The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

Posted in Features on June 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top-20-2017-so-far

The time has come to take a look at some of the best albums of 2017 so far. I hardly know where to start. In some ways, this list is harder to put together than the end-of-year one that comes out in December, because by then not only do you have the full year to draw on, but it’s easier to sort of put a narrative to the course of events of 12 months, whereas in this case, obviously, the story is half told. So I guess if the list feels incomplete, that might be part of why.

Even with just six months to work from, the list has become fairly immense. I’ve been keeping track of 2017 releases since about September of last year, and the amount of stuff that’s come through has been staggering. Every year brings good music, and the basic fact of the matter is that if you don’t think so it’s because you’re either unwilling to find it or unwilling to let yourself hear it, but 2017 has been a multi-tiered assault of sounds from all over the world, and it seems like whatever you might be into, the universe stands ready to accommodate.

There’s a lot to say about that — is the market flooded? — but it’s a topic for a different post. I’ll keep it short here and just say that as always, it’s an honor to be covering the stuff that I cover and that I deeply appreciate you taking the time to read. I hope if there’s a release you feel deeply passionate about that you don’t see on my list below that you’ll please let me know about it in the comments.

Also, please note that in order to qualify for this list, a record had to come out on or before June 9. That’s the cutoff.

Okay, here goes:

The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

elder reflections of a floating world

1. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World
2. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War
3. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe
4. Colour Haze, In Her Garden
5. Atavismo, Inerte
6. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us
7. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust
8. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn
9. The Obsessed, Sacred
10. Mothership, High Strangeness
11. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma
12. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals
13. Alunah, Solennial
14. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical
13. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
14. Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace
15. PH, Eternal Hayden
16. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
17. T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain
18. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable
19. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
20. Lord, Blacklisted

Notes

If you keep up with this site at all, there probably aren’t a lot of surprises in there. These are all records that have been discussed at great length over the last six months, reviewed, streamed, analyzed, whathaveyou’d all the way. If you don’t believe me, search any of the names. Still, as far as my personal picks go and who I think has crafted something special over the last six months, this feels pretty representative to me. I managed to live for a full week with the list as you see it above, without making changes. That’s usually my standard.

And as always, it’s a combination of what I’ve listened to most and what I feel has had the greatest impact thus far into the year. Between the two, there was little doubt Elder would take the top spot. I’ve probably listened to the All Them Witches record more than anything else this year, including Elder’s Reflections of a Floating World, but the truth is the Massachusetts trio are working at a level of their own making in terms of their sonic progression, and that they’ve emerged as one of if not the most pivotal American underground heavy rock bands going. The situation was much the same when they put out Lore in 2015 and claimed that year’s top-album spot, but even since then their sound has expanded and they continue to demand ultimate respect.

As for the All Them Witches album — absolute stunner. The increased depth of their arrangements on Sleeping Through the War came at no expense of songwriting, resulting in ultra-memorable material that could either wash over you with melody or shove you out of your seat with the force of its rhythm, and that band continues to be a treasure. No other way to put it.

From there, we move into what I think are the four best heavy psych offerings of 2017 so far, with Samsara Blues Experiment, Colour Haze, Atavismo and Sun Blood Stories, in that order. Samsara Blues Experiment’s return has been a joy to witness and their first album in four years lived up to the occasion. Colour Haze expanded the palette from their last album with In Her Garden and proved as immersive as always. I’m still getting to know that record. Atavismo’s second full-length upped the progressive influences without losing fluidity or cohesion in songwriting, and Sun Blood Stories’ hypnotic shoegaze offered expansive thrills and a sense of varied, beautifully crafted exploration.

A pair of exciting young bands thereafter in Colorado’s Cloud Catcher, whose boogie is right-on-right-on and whose development continues to hold much potential, and Vokonis, whose crushing riffs on The Sunken Djinn were met with an increased focus on structure and tightening of approach that maximized overall impact. The Obsessed’s unexpected return could only be called a triumphant one, and Mothership’s third long-player found them working in a richer sense of mood than previous outings, adding yet more character to what was still a blast of good-time rock and roll. They round out the top 10 in full command of who they are as players.

Granted, the next 10 releases are kind of all over the place, but I think that just shows the overarching quality of work being done across the board. From Spaceslug’s melodic stoner-psych to Electric Moon’s studio return — so, so, so good — to Alunah’s continued growth in nature-worshiping heavy and Arc of Ascent’s comebacker of rolling heavy riffs and metaphysical themes, there’s been so much to take in. I especially like the pairing of Rozamov and Siena Root as a sense of scope for 2017 so far; the former being so dark and crushing and the latter who lived up to calling their record A Dream of Lasting Peace. You want to know both ends of the spectrum? There they are.

PH’s Eternal Hayden gets a nod for its effective reset of the context of that band following the completion of their trilogy of albums, and Geezer’s Psychoriffadelia might have been something of a tossoff in the making, but the level at which the New York trio jams nonetheless assures it a spot here. Plus, a Nazareth cover. So duh.

I couldn’t help but include T.G. Olson’s Foothills Before the Mountain on the list as the Across Tundras frontman creeps closer to a full-band sound for his solo work, adding to his acoustic singer-songwriter foundations, and the crush of Telekinetic Yeti’s post-Sleep riffing evoked so many nods I thought they deserved one here as well. Placing The Devil and the Almighty Blues was difficult, but especially after seeing them live, I felt like I had a better idea of where they were coming from on II, so knew they belonged somewhere, even if it was tucked in at the end. And of course, Lord. Always killer, always experimenting, always chaotic. Never have grind and sludge sounded more cohesive together. They’re the band I wish Soilent Green had become, and yes, I mean that.

Honorable Mention

Let’s do another 10 releases, shall we?

21. Beastmaker, Inside the Skull
22. Arduini/Balich, Dawn of Ages
23. Brume, Rooster
24. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
25. Six Sigma, Tuxedo Brown
26. Demon Head, Thunder on the Fields
27. Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light
28. Steak, No God to Save
29. Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
30. Dool, Here Now There Then

And just to make the point, here are even more worthy of note in this space:

Elbrus, Elbrus
Cortez, The Depths Below
Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury
Child, Blueside (a December 2016 release, maybe, but I think the vinyl was this year, so whatever)
Pallbearer, Heartless
Spidergawd, IV
Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun
Loss, Horizonless

There are of course other names as well that come to mind. Like I said at the outset, it’s a crowded field: Hymn, Arbouretum, Green Meteor, REZN, Demon Head, Galley Beggar, Devil’s Witches, Orango, Heavy Traffic, Coltsblood, Mt. Mountain, Vokonis, Solstafir, High Plains, on and on.

Also worth highlighting several really, really quality live records that have surfaced so far this year. I didn’t really know where to place them among the other studio offerings, but they deserve note for sure:

Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen
Death Alley, Live at Roadburn
My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
Enslaved, Roadburn Live

More to Come

Of course, we’re still just barely halfway through the year, so keep on the lookout for more to follow. If you didn’t see my massive 200+ albums to watch for list in January, it has many that have come out and many more still to surface, but here are a few highlight names as well that you’re going to want to keep an eye on in the months ahead:

Queens of the Stone Age
Radio Moscow
The Atomic Bitchwax
Kadavar
Ufomammut
The Midnight Ghost Train
Moon Rats
Clamfight
Egypt
the Melvins
Bison Machine
Seedy Jeezus
High on Fire
Monster Magnet

Thanks for Reading

Before I check out, I’d like to give special mention to Lo-Pan’s In Tensions EP as the best short release of the year thus far. Along with EPs from Godhunter, Kings Destroy, Solace and Shroud Eater, it has assured those seeking a quick fix are handed their ass in return for asking.

Well, that’s about where I’m at with it. As per usual, I’m sure there are things I forgot and/or left off here, because I’m human and whatnot, so please if you have something to add, feel free to do so in the comments so long as you can keep it cordial. No name calling. I’m sensitive and you’ll ruin my whole day. I mean that.

Thanks again for being a part of this and here’s to an excellent rest of 2017.

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Six Dumb Questions with Summoner

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on June 6th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

summoner

It’s been five years since Summoner released their debut album, Phoenix, and nearly 10 since they first got together. In that span of time, the Boston-area four-piece have undertaken a willful creative development that’s led to the construction of material that cascades, careens, lands hard when it wants to or seems to float and drift away of its own volition. Their second long-player, Atlantian (discussed here), arrived in 2013, and after a four-year stretch of writing and playing shows, they follow it with the new, third full-length offering, Beyond the Realm of Light, and reach a fresh stage in terms of both craft and maturity.

Delivered like its predecessor through Magnetic Eye Records, the six-song Beyond the Realm of Light stands as proof that modern heavy need not choose between sonic weight and a progressive sensibility. Working in the model of thoughtful composition pioneered by the likes of Baroness and Mastodon, the foursome of bassist/vocalist Chris Johnson, guitarists A.J. Peters and Joe Richner and drummer Scott Smith create a full-album fluidity between songs like “The Huntress” and “Beyond the Realm of Light,” or between the crashing “The Emptiness” and the ambient beginning of “Skies of the Unknown,” the latter almost hopeful in its thrust as befitting a lyrical narrative playing out across the record’s span.

With considerable road-time under their collective belt and more to come — including a stop later this summer at Psycho Las Vegas (info here) — the still-fresh release of Beyond the Realm of Light provides Summoner their best reason yet to get out and spread their high-energy performance and writing style to as many ears as they can. In the Q&A that follows, Peters — with a quick contribution from Johnson as well — discusses the band’s writing processes, the recording of Beyond the Realm of Light, their upcoming plans and more.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

summoner beyond the realm of light

Six Dumb Questions with Summoner

Tell me how the songs came together for Beyond the Realm of Light. You were pretty assiduous in documenting the writing process for Atlantian. Was there ever any consideration toward doing the same kind of thing this time around?

The new album actually came together quite quickly as far as the writing was concerned. Our writing process hasn’t really changed much over the years. Sometimes we have bouts of writer’s block, but when things start happening they happen quickly. We didn’t really consider documenting the writing process too much with this one. Most of the time it’s just the four of us standing around noodling and then going, “so what about this?” Other times we write solo at home and bring what we have to table when we get together. Honesty it’s not that interesting of a process, haha.

It’s been four years since Atlantian came out, whereas it was only a year between Phoenix and Atlantian. You were doing shows, I know, but was there a reason for the longer stretch between albums? Do you feel the span affected the outcome of Beyond the Realm of Light at all? If so, how?

I feel like we had a lot more going on individually between Atlantian and BTROL than we did between Phoenix and Atlantian. Jobs, family… life in general, really. From our perspective everything was pretty evenly spaced, since Phoenix was pretty much written in full long before we ever went into the studio with it. We had been playing most of the songs off of Phoenix live for way too long before we recorded it. Once Phoenix was recorded, and even before the record was done we had started writing Atlantian.

After Atlantian we fell into a groove of gigging on those tunes. Eventually we got bored with them and decided to start writing the new one. When you lay it out according to each actual release date/year it seems almost hard to believe it was that long between the last two albums. I don’t think the span between albums had too much of an effect on BTROL, other than the fact that we all grew a little more musically and brought those influences to the table.

How do you feel the band has grown over the course of the three Summoner albums? You’ve always struck me as very purposefully pushing yourselves forward in terms of sound. Where do you feel this progression is leading?

We’ve definitely taken a more concise approach to our music lately and it shows on the new album. We work with a “cut the fat” mantra. BTROL, being only six songs, definitely shows this. There were many riffs and ideas that died horrible deaths on their way to becoming finished songs. One day we would be messing around with an idea and just stop and look at each other and say “this sucks.” We’d all kind of nod in agreement, let out a sigh of relief and move on. Why waste your time on a song you’re not proud of just to fill time? Doesn’t make any sense.

We do make a conscious effort to push ourselves musically, but are careful not to step too far away from makes us Summoner. I wish I could tell you how, or in what way, we’ll grow in the future but it’s really hard to tell. I know we want to focus more on the driving and energetic segment of our sound, but that doesn’t mean we won’t write another “Let the Light In” or “Reclaimer.”

Is there a narrative arc to the lyrics on Beyond the Realm of Light? What theme or themes are the songs exploring, and ultimately, what’s the story being told?

I’m actually going to step aside and let Chris answer this one. There is a very definite theme to the lyrics that Chris came up with. He’s much better suited than I to answer…

Chris Johnson: Well, Beyond the Realm of Light is essentially a concept album at its core. It’s a little far out there, so bear with me…

In the somewhat distant future, we find the Earth in a state of emergency and decay due to man’s exploitation of our resources, forcing humanity to seek another planet capable of sustaining life. (Sounds familiar, right?) We find something suitable in the depths of space which seems to have had a previous civilization inhabiting it. Were they humans? Did they leave that planet for Earth or kill themselves off somehow? We may never know.

From there, we return to Earth to “gather the masses” to relocate humanity to this new/old planet. Some governments are on board, some aren’t, and those not down have threatened the people who chose to stay behind with nuclear devastation. In the end, we launch our vessels and are peering down through the windows of the great ships at “the Earth below, awash with flame” and, with heavy hearts, begin our long journey towards our new home in skies of the unknown.

Summoner’s work in the studio always sounds so clean, so sharp in its delivery. How do you feel Beyond the Realm of Light represents what Summoner do live compared to its predecessors?

This is something we really focused on when recording this one. We wanted BTROL to be a much better representation of us live than the previous two albums. We’ve always tracked the meat and potatoes of our songs live as a band, but sonically we wanted something completely different. We really changed it up in the studio this time, from mics and mic placement to layering and production. We took a more stripped-down approach. One thing that really bothered us about Phoenix and Atlantian was that they didn’t sound like us live. They were tracked, mixed and mastered more like doom records and less like rock and roll albums. We wanted BTROL to be in-your-face and aggressive and I think we did pretty well achieving that.

You’ll play Psycho Las Vegas in August. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

Well, we are really excited to be playing Psycho this year. The bill has shaped up to be quite impressive and we are truly humbled to be sharing the stage with all of those amazing bands. We only have one show in Boston lined up before that, with Mutoid Man, Helms Alee and Primitive Weapons, but there are some other things in the works for June/July.

In late September, we are playing Forge Fest in Providence which will be a blast also. Other than that we are anxiously awaiting the release of The Planet of Doom, which we contributed a yet to be released tune to, and also recording our song for the Magnetic Eye Records release of Pink Floyd’s The Wall [Redux]. We have also started putting together some ideas for our next release, so we’ll see…

Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light (2017)

Summoner on Thee Facebooks

Summoner on Bandcamp

Magnetic Eye Records on Bandcamp

Magnetic Eye Records webstore

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Review & Track Premiere: Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 27th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Summoner-Beyond-the-Realm-of-Light

[Click play above to stream ‘Into Oblivion’ from Summoner’s Beyond the Realm of Light. Album is out May 12 on Magnetic Eye Records.]

As they approach a decade of making music together, Boston four-piece Summoner bring forth the album which all that time seems to have been building toward. One can quibble on the “decade” figure depending on when they got going under their original moniker, Riff Cannon, but what’s undeniable is the mindful songcraft and crisp delivery across the two sides of Beyond the Realm of Light, released on Magnetic Eye Records as their third full-length. The basic elements at play aren’t all that different from what Summoner offered on 2013’s Atlantian (discussed here) or even their 2012 debut, Phoenix, but from the patience they bring to the post-rock textures early in “Skies of the Unknown” to the crushing roll in the apex of their near-eight-minute title-track, there’s a mature sensibility underlying this material that steers itself away from self-indulgence.

Instead, what bassist/vocalist Chris Johnson, guitarists A.J. Peters and Joe Richner and drummer Scott Smith conjure is a dynamic and efficient six-song/32-minute run that never stagnates and never overwhelms the listener with its technicality — though, as ever, Summoner tear it up; check the solo in “Into Oblivion” to confirm — at the cost of the impact either of a given track or the record as a whole. They pull together a brisk full-album flow that’s not overthought or hyper-cerebral, and while some will hear the initial vocal melody of opener “New Sun” and the subsequent “The Huntress” and compare them to Elder for their locality and proggy bent, Summoner emerge from Beyond the Realm of Light as their own entity driven by their own motivations toward their own ends.

That in itself is significant, as is the fact that Beyond the Realm of Light arrives four years after Atlantian, which itself came only one year after their debut. Summoner have played shows all the while, and no doubt a good portion of “real life” happens in a four-year stretch as well, but as “New Sun” and “The Huntress” unfold the okay-are-we-all-here-good-let’s-do-this-thing beginning of the album, the band displays a growth in their songwriting that simply can’t be faked. At four and five minutes, respectively, the opening duo are a pivotal introduction — not to mention a third of the tracklist, which is only six songs, remember — to where Summoner are at this stage in their tenure, and though they’re energetic and given to a thrust that’s long been present in their sound, the band themselves don’t actually sound hurried or like they’re in anything but total control of their direction.

In the sphere of modern progressive heavy rock, post-Baronesstodon, that’s important, but more so is the balance with which Summoner execute their prog influence, and the rocking start of “New Sun” and “The Huntress” leading into the longer, grander title-track is essential in establishing that. It affects the whole album following, so that when they do begin to unroll “Beyond the Realm of Light” itself, with its measured drum march, far-back echoing clean-sung verse and stomping largesse, the effect is that the palette is gracefully expanded rather than haphazardly thrown together. Summoner push further, and further still as “Beyond the Realm of Light” digs into a quick atmospheric midsection before resuming its roll toward a piano-topped apex and subsequent ambient epilogue, but because they’ve shown such mastery of their songwriting up to this point, there’s no question about the listener being able to follow them on the drifting fadeout that ends the record’s first half.

summoner

If there’s a narrative at work in Beyond the Realm of Light, one finds it growing richer on side B along with the band’s sound, a resolution perhaps in the melodic hook of “The Emptiness,” the multifaceted push of “Skies of the Unknown” and aforementioned bring-it-all-full-circle closer “Into Oblivion” that complements and builds on what the band accomplished with “New Sun,” “The Huntress,” and the title-track. One doesn’t want to speculate on their methodology in piecing the record together, but part of the front-to-back flow that proves so resonant across this still-brief span is a perceptible deepening of the exploration side A began.

To wit, “The Emptiness” is short at just over four minutes, but offers one of Beyond the Realm of Light‘s most engaging moments in its chorus, and the longer “Skies of the Unknown” seems to answer the title-track’s purposes with the winding course of its own, led as ever by the guitars through purposeful shifts in tempo and texture through its 6:42 that draw together the nuance thus far displayed and at about 4:30 in align them toward the solo crescendo of the album as a whole, which pulls back to the NWOBHM-style gallop and hook to finish ahead of the introductory crash of “Into Oblivion,” continuing the momentum with fist-raising righteousness. A last forward shove in “Into Oblivion” makes a fitting way to tie Beyond the Realm of Light together, but even this is just a part of the overarching and more complex trajectory Summoner have set for themselves.

Accordingly, when they hit into the last solo and around again through one last verse and chorus before a somewhat sudden, thudding stop, the sense of determination isn’t lost. It’s not that Summoner couldn’t say more or couldn’t keep going — Atlantian was 43 minutes, Phoenix 49 — but that they’ve come to know what best serves the purposes of the outing’s entirety, and the length of Beyond the Realm of Light becomes another aspect emblematic of that; less immediate than the progress they’ve made in songwriting or honing a flow between a given song’s parts and between the songs themselves, certainly, but important nonetheless. On the whole, Beyond the Realm of Light finds Summoner a more grounded, more engaging band than they’ve ever been, but among the most encouraging signals it sends is that even as they enter this new stage of their time together, they show no signs of slowing their creative development, and it is ultimately that will toward growth that defines them.

Summoner on Thee Facebooks

Summoner on Bandcamp

Magnetic Eye Records on Bandcamp

Magnetic Eye Records webstore

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Summoner to Release Beyond the Realm of Light May 12

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

summoner

Massachusetts-based progressive heavy rockers Summoner have posted an album trailer for their upcoming third full-length, Beyond the Realm of Light. It’s less than a minute long, and I’m not sure which of the forthcoming outing’s tracks it features, but it seems to have an immediately more straightforward attack than did their last offering, 2013’s Atlantian (discussed here), which has sold through more vinyl pressings than I can even count at this point.

Dudes made an impression with that record for sure, and with Beyond the Realm of Light set to release on May 12 through Magnetic Eye Records — which will also feature the band on its upcoming Pink Floyd tribute, The Wall [Redux] (info here) — they seem poised to do likewise once more. To wit, they’ll be at Psycho Las Vegas in August, and they’ve got their own beer coming as well from Oliver Brewing. Doube IPA. Heady stuff.

I’ll hope to have more to come on this one as we get closer to the release, but in the meantime, the PR wire brings the Samantha Muljat cover art, the album details, and the aforementioned trailer, all of which rounds out to this:

summoner-beyond-the-realm-of-light

SUMMONER to Release New Album, ‘Beyond the Realm of Light’, May 12

Boston, MA hard rock foursome SUMMONER will release its new album, Beyond the Realm of Light, on May 12 via Magnetic Eye Records. Recorded at Q Division Studios (Pixies, Converge), produced by the band and mastered by Dave Shirk (Soilent Green, Pentagram), the LP fuses 70’s proto-metal, guitar rock and cosmic psych into a driving, six song testament to the power of the riff. Beyond the Realm of Light is the follow-up to SUMMONER’s 2013 full-length, Atlantian, hailed as, “heavy, psychedelic metal with a progressive edge.” Artwork for Beyond the Realm of Light was created by Samantha Muljat (Earth, Power Trip).

Featuring vocalist / bassist Chris Johnson (Doomriders, Deafheaven touring bassist), guitarist AJ Peters, drummer Scott Smith (Plagues) and guitarist Joe Richner (Plagues), SUMMONER formed in 2009 (as Riff Cannon). In the time since, the quartet has released two studio albums — 2012’s Phoenix and the aforementioned Atlantian — praised for their creative power and “riffs that Mastodon, Thin Lizzy, Torche would be proud to call their own”. The group’s live performances have been called “atmospheric and heavy, melodic and propulsive” and have seen SUMMONER perform alongside Cave In, Worshipper, Magic Circle and more.

On the strength of its live set, SUMMONER has been asked to perform at the 2017 Psycho Las Vegas Festival, set for August 18-20 at Sin City’s Hard Rock Hotel. For full details, visit this location.

Track listing:

1.) New Sun
2.) The Huntress
3.) Beyond the Realm of Light
4.) The Emptiness
5.) Skies of the Unknown
6.) Into Oblivion

Pre-order Beyond the Realm of Light at THIS location.

In additional news, Baltimore’s Oliver Brewing Company will release a limited edition “Beyond The Realm of Light” double IPA on May 13, in tribute to SUMMONER. The special beer is part of the breweries’ “Long Live Rock and Roll” double IPA series, released in collaboration with the bands and record labels that soundtrack its brewing process. Previous artists featured include Mothership and The Well. For more details, visit this location.

https://www.facebook.com/Summonerband/
https://summonerboston.bandcamp.com/
http://store.merhq.com/
http://magneticeyerecords.merchnow.com/

Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light album trailer

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