The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 EPs, Demos and Singles of 2013

Posted in Features on January 2nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’ve been trying to get this one on the page for a couple weeks now — really since last year if you want to go back that far — and I finally just decided to do it. Granted, it’s already 2014, but I’m pretty used to being behind the times, so I hope you’ll indulge me on this one.

The thing is, of course we already did the Top 20 Albums of 2013, but that leaves an awful lot out in terms of quality shorter releases. Demos, singles, EPs, splits — whatever it might be — there’s a lot more to the story of a year in music than who’s putting out what full-length. That might be true now more than ever, with digital releases and artists having the ability to more or less give a song-by-song feed of new material should they so choose. Since this is the first time I’ve done this list, I’ve kept the presentation pretty basic, but there’s a lot to dig into here anyway in terms of the quality of the music and what people were able to accomplish in, in some cases, just one or two tracks.

My basis for judgment here is basically the same as with the full-albums list, and by that I mean how much I listened to something played a huge role, and it’s not just how important I think an EP or a split or a demo was that got it included on this list — though of course that stuff matters as well. Like spelling, repeat listens count. And it goes without saying these are my picks and have nothing to do with the Readers Poll, the results of which are here.

Okay, let’s do this:

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2013

1. The Machine/Sungrazer, Split
2. Dozer, Vultures
3. Mars Red Sky, Be My Guide
4. Black Thai, Seasons of Might
5. Wo Fat/Egypt, Cyclopean Riffs Split 12″
6. Young Hunter, Embers at the Foot of Dark Mountain
7. Shroud Eater, Dead Ends
8. Steak, Corned Beef Colossus
9. Geezer, Gage
10. The Golden Grass, One More Time b/w Tornado 7″
11. Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight, Underground
12. King Buffalo, Demo
13. Groan, Ride the Snake
14. Crypt Sermon, Demo MMXIII
15. Stubb, Under a Spell b/w Bullets Rain 7″
16. Salem’s Pot, Watch Me Kill You Tape
17. Undersmile/Coma Wall, Wood and Wire Split
18. Second Grave, Antithesis
19. Sinister Haze, Demo
20. Olde Growth, Owl

Honorable mention has to go to the Fatso Jetson/Yawning Man split, C.O.C.‘s Megalodon EP, which was right on but which I didn’t really hear enough to include. The Gates of Slumber‘s Stormcrow as well.

Just a couple notes: In the case of Olde Growth, putting them last was actually more about not being sure when the official release date of Owl was than anything else. I actually listened to that quite a bit, and “Tears of Blood” remains my favorite work of the duo’s to date. In terms of demos, it was a good year for doom debuts, with Crypt Sermon and Sinister Haze both showing some malevolent classicism, and King Buffalo‘s demo grew on me almost immediately upon hearing it and right away made me look forward to whatever might come next from them.

I was a little hesitant to put a split in the number one spot, but The Machine‘s riff for “Awe” alone made it necessary. I’ve kept this disc on my person for almost the entire year and continue to have no regrets in doing so. For Dozer, yeah, it was a collection of older material, but I still enjoyed the crap out of it. Both Mars Red Sky and Black Thai signaled considerable creative growth in four-song EPs, and the Wo Fat and Egypt split more than lived up to its mission. The riff lives in bands like that, and as we get further into stylistic nuance and subgenre development, it’s those groups who are holding on to the Heavy.

Young Hunter are one of the most promising bands I’ve heard in the last three years. Flat out. Killer release. Ditto that in a much different context for Shroud Eater, whose take on heavy only got more sinister and more effective with Dead Ends. Steak emerge as tops among the five British bands — a quarter of the list! — here. Their Corned Beef Colossus also had the best title I heard all year, and though Trippy Wicked, Groan, Stubb, and Undersmile/Coma Wall (the latter earning bonus points for putting out a split with themselves) all thrilled, Steak‘s potential got them that spot. Time for a full-length, guys.

Not to leave out New York — though the geographical alignment is a coincidence — Geezer‘s Gage tapped into a jammier feel that I thought suited the band remarkably well, and The Golden Grass‘ debut single offered one of the most charming irony-free good times I’ve heard in a long while. The Salem’s Pot cassette was one of my most-listened-to tapes this year, last mentioned but not at all least, Second Grave‘s Antithesis probably would’ve clocked in higher if I’d had more time with it, but was definitely one I wanted to put in here anyway.

As I said, a lot of really astounding shorter outings, and worthy of attention in their own right. If I missed anything, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments.

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You’ll be Missed: Sungrazer

Posted in Features on December 30th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

For a while there, it was looking like Sungrazer were the future of fuzz. No shit. After I heard their Mirador album in 2011 (review here), I was all set and in fact did on several occasions count them as one of the brightest hopes in the European heavy psych scene, all the more so as they were brought forth with the endorsement of Elektrohasch Schallplatten, the imprint founded by Stefan Koglak of Colour Haze. The trio of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets, bassist/vocalist Sander Haagmans and drummer Hans Mulders released a split earlier in 2013 with like-minded Dutch trio The Machine (review here) to mark their “Strikes and Gutters” tour together, and then Sungrazer were supposed to play Duna Jam, and Smeets quit. That’s how it went. Here’s his post from Thee Facebooks on June 4:

Dear all,
After having played many years with Sungrazer with great joy I have come to the conclusion that there’s no more future in this band for me. That’s why I quit Sungrazer and so, unfortunately, I can’t come to DunaJam. I’m sorry about this and I want to thank you for the great moments we shared.
Peace,
Rutger

In the months that have followed, there hasn’t been much more said about it than that. Nothing, actually. It’s hard enough to replace any member of a trio without creating an entirely new group dynamic, so I guess Haagmans and Mulders decided without Smeets that was it. It was one of 2013’s biggest bummer breakups, and more so since after their future-classic 2010 self-titled debut (review here), Mirador had expanded their sound into even jammier, more naturalistic vibing, so that cuts like “Mirador” and “Sea” and “Behind” seemed to emerge from a glorious overarching wash of tonal warmth. The self-titled had that as well, and “Zero Zero,” “Common Believer,” “If,” “Somo” and “Mountain Dusk” were even more distinct on their own, so that as much as the record worked as a whole, individual songs flourished as well.

I was fortunate enough to see them twice, first at Roadburn 2011 and then again at London Desertfest 2012, and they’d only gotten better as a unit. It’s always strange to write about a band who’ve decided to hang it up, first because you never know if they’ll get back together, and second because no band breakup has ever proven to be the end of the world, but Sungrazer had a special sound that was increasingly their own, their songs had a character that was their own, and of all the heavy psych to come out of the European heavy underground over the last half-decade or so, theirs showed a quick mastery of creating a peaceful feel with heavy tones. Particularly after the split with The Machine, which brought forth three new tracks in “Dopo,” “Yo La Tengo” and the wonderfully atmospheric “Flow through a Good Story,” my hopes had been high for their third album. Everything seemed to be on track.

That was the real kicker of it — the surprise factor. Some breakups stick, some don’t. I’d hope Sungrazer‘s falls into the latter category, but it’s not something I’ll attempt to predict either way. Late in 2012, Haagmans released an EP under the moniker The Whims of the Great Magnet, and a full lineup of the band with him on guitar and vocals made its live debut on Dec. 19, 2013, in Maastricht. Smeets seems to be playing with the new outfit Cigale (though they haven’t posted an official lineup or band pics as of now), who just released their first audio teaser, and I’m not sure if Mulders has a new project going or has joined another band or what, but it’s hard to imagine a psychedelic drummer of his caliber won’t resurface somewhere down the line if he hasn’t.

And since the best case scenario for any disbanding is output from players’ new projects, at least there’s that to take comfort in, though Sungrazer left a considerable void when their wall of fuzz fell.

Sungrazer, “If” official video

Sungrazer on Thee Facebooks

The Whims of the Great Magnet on Thee Facebooks

Cigale on Thee Facebooks

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Various Artists, Kept in a Cave Vol. 1: The European Union of Fuzz

Posted in Reviews on May 10th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

I don’t know how many times I’ve said so – probably at least once for each time I’ve actually brought myself to do it – but I hate reviewing compilations. For most of them, there’s no flow between the tracks, being that it’s different artists, different recordings and sometimes different genres, and even when you get a gem, a non-album track or something like that, there’s no real context for being able to enjoy it, because once it’s over, you’re swept abruptly off to the next thing. Most of the enjoyment I get out of them is in hindsight, years later, when that non-album track is legitimately rare and hard to track down, or the alternate version has never appeared anywhere, or when the comp itself has built up some mystique as a landmark moment – those are even fewer and farther between, but it happens sometimes – either for an artist or the genre. Even if they’re alright to listen to, reviewing them is terrible. You’re either promoting the release outright – “hey, these people are doing good work and you should spend your money on it” – or doing little more than listing the bands involved – “this comp is cool because it has so-and-so involved and they do this song, whereas this band does another song,” and so on. I’ve never been able to find a middle ground in comp reviews and while I do genuinely think there are people out there putting in significant effort to promote artists they believe in, the pain in my ass that reviewing a compilation becomes is enough that I generally try to avoid it as much as possible.

So this is the part where, post-disclaimer, I tell you the case is wholly different with Kept in a Cave, Vol. 1, the 13-track mining operation of Europe’s heavy underground undertaken by Stonerrock.eu, right? Sort of. Kept in a Cave certainly gets a flow going, thanks in part to the similarities in fuzz and jam-minded process of the bands that make up its midsection – Sungrazer into The:Egocentrics into Been Obscene into Electric Moon works rather well and with a healthy dose of Elektrohasch and Elektrohasch-style heavy, there’s not much room for stuff to be out of place – but I still find myself in the position of wanting either to run through the tracklist or just promote it because I respect the effort on their behalf in making the release and its four-panel digipak with giant-mantis artwork happen. To counteract the first, here’s the rundown of artists and songs in its entirety, taken directly off the back of the package:

1. Grandloom, “Larry Fairy” (7:07)
2. Under Brooklyn Palms, “Restlessness” (6:20)
3. Mars Red Sky, “Sadaba” (5:07)
4. Kosmic Elephant, “Bloot Pilot” (6:38)
5. Sungrazer, “Wild Goose” (5:19)
6. The:Egocentrics, “Lost and Found” (4:54)
7. Been Obscene, “Endless Scheme” (6:55)
8. Electric Moon, “Triptriptrip” (8:45)
9. Samsara Blues Experiment, “Hangin’ on the Wire” (5:30)
10. Stonehenge, “Concrete Krieger” (7:36)
11. The Machine, “5 & 4” (6:14)
12. DxBxSx, “Problemkind” (2:16)
13. Sahara Surfers, “Gas” (6:00)

All this adds up to a 79-minute front-to-back listen, about as much as a single-CD will hold. Of the included artists, Sungrazer, Been Obscene, The Machine and DxBxSx are signed to Elektrohasch, and certainly familiar acts like Mars Red Sky, Samsara Blues Experiment and Electric Moon fit aesthetically with that fuzzy, jammy sound as well, so though it’s long, Kept in a Cave makes for a decent listen if you’re going to take it on as a whole, put it on for a party – I’m told music at parties is something human beings do – or whathaveyou, and even the likes of Grandloom, Under Brooklyn Palms (who, yes, are German), Kosmic Elephant, Stonehenge and Sahara Surfers fit on a sonic level. Nothing here is really out of place and obvious consideration has been given to how one song is met by the next – for emphasis, I’ll cite putting the punkier DxBxSx as the second-to-last cut, giving a short burst of energy after the fuzzfests preceding – so the project becomes even more admirable.

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The Machine & Sungrazer, Split CD: Flowing through Slipface

Posted in Reviews on April 30th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

The Machine and Sungrazer have a lot in common. Both are three-piece bands. Both hail from the Netherlands. Both are signed to Elekrohasch, and both specialize in a densely-fuzzed kind of heavy psych, born out of a healthy affection for Fu Manchu-via-Colour Haze tube-bursting idolatry. They share parts but not the whole of an aesthetic in this, and both represent a jam-minded outgrowth of the European underground, even as they continue to craft memorable songs in balance with an open feel. For The Machine, who come from Rotterdam, their 2012 full-length, Calmer than You Are (review here), unveiled a distinct progression in their sound, taking the vibes of their three prior offerings and solidifying them into something more completely the band’s own, moving past some of the Colour Haze-ing and into a guitar-led groovefest, varying in its drive but never without movement. Released a few months earlier, Sungrazer‘s 2011 sophomore outing, Mirador (review here), was as brilliant as it was dreamy. A follow-up to their also-stellar self-titled debut, it build on the ultra-warm tonality of the first album and pushed further into a sunny, jammed laconic semi-consciousness, keeping a sense of exploration in songs that even through that remained catchy and engaging, not at all indulgent sounding where they shouldn’t have been. It’s not necessarily surprising that the two acts would team up for a tour, which they did earlier this year, calling it “Strikes and Gutters” in keeping with The Machine‘s fetish for The Big Lebowski, but that the up-and-comers would unite for a split release to mark the occasion was something of a bonus. Issued by Elektrohasch, The Machine and Sungrazer‘s The Machine & Sungrazer split arrives both as vinyl and CD with three tracks from each act that showcase both what they share in terms of approach and some of the key differences between, totaling a comfortable 47-minute long-player rife with some of the best next-gen heavy psych Europe has to offer.

Guitarist/vocalist David Eering of The Machine recorded both bands at his Studio De Zolder, so there’s a consistency of sound between the two that most splits don’t have, allowing for a complete flow across the tracks even as the CD changes between The Machine and Sungrazer at the halfway point. Both bands open big, with The Machine taking the kind of riff that High on Fire seemed to use to construct the entirety of The Art of Self Defense and riding it for more than 10 minutes of chugging splendor. Following a sample of the moon landing (“The Eagle has landed”), Eering begins the track on guitar to announce said riff and is soon joined by a booming bass glissando from Hans van Heemst and drum crash from Davy Boogaard – the course is immediately set. Some riffs are enough to carry a song, and presented as hugely as this one is, it pretty much does, Eering topping with some echoing vocals and a numerical chorus line “10-56-69” reminiscent of “5 & 4” from Calmer than You Are without being redundant of it. An extended fuzzy solo break provides some change as Boogaard’s steady snare holds the piece together, and when they return to the central riff, it sounds even bigger than before, devolving into noise and feedback to close out the last minute-plus. This leads to the surprising rush of the 2:31 “Not Only,” which showcases a punkish side that does most of the work in distinguishing The Machine from their psychedelic peers. A strong hook pokes through on the quick as the song races past in two verses and choruses, a solo and a heads-down pummeling outro, and the trio find some contextual middle ground between the two atmospheres on the ensuing “Slipface,” dialing back on the pace but keeping the extended form of the opener and the chorus-minded vibe of the second cut. A solid stoner rocker, it reinforces the analog-type warmth in Eering’s recording and opens to a jammier feel as feedback is underscored by van Heemst’s bass and Boogaard’s drums, setting up a wah-heavy solo that moves into an instrumental jam that persists for the duration of the song, abandoning the structure in favor of psychedelic exploration, but hinting at it enough instrumentally to give a sense that The Machine haven’t lost sight of their departure point. They end quietly with a sweet drone and some effects noise, making way for the big drum crash that opens Sungrazer’s “Dopo.”

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audiObelisk: The Machine & Sungrazer Premiere Tracks from New Split LP

Posted in audiObelisk on January 30th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Been waiting for this one. Back in September, Dutch fuzzers The Machine and Sungrazer announced they were teaming up for a split LP and a tour that, in keeping with the former act’s apparent Lebowski fetish, they decided to call “Strikes and Gutters.” As The Machine seemed to come the most into their own yet on their 2012 album, Calmer than You Are (also a Lebowski reference; review here) and as I’d heard Sungrazer play some new material earlier in the year at Desertfest London, I knew good things were in store, and indeed, the split does not disappoint.

Comprised of six tracks (three each) totaling over 47 minutes, The Machine and Sungrazer‘s joint effort was recorded by The Machine guitarist/vocalist David Eering, who makes a good argument here for becoming the in-house engineer at Elektrohasch. Each band gets three tracks, and both use their time to craft a huge wall of fuzz, jamming out open, glorious heavy psychedelia, organic and rich. The Machine begin with “Awe,” a massive riff put to good use as the base from which the band wanders and then fluidly returns, Eering‘s guitar sounding an alert while drummer Davy Boogaard and bassist Hans van Heemst lock in a firm groove beneath. Watch out for the slowdown.

On the other side, Sungrazer affect desert rocking warmth on “Yo la Tengo” that comes across like Yawning Man doing a take on The Beatles‘ “Sun King.” Dreamy, psychedelic and honing a wide expanse, the cut departs from some of the thickness of its compatriots “Dopo” and “Flow through a Good Story” to underscore Sander Haagmans‘ soothing multi-layer vocal with a slowly unfolding surf tone, the bassist incorporating fills that wind up leading the song as much as Rutger Smeets‘ airy guitar even as they ground it, drummer Hans Mulders moving from lighthearted rim clicks to driving crash rhythms — and back — with ease.

With permission from the bands, it’s my extreme pleasure today to be able to premiere “Awe” and “Yo La Tengo” for streaming. The split LP between The Machine and Sungrazer is due out on Feb. 14, the same day their Strikes and Gutters tour begins at the 013 in Tilburg, the Netherlands. Please find the songs on the player below, and enjoy:

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

Sungrazer and The Machine are set to begin the Strikes and Gutters tour Feb. 14 and will release their split that day as well. More info at their Thee Facebookses:

The Machine on Thee Facebooks

Sungrazer on Thee Facebooks

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Visual Evidence: The Machine & Sungrazer Unveil Cover for Split Release

Posted in Visual Evidence on January 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Dutch heavy psych outfits The Machine and Sungrazer just a couple minutes ago unveiled the cover art for their upcoming split release to coincide with their “Strikes and Gutters” tour. Of course, it’s a little late to include it in the Albums to Watch for in 2013 list, but I’m still really looking forward to this one. Art is by Maarten Donders and it’s pretty manic. Check it out:

For more on the “Strikes and Gutters” tour, check out The Machine on Thee Facebooks or Sungrazer on Thee Facebooks.

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Looking for Today: 20 Albums to Watch for in 2013

Posted in Features on January 15th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Last year was a monster. You might say I’m still catching up on reviews for records that came out in October. Yet here we stand in 2013. It’s a whole new year and that means instead of looking back at some of the best releases, it’s time to look ahead and nerd out at what’s to come. Frankly, either way is a good time, but with some of what’s included on this list, 2013 has the potential to be yet another incredible year for lovers of the heavy.

Across a range of genres and subgenres, there are bands big and small, known and unknown, getting ready to unleash debuts, follow-ups and catalog pieces that by the time December rolls around, will have defined the course of this year. It’s always great to hold an album in your hands, to put it on and listen to it for the first or 19th time, but part of the fun is the excitement beforehand too, and that’s where we’re at now.

Some of these I’ve heard, most I haven’t, and some are only vague announcements, but when I started out putting this list together, my plan was to keep it to 10 and I wound up with twice that many because there was just too much happening to ignore. The list is alphabetical because it doesn’t make any sense to me to rate albums that aren’t out yet, and I hope if you find something you’d like to add, you’ll please feel free to leave a comment below.

Thanks in advance for reading, and enjoy:

Acid King, TBA


We begin with only the basest of speculations. Would you believe me if I told you that 2013 makes it eight years since the heavier-than-your-heavy-pants San Francisco trio Acid King released their last album, III? Of course you wouldn’t believe me. You’d be like, “Dude, no way,” but it’s true. Eight friggin’ years. They’ve hinted all along at new material, toured Europe and played fests in the States like Fall into Darkness, but really, it’s time for something new on record. Even an EP. A single! I’ll take what I can get at this point, so long as it’s Lori S. riffing it.

Ararat, III


Chances are, the above isn’t the final art for Argentinian Los Natas-offshoot Ararat‘s forthcoming III, but frontman Sergio Chotsourian has posted a few demos over the last several months and the logo image came from that. Either way, with as far as last year’s II (review here) went in expanding their sound, I can’t wait to hear the final versions of the tracks for the next one. They’re still flying under a lot of people’s radar, it seems, but Ararat are quickly becoming one of South America’s best heavy psych acts. Do yourself a favor and keep an eye out.

Bezoar, TBA


Brooklyn trio Bezoar‘s 2012 debut, Wyt Deth, might have been my favorite album that I never reviewed last year, and needless to say, that’s not a mistake I’m going to make twice. The new songs I’ve heard the three-piece play live have ruled and an alliance with engineer Stephen Conover (whose discography includes Rza and Method Man) is intriguing to say the least. I’m sure whatever Bezoar come out with, the performances from bassist/vocalist Sara Villard, guitarist Tyler Villard and drummer Justin Sherrell will be as hard to pin down as the debut was. It’s a record I’m already looking forward to being challenged by.

Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era


Due out April 9, Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s The Edge of an Era will mark the full-length debut for the ambitious trio (now based in L.A.) on Tee Pee Records following on the heels of the impressive The Storm Generation EP (review here). From the Scott Reeder production to the band’s engaging heavy psych/desert rock blend, this one seems bound to win Blaak Heat Shujaa a lot of new friends, and if the advance EP is anything to go by, The Edge of an Era could prove to be aptly-titled indeed.

Black Pyramid, Adversarial


No release date yet, but so far as I know, Adversarial, which is Massachusetts doom rockers Black Pyramid‘s third album and first to be fronted by guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard, is recorded, mixed and mastered. Song titles include “Swing the Scimitar,” “Onyx and Obsidian,” “Issus,” “Bleed Out” and “Aphelion” (the latter was also released as a limited single in 2012 by Transubstans as a split with Odyssey), and having seen the band live with this lineup, expect no less than a beheading. Also watch for word from the recently announced side-project from Shepard and bassist Dave Gein, The Scimitar.

Black Sabbath, 13


There was a bit of a shitstorm this past weekend when the title of Black Sabbath‘s first Ozzy Osbourne-fronted album since 1978 was revealed in a press release. Nonetheless, 13 is set for release in June and will feature Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine on drums in place of Bill Ward, who last year was engaged in a well-publicized contract dispute with the band. Bummer though that is and as crappy and generic a title as 13 makes — especially this year — let’s not forget that Heaven and Hell‘s The Devil You Know also had a crap title and it was awesome. I’m not sure if I’m willing to stake anticipation on the difference between the vocals of Ronnie James Dio circa 2010 and Ozzy Osbourne in 2013, or Rick Rubin‘s production, but hell, is Geezer Butler playing bass on it? Yes? Well, okay then, I’ll listen. The world can do a lot worse than that and another batch of Tony Iommi riffs, whatever else may be in store.

Clutch, Earth Rocker


It’s a ripper. With Earth Rocker, Clutch reunite with Blast Tyrant producer Machine and the results are a record varied enough to keep some of the recent blues elements of the past couple albums (“Gone Cold”) while also showcasing a reinvigorated love of straight-up heavy rock numbers on tracks like “Crucial Velocity,” “Book, Saddle & Go” and “Cyborg Betty.” Longtime Clutch fans can expect a bigger guitar sound from Tim Sult, killer layering and much personality from vocalist Neil Fallon and yet another stellar performance from the best rhythm section in American heavy, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster. No doubt in my mind it’ll prove one of the year’s best when 2013 is done. Once more unto the breach!

Devil to Pay, Fate is Your Muse


Last month, I hosted a Devil to Pay video premiere for the Indianapolis-based rockers’ new track, “This Train Won’t Stop,” from the 7″ single of the same name that precedes the release of their Ripple Music debut full-length (fourth overall), Fate is Your Muse. If the 575-plus Thee Facebook “Likes” are anything to go by, anticipation for the album is pretty high. Reasonably so. When I saw Devil to Pay at last year’s SHoD fest, the new material was killer and the band seemed more confident than ever before. Stoked to hear how that translates to a studio recording and how the band has grown since 2009’s Heavily Ever After.

Egypt, Become the Sun


Technically speaking, Become the Sun is the full-length debut from North Dakota doomers Egypt. The band released their self-titled demo through MeteorCity in 2009 (review here), were broken up at the time, and reassembled with a new guitarist for Become the Sun – which is the only album on this list to have already been reviewed. I don’t know about a physical release date, but it’s available now digitally through iTunes and other outlets, and however you do so, it’s worth tracking down to get the chance to listen to it. Underrated Midwestern riffing, hopefully with a CD/LP issue coming soon.

The Flying Eyes, TBA


Currently holed up in Lord Baltimore Studios with producer Rob Girardi, Baltimore’s The Flying Eyes are reportedly putting the finishing touches on the follow-up to 2011’s immersive Done So Wrong, an album full of young energy and old soul. Along with Blaak Heat Shujaa above, I consider these dudes to be right at the forefront of the next generation of American heavy psych and I’m excited to hear what kind of pastoral blues works its way into their tracks when the album finally gets released. They’re a band you’re probably going to hear a lot about this year, so be forewarned.

Gozu, The Fury of a Patient Man


The melodicism of Boston-based Gozu‘s second Small Stone full-length, The Fury of a Patient Man (I swear I just typed “The Fury of a Patient Mrs.”) is no less striking than its album cover. I’ve had this one for a while, have gotten to know it pretty well and my plan is to review it next week, so keep an eye out for that, but for now, I’ll just say that the sophomore outing is a fitting answer to the potential of Gozu‘s 2010 debut, Locust Season (review here) and marks the beginning of what already looks like another strong year for Small Stone. I never thought I’d be so into a song called “Traci Lords.”

Halfway to Gone, TBA


What I’d really like to see happen is for Halfway to Gone – who are high on my list of New Jersey hometown heroes and who haven’t had a new LP out since their 2004 self-titled — to put out a new record in 2013, for it to lay waste to everyone who hears it, and for the band to finally get the recognition they’ve long since deserved. I’ve been charged up on revisiting their three albums since I saw them at the Brighton Bar this past July and after a long wait, rumors, breakups, makeups, etc., I’ve got my hopes up that this year is when these dudes pull it together and make a new one happen. It’s been too long and this band is too good to just let it go.

Kings Destroy, TBA


Confession time: I have the Kings Destroy record. I’ve had it for a bit now. It rules. I don’t know when you’re gonna hear it, but it’s strange and eerie and kind of off the wall stylistically and it doesn’t really sound like anything else out there. Last I heard they’re looking for a label, and whoever ends up with it is lucky. I use a lot of descriptors for bands and their albums, but rarely will I go so far as to call something unique. This album is. If you’ve had the chance to check out songs like “The Toe” and “Turul” live, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, then stick around because with all the sessions I’ve had with the tracks, I still feel outclassed by what these guys are doing. Shine on, you doomed weirdos.

The Kings of Frog Island, Volume IV


I keep going back to the video for “Long Live the King” that Leicester, UK, fuzz rockers The Kings of Frog Island put up back in October. No, really, I keep going back. It’s a good song and I keep listening to it. Just about any other details regarding their fourth album and first without guitarist/vocalist Mat Bethancourt (Josiah, Cherry Choke), Volume IV, are nil, but periodic updates on the band’s Thee Facebooks have it that progress on the recording is being made, and in the meantime, I don’t seem to have any trouble paying return visits to “Long Live the King.” Hopefully Elektrohasch stays on board for a CD release, and hopefully it happens soon.

Lo-Pan, TBA


Several times over the last couple months I’ve had occasion to say it to people and I’ll say it here as well: I think Lo-Pan are the best American stoner rock band going right now. I was interested to see how they handled the bigger stage for their opening slot for High on Fire and Goatwhore (review here), and as ever, they killed. I haven’t the faintest idea what their recording plans might be, if they’ll even sit still long enough to put an album to tape in time to have it out in 2013 — I suspect it depends on what tour offers come up in the meantime — but new songs “Colossus” and “Eastern Seas” bode well for their being able to continue the course of momentum that the excellence of 2011’s Salvador (review here) and all their hard work before and since has put them on.

Queens of the Stone Age, TBA


It probably wouldn’t be fair to call the upcoming Queens of the Stone Age album a reunion between Josh Homme and Dave Grohl since the two also played together in Them Crooked Vultures and Grohl only drummed on Songs for the Deaf, but it’s exciting news anyway and could mean good things are coming from QOTSA, whose last outing was 2007’s comparatively lackluster Era Vulgaris. The big questions here are how the time apart from the band may or may not have affected Homme‘s songwriting and where he’s decided he wants to take the Queens sound. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Sungrazer & The Machine, Split


With the Strikes and Gutters tour already booked to support it (dates above; or here), Dutch upstart heavy psych jammers The Machine and Sungrazer have teamed up for a split release as well that’s bound to feature some of the year’s best fuzz. The two bands have a lot in common, but they’re pretty distinct from each other sonically too, and with The Machine guitarist/vocalist David Eering helming the recording, you can safely bet it’ll capture the live, jammy feel both groups share. Latest word has it that the mastered tracks are in-house, so watch for more to come as we get closer to the Valentine’s Day launch of the tour.

Truckfighters, TBA


The Swedish fuzz juggernauts’ fourth album overall, this will be Truckfighters‘ first with new drummer McKenzo alongside the core songwriting duo of Dango and Ozo. They’ve been teasing recording updates and threatening song clips, but as soon as I run into something concrete, I’ll share. I’m especially looking forward to the Truckfighters album since it means they’ll likely come back to the US for another tour, and since 2009’s Mania (review here) was so damned brilliant. Not sure on a release date, but it’s high on the list of necessities anyway, however low it may appear alphabetically.

Valley of the Sun, TBA


All I’m going on in including Ohio-based desert rockers Valley of the Sun on this list is a New Year’s message they put out there that read, “Happy New Year, Brothers and Sisters!!! You can count on a Valley of the Sun full-length in 2013.” Hey, I’ve relied on less before, and even if you want to call it wishful thinking, the Cincinnati trio are due a debut full-length behind 2011’s righteous The Sayings of the Seers EP (review here). Even if it doesn’t show up until November or December, I’ll basically take it whenever the band gets around to releasing. Riffs are welcome year-round.

Vhöl, TBA


Well, I mean, yeah. Right? Yeah, well, sure. I mean. Well. Yeah. I mean, sure. Right? It’s a supergroup with YOB‘s Mike Scheidt on vocals, John Cobbett of Hammers of Misfortune on guitar, Sigrid Sheie of Hammers of Misfortune on bass and Aesop Dekker of Agalloch and Worm Ouroboros on drums. Album’s done, set for release on Profound Lore. So, I mean, you know, yeah. Definitely. No music has made its way to the public yet — though that can’t be far off — but either way, sign me the fuck up. Anywhere this one goes, I’m interested to find out how it gets there.

Vista Chino, TBA

After that lawsuit, it’s not like they could go ahead and call the band Kyuss Still Lives!, so the recently-announced Vista Chino makes for a decent alternative and is much less likely to provoke litigation. But still, the Kyuss Lives! outgrowth featuring former Kyuss members John GarciaNick Oliveri and Brant Bjork along with guitarist Bruno Fevery is of immediate consequence. I’m not sure what the timing on the release is, but they’ve already been through enough to get to this point that one hopes a new album surfaces before the end of 2013. What I want to know next is who’s recording the damn thing.

Yawning Man, Gravity is Good for You


Not much has been said in the time since I interviewed Gary Arce, guitarist and founder of influential desert rock stalwarts Yawning Man, about the 2LP Gravity is Good for You release (the Raymond Pettibon cover for which you can see above), but the band has been confirmed for Desertfest since then and they’re playing in L.A. on Jan. 25, so they’re active for sure and presumably there’s been some progress on the album itself. It remains to be seen what form it will take when it surfaces, and the lineup of the band seems somewhat nebulous as well, but when there’s a desert, there’s Yawning Man, and there’s always a desert. 2010’s Nomadic Pursuits (review here) was a triumph, and deserves a follow-up.

Anyone else notice that the “20 Albums to Watch for” list has 22 albums on it? Maybe I wanted to see if you were paying attention. Maybe I can’t count. Maybe I just felt like including one more. Maybe I had 21 and then added Vista Chino after someone left a comment about it. The possibilities are endless.

So too is the list of bands I could’ve included here. Even as I was about halfway through, a new Darkthrone track surfaced from an album due Feb. 25 called The Underground Resistance, and news/rumors abound of various substance concerning offerings from YOB, EggnoggWhen the Deadbolt Breaks, Mars Red SkyAsteroid, Apostle of Solitude, WindhandPhantom Glue, the supergroup Corrections House, Kingsnake, Sasquatch — I’ve already made my feelings known on the prospect of a new Sleep record — news went up yesterday about Inter Arma‘s new one, and you know Wino‘s gonna have an album or two out before the end of the year, and he’s always up to something good, so 20, 22, 35, it could just as easily go on forever. Or at least very least the whole year.

If there’s anything I forgot, anything you want to include or dispute, comments are welcome and encouraged.

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The Machine and Sungrazer Announce “Strikes & Gutters” Tour Dates; Split Album Due Early Next Year

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 23rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

As was announced here way back in September, up and coming Dutch fuzzers Sungrazer and The Machine have teamed up for a split recorded by The Machine guitarist/vocalist David Eering. That’ll be out on Elektrohasch early next year, and to coincide, the two bands have announced a round of tour dates that starts in Tilburg on Valentine’s Day.

Continuing The Machine‘s apparent love for all things Lebowski — the trio released their fourth album, Calmer than You Are (review here) earlier this year — they’ll be calling the tour “Strikes and Gutters.” Let’s hope they can find an In & Out Burger somewhere along the way.

Here’s the info:

Sungrazer & The Machine will release a split album and go on tour in early 2013! Here are the first dates of the Strikes & Gutters Tour. Expect more info and dates asap.

The Machine & Sungrazer will at least play the following dates:

14.02.13 TILBURG,NL O13
15.02.13 BRUSSELS, B MAGASIN 4
16.02.13 LONDON, UK BORDERLINE
17.02.13 PARIS, F LES COMBUSTIBLES
19.02.13 MADRID, SP LA BOITE
20.02.13 LEON,SP EL GRAN CAFE
21.02.13 OPORTO,POR ARMAZEM DO CHA
22.02.13 OURENSE,SP SALA BERLIN
23.02.13 SAN SEBASTIAN,SP BUKOWSKI
28.02.13 SALZBURG,A ROCKHOUSE
01.03.13 LINZ, A KAPU

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The Machine and Sungrazer to Team up for Split Release

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 5th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Re-reading that headline, my only two questions are, “When?” and “Why isn’t then now?”

The Machine‘s David Eering will produce, and the bands will document the whole process, but what the news below doesn’t say is if there’s any chance the two Dutch fuzz rock upstarts will get together for one huge collaborative jam. I could think of way worse ways to spend 35 minutes than listening to the single-track onslaught of tonal warmth that would arise from such a meeting.

While I dote on those grooving possibilities, here’s the latest:

The Machine & Sungrazer: Split Album

During the next two months, both The Machine & Sungrazer will be spending some time in the studio. The recordings will start this Friday and take place in the private studio of The Machine, Studio De Zolder. Since both bands share the same record label, it’s probably not quite the surprise that Elektrohasch Records will be releasing the split album. You can expect an early 2013 release.

This project is the result of a mutual friendship that, like the idea for a split album, already started years ago. Since our latest releases, Calmer Than You Are (2012) and Mirador (2011), new songs and jams already developed themselves. Each band will use (a couple of) these tunes for their part of the split. As with The Machine’s previous four albums, David Eering will be producing both Sungrazer and his own band.

Stay tuned on both bands’ Facebook pages and websites for more updates! If we don’t forget, we might post some video footage and/or pictures from the recording process. The entire process will be documented.

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Album of the Summer of the Week: Sungrazer, Mirador

Posted in Features on July 16th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Mirador is an easy candidate for a summer album. Sungrazer‘s fuzz is so warm, and the vibe of their second album (released on Elektrohasch last year; review here) is so mellow even in its heaviest parts, that the overall affect is languid almost to the point of sunshiny sleepiness. A song like the 13-minute “Behind” is as fitting for a July day as an ice water. Like I say, this one’s an easy candidate, and I guess you could say the same for a lot of post-Colour Haze (their time will come in this feature) European heavy psych — thinking of groups like The Machine or maybe even My Sleeping Karma — but Mirador‘s balance between nodding riffs and exploratory jams is my pick for the best yet to come out of that scene.

And in terms of placing the album, I’ve found that it not only works so well in the summer, sitting outside in the yard, enjoying the good company of The Patient Mrs. and a few delectable fermented beverages, etc., but in addition to that, Mirador is an especially good listen in the morning. I’ve constructed a long theory as to why this is so, including placement of the sun and the alignment of Earth along its axis — sometime I’ll show you the Powerpoint presentation I made; it’s got 36 cards! — but basically what it comes down to is Rutger Smeets‘ guitar tone and the ping in the ride cymbal of Hans Mulders sounds like the start of the day, and Sander Haagmans‘ Rickenbacker (previously lauded here) is the afternoon to come.

Sungrazer reportedly have a new album in the works, and they’ve been playing new material live for the last couple months at least, so it’ll be interesting to hear how they follow up and expand on Mirador‘s encompassing psychedelia when the time comes for the next release. One to look forward to. That said, though it’s only been out for a year, I’ve no doubt the trio’s sophomore outing will be a staple of many summers to come. It’s an album worth waking up for.

Here’s “Behind” to get your day started, whatever time it might be where you are:

Bless their industrious hearts, Sungrazer are currently on tour in Europe. Keep up with them and their many doings at their official website.

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2011

Posted in Features on December 9th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Please note: This list is made up of my personal picks, not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing — if you haven’t added your top 11 to that yet, please do.

It was an impossible task to keep up with everything that came out this year. I’ll say flat out that I didn’t. There are records that I just didn’t get to hear, and I should note at the outset that this list is mine. It’s based on my personal opinions, what I listened to the most this year and what I think 2011’s most crucial releases have been.

I’ve spent the better part of this week (and last, if brain-time counts) constructing this list, and I finally got it to a point where I feel comfortable sharing. Since last December, I’ve kept a Post-It of names, and all year, I’ve logged bands I’d want to consider for the final top 20. In the end, there were 78 bands and more that I didn’t get to write down for whatever reason. 2011 was nothing if it wasn’t overwhelming.

But here we are, anyway, and it’s done. Let’s get to it:

20. Suplecs, Mad Oak Redux

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed Nov. 5, 2010.

This is nothing if not a sentimental pick. Last year, I put Electric Wizard in the #20 spot because the record wasn’t out yet, and this year, I’m putting Suplecs (interview with bassist Danny Nick here) in just because I couldn’t imagine this list without them. Until literally a few minutes before I clicked “Publish” on this post, there was someone else in this spot, but ultimately, it had to be them. The New Orleans trio’s first record in half a decade wasn’t what I listened to most in 2011, it wasn’t the best album, or the most important, or career-defining, but when it came right down to it, god damn, I was just happy to have Suplecs back. It had been too long.

19. Elvis Deluxe, Favourite State of Mind

Released by Harmony Records. Reviewed June 14.

After a while, I was kind of shocked to find myself continuing to listen to Favourite State of Mind, the second album by Polish rockers Elvis Deluxe. The record’s dynamics didn’t immediately open up to me, but once I dug into the songs, I was wowed by their balance of catchy hooks and substantial-sounding riffs. The album was genre-relevant without being genre-minded, with vocal changes, organ, atmospheric shifts and a whole host of moods and turns. After hearing their 2007 debut, Lazy, I wasn’t expecting much out of the norm from Favourite State of Mind, and I’m still thrilled by just how wrong I was, and “Take it Slow” is among my favorite single songs of the year.

18. 40 Watt Sun, The Inside Room

Released by Metal Blade. Reviewed Aug. 11.

The gloomy opening statement from former Warning guitarist/vocalist Patrick Walker turned heads around the world with its unabashed emotional conviction, which was so much the central focus of the record as to be made a novelty by those who don’t usually consider doom an emotionally relevant genre (the widespread arguments against that notion I’ll leave for another time). What most stood out to me about The Inside Room was how the sentimentality translated into a gorgeous melodic sensibility and resulted in a lonely mood that was engrossing. On that level, it was easily among 2011’s most effective releases. It made you feel what it seemed to be feeling.

17. Sigiriya, Return to Earth

Released by The Church Within. Reviewed May 27.

It was an album that lived up to its name. Return to Earth marked the remaking of one of heavy rocks most stoned outfits: Acrimony. But, as Sigiriya (interview with drummer Darren Ivey here), the four-piece (down from five) would show that the years since the demise of their former band had found them progressing as musicians, resulting in a sound less directly stoner, more modern, more earthy. The songs, however, were what made it. It’s still a rare day that goes by that I don’t hum at least part of the chorus of “Mountain Goat” to myself, and if Return to Earth was a new beginning for these players, I can’t wait to see where they go next.

16. Totimoshi, Avenger

Released by At a Loss. Reviewed Aug. 16.

In addition to being Totimoshi‘s first album for At a Loss following the end of their deal with Volcom, Avenger was the first Totimoshi record since 2003’s ¿Mysterioso? not to be produced by Page Hamilton, and where 2006’s Ladrón and 2008’s Milagrosa moved away from some of the noisy crunch in the guitar of Tony Aguilar (interview here), Avenger managed to be both a return to form and a progression of the band’s melodicism. It seems, as ever, to have flown under most radars, but Totimoshi continue to refine their songwriting and have become one of the heavy underground’s most formidable and least classifiable bands.

15. Grifter, Grifter

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Aug. 30.

With their 2010 EP release, upstart British trio Grifter informed us that The Simplicity of the Riff is Key, and on their self-titled Ripple Music debut, they put that ethic to excellent use, resulting in straightforward, catchy songs that were as high-octane as they were low-bullshit. The ultra-catchy “Good Day for Bad News” showed Grifter at the top of their form, and with a dose of humor thrown in, Grifter was the drunken stoner rock party you always wanted to be invited to and, of course, finally were. Now if only I could get Skype to work and get that interview with Ollie Stygall moving, I’d be happy to tell him personally he put out one of 2011’s most kickass rock records.

14. The Book of Knots, Garden of Fainting Stars

Released by Ipecac. Reviewed June 16.

I don’t know what’s most impressive about The Book of KnotsGarden of Fainting Stars — the songs themselves or that they were able to make any songs at all. With upwards of 20 guest spots around the core four-piece, the third in a purported trilogy of records from the avant rock originalists was an epic in every listen. Songs like “Microgravity” and the Mike Watt spoken word “Yeager’s Approach” pushed the limits of both genre and expectation, and miraculously, Garden of Fainting Stars was cohesive and enthralling in its narrative aspect. If it really was their last album, it was triumphant in a manner befitting its expanding-universe thematics.

13. Ancestors, Invisible White

Released by Tee Pee. Reviewed July 5.

Had it been a full-length, Invisible White would be higher on this list. Many out there who were enamored of Ancestors‘ 2008 Neptune with Fire debut have gone on to bemoan the Californian collective’s shift away from extended sections of heavy riffing and tales of sea monsters and other things that go “doom” in the night. I’m not one of them. The Invisible White EP was a brave step along a fascinating progression, and as Crippled Black Phoenix didn’t release a new album in 2011, I was glad to have Ancestors there to fill that morose, contemplative void, and I look forward to seeing how they expand on the ideas presented on Invisible White (if they decide to stick to this direction) for their next full-length.

12. Elder, Dead Roots Stirring

Released by MeteorCity. Reviewed Oct. 5.

Speaking of shifting approaches, still-young Massachusetts trio Elder also moved away from the Sleep-centric methods of their 2008 self-titled debut on the follow-up, Dead Roots Stirring. Still based very much around the guitar work of Nick DiSalvo (interview here), Elder songs like “Gemini” and the über-soloed “The End” pushed an influence of European heavy psych into the band’s aesthetic, and the result was both grippingly heavy and blown of mind. As an album long delayed by mixing and business concerns, when Dead Roots Stirring finally arrived, it was a relief to hear that Elder, though they’d varied the path, were still headed in the right direction.

11. The Gates of Slumber, The Wretch

Released by Rise Above. Reviewed May 5.

Hands down the year’s best traditional doom release. The Wretch so gleefully and so earnestly employed the conventions of ’80s-style doom — most especially those of Saint Vitus and Trouble — that even though the lyrical and musical content was miserable, I couldn’t help but smile as I listened. Songs like “Bastards Born” and “The Scovrge ov Drvnkenness” pushed The Gates of Slumber away from the barbarism the Indianapolis outfit had been touting on their last couple albums, including 2008’s Conqueror breakthrough, in favor of a more purely Chandlerian plod. “To the Rack with Them” remains a standout favorite and a line often referenced in my workplace dealings.

10. Weedeater, Jason… the Dragon

Released by Southern Lord. Reviewed Jan. 6.

I don’t know what you say to someone at this point who doesn’t like Weedeater. It just seems like a terrible way to go through life, without the madman ranting of “Dixie” Dave Collins (interview here) echoing perpetually in your ears, or never having witnessed their ultra-viscous fuzz in person. Jason… the Dragon was one of the earliest landmark releases of 2011, and practically the whole year later, it retains its hold, whether it’s the stomping fury of “Mancoon,” the lumbering groove of “Long Gone” or the surprisingly melodic “Homecoming.” The hard-touring, hard-hitting band did right in recording with Steve Albini to capture their live sound, and Jason… the Dragon was their strongest outing yet in terms of both songwriting and that unmistakable quality that makes Weedeater records Weedeater records.

9. Rwake, Rest

Released by Relapse. Reviewed Sept. 6.

I was surprised to see Rwake crack the top 10. Not because their first album in four years, the Sanford Parker-produced Rest, wasn’t superb, but because of how much the songs on the album stayed with me after listening. The Arkansas band’s last outing, Voices of Omens, was heavy and dark and had a lot going for it, but Rest upped the songwriting on every level and together with frontman CT (interview here) adopting a more decipherable shout over most of the record’s four main extended tracks, Rwake felt like a band reborn, and theirs was a highlight among several 2011 albums that showed there’s still room for individual growth and stylistic nuance within the sphere of post-metal.

8. Hull, Beyond the Lightless Sky

Released by The End. Reviewed Oct. 14.

It was back and forth, nine and eight, between Rwake and Hull for a while, but when all was said and done, the fantastic scope of Beyond the Lightless Sky gave the Brooklyn triple-guitar masters the edge. With a narrative structure behind it and a breadth of ambience and crushing, post-doomly riffing, Beyond the Lightless Sky was the defining moment that those who’ve followed Hull since their Viking Funeral demo have been waiting for. In concept, in performance, in sound and structure and heft, it absolutely floored me, and of all the heavy records I’ve heard with the tag applied to them in 2011, Hull‘s second full-length seems most to earn the tag “progressive.” A stunning and groundbreaking achievement.

7. Mars Red Sky, Mars Red Sky

Released by Emergence. Reviewed Aug. 29.

One of 2011’s most fascinating developments has been the boom in European heavy psychedelia, and the self-titled debut from French band Mars Red Sky was among the best releases to blend a jam-based sensibility with thick, warm fuzz and memorable riffs. Together with the sweet-hued vocals of Julien Pras (interview here), those riffs made for some of the most infectious hooks I heard all year on songs like “Strong Reflection” and “Way to Rome,” and where other bands jammed their way into psychedelic oblivion, Mars Red Sky were able to balance their focus on crafting quality songs, so that although they sounded spontaneous, the material was never self-indulgent or lacking accessibility. One just hopes they don’t lose sight of that musical humility their next time out.

6. Grayceon, All We Destroy

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed on March 8.

There was a point earlier this year at which I had forgotten about All We Destroy. After reviewing it in March, I simply moved on to the next thing on my list, and the thing after, and the thing after. But before I knew it, in my head was the voice of Jackie Perez Gratz, singing the line “As I live and breathe” over her own cello, the guitar of Max Doyle and Max Doyle‘s drums. It got so persistent that, eventually, I went out and bought the record, because the mp3s I’d been given to review simply weren’t enough. That was probably July, and I don’t think I’ve gone a week since without listening to Grayceon. So although I classify it in the same league as Rwake and Hull in terms of what it accomplishes in and for its genre, All We Destroy gets the extra nod for the fact that I simply haven’t been able to let it go. And though I’ve come to further appreciate “Shellmounds,” “Once a Shadow” and “A Road Less Traveled,” the 17-minute “We Can” — from which the above-noted lyric is taken — remains the best single song I heard in 2011.

5. Red Fang, Murder the Mountains

Released by Relapse. Reviewed Feb. 16.

On paper, this one should’ve flopped: Band with minor buzz and a cool video hooks up with indie rock dude to record an album of dopey riffs and beardo bombast. Instead, Red Fang‘s second album and Relapse debut became the 2011 vanguard release for the Portland heavy underground, which is arguably the most fertile scene in the US right now. They toured the record widely, and made another killer video for the mega-single “Wires,” but the reason Murder the Mountains is top five material is because it’s lasted. It was February that I reviewed this record, and March that I interviewed guitarist/vocalist Bryan Giles, and I still can’t get “Into the Eye” and “Hank is Dead” and “Number Thirteen” (especially the latter) out of my head. When it came down to it, the songs on Murder the Mountains lived up to any hype the album received, and I’m a sucker for quality songwriting. I mean, seriously. That key change late into “Number Thirteen?” It’s the stuff of the gods.

4. Graveyard, Hisingen Blues

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Feb. 25.

I wasn’t particularly a fan of Swedish rockers Graveyard‘s 2008 self-titled debut. Even watching them at Roadburn in 2010, I was underwhelmed. But when I heard Hisingen Blues and was able to get a feel for what the retro-minded foursome were getting at stylistically — and most of all, that they were acknowledging that they were doing it without being glib or ironic about it — I found the material irresistible. We’re getting into seriously indispensable records now; ones that I’ve been unwilling to leave home without since they came, in, and Graveyard‘s Hisingen Blues has been a constant feature in heavy rotation. Everything from the devilish testimony of the title-track to the wiry guitars of the chorus to “Ungrateful are the Dead,” to the Skynyrd-ified solo capping “Uncomfortably Numb”: It’s been a year of revelry in all of it, and since they overcame my prejudice to impress on such a level, Graveyard (interview with drummer Axel Sjöberg here) are all the more deserving of their spot on this list.

3. Sungrazer, Mirador

Released by Elektrohasch. Reviewed Sept. 9.

What I hear in the second album from Dutch trio Sungrazer is the heralding of a new generation of fuzz rock. Taking influence from their forebears in Colour Haze and Kyuss, the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets (interview here), bassist/vocalist Sander Haagmans and drummer Hans Mulders followed and surpassed their stellar 2010 debut on every level, playing heavy riffs on expansive psychedelic jams and still finding room for some of 2011’s most memorable choruses in songs like “Sea” and “Goldstrike.” In so doing, Sungrazer affirmed the character of next-gen European fuzz and placed themselves at the fore of their scene, with touring and festival  appearances to support. For their warmth of tone and for the fact that I spent the better part of the summer streaming the record through the Dutch website 3voor12, there was no way they were going to be left out of the top 20. It wasn’t until I sat down and actually put the numbers together, though, that I realized how vital Mirador actually was.

2. Lo-Pan, Salvador

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed Feb. 16.

I was lucky enough to be sent some rough listening mixes of Ohio outfit Lo-Pan‘s Small Stone Records debut (following a reworked reissue of their Sasquanaut sophomore full-length), and in my email back to label head Scott Hamilton, I told him I thought he had a genuine classic on his hands. A year, I don’t even know how many Lo-Pan gigs and listens through Salvador later, I still feel that way 100 percent. If you were from another planet, and we got to talking at a bar, and you asked me what rock and roll should sound like in the place where I’m from, I’d hand you Salvador. I still think they should’ve started the album with “Generations,” but if that’s my biggest gripe, they’re clearly doing alright. “Bird of Prey” was the best live song I saw all year, and I saw it plenty, and cuts like “Bleeding Out” and “Struck Match” set the standard by which I’ll judge American heavy rock for a long time to come. Like the best of any class, Salvador is bigger than just the year in which it was released, and at this point, I don’t know what else to say about it.

1. YOB, Atma

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed July 6.

This is as good as it gets, and by “it,” I mean life. YOB‘s last album, 2009’s The Great Cessation, was my album of the year that year as well, and I knew from the second I heard the self-produced Atma that nothing to come this year would top it. Like Ufomammut‘s Eve in 2010, Atma brings the entire genre of doom along with it on the new ground it breaks, refining what’s fast becoming YOB‘s signature approach even as it pushes ever forward. I still have to stop whatever I’m doing (not exactly good for productivity) whenever “Prepare the Ground” comes on, and songs like “Adrift in the Ocean” and “Before We Dreamed of Two” were humbling. Seriously. Humbling. Listening to them was like looking at those photographs from the Hubble that cover trillions of miles that we’ll never know and reveal gorgeous colors where our naked eyes only see black. If that sounds hyperbolic, thanks for getting it. YOB guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt (interview here) is, almost in spite of himself, one of American doom’s most crucial contributors, and with Atma, he and the rhythm section of bassist Aaron Reiseberg and drummer Travis Foster released what is without a doubt the best album of 2011.

A few quick housekeeping items and we’ll call it quits. First, honorable mentions. If this list went to 25, also included would be The Wounded Kings, Earth, Larman Clamor, Olde Growth and The Atlas Moth. Roadsaw were also in heavy consideration, so they’re worth noting, as are many others.

Obviously, I couldn’t include them, but two of my favorite releases in 2011 also came from Blackwolfgoat and HeavyPink, and I’m thrilled and honored to have helped put them out in the small way I did.

And as I said above, there are records I didn’t hear. I haven’t heard the new Black Pyramid yet. Or Orchid. Or a bunch more that I could go on listing. I’m only one man and this is only my list, for better or worse. Again, I really do hope you’ll contribute yours to the group poll, the results of which will be out Jan. 1.

I’ll probably have some more to wrap up 2011 as the month winds down, but until then, thank you so much for reading this and the rest of the wordy nonsense I’ve put up the whole year long. Your support and encouragement means more than I’m able to tell. Here’s to 2012 to come.

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Santa Psychedelica to Come to Germany Next Month with Hypnos 69, Sungrazer and Electric Moon

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 28th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

You know, I was listening to Hypnos 69‘s Legacy just yesterday, by coincidence, and I still feel like that record is lightyears beyond me. Maybe I wouldn’t feel that way if I was ever so fortunate as to see the band live, but that doesn’t do me much good now. As it stands, Legacy is one of probably two records (I can’t think of another, but will allow for the possibility) that I’ve reviewed since starting this site that I still feel like I’m learning more about with every listen. Simply brilliant.

And if you’re lucky enough to be in Germany for the end of 2011, you can catch those Belgian prog wonders with Dutch fuzz upstarts Sungrazer (whose Mirador is pretty high on my list for this year) and Glowsun from France, whose split with Electric Moon was recently reviewed. Brash German hardcore punkers DxBxSx will guest on the first three of the four “Santa Psychedelica” tour dates, which Sound of Liberation was kind enough to send over. Behold:

Xmas is coming soon and we have some sweets for you as well…

Hypnos 69 (BEL), Sungrazer (NL) and Glowsun (F) combining their psychedelic spirits to deliver you some outstanding After-Xmas–Shows!

Special Guest for the “Punkedelica” After Show Parties in Cologne, Munich and Dresden are DxBxSx from Berlin… well know for their wild Party Rock n Roll!

Santa Psychedelica Vol. 1
27.12 Cologne Underground w/ DxBxSx
28.12 Munich Feierwerk w/ DxBxSx
29.12 Dresden Sektor E w/ DxBxSx
30.12 Berlin Lido

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Sungrazer Interview with Rutger Smeets: Two of a Kind and More

Posted in Features on October 21st, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Formed just in early 2009, Dutch trio Sungrazer have become fast veterans. Their self-released, self-titled debut got picked up for wider issue via Elektrohasch Schallplatten, the record label run by Stefan Koglek of Colour Haze, and the band hit the road backed by European mega-bookers Sound of Liberation, resulting in festival gigs like Stoned From the Underground, Roadburn and Duna Jam. Their second album, Mirador (review here), came out on Elektrohasch in the first half of 2011 and has been among the year’s best.

Their formula is pretty simple, melding jam-intensive European heavy psychedelia with desert riffing and landmark grooves. Of course that balance is much easier said that achieved, but on both Sungrazer and Mirador, guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets, bassist/backing-vocalist Sander Haagmans and drummer Hans Mulders sculpt laid back vibes and heavy tones from warm low end and flowing rhythms. As a band, Sungrazer are able to shift smoothly between stonerly riffs and open-ended stretches that, like the Mirador highlight “Behind,” feel so natural it’s as though you’ve known them all your life.

Sungrazer hit the road in Europe earlier this year with RotoR and Colour Haze as part of Elektrohasch‘s “Up in Smoke” traveling mini-fest, and are currently on tour with similarly-minded German purveyors Grandloom. In the meantime, they’ve also begun the writing process that will take them through the follow-up to Mirador and doubtless to another level of well-deserved recognition. They are the heralds of a new generation of European heavy psych, and their organic approach can only get stronger with more time on the road.

Prior to leaving for the shows with Grandloom, Smeets took the time to field an email interview with some questions about the inner workings and processes of the band, and some of the differences and similarities in his mind between their work on Sungrazer and Mirador, as well as their time touring in support of both albums. It’s brief, but Smeets gives some insight as to Sungrazer‘s decision making process, and, fittingly somehow, the kebabs are key.

Complete Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.

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Sungrazer, Mirador: Like the Sea

Posted in Reviews on September 9th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Though I’m still enamored of the Dutch trio’s self-titled debut, which Elektrohasch Schallplatten released late last year, Sungrazer’s full-length follow-up, Mirador, has nonetheless been one of my most anticipated releases for the second half of 2011. The full-bodied, semi-jammed heavy psych purveyed by guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets, bassist/backing-vocalist Sander Haagmans and drummer Hans Mulders balanced stoner riffing on the first outing with watery improvisation and a laid back smokiness that’s almost too real to be real. Mirador follows suit. The seven-track offering is consistent with its predecessor in terms of fuzzy heft and general approach, and while there are no radical departures in terms of sound – they returned to Maurice Huyts to record as well – a stylistic development on the part of the band is clearly underway. Their jams range further on Mirador, and while that necessarily comes at the cost of some of the structure that made songs from the first album like “Zero Zero” and “Common Believer” so memorable, Sungrazer maintain those elements in parts, perhaps even surpassing their past achievement on the excellent “Sea” and “Goldstrike,” which feel intricate as well as warm and immediately familiar.

One of the most striking aspects of Mirador – and this was true of the self-titled as well – is that Sungrazer as a unit are not afraid to sound sweet as so much heavy rock is. The three-minute instrumental “Octo,” which follows opener “Wild Goose” shows what could loosely be construed as riffy burl, but in the subdued context of the preceding cut, it’s answering back the energy that seemed to explode in that song’s chorus, Mulders remaining steady on his ride cymbal throughout. Smeets’ vocals match the rich low end from his guitar and Haagmans’ bass on “Wild Goose” and elsewhere across Mirador. The album receives a suitably soft introduction from Mulders’ ride and the guitar fading in, soon joined by Haagmans, and layered vocals show off immediate growth on the part of Smeets, whose time on the road (higher-profile appearances include the Pinkpop and Roadburn festivals and the Elektrohasch “Up in Smoke” tour with Colour Haze and Rotor) since the last release pays off in melodic range and confidence of delivery. For his part, Haagmans plays excellently off Smeets both vocally and instrumentally, using the guitar lines as a launch for fills that seem to spread and contract across the effects-laden soundscape that’s built by the end of “Wild Goose” and solidified on “Octo,” where the fuzz comes to the fore and sets up the return to jamming brought about with the appropriately flowing “Sea.”

At eight minutes and utilizing a structure that harnesses verses and choruses while also playing into an overall build and still finding room for open jamming in the middle, “Sea” is an easy candidate for Mirador’s high point. The atmosphere of the album already set by the opening duo, “Sea” is immersive and the band knows it. After “Mountain Dusk” on the self-titled so carefully tied Sungrazer’s tones to a specific landscape imagery, it’s surprising they’re equally suited to the oceanic expanse and whalesong guitar runs of “Sea”’s midsection, but they are – one wonders whether the next studio outing will carry them skyward to complete a “land, sea, air” trilogy. Haagmans’ naturalistic tone rises to prominence in the mix, and the call and response between he and Smeets in the chorus proves worthy of a first-listen sing-along, and no less so when it returns after the jam and Smeets dons a megaphone. Subtle piano (I think; that could be another layer of effected guitar) adds to the ending’s push, and when you think the song has crested, the last 20 seconds cycle through the riff one more time, and Sungrazer remind that no matter how far they may digress, they’re in complete control. It’s beautiful.

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Sungrazer Post Trailer for New Album

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 5th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Their set at the Afterburner was one of my personal high points of this year’s Roadburn fest, and though I’m not even really done with their self-titled Elektrohasch debut yet, the three-piece Sungrazer are getting ready to issue the follow-up in the form of Mirador, which is out this week in Europe. It’s always a little while before I get this stuff to review, but I’ve got hopes for this one as being one of the high points of the second half of the year, and as the all-too-short clips below show, there’s a good chance it’ll work out to be just that.

A couple live videos have made their way to the YouTubes as well, but this is a different beast entirely. Check it:

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