The Skull Tour Launches this Week; Playing Trouble’s Self-Titled in Full

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 22nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the skull

Easiest sell ever. Chicago doomers The Skull head out this week on a major-market US tour playing Trouble‘s 1990 self-titled album in full. Seriously. What more could you ask of the universe than that? Who in their right mind doesn’t want to see Eric Wagner sing “The Wolf” on stage? Or “Black Shapes of Doom?” Or “At the End of My Daze?” Great googly-moogly, that record kicks ass. If you need to be told to show up to this one, you’re fucking up. Sorry, but there it is.

Oh yeah, and for a bonus? The Skull have finished recording their second album and the follow-up to 2014’s For Those Which are Asleep (review here), which was produced by no less than Sanford Goshdarn Parker and will be out this summer. I guess that’s what more you could ask of the universe. And there it is.

Awesome:

the skull tour

The Skull to Kick Off “The Skull Plays ‘Trouble'” North American Headlining Tour January 25

Doom Metal Legends to Perform Trouble’s Classic 1990 Self-Titled in its Entirety on Special Winter Trek

The Skull, featuring vocalist Eric Wagner and bassist Ron Holzner, formerly of metal legends Trouble, has announced a winter North American headlining tour. The 15 city jaunt, which will see The Skull performing Trouble’s classic 1990 Def American Recordings self-titled [label] debut, Trouble, in its entirety, will kick off on January 25 in Chicago, IL. The band, which also features longtime Cathedral drummer Brian Dixon, guitarist Lothar Keller (Sacred Dawn), and guitarist Rob Wrong (Witch Mountain) will also play The Skull songs at the special one-time-only shows.

In additional news, The Skull has completed work on its as-yet-untitled new album. Recorded in Chicago’s Decade Music Studios with engineer Sanford Parker (Yob, Secrets of the Moon), the record is the follow-up to The Skull’s heralded debut, For Those Which Are Asleep, which landed at or near the top of a host of 2014 year-end best of lists. A summer 2018 release date is projected for the new LP.

THE SKULL tour dates:
January 25 Chicago, IL Reggies
January 26 Rock Island, IL Ribco
January 27 Grand Rapids, MI Pyramid Scheme
January 28 Cleveland, OH Grog Shop
January 29 Pittsburgh, PA Howlers
January 30 Toronto, ON Hard Luck
January 31 Ottawa, ON Mavericks
February 1 Montreal, QC Bar Le Ritz
February 2 Cambridge, MA Middle East Upstairs
February 3 Brooklyn, NY Kingsland
February 4 Washington, DC Atlas Brew Works
February 5 Philadelphia, PA Kung Fu Necktie
February 6 Richmond, VA Strange Matter
February 7 Lexington, KY Cosmic Charlies
February 9 Detroit, MI Harpos

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Trouble, Trouble (1990)

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2017

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

top-30-of-2017

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2017 to that, please do.

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

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

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

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

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

Here goes:

30. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
geezer psychoriffadelia

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

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

29. Orango, The Mules of Nana

orango the mules of nana

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed March 27.

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

28. Radio Moscow, New Beginnings

radio moscow new beginnings

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Oct. 6.

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

27. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma

spaceslug time travel dilemma

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

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

26. Mothership, High Strangeness

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

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

25. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days

eternal black bleed the days

Released by Obsidian Sky Records. Reviewed Aug. 1.

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

24. Kadavar, Rough Times

kadavar rough times

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Sept. 6.

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

23. Shroud Eater, Strike the Sun

shroud eater strike the sun

Released by STB Records. Reviewed June 28.

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

22. Enslaved, E

enslaved e

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 4.

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

21. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical

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

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

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

20. Causa Sui, Vibraciones Doradas

causa sui vibraciones doradas

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

19. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable

telekinetic yeti abominable

Released by Sump Pump Records. Reviewed April 10.

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

18. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust

cloud catcher trails of kozmic dust

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

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

17. Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child

ruby the hatchet planetary space child

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 29.

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

16. Alunah, Solennial

alunah solennial

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 1.

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

15. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream

mindkult-lucifers-dream

Released by Transcending Obscurity Records and Caligari Records.

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

14. Argus, From Fields of Fire

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

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

13. Uffe Lorenzen, Galmandsværk

Uffe-Lorenzen-Galmandsvaerk

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

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

12. The Flying Eyes, Burning of the Season

the flying eyes burning of the season

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 11.

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

11. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper

bell witch mirror reaper

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Dec. 27.

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

10. Monolord, Rust

monolord rust

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Oct. 26.

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

9. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn

vokonis-the-sunken-djinn

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 5.

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

8. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals

electric moon stardust rituals

Released by Sulatron Records. Reviewed April 7.

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

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

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

Self-released. Reviewed May 1.

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

6. The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field

the-atomic-bitchwax-force-field

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Dec. 7.

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

5. Atavismo, Inerte

atavismo inerte

Released by Temple of Torturous. Reviewed Feb. 21.

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

4. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe

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

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

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

3. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World

Elder-Reflections-of-a-Floating-World

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

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

2. Colour Haze, In Her Garden

colour haze in her garden

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed March 9.

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

1. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War

all them witches sleeping through the war

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Jan. 27.

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

The Next 20

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

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

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

What’s that? More records? Okay…

Honorable Mentions

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

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

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

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

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

Thank You

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

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

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

And one more time, thank you for reading.

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Review & Full Album Stream: The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on December 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the atomic bitchwax force field

[Click play above to stream The Atomic Bitchwax’s Force Field in its entirety. Album is out Dec. 8 on Tee Pee Records.]

The seventh full-length from veteran New Jersey heavy rockers The Atomic Bitchwax would seem to mirror the mania of their work ethic over the last several years. That is, it’s ready to go. Released by Tee Pee Records and given the title Force Field, it continues a thread of hard-hitting, riff-bending, head-spinning vitality that one found typifying the personality of 2015’s Gravitron (review here), marked by the delivery of the band’s trademark hooks at blazing tempos and with a harder-edged production style than one found on their earlier material.

In hindsight, this thread may have begun on 2011’s The Local Fuzz (review here), which, in what seemed a reactionary move at the time, was comprised of a single-track instrumental riff-fest, essentially pummeling the listener with turn after turn for 40-odd minutes. Gravitron and Force Field — if their next album title doesn’t involve the word “plasma” somehow, I’m going to be personally disappointed; perhaps even “plasma inducer?” — make fitting complements to each other because of consistency of style between them, but both seem to have emerged at a sprint from out of where The Local Fuzz had positioned the three-piece of bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella.

It seems that in a way that couldn’t be appreciated at the time, The Local Fuzz could have been a pivotal moment in terms of the Bitchwax figuring out their course as this increasingly established lineup of the band took shape following Kosnik and Ryan first bringing in Pantella (known for his work in Monster Magnet, of which Kosnik is now also a member) on 2008’s TAB4, following Ryan‘s coming on board with 2005’s 3 (discussed here) — which, perhaps coincidentally, also boasted a track titled “Force Field.” In any case, where TAB4 demonstrated a sheen in its production and delved into more mid-paced and semi-psychedelic songwriting, nearly a decade later, The Atomic Bitchwax come across post-The Local Fuzz almost as a different band — they are supercharged, unforgivingly tight, and aggressive as they burn through Force Field‘s 12 tracks and 34 minutes, offering mere seconds of letup along the way.

And even those, relatively speaking, hit pretty hard. Eight of the 12 inclusions on Force Field clock in under the three-minute mark, and none of the rest touch four — the longest is “Alaskan Thunder Fuck” at 3:48 — and though the verse of “Crazy” seems to straighten out the otherwise winding style of riff that has been a hallmark of The Atomic Bitchwax‘s work since their 1999 self-titled debut and very much is here as well, a tense line of keys and, later in the track, tambourine, assure that the energy level is consistent with surrounding pieces like the full-boar “Shocker” and the instrumental “Fried, Dyed and Layin’ to the Side,” which follows.

If the effort the band has been fatigued at all by the uptick in touring they’ve undertaken in the US and abroad over the last several years, Force Field utterly refuses to show it. From opener “Hippie Speedball” through “Earth Shaker (Which Doobie U Be)” and into the landmark chorus of “Shell of a Man” and the unbridled scorch of “Houndstooth” and ‘Tits and Bones,” The Atomic Bitchwax execute fuzzy fury with precision and sound like a band with no time to waste on anything less than that.

the atomic bitchwax

Through this barrage — one might call it an “assault” were the tones not still so welcoming and their attention to melody still so much a factor in their approach overall — there are times where it seems like a miracle the songs manage to stay as memorable as they are, but in addition to the unshakable foundation of Pantella‘s drumming, variety in the arrangements of vocals between Kosnik and Ryan helps emphasize standout moments across what might otherwise be a totally blinding span, and beneath Force Field‘s surface, the complexity and nuance brought to its progressive turns prove that while it’s in a rush, it was not itself rushed in the making, which is a huge difference in the overall outcome.

As to that outcome, what one takes away from Force Field particularly in the context of Gravitron before it is how much The Atomic Bitchwax at this stage have managed to bridge the gap between classic boogie and the inherent intensity of the US East Coast. Songs like “Shocker” and the penultimate “Super Highway” aren’t shy about their punk aspects, but the groove even of a go-go-go-run-run-run piece like “Super Highway” or the preceding “Humble Brag” remains prevalent, even if one finds it overarching the quickened pulse, rather than resulting directly from, say a nod riff or undulating progression.

In that, it’s “Hippie Speedball” at the outset that sets the tone effectively by striking a balance between thrust and memorability that the band continues to proffer in dynamic fashion. Listening to Kosnik‘s run on bass under Ryan‘s solo during the first solo in the opener, the message regarding chemistry resounds, and the call and response in “Earth Shaker (Which Doobie U Be?)” only reinforces the idea, but the truth is it’s everywhere across Force Field how unreal this band has become in crafting songs that are both fiery and likely to leave a lasting impression.

As is their wont, they shake up their approach with the closer, and in this case, “Liv a Little” with its organ, synthesized-sounding handclaps, blown-out vocals and somewhat slower pacing recalls classic glam rock more than some of the psychedelia they’ve touched on in the past or the poppier vibes they’ve elicited in pieces like “Ice Age (Hey Baby)” from Gravitron, “Wreck You” from TAB4 or even the spacey “Half as Much” from 3. Even with the semi-shift in style, “Liv a Little” over in 2:42 as if to highlight the crispness of Force Field on the whole and the sheer will with which The Atomic Bitchwax at this stage in their tenure — nearly 20 years since forming, nearly 10 with this lineup — keep their material so lean and, indeed, forceful. Their style is utterly their own, and they sound like a band having a blast while pushing themselves physically and aesthetically. Accordingly, while dizzying, Force Field makes for an absolute joy of a listening experience.

The Atomic Bitchwax, “Houndstooth” official video

The Atomic Bitchwax on Thee Facebooks

The Atomic Bitchwax website

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Tee Pee Records website

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Earthless Announce US and European 2018 Touring

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 6th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

earthless ed dominick

Pretty rad to find out that Earthlessrecently announced position as artists-in-residence for Roadburn 2018 will come at the end of a full round of European touring alongside Comet Control — fingers crossed they get added to the bill of the Tilburg, Netherlands-based fest as well — and that indeed that run itself will follow a cross-country US tour in the company of Kikagaku Moyo and JJUUJUU as the San Diego trio begin to support their impending Nuclear Blast label debut, which they recently finished tracking with Dave Catching at the helm and is due out March 16. And yes, I mean all of that is pretty rad. That whole frickin’ run-on sentence. If you’re not into longform righteousness, then this probably isn’t the band for you anyway.

Up there with 2018’s most anticipated among the most anticipated? Yeah. From where I stand, 2018 is Earthless‘ for the taking.

From the PR wire:

EARTHLESS announce North American and European tour dates

Seminal psychedelic rock trio, EARTHLESS, have announced world-wide tour dates in support of their upcoming Nuclear Blast Entertainment debut.

Commented drummer Mario Rubalcaba:

“We are beyond chuffed to finally have a new album to go out and support and we can’t wait to play the new tunes for everyone- they are blastin’! We are also excited to have some killer support bands going out with us when we tour the US and Canada and when we head out to Europe/UK in April. On our North American run, KIKAGAKU MOYO from Japan and JJUUJUU will swirl minds, add diversity and still keep things “heady” for all. In April, we’ll be hitting Europe and the UK with our buds in COMET CONTROL. They will keep you all warm and fuzzy on the inside while shakin yr brains from the outside. That tour also ends up at the mighty Roadburn Festival, where we are honored to be the official Artist In Residence over all 3 nights- each different and special. We look forward to seeing you all out there. Cheers!”

EARTHLESS–Isaiah Mitchell (vocals/guitar), Mike Eginton (bass) and Mario Rubalcaba (drums)–recently finished recording their new album with Dave Catching (EAGLES OF DEATH METAL) at Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree, CA, The band will release the 4th full-length record on March 16th. More details to be announced shortly. Confirmed tour dates are as follows:

EARTHLESS, KIKAGAKU MOYO, JJUUJUU
Feb 28 – San Rafael @ Terrapin Crossroads
Mar 1 – San Francisco @ Great American Music Hall
Mar 2 – San Diego @ Casbah
Mar 3 – San Diego @ Casbah
Mar 4 – Los Angeles @ Teragram Ballroom
Mar 5 – Santa Cruz @ The Atrium
Mar 7 – Las Vegas @ Beauty Bar
Mar 8 – Pioneertown CA @ Pappy & Harriet’s
Mar 13 – Cleveland @ Grog Shop
Mar 14 – Toronto @ Lee’s Palace
Mar 15 – Montreal @ L’Astral
Mar 16 – Brooklyn @ Market Hotel
Mar 17 – Boston @ The Sinclair
Mar 18 – Philadelphia @ Underground Arts
Mar 20 – Washington DC @ Rock N Roll Hotel
Mar 21 – Richmond @ The Broadberry
Mar 22 – Nashville @ Mercy Lounge
Mar 23 – St. Louis @ Blueberry Hill
Mar 24 – Chicago @ Empty Bottle
Mar 25 – Chicago @ Empty Bottle

EARTHLESS, COMET CONTROL
Apr 3 – Kortrijk, BE @ De Kreun
Apr 4 – Bristol, UK @ The Fleece
Apr 5 – Manchester, UK @ The Deaf Institute
Apr 6 – London, UK @ Islington Assembly Hall
Apr 7 – Paris, FR @ Petit Bain
Apr 8 – Frankfurt, DE @ Zoom
Apr 10 – Munich, DE @ Feierwerk
Apr 11 – Berlin, DE @ Bi Nuu
Apr 12 – Copenhagen, DK @ Pumpehuset
Apr 13 – Oslo, NO @ BLA
Apr 14 – Gothenberg, SE @ Truckstop Alaska
Apr 16 – Hamburg, DE @ Molotow
Apr 19 – Tilburg, NE @ ROADBURN 2018
Apr 20 – Tilburg, NE @ ROADBURN 2018
Apr 21 – Tilburg, NE @ ROADBURN 2018

https://www.facebook.com/earthlessrips
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www.instagram.com/earthlessrips
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http://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/shop/index.html

Earthless, From the Ages (2013)

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The Atomic Bitchwax Post “Houndstooth” Video; Force Field out Dec. 8

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the atomic bitchwax

Gearing up to start a European tour with Greenleaf and Steak on Dec. 1, New Jersey heavy rock forerunners The Atomic Bitchwax will issue their seventh album, Force Field, via Tee Pee Records on Dec. 8. I’ll have a review up one way or the other before the record lands, but the short version is it’s a blazing follow-up to to the aggro charge of 2015’s Gravitron (review here), only further tightened by a renewed commitment to touring that’s seen the power trio tearing ass across Europe, North America and South America. They have bordered on relentless.

The new album does likewise. It’s longest track is “Alaskan Thunder Fuck” at a whopping 3:48 and even that has not a moment to spare in its pursuit of dizzying turns and the band’s trademark winding riffing. With vocal trades between founding bassist Chris Kosnik and guitarist Finn Ryan atop the propulsive drumming of Bob Pantella, the Bitchwax haven’t lost the melodic sensibility that emerged amid the mid-paced fare of records like 2005’s 3 (discussed here) or 2008’s TAB4, but ever since 2011’s single-song instrumental outing The Local Fuzz (review here), the band has gotten faster, meaner and Force Field is rawer in its approach, unafraid to say “fuck” when it wants to, and it rocks with a show-’em-how-it’s-done efficiency that easily distinguishes their boogie from just about everything else the Eastern Seaboard of the US has to offer.

Seriously. Check out their new video for “Houndstooth” below and find me another band on the East Coast who does this kind of thing better than the Bitchwax do it. I dare you.

They just don’t exist.

Again, more to come on Force Field sometime in the next week, but for now, you can dig into the sunglasses-on vibes of “Houndstooth” below, followed by more info from the PR wire and those European tour dates, which are presented by Sound of Liberation.

Please enjoy:

The Atomic Bitchwax, “Houndstooth” official video

Featuring the powerhouse rhythm section from legendary space lords Monster Magnet, The Atomic Bitchwax plays balls-to-the-wall rock ‘n’ roll that smashes space rock and proto-metal into a towering celebration of the riff. The New Jersey power trio (aka TAB) will release its seventh full length LP, Force Field, on December 8 via Tee Pee Records.

Recorded at the Freakshop in Keyport, NJ , mixed at The Panic Room in Ocean, NJ and mastered by Alan Douches (Chelsea Wolfe, Tombs, The Obsessed), The Atomic Bitchwax’s high energy, scale-based guitar mangling hits astronomical levels on Force Field, with full stack amps pushing out dangerous levels of blown-out metallic mayhem. An awe-inducing tumult of head-down forward drive and top tier hard rock, Force Field mashes Sci-Fi and Hi-Fi, rocketing The Atomic Bitchwax into the outer reaches of the modern day heavy music universe.

Track listing:
1.) Hippie Speedball
2.) Earth Shaker (Which Doobie U Be)
3.) Alaskan Thunder F*ck
4.) Shocker
5.) Crazy
6.) Fried Dyed And Layin To The Side
7.) Shell of a Man
8.) Houndstooth
9.) Tits and Bones
10.) Humble Brag
11.) Super Highway
12.) Liv A Little

Pre-order Force Field at this location.

The Atomic Bitchwax w/ Greenleaf & Steak:
01.12.17 – London | Underworld
02.12.17 – Brussels | Magasin 4
03.12.17 – Hamburg | Markthalle
04.12.17 – Cologne | Luxor
05.12.17 – Wiesbaden | Schlachthof
06.12.17 – Leipzig | Werk2
07.12.17 – Munich | Feierwerk
08.12.17 – Olten | Schuetzenhaus
09.12.17 – Linz | Posthof
10.12.17 – Vienna | Arena
11.12.17 – Stuttgart | Universum
12.12.17 – Saarbruecken | Garage
13.12.17 – Nijmegen | Doornroosje
14.12.17 – Paris | Glazart
15.12.17 – Dortmund | JunkYard
16.12.17 – Berlin | Bi Nuu

The Atomic Bitchwax on Thee Facebooks

The Atomic Bitchwax website

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Tee Pee Records website

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Friday Full-Length: Ancestors, Neptune with Fire

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 24th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Ancestors, Neptune with Fire (2008)

The timing of Ancestors‘ debut album, Neptune with Fire, is important to remember. This is by no means a complete context, but in particular, three factors stand out to my mind about its release in 2008: First, it was right before Thee Facebooks really started to take over the planet when it came to being the primary outlet for bands to communicate with their fanbase. MySpace at that point had kind of crapped the bed, but the shift hadn’t yet fully been made in terms of groups finding ways to promote themselves through Facebook, so it was kind of a grey area and a transitional period. The notion of a group talking directly to their fans via Twitter or Instagram, or effectively bringing their whole audience on tour via mobile updates, etc., was radically new and not at all nearly as widespread as it would become.

Second, Sleep hadn’t reunited yet, but there was basically an entire generation of new listeners waiting for them to do so, or waiting for someone to pick up that mantle and become that band, leading the charge for a weedian vision of stoner metal that, as we know, continues to be relevant nearly a decade later perhaps even more than it was at the time and certainly more than it was during Sleep‘s original run in the 1990s.

Third, Neptune with Fire was released by Tee Pee Records in August 2008. In the US, the presidential campaign that would elect Barack Obama was just really heating up, and about two months after this two-song full-length’s arrival, the prior seven years of needless war would catch up with and effectively bottom out the American economy, costing countless individuals (myself included) their jobs, bankrupting investments, semi-collapsing the housing market, and so on. To a degree that would resonate for years, shit hit the fan.

Despite all of this, I remember the response to Neptune with Fire being absolutely massive. Part of it, I think, relates to the second factor above — that there had just been this generational shift in the general heavy rock fanbase, and particularly as internet word of mouth was becoming more widespread about the existence of all this music to start with, listeners were looking for someone to spearhead a movement of new stoner rock. Along comes Ancestors out of Los Angeles with this massive two-song/38-minute debut album (actually it was their demo that got picked up and issued as a full-length), topped with Arik Roper art and a vibe that not only captured huge and lumbering riffs in its extended component cuts, “Neptune with Fire” (16:47) and “Orcus’ Avarice” (21:38), but added to that a sense of spaciousness and atmosphere, as each of those songs boasted a sprawling break in its midsection, side A with a lengthy foray into psychedelic trancemaking and side B with a more progressive roll topped with ambient and operatic vocalizations. Neptune with Fire captured the core righteousness of the heavy rock and roll of the decade prior — clearly those lessons had been learned — but carried forward into something new of which its audience could take ownership. They could make the sound theirs, just as the band was doing.

Thing of it is, though — Ancestors never really wanted to be that band. With their second record, 2009’s Of Sound Mind (review here), they’d distance themselves almost immediately from the lumbering riffcraft of Neptune with Fire and especially the title-track thereof. One can hear shades in “Orcus’ Avarice” of the post-rock vibes they’d elicit on the subsequent Invisible White EP (review here) in 2011 and the progressive soundsculpting they’d do on 2012’s aesthetic triumph In Dreams and Time (review here), but though it was just the beginning of the departure, their sophomore outing nonetheless sent a clear signal that Ancestors were going to be a different kind of outfit than people might be expecting.

Guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga spoke directly about this in an interview here back in 2012:

I think people thought we were gonna be a stoner rock band. And I think it put us in that hole where we constantly still get referred to as a stoner rock band, and I don’t think we’re that at all. Are we music for stoners? Yeah, but so’s jazz, and I can say without a doubt that we all listen to 50 times more jazz than we do stoner rock. None of us really listen to stoner rock.

I mean, I like Sleep, I like Kyuss, and a good stoner rock band comes out once in a while, but to me, it’s a genre full of retread. That’s not exciting to me. I don’t know where I would put us, genre-wise, but we definitely got lumped into the stoner rock genre, and I won’t say that we’ve gone out of our way to spite it ever since, but there doesn’t really seem to be a way out… I feel like you can’t escape from where you started.

And Neptune’s a cool record, it’s just not really us anymore. I like the song “Neptune with Fire” a lot. “Orcus Avarice” we’re never going to play again – it’s just not us. But it’s not a bad record, it’s just I feel like we’ve grown up a little bit.

Ancestors would not be the first or the last band to exist in the shadow of their first offering and the expectations it set up on the part of their listeners, but this is also where the other two factors come in. Very soon after Neptune with Fire‘s release, the entire world seemed to slam into a wall. All of a sudden, money to go out drinking at shows was nil, and the impetus to do so became less drastic anyway with the proliferation of online/mobile engagement with artists. Fact of the matter is Ancestors that whatever else they had going for them in terms of songwriting and the will toward sonic growth — and that’s plenty, to be sure — Ancestors were never much for self-promotion. Did they ever tour the Eastern Seaboard? I’m not sure they did. I’d finally see them at Roadburn 2012 (review here), and I continue to feel fortunate for having done so, but they were never one of those bands who seemed to have an Instagram post up about it every time one of the dudes cut a fart. You know the kind of bands I’m talking about. Ancestors were always more keen to let the music do the talking for them, and mind you that’s not necessarily a negative.

Rumors have been abound of a fourth Ancestors long-player over the last couple years, and back in August, the band posted a new track called “Gone” that they said would open the album, to be released in 2018. Stranger things have certainly happened. In the meantime, they started their own label, Dune Altar (discussed here), and have used it not only to reissue Neptune with Fire on tape, but to act as an outlet for members’ other projects as well, so they’ve been keeping busy one way or the other. As a fan of their work and someone who thought In Dreams and Time was not only their greatest accomplishment but one of the best records of this decade — yup, I mean it; it’s on the list — obviously the concept of a follow-up is one I’d find duly intriguing. We’ll see how it goes, I guess.

Until then, and as always, I hope you enjoy Neptune with Fire for what it is and for the depth, richness and heft it brings to bear. Thank you for reading.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in the US — a holiday with a troubled historical foundation that’s manifest basically as an excuse to get together with loved ones and enjoy a ridiculously proportioned meal. If you’ve been reading these posts, you know I’ve been having some food issues of late. I made myself a protein shake and The Patient Mrs. made me some low-carb scones for dessert and that was my Thanksgiving dinner. After a breakfast of protein powder in coffee, I skipped lunch — which would’ve been the same thing anyway — on account of traveling to Connecticut, where we were to dine with her family at their house and with my family, up from New Jersey. And yeah, no turkey or anything else for me. I sat at the table for basically as long as I could do so with my shake and then kind of had to vacate.

The day ended with The Patient Mrs. asking me if I wanted to talk to a therapist, so perhaps not my best showing. I told her yes, incidentally. I’ve been through one therapy cycle in my life and didn’t get much from it, but I’ve been on antidepressants for about the last six months now, maybe longer, and I kind of feel like I owe it a little bit to The Pecan to at least take as many steps as I can take toward not being a miserable bastard and infecting him with my negative point of view. Or at least do something to mitigate it. A step my own father never took. Call it generational progress.

Better yet: don’t.

So let’s talk about next week. I was supposed to do an album stream on Monday, but the band put the record up on Bandcamp in its entirety, so there goes that. I don’t know yet how that’ll shake out, if they’ll take it down and we’ll just pretend they didn’t already share it on Facebook, etc., or if I’ll review something else, but whatever. Plenty of fish in the sea as regards stuff needing review. The point, as ever, is that the notes are subject to change. Here they are:

Mon.: Les Lekin review/stream OR Uncle Acid Vol. 1 review; Monarch ticket giveaway.
Tue.: Eggnogg Six Dumb Questions & track premiere; Sun Voyager video premiere.
Wed.: Slow review; The Atomic Bitchwax video.
Thu.: Eternal Elysium reissue review; Cyanna Mercury video.
Fri.: Stahv track premiere; Merlin video premiere.

Busy busy, but that’s how I like it, apparently.

Was up at four this morning with The Pecan, who needed changing. The Patient Mrs. handling the feeding, I’ve been doing the bulk of the diapers still the last couple weeks. That’s fine. She gets more time with him at this point but I imagine that equation will change once he’s on a bottle and she goes back to work and so on. These things are fluid anyway, though I’ll admit I’m jealous of the quality time they spend. A shitty diaper ain’t no thing, though. I’ve gotten pretty good at catching the Rocketass output and for the most part the fountain around front is contained too, so yeah. The boy likes waiting until the diaper comes off to really go to town. We all have our preferences.

For what it’s worth, he did better at Thanksgiving than I did, so I take that as an encouraging sign.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. If you’re the kind of go out and do post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping, be kind to retail employees. I worked retail for years at a toy store and it’s hard, especially right now, and a little basic courtesy can really go long in helping someone get through their day. Just something to keep in mind. Whatever you’re up to though, enjoy it as much as you can.

And as always, thanks again for reading. Please check out the forum and the radio stream.

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Painted Doll Sign to Tee Pee Records; Self-Titled Debut out Feb. 16

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 6th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

painted doll

This one could’ve gone either way, and I’m not cool enough to have heard the full album yet, but golly golly gosh I’m digging the vibe of Painted Doll a lot so far. The two-piece, comprised of WFMU DJ — which by my estimation is one of the most bow-your-head-in-utmost-fucking-respect-worthy titles a human being can carry — Dave Hill and Autopsy drummer — not at all a slouch pedigree either — Chris Reifert, have signed to Tee Pee to release their self-titled debut on Feb. 16, 2018, and while getting picked up by the NY-based imprint should be enough of an endorsement on its own at this point (and frankly it kind of is), getting to hear the track “Together Alone” in the new video below is welcome affirmation that only makes me look forward all the more to experiencing the LP in its entirety. Really, take the time to click play. It’s right on, like Blue Öyster Psych-style. Very cool.

From the PR wire:

painted doll painted doll

Painted Doll (feat. Dave Hill + Autopsy’s Chris Reifert) Signs with Tee Pee Records

Vanguard Comedian / Musician and Death Metal Godfather Team Up to Launch Garage Psych Band; Video for New Song “Together Alone” Debuts

Painted Doll, the new band formed by comedian / guitar shredder Dave Hill (Valley Lodge, Cobra Verde) and heavy metal legend Chris Reifert (Autopsy, Death), have signed to NYC independent label Tee Pee Records. The group’s self-titled debut, recorded and mixed by Tom Beaujour at Nuthouse Recording in Hoboken, NJ, will see a February 16, 2018 release.

Painted Doll came to life when “a death metal guy and a power pop guy got hammered together at a Goblin concert in Texas.” Soon after, Reifert and Hill began trying to out-deep cut each other with late 60’s/early 70’s Dutch and British psych pop before Chris suggested the two musicians form a band together inspired by the music they’d been trading. What does Painted Doll sound like, you ask? Let’s let the band do the talking…

“The Painted Doll record was a blast to make,” says Hill. “Chris is a death metal legend from the Bay Area and I’m a guy from Cleveland who worships the Kinks. Throw in our mutual love for obscure Dutch bands from the seventies and you’ve got Painted Doll. We’re super psyched to be working with Tee Pee Records to unleash our stone cold jams on the masses.”

“After getting to know Dave and talking about psychedelic bands and stuff, it was clear that Painted Doll needed to happen,” adds Reifert. “The powers of rock gave us our mission, which we gladly accepted. Now you can hear the visions that we had bouncing around in our heads. Foxes and rabbits, velvet and leather, smoldering rock and spacey psych….what else do you need? Play it loud and proud, babies!”

Luckily, there’s zero waiting period to hear the culmination of this peculiar pairing as Painted Doll has released a video for the record’s lead track “Together Alone.”

Painted Doll is Dave Hill (vocals, guitar, bass, keys) and Chris Reifert (drums, guitar, bass).

https://www.facebook.com/PaintedDollRock/
teepeerecords.com
https://www.facebook.com/teepeerecords/
https://twitter.com/teepeerecords
https://teepeerecords.bandcamp.com/

Painted Doll, “Together Alone” official video

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Friday Full-Length: Sleep, Dopesmoker

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 27th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Sleep, Dopesmoker (2003)

In the annals of post-Sabbath riffing, Sleep‘s Dopesmoker reigns supreme. “Dopesmoker,” the single, 63-minute track that comprises the album, is the stuff of legend, and rightly so. Recorded circa 1996 by the trio of bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, guitarist Matt Pike and drummer Chris Hakius, and backed by the formidable, inimitable production of Billy AndersonDopesmoker is a story that’s been told time and again at this point, perhaps most completely in the 2008 documentary Such Hawks, Such Hounds, and so I’m not sure how much it really needs to be recounted here, but suffice it to say that the narrative behind the record’s creation has become nearly as central to the listening experience as the clarion riffing and the weedian pilgrimage that takes place in the lyrics of the extended verses, revolving around the Bay Area three-piece having issued the now-landmark Sleep’s Holy Mountain (reissue review here) in 1992 and subsequently jumped from Earache Records to London/Sire Records, spent their recording budget on reefer and turned in a 52-minute version of what became “Dopesmoker” to the label, only to be met with the kind of horror that only a major label can express to, say, an underground band who just turned in a 52-minute single-track album of unmatched stonerly excess. No doubt there were some priceless looks on a variety of the involved faces.

Then titled “Jerusalem,” that version of the extended piece did ultimately emerge — released first by the band as a self-bootleg with a cover by Arik Roper and then as Jerusalem by Rise Above Records in the UK and The Music Cartel in the US — in 1998, but with the song broken up over six shorter segments, the effect was nowhere near the same as when Dopesmoker saw its first issue — the track itself and a live version of “Sonic Titan” included — via Tee Pee in 2003. Sleep were long done by then, of course. Pike had moved on to High on Fire and Cisneros and Hakius were on the cusp of unveiling their new meditative duo Om, but one could easily argue that the arrival of Dopesmoker nonetheless played a significant role in igniting the heavy rock boom of the post-internet age. Finally with an avenue for the word of mouth regarding their righteousness that had long been spreading, Sleep were able to connect with an audience without even actually being a band anymore, and with Sleep’s Holy Mountain and the prior 1991 debut, Volume I behind them, their back catalog seemed like relics of a lost age of stoner authenticity — a source of influence worldwide already that has only continued to spread in the years since, bolstered in part by the emergence and ongoing relevance of Om and High on Fire, as well as the 2009 reunion of Sleep proper that has resulted in copious headlining and touring appearances as well as the release of the 2014 single The Clarity (review here), amid a contract dispute with Earache and near-constant rumors of a new full-length in progress on one level or another.

As for the song itself, “Dopesmoker” — which I’ve chosen to put here without the accompanying “Sonic Titan” — remains overwhelming in its scope. Its tonal thickness presents a morass from which Cisneros‘ guttural vocals rumble upward like some ancient call to arms, and when it comes to speaking to the converted, there are few lines short of “What is this that stands before me?” that have ever resonated as thoroughly as “Drop out of life, bong in hand.” Arriving after a solid eight minutes of hypnotic establishment of “Dopesmoker”‘s central riff, it is nearly impossible to measure the impact that single line has had on underground heavy rock. From there, “Dopesmoker” unfolds the tale of a journey rife with transcendentalist THC-ism, the setting a Zion that turns weed into an object of nigh-on-dogmatic ritualism, all the while Pike‘s riffing leads the way along a march punctuated by Hakius that’s no less epic than the lyrical thread. By the time they’re halfway through, their smoke-filled haze has become a churning universe unto itself, and then the guitar solo kicks in. About seven minutes later. Though often imitated at this point, the scale at which “Dopesmoker” works remains largely its own, and like any such monument, even those who’ve come along since to sound bigger or write something longer or whatever it might be invariably exist in its shadow. Its gospel ends with the stoned deliverance of the caravan and a return to the opening lines, but the riffing goes on for a few more minutes thereafter — as it should, pretty much into perpetuity. On repeat. Forever.

Southern Lord reissued Dopesmoker with new art by Arik Roper in 2012 and has gone on to do multiple pressings since in various vinyl and CD editions, so it is readily available for those who’ve yet to chase it down, but as one of the most essential heavy rock releases of all-time, I suspect a good amount of that is geared toward collector impulse rather than filling a gap, at least at this point. Either way, Dopesmoker has been and still represents a watershed moment of riffly creation. There will never be another one that hits in exactly the same way, from Sleep or anyone else, and even if that stems in part from the story of what went into its becoming, the result of that process — everything that went into its being — speaks to the core of one of the heaviest releases of all time. It resounds.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

What else could’ve possibly been heavy enough to close out the week that saw my son brought into the world?

Born at 8:09AM on Oct. 25, 2017, The Pecan came into this world after a plodding 41 hours of labor on the part of The Patient Mrs., whose water broke on Monday afternoon and who delivered the baby via C-section after grueling her way through on Wednesday morning. It was brutal, I don’t mind telling you. I write this post from the chair of the hospital room, my son cradled sleeping in my arms (every time I type with my left hand, his head moves a bit, but he doesn’t seem disturbed by it, which bodes well). We might get to get out of here this evening — Monday to Friday in the hospital has been long and The Patient Mrs. and I are both ready to go, I think — but otherwise it’ll be tomorrow, and then begins a round of family visits that I expect will continue through at least the next couple weeks. Already our mothers and sisters were hanging out in various waiting rooms for extended periods of time, attending his delayed arrival.

So, as for fatherhood: so far so good, I guess. Obviously nothing we’ve yet faced even holds a candle to anything to come pretty much as soon as we get out of here, but we’ve managed to keep him alive for two days, and I’m willing to take that as a win in the immediate. Last night was rougher than the first night, but after a couple hours of cluster-feeding, he slept for a solid four hours and so we did as well and I think that did us all a world of good. The Patient Mrs. is napping now with a pillow over her head. I went home for a bit yesterday and made myself some good coffee to bring back in my thermos, have been sipping that this morning, so we’re holding up. We’ve had talks about being in “survival mode” basically between now and next April — from here to Roadburn, is how we put it — and that seems like a reasonable timeline. We’ll see how it goes. We’re on an adventure.

You may have noticed the last two days were light on posts. Two per day still seems pretty good to me for a dude whose wife just had their first baby, so if you’re gonna complain about that, please don’t. There’s a lot of news to catch up on though, so I’m going to dedicate early next week to that and hopefully get into some early, soon-to-change pattern establishment for morning writing, etc. Here’s what’s in my notes for the week:

Mon.: News catchup, Lizardmen video premiere.
Tue.: SubRosa Subdued review; Operators video.
Wed.: Black Moon Circle review, whatever comes.
Thu.: Electric Wizard review, whatever comes.
Fri.: Fireball Ministry review, whatever comes.

That’s me catching up on reviews a bit as well, and it’s light on premieres on purpose to let me have some flex as I need to, so yeah, bottom line is it’s subject to change as always. Also more than always.

So there you have it. The Pecan has arrived. We’re in the midst of feeling things out, which I expect we will be for, you know, the next 20-odd years. Maybe more.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please check out the forum and the radio stream.

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