Quarterly Review: Stuck in Motion, AVER, Massa, Alastor, Seid, Moab, Primitive Man & Unearthly Trance, Into Orbit, Super Thief, Absent

Posted in Reviews on March 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-spring-2019

Let the games begin! The rules are the same: 10 albums per day, this time for a total of 60 between today and next Monday. It’s the Quarterly Review. Think of it like a breakfast buffet with an unending supply of pancakes except the pancakes are riffs and there’s only one dude cooking them and he’s really tired all the time and complains, complains, complains. Maybe not the best analogy. Still, it’s gonna be a ton of stuff, but there are some very, very cool records included, so please keep your eyes and your mind open for what’s coming, because you might find something here you really dig. If not, there’s always tomorrow. Let’s go.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Stuck in Motion, Stuck in Motion

stuck in motion self-titled

The classic style cover art of Swedish trio Stuck in Motion‘s self-titled debut tells much of the story. It’s sweet-toned vintage-style soul rock, informed by Graveyard to some degree, but more aligned to retroism. The songs are bluesy and natural and not especially long, but have vibe for weeks, as demonstrated on the six-minute longest-track “Dreams of Flying,” or the flute-laden closer “Eken.” What the picture doesn’t tell you is the heavy use of clavinet in the band’s sound and just how much the vintage electric piano adds to what songs like “Slingrar” with its ultra-fluid shifts in tempo, or the sax-drenched penultimate cut “Orientalisk.” Comprised of guitarist/vocalist Max Kinnbo, drummer Gustaf Björkman and bassist/vocalist/clavinetist Adrian Norén, Stuck in Motion‘s debut successfully basks in a mellow psychedelic blues atmosphere and shows a patience for songwriting that bodes remarkably well. It should not be overlooked because you think you’re tired of vintage-style rock.

Stuck in Motion on Thee Facebooks

Stuck in Motion on Bandcamp

 

AVER, Orbis Majora

aver orbis majora

Following up their 2015 sophomore outing, Nadir (review here), which led to them getting picked up by Ripple Music, Australia’s AVER return with the progressive shove of Orbis Majora, five songs in 50 minutes of thoughtfully composed heavy progadelica, and while it’s not all so serious — closer “Hemp Fandango” well earns its title via a shuffling stonerly groove — opener “Feeding the Sun” and the subsequent “Disorder” set a mood of careful craftsmanship in longform pieces. The album’s peak might be in the 13-minute “Unanswered Prayers,” which culls together an extended linear build that’s equal parts immersive and gorgeous, but the rest of the album hardly lacks for depth or clarity of purpose. An underlying message from the Sydney four-piece would seem to be that they’re going to continue growing, even after more than a decade, because it’s not so much that they’re feeling their way toward their sound, but willfully pushing themselves to refine those parameters.

AVER on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Massa, Walls

massa walls

Flourish of keys adds nuance to Massa‘s moody, heavy post-rock style, the Rotterdam-based trio bringing an atmosphere to their second EP, Walls, across five tracks and 26 minutes marked by periodic samples from cinema and a sense of scope that seems to be born of an experimental impulse but not presented as the experiment itself. That is, they take the “let’s try this!” impulse and make a song out of it, as the chunky rhythm of instrumental centerpiece “Expedition” or the melodies in the prior “#8” show. Before finishing with the crash-into-push of the relatively brief “Intermassa,” the eight-minute “The Federal” complements winding guitar with organ to affect an engaging spirit somewhere between classic and futurist heavy, with the drums holding together proceedings that would seem to convey all the chaos of that temporal paradox. Perhaps it was opener “Shiva” that set this creator/destroyer tone, but either way, Massa bask in it and find a grim sense of identity thereby.

Massa on Thee Facebooks

Massa on Bandcamp

 

Alastor, Slave to the Grave

alastor slave to the grave

The first full-length from Swedish doomplodders Alastor and their debut on RidingEasy Records, late 2018’s Slave to the Grave is the four-piece’s most expansive offering yet in sonic scope as well as runtime. Following the 2017 EPs Blood on Satan’s Claw (review here) and Black Magic (review here), the seven-song/56-minute offering holds true to the murk-toned cultism and dense low-end rumble of the prior offerings, but the melodic resonance and sense of updating the aesthetic of traditional doom is palpable throughout the roller “Your Lives are Worthless,” while the later acoustic-led “Gone” speaks to a folkish influence that suits them surprisingly well given the heft that surrounds. They make an obvious focal point of 17-minute closer “Spider of My Love,” which though they’ve worked in longer forms before, is easily the grandest accomplishment they’ve yet unfurled. One might easily say the same applies to Slave to the Grave as a whole. Those who miss The Wounded Kings should take particular note of their trajectory.

Alastor on Thee Facebooks

RidingEasy Records website

 

Seid, Weltschmerz, Baby!

seid-weltschmerz_baby-web

If Norwegian space-psych outfit Seid are feeling weary of the world, the way they show it in Weltschmerz, Baby! is by simply leaving it behind, substituting for reality a cosmic starscape of effects and synth, the odd sample and vaguely Hawkwindian etherealism. The centerpiece title-track is a banger along those lines, a swell of rhythmic intensity born out of the finale of the prior “Satan i Blodet” and the mellow, flowing “Trollmannens Hytte” before that, but the highlight might be the subsequent “Coyoteman,” which drifts into dream-prog led by echoing layers of guitar and eventually given over to a fading strain of noise that “Moloch vs. Gud” picks up with percussive purpose and flows directly into the closer “Mir (Drogarna Börjar Värka),” rife with ’70s astro-bounce and a long fadeout that’s less about the record ending and more about leaving the galaxy behind. Starting out at a decent clip with “Haukøye,” Weltschmerz, Baby! is all about the journey and a trip well worth taking.

Seid on Thee Facebooks

Sulatron Records website

 

Moab, Trough

moab trough

A good record tinged by the tragic loss of drummer Erik Herzog during the recording and finished by guitarist/vocalist Andrew Giacumakis and bassist Joe Fuentes, the 10-track/39-minute Trough demonstrates completely just how much Moab have been underrated since their 2011 debut, Ab Ovo (discussed here), and across the 2014 follow-up, Billow (review here), as they bring a West Coast noise-infused pulse to heavy rock drive on “All Automatons” and meet an enduring punker spirit face first with “Medieval Moan,” all the while presenting a clear head for songcraft amid deep-running tones and melodies. “The Will is Weak” makes perhaps the greatest impact in terms of heft, but heft is by no means all Moab have to offer. With the very real possibility this will be their final record, it is a worthy homage to their fallen comrade and a showcase of their strengths that’s bound someday to get the attention it deserves whenever some clever label decides to reissue it as a lost classic.

Moab on Thee Facebooks

Moab on Bandcamp

 

Primitive Man & Unearthly Trance, Split

primitive man unearthly trance split

Well of course it’s a massive wash of doomed and hate-filled noise! What were you expecting, sunshine and puppies? Colorado’s Primitive Man and Brooklyn’s Unearthly Trance team up to compare misanthropic bona fides across seven tracks of blistering extremity that do Relapse Records proud. Starting with the collaborative intro “Merging,” the onslaught truly commences with Primitive Man’s 10-minute “Naked” and sinks into an abyss with the instrumental noisefest “Love Under Will,” which gradually makes its way into a swell of abrasive drone. Unearthly Trance, meanwhile, proffer immediate destructiveness with the churning “Mechanism Error” and make “Triumph” dark enough to live up to its most malevolent interpretations, while “Reverse the Day” makes me wonder what people who heard Godflesh in the ’80s must’ve thought of it and the six-minute finishing move “418” answers back to Primitive Man‘s droned-out anti-structure with a consuming void of fuckall depth. It’s like the two bands cut open their veins and recorded the disaffection that spilled out.

Primitive Man on Thee Facebooks

Unearthly Trance on Thee Facebooks

Relapse Records website

 

Into Orbit, Shifter

Into Orbit Shifter

Progressive New Zealander two-piece Into OrbitPaul Stewart on guitar and Ian Moir on drums — offer up the single Shifter as the answer to their 2017 sophomore long-player, Unearthing. The Wellington instrumentalists did likewise leading into that album with a single that later showed up as part of a broader tracklist, so it may be that they’ve got another release already in the works, but either way, the 5:50 standalone track finds them dug into a full band sound with layered or looped guitar standing tall over the mid-paced drumming, affecting an emotion-driven atmosphere as much as the cerebral nature of its craft. Beginning with a thick chug, it works into more melodic spaciousness as it heads toward and through its midsection, lead guitar kicking in with harmony lines joining soon after as the two-piece build back up to a bigger finish. Whatever their plans, Into Orbit make it clear that just because something is prog doesn’t mean it needs to be staid or lack expressiveness.

Into Orbit on Thee Facebooks

Into Orbit on Bandcamp

 

Super Thief, Eating Alone in My Car

super thief eating alone in my car

Noise-punk intensity pervades Eating Alone in My Car, the not-quite-not-an-LP from Austin four-piece Super Thief. They call it an album, and that’s good enough for me, especially since at about 20 minutes there isn’t much more I’d ask of the thing that it doesn’t deliver, whether it’s the furious out-of-mindness of minute-long highlight “Woodchipper” or the poli-sci critique of that sandwiches the offering with opener “Gone Country” immediately taking a nihilist anti-stance while closer “You Play it Like a Joke but I Know You Really Mean It” — which consumes nearly half the total runtime at 9:32 — seems to run up the walls unable to stick to the “smoke ’em if you got ’em” point of view of the earlier cut. That’s how the bastards keep you running in circles, but at least Super Thief know where to direct the frustration. “Six Months Blind” and the title-track have a more personal take, but are still worth a read lyrically as much as a listen, as the rhythm of the words only adds to the striking personality of the material.

Super Thief on Thee Facebooks

Learning Curve Records website

 

Absent, Towards the Void

absent towards the void

Recorded in 2016, released on CD in 2018 and snagged by Cursed Tongue Records for a vinyl pressing, Absent‘s Towards the Void casts a shimmering plunge of cavernous doom, with swirling post-Electric Wizard guitar and echoing vocals adding to the spaciousness of its four component tracks as the Brasilia-based trio conjure atmospheric breadth to go along with their weighted lurch in opener “Ophidian Womb.” With tracks arranged shortest to longest between eight and a half and 11 minutes, “Semen Prayer,” “Funeral Sun” and “Urine” follow suit from the opener in terms of overall approach, but “Funeral Sun” speeds things up for a stretch while “Urine” lures the listener downward with a subdued opening leading to more filth-caked distortion and degenerate noise, capping with feedback because at that point what the hell matters anyway? Little question in listening why this one’s been making the rounds for over a year now. It will likely continue to do so for some time to come.

Absent on Thee Facebooks

Cursed Tongue Records webstore

 

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Quarterly Review: Thou, Liquid Visions, Benthic Realm, Ape Machine, Under, Evil Triplet, Vestjysk Ørken, Dawn of Winter, Pale Heart, Slowbro

Posted in Reviews on December 10th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

We meet again! The second week of this amply-proportioned Quarterly Review begins today as we move ever closer toward the inevitable 100-album finish line on Friday. There is an incredible amount of music to get through this week, so I don’t want to delay for too long, but as we look out across the vast stretch of distortion to come, I need to say thank you for reading, and I hope that you’ve been able to find something that’s kicking your ass a little bit in all the right ways so far. If not, well, there are 50 more records on the way for you to give it another shot.

Here goes.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Thou, Magus

thou magus

How can something be so raw and forward thinking at the same time? Baton Rouge’s Thou might be the band of their generation who’ve added the most to sludge in terms of pushing the style in new directions and shaping genre to their purposes. Magus (on Sacred Bones), their fourth or fifth full-length depending on whom you ask, is an overwhelming 75-minute 2LP of inward and outward destructive force, as heavy in its ambience as in its weight and throat-ripping sonic extremity, and yet somehow is restrained. To listen to the march of “Transcending Dualities,” there’s such a sense of seething happening beneath the surface of that chugging, marching riff, and after its creeping introduction, “In the Kingdom of Meaning” seems intent on beating its own rhythm, as in, with fists, and even a stop-by from frequent guest vocalist Emily McWilliams does little to detract from that impression. Along with Magus, which rightly finishes with the lurching threat of “Supremacy,” Thou have released three EPs and a split this year, so their pace runs in something of a contrast to their tempos, but whether you can keep up or not, Thou continue to press forward in crafting pivotal, essential brutalizations.

Thou website

Sacred Bones Records website

 

Liquid Visions, Hypnotized

Liquid Visions Hypnotized

Sulatron Records‘ pressing of Liquid Visions‘ 2002 debut, Hypnotized, is, of course, a reissue, but also the first time the album has been on vinyl, and it’s not long into opener “State of Mind” or the grunge-gone-classic-psych “Waste” before they earn the platter. Members of the band would go on to participate in acts like Zone Six, Wedge, Electric Moon and Johnson Noise, so it’s easy enough to understand how the band ties into the family tree of underground heavy psych in Berlin, but listening to the glorious mellow-unfolding-into-noise-wash-freakout of 15-minute closer “Paralyzed,” the appeal is less about academics than what the five-piece of vocalists/guitarists H.P. Ringholz (also e-sitar) and Kiryk Drewinski (also organ), bassist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt (also Fender Rhodes and Mellotron), drummer Chris Schwartzkinsky and thereminist Katja Wolff were able to conjure in terms of being both ahead of their time and behind it. As the album moves from its opening shorter tracks to the longer and more expansive later material, it shows its original CD-era linearity, but if an LP reissue is what it takes to get Hypnotized out there again, so be it. I doubt many who hear it will complain.

Liquid Visions on Thee Facebooks

Sulatron Records webstore

 

Benthic Realm, We Will Not Bow

Benthic Realm We Will Not Bow

The second short release from Benthic Realm behind a 2017 self-titled EP (review here) finds the Massachusetts-based trio of guitarist/vocalist Krista van Guilder (ex-Second Grave, ex-Warhorse), bassist Maureen Murphy (ex-Second Grave) and drummer Dan Blomquist (also Conclave) working toward a refined approach bridging the divide between doom and darker, harder hitting metal. They do this with marked fluidity, van Guilder shifting smoothly between melodic clean singing and harsher screams as Murphy and Blomquist demonstrate like-minded ease in turns of pace and aggression. The penultimate semi-title-track “I Will Not Bow” is an instrumental, but “Save us All,” “Thousand Day Rain” and closer “Untethered” — the latter with some Slayer ping ride and ensuing double-kick gallop — demonstrate the riff-based songwriting that carries Benthic Realm through their stylistic swath and ultimately ties their ideas together. If they think they might be ready for a debut full-length, they certainly sound that way.

Benthic Realm on Thee Facebooks

Benthic Realm website

 

Ape Machine, Darker Seas

ape machine darker seas

Maybe Ape Machine need to make a video with cats playing their instruments or something, but five albums deep, the Portland outfit seem to be viciously underrated. Releasing Darker Seas on Ripple, they take on a more progressive approach with songs like “Piper’s Rats” donning harmonized vocals and more complex interplay with guitar. It’s a more atmospheric take overall — consider the acoustic/electric beginning of “Watch What You Say” and it’s semi-nod to seafaring Mastodon, the likewise-unplugged and self-awarely medieval “Nocturne in D Flat (The Jester)” and the rocking presentation of what’s otherwise fist-pumping NWOBHM on “Bend Your Knee” — but Ape Machine have always been a band with songwriting at their center, and even as they move into the best performances of their career, hitting a point of quality that even producer Steve Hanford (Poison Idea) decided to join them after the recording as their new drummer, there’s no dip in the quality of their work. I don’t know what it might take to get them the attention they deserve — though a cat video would no doubt help — but if Darker Seas underscores anything, it’s that they deserve it.

Ape Machine on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Under, Stop Being Naive

under stop being naive

Stockport, UK, three-piece Under bring a progressive edge to their pummel with their second album, Stop Being Naive (on APF), beginning with the deceptively thoughtful arrangement of crushing opener and longest track (immediate points) “Malcontent,” which unfurls a barrage of riffs and varied vocals contributed by guitarist Simon Mayo, bassist Matt Franklin and drummer/keyboardist Andy Preece. Later cuts like “Soup” and “Grave Diggers” tap into amorphous layers of extremity, and “Happy” punks out with such tones as to remind of the filth that became grindcore in the UK nearly 40 years ago, but while “Big Joke” rolls out with a sneer and closer “Circadian Driftwood” has a more angular foundation, there’s an overarching personality that comes through Under‘s material that feels misanthropic and critical in a way perhaps best summarized by the record’s title. Stop Being Naive is sound enough advice, and it comes presented with a fervent argument in its own favor.

Under on Thee Facebooks

APF Records webstore

 

Evil Triplet, Have a Nice Trip

evil triplet have a nice trip

Trimming the runtime of their 2017 debut, Otherworld (review here) nearly in half, Austin weirdo rockers Evil Triplet present the six-song/38-minute single LP Have a Nice Trip on Super Secret with classic garage buzz tone on “A Day Like Any Other,” a cosmic impulse meeting indie sneer on opener “Space Kitten” and a suitably righteous stretch-out on “Aren’t You Experienced?” — which is just side A of the thing. The pulsating “Open Heart” might be the highlight for its Hawkwindian drive and momentary drift, but “Pyramid Eye”‘s blown-out freakery isn’t to be devalued, and the eight-minute capper “Apparition” is dead on from the start of its slower march through the end of its hook-topped jam, reminding of the purpose behind all the sprawl and on-their-own-wavelength vibes. A tighter presentation suits Evil Triplet and lets their songs shine through while still highlighting the breadth of their style and its unabashed adventurousness. May they continue to grow strange and terrify any and all squares they might encounter.

Evil Triplet on Thee Facebooks

Super Secret Records website

 

Vestjysk Ørken, Cosmic Desert Fuzz

Vestjysk orken Cosmic Desert Fuzz

To a certain extent, what you see is what you get on Vestjysk Ørken‘s debut EP, Cosmic Desert Fuzz. At very least, the Danish trio’s three-tracker first outing is aptly-named, and guitarist/vocalist Bo Sejer, bassist Søren Middelkoop Nielsen and drummer Thomas Bonde Sørensen indeed tap into space, sand and tone on the release, but each song also has a definite theme derived from cinema. To wit, “Dune” (11:41) samples Dune, “…Of the Dead” (9:13) taps into the landmark George Romero horror franchise, and “Solaris” (14:15) draws from the 1972 film of the same name. The spaciousness and hypnotic reach of the latter has an appeal all its own in its extended and subtle build, but all three songs not only pay homage to these movies but seem to work at capturing some aspect of their atmosphere. Vestjysk Ørken aren’t quite rewriting soundtracks, but they’re definitely in conversation with the works cited, and with an entire universe of cinema to explore, there are accordingly no limits as to where they might go. Something tells me it won’t be long before we find out how deep their obsession runs.

Vestjysk Ørken on Instagram

Vestjysk Ørken on Bandcamp

 

Dawn of Winter, Pray for Doom

Dawn of Winter Pray for Doom

I have no interest in playing arbiter to what’s “true” in doom metal or anything else, and neither am I qualified to do so. Instead, I’ll just note that Germany’s Dawn of Winter, who trace their roots back nearly 30 years and have released full-lengths on a one-per-decade basis in 1998, 2008 and now 2018 with Pray for Doom, have their house well in order when it comes to conveying the classic tenets of the genre. Issued through I Hate, the eight-track/51-minute offering finds drummer Dennis Schediwy punctuating huge nodder grooves led by Jörg M. Knittel‘s riffs, while bassist Joachim Schmalzried adds low end accentuation and frontman Gerrit P. Mutz furthers the spirit of traditionalism on vocals. Songs like “The Thirteenth of November” and the stomping “The Sweet Taste of Ruin” are timeless for being born too late, and in the spirit of Europe’s finest trad doom, Dawn of Winter evoke familiar aspects without directly worshiping Black Sabbath or any of their other aesthetic forebears. Pray for Doom is doom, because doom, by doomers, for doomers. The converted will be accordingly thrilled to hear them preach.

Dawn of Winter on Thee Facebooks

I Hate Records website

 

Pale Heart, Jungeland

pale heart jungleland

Semi-retroist Southern heavy blues boogie, some tight flourish of psychedelia, and the occasional foray into broader territory, Stuttgart three-piece Pale Heart‘s StoneFree debut long-player, Junegleland is striking in its professionalism and, where some bands might sacrifice audio fidelity at the altar of touching on a heavy ’70s aesthetic, guitarist/vocalist Marc Bauer, key-specialist Nico Bauer and drummer Sebastian Neumeier (since replaced by Marvin Schaber) present their work in crisp fashion, letting the construction of the songs instead define the classicism of their influence. Low end is filled out by Moog where bass might otherwise be, and in combination with Hammond and Fender Rhodes and other synth, there’s nothing as regard missing frequencies coming from Jungleland, the nine songs of which vary in their character but are universally directed toward honing a modern take on classic heavy, informed as it is by Southern rock, hard blues and the tonal warmth of yore. A 50-minute debut is no minor ask of one’s audience in an age of fickle Bandcamp attentions, but cuts like the 12-minute “Transcendence” have a patience and character that’s entrancing without trickery of effects.

Pale Heart on Thee Facebooks

StoneFree Records website

 

Slowbro, Nothings

Slowbro Nothings

UK instrumentalist three-piece Slowbro‘s full-length debut, Nothings, brings forth eight tracks and 51 minutes of heavy-ended sludge rock notable for the band’s use of dueling eight-string guitars instead of the standard guitar/bass setup. How on earth does something like that happen? I don’t know. Maybe Sam Poole turned to James Phythian one day and was like, “Hey, I got two eight-string guitars. So, band?” and then a band happened. Zeke Martin — and kudos to him on not being intimidated by all those strings — rounds out on drums and together the trio embark on cuts like “Sexlexia” (a very sexy learning disability, indeed) and “Broslower,” which indeed chugs out at a considerably glacial pace, and “Fire, Fire & Fire,” which moves from noise rock to stonerly swing with the kind of aplomb that can only be conjured by those who don’t give a shit about style barriers. It’s got its ups and downs, but as Nothings — the title-track of which quickly cuts to silence and stays there until a final crash — rounds out with “Pisscat” and the eight-strings go ever so slightly post-rock, it’s hard not to appreciate the willful display of fuckall as it happens. It’s a peculiar kind of charm that makes it both charming and peculiar.

Slowbro on Thee Facebooks

Creature Lab Records website

 

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Review & Double Track Premiere: UFO Över Lappland, UFO Över Lappland

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 21st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

ufo over lappland self titled

[Click play above to stream ‘JaEDeJaE’ and ‘Lemmy on the Beach’ from UFO Över Lappland’s self-titled debut. Reissue available to order now from Sulatron Records.]

Lappland is located in the north of Sweden. All the way up. It is home to the country’s largest nature preserve, and while I don’t know if there’s a particular history of flying saucer sightings, in 1959, a slice of sci-fi cheese called Rymdinvasion i Lappland — “Space Invasion of Lappland” — was released and maybe that’s where psych-jamming four-piece UFO Över Lappland got their name from. Or maybe they’re aliens. The latter would explain the extraterrestrial vibes of their self-titled debut, originally released in 2016 by Fluere Tapes in a glittery translucent blue-green pressed in an edition of 50 copies. 50 copies. Brutal. Long gone, of course.

Sulatron Records — helmed by Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt of Electric Moon, Zone Six, et al — has stepped in to reissue UFO Över Lappland‘s UFO Över Lappland on CD and LP, turning the original three-track digital outing from guitarist Krister Mörtsell, bassist Christer Blomquist, synthesist Peter Basun and drummer Andreas Rejdvik into a five-song/50-minute instrumentalist sprawl that includes “Lemmy on the Beach,” which featured as a bonus track on the original tape, and the oddly-capitalized “JaEDeJaE.” The UFO may be over Lappland, but space is for sure its final destination, and the band gives it well enough thrust to get there. Opener and longest track (immediate points) “Keep on Keepin’ on Space Truckin'” begins its 12-minute cast with tense, proggy lines of looped guitar as a and a solid forward drumbeat as a bed for the lead line. Swirl comes and goes via synth and the bass makes itself felt in low end swells working on their own wavelength to underscore the groove. It’s all on the beat, all working together toward the same end, which is the thorough and early immersion of the listener to be sustained over the course of the proceedings. Bridge to engine room: take us to full impulse.

I don’t think UFO Över Lappland have the intent of reinventing space rock or heavy psychedelia, but what they do exceedingly well throughout their first album is to balance fluidity and drift in their jams with a subtle outward push. The only time they really go full-on with a Hawkwindian rhythm is, suitably enough, in “Lemmy on the Beach,” but even in “Keep on Keepin’ on Space Truckin'” there’s an underlying movement happening that carries through the track such that when it hits into its fuller-toned payoff in the second half, the shift is natural. Tied to the earlier stretch via synth, they return soon enough to the bouncing rhythm and airy guitar to close out, giving way to “JaEDeJaE,” which begins with a rumble and feedback for the first minute of its total 6:52. The shortest track on UFO Över Lappland, it continues the modus of the opener in patiently building repetitions, but there’s a keyboard line that takes forward position early and is met by fuzzy lead guitar that stands it out among its companion cuts.

ufo over lappland

Obviously there isn’t time for the same kind of stretch as in the opener, but UFO Över Lappland still find room for a suitable payoff, with the drums signaling the change with tom runs and a switch to crash-cymbal timekeeping, adding to the overall wash. Noise and a few seconds of silence make a fitting enough bed for the lead into “Podzol” (10:40), which dedicates itself to the most patient and hypnotic unfolding on the record. Not a minor distinction, given the context of what surrounds. But even with the drums setting forth a progressive motion, that itself is gradual too. It opens minimal, then synth and guitar, then bass and drums, the latter just with toms, then snare, then cymbals. It all happens in stages, and it’s not until they’re about halfway through that the full breadth of the song comes to bear. “Podzol” has a payoff of its own, but the sense is that it’s more about the trip than where they wind up, though I won’t discount the dissolution into noise that happens in the last minute either, nor how it bleeds into the subsequent “Nothing that Lives Has… Such Eyes!…,” continuing the cosmic thread forward as it gracefully takes hold.

By this point they’ve set the parameters and the coordinates are locked in. “Nothing that Lives Has… Such Eyes!…” nonetheless marks itself out with its noisy second half and a slower-rolling finish, leaving little question as to why it originally was intended as the pre-bonus track capstone of the album. There is a feeling of waiting for that payoff to arrive that’s set up through the similar structures that run throughout the first three songs, but UFO Över Lappland make sticking it out worthwhile, and “Lemmy on the Beach” resolves itself in a space rock blast that’s true to form in a way the rest of UFO Över Lappland only hinted at being, so there’s a showing of some freakout genre fluidity as well following that closer’s early going, which again pairs active rhythms with spacious guitar work and synth, finding an atmosphere outside the atmosphere but still wearing mag-boots to stay grounded.

Again, it’s that balance that’s so crucial to UFO Över Lappland‘s first outing, and while they’ve given themselves room to grow and expand their style in terms of structure, there’s a tonal reach from top to bottom in the mix that proves to be height as much as depth. It might be for the converted, but the converted won’t complain at its arrival, and especially given the here and vanished nature of the original pressing — a second round of tapes is reportedly available from the band — there’s plenty of reason to see why Sulatron would invite listeners to get lost in its vastness. It’s a pleasure to do so, and considering the original release was two years ago, one hopes it won’t be that much longer before UFO Över Lappland offer a follow-up. It would only be welcomed, however it might ultimately be beamed in.

UFO Över Lappland on Thee Facebooks

Sulatron Records webstore

Sulatron Records on Thee Facebooks

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Review & Track Premiere: Sherpa, Tigris and Euphrates

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

sherpa tigris and euphrates

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Kim (((o)))’ from Sherpa’s Tigris and Euphrates. Album is out Sept. 28 on Sulatron Records.]

Working around a theme of human evolution, Italian psychedelic scene-setters Sherpa showcase no small amount of progression themselves with their second offering through Sulatron Records, the six-song/42-minute Tigris and Euphrates. From their home-base in the Abruzzo region — think mountains running up against the Adriatic coastline, hillside houses of untold age with roofs of curved tile, lakes, rivers, old castles on the high ground and other things that if you saw them in a calendar you wouldn’t believe they’re real; fly into Rome and then head east — the core four-piece of guitarist/vocalist/synthesist Matteo Dossena, bassist Franz Cardone, dronemaker guitarist Axel DiLorenzo and drummer/percussionist Pierluca Michetti weave textures no less lush for their deceptive minimalism, conjuring gorgeous post-rock wash with the help of Ivano and Enrico Legnini on Fender VI and MicroKorg in closer “Descent of Inanna to the Underworld” and side B opener “Abscent to the Mother of Language” (sic), respectively, Davide DiBernardo‘s sitar on “Overwhelmed” and Federica Vignoni‘s violin on second track “Creatures from Ur.”

One might think that given all the personnel involved and the varied instrumentation, Tigris and Euphrates would arrive as some grand and overblown realization, but as anyone who heard the band’s late-2016 debut, Tanzlinde (review here), can likely tell you, that’s simply not going to be the case. Of course Tigris and Euphrates has a scope aurally and in its subject matter, but the fluidity with which that’s brought to bear and the patience in Sherpa‘s craft, the understated impact of their mellow, gradually-unfolding vision of tonal presence, aren’t to be understated. The end result is an offering that’s immersive and beautiful, foreboding at times and moodier, but never relinquishing its hold on the consciousness of the listener, the band not necessarily needing volume to make their statement heard. Whether it’s the (relative) surge in the second half of opener “Kim (((o)))” or the sitar-laced drift that hypnotizes into the fadeout of the penultimate “Overwhelmed,” the feeling of serenity never departs entirely from Sherpa‘s sound, giving Tigris and Euphrates a hopeful aspect that bleeds into every song in one way or another.

The flow between the tracks is no less resonant than the material itself, and the impression of Tigris and Euphrates as a whole work is palpable, foretold in the hints at darker tones in “Kim (((o)))” that show up in lower distortion beneath “Abscent to the Mother of Language” and in the culmination of “Descent of Inanna into the Underworld.” In this way, the tracks come together and enhance each other, not only supporting the overarching thematic intent of the record but creating a world in which that story plays out, giving a foundation for the exploratory nature of what Sherpa are doing that, like so much of the album itself, is softly and smoothly delivered. A punctuating snare in “Kim (((o))” holds a tension that speaks to the more weighted unfolding in the song’s second half — an interaction between low distortion and a lead guitar lick worthy in its warmth of a Colour Haze comparison — and the wash of noise that slowly consumes the opening track seems to find some clarity before it draws itself down.

sherpa

Immediately, Dossena‘s vocals are more forward on “Creatures from Ur” and they arrive atop a slow progression of drums, keys and quietly strummed guitar. A spacious, somewhat sparse beginning moves easily forward into more voluminous liquefaction, but the peaceful vibe persists thanks in no small part to the methodical timekeeping and waves of volume-swelling synth, Vignoni‘s violin making its presence felt around four minutes into the total 6:38 as it finds complement in the bassline and soon becomes part of the river current, ringing tones holding on at the finish to fade and transition into side A closer “Equiseto.” Also the shortest cut at 5:21, “Equiseto” — the title referring to horsetail, either the plant or the actual tail of a horse — boasts a quiet percussiveness, as a quiet backing crash and tom hits back vocals and guitar repetitions that may or may not be loops but nonetheless add an experimental edge to a particularly folkish moment on an album that for all its peace shows little outward interest in actually being folk. Or at least not subsuming itself to the genre — though one could say the same thing about Tigris and Euphrates and psychedelic rock. It’s not really interested in being anything other than itself.

This, naturally, is one of the album’s great strengths, and it continues into the harmonies of “Abscent to the Mother of Language,” vocal layers taking hold over an ultra-flowing wash of guitar and synth that works its way forward until at about 3:45, it pulls back and lets the bass set the tone for a lower, darker-toned roll that persists throughout the next few minutes, eventually receding to a bookending verse. The side B opener is both a highlight and the longest piece on Tigris and Euphrates at 7:52, and it leads the way into “Overwhelmed” and “Descent of Inanna to the Underworld,” both of which also top seven and a half minutes, where only “Kim (((o)))” approached it so on side A. “Overwhelmed” uses its time to proffer especially resonant soundscaping, its cymbal work and guitar combining to ease forward toward a split at the halfway point into the sitar-inclusive up-strummed kick, more active snare pops adding to the momentum and rhythmic course. Everything’s relative, of course, but the classic psychedelic notion of East meets West is put to effective use, and the turn from one movement to the second in “Overwhelmed” speaks to the confidence of the band’s delivery on the whole. They’re able to put the listener in the exact space they want them to be. This is not to be undervalued as an aspect of their style.

Given the smoothness of their execution throughout and the grace with which Sherpa unfurl Tigris and Euphrates as an entirety that draws strength from its individual components, headphone-ready sonic detailing — Cardone‘s bass is enough to stun on its own — and abiding ambience, it’s easy to read some kind of resolution into the finale of “Descent of Inanna to the Underworld,” which like “Abscent to the Mother of Language” before it also turns to more weighted-sounding fare, this time just before it begins its second half, drawing back quickly and launching once again to give the closer a crescendo ahead of a long fade of residual tones; an end no less encompassing than anything before it. I don’t know if Sherpa intend the story to be finished — isn’t human evolution ongoing? — but their telling is complete and enthralling in its entirety, and their ability to cast out as they do is indicative of the creative growth they’re undertaking as a unit. All the better. They may not have gotten the credit they deserved for what they accomplished on their first outing, but if they keep putting together records like Tigris and Euphrates, sooner or later someone’s going to notice.

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Quarterly Review: Lucifer, Heilung, Amarok, T.G. Olson, Sun Dial, Lucid Grave, Domadora, Klandestin, Poor Little Things, Motorowl

Posted in Reviews on July 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-CALIFORNIA-LANDSCAPE-Julian-Rix-1851-1903

You know what’s disheartening? When someone goes ‘thanks dudes.’ You know, I share a review or something, the band reposts and goes ‘thanks to the crew at The Obelisk blah blah.’ What fucking crew? If I had a crew, I’d put up 10 reviews every single day of the year. “Crew.” Shit. I am the crew. In the description of this site, the very first thing it says is “One-man operation.” It’s a fucking solo-project. That’s the whole point of it. It’s like me looking at your bass and going, “Sweet guitar, thanks for the solos brah.” I’m happy people want to share links and this and that, but really? It’s been nine years. Give me a break.

Oh yeah, that’s right. Nobody gives a shit. Now I remember. Thanks for reading.

And while we’re here, please remember the numbers for these posts don’t mean anything. This isn’t a countdown. Or a countup. It’s just me keeping track of how much shit I’m reviewing. The answer is “a lot.”

Grump grump grump.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Lucifer, Lucifer II

lucifer lucifer ii

Recorded as the trio of vocalist Johanna Sardonis (ex-The Oath), guitarist Robin Tidebrink (Saturn) and guitarist/drummer Nicke Andersson (Death Breath, ex-Entombed, ex-The Hellacopters), Lucifer’s second album, Lucifer II (on Rise Above), follows three years after its numerical predecessor, Lucifer I (review here), and marks its personnel changes with a remarkable consistency of mission. Like Mercyful Fate gone disco, the formerly-Berlin/London-now-Stockholm group bring stage-ready atmospheres to songs like “Phoenix” and the riff-led “Before the Sun,” while unleashing a largesse of hooks in “Dreamer” and the boogie-pushing “Eyes in the Sky.” “Dancing with Mr. D” brings nod to a Rolling Stones cover, and “Before the Sun” reaffirms a heavy ‘70s root in their sound. I can’t help but wonder if the doomier “Faux Pharaoh” is a sequel to “Purple Pyramid,” but either way, its thicker, darker tonality is welcome ahead of the bonus track Scorpions cover “Evening Wind,” which again demonstrates the ease with which Lucifer make established sounds their own. That’s pretty much the message of the whole album. Lucifer are a big band. Lucifer II makes the case for their being a household name.

Lucifer on Thee Facebooks

Rise Above Records webstore

 

Heilung, Lifa

heilung lifa

Lifa is the audio taken from the live video that brought Denmark’s Heilung to prominence. Captured at Castlefest in The Netherlands in last year, the impression the expansive Viking folk group made was all the more powerful with elaborate costuming, bone percussive instruments, antlers, animal-skin drums, and so on. Their debut studio album, Ofnir, came out in 2015 and like LIFA has been issued by Season of Mist, but the attention to detail and A/V experience only adds to the hypnotic tension and experimentalist edge in the material. Does it work with just the audio? Yes. The 12-minute “In Maijan” and somehow-black-metal “Krigsgaldr” maintain their trance-out-of-history aspect, and the 75-minute set blends multi-tiered melodies and goblin-voiced declarations for an impression unlike even that which Wardruna bring to bear. Whether it’s the drones of “Fylgija Futhorck” or the chants and thuds of “Hakkerskaldyr,” LIFA is striking from front to back and a cohesive, visionary work that should be heard as well as seen. But definitely seen.

Heilung on Thee Facebooks

Season of Mist website

 

Amarok, Devoured

amarok devoured

Eight years after their founding, an EP and several splits, Chico, California, atmosludge extremists Amarok make their full-length debut with Devoured on Translation Loss. If it’s been a while in the making, it’s easy enough to understand why. The album is rife with brutalist and grueling sensibilities. Comprised of just four tracks, it runs upwards of 70 minutes and brings a visceral churn to each cut, not forgetting the importance of atmosphere along the way, but definitely focused on the aural bludgeoning they’re dealing out. Tempos, duh, are excruciating, and between the screams and growls of bassist Brandon Squyres (also Cold Blue Mountain) and guitarist Kenny Ruggles – the band completed by guitarist Nathan Collins and drummer Colby ByrneAmarok make their bid for Buried at Sea levels of heft and rumble their way across a desolate landscape of their own making. Eight years to conjure this kind of punishment? Yeah, that seems about right. See you in 2026.

Amarok on Thee Facebooks

Translation Loss Records webstore

 

T.G. Olson, Ode to Lieutenant Henry

tg olson ode to lieutenant henry

Here’s a curious case: T.G. Olson, founding guitarist and vocalist of Across Tundras, is a prolific experimental singer-songwriter. His material ranges from psychedelic country to fuller-toned weirdo Americana and well beyond. He’s wildly prolific, and everything goes up on Bandcamp for a name-your-price download, mostly unannounced. It’s not there, then it is. Olson’s latest singe, Ode to Lieutenant Henry, was there, and now it’s gone. With the march of its title-track and a complementary cover of Townes van Zandt’s “Silver Ships of Andilar,” I can’t help but be curious as to where the tracks went and if they’ll be back, perhaps in some other form or as part of a different release. Both are plugged-in and coated in fuzzy tones, with Olson’s echoing vocals providing a human presence in the wide soundscape of his own making. The original is shorter than the cover, but both songs boast a signature sense of ramble that, frankly, is worth being out there. Hopefully they’re reposted at some point, either on their own as they initially were or otherwise.

Across Tundras on Thee Facebooks

T.G. Olson/Across Tundras on Bandcamp

 

Sun Dial, Science Fiction

sun dial sci fi

If space is the place, Sun Dial feel right at home in it. The long-running UK psychedelic adventurers collect two decades’ worth of soundtrack material on Science Fiction, their new release for Sulatron Records. Made with interwoven keyboard lines and a propensity to periodically boogie on “Mind Machine,” “Airlock,” “Infra Red,” etc., the experimentalist aspect of Science Fiction is all the more remarkable considering the album is compiled from different sources. One supposes the overarching cosmos is probably what brings it together, but with the samples and synth of “Saturn Return” and the lower end space-bass of pre-bonus-track closer “Starwatchers” – that bonus track, by the way, is a 15-minute version of opener “Hangar 13” – and though the vast majority of the Science Fiction relies on synth and keys to make its impression, it’s still only fair to call the proceedings natural, as the root of each one seems to be exploration. It’s okay to experiment. Nobody’s getting hurt.

Sun Dial on Thee Facebooks

Sun Dial at Sulatron Records webstore

 

Lucid Grave, Demo 2018

lucid grave demo 2018

There are three songs on Lucid Grave’s first outing, the aptly-titled Demo 2018, and the first of them is also the longest (immediate points), “Star.” It presents a curious and hard to place interpretation of psychedelic sludge rock. It is raw as a demo worthy of its name should be, and finds vocalist Malene Pedersen (also Lewd Flesh) echoing out to near-indecipherable reaches atop the feedback-addled riffing. Quite an introduction, to say the least. The subsequent “Desert Boys” is more subdued at the start but gets furious at the end, vocals spanning channels in an apparent call and response atop increasingly intense instrumental thrust. And as for “Ride the Hyena?” If I didn’t know better – and rest assured, I don’t – I’d call it doom. I’m not sure what the hell the København five-piece are shooting for in terms of style, but I damn sure want to hear what they come up with next so I can find out. Consider me enticed. And accordingly, one can’t really accuse Demo 2018 of anything other than doing precisely what it’s supposed to do.

Lucid Grave on Thee Facebooks

Lucid Grace on Bandcamp

 

Domadora, Lacuna

domadora lacuna

Comprised of four-tracks of heavy psychedelic vibes led by the scorch-prone guitar of Belwil, Domadora’s third album, Lacuna, follows behind 2016’s The Violent Mystical Sukuma (discussed here) and taps quickly into a post-Earthless league of instrumentalism on opener “Lacuna Jam.” That should be taken as a compliment, especially as regards the bass and drums of Gui Omm and Karim Bouazza, respectively, who hold down uptempo grooves there and roll along with the more structured 14-minute cut “Genghis Khan” that follows. Each of the album’s two sides is comprised of a shorter track and a longer one, and there’s plenty of reach throughout, but more than expanse, even side B’s “Vacuum Density” and “Tierra Last Homage” are more about the chemistry between the band members – Angel Hidalgo Paterna rounds out on organ – than about crafting a landscape. Fortunately for anyone who’d take it on, the Parisian unit have plenty to offer when it comes to that chemistry.

Domadora on Thee Facebooks

Domadora on Bandcamp

 

Klandestin, Green Acid of Last Century

klandestin green acid of last century

That’s a big “fuck yes, thank you very much” for the debut album from Indonesian stoner metallers Klandestin. Green Acid of the Last Century arrives courtesy of Hellas Records and is THC-heavy enough that if they wanted to, they could probably add “Bong” to the band’s name and it would be well earned. Eight tracks, prime riffs, watery vocals, dense fuzz, stomp, plod, lumber, shuffle – it’s all right there in homegrown dosage, and for the converted, Green Acid of the Last Century is nothing short of a worship ceremony, for the band itself as well as for anyone taking it on. With the march of “Doomsday,” the unmitigated rollout of “Black Smoke,” and the swirling green aurora of “The Green Aurora,” Klandestin wear their holding-back-a-cough riffage as a badge of honor, and couldn’t be any less pretentious about it if they tried. From the hooded weedian on the cover art to the Sleepy nod of closer “Last Century,” Green Acid of Last Century telegraphs its intent front-to-back, and is all the more right on for it.

Klandestin on Thee Facebooks

Hellas Records on Bandcamp

 

Poor Little Things, Poor Little Things

poor little things poor little things

You get what you pay for with “Rock’n’Roller,” which leads off the self-titled debut EP from Bern, Switzerland-based Poor Little Things. Around the core duo of vocalist Tina Jackson and multi-instrumentalist Dave “Talon” Jackson (also of Australia’s Rollerball) on guitar, bass, synth and percussion is Talon’s The Marlboro Men bandmate Fernando Marlboro on drums, and together the band presents five tracks of remember-when-rock-rocked-style groove. Fueled by ‘70s accessibility and a mentality that seems to be saying it’s okay to play big rooms, like arenas, cuts like “Drive” seem prime for audience participation, and “Break Another Heart” gives a highlight performance from Tina while “About Love” showcases a more laid back take. They close with the 6:37 “Street Cheetah,” which struts appropriately, and end with a percussive finish on a fadeout repeating the title line. As a showcase of their style and songwriting chops, Poor Little Things shows significant promise, sure, but it’s also pretty much already got everything it needs for a full-length album.

Poor Little Things on Thee Facebooks

Poor Little Things on Bandcamp

 

Motorowl, Atlas

motorowl atlas

Every now and then you put on a record and it’s way better than you expect. Hello, Motorowl’s Atlas. The German troupe’s second for Century Media, it takes the classic stylizations of their 2016 debut, Om Generator, and pushes them outward into a vast sea of organ-laced progressive heavy, soaring in vocal melodies and still modern despite drawing from an array of decades past. The chug in “The Man Who Rules the World” would be metal for most bands, but on Atlas, it becomes part of a broader milieu, and sits easily next to the expansive title-track, as given to post-rocking airiness in the guitar as to synth-laden prog. That mixture of influences and aesthetics would be enough to give the five-piece an identity of their own, but Atlas is further characterized by Motorowl’s ambitious songwriting and benefits greatly from the melodic arrangements and the clear intention toward creative development at work here. Those who take on its seven-track/45-minute journey will find it dynamic, spacious and heavy in kind.

Motorowl on Thee Facebooks

Motorowl at Century Media website

 

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Friday Full-Length: Electric Moon, Inferno

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 29th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Pardon me if you’ve heard this one before, but the discography of German psychedelojammers Electric Moon isn’t exactly the most transparent of undertakings. In addition to their studio full-lengths, they have self-pressed CD-Rs and a slew and then some of live albums to dig into, and more on the regular. Last year they issued the Stardust Rituals LP through longtime imprint Sulatron Records, founded and run by guitarist/synthesist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, and it was a welcome return after some six years of live outings, 2016’s Live 2015 – Zeiss Planetarium Bochum (review here), 2015’s Theory of Mind (review here), 2014’s Mind Explosion (review here), 2013’s Live 2012 1 & 2 (review here), and so on. With a sound so based on improvisation, sonic wandering and exploring the chemistry between the players involved — Schmidt, bassist/sometimes-vocalist/graphic artist “Komet Lulu” Neudeck and several drummers; Marcus Schnitzler played on the latest record but seems to have since been replaced by returning founder Pablo Carneval — just about any show properly recorded can turn into a live release. Because live releases are kind of the point. There wouldn’t be a band if they couldn’t do it on stage.

And since on stage is where Electric Moon are inherently most in their element, a studio outing from them is something of an event. They first released Inferno in 2011 on a CD-R and then followed up with an official Sulatron pressing in 2012. It has been through several editions since then on CD and vinyl, and got a proper reissue in 2015. It is comprised of just two tracks:

1. Mental Record (14:24)
2. Inferno (51:54)

Obviously between them, the latter cut is going to get the vast majority of the focus. It’s a one-song album, essentially, with a bonus track put first. And I won’t take away from what SulaLulu and then-drummer Alex do on “Mental Record,” but the unmitigated swirl of “Inferno” is simply in a league of its own when it comes to tapping into the heart of heavy psychedelia. Electric Moon aren’t the only band in the underground to take an improv-rooted approach to heavy psychedelia, but theirs is one of particular, enduring and evolving character. They have their methods, to be sure, with Schmidt‘s synth running alongside the guitar or the cyclical turns of drums in “Inferno” past the 10-minute mark, but the key seems to be always working to find something new in the sound or the style of play. An experimental tweak here, a little extra howl in the guitar there. And every now and again, vocals. As with few others, Electric Moon seem wholly comfortable in allowing their material to become what it needs to be, the band acting more as vessels for what flows from all of them together rather than individual players following their own agendas. They’re in there, to be sure, but channeling something through themselves in a way that most bands simply don’t or can’t do. It’s not about ego or about virtuosity, but about the spirit and the worship of creativity itself, about capturing the heart of the moment when that new idea happens. About putting that to tape and pressing it up to share with a dedicated fanbase that’s only grown more dedicated over time.

Electric Moon are not a trifling band. They’re not just plugging in their instruments, arranging a bunch of cymbals and making noise. They follow a course that takes them to the inner workings of psychedelia. The long, jammed-out pieces that many others would carve into songs, split into verses and choruses, etc., Electric Moon serves up raw in what always seems to be their original form. Some of the songs on Stardust Rituals had a discernible structure, but that’s more the exception than the rule. Builds come and go, loud parts, quiet parts, guitar scorch and funky rhythms as on “Mental Record,” driven space-rock triumph as in the middle of “Inferno,” but Electric Moon seem to try never to be in the same place twice, and so very often they’ll end up someplace completely separate from where they started, and this is where the chemistry particularly between Sula and Lulu saves them, since there doesn’t seem to be a place where one leads that the other can’t or won’t follow. Or if there is, it certainly doesn’t make it onto the record.

And it may well be that Electric Moon sit down and plan out when their changes will arrive, when part G goes into part H on “Inferno” — somewhere around 35 minutes in, maybe? — but that wouldn’t make their project any less impressive in its scope. What they do brims with such a sense of the real that its spacious sound is still often resoundingly human, as it ends up being while “Inferno” makes its way through is slower back half, fuzzy lead guitar taking hold at around 43 minutes and serving as the bed for the apex wash that gives way at 50 minutes on the dot to the languid meandering that caps the last couple minutes. Inferno is an especially vital example of the spark that exists in what they do, but that spark is just about everywhere in their — again — somewhat opaque catalog. And while it may sometimes be difficult to keep straight which release came before which other release, what was when and which is a reissue — let alone which reissue — the basic fact is that wherever one chooses to dive in, that lunar pool runs singularly deep.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

I woke up Monday at 5:30AM to start working on the review of the last day of Maryland Doom Fest 2018. I’d gone to bed I guess around 1AM? I don’t even know. Anyway, that would turn out to be the latest I slept this week. After driving about six hours from Maryland to Connecticut, The Patient Mrs. and I have been staying here all week with The Pecan and her sister’s two kids, who are lovely, and their dog, as well as our dog and her mother’s dog. It hasn’t been a little, and I’ve kept my alarm set for 3:30AM all week so I could wake up and do Obelisk stuff before the baby gets up, which lately he’s been doing at five or so. Today it was closer to six, but he was also up at 4:45AM for a feed/diaper-change session. I’d call it brutal, but whatever.

Accordingly, you might’ve noticed it’s been four-post days most of this week except for today, which was five. So much going on all week is why, but it’s also the fact that since I was at the fest all weekend I didn’t get the chance to get my usual day-ahead jump on the week. Generally, what’s written over the weekend gets posted on Monday, what’s written on Monday posted Tuesday, Tuesday on Wednesday, and so on. Barring stuff like Brant Bjork announcing a new record that I feel like needs to get up as soon as it comes in — I’m waiting for Uncle Acid to announce their new album’s release date any minute now, any day, any week — I don’t usually have a problem working that way. It’s nice to have reviews done ahead of time. This week I couldn’t do that, so it’s been a little more manic.

And speaking of manic, this all coincided with me putting a kybosh on taking my meds as of late last week. I was cruising for a few days, did pretty well at Doom Fest — at least for me — but then I had like three days in a row of welling up in tears for no reason and, well, I guess we’re just not quite there yet. Back on the pills. To quote a government official: “womp womp.” Was worth a shot, anyhow. I cut out the anti-anxiety meds and that seems to have gone alright, so I’ll take my wins where I can get them.

Next week is busy. This weekend is busy. Life is busy. Here’s what’s in the notes, all subject to change as ever:

Mon.: Yawning Man review/stream; Dunbarrow track premiere; Entierro announcement.
Tue.: Brant Bjork review/premiere; Boss Keloid video.
Wed.: Seedy Jeezus review.
Thu.: Planet of Doom: First Contact EP review.
Fri.: Open at the moment, maybe Bong Six Dumb Questions.

That’s it. I’m punching out and going to spend as much of the rest of the day watching baseball as possible. Or maybe I’ll just watch that fucking Heilung video for the 80th time. Because it’s summer, and hot out, and whatever, I’m tired and want to be on the couch. Tomorrow, more writing. Monday, more posting. Maybe if I’m lucky some more sleeping. Probably not the last of those.

Oh and I need to empty the dishwasher. Fuck.

Alright. Have a great and safe weekend. If you’re celebrating the Fourth of July next week in the US — first of all, fucking why?, but second, be safe and not stupid about it. Have a great time if you’re the type to let yourself do so, and if not, back on your pills you go. Ha.

Thanks again for reading. Forum and Radio.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2017

Posted in Features on December 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

top-30-of-2017

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 2017 to that, please do.

We’re almost at the finish line for 2017, and if I’m honest, it’s not a minute too soon. I think if one more record comes out this year my head is going to explode.

A perpetual onslaught of cool music is, of course, nothing to complain about. It just seemed like every time I thought I had a handle on where the year was going, some other announcement came through and knocked me on my ass. What’s that? The Obsessed are putting out their first album in more than two decades? Oh and Monolord have a new one coming? Radio Moscow just signed to Century Media? Arc of Ascent are back? Samsara Blues Experiment are back? Causa Sui are putting out a live album and a studio album? Sasquatch are going to Europe and sneaking a record along with them? All of a sudden I’m out of breath feeling like I just ran a lap.

It’s been madness this year. Between an emergent neo-psych movement in the wake of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and others, and the ongoing and constant reshaping of doom and heavy rock from practitioners new and old, I don’t know how anyone could ever claim to keep up with any of it.

You know I do the best I can, so when you look through this list, please keep in mind that these are my picks and the result of applying my own standard, which if you’ve ever seen a list on this site before you probably already know is a combination of things like what I view as being important on a critical level and things like what kept me coming back as a listener. What were the year’s biggest releases and what couldn’t I get enough of? Sometimes those two things come together around one record and it’s beautiful. That’s usually your album of the year, or close to, anyhow.

No sense in delaying further. I hope if you haven’t heard some of this stuff you’ll give it a shot, and if you have something you felt strongly about it, you’ll let me know in the comments. Thanks in advance for keeping it civil, and of course for reading.

Here goes:

30. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
geezer psychoriffadelia

Released by Kozmik Artifactz and STB Records. Reviewed May 16.

Coming off of what was their strongest album to-date in their 2016 self-titled (review here), New York heavy psych blues trio Geezer decided it was time to take the groove for a walk. And so they did. Psychoriffadelia is the result — a looser collection of jams and willfully unrefined heavy blues, reveling in the politically incorrect on “Dirty Penny” only after basking in the post-Monster Magnet hypnosis of “Red Hook” and the earlier roll of the more straightforward “Hair of the Dog” and “Stressknots.” Everything Geezer has done to this point has pushed their sound to new places. Psychoriffadelia is no exception.

29. Orango, The Mules of Nana

orango the mules of nana

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed March 27.

More than a touch of twang on opener “Heartland” sets a tone of Americana-infusion for Orango‘s sixth LP, The Mules of Nana, but the 10-tracker is ultimately much more about harmony-laced classic heavy smoothness than playing to prairie-minded sensibilities, though roots spread wide through a natural, dirty blues just the same. However they get there, “Hazy Chain of Mountains,” the softshoe-ready funk of “Head on Down” and the peacefully progressive finish of “Ghost Rider” bring ’70s-style thrills in songwriting and their precise, gorgeous execution. Underrated record from an underappreciated band.

28. Radio Moscow, New Beginnings

radio moscow new beginnings

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Oct. 6.

Cali boogie kingpins and all-around marvelous frenetic bastards Radio Moscow were in top form on their Century Media debut, and if it was a new beginning they were searching for, they met it head on with a sound as classic and organic as ever. Arguably the most powerful power trio in their game, they tore through cuts like “No One Knows Where They’ve Been” and “Deceiver” while offering flourish in the trip-out “Woodrose Morning” and subdued blues-psych on the penultimate “Pick up the Pieces.” Very much to form, but cast of a form that still manages to outclass all challengers.

27. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma

spaceslug time travel dilemma

Released by Southcave Records, BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

And so here we have the first of what will no doubt be several records about which I’m going to say they should be higher on the list. Poland’s Spaceslug have emerged from the moist ground created by their own tonality and on their sophomore full-length, they proffered warm depth of fuzz and a corresponding melodic and psychedelic reach that was resonant even before they brought in ex-Sungrazer bassist Sander Haagmans for a guest spot on the title-track. It’s been out for 10 months and still delivers every time I put it on, which is often.

26. Mothership, High Strangeness

mothership high strangeness
Released by Ripple Music and Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed March 7.

Three albums into a tenure marked by hard-driving riffs, scorching solos and relentless road work, there’s little Texas trio Mothership need to do at this point to prove themselves to their audience. At the same time, High Strangeness brought considerable expansion to their range overall, whether it was the exploratory “Eternal Trip” or the semi-metallic insistence behind “Midnight Express,” while staying tied together with lyrical and instrumental hooks. High Strangeness set a new standard for Mothership, plain and simple, and easily surpassed the considerable accomplishments of their 2012 self-titled debut (review here) and 2014’s Mothership II (review here).

25. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days

eternal black bleed the days

Released by Obsidian Sky Records. Reviewed Aug. 1.

There was a lot about Eternal Black‘s Bleed the Days that chugged its way into the post-Wino oeuvre of US-style trad doom, but the gruff, lumbering and impeccably riffed outing was nonetheless one of 2017’s best debut full-lengths, and it was the songwriting that got it there. Already sounding sure in the vibe captured, cuts like the plodding brooder “Sea of Graves” and “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun” showed potential in mood and atmosphere as much as sheer sonic heft — though of course there was plenty of that to go around as well. Doomers missed it at their peril.

24. Kadavar, Rough Times

kadavar rough times

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Sept. 6.

It kind of feels like a slight to have Berlin trio Kadavar appear anywhere outside of at least a top 10 on any kind of list whatsoever, ever, but that’s not my intention at all. Rather, their fourth album and third for Nuclear Blast found them at an important stage in their progression — past the novelty of the vintage feel in their early work, after having proven their songwriting could translate to a modern context, and embarking on a process of expanding their sound. Rough Times, which was as current as current could be, met that goal and beat it easily with a barrage of memorable choruses and a dark streak one could only consider suitable for our age.

23. Shroud Eater, Strike the Sun

shroud eater strike the sun

Released by STB Records. Reviewed June 28.

The biggest surprise about Shroud Eater‘s long-awaited sophomore long-player was also its most encouraging aspect — namely how it found the Miami trio bringing together various impulses shown on a number of shorter releases over the course of the six years since their debut, ThunderNoise (review here), came out in 2011, and still managed to utterly crush when it so chose. With a swath from sludge to drone and back again, this was no minor feat, and that the songs they brought to bear were so memorable at their heart as well makes me hope all the more it’s not 2023 before their third album arrives.

22. Enslaved, E

enslaved e

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 4.

What’s left to say about Norwegian progressive black metal innovators Enslaved 14 records into their career? Plenty as it turns out. The introduction of new keyboardist/vocalist Håkon Vinje in place of Herbrand Larsen brought a new twist on a signature element of Enslaved‘s approach. Vinje utterly owned his role, and his performance alongside guitarist Ivar Bjørnson, bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson, guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal and drummer Cato Bekkevold resulted in a fresh urgency that made the band’s sound even more potent and set their ongoing creative evolution on a new branch of its self-directed path.

21. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical

arc-of-ascent-realms-of-the-metaphysical

Released by Astral Projection and Clostridium Records. Reviewed April 6.

Some five years on from 2012’s The Higher Key (review here) and seven out from their debut, Circle of the Sun (review here), and with bassist/vocalist Craig Williamson firmly entrenched in his always excellent Lamp of the Universe psych-drone-folk solo-project, I wasn’t sure there would be another offering from New Zealand heavy psych-rock trio Arc of Ascent, but Realms of the Metaphysical took shape from an ether of riffs and echoes atop resilient underlying structures and revitalized the group with new drummer Mark McGeady in the lineup with Williamson and guitarist Matt Cole-Baker. Remains to be seen if this marks a priority shift for Williamson or it’s a one-off, but its arrival was welcome either way.

20. Causa Sui, Vibraciones Doradas

causa sui vibraciones doradas

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

With the various glories already offered in 2017 on the Live in Copenhagen (review here) 3LP, one didn’t necessarily expect a new studio outing from Danish instrumental psych masters Causa Sui, but Vibraciones Doradas found them as vibrant as ever, bringing forth a surprising amount of tonal weight on songs like “El Fuego,” warm fuzz for the basking on opener “The Drop” and spaciousness on the closing title-track. Somewhat more straight-ahead in its rocking groove than 2016’s Return to Sky (review here), the five-track/38-minute long-player showed yet again why Causa Sui are always welcome and that any news of a new release from them, live, studio, whatever, is good news. This was the kind of record that could make your day if you let it.

19. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable

telekinetic yeti abominable

Released by Sump Pump Records. Reviewed April 10.

The Iowa-based duo of guitarist/vocalist Alex Baumann and drummer Anthony Dreyer, operating as Telekinetic Yeti, released what I considered to be the debut of the year, both for the fullness of its tonality and the accomplishment in songcraft it already showed. Powered by cuts like its lumbering title-track and the gloriously fuzzed runner “Stoned and Feathered,” it could’ve been another band’s second or third record for the level of cohesion on display and the obvious awareness on the part of the band of what they wanted to do with their sound and the just-as-obvious result of their bringing it to life.

18. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust

cloud catcher trails of kozmic dust

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Dec. 9, 2016.

While I admit I’m still not 100 percent certain on whether to spell “kozmic” in the title with a ‘k’ or with a ‘c’ on the end, that question did nothing ultimately to diminish enjoyment of Denver emergents Cloud Catcher‘s sophomore outing. Topped off by one of the best album covers of the year, the follow-up to their 2015 debut, Enlightened Beyond Existence (discussed here), took the progressive casting of that record to a place entirely more raw and rock-driven, willfully roughing up the edges even as it showed marked creative growth on a relatively quick turnaround. The must-hear bass tone of “Beyond the Electric Sun” and “Super Acid Magick” was icing on a cake of choice riffing and Hendrixian lead swirl, and the shuffle they elicited was enough to make even the most stubborn of asses (i.e. mine) think about moving.

17. Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child

ruby the hatchet planetary space child

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 29.

After the neo-garage manifestations of their 2015 sophomore outing, Valley of the Snake (review here), it was clear Philly psych rockers Ruby the Hatchet were a force when it came to songwriting. What was less obvious was what they’d do with that going forward. On Planetary Space Child, at least, the answer is they’ll take it to Freaktown. The melody-happy, organ-laced swirlmasters conjured presence kosmiche enough to justify the album’s title, and around the cast-in-moon-rock structures of the swinging “Pagan Ritual” and the playfully doomed “Symphony of the Night,” Ruby the Hatchet built a multifaceted weirdoist triumph the likes of which simply doesn’t come along every year, establishing themselves as more reliable and less predictable than ever: an absolute win.

16. Alunah, Solennial

alunah solennial

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 1.

It’s been the case more or less all along with UK forest rockers Alunah that their nature-minded material and heavy rolling grooves have had their haunting aspects, but with the production of Conan‘s Chris Fielding behind it, Solennial — their fourth LP and first on Svart — brought this to new levels entirely. The songs, memorable like footprints in the woods, are somewhat bittersweet in context now, since founding guitarist/vocalist Sophie Day announced in September she was leaving the band, but as the group will move forward led by guitarist Dave Day and recently acquired new singer Siân Greenaway, intrigue remains high at what the future might bring and the impact of Solennial is undiminished.

15. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream

mindkult-lucifers-dream

Released by Transcending Obscurity Records and Caligari Records.

Virginia-based doomgazing garage cult solo-project Mindkult has thus far managed to keep some of the mystique around its sole inhabitant, Fowst, which is admirable in a way. As the multi-instrmentalist, vocalist and producer this year answered the promise of last year’s Witch’s Oath (review here) debut, he did so around a swath of purposeful miseries, loose devil worship and other dark thematics, casting an atmospheric darkness matched head-on by the tonal murk of his riffs. Through this, however, the songwriting was no less memorable than on the first offering, and as the project moves forward, one can only hope that Fowst will continue to use that as the core aspect buried six feet under his other, formidable stylistic achievements. That certainly was how it worked out on Lucifer’s Dream.

14. Argus, From Fields of Fire

argus from fields of fire
Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Sept. 1.

Behold ye perhaps the most underrated band in heavy metal. Regardless of subgenre, style, strata, whatever, it’s hard to listen to From Fields of Fire and think of Pittsburgh’s Argus as anything else. The five-piece’s fourth album continued to owe part of its sound to doom, but was much more encompassing than simply that, touching on aspects of classic metal with a command that left one wondering how they hadn’t yet been tapped to open for Judas Priest on that band’s next tour. Victory abounds on a per-song basis throughout the nine-tracker, and whether it was the emotional crux of “Hour of Longing” or the catchy fistpump righteousness of “Devils of Your Time” or the 11-minute progressive reach of “Infinite Lives/Infinite Doors,” Argus once again crafted a work nigh-unmatched in poise and class.

13. Uffe Lorenzen, Galmandsværk

Uffe-Lorenzen-Galmandsvaerk

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

For the first outing ever to be issued under his real name, Denmark’s Uffe Lorenzen — aka Lorenzo Woodrose of garage-psych pioneers Baby Woodrose — danced between acid folk singer-songwriterisms like “Flippertøs” and more expansive jamming on “På Kanten Af Verden,” all the while retaining his distinct structural and arrangement sensibilities and creating a flowing vibe that was nothing less than a pure joy of classic-form psychedelia. The most serene and pastoral freakout one was likely to witness in 2017, easily, Galmandsværk resounded in the Mellotron-laced “Høj Som Et Højhus” and was no less at home in the acoustic spaciousness of the earlier “Remits Tyranni,” able to wander where it pleased and find steady ground in molten surroundings.

12. The Flying Eyes, Burning of the Season

the flying eyes burning of the season

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 11.

A welcome return from a viciously underappreciated band, The Flying EyesBurning of the Season marked the Baltimore four-piece’s first offering for Ripple Music and first since 2013’s Lowlands (review here), a four-year stretch during which the band kept busy touring Europe and South America, the latter also being where they recorded these songs with Gabriel Zander at Estudio Superfuzz in Brazil. The tonal depth resulting from that process was enough to make the collection a highlight, but it was the songs themselves that most stood out, benefiting from the band’s expanded reach and legitimate, hard-won maturity. Especially for a group who’ve done so much work on the road over their years — to be fair, the US has been pretty low priority in that regard — they remain a secret kept too well.

11. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper

bell witch mirror reaper

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Dec. 27.

Doomed extremity simply unmatched in its scope. The song of the year for 2017. An accomplishment the likes of which is prone to happen maybe once or twice in a generation. None of this seems to really speak to the entirety of the achievement that is Bell Witch‘s Mirror Reaper — the single-song, 83-minute full-length issued by the Seattle duo like a challenge in the face of mortality itself. Beautiful, devastating and weighted like the grave, its sprawl utterly consumed the listener, and I firmly believe it will be years before its depths are fully processed. Some offerings are bigger than the year in which they’re released. Mirror Reaper would seem to function on a scale of its own, and though it could easily be read as a litmus test for audience punishment, the truth of the listening experience is both more emotionally complex and more fulfilling than simple hyperbole can capture.

10. Monolord, Rust

monolord rust

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Oct. 26.

The story all along with Gothenburg’s Monolord has been tone. Tone tone tone. Crush crush crush. Riffs riffs riffs. Nothing wrong with any of that, but their third album, Rust, proves once and for all that there’s more to the trio than “cool riffs bro” and post-Electric Wizard nod. Catchy cuts like “Dear Lucifer” and rolling opener “Where Death Meets the Sea” brought a sense of space leading to the later sprawl of “Forgotten Lands” and “At Niceae,” and the band settled into an individualized, lumbering psychedelia that moved forward from 2015’s Vænir (review here), not leaving behind the heft that earned them their reputation, but not at all being limited by it either in scope or overall approach. Three records in, Rust brought forth Monolord‘s greatest sonic expansion yet and gave rise to the feeling that their true potential was just starting to come to fruition. Also, crush crush crush. Cool riffs, bro.

9. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn

vokonis-the-sunken-djinn

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 5.

The Sunken Djinn is Vokonis‘ second full-length in as many years, and in addition to serving as their Ripple debut where 2016’s Olde One Ascending (review here) landed via Ozium Records, it was a feast for hungry riff hounds. In defiance of its quick turnaround, it showed a firm evolution taking place within the upstart Swedish trio of guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, bassist/backing vocalist Jonte Johansson and drummer Emil Larsson, whose range overall was greater in tracks like “Rapturous” and the torrential “Blood Vortex” while nonetheless controlled in its delivery. Their Sleep-y origins still a factor sound-wise, Vokonis were able just the same to push themselves ahead into new sonic ground in fittingly lumbering fashion, and the character they brought to “The Sunken Djinn,” “Calling from the Core” and the noise-caked “Maelstroem” seemed to speak to a burgeoning sense of atmospheric focus taking hold as well. Still so much potential here.

8. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals

electric moon stardust rituals

Released by Sulatron Records. Reviewed April 7.

Do I even need to remotely justify having Electric Moon‘s first studio album in six years on this list? Was it not just like a love-letter issued by the cosmos itself? What more explanation could possibly be necessary? Not that the German trio haven’t dropped copious, glorious live outings all the while, but to have Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, “Komet Lulu” Neudeck and Marcus Schnitzler follow-up 2011’s The Doomsday Machine (review here) with four cuts culminating in the 22-minute sprawl of “(You Will) Live Forever Now” was high on the list of the year’s most satisfying psychedelic journeys. Constantly exploring, their methods always seem geared toward finding the molten essence of space rock itself, and though the songs on Stardust Rituals were a little more crafted than some of their straight-up improv jams, they nonetheless showed there are many avenues one might take to get to the heart of the sun.

7. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us

sun-blood-stories-it-runs-around-the-room-with-us

Self-released. Reviewed May 1.

This one is personal, and by that I mean I love this fucking band. Similar to my experience with their 2015 sophomore outing, Twilight Midnight Morning (review here), the third record by Boise-based trio of Ben Kirby (vocals, guitar, synth, percussion), Amber Pollard (vocals, guitar, theremin, percussion) and Jon Fust (drums, keys, percussion, noise) was one that I simply could not put down. Even now, seeing the name of the record is all I need to have songs like “The Great Destroyer” and the immersive midsection in “Come Like Rain” and “Time Like Smoke” stuck in my head, let alone the ultra-brazen, searingly-pissed “Burn” noise assault that finished the album and in the span of 90 seconds turned all the psychedelic warmth and serenity on its face with a visceral anger completely unforeseen and jarring, turning it from a depth-laden execution of adventurous neo-psych and indie into a project of conceptual artistry with all the efficiency of the chemical reaction it sought to portray. If you missed it, your loss.

6. The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field

the-atomic-bitchwax-force-field

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Dec. 7.

Songs like “Alaskan Thunder Fuck,” “Humble Brag” and “Earth Shaker (Which Doobie U Be?)” assured that the defining character of Force Field, the sixth album from New Jersey’s The Atomic Bitchwax, was pure scorch. That made the 12-cut outing a more than worthy follow-up for 2015’s  Gravitron (review here), which introduced this more speed-rock-minded, aggressive delivery from the tight-as-nails trio, and while they proved they could still lock in a slower groove on the organ-topped finisher “Liv a Little,” head-spinners like the instrumental “Fried, Dyed and Layin’ to the Side” and “Houndstooth” came across like the fruit of the band pushing themselves to the limits of their physical ability in terms of tempo, and their ride along the edge of that line brought thrills at every turn. And make no mistake, there were a lot of turns. Fortunately, bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella seemingly had a corresponding hook in their pocket for each one of them. This band is a national treasure.

5. Atavismo, Inerte

atavismo inerte

Released by Temple of Torturous. Reviewed Feb. 21.

Warm, fuzzy tones, rhythmic shifts right out of classic progressive rock, melodic intricacy and periodic excursions into glorious psychedelic drift: I’m not sure what wasn’t to like about Inerte, Atavismo‘s second full-length behind 2014’s Desintegración (review here). Comprising five tracks of unmistakable flow and jam-laden fluidity, it was immersive with landmarks along the way to keep the listener from getting too lost, and whether or not one spoke Spanish, the three-piece of Jose “Poti” Moreno (ex-Viaje a 800Mind!), bassist/vocalist Mateo and drummer/vocalist Sandri Pow (also ex-Mind!) made it easy to follow along their purposefully meandering path, offering guidance no less skillful on the 11-minute fuzz-freaker “El Sueño” than the dream-toned linear build of “Belleza Cuatro.” There were very, very few albums I listened to more this year than this one, which is precisely why it is where it is on this list.

4. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe

samsara-blues-experiment-one-with-the-universe

Released by Electric Magic Records and Abraxas Records. Reviewed May 4.

Four years between records isn’t at all an unheard of stretch. It’s not the longest on this list by any means. But with Berlin heavy psych rockers Samsara Blues Experiment, it really seemed like the band was done, so to have them come back with such force on One with the Universe was, as I know I said at several points throughout the last 12 months, one of the year’s total highlights. Tracked by former bassist Richard Behrens, the group’s fourth album answered the extended-track spread of 2013’s Waiting for the Flood (review here) with a deeper sense of sonic variety, and while the 15-minute title-cut and opener “Vispassana” still had plenty of room for jamming out and even six-minute centerpiece “Glorious Daze” found room for some flourish of organ and sitar, guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, drummer Thomas Vedder and bassist Hans Eiselt rightly featured the chemistry they’ve built as a trio live and brought to the songs a renewed sense of vigor, sounding — and hopefully being — truly inspired. Waiting for the Flood capped a period of marked productivity across several years. Fingers crossed One with the Universe begins that cycle anew.

3. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World

Elder-Reflections-of-a-Floating-World

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed May 23.

You just can’t consider Elder‘s Reflections of a Floating World outside the context of the progressive achievement that was their prior outing, 2015’s Lore (review here). Where the trio — based now between Massachusetts and Berlin, Germany — took their first two outings, 2008’s self-titled debut (discussed here) and 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), to find their sound, which they began to showcase on the 2012 Spires Burn/Release EP (review here), it was Lore that brought to fruition the potential that had always been waiting to be unleashed by the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto, and Reflections of a Floating World had the daunting task of being the next further step from that landmark moment. To say the band rose to the occasion is perhaps to undersell the cohesion at work in consuming-but-cohesive pieces like opener “Sanctuary” or “Blind” or “Staving off the Truth,” which brought together clear-headed psychedelia around a wash that seemed to stem as much from rhythm as melody. As they’ve matured stylistically and become a major touring presence, Elder have made themselves perhaps the most pivotal American heavy rock act going, and Reflections of a Floating World brings them to the discovery of yet another apex while at the same time giving zero indication it will be the last one they find.

2. Colour Haze, In Her Garden

colour haze in her garden

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed March 9.

Of course, the bonus of writing about Colour Haze in just about any context is that you get to put Colour Haze on while you’re doing it, and in the case of the 12th LP from these Munich heavy psych forebears, that’s an even more appealing prospect. After stripping down some of the arrangement flourish with 2014’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), the 13-track/73-minute 2LP In Her Garden brought a revitalized sonic expansion, but as ever, it wasn’t just the horns or the strings or the blend of keys and acoustics that made In Her Garden the unbridled joy that it was and continues to be — it was the underlying performance from guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald that gave the album the stem on which its garden grew. That’s not to say Jan Faszbender‘s work on modular synth, Rhodes, and Hammond or the arrangements of strings, tuba, bass-clarinet and trombone throughout hurt anything, just that as Colour Haze have grown into incorporating these elements into their groundbreaking aesthetic, they haven’t left behind the organic chemistry and necessary live feel that has helped them influence a generation of followers over their more than 20-year career. One came through as much as the other on In Her Garden, and that balance gave the overarching warmth of their self-recorded tonality yet another level on which to engage their audience. I’ll be a sucker for Colour Haze for as long as I live, and I have absolutely no problem admitting to and owning that.

1. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War

all them witches sleeping through the war

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Jan. 27.

It was clear early on that Nashville four-piece All Them Witches were contending hard for Album of the Year with Sleeping Through the War, their fourth long-player and second for New West following the mellow vibes of 2015’s Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (review here). What finally sealed it? The songs. Working with producer Dave Cobb, the each-member-essential lineup of bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, key-specialist Allan van Cleave (Rhodes, Mellotron, piano, organ, etc.) and drummer/graphic artist Robby Staebler solidified their approach in exciting new ways on early cuts like the grunge-crunching “Don’t Bring Me Coffee” and the shuffling “Bruce Lee,” which hit in succession following the fluid lead-in of opener “Bulls,” an introduction of the organic psychedelia and heavy blues that the loose-swinging of “3-5-7″‘s nigh-on-gospel chorus and subsequent, almost maddeningly catchy “Am I Going Up?” would continue to push outward, thereby setting a linear course into a consciousness-capturing side B with “Alabaster” and the jammier “Cowboy Kirk” and “Internet” playing between melodic nuance and mindful, go-with-it drift. The unflinching strength of the material was matched perhaps only by the understatement of its delivery, which was the more staggering considering how easily the arrangements of background vocals on “Am I Going Up?” or  “3-5-7” could have come through as overblown or self-indulgent, and by the time they got down to the light weirdo-bluesy stomp of “Internet” — the key lyric and hook being, “Guess I’ll go live on the internet” — there was no doubting the genuine nature of the realization Sleeping Through the War represented for All Them Witches. Coupling that feeling of achievement with the sheer repeatability of the listening experience itself left no doubt that 2017 belonged to these tracks and the marvelous way the band wove between them, and that whatever other sounds All Them Witches may go on to explore and whatever else they may accomplish as a result, Sleeping Through the War was a truly special moment in their evolution that, as with the best of offerings in any year, will continue to resonate long after the calendar page has turned.

The Next 20

You know, I used to feel like once you got past a top 20, the numbers were arbitrary. Then I felt that way about the top 30. This year, I think I agonized more about what to include in numbers 31-50 than I did between 30 and the album of the year. Put that in your “go figure” file while you chew on these picks:

31. Cities of Mars, Temporal Rifts
32. The Midnight Ghost Train, Cypress Ave.
33. Snowy Dunes, Atlantis
34. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
35. PH, Eternal Hayden
36. Sasquatch, Maneuvers
37. Young Hunter, Dayhiker
38. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
39. Ufomammut, 8
40. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
41. Paradise Lost, Medusa
42. Beastmaker, Inside the Skull
43. Arduini / Balich, Dawn of Ages
44. Primitive Man, Caustic
45. Motorpsycho, The Tower
46. Arbouretum, Song of the Rose
47. Hymn, Perish
48. Youngblood Supercult, The Great American Death Rattle
49. Pallbearer, Heartless
50. Dool, Here Now There Then

There’s so, so much good stuff here. So much. The Cities of Mars debut was a treasure and the only reason it wasn’t on my top debuts list was because I haven’t had the chance to go back in and put it on. The Young Hunter record? Some of their best work yet. Hell, that Arduini / Balich album alone! Then you’ve got huge releases by Pallbearer, Ufomammut, Paradise Lost, Primitive Man, on and on. Like I said at the outset, one more album and my head was gonna explode this year. Way too much to ever hope to keep up with. One thing though I felt like I really wanted to emphasize including was Dool. They’re in the last spot, but make no mistake, in atmosphere and songwriting that album was something really special and loaded with potential. It’s not there because it came in last. It’s there to highlight the point of how much it should be on this list.

What’s that? More records? Okay…

Honorable Mentions

In case you also weren’t completely overwhelmed this year, maybe another batch of records will do the trick. Here’s some presented alphabetically:

Anathema, The Optimist
Blackfinger, When Colors Fade Away
Child, Blueside
Cortez, The Depths Below
Demon Eye, Prophecies and Lies
Elbrus, Elbrus
Electric Wizard, Wizard Bloody Wizard
Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury
Five Horse Johnson, Jake Leg Boogie
Mirror Queen, Verdigris
The Obsessed, Sacred
T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain
Outsideinside, Sniff a Hot Rock
Queens of the Stone Age, Villains
Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace
Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
Steak, No God to Save
Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light
Valborg, Endstrand
With the Dead, Love from With the Dead

Plus: Abronia, Lewis and the Strange Magics, Iron Monkey, Band of Spice, Puta Volcano, Galley Beggar, Heavy Traffic, Coltsblood, REZN, Green Meteor, Demon Head, Lord, Grigax, The Raynbow, Carpet, Norska, Les Lekin, Slow, Ixion, and I’m sure more that I’ll add as the names continue to pop into my head.

I did this back in June as well, but I also want to draw attention to a swath of quality live albums that came out this year. The top pick should be no surprise if you’ve been hanging around the site of late:

Live Albums:
1. SubRosa, Subdued Live at Roadburn
2. Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen
3. Slomatics, Futurians Live at Roadburn
4. My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
5. Wight, Fusion Rock Invasion
5. Death Alley, Live at Roadburn

Thank You

It’s been a hell of a year, obviously. Musically and otherwise. As always, I cannot possibly come close to thanking you enough for your incredible and ongoing support of The Obelisk, of what this site is, what it’s become over its nearly nine-year run, what it will continue to become going forward from here. It is astounding to me and deeply humbling that you would possibly take time out of your busy day and your busy life to check out what’s going on here, and words fail me continually when it comes to feeling like I can properly convey my appreciation for that. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Tattoo it on my forehead.

Thank you to The Patient Mrs. for understanding how much I need to be doing this, to Slevin for keeping the site running on the technical end, to Behrang Alavi for taking over hosting earlier this year, to my family for their ongoing support, to The Pecan for sleeping late some mornings and giving me time to write, and to everyone who ever shared a link on social media or made a comment on a post or anything like that. To long-time readers and to newcomers alike — thank you so much. This year has seen a fair share of ups and downs, but the support this site gets sustains me in ways I never expected it could, and that would be impossible without you. Please know how crucial that is to me.

Well, that should do it. I know there are probably disagreements about where things landed on the list, what was included, what was left out, etc., as there always are. All comments are of course welcome — only thing I’d ask is you please keep it civil and respectful of the opinions of others. Otherwise, have at it. Please.

And one more time, thank you for reading.

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Quarterly Review: Primitive Man, Black Lung & Nap, Zone Six, Spectral Haze, Cosmic Fall, Epitaph, Disastroid, Mastiff, Demons from the Dungeon Dimension, Liblikas

Posted in Reviews on October 2nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk quarterly review

The final round of the Fall 2017 Quarterly Review starts now. 60 reviews done. I think if this particular QR session proves anything it’s that come hell or high water, once it’s set, there’s no stopping this train. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but the site was down for half of last week and we’re still getting to 60 reviews from Monday to Monday. That’s not not impressive from where I sit, especially since I spent that downtime going out of my mind trying to get things up and running again while also trying to write posts that I didn’t even know if they were going to happen. But they happened — thanks again, Slevin and Behrang — and here we are. All is well and we can get back to normal hopefully for the rest of this week. Thanks for reading any of this if you did. Let’s get to it.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Primitive Man, Caustic

primitive-man-caustic

Primitive Man’s Caustic is the concept of “heavy” taken to the superlative. It is a 12-track/77-minute onslaught for which no less than absolute hyperbole will suffice. In following-up their 2013 Relapse Records debut, Scorn (review here), a series of splits and 2015’s Home is Where the Hatred Is EP (review here), the Denver trio reign in terror as they make Caustic live up to its name in the crushing tones, feedback of and slow churn of “My Will,” “Commerce” “Tepid,” and “Sugar Hole,” the consuming wave of “Victim,” the blastbeating death assault of “Sterility,” and the biting atmospherics of harsh interludes “Caustic,” “Ash” and “The Weight,” which preface the nine minutes of vague noise that close on “Absolutes,” following the grueling slaughter of “Disfigured” and the rightfully-named 12-minute “Inevitable,” which seems even slower and more weighted somehow than everything before it. On the sheer level of heft for that song alone, it’s time to start thinking about Primitive Man among the heaviest bands in the world. I’m serious. Caustic is an overwhelming masterwork of unbridled extremity, and with it, Primitive Man set a new standard both for themselves and for anyone else who’d dare to try to live up to it in their wake.

Primitive Man on Thee Facebooks

Relapse Records webstore

 

Black Lung & Nap, Split

black-lung-nap-split

A heavy blues trio from Baltimore and a progressive boogie outfit from Oldenburg, Germany, might seem like an odd pairing, but by the time the 25 minutes of Black Lung and Nap’s split 12” platter (on Noisolution) are up, the release has come to make its own peculiar kind of sense. In following 2016’s See the Enemy (review here), Black Lung present two new songs in “Strange Seeds” and “Use this Stone” as well we the prior-issued Marvin Gaye cover “Inner City Blues” done in collaboration with rapper Eze Jackson, where Nap answer their debut album, Villa (review here), with the shuffle-into-psychedelia of “Djinn,” the spacious, patient rollout of the airy guitars in “Vorlaut” and the final thrust of “Teer.” Each of the two acts establishes a context for itself quickly – Black Lung brazenly defying theirs in the shift from “Use this Stone” to “Inner City Blues”; Nap expanding between “Djinn” and “Vorlaut” – and though one wouldn’t be likely to mistake one group for the other, their disparate sounds don’t at all hinder the ability of either group to make an impression during their brief time.

Nap on Thee Facebooks

Black Lung on Thee Facebooks

Noisolution webstore

 

Zone Six, Zone Six

zone-six-zone-six

Originally issued in 1998 via Early Birds Records with the lineup of bassist/synthesis/Mellotronist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, guitarist Hans-Peter Ringholz, drummer/keyboardist Claus Bühler and vocalist Jodi Barry, the self-titled debut from German space/krautrock explorationists Zone Six sees something of a redux via Sulatron Records to mark the 20th anniversary of the band’s founding. Eight minutes shorter than the original edition at 51 minutes, the new version whittles down the original 13-track presentation to two vinyl sides – titles: “Side A” (27:04) and “Side B” (24:39) – and drops the vocal tracks entirely to make it a completely instrumental release. That’s a not-insignificant change, of course, but let there be no doubt that it works in terms of highlighting the flow, which as it transitions between what used to be one song and another loses not one step and instead simply becomes an engrossing and multifaceted jam. This is truer perhaps to the band Zone Six have become – if you missed their 2015 full-length Love Monster (review here), it was glorious and it’s not too late to catch up – than the band they started out as, but Zone Six have found a way to make an old release new again, and new Zone Six is never anything to complain about, whatever the occasion.

Zone Six on Thee Facebooks

Sulatron Records? webstore

 

Spectral Haze, Turning Electric

spectral-haze-turning-electric

Space rock warriors Spectral Haze return after three years in the Gamma Quadrant with Turning Electric via Totem Cat Records, a six-song sophomore outing behind 2014’s I.E.V.: Transmutated Nebula Remains (review here) that quickly enters a wormhole of Hawkwindian thrust on opener “The Dawn of the Falcon” – perhaps that’s what’s represented on the glorious Adam Burke cover art – and takes a winding but directed course deeper and deeper into interstellar realms for its duration of what on earth is only six songs and 33 minutes. Each of the intended two vinyl sides boasts a longer track, be it “Cathexis/Mask of Transformation” on side A or “They Live” on side B, but whether it’s in those or shorter rocket boosters like the title-track, “Ajaghandi” or the aforementioned leadoff, the Oslo-based four-piece keep it dreamy and kosmiche even unto the doomlier roll of closer “Master Sorcerer,” a collection of final psychedelic proclamations that cuts off quickly at the end as though breaking a transmission from the heart of the galaxy itself. Heck of a destination, and getting there’s a blast, too.

Spectral Haze on Thee Facebooks

Totem Cat Records webstore

 

Cosmic Fall, Jams for Free

cosmic-fall-jams-for-free

Kind of a bummer how Jams for Free came about, but for the reassurance that Berlin heavy psych improvisationalists Cosmic Fall will keep going after what seems to have been an unceremonious split with now-ex-guitarist/vocalist Mathias, I’ll take it. With two new explorations, bassist Klaus and drummer Daniel introduce new guitarist Martin, and those worried they might lose the funk of their original incarnation should have their fears duly allayed by “A Calmer Sphere” (12:19) and “The Great Comet” (8:10), which begin a new era of Cosmic Fall after the remaining founders were forced to stop selling their prior works. If there’s anger or catharsis being channeled in Jams for Free, though, it comes through as fluidity and serene heavy psych, and with the resonant live-in-studio vibe, Cosmic Fall essentially seem to be picking up where they left off. With Martin making a distinguishing impression in the soloing of “A Calmer Sphere”’s second half particularly, the future continues to look bright for the German asteroid riders. Right on, guys. Keep jamming.

Cosmic Fall on Thee Facebooks

Cosmic Fall on Bandcamp

 

Epitaph, Claws

Epitaph-Claws

Doomers of Verona Epitaph trace their origins back some 30 years, but Claws (on High Roller Records) is just their second long-player behind 2014’s Crawling out of the Crypt. Matters not. Theirs is the doom of ages one way or the other, presented in this collection of five songs in traditional fashion with an edge of the Italian bizarrist movement (think early Death SS) and, from the “Neon Knights”-style riff of “Gossamer Claws” to the “After All (The Dead)”/”Falling off the Edge of the World”-style dramaturge of “Wicked Lady,” the nods to ‘80s and early-‘90s Black Sabbath are manifold and executed with what sounds like a genuine love for that era of the band and classic metal in general. Hard to fault Epitaph that influence, particularly as they bring it to bear in the guttural riffly chug of centerpiece “Sizigia,” tonally as much as in the form of what’s actually being played. As a mission, the homage is perhaps a bit single-minded, but as they continue to build their own legacy in these classic sounds, it’s impossible to say Epitaph’s collective heart isn’t in the right place.

Epitaph on Thee Facebooks

High Roller Records webstore

 

Disastroid, Screen

disastroid-screen

The nine songs of Disastroid’s fourth self-released LP, Screen, are drawn together by a songwriting prowess that’s better heard than described and by a heft of tone that, especially on stompers like “Dinosaur” early and “Coyote” later on, proves likewise. Is the point of this review, then, that you should listen to the album? Yuppers. At a crisp 35 minutes, Screen finds the Bay Area trio willfully nestled someplace between heavy rock riffing, noise crunch, punk and metal, and they fly this refusal to commit to one style over another no less proudly than they do the hook of “Getting in the Way” or “I Didn’t Kill Myself,” which along with the push of “Choke the Falcon” and the Melvinsian “Clinical Perfection” make up a series of short burst impressions contrasted by the longer “Screen” and “New Day” at the outset and the six-minute finale “Gunslinger,” though wherever Disastroid seem to go, they bring a current of memorable craft with them, making an otherwise purposefully bumpy ride smooth and a chaos-fueled joy to undertake.

Disastroid website

Disastroid on Bandcamp

 

Mastiff, Bork

mastiff-bork

Ultimately, bludgeon-ready UK five-piece Mastiff might owe as much to grind as they do to doom or sludge – at least if “Nil by Mouth” has anything to say about it – but more than loyalty to any subgenre or other, the Hull unit’s 25-minute Bork full-length (released on CD by APF Records) is interested in presenting an extreme vision of sonic heft. Brutal pummel infects the rolling chorus of “Everything Equals Death” and the initial chug of “Tumour” alike, and where opener “Agony” was content to blast out its cacophony in fury of tempo as much as weight, as they settle in for the mosh-ready six minutes of closer “Eternal Regret,” Mastiff seem to have dug out a position between lumbering doom and early ‘00s deathcore, a telltale breakdown capping Bork in grooving and familiar fashion. Their intensity might prove a distinguishing factor over the longer term, though, and they certainly have plenty enough of it to go around.

Mastiff on Thee Facebooks

APF Records website

 

Demons from the Dungeon Dimension, An Organic Mythology

demons-from-the-dungeon-dimension-an-organic-mythology

The righteously-monikered Demons from the Dungeon Dimension made a striking and individualized – and bizarre – impression in 2016 with the There was Ogres EP (discussed here), a follow-up to the debut full-length, As the Crow Flies, released just weeks earlier. With the new single An Organic Mythology and the five-minute, raw-recorded track of the same name, the Durban, South Africa-based project is laid to rest. A burly opening and thickened distortion lead to a pushing verse with dry vocals over top – sounding very much like a home-recorded demo outright and not trying to be anything else – and soon enough the track shifts into a spoken-word-dissertation over an instrumental build that carries it into its final minute, at which point the verse kicks back in to end. As with the prior EP, which topped 25 minutes, the vibe is willfully strange throughout “An Organic Mythology,” and if this is indeed the last we’ll hear from Demons from the Dungeon Dimension (doesn’t it just sound like something TOR Books would put out?), somehow it seems right we live in an age where the material can reside in the digital ether, waiting to be stumbled on by curious parties soon to be blindsided by what they hear.

Demons from the Dungeon Dimension on Bandcamp

Demons from the Dungeon Dimension on YouTube

 

Liblikas, Unholy Moly

liblikas-unholy-moly

From the initial semi-gothic vibes from vocalist Oliver Aunver to the progressive fuzz rock that ensues on opener “Holy Underground,” Estonian five-piece Liblikas seem to specialize in the unexpected on their second full-length, Unholy Moly. Aunver, guitarists Temo Saarna (also vocals) and Henrik Harak, bassist Joosep Käsper and drummer/backing vocalist Mihkel Rebane, oversee a brisk 45-minute run across eight tracks of genre-spanning grooves, from the chugging almost-doom of “Highest Hound” to the semi-folk experimentalist interlude “Fugue Yeah! (Diary Pt. II),” which follows “Dear Diary, Yeah!” a track that starts out with what might be a Japanese-language sample and psychedelic unfolding to more cohesive, harmony-topped prog rock bounce before the fuzz emerges and meets with forward vocals and effective interplay of acoustics in the chorus. Why yes, there is a six-minute song called “Pornolord” – funny you should ask. It appears before the oud-laced “Ol’ Slime” and nine-minute closer “Keezo,” which embraces the difficult task of summing up the weirdo intensity that’s been on display throughout Liblikas’ songwriting all along, and with wispy guitar leading to a big, noisy finish, succeeds outright in doing so.

Liblikas on Thee Facebooks

Liblikas on Bandcamp

 

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