Swans to Reissue White Light from the Mouth of Infinity and Love of Life Dec. 4

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 19th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

I don’t know if the next Swans album will actually be the last Swans album. The language, as mastermind Michael Gira had it, was “This will be the final Swans album (and subsequent tour) for this version / iteration of Swans.” Whether or not that means the band will continue is about as predictable as their music. In other words, I have no clue. They recently announced a new live record, though, to help fund the making of what may or may not be their last outing, and now comes news of two ’90s-era reissues, done up deluxe-style.

White Light from the Mouth of Infinity came out in 1991 and Love of Life came out in ’92, so to have them paired up as a vinyl box set makes sense. The numbers are limited, and as with most of the stuff Young God Records does in this vein, I’m sure they’ll be gone by the time the preorder ends, so yeah, if you’d want to get yourself a piece, you might want to do so with some expediency. Not trying to tell you your business or sell you anything — just pointing out the facts.

Info on the reissues follows, gently hoisted off the PR wire:

swans reissues



Swans continue their remastered reissues series on Young God Records in North America and Mute in other territorires with the release of White Light from the Mouth of Infinity and Love of Life on December 4, 2015.

The two albums will be initially released as a limited vinyl box set, presented in the original restored artwork, which includes paintings by Deryk Thomas. The 2500 micron black lined box – with original logo in silver foil block in black paper – will also include 2 rare posters, a CD of outtakes, rarities, contemporaneous live recordings and a download code for both albums.

In addition, White Light from the Mouth of Infinity and Love of Life will be available as a 3xCD set (which will include the bonus disc), as well as individual albums on vinyl and digitally.

Preorders are available now from: http://younggodrecords.com/products/white-light-from-the-mouth-of-infinity-love-of-life-ltd-ed-vinyl-box-set-3cd-release

White Light from the Mouth of Infinity, Swans’ seventh studio album originally released in 1991, is considered the starting point for the second section of Swans’ inimitable history. This will be the first time White Light from the Mouth of Infinity has been available on vinyl since its original release on Young God Records in 1991. The vinyl issue will include the track ‘Blind’, not included in the original release.

Love of Life, the band’s eighth studio album, followed soon after in 1992. The vinyl version of this album has also been unavailable since its original release.

Michael Gira recently announced that Swans are currently working on their last album in this “current incarnation”. The basic tracks and vocals were completed last month at Sonic Ranch studio in Texas with John Congleton as engineer, with Michael Gira producing. Further work will continue in Seattle and Berlin and the new album is expected to be released on Young God Records in North America and Mute Records in other territories in late spring 2016.


Swans, “Love will Save You”

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Swans Release The Gate Limited Live Album

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 3rd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

I like it that even when Swans get into crowdfunding, they do it in a way that’s both completely awesome and entirely their own. To help raise money toward the completion of what’s been announced as their final studio album in this form, the New York genre-defilers have issued The Gate, a new live double-album pressed in a one-time-only edition of 2,500 copies with exclusive glimpses at early versions of new songs — demos also included — that will make their way onto said final album, and customized artwork, signed editions, and other price-tiered extras available. They’ve done this kind of one-release-supports-the-next fundraising before, and it’s worked, and I have a hard time imagining that by the time this post is live, the bulk of The Gate won’t be gone. Get it while you can, is what I’m saying.

This from the PR wire:

swans the gate



We are in the process and making and assembling an edition of 2500 handmade live 2xCD packages and we are accepting orders now at younggodrecords.com. This is part of a tiered system whereby our dedicated listeners can voice their support for the upcoming new Swans album by choosing one or all of several options presented in order to aid us in our journey towards discovering and subsequently nourishing ourselves (and those who might care to travel with us) within a fresh new constellation of sound. Here below is what I’ve written in a newsletter that has been sent to our friends and supporters:

“…Hello There, Michael Gira of Swans here. I thought that, since you signed up to our newsletter, you might be interested to know that the 2xCD live SWANS handmade fundraiser event/portal of support for our (in)glorious efforts is now up at this link. The live 2xCD is called The Gate. I believe it captures the live SWANS experience effectively. The woodblock print is by Nicole Boitos and I draw all over each one and sign it as well. Each one is unique. They’re numbered 1 – 2500 and won’t be available elsewhere… The upcoming album (as yet untitled) will be the last with this core group (comprised of my beautiful friends Norman, Christoph, Thor, Phil, Christopher and myself) and the subsequent (marathon) tour in 2016 will be our last together. As such, I am determined to make this album the most fully realized, cataclysmic, subtle and nuanced, heartfelt and inspirational, truthful and luminous recording that we have yet undertaken. As always, your valued (and quite necessary) support in this perhaps quixotic endeavor is sincerely appreciated. I love you! I thank you!…”

The rapport this group has developed over the last 5 plus years is a gift for which I will remain forever grateful. In live performance it has sometimes lead us to unleash a sound that is not only greater than us but seems to swallow us into its own immanent consciousness and will. It feels great! Oftentimes I’ve spoken to people in the audience after a show and they’ve expressed similar notions. My sentiment at these moments is that I’m delighted to have been of service, but can’t really take responsibility for it, since it’s beyond us too. So, following the final 2016 touring cycle with the wonderful cadre of talented individuals mentioned above, I will continue to record and perform (though perhaps less frequently) using the name Swans, on a project-by-project basis. Acutely aware that the psychic connection with which we’ve been blessed is irreplaceable, I will instead pursue the ever-elusive pathway alluded to above through other means. You can read more about this and other ephemera at the link above.

A trailer for the DVD that will accompany the new studio album, in progress, is available for viewing.

– Michael Gira / Swans


Swans, The Gate DVD trailer

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Swans Wrap 14-Month Touring Cycle; Announce “Final” Album

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 24th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Kind of sad to have an end-date put on the Swans reunion, which has to-date produced three expansive studio outings since 2010 — those being that year’s My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky (review here), 2012’s The Seer and 2014’S To be Kind (review here) — as well as countless tours domestic and abroad, taking the reactivated New York avant gardians around the world and back again. But I get it. Michael Gira, founder, bandleader and wrangler of storms, probably has other things in mind. Maybe a return from Angels of Light‘s dark Americana is in order, or something new altogether. Either way, Swans‘ return has produced some of the richest and most visceral audio of the last half-decade, and we’re fortunate to have had them back while we did.

Of course, there will be more to come before they actually split, I’m sure. Having just finished the touring cycle for To be KindSwans will issue a live album — to be titled The Gate and no doubt immediately sell out upon being made available; once again denying me my limited Swansy goodness — and set to recording their “final” studio outing, which I put in emphatic quotes because one never really knows what’s going to happen.

As a general note to anyone who hasn’t seen Swans in this iteration yet. Do it. Even if you don’t like the band, not seeing them live is something you’ll regret.

Okay, here’s word from Gira:


Just got home comatose after finishing up the final leg of our 14 month tour for Swans To Be Kind album. We have come to your town, though it’s doubtful we have partied down. It has been a privilege to be inside the sound that on some nights seems to create itself of its own accord, and it’s gratifying that many of you have conveyed to us that it’s been a positive experience for you too… Next step: Sept 1 we commence a new Swans album. This will be the final Swans album (and subsequent tour) for this version / iteration of Swans. Not really sure what the next step will be after that, but that’s perhaps a good thing… We’ll be making a live album/fundraiser (called The Gate) soon, in order to raise the necessary – somewhat daunting – capital for the studio album, which is bound to be an insatiable beast… more soon, Thanks and Love! – Michael Gira


Swans, “Just a Little Boy” Live at Primavera Sound 2013

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San Francisco Trip, Pt 2: Cobras and Fire

Posted in Buried Treasure, Features on July 15th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

amoeba music san francisco storefront

When in Rome, you do as the Romans. When in Cali, you get your ass to Amoeba Music. An Amoeba haul is a special thing. It had been five years — half a decade! — since the last time I set foot in Amoeba‘s San Francisco store, right on Haight Street, more or less the birthplace of American counterculture, or at very least where it moved to from the Midwest because it was okay to be weird there. It is a shop we must remember we are fortunate to still have in existence. Places like Sound Garden in Baltimore, Vintage Vinyl in my beloved Garden State, and the three Amoebas in San Fran, Berkeley and L.A. are treasures. Landmarks. Their preservation may not be government-sanctioned, but they’re no less essential as living monuments of our age.

I’d gotten in after two in the morning. My flight from Boston to SFO was delayed… by five and a half hours. Something about a flat tire on the plane that then wound up requiring an entirely different aircraft altogether. Oh, we sat, and sat. Supposed to be a 5PM flight, took off just after 10:30. What a shitter, but at least it took off at all. I slept about 20 minutes on the plane — remember, with the time zone shift, a 2AM West Coast arrival is still 5AM to my very red East Coast eyes — and then crashed at the hotel, woke up this morning and spent the bulk of they day shaking hands at the convention that brought me out here, trading business cards and the like. All the while, lurking at the back of my mind was Amoeba Music, its call resonating like a dogwhistle nobody else around me could hear. I could’ve cried when I got out of the cab and it was there, just like I remembered.

Seems likely there was more vinyl around than five years ago, though I wouldn’t commit to that 100 percent, not really remembering one way or the other, but in any case, I still found plenty in the CD racks; the notion of traveling with LPs, the general expenditure and desire to actually listen to the music keeping me to the more compressed format, and no regrets. Here’s what I grabbed, alphabetically:

Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
Black Rainbows, Carmina Diablo
Electric Wizard, Time to Die
Horsehunter, Caged in Flesh
Monolord, Vaenir
Parliament, Motor Booty Affair
Stoneburner, Caged in Flesh
SubRosa, More Constant than the Gods
Swans, To be Kind
Tekhton, Alluvial
Wino & Conny Ochs, Latitudes
Wovenhand, Refractory Obdurate

amoeba haulOf those, it turns out the Black Rainbows was a double. I suspected as much, but I spotted it at the front of the clearance section and it was a dollar, so I figured even if I had it, another wouldn’t hurt. Getting stuff like the Acid King and Monolord was nigh on mandatory, the former because it’s San Francisco and that album is incredible and the latter because it’s a RidingEasy Records release and while I’m pretty sure that label is headquartered south of here, you don’t find that stuff every day on the Eastern Seaboard.

Conversely, I was looking for a bunch of stuff from Tee PeeMirror Queen, The Atomic Bitchwax, Death Alley — that was seemingly nowhere to be found, and I wondered if geographic distance between myself and the NY-based label didn’t have something to do with it. The rule is you take what you can get, and I was happy to do that. The Horsehunter was also absurdly cheap, I’m not really sure why. Between that and the Black Rainbows, it was much easier to justify paying upwards of $14 for new discs and $20 for the Labour of Love Latitudes session from Wino & Conny Ochs. I was on the phone griping to The Patient Mrs. as I walked around the store that somehow even though compact discs are “out of fashion” prices haven’t come down on them and she reminded me to think of it as a premium for being in a place so awesome. She was, of course, 100 percent right. Issue resolved.

Parliament‘s Motor Booty Affair to feed my continued funk addiction, and Stoneburner mostly because it was there, it’s Neurot and I don’t already have it. The Swans is the three-disc special edition of last year’s To be Kind (review here) that also comes with a live DVD as a bonus. Can’t imagine I’ll ever watch the thing, but it’s nice to have. Speaking of stuff I won’t actually put on, I know for a fact I haven’t listened to the Electric Wizard since I reviewed it (the promo was digital), but I heard something about them having a spat with Spinefarm over money or some such and that the album was subsequently out of print, so I figured better now than five years from now on eBay or Amazon. It will likely stay wrapped, but at least it’ll be in the library.

It’s been six years and I still recall enjoying Tekhton‘s first album, Summon the Core (review here), so to find a copy of the 2009 follow-up to that 2007 debut was cool enough to drive me toward the purchase, and Wovenhand are Wovenhand, which is all the justification that one needs. Speaking of bands who played Roadburn this year, as Wovenhand did, I nabbed 2013’s More Constant than the Gods by SubRosa mostly because I missed them at that festival and they’ve continued to haunt me ever since. I’m not sure if playing the record or having paid for it — like a church bribe — will exorcise that demon, but it seemed worth a shot. I’m sure I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tomorrow is more work stuff, starting bright and early and ending less-bright and late. I may or may not make it to Aquarius Records, as had been my hope, but if this turns out to be all the shopping I get to do on this trip, I can’t really complain. And of course, if you’re in SF, get your ass to Amoeba Music.

SubRosa, More Constant than the Gods (2013)

Amoeba Music

Amoeba San Francisco on Thee Facebooks

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Swans to Reissue Filth on May 26

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 14th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

swans in 1984

In case anyone’s forgotten just how fucking groundbreaking — also backbreaking — Swans have been for the last 30-plus years, Michael Gira‘s own Young God Records will oversee a reissue of their first album, 1983’s Filth, that seems intent on giving the rawness of the band’s earliest era its due. Genuinely challenging in its atmosphere, gripping in its chaos and grinding in a way that bands are still imitating today without even knowing where it came from, it’s a record that has touched multiple genres and influenced countless acts along the way, so yeah, to have it come with not only Swans‘ first EP as accompaniment but a host of live material as well, it seems fair to call it a chronicle of that period in their long, tumultuous, interrupted but ultimately triumphant history.

To everything, churn! churn! churn!

swans filth

Young God Records is releasing a Deluxe 3 CD edition of SWANS debut album FILTH May 26 in North America; Mute releases this package in all other territories.

This 3CD expanded re-issue package constitutes a definitive picture of Swans in the years 1982 – 1983/4. Includes:

DISC ONE: SWANS original debut LP “Filth” from 1983, with the line up of M.Gira, Norman Westberg, Roli Mosimann, Harry Crosby, and Jonathan Kane. Also features versions of “Strip/Burn,” “Heatsheet,” “Blackout,” “Clay Man,” “Stay Here, and “Weakling,” all recorded live.

DISC TWO: Body to Body material comprised of various studio out-takes and live recordings 1982-85, with a nine-minute version of “Raping a Slave,” recorded live in Berlin, 1984 (originally released with FILTH on YGD-11).

DISC THREE: Debut 12″ EP #1, originally released in 1982, Plus additional live performances from NYC and London.

The package features a 16 panels of previously unseen photos by Catherine Ceresole and Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth).


CD ONE: FILTH: 1. Stay Here (5:36) 2. Big Strong Boss (3:02) 3. Blackout (3:47) 4. Power for Power (5:52) 5. Freak (1:13) 6. Right Wrong (4:43) 7. Thank You (3:52) 8. Weakling (5:20) 9. Gang (3:24) 10. Live at The Kitchen, NYC 1982/3 (24:18): a. Strip/Burn b. Heatsheet c. Blackout d. Clay Man e. Stay Here f. Weakling

CD TWO: BODY TO BODY:: 1. I?ll Cry for You (5:41) 2. Red Sheet (3:11) 3. Loop 33 (0:59) 4. Your Game (3:57) 5. Seal It Over (3:48) 6. Whore (3:56) 7. We?ll Hang for That (3:55) 8.Half Life (3:57) 9. Loop 21 (1:26) 10. Get Out (3:31) 11. Job (5:40) 12. Loop 1 (1:01) 13. Mother, My Body Disgusts Me (4:43) 14. Cop (5:56) 15. Only I Can Hear, Only I Can Touch (2:41) 16. Thug (9:44) 17. Raping a Slave (live Berlin 1984) (9:02)

CD THREE: E.P. #1 PLUS LIVE RECORDINGS: 1. Laugh (4:00) 2. Speak (4:24) 3.Take Advantage (4:26) 4. Sensitive Skin (6:05) Live at CBGB NYC 1982-3: 5. Living Arms 6. Howling Red Sheet 7. Big Strong Boss 8. Clay Man 9. We’ll Hang For That. Live at Heaven London 1984: 10. This is Mine 11. Why Hide 12. I Crawled

ll words both CDs M.Gira. Music Gira/Swans. Contributing musicians Filth: M.Gira – bass, vocal, tapes; Norman Westberg – guitar; Roli Mosimann – drums, percussion; Harry Crosby – bass; Jonathan Kane – drums, percussion. Recorded 1983 Vanguard Studios, NYC . Engineer : Mark Berry. BTB CD is comprised of various studio out-takes and live recordings. Thanks to Catherine and Nicholas Ceresole for their contributions.

The following performed live with Swans at one time or another in the years 1982 up to 1985: M.Gira, Norman Westberg, Sue Hanel, Roli Mosimann, Harry Crosby, Mojo, Jonathan Kane, Dan Braun, Thurston Moore, Craig Cafton, Bob Pezzola, Jonathan Prosser… Filth produced by Gira/Mosimann. BTB produced Gira…Perpetual thanks: Daniel Gira, Peter Mason, Kevin Wortis, Derek Woodgate, Jarboe. Packaging design M.Gira for Young God Productions. Execution: Joe Budenholzer. Remastered at Griffin Mastering, Atlanta, Ga. by Chris Griffin.


Swans, “Stay Here”

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Swans to Record New Album in September

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 29th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Has there been a more productive reunion this decade than Swans? Even putting aside for the moment the limited Michael Gira demos and live outings they put out through Gira‘s Young God Records, three propulsive, jam-packed full-lengths — 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky (review here), 2012’s The Seer and last year’s To be Kind (review here) — in a span of four years, plus numerous tours across the US, Europe and most recently Japan. Swans didn’t just just reunite, they reactivated into overdrive.

Up next? The still-avant-after-all-these-years collective will head back to Europe, first to play Turkey and then to spend the bulk of May on the road abroad, returning in July to play All Tomorrow’s Parties in Iceland and hit the north and eastern parts of the continent, also playing Israel in the interim. And when they get back from that, they’ll hit the studio in September to record their fourth long-player since their return, which seems likely to hit early in 2016, at which point one imagines they’ll embark on more touring, limited releases, and so on into an intense perpetuity of assaulting sonics.

Gira announced the intentions thusly:

swans (photo by Jennifer Church)

Swans post live videos, announce recording of new album

“Hello, thank you for listening to our music. I hope it gives you some joy and pleasure.

” I am pleased that you have discovered our music through this medium. I view this experience as the equivalent of previewing a record in a record store in days of old. However, if you wish to experience the music in its’ fullest form, I would strongly encourage you to acquire it in a physical format you can bring into your home. Not only will you then be able to experience the richest version of the music sonically, but you will also be afforded the opportunity to enjoy the tangible artwork, which was conceived in tandem with the music, and serves as a further portal to experiencing the total conceptual and spiritual and emotional content of the work we have labored, lovingly, to bring to you.

I love you,
– Michael Gira / Swans / Young God Records”

Meanwhile, band primum mobile Michael Gira posted this update on his personal FB feed:

These are the remaining Swans shows for 2015. In September we’ll begin recording the new album. (apparently NOT playing Exit Festival in Poland as previously announced. see edited post below).

5.02 Istanbul, Turkey FSK Saloon
5.03 off Istanbul
5.04- fly-
5.05.15 Arhus, DenmarK at Vohalle- confirmed
6.015.15 Stavanger, Norway at Folken – confirmed
7.05.15 Bergen, N at USF Verteft- confirmed
8.05.15 Oslo, N at Vulkan – confirmed
9.05.15 Trondheim, N at Blaest – – confirmed
10.05.15 off
11.05.15 Gothenburg, Sweden at Sticky Fingers-confirmed
12.05.15 Malmo, S at Babel- confirmed
13.05 off
14.05 Nijmegen, NL- Doorroosje–confirmed
15.05 Dortmund, Germany- FZW-confirmed
16.05 Liege, Belgium at Les Ardents Club – confirmed
17.05 Kortrijk, Belgium at De Kreun- confirmed
18.05 leave off
19.05 leave off
May 20 Bristol at Marble Factory- confirmed
May 21 London, UK- The Roundhouse- confirmed
May 22 Liverpool, UK, Liverpool sound Festival
May 23 Glasgow at Art School- confirmed
May 24 Belfast at Mandela Hall- confirmed
May 25 Dublin at Button Factory- confirmed
may 26 off
May 27 Norwich, UK at Epic Studios confirmed
May 28 off
May 29 Nimes, France- Festival-
May 30 Barcelona- Primaververa Festival-
May 31 depart Europe for ny
no shows in june
July 3, Gydina, Poland- Open-Er Festival- confirmed
July 4 Reykavik, Iceland- ATP Festival- confirmed
July h Berlin, D – Volksühne – confirmed
July 6 off- fly to Tel Aviiv
July 7- Tel Aviv, Israel- HaTeatron Club – confirmed
July 8- Paris, F- Trabendo Club- confirmed
July 9 – off fly to Kiev
July 10 – Kiev- Ukraine- Sentrum confirmed
July 11-off – fly to Skopje
July 12 – Skopje, Macadonia, MKC- confirmeded
July 13 off
July 14- tba
July 15- tba
July 16- tba
July 17 Ostrava CZ Ostrava Festival- confirmed
July 18 Crispendorf, D- Chaos Descends Festival- confirmed

Official Young God Records / Swans Store (all albums hand signed by M. Gira): http://bit.ly/1rY35P8
Swans on iTunes: http://bit.ly/1nZmr5R

Swans, “A Little God in My Hands” live in Toronto, 2015

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The Top 20 of 2014 Readers Poll — RESULTS!

Posted in Features on January 2nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster


It was close for a long time, but in the last week or so, one record pulled ahead to stake a definitive claim on the top spot. Even so, more than the 2013 poll, this was a fun one to watch, three albums duking it out, trading back and forth in the raw votes depending on who happened to submit a list at any given time. In the end, 355 people participated in this year’s poll, which is an average of over 11 per day — there was a significant push at the end — and up from 2013, which now that it’s 2015 will no doubt soon feel like ancient history.

To that end, Happy New Year and huge, huge thanks to everyone who took the time to contribute a list to the poll. Even if it was one or two records, the simple fact that you felt it was worth your time to type out the names of bands and albums and take part in this thing is unbelievably gratifying to me. I do a lot of the talking around here, apart from comments and the forum, so to have your participation in this really means a lot to me. It’s nice knowing you give enough of a crap to take part.

You’ll find two lists below. The first, measured in points, is the weighted tally. A 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. After that comes the raw votes, a measure of what caught the most attention along the way.

After the jump, you’ll also find all the lists contributed to the poll — including my own, which seemed fair since I do a lot of reading on this site, mostly to experience shame at the typos and correct them hoping no one else noticed — presented in the order in which they were received. Thank you all again.

Top 20 of 2014 — Weighted Results


1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend (560 points)
2. Wo Fat, The Conjuring (404)
3. Electric Wizard, Time to Die (367)
4. Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden (334)
5. Conan, Blood Eagle (275)
6. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss (254)
7. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes (240)
8. Truckfighters, Universe (237)
9. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower (235)
10. Earth, Primitive and Deadly (230)
11. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid (225)
12. Blues Pills, Blues Pills (211)
13. Lo-Pan, Colossus (202)
14. Eyehategod, Eyehategod (198)
15. Monolord, Empress Rising (190)
16. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (188)
17. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia (161)
18. John Garcia, John Garcia (156)
19. Bongripper, Miserable (141)
20. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt (127)

Honorable mention to:
Goat, Commune (126)
Swans, To be Kind (117)
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars (116)
Blood Farmers, Headless Eyes (105)
Floor, Oblation (104)
Mothership, II (104)

Stubb, Elephant Tree, Thou and plenty of others also did very well in the voting, but everything else I could find was less than 100 points. Again, it was close for a while between Wo Fat, Electric Wizard and YOB — and Pallbearer wasn’t so far behind them, either — but YOB pulled it out in the end and jumped way in front of everyone else. A lot of number-one votes for Clearing the Path to Ascend, which I can understand completely, since I happened to agree with the position.

On to the raw votes:

Top 20 of 2014 — Raw Votes


1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend (138 votes)
2. Wo Fat, The Conjuring (111)
3. Electric Wizard, Time to Die (104)
4. Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden (89)
5. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss (78)
6. Conan, Blood Eagle (72)
7. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid (71)
8. Truckfighters, Universe (66)
9. Earth, Primitive and Deadly (65)
10. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes (64)
11. Blues Pills, Blues Pills (63)
12. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower (60)
13. Lo-Pan, Colossus (58)
14. Eyehategod, Eyehategod (55)
15. Monolord, Empress Rising (52)
16. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia (48)
16. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (48)
17. John Garcia, John Garcia (47)
18. Bongripper, Miserable (41)
18. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt (41)
19. Goat, Commune (37)
19. Mothership, II (37)
20. Swans, To be Kind (32)

And some honorable mentions:
Dwellers, Pagan Fruit (31)
Floor, Oblation (31)
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars (31)
Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty (30)
Thou, Heathen (30)
The Well, Samsara (30)

A couple ties here make the raw votes list a little more inclusive, and since it’s not like we’re giving out olympic medals, it didn’t seem fair to count out ties and sacrifice other numbers. The top 20 has 23 entries? Yeah, sounds about right. Again, not much mystery ultimately to who came out on top, but it was a more thrilling race than the final numbers might suggest. Cool to see some differences in placement emerge between the two lists as well, Greenleaf and Brant Bjork doing really well in the weighted results since they obviously inspire some strong support, and a couple of others working their way into the raw votes top 20. I’m not really a numbers guy, but it’s been cool putting this together.

About not being a numbers guy: All the lists that came in appear after the jump below. If you find some glaring error in my math, or something seems like it really got enough votes to be included in one or the other, it’s possible I just missed it. I hope you’ll point it out in the comments so that if there is a mistake, I can get on correcting it as soon as possible. Your vigilance is sincerely appreciated.

And thank you again so much for being a part of this readers poll. It’s been a really great experience and I look forward to doing it again come Dec. 2015.

Please find everybody’s list after the jump, and have fun browsing:

Read more »

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 30 of 2014

Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster


Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.

This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.

I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.

Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.

Okay. Here we go:

30. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss


Released by Candlelight Records. Reviewed on Nov. 17.

The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.


29. Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty


Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed on March 14.

A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos GeneratorElectric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.


28. Pilgrim, II: Void Worship


Released by Metal Blade Records. Reviewed on April 15.

Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.


27. John Garcia, John Garcia


Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed on July 7.

His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”


26. Swans, To be Kind


Released by Mute/Young God Records. Reviewed on May 9.

An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.


25. Alunah, Awakening the Forest

alunah awakening the forest

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Oct. 14.

I initially made this list without Alunah‘s excellent third album and Napalm Records, but when it came down to it, not having the UK four-piece on here haunted me to the point where I had to come back in and swap them out with somebody else. Just couldn’t live with myself for not giving this record its due, which, to be frank, I’m still not since it should be higher on the list than it is. At least it’s here though, so the mistake is somewhat corrected.


24. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes


Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed on April 25.

The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.


23. Earth, Primitive and Deadly


Released by Southern Lord Recordings. Reviewed on Sept. 9.

Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.


22. Ogre, The Last Neanderthal


Released by Minotauro Records. Reviewed on March 10.

Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.


21. The Wounded Kings, Consolamentum


Released by Candlelight Records. Reviewed on Jan. 30.

Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.


20. Floor, Oblation


Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed on April 22.

Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.


19. Druglord, Enter Venus


Released by STB Records. Reviewed on Feb. 14.

Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.


18. Ararat, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz


Released by Oui Oui Records. Reviewed on April 4.

For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.


17. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt


Released by Alive Naturalsound. Reviewed on May 29.

You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.


16. Apostle of Solitude, Of Woe and Wounds


Released by Cruz del Sur. Reviewed on Nov. 6.

Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.


15. Stubb, Cry of the Ocean


Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed on Nov. 24.

Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.


14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower


Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed on Nov. 10.

Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.


13. Dwellers, Pagan Fruit


Released by Small Stone. Reviewed on May 22.

An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.


12. The Golden Grass, The Golden Grass


Released by Svart Records. Reviewed on March 25.

What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.


11. The Well, Samsara


Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed on Sept. 22.

My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which GrahamAlley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow SeasonThe Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.


10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute


Released by Beyond Beyond is Beyond. Reviewed on Dec. 4.

Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.


9. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid


Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed on May 14.

Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew GiacumakisFu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”


8. The Skull, For Those Which are Asleep


Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed on Nov. 5.

Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.


7. Blood Farmers, Headless Eyes


Self-released on CD, LP on PATAC Records. Reviewed on March 24.

Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.


6. Lo-Pan, Colossus


Released by Small Stone. Reviewed on Oct. 7.

A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.


5a. All Them Witches, Lightning at the Door


Self-released. Reviewed on Sept. 25.

What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.


5. Witch Mountain, Mobile of Angels


Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed on Aug. 20.

A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angels that brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.


4. Conan, Blood Eagle


Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed on Jan. 22.

In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon DavisSkyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.


3. Wo Fat, The Conjuring


Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed on June 18.

Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.


2. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia


Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed on March 11.

Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.


1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend


Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed on Sept. 3.

“It’s time to wake up.”

Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend — YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.



Honorable Mention

First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.

A few other honorable mentions:

MothershipMothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.

Sólstafir, Ótta — They were originally on the list proper but had to be moved to make room for Alunah. I didn’t really get to know this record in 2014 anyway.

Ice DragonSeeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.

TruckfightersUniverse — I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.

SteakSlab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.

GodfleshA World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.

ThouHeathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.

Corrosion of ConformityIX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.

SpidergawdSpidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!

Monster MagnetMilking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.

SlomaticsEstron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.

Electric WizardTime to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.

PallbearerFoundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.

The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.

Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.

Thank you.

More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.

And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.

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