongside his Death Row bandmate Lee Abney on bass/backing vocals and drummer Russell Lee Padgett, but I could be wrong. It’s been six years since they released As A Dog Returns (review here) — though the 2013 self-titled debut from the short-lived In~Graved project (review here) seems to have been rebranded as a Place of Skulls release this year — and five years since last I saw them play, but for it being the first time in a while, Place of Skulls were very much still Place of Skulls, the band who released one of the best American doom records of all time in 2003’s With Vision, from which they aired the title-track, “The Monster,” “Long Lost Grave” and “Last Hit” along with a cover of The Animals‘ “Misunderstood” that has become a regular feature in Griffin-related sets, be it with In~Graved or Pentagram. Like Eric WagnerGriffin takes a lot of who he is from band to band, and his mark on doom is unmistakable.

Bang

Bang (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’ve seen Bang play upwards of 15 times on two different continents in the last two or three years, and they’ve never been a letdown. Like the day started easing into the heavy with Dee Calhoun‘s acoustic set, Bang — who also had a new drummer — provided the sweet swing that would smooth the way out. The classic heavy rockers, playing to support reissues of their catalog on Svart Records, were given a rousing introduction by Dave Sherman of The Obsessed, who cited them as a major influence for Maryland doom as a whole and his career specifically. From there, Frankie Gilcken launched the opening riff of “Keep On,” and Bang were underway. Bassist/vocalist Frank Ferrara was in top form through “Lions… Christians,” “The Maze” and the ballad “Last Will and Testament,” which was given its usual intro. It was late and the room had dissipated somewhat, but Bang‘s tones were as warm and inviting as ever, and plenty of people held on until the finish, savoring every moment they could get. Again, not by any means my first time at the dance with these cats (except the drummer), but they remain something truly special to watch and are a testament to the enduring appeal of heavy’s essential formative years.

Within minutes of getting back to the Super 8 after the show, I was falling asleep. Still, I felt better after last night than Friday, and with 11 more bands playing tonight, that’s probably a good thing. First band starts in about two hours, and I need coffee, so I’m gonna take care of that as priority one and then go from there.

More to come from Maryland Doom Fest 2016.

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