Kaleidobolt Sign to Svart Records for Bitter out May 31; New Video Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 28th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

kaleidobolt

It’s a marriage made in Finnish weirdness. Helsinki-based progressive heavy rockers Kaleidobolt are a natural fit for Svart Records given their blend of old and new, prog and and heavy, this and that, up and down, side to side, space and earth, all good things and so on. Granted that’s a pretty wide standard, but the jazzy elements of what they’ve done over the course of their two LPs to date — 2016’s ultra-righteous The Zenith Cracks (review here) and the prior no-slouch-either 2015 self-titled (review here) — only make the alliance more reasonable, as Svart has readily shown an affinity for such things in past offerings. Everybody wins, is what I’m saying, and all the more those who take a few minutes out of their hectic day to dig into the new video “I Am the Seer” — at the bottom of the post, duh — and thereby get an early sampling of Kaleidobolt‘s wares on their impending third album, Bitter, which will mark their debut on the label upon its release May 31.

These guys have been on their own wavelength of heavy since they started out, and one is glad to see them continue the thread. Looking forward to the record.

Info came down the PR wire:

kaleidobolt bitter

KALEIDOBOLT set release date for SVART debut, reveal first video

Svart Records sets May 31st as the international release date for Kaleidobolt’s highly anticipated third album, Bitter. The album, which will be the band’s debut for the label, will be released on CD and vinyl LP formats.

With one foot in classic heavy power-trio rock ‘n’ roll and the other knee-deep in psychedelic frenzy, Finland’s Kaleidobolt blast off into inner space with their third album, Bitter. Having perfected their craft on the road all across Europe, with two previous albums under their collective belt, Kaleidobolt have become a fierce live experience, guaranteed to blow minds and ears.

Kaleidobolt, however, are far from your usual deafening stoner rock experience. Their music is all about texture and depth, and beneath the lysergically frenzied riffs hide worlds of exquisite soundscapes. For the new album, the band decided to take an even greater leap into worlds beyond and hired Niko Lehdontie (Kairon; IRSE! and Oranssi Pazuzu) to produce the album and Lauri Eloranta (the current go-to guy in Finland for indie pop and rock bands) to mix it.

“We aim to make music that sounds dangerous, that is on its way to critical mass and could all fall apart at any moment,” comments bassist Marco Menestrina. “This time, we were thankful to have Niko the producer with us to ensure things were kept freaky and noisy enough.”

Bitter is rock music frenzy that intermittently disintegrates into sonic cotton candy and the occasional western theme. Bitter is also Kaleidobolt’s debut for Svart Records, and we are proud to release it on May 31st on CD, vinyl LP, and digital formats.

In the meantime, see & hear a special video for the new track “I am the Seer.”

Tracklisting for Kaleidobolt’s Bitter
1. Another Toothpick
2. Big Sky Land
3. I Am The Seer
4. Deadpan Blues
5. Interlude
6. Coyote
7. Hydra

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Kaleidobolt, “I am the Seer” official video

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Death Hawks Set June 7 Release for Psychic Harmony; New Song Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

death hawks (Photo by Sami Sanpikkila)

I know damn well you’ve been waiting for news about a new Death Hawks record since they put up the video for the single “Atitlán” (posted here) last summer, so don’t even pretend otherwise. Well, to herald the announcement of their upcoming LP, Psychic Harmony — which, rest assured, will bring long-awaited peace throughout the galaxy — they’re streaming the new track “Scent of Life” now, and if you can’t dig its glam-soaked psychedelic synth push — like what happened if New Wave, but like, New Wave from Saturn? — then it’s your loss. Me, I’m so into it I already sent an email to Svart‘s PR begging for more. June 7 is the release date, so there’s plenty of time to go, but preorders are up, and you should preorder it because god damn it just listen to that fucking song at the bottom of this post. Everybody’s who goes, “it’s all been done” or “it all sounds the same,” is just trying to cover up for the fact that they’re boring. Death Hawks have the proof!

From the PR wire:

death hawks psychic harmony

DEATH HAWKS set release date for new SVART album, reveal first track

Svart Records announces June 7th as the international release date for Death Hawks’ highly anticipated fourth album, Psychic Harmony, on CD and vinyl LP formats.

On the flipside of the days of northern darkness are the endless sub-Arctic summer nights, where the midnight sun never sets and Finnish nightlife is brilliantly illuminated. Here happiness has a deeper meaning. This is where Finland’s Death Hawks have spread their unique wings, phoenix-like, on their fourth album, Psychic Harmony. Stemming from a rich foundation of euphoric stage shows that has seen the band electrify and joyously anaesthetise their audiences at home and abroad over the years since their inception in 2011, with luxurious synths, psych-blues, and climactic jazz sections, this is the quartet’s bravest and most eclectic trip into the unknown so far.

As if Sophia Coppola got high with Wes Anderson on the Finnish archipelago in late summer, with the cerebral futurism of their Nordic disco countryman Jori Hulkkonen remixing Piirpauke or Wigwam as their soundtrack, Psychic Harmony is a journey into the meaning of euphonic connection itself. It’s boldly cinematic, but their soundscape movie is a genre crash of beautiful alienation, stranded on a desert paradise full of surreal life-forms. Featuring guest appearances by Pekko Käppi on bowed lyre and violin, and lush vocals by Nicole Willis on “I Am A Tree,” Psychic Harmony is an opulent vista.

Spinning out under the mirrorball, the album coolly references modern acts like Thundercat, The Seshen, Fever Ray, and Evil Needle mixed with chic French connections from Francoise Hardy to Daft Punk, Serge Gainsbourg and his daughter Charlotte. Sophisticated tranquil pop songs like the single track “Scent Of Life” or the synth swathes of “Synchronicity” bring to mind the timeless dancefloor mastery of Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson, with all the eclectic abandon of ’70s greats like Aphrodite’s Child, Yes, and Funkadelic. Lead singer/guitarist Teemu Markkula calls their influences “soulful connections for a fuller and higher vibration. Different languages, so to speak, but all from the same source connecting in harmony.”

This is personal psychedelia, with lyrics that reference a blissful state of metamorphosis, like “step into a new world,” the enlightenment of “a new beginning,” and “dancing in a spiral of change,” Death Hawks have come into their career stride, finding their own personal groove and sense of rhythm on this re-defining album.

On their continual shift in sound, Teemu Markkula expounds: “We have always been searching new unforeseen ways in music to express ourselves. It is almost like a chemical reaction. Combining pieces of different elements can lead to an explosion or maybe to a state of euphoria. A sense of harmony is usually what does the trick for me.” He adds, “It’s a continuous quest for new. To get stuck, stay put, or stuck in reverse, even, is certain death. That’s why for us it’s better to stay lost, even, and keep flying and searching. Inspiration is a highly addictive feeling.”

Jewels of Finland’s rising music treasures, Death Hawks are soaring with Psychic Harmony, and your sonic flight on their sound waves will connect you to higher vibrations. Death Hawks are out there on their ocean of sound, ready to lift you up when you feel like you’re slipping under. Get lifted with the aforementioned first single “Scent of Life” at Svart’s official YouTube channel. Preorder info can be found HERE. Cover and tracklisting are as follows:

Tracklisting for Death Hawks’ Psychic Harmony
1. Secret Isle
2. Like Lovers Do
3. Re-Run
4. Aleya
5. Synchronicity
6. Whisper
7. A Room with a View
8. Play For Rewind
9. Scent of Life
10. I am a Tree

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Death Hawks, “Scent of Life”

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Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera: Where You’ll Find Yourself

Posted in Reviews on March 15th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

The usual disclaimer: I won’t pretend to be impartial about a new Kings Destroy release. I’ve followed with great intrigue the process by which the New York five-piece have made Fantasma Nera, from the composition of the songs to working with producer David Bottrill — who has helmed records for Tool, King Crimson, and many, many others — to their aligning with Svart Records for the release with an eye toward touring around it, right up to attending the release show at the Saint Vitus Bar last weekend (review here). I’m not bragging, like I’m Johnny Groundfloor or something; I’m telling you this because in addition to being a fan of their work — something that should already do away with any false-anyway notion of impartiality when it comes to critique — I consider these guys friends and I can’t and won’t pretend otherwise for the purposes of an album review. If that somehow for you invalidates whatever I say about Fantasma Nera or the band in general, then fine. Tune back in Monday for plenty more overly wordy stoicism. Or don’t. Up to you.

At 10 tracks and 43 minutes, Fantasma Nera is the most accomplished album Kings Destroy have put out in the decade they’ve been together. Their fourth behind a 2015 self-titled (review here) and 2017’s single-song None More EP (review here), it redefines their scope as a band entirely, with a greater focus on melody and a nothing-spare efficiency of songcraft that enhances rather than detracts from the impact of moments like the apex to “Seven Billion Drones” or the swinging chug and hook of “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse,” the winding beginning of opener “The Nightbird” or the angular turns of the penultimate “Bleed Down the Sun.”

Tonally, it’s the smoothest-sounding Kings Destroy have ever been, as Carl Porcaro and Chris Skowronski suit their sound to a more rocking feel overall that sets well in the rush of “Barbarossa” early in the record or the more foreboding riffing of “You’re the Puppet” later on, and even in the presentation of the underlying groove of bassist Aaron Bumpus and drummer Rob Sefcik (also of Begotten), the shift is palpable, puling away from some of the outward confrontationalist attack that seemed most to define their second outing, 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), and instead metering the in-your-facery in a way they never have before. I do not imagine that getting a bunch of dudes whose roots are in New York hardcore on board with the idea that not everything needs to be played as hard as possible at all times was an easy task, but the truth is Kings Destroy laid the foundation for this kind of work their last time out, even if the actual result is a considerable leap forward.

kings destroy

Perhaps most of all, it’s a collection of songs by a band putting everything on the line. As vocalist Steve Murphy successfully brings in falsetto on “Unmake It,” or is joined by a gang chorus on “The Nightbird” — a theme that continues directly from self-titled closer “Time for War” — or pushes into new levels of melodic complexity that seem drawn from YOB‘s “Marrow” in melancholy album highlight “Dead Before,” which is brilliantly paired with the bouncing riff of “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse” right after, there’s a sense that Kings Destroy, all five of them, are leaving it all out there. Closer “Stormy Times,” in which Skowronski and Porcaro come together in a final stretch of harmonized soloing to end the record, seems to be a moment of exhalation, and it ends with notes held out to fading feedback as though at the end of it the band could finally breathe. Though Fantasma Nera is unquestionably their most “rock” album in the sheer listening process, it carries a sense of extremity nonetheless in how much of themselves they put into making it.

And I haven’t said this to anyone in the band yet, but my principle concern in listening to these tracks is that Fantasma Nera might be the last Kings Destroy record. That after putting everything into this, there might not be anything left. I don’t know that, of course, and I don’t think at this point they would either, but Kings Destroy aren’t just making a sonic turn with this material — they’re providing a culmination of what their prior offerings were driving toward. In a way, Fantasma Nera defines them more than did the self-titled. What do you do after that? Where do you go from there?

Hell if I know.

They’re questions that don’t need immediate answering, but the thought lingers in the back of my head even while the title-track and “Barbarossa” proffer hooks in a salvo with the opener that help define the spirit of what follows, and even as the second half of the record takes on more of a commentary component between “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse,” “Seven Billion Drones,” “You’re the Puppet” and “Stormy Times” — hell, even “Bleed Down the Sun” could be read that way, if you take the imagery as metaphor — it retains the urgency of expression of “Fantasma Nera” itself or “Dead Before,” which in its verses is the most subdued Kings Destroy get here, but is nonetheless vital in its melody and emotionalism.

If Fantasma Nera were to be the last Kings Destroy record — and I’m not saying it is, or that it should be; I’m just working in a hypothetical; they’ll probably put out another album in a couple years and blow this one out of the water — then they’re not leaving anything in reserve. There’s no holding back in these songs. It’s all laid bare for the listener to take in, as though the band reeled back and unleashed the material they’ve been aiming for all this time. My hope is that it’s not the last one, but whether it is or not, there’s no doubt after “Stormy Times” works its way out that they’ve pushed themselves to what at least for right now is their limit in terms of craft and performance. It is a new peak for them, and a triumph begging to be heard.

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Demon Head, Hellfire Ocean Void: Own the Hour

Posted in Reviews on February 15th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

demon head hellfire ocean void

There are those who’ll argue against there being any room for growth in a retro aesthetic. That the style is inherently stagnant. It sounds old, therefore it sounds redundant. It’s an argument as simple as it is ridiculous and Copenhagen’s Demon Head give a compelling glimpse at why by means of Hellfire Ocean Void. It is their third full-length and first through respected purveyor Svart Records, and it manifests a theatricality and progressive sense of drama all its own while staying loyal to an underlying classicism. As songs like “The Night is Yours” and “In the Hour of the Wolf” dynamically blend aspects of gothic post-punk, dark psychedelia, doom and proto-metallic tonality, the five-piece — a returning lineup of vocalist Marcus Ferreira Larsen, lead guitarist Thor Gjerlufsen Nielsen, rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Birk Gjerlufsen Nielsen, bassist Mikkel Sander Fuglsang and drummer Jeppe “No You Can’t Know My Middle Name” Wittus — bring individualism to established styles by crafting a blend that is theirs alone.

To be sure, this has been their trajectory all the while. Their second album, 2017’s Thunder on the Fields (review here), built fluidly on the prior 2015 debut, Ride the Wilderness (review here), and in that context, Hellfire Ocean Void is another forward step in the series — but it’s a big step. That can be heard as “In the Hour of the Wolf” picks up from the jangly “A Flaming Sea,” in which Larsen delivers the title line, and shifts in its second half to hypnotic progressive guitar lines as it moves toward its final, sweeping solo. It can be heard in the folkish vocal harmonies that begin side B with the acoustic-led intro “Labyrinth,” the way in which scorching leads of the subsequent “Strange Eggs” draw down the tempo ahead of the final dirge march, or how closer “Mercury and Sulphur” seems to pull the various sides together into one cohesive entirety for its eight and a half minutes. Simply put, this is the record that those who’ve caught on to Demon Head have been hearing the potential for up till now. It is the realization of their promise as a band.

Much of the noted drama involved can be traced to the vocals, and again, that’s been a steady factor in Demon Head since their beginnings five years ago with Demo 2014 (review here) and the single Demon Head b/w Winterland (review here), but neither should the work of the Nielsens on guitar be understated in its contribution. Even Wittus‘ crash cymbal seems to have a grand purpose in crafting the wash by the time “Mercury and Sulphur” is hitting its payoff, and sure enough the last piece to go from that track is Fuglsang‘s bass, so indeed, it’s everybody. And it’s a question of confidence, definitely. Demon Head are fast veterans at the half-decade mark, and while they haven’t spent six months out of each year touring and playing festivals, they’ve done a fair share of road time, so they should be as sure of themselves and what they’re doing as they are. They sound throughout the eight songs/40 minutes of Hellfire Ocean Void like a band experienced in the studio, who know how to balance live energy of performance with the opportunities for sonic expansion that recording allows.

demon head

Their scope, their sheer sonic reach, has never been so broad, and as the album opens with the quiet piano introduction “Rumours,” the intent of grandeur is clearly stated. And yet Hellfire Ocean Void isn’t overblown. It isn’t consumed by its own progression at the expense of the songs. Demon Head‘s naturalist tonality keeps them grounded, and their level of songcraft assures that even as “The Night is Yours” and “The Flaming Sea” provide an initial showcase of the band’s intent in conveying the maturity of their approach and how far they’ve come, their work is still catchy and engaging on a basic structural level. That remains true even in the wider soundscaping of “In the Hour of the Wolf,” with its goth disco animalia, the delightfully and willfully bizarre “Strange Eggs” and the patiently expansive and doomed “Mercury and Sulphur,” which comprise a movement unto themselves of nuance and character, but have their hooks nonetheless.

Further, Demon Head evince a whole-album approach not only within the songs, but in the patterning of the album itself. From “Rumours” into “The Night is Yours,” “A Flaming Sea” into “In the Hour of the Wolf,” “Labyrinth” into “Strange Eggs” and the penultimate “Death’s Solitude” into “Mercury and Sulphur,” Hellfire Ocean Void shifts from shorter-track/longer-track in such a way as to directly portray the dynamism of the band and a feeling of stylistic diversity. In particular, “Death’s Solitude,” with its xylophone (I’m pretty sure I hear that elsewhere too, unless I’m imagining things) and tension-building tom runs, acts as a direct line into the finale in such a way as to make one believe it was written precisely for that purpose. It’s longer than “Rumours” or “Labyrinth,” and the quiet guitar of its first half seems to foreshadow the breakout that comes circa 1:20 in, but after that, it’s the vocals in a showcase over an instrumental tempest that ultimately holds sway and moves into the closer after a quick fade to set up the stark strum of guitar at the start of “Mercury and Sulphur.”

It’s one more moment in which Demon Head so carefully but so naturally prove themselves to be masters of their sound. Hellfire Ocean Void is not necessarily immediate — it may take a few listens to completely unveil its scope — but when it does, it’s all the more satisfying a listening experience. And it’s worth noting that even as they reach this new echelon of craft, Demon Head maintain an abiding lack of pretense. As far out as they go, they don’t lose themselves in the work, and they don’t lose sight of the songs. The difference that makes across the LP’s two-sided span is massive when it comes time for “Mercury and Sulphur” to make its final outward plod; a stretch that is neither over-the-top emotionally nor failing to connect in terms of affecting a mood. With Hellfire Ocean VoidDemon Head serve notice that they’ve been underrated up to this point in their tenure, and not only reaffirm and manifest their own forward potential, but that of their genre as a whole, even as they grow beyond its confines.

Demon Head, Hellfire Ocean Void (2019)

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The Obelisk Presents: Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera Release Tour with Gozu & Forming the Void

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on January 31st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

kings destroy

Brooklyn’s Kings Destroy are getting ready once again to fuck with the formula via their fourth long-player, Fantasma Nera, which branches into new levels of progressive songwriting and melody while turning their confrontational aspect inward as much as outward in theme and execution. Like everything they’ve done, it leaves the past in its dust. Set to release March 8 on Svart Records — which is a label of taste broad and reliable enough to suit them — its arrival will be preceded by a run up the Eastern Seaboard in the company of Gozu and Forming the Void, and it’s my sincere pleasure to be among the presenters of the tour.

They’ll be at Maryland Doom Fest 2019 as well this June — along with many, many others — but even for those planning to see them there, this is an early chance to get introduced to the songs and, presumably, pick up a copy of the album before it’s officially out. Preorders are great and available now, but there’s nothing quite like a merch table either.

The shows kick off Feb. 27 in Kingston, New York, with hometown heroes Geezer and head into Canada for a stop on Montreal before swinging through Rochester, Cleveland and Pittsburgh to finish up. I’ll be at the Brooklyn gig that has Clamfight as the much-welcome fourth for the bill, and there’s no doubt in my mind it’s going to be a party. A sweaty, sweaty party.

Poster is by Bill Kole, and you can stream the Fantasma Nera title-track below:

kings destroy tour poster

Fantasma Nera pre-orders are available now via Svartrecords.com/artist/kings-destroy with physical bundles including colored vinyl and other merchandise. Digital pre-orders include an instant download of the title track.

The band has announced an East Coast Tour prior to the week of release as well as a recently announced performance at the Maryland Doom Fest on June 20.

Kings Destroy tour dates:
February 27 Kingston, NY The Anchor w/ Geezer
February 28 Portland, ME Geno’s
March 1 Boston, MA Middle East w/ Test Meat
March 2 Brooklyn, NY Saint Vitus w/ Clamfight
March 3 Montreal QC TurboHaus
March 4 Rochester, NY Bug Jar
March 5 Cleveland, OH Now That’s Class
March 6 Pittsburgh, PA Howlers w/ Horehound

Kings Destroy is Aaron Bumpus (bass), Stephen Murphy (vocals), Carl Porcaro (guitar), Rob Sefcik (drums) and Chris Skowronski (guitar).

Kings Destroy, “Fantasma Nera”

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Review & Full Album Premiere: The Sabbathian, Latum Alterum

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on January 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the sabbathian latum alterum

[Click play above to stream The Sabbathian’s Latum Alterum in full. Album is out Jan. 25 on Svart Records.]

Anette Uvaas Gulbrandsen — who has worked with Leaves’ Eyes, Nàttsòl and Mandylion, and many more — and Chad Davis, of Hour of Thirteen, The Ritualist, Anu, Jenzeits and dozens of others, are The Sabbathian. She’s in Norway and he’s in the US, but they render borders moot with their Svart Records-delivered first album, Latum Alterum, which follows the 2014 EP, Ritual Rites, and furthers a blend of extreme metal, cultish impulses, near-operatic melodies and an overarching atmosphere of doom. Songs like “One Night of Cruelty” and the penultimate “Embrace the Dark,” which follows, tap into The Devil’s Blood-style mystique, with Gulbrandsen delivering her lines in self-harmonized layers while the multi-instrumentalist Davis handles guitar, bass and drums (and maybe a bit of vocals as well).

The construction of the band reminds somewhat of the earliest incarnation of Hour of 13, which was Davis on instruments and standalone-singer Phil Swanson, but while The Sabbathian has its doomed elements, the overarching feel of the band is different and entirely more grand. Of course, a large portion of the credit for that has to go to Gulbrandsen, who makes even coming in for the first lines of closer “Evig Hvile/Libera Me… (Outro)” in the pocket of the beat feel stately, but even in Davis‘ breadth of guitar tone on the earlier “Liti Kjersti,” which in another context would easily be black metal, there’s a resonant grandeur that complements the work done on vocals. From the beginning of the chanting opener “Requiem…” through the slow-moving “The Brightest Light,” Latum Alterum — Latin for “on the other side” — the progression of the album feels geared for maximum listener consumption, and the intercontinental duo get going, there’s nothing stopping the feeling of plunging further and further into a deep-reaching metallic abyss. It’s their first album, but it’s nobody’s first album, if you know what I mean, and the experience of knowing how they want to sound and how to make that happen is writ large in the material.

Though rich in its melody, it is not easy listening. Though there’s nothing in its run one would consider abrasive given proper indoctrination and openness to a consistent distorted wash, but Latum Alterum requires attention. As it makes its way toward and through nine-minute centerpiece “Head of a Traitor,” which boasts a guest appearance from Liv Kristine of Leaves’ Eyes, and onward to the final echoing organ and choral lines of the outro portion of the finale, the tracklisting demands engagement. It’s worth the effort of a headphones-on experience, thanks in no small part to the depth of its mix and the reaches the sound seems to find. Even as “The Brightest Light” seems to dig its heels into engrossing darkness, the layering of vocals and details in the forward push of guitar, bass and drums gives an impression of nuance that the rest of the album continues to build upon. “The Brightest Light” finishes just before the seven-minute mark, but is hypnotic in its fluid execution — and when I say “execution,” I’m thinking guillotine — and cedes ground to “Liti Kjersti,” which derives from a Norwegian folk song telling the story of a girl meeting a dwarf or troll in the mountains, and again, pushes into more outwardly extreme sounds in the guitar.

It’s thanks in part to the steady groove of the drums that the song doesn’t tip over into a more outwardly extreme spirit, but there’s no doubt the motion is dragging the listener deeper into the progression under way, and of course there’s no letup with “Head of a Traitor” in that regard either, the longest song on Latum Alterum beginning with a creep of intertwined guitar lines before bursting forward in a sudden surge, and even before the first verse, causing one to imagine hearing buried screams so deep in the mix as to barely be audible. This is prior to the arrival of the harmonies between Gulbrandsen and Kristine, which are masterful by the midpoint of the track and set up a second half of continuing buzz and a stretch of guitar topped with final lyrics that ends by giving way to residual noise and the immediately carbonized feel of “One Night of Cruelty.”

These turns and shifts are there, and swiftly applied, but can be easy to miss the first time through if, again, one isn’t giving the proper level of interactivity to the listen. Latum Alterum in its side B delves even further in misanthropic and grueling darkness, as both “One Night of Cruelty” and the aptly-titled “Embrace the Dark” seem to careen downward, the latter with a punctuated march that’s as majestic as it is weighted. “Embrace the Dark” ends with lower register vocals that would seem to set up a bleaker turn in “Evig Hvile/Libera Me… (Outro),” but the truth is things are plenty bleak by then anyway. The finisher might be another folk song by Bjørn Eidsvåg reinterpreted, or there’s a Nortt song from 2003 with the same name, I’m not really sure, but wherever it comes from The Sabbathian make it their own no less than they did with “Liti Kjersti,” reinforcing the atmospheric shimmer and downer spirit of the proceedings with a patiently unfolding rhythm with the vocals woven over-top.

There isn’t so much a grand finale as a dirge march outward, and as the last strains cut off and let the outro take hold, organ and vocals, the scope of Latum Alterum continues to be among the album’s primary assets. Whatever stylistic tags one might want to apply or force upon it, The Sabbathian create their own sonic persona on their first long-player, and do so with a sure-minded purpose toward ambient weight. Their prior experience on the EP — which was more in a vein of cult metal and is included in a 2CD edition of this release — helped solidify their approach, but Latum Alterum is on a different level entirely for The Sabbathian, and though invariably geographical complications are a factor, one hopes they continue along this path of resonant drear.

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Kings Destroy Sign to Svart Records; Fantasma Nera Due March 8

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 14th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

kings destroy photo JC Carey

It was two years ago yesterday that Kings Destroy released their 2017 single-song EP, None More (review here), which I’m still proud to say was the first tape I played on my current Walkman. Nonetheless, as they move toward four years removed from their 2015’s self-titled (review here), the good news arrives that the anti-genre five-piece have signed to the anti-genre Svart Records to release what will be their fourth long-player, Fantasma Nera. Say it in your spookiest voice. A March 8 release has been set for the album, which was produced by David Bottrill, whose bona fides extend well beyond the parenthetical below, and on which the band challenge themselves in structure and sound as they’ve yet to do in the decade they’ve been together. They have never put out the same record twice, never been predictable, and if you think you have any idea what’s in store this time around, you’re wrong again. They will surprise you.

I’ve been telling people to listen to Kings Destroy for nine years. I’d do another nine easy. Ha.

Here’s the record info and ultra-badass cover art, courtesy of the PR wire:

kings destroy fantasma nera

KINGS DESTROY RELEASE FANTASMA NERA ON MARCH 8 VIA SVART RECORDS

10-TRACK RELEASE PRODUCED BY DAVID BOTTRILL (TOOL, KING CRIMSON)

King’s Destroy, Brooklyn’s atmospheric grunge doom unit release their fourth album, and first full-length in four years, Fantasma Nera on March 8 via Svart Records.

“We upended our usual approach in creating this album,” says guitarist Carl Porcaro. “We’d been playing together for so many years, and all of our previous albums were the result of us hashing out the ideas in rehearsal and learning to play the songs live prior to going into the studio. For Fantasma Nera we put the songs first and let the material dictate the means by which the album was created. Producer David Bottrill (Tool, King Crimson) helped us find new creative approaches, and this resulted in an album that doesn’t sound like anything else we’ve ever done.”

“We challenged ourselves to make the best album we could,” adds singer Stephen Murphy. “…and we left our guts on the table. When I finished the vocals on this album, I was mentally and physically broken from the effort. I did not sing again for two months after it was recorded. I owed that effort to my bandmates, and they did the same for me.”

Fantasma Nera tracklist:
The Nightbird
Fantasma Nera
Barbarossa
Unmake It
Dead Before
Yonkers Ceiling Collapse
Seven Billion Drones
You’re The Puppet
Bleed Down The sun
Stormy Times

Pre-orders will be announced soon, as well North American tour dates. The band recently confirmed a performance at Maryland Doom Fest on June 20.

Kings Destroy is Aaron Bumpus (bass), Stephen Murphy (vocals), Carl Porcaro (guitar), Rob Sefcik (drums) and Chris Skowronski (guitar).

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Kings Destroy, None More (2017)

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the-top-30-of-2018

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2018 to that, please do.

It just wouldn’t be a year if it wasn’t completely overwhelming, right?

2018 has certainly met that standard and then some. The swath of output, whether it’s a new generation adopting and adapting established methods or out and out reinventing the stylistic wheel and then pushing it uphill on a seemingly endless barrage of tours, has been staggering, and it’s still happening. There’s a little more than a week to go in the year. You think a band isn’t putting something out today? Of course they are. It’s every day. It’s all the time.

But this year wasn’t just about quantity either. I think one of my biggest struggles in writing about albums in 2018 — and with the last Quarterly Review and various premieres and video posts that were basically album reviews in disguise, let’s estimate we’re somewhere past 300 records reviewed one way or another — was in conveying just how killer so much of the stuff coming through was. How many times can you say the word “awesome?” Well, I’m sure we’ll see it a few more times before this list is over, so there you go.

I say something like this every time I do a list, but please keep in mind these are my picks and I’m one person. But I am a person. I know there’s the whole internet-anonymity thing, but I assure you, I’m a human being (more of a cave troll, really) typing these words. I’m all for everyone sharing their own picks in the comments, and all for passionate advocating, but please, let’s keep it civil and respectful. These things can spiral out of control quickly, but let’s remember that we’re all human beings and worth of basic courtesy, even if some of us are dead wrong about a good many things. You should definitely punch nazis, though.

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

[UPDATE: You’ll notice the inclusion of an ’18a.’ I had Stoned Jesus in my notes as number 18 initially and they got dropped as I was adjusting things along the way. I’ve added them back in, but it didn’t seem fair to bump everyone else down after the post had already been published. That was the best I could come up with for a solution. If you’re pissed about one more killer record being added, please feel free to email me and tell me all about it.]

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Chicago’s The Skull had no small task before them in following up their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) — let alone living up to their pedigree — but their second album demonstrated a creative growth that sacrificed nothing of memorability when it came to songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “All that Remains (Is True).” They got down to work and got the job done, which is what a working band does. 2018 was by any measure a fantastic year for doom, and The Skull were a big part of why.

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

The Dec. 2017 murder of Rev. Jim Forrester was tragic. No other way to say it. Foghound, who were in the midst of making Awaken to Destroy at the time, put together an album that not only features Forrester‘s last recorded performance, but pays respect to his memory while the wound is still raw and manages to kick ass all the while. It’s a record that can’t ever be divorced from its circumstances — just can’t — and so it can be a heavy listen in more than just its tones, but it’s basically Foghound proving they’re unstoppable. And so they are.

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

Who among us here today is not a sucker for Orange Goblin? Come forward an be judged. I mean, really. Nine records deep, the London sceneforgers are nothing less than an institution, beloved by boozehounds, riffhounds, doomhounds, and really, a wide variety of hounds the world over. Also dudes. With its essential title-track hook and highlight cuts in “Ghosts of the Primitives” and “Burn the Ships” — or, you know, any of them — they added to one of heavy’s most unshakable legacies with an album as furious as it is welcoming to its generations-spanning fanbase.

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

fu manchu clone of the universe
Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed Feb. 15.

There are two kinds of people in this world, and they’re both Fu Manchu fans. Clone of the Universe turned heads with a guest appearance from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson on the 18-minute side-B-consuming “Il Mostro Atomico,” but really to focus on that instead of “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” etc., is only seeing half the point of the album in the first place. The long-running lords of fuzz hit a new stride with 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), and Clone of the Universe was in every way a worthy successor.

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain
Released by Svart Records. Reviewed May 16.

It was an unenviable task before Witch Mountain in replacing vocalist Uta Plotkin, but founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson found the right voice in Kayla Dixon and solidified the lineup with her and bassist Justin Brown enough to make a declarative statement in Witch Mountain‘s self-titled LP. That’s the story of it. They pulled it off. Met with what was unquestionably a bummer circumstance, they pushed through and moved their sound forward through a new beginning — and not their first one. Watch out when their next record hits.

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Richmond, Virginia, doomers Windhand‘s second collaboration with producer Jack Endino produced a marked and purposeful expansion of their sound, encompassing classic grunge influences and a heavy psychedelic swirl that added color their previously-greyscale sonic haze. Resonant in tone and emotionalism, Eternal Return readjusted Windhand‘s trajectory in such a manner that, where one might’ve thought they knew where the band were headed in terms of their progression, they’ve made themselves a less predictable outfit on the whole. For that alone, it’s a triumph. Then you have the songs.

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

I don’t even want to admit how long I was waiting for Sun Voyager‘s first long-player to show up, but when it finally did, the New York trio did not disappoint. Catchy, energetic, fuzzed-out tunes with driving rhythms and a heavy psych flourish, they tapped into shoegaze and desert vibes without losing any sense of themselves in the process, and if the extra wait was so they could be so remarkably coherent in their expression on their full-length, then I wouldn’t want it to have shown up any sooner. An easy pick to stand among 2018’s best debut albums. Now to wait for the next one.

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

It should tell you something that after working quickly to produce three albums, Louisiana’s Forming the Void are still defined by their potential. If I had my druthers, I’d put the recent Ripple signees on tour for the bulk of 2019, across the US and in Europe for festivals and support-slot club shows, really give them an opportunity to hammer out who they are as a band and then hit the studio for LP four. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but they’d only be doing the universe a favor by kicking into that gear. As it stands, their progression is palpable in their material and they stand absolutely ready for whatever the next level might be for them.

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

Released by BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed June 29.

Aside from the speed at which Spaceslug have turned around offerings — with Eye the Tide following 2017’s Mountains and Reminiscence EP (review here) and Time Travel Dilemma (review here) full-length and their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here) — the Polish outfit have undertaken significant progression in their sound, moving from pure heavy psychedelic warmth to incorporating elements out of extreme metal as they did on Eye the Tide. Adding to the latest record’s accomplishment is the smoothness with which they brought seemingly opposing sides together, only adding depth to an approach already worthy of oceanic comparison.

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

Conan Existential Void Guardian
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Conan‘s reign of terror has been unfolding for more than a decade now, and each of their albums has become a kind of step along a path of incremental growth. Consider the melody creeping into the shouts of founding guitarist Jon Davis, or the emergence of bassist Chris Fielding as a vocal presence alongside, the two sharing a frontman role more than ever before while welcoming drummer Johnny King to the fold of destructive tonality and doomly extremism. Existential Void Guardian may end up just being another stomp-print on their way to the next thing, but it affirmed the fact that as much as Conan grow each time out, their central violence continues to hold sway.

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

PALE DIVINE S/T
Released by Shadow Kingdom Records. Reviewed Nov. 21.

Look. A new Pale Divine record doesn’t come along every day, so yeah, their self-titled was probably going to be on my list one way or the other, but it definitely helps that not only was it their first outing in six years since 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here), but it had the songs to live up to a half-decade-plus of anticipation. It marked the first studio appearance from bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis alongside guitarist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey — now both of Beelzefuzz as well — and made a strong argument for how much Pale Divine deserve more than 20 years on from their initial demo to be considered classic American doom.

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands
Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed May 11.

The return and rise to prominence of Washington pure heavy rockers Mos Generator might be the underground’s feelgood story of the decade, but it hasn’t by any means been easily won. In addition to rebuilding the band however many albums ago, guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed has put in innumerable hours on tour and worked to actually develop the group creatively in addition to in terms of stage presence. This is shown throughout some of the classic prog elements making their way onto Shadowlands, and perhaps some of the collection’s moodier aspects are born of the aforementioned road time as well. Hard for that kind of thing not to be a slog after a while, but at least they have killer tunes to play.

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

The only safe bet about Stoned Jesus‘ fourth long-player, Pilgrims, was that it was going to sound different than the third. That 2015 outing, The Harvest (review here), preceded the band touring to celebrate the fifth anniversary and after-the-fact success of 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but Pilgrims defied narrative in that instead of incorporating elements from the second record in more of a heavy psych or jam sound, Stoned Jesus instead showcased a tighter, more sureheaded sense of craft than they’ve ever displayed before, and arrived on Napalm Records with a collection of songs that demonstrated the growth and sense of creative will that drives them. While one can take a look at their moniker and think immediately they know what’s coming, Stoned Jesus have made themselves one of the least predictable bands in heavy rock.

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

“Pirate Smile.” “Lines.” “Whatever.” “It Ain’t Right.” “Threes.” “Cinderella.” “Generals.” “Big Enough.” “Alone.” “Lucky. Mike Cummings, Jessica Baker, Erik Larson. Every player, every song, every minute. If you want to know what heart-on-sleeve sounds like, it fucking sounds like Backwoods Payback. In their line from hardcore punk to grunge to heavy rock, they encompass experiences and emotionalism that are both shown in raw form throughout Future Slum, and build all the while on the chemistry they set out in developing with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), when they welcomed Larson to the lineup on drums and revitalized their mission. Also worth noting, they were the best live band I saw this year. Anywhere.

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

No question the excitement of C.O.C. putting out their first record with frontman Pepper Keenan involved since 2005’s In the Arms of God was one of this year’s top stories in heavy. And No Cross No Crown tapped directly into the spirit of 1994’s Deliverance (discussed here) and 1996’s Wiseblood (discussed here) in terms of direction, while updating the band’s style with a four-part 2LP in mind. In some ways, it’ll be their next album that really gives listeners a sense of where they’re at and where they might be headed, but as welcome returns go, having Keenan alongside Mike DeanWoody Weatherman and Reed Mullin is in no way to be understated, and neither is the quality of their output together, then and now.

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It is no simple feat to hypnotize an audience and convey serenity while at the same time holding attention with songcraft, so that the listener isn’t actually so much unconscious as malleable of mood and spirit in such a direction as the band suggests. Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to become experts at this, and their third full-length fosters tonal warmth and jammy progressions with an overarching naturalism that finds them so committed to analog recording that one can buy direct transfers of the tape master of III. Some acts take classic-style practices as an aesthetic choice. With Naxatras, it seems to be the stuff of life, yet their sound is only vibrant and human in a way that, at least one hopes, is even more representative of the future than the past.

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

It was time for Clutch to make a change in producers, and the Maryland overlords of groove seemed to know it. Known as a live band, they went with Vance Powell, who’s known a live band producer. The results on Book of Bad Decisions might not have been so earth-shatteringly different from 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here), which was the too-soon follow-up to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — both helmed by Machine — but the inimitable four-piece indeed succeeded in capturing the electricity of their stage performance and, as ever, treated fans to a collection of songs bearing Clutch‘s unmistakable hallmarks of quirky lyrics, funky rhythms and heavy roll. They may always be a live band, but Clutch‘s studio work is in no way to be discounted, ever, as this record reaffirmed. Plus, crab cakes.

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

After 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), I wasn’t sure Ancestors were going to put out another record. They kicked around word of one for a while, but it wasn’t until the end of last year that it really seemed to congeal into a possibility. And by then, who the hell knew what they might get up to on a full-length? With Suspended in Reflections, in some says, they picked up where they left off in terms of finding a niche for themselves in progressive and melodic heavy, but I think the time showed in the poise of their execution and the control of the material. Suspended in Reflections can’t help but be six years more mature than its predecessor, and that suits its contemplative feel. In tracks like “Gone,” and “The Warm Glow,” they tempered their expansive sound with an efficiency that can only be had with time.

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

The narrative here was hard to beat. Matt Pike spending an album cycle talking about Lemmy Kilmister and paying homage to his dirt-rock forebear and the gods of old? It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Electric Messiah was the third collaboration between High on Fire and producer Kurt Ballou behind 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), and while it seemed after the last record that the formula might be getting stale, the band only sounded more and more lethal throughout the latest offering. Even putting aside their contributions to underground heavy, they’ve become one of the most essential metal bands of their generation. Metal, period. Doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re talking about it. If you’re listening to High on Fire, you know it. Usually because you’ve just been decapitated.

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

You know, if you take the time to separate Yawning Man from their 30-plus-year history and their legacy as one of the foundational acts of what later became desert rock, and you listen to The Revolt Against Tired Noises, you’re still left with basically a dream of an album. Mostly instrumental, as is their wont, they nonetheless had bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) sing this time around on a version of the previously-unreleased “Catamaran,” which Kyuss covered once upon a whenever although Yawning Man had never officially put it to tape. But really, that and all other novelty aside, guitarist Gary Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are a chemistry unto themselves. I don’t know if they’ll ever be as huge as they should be, but every bit of acclaim they get, they’ve earned, and if The Revolt Against Tired Noises helps them get it, all the more so.

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

Swedish heavy rock mavens Greenleaf have become an entirely different band than they once were. No longer a Dozer side-project from guitarist Tommi Holappa with a rotating cast of players, they’re a solidified, road-tested, powerhouse unit, and Hear the Rivers bleeds soul as a result. Holappa, frontman Arvid Hällagård, bassist Hans Fröhlich and drummer Sebastian Olsson sound like they’re absolutely on fire in the album’s tracks, and far from being staid or formulaic as one might expect a sixth long-player to be, Hear the Rivers built on what the band accomplished with 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) and came across as all the more vital and nearly frenetic in their energy. I won’t say Greenleaf has seen their last lineup change, because one never knows, but the band as they are today is the realization of potential I don’t think even Greenleaf knew was there.

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 4.

Five records deep into a career into its second decade, Gozu haven’t had a miss yet. Admittedly, some of their early work can seem formative considering where they are now, but still. And after the 2016 rager, Revival (review here), to have the band return to the same studio — Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where strides producer Dean Baltulonis — for the follow-up allows for the four-piece to directly show how their sound has grown more encompassing in the last couple years. And it has. Equilibrium is a rich and varied listen that holds true to Gozu‘s well-established penchant for soulful vibes and crunching, hard-hitting riffs and groove, but while it shares the directness of approach with Revival, it makes moves that a band could only make moving from one record to the next. I expect nothing less their next time out as well, because a decade later, that’s Gozu‘s proven track record.

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

monster magnet mindfucker
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 23.

The battle for the best album title of 2018 ended early when New Jersey everything-rockers Monster Magnet announced the release of Mindfucker. And what else to call a Monster Magnet LP at this point? They’ve stopped writing to genre. They’re driven by the creative mania of frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf, and they’ve seen psychedelic expanses and commercial success the likes of which would serve the tenure of four lesser bands. What’s left to do but whatever the hell you want? So that’s what Monster Magnet are doing. It just so happens that while they’re doing it, they’re still basically outclassing the entirety of the former planet earth as songwriters. As Monster Magnet fan in 2018, there was nothing more I could’ve asked than what Mindfucker delivered. And if you’re still trying to get your brain around it however many months later, you’re not alone. I think that’s the idea.

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Best doom album of 2018. The combination of craft and passion behind the delivery. The way the dark tones fed into the emotions so clearly on display and sheer presence of it in listening to songs like “Keeping the Lighthouse,” “Ruination by Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here.” Apostle of Solitude never seem to be the highest profile band out there, but their work seems never to be anything less than outstanding, and I refuse to accept them as anything less than among the most pivotal American acts out there making traditional doom. And not just making it, but making it their own, with a sense of new pursuits and individualism that extends to playing style as well as atmosphere. I know doom isn’t exactly in short supply these days — figuratively or literally — but if you miss out on what Apostle of Solitude are doing with it, you’ll only regret it later. I’ll say it one more time: Best doom album of 2018.

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

holy grove ii
Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 31.

Every now and again, anticipating the crap of an album really pays off, and such was the case with Holy Grove II, the Ripple Music debut from the Portland outfit whose 2016 self-titled (review here) seemed like such a herald of excellence to come while also, you know, being killer. Holy Grove II brought the four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis to entirely new levels of composition and execution. In songs like “Blade Born,” the shorter, sharper “Aurora,” the patiently rolling “Valley of the Mystics,” “Solaris” and closer “Cosmos,” which boasted a not-really-necessary-but-definitely-welcome guest vocal appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt, — and oh wait, that’s all of the tracks — Holy Grove entered a different echelon. Anticipation will likewise be high for Holy Grove III, but it’ll be hard to complain with this record to keep company in the meantime.

6. All Them Witches, ATW

all them witches atw
Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Over five All Them Witches albums, the Nashville four-piece have gone from a nascent heavy Americana jam band to one of the most distinct acts in the US underground. Their development in sound is chemistry-driven, so it was a risk when the founding trio of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) and drummer Robby Staebler welcomed new keyboardist Jonathan Draper into the lineup to take the place of Allan van Cleave. Amid a more naturalist production than that of 2017’s Sleeping Through the War (review here), the revamped four-piece flourished in terms of songwriting and conveying their stage-born sonic personae. From the gleeful fuckery of opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” to the memorable moodiness of “Diamond” and the back-end jam “Harvest Feast” en route to the stretched-out end of “Rob’s Dream,” All Them Witches essentially confirmed they could do whatever they wanted and make it work.

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

yob our raw heart
Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed June 7.

Actually, if you want a sample of YOB‘s raw heart, the place to go is probably 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), but whatever the Eugene, Oregon, shapers of cosmic doom might’ve lacked in titular accuracy on their eighth long-player, they made up for in a new, statesman-like posture. Their approach was mature, hammered out to a professionalism working completely on its own terms, and they never sounded so sure of who they are as a band or as confident of their direction. In extended cuts “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and “Our Raw Heart,” they explored new and progressive textures and melodies, and managed to reaffirm their core aspects while finding room for conveying emotion that came across as nothing but ultimately sincere. They have been and still are one of a kind, and as they continue to move forward, they remain a band that makes one feel lucky to be alive to witness their work. Our Raw Heart was perhaps more refined than it let on, but the heart was there for sure, as always.

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t a fan of the (relatively) harder-hitting approach Brant Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band took on 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), but Mankind Woman brought in some more of his soul influences, and whether it was the subtly subversive funk of “Chocolatize” and “Brand New Old Times” or the callout “1968” and laid back vibes of the title-track and “Swagger and Sway,” Bjork — working with guitarist Bubba DuPree on songwriting and production — offered a definitive look at what has made his 20-year solo career so special and demonstrates not only his longevity and his legacy, but his will to continue to progress as an artist honing his craft. His discography is well populated by now to be sure, but Mankind Woman represents a turn from the last couple records, and if it’s in any way portentous of things to come, it bodes well. Bjork is right at home nestled into classic-style grooves, and his legacy as one of the principal architects of desert rock is continually reaffirmed.

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

They’ve been great, not just good, for a long time now, and as forerunners of the San Diego heavy scene, they’re godfathers to an up and coming generation of bands taking their influence — let alone acts from the rest of the world — but Black Heaven is a special moment for them because of its departure. No, it wasn’t not the first time guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sang on an Earthless recording, but it did represent a tip of the balance in that direction for the band on a studio full-length, and that resulted in a special moment. Album opener “Gifted by the Wind” was one of the best songs I heard this year, and while “End to End” and the all-thrust “Volt Rush” affirmed that more traditional songwriting was well within the grasp of Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, they still found space for a sprawling jam or two, keeping their claim on the instrumentalism that’s (largely) fueled their tenure to date. Earthless don’t want for acclaim, but every bit of it is earned, and while their primary impact has always been live, Black Heaven saw them construct a traditional-style LP that still bore the hallmarks of their collective personality. It was the best of all worlds.

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

king buffalo longing to be the mountain
Self-released/released by Stickman Records. Reviewed Sept. 27.

In the dark early hours of 2018, the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson issued the Repeater EP (review here) as a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), so Longing to Be the Mountain didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but even with Repeater preceding its arrival, I don’t think anyone necessary expected King Buffalo‘s second album to have such a scope or to be so engrossing with it. In its melody, patience, atmosphere and heft, it was an absolute joy to behold. Its songs were memorable at the same time they were far-reaching, and while Orion was already my pick for the best debut of 2016, Longing to Be the Mountain realized even more potential than that record had hinted toward. It could be intimate or majestic at its whim, and its dynamic set an individual characterization of heavy psychedelia and blues-style sprawl that the band wholly owned. With production by Ben McLeod of All Them Witches behind them, they worked to serve notice of a progression undertaken the results of which are already staggering and still seem to be looking ahead to the next stage, literally and figuratively. One of the principal standards I use in constructing this list every year is what I listen to most. That’s this record.

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

Obviously, right? To some extent, when Sleep surprise-announced on April 19 they’d release their first album in 15 years the next day, and then did, they took ownership of 2018. Even with records still to come at that point from YOB and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike‘s own High on Fire, there was no way that when the end of the year came around, it wasn’t going to be defined by the advent of a new Sleep record. And even if it sucked, it would probably still be Album of the Year, but fortunately, as Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om) and drummer Jason Roeder (also Neurosis) took their long-running stage reunion to the studio, they brought material that highlighted the best elements from all players. Pike‘s wild soloing, Cisneros‘ meditative vocals and Roeder‘s intricate but smooth style of roll all came together in older pieces like “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Sonic Titan” and newer highlights “Giza Butler” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” and aside from the excitement at their existence, they showed the mastery of form that Sleep had been demonstrating live since 2009 and which they hinted toward in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here). A new Sleep full-length was something long-discussed, long-rumored and long-considered, but when it finally happened, I think the results vaporized expectation in a way no one could’ve anticipated. There’s a reason Sleep are Sleep. Having The Sciences as a reminder of that brought about the defining moment of 2018.

The Next 20

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a Top 30 at all if it didn’t go to 50. Don’t try to make sense of it, just look at the records.

31. Atavismo, Valdeinfierno
32. Grayceon, IV
33. Clamfight, III
34. Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique
35. Megaton Leviathan, Mage
36. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland
37. Arcadian Child, Superfonica
38. Freedom Hawk, Beast Remains
39. The Machine, Faceshift
40. Messa, Feast for Water
41. Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium
42. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Science Fiction
43. Domkraft, Flood
44. Träden, Träden
45. Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
46. Samavayo, Vatan
47. Foehammer, Second Sight
48. Bongripper, Terminal
49. Mansion, First Death of the Lutheran
50. Sunnata, Outlands
51. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Come and Chutney

Believe me when I tell you, I sweated over this section more than I did the actual top 30. Mansion should be higher. So should Chubby Thunderous, though something in me thought they might like being #50 on a list of 30. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Clamfight, Black Rainbows, Foehammer, Seedy Jeezus, Messa, Domkraft. All of these were fucking awesome. And there are more (we’ll get there). Eventually numbers add up. I won’t say a bad word about any of these. That’s it.

Honorable Mention

This section always winds up expanded as other people point out things I missed and so on, but here’s what I’ve got in the immediate, alphabetically:

  • Alms, Act One
  • Ape Machine, Darker Seas
  • Belzebong, Light the Dankness
  • Black Moon Circle, Psychedelic Spacelord
  • Blackwater Holylight, Blackwater Holylight
  • Bong, Thought and Existence
  • Carpet, About Rooms and Elephants
  • Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery
  • Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree
  • Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need
  • Death Alley, Superbia
  • Drug Cult, Drug Cult
  • Dunbarrow, II
  • Electric Citizen, Helltown
  • Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn
  • Evoken, Hypnagogia
  • Funeral Horse, Psalms for the Mourning
  • Fuzz Evil, High on You
  • Graven, Heirs of Discord
  • Graveyard, Peace
  • Green Dragon, Green Dragon
  • Green Druid, Ashen Blood
  • Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing
  • High Priestess, High Priestess
  • Horehound, Holocene
  • IAH, II
  • JIRM, Surge ex Monumentis
  • Killer Boogie, Acid Cream
  • Lonely Kamel, Death’s Head Hawkmoth
  • MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure
  • Moab, Trough
  • Mountain Dust, Seven Storms
  • Mouth, Floating
  • Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence
  • T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid
  • Onségen Ensemble, Duel
  • Orango, Evergreen
  • Owl, Nights in Distortion
  • Pushy, Hard Wish
  • Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground/Meditation
  • River Cult, Halcyon Daze
  • Rotor, Sechs
  • Somali Yacht Club, The Sea
  • Sumac, Love in Shadow
  • Sundrifter, Visitations
  • Svvamp, Svvamp II
  • Thou, Magus
  • Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse
  • Weedpecker, III

Special Note

Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to include these in the list proper because they’re not really underground releases, but there were two more records I especially wanted to highlight for their quality:

  • Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
  • Judas Priest, Firepower

Best Short Release of the Year

Normally I’d do this as a separate post, but as a result of being robbed earlier this year, I feel like my list is woefully incomplete. If you have any demos, EPs, splits, singles, etc., to add to it, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Still, the top pick was clear:

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Rarely do two bands work in such coherent tandem to their mutual benefit. Here are a few other essential short releases for 2018, alphabetically:

  • All Them Witches, Lost and Found
  • Alunah, Amber & Gold
  • Canyon, Mk II
  • Demon Head, The Resistence
  • Destroyer of Light, Hopeless
  • Ecstatic Vision, Under the Influence
  • Godmaker & Somnuri, Split
  • Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul
  • King Buffalo, Repeater
  • Minsk & Zatokrev, Split
  • Sleep, Leagues Beneath
  • Stonus, Lunar Eclipse
  • Sundecay, Gale

Looking Forward

A good many albums have already been announced or hinted at for 2019. I in no way claim this to be a complete roundup of what’s coming, but here’s what I have in my notes so far, in absolutely no order:

Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Cities of Mars, Heavy Temple, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan (LP), Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Om.

Okay, That’s It

Yeah, no, I’m serious. List is done. Everybody go back to your lives. Your families miss you.

Really though, while this is by no means my last post of 2018, I can’t let it pass without saying thank you so much to everyone for checking out the site this year, or for just digging into this, or for sending me music, or hitting me up on social media, sharing a link, anything. Thank you. Thank you. I could never have imagined when it started out where it would be now. Or that I’d still be doing it. Your support means more to me than I can say, and I thank you so much for being a part of this with me.

So thanks.

If you have something to add to the list, please do so by leaving a comment below, but keep in mind as well the above note requesting civility. Please don’t make me feel stupid because I forgot your favorite record. I forgot a lot of people’s favorite records. I’m one dude. I’m doing my best.

And please keep in mind if you’ve got a list together that the Year-End Poll is open and results will be out Jan. 1.

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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