Friday Full-Length: The Atomic Bitchwax, The Atomic Bitchwax

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 21st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

The Atomic Bitchwax, The Atomic Bitchwax (1999)

I think it’s high time the ’90s era of heavy rock — the original run of stoner rock, that is — started to get tagged with the term classic. It’s been 20 years or more for most of it, after all. Think of bands like Monster Magnet, Kyuss, Acid King, Fu Manchu, Nebula, and so on, and to that list I would most definitely add New Jersey trio The Atomic Bitchwax. The band formed in 1993 but it would be six years before their self-titled debut came out on Tee Pee/MIA Records. It was kind of a side-project at first. Bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik was at the time a member of Godspeed, who were signed to Atlantic during the same era that saw Core and a few others picked up in the wake of Monster Magnet‘s burgeoning wider success, and they made a run touring with Black Sabbath and appearing on the first Nativity in Black tribute to Sabbath with Bruce Dickinson sitting in on vocals. When Godspeed split, it was basically into The Atomic Bitchwax and Solace. Kosnik, guitarist Ed Mundell, also then of Monster Magnet, and drummer Keith Ackerman, who also played in and would later rejoin Solace for a stretch, set to work on their first record, and they came out with a scorcher.

The Atomic Bitchwax‘s The Atomic Bitchwax runs a deceptive 11 songs and 53 minutes. It’s deceptive because they trade back and forth between instrumentals like the opening “Stork Theme” — which also seems to nod at Sabbath with a beginning noise that reminds of “After Forever” — and “Crazed Fandango” and “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Hang Me in My Home,” “The Last of the V8 Interceptors” and 10-minute closer “The Formula” and hook-laden tracks like “Birth to the Earth,” “Hey Alright,” “Hope You Die,” “Gettin’ Old” and “Shit Kicker,” as well as their cover of Core‘s “Kiss the Sun,” which would be a staple in live sets for years to come. The two modes of working are interspersed throughout the tracklisting — they might most come together on the bluesier, throttled-back “Gettin’ Old” — and that helps the trio of Kosnik, Mundell and Ackerman keep the listener off-balance as they build a working momentum from front to back across the release. That, coupled with what has become a signature style of winding riffs, a decent amount of speed in their tempos, a couple samples at the start of “Last of the V8 Interceptors” and “Shit Kicker,” and the extra percussion in “Crazed Fandango” earlier, all give the record a sense of variety that, especially on first listen, can be hard to keep up with. The Atomic Bitchwax has for the most part been a band that dares its audience to hold their pace. On the self-titled, that true in terms of style as well as tempo.

Stoner band being stoner in the era of stoner? Yeah, maybe. But to my ears what makes The Atomic Bitchwax a classic album is the fact that the band are so tight and so loose at the same time. the atomic bitchwaxThat The Atomic Bitchwax could conjure the sharp, head-spinning turns of “Stork Theme” and still be fuzzed-out and have an overarching groove in the process. Or that they could be so locked in on “Hope You Die” with Kosnik‘s bass comes forward in the hook and still toss out the lyric “Total. Freedom.,” and have it sound utterly natural. It’s not effortless, but it’s not intended to be. They remain the kind of band who should have someone walking through the crowd collecting tips while they play — “Hey folks, these guys are working hard up there” — but for the frenetic changes in “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Hang Me in My Home” and the MC5-worthy gallop of “Shit Kicker,” nothing The Atomic Bitchwax do on their first full-length takes precedent over the song itself. Even the instrumentals each have a personality of their own. Hell, “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Hang Me in My Home” is the centerpiece. Those tracks are crucial the mission of the record overall, right down to the touch of psychedelia worked into the midsection of “The Formula” at the end of the album. They not only highlight the prowess of the band technically, but complement the songwriting of “Birth to the Earth” and “Hey Alright,” etc., making the band a richer listening experience the whole way through, giving flashes of punk immediacy here and there, but ultimately ending up with an unquestionable place in heavy rock and roll.

That a record could be so laid back as it punches you in the face. That’s The Atomic Bitchwax. Still, almost 20 years later.

And quite a 20 years it’s (nearly) been. The KosnikMundellAckerman lineup would follow the self-titled with II the next year, also on Tee Pee, and then have the Spit Blood EP on MeteorCity in 2002 before dissolving. Kosnik and Ackerman pressed forward by recruiting Core guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan for the 2005 album, 3 (discussed here), and thereby embarking on a new era of the band. The Jack Endino-produced EP Boxriff followed — proud to say I did the liner notes for it — coupled with a live set recorded in Seattle, and after losing Ackerman on drums, Kosnik and Ryan welcomed Bob Pantella, also of Monster Magnet, on drums for 2008’s TAB4 (aka T4B), issued first by MeteorCity and then by Tee Pee, which The Atomic Bitchwax rejoined and on whose roster they remain. 2011 brought the all-instrumental, single-song LP, The Local Fuzz (review here), and with that out of their system and a resurgence as a touring act, 2015’s Gravitron (review here) and 2017’s Force Field (review here) marked not only a period of productivity, but a maturity of approach that somewhat ironically dipped back to the modus of their earliest work but made it tighter and even sharper in the delivery.

Speaking of irony, for a band that was so long considered a side-project because of Mundell‘s involvement in both groups — he of course relocated to the West Coast earlier this decade and embarked on The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic — the last several years have found Kosnik playing bass in Monster Magnet in the rhythm section with Pantella. I don’t think anyone’s calling them a side-project at this point though. Classic, maybe. I certainly think so.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

We put the Little Dog Dio down on Monday. The pain from her bone cancer was becoming less and less manageable by the hour. We ended up giving her a percocet Monday morning and she ate nine string cheeses and some chicken after that and she got up to greet The Patient Mrs. when she and the baby got back from running an errand, but she was still clearly in agony, despite also being stoned out of her gourd.

I miss her. So much. I keep looking for her. Thinking about her in her places. The spots that were hers in the house. I’ve been telling Dio stories all week on Facebook. I have so many but I’ll probably do one more tomorrow and leave it there. It’s been hard.

We had a vet come and do it at the house. They do that now, apparently. I’ve had dogs my whole life and been a participant in two euthanasias prior to this one. Dio was different. Special. She woofed at the door when the vet came. She was healthy but for the cancer eating away at her. I figure we got robbed of at least two good years with her. I’d happily shave that time off my own lifespan if I could make a trade to get her back.

I brought her bed from the upstairs bedroom down to the kitchen and laid a sheet on it for her to be on while the vet administered the drugs. High dose of opiates, something else to knock her out, then the pink shit. Always the pink shit. The Patient Mrs. and I sat with her and cried — I’d spent the last four hours just petting her and telling her I loved her — and we were with her through the end. The vet was about to deliver the pink shit and I asked her to let me do it. She did. I did it. Me.

But you want to know the truth? The confession? I wouldn’t have done it on my own. The Patient Mrs. and I had talked it out and we both knew it was time, but even an hour before the vet came I was saying maybe we should call it off. And if she’d said okay, I would have. I wouldn’t have gone through with it. I’d have been selfish and kept my poor sweet Dio in pain just to have a couple more days with her. A little more time. I’m a terrible person.

I cried and cried and cried. When it was finally done, I wrapped her in the sheet and carried her out to the vet’s van, where a bag was waiting. She’ll be cremated and we’ll get her ashes back in the mail next week. I want to be buried with them when I go.

The rest of the last five days has been a blur of grief and baby feedings. I said goodnight to her pillow before I went to bed last night.

I have notes ready for next week front to back but I’m going to keep it to myself. It’s a cool week, busy, but I just don’t have it in me to run through it. Also, by way of a heads up, the next Quarterly Review begins Oct. 8. Nobody cares. I know.

If you get the chance though, I have a show debuting on www.gimmeradio.com this Sunday at 5PM Eastern. Prime time! It’s called “The Obelisk Show” and I host it and talk awkwardly about records and this and that. The Patient Mrs. and The Pecan both make a cameo. It turned out to be a lot of fun to put together and I promise it’s not sad. It’s free to sign up and there’s no subscription or anything, so if you get to check it out, I’d appreciate it. Here’s a poster they made.

jj gimme radio

That says it all, I guess. I’m just happy they spelled my name right. We’ll see if they let me do a second episode.

While you wait with bated breath for that to start, I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Hold your loved ones close, have fun, and please don’t forget to check out the forum and radio stream.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

 

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SonicBlast Moledo 2018, You Broke My Heart.

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 10th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Alright, book my flight. I’ll crash on somebody’s couch; I don’t care as long as there’s wifi. SonicBlast Moledo 2018, you’ve won my heart. 1000mods, Causa Sui, Samsara Blues Experiment and The Atomic Bitchwax on the same bill? By the beach? Plus Atavismo and Earthless and Nebula and Naxatras and Conan are playing? Come on. It’s like the people who put this fucking thing together all sat around a table and said, “What’s gonna make that dickweed from that shitty American website really wish he could come to Portugal in August?”

Note: I’m not actually narcissistic enough to believe that happened — though if it was going to, it would definitely be that phrasing — but yeah, wow. It’s pretty hard to stare at this lineup and process it as something I have zero chance in hell of experiencing for myself. What a bummer. If you make it to Moledo, I hope you fucking treasure it. Because you should.

Gadzooks:

sonicblast moledo 2018 header

SONICBLAST MOLEDO 2018

Stoner Doom Psych Heavy – Sea Beach Camping Pool Surf Skate

With the dates settled for August 10th and 11th, the eighth edition of SonicBlast Moledo is stoked to announce Causa Sui, Samsara Blues Experiment, 1000mods, Mantar, The Atomic Bitchwax, The Black Wizards, Solar Corona and Greengo! They join the previously confirmed acts Earthless, Kadavar, Nebula, Conan, Ufomammut, Naxatras, Purple Hill Witch, Atavismo and Ruff Majik!

They could be simply described as Psychedelic Rock, however Causa Sui goes far beyond the term. With more than eight albums released, the Denmark’s group creates a distinctive musical universe with diverse influences such as Krautrock, Progressive Rock, Stoner or Jazz, in order to achieve unique instrumental feats. Their first performance ever in Portugal, for one of their rare concerts during the year, could not be more expected.

Six years after their debut in Portugal, right at the second edition of SonicBlast, the German trio Samsara Blues Experiment is preparing to make the long-awaited return to Moledo. Considered one of the greatest precursors of the European Psychedelic Stoner, the group brings now with them their latest album “One With The Universe,” one of the most acclaimed records within the genre last year, which shows the band’s full maturity and their way to outdo themselves.

Formed only by two elements, the German Mantar view their sound as a brutal sonic destruction, where genres like Doom, Black Metal and Punk unite in a primal rage. On the road since 2013, the duo has released three albums, one of them being recorded live, demonstrating the hard work they’ve done over the past years. Their concerts are known for being absolutely demolishing and intense, which manage to elevate the duo name to another level. Forget about Rock ‘n Roll, this will hurt!

Recognized as one of the most important bands within the Stoner Rock universe, 1000mods return to Portugal with the aim of showing the overwhelming power of their fuzz. Hailing from southern Greece, the quartet already counts with three EP’s and three albums, several European tours and a North American tour. From their live concerts, we can only expect one thing; an astounding and memorable experience.

Present at the festival back in 2014, the power-trio The Atomic Bitchwax, visit us again to spread a great amount of “Super Stoner Rock”. This time, the North Americans Finn Ryan, Chris Kosnik and Bob Pantella (also from Monster Magnet) bring with them their seventh studio album “Force Field”, a refreshing and stimulating record, where Psychedelic influences and Rock n ‘Roll are never missing.

The Black Wizards are no longer unknown to the majority fans of the Heavy Rock subculture, whose immense work evidences their enormous value and dedication to their music. With their undisputed talent, they can skillfully play blues, psychedelic or sheer rock n’ roll, as it’s well demonstrated on their latest album “What the Fuzz”.

From Barcelos to Moledo, Solar Corona arrive moved by cosmic psychedelia and spacey grooves. Now counting with a new rhythm section, the trio certainly knows how to induce each listener into a increasingly hypnotic atmosphere, which will guarantee a monumental musical journey.

Born between the union of massive fuzz noise and greenish fumes, the duo Greengo practices a Sludge Stoner Metal filled with massive riffs, dominant vocals and trembling sonic vibrations, capable of shaking any stage where they appear.

https://sonicblastmoledo.bol.pt/
https://www.facebook.com/SonicBlast-Moledo-242619262427066/
https://www.facebook.com/events/181938749070159/
https://sonicblastmoledo.wordpress.com/

1000mods, Repeated Exposure To… (2016)

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The Atomic Bitchwax Touring Europe in July & August

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 1st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the atomic bitchwax

The moral of the story would seem to be it’s a busy summer coming up for The Atomic Bitchwax. The New Jersey-based stalwarts of headspinning riffery had already announced a North American run in June with The Sword, and now it seems that once that’s over, they’ll go home for a couple weeks and then head back out, this time to Europe, where they’ll take part in gigs alongside Yawning Man and 1000mods as well as the SonicBlast Moledo festival and others. The North American tour is presented by Tone Deaf, the European by Sound of Liberation.

They go, of course, in support of late-2017’s Force Field (review here) on Tee Pee Records, their seventh album and prove that the ferocity of their approach remains steady and that the three-piece have only grown tighter with all the road time they’ve put in over the last couple years. I could go on and on about that, but the bottom line is these guys are on fire right now, and if you miss them it’s at your own peril.

Here’s dates and such from the PR wire:

the atomic bitchwax tour

The Atomic Bitchwax – European Tour 2018!!

Still promoting their latest (and most badass!) album “Force Field”, released in December 2017 via Tee Pee Records, New Jersey’s The Atomic Bitchwax will return to Europe this summer!

Check-out the dates below, and plan your vacations accordingly! You don’t want to miss them if they come near your town!

The Atomic Bitchwax w/ The Sword:
6/07 Albuquerque NM @ Launchpad
6/08 Tucson AZ @ 191 Toole
6/09 San Diego CA @ Belly Up
6/11 Portland OR @ Wonder Ballroom
6/12 Bellingham WA @ Wild Buffalo
6/13 Vancouver BC @ Venue
6/15 Calgary AB @ Marquee
6/16 Edmonton AB @ Union Hall
6/17 Regina SK @ The Exchange
6/18 Winnipeg MB @ Pyramid
6/19 Chicago IL @ Thalia Hall
6/20 Cincinnati OH @ Bogart’s
6/22 Pittsburgh PA @ Mr Smalls Theatre
6/23 Washington DC @ Rock N’ Roll Hotel
6/24 New York NY @ Irving Plaza
6/26 Johnson City TN @ Capone’s
6/27 Nashville TN @ Exit/In
6/29 Hot Springs AR @ Maxine’s

The Atomic Bitchwax European tour:
20.07.18 (D) Cottbus | Zum Faulen August
21.07.18 (D) Siegen | Vortex
22.07.18 (NL) Leeuwarden | Welcome To The Village
23.07.18 (D) Karlsruhe | Alte Hackerei
25.07.18 (HUN) Budapest | A38
26.07.18 (CRO) Zagreb | Vintage Industrial Bar
27.07.18 (A) Ebensee | Kino Ebensee
29.07.18 (D) Munich | Backstage (*with 1000Mods)
30.07.18 (D) Dresden | Ostpol
31.07.18 (D) Wiesbaden | Schlachthof (*with Yawning Man)
01.08.18 (D) Berlin | Cassiopeia (*with Mammoth Mammoth)
02.08.18 (D) Hamburg | Hafenklang
03.08.18 (D) Beelen | Krach am Bach
04.08.18 (GR) Almiros | Los Almiros Festival
06.08.18 (UK) Coventry | The Phoenix
07.08.18 (UK) Glasgow | Audio
08.08.18 (UK) London | The Black Heart
09.08.18 (UK) Bristol | The Exchange
10.08.18 (B) Kortrijk | Alcatraz Festival
11.08.18 (PO) Moledo | Sonic Blast Moledo

http://www.theatomicbitchwax.com/
https://www.facebook.com/The-Atomic-Bitchwax-86002001659/
http://teepeerecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/teepeerecords/
www.soundofliberation.com/the-atomic-bitchwax

The Atomic Bitchwax, “Hippie Speedball” official video premiere

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The Atomic Bitchwax Premiere Video for “Hippie Speedball”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the atomic bitchwax

There’s a moment at about 1:40 into the 2:26 ‘Hippie Speedball’ where founding bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik of The Atomic Bitchwax lets loose this quick run that will absolutely, 100 percent knock you on your ass. Should you be surprised? Hells bells, no. Shifting their audience out of an upright position — i.e., relocation to “on ass” — has become standard practice for the long-running New Jersey trio of Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella. Ever since their 2011 riff-splurge, The Local Fuzz (review here), and most definitely once they came around to 2015’s more aggressive Gravitron (review here), they’ve been recharged and completely on the attack. Late 2017’s Force Field (review here) is just the latest manifestation of this impulse that’s been at the heart of the band since their 1999 debut.

It may, however, also be the most badass manifestation. The Bitchwax have been around long enough that given fans are going to have given favorite records. Hey, that’s cool. But as the three-piece move forward with Force Field and get ready to hit the road supporting The Sword — funny, I recall seeing the two bands together in Jersey opening for Kyuss Lives! and The Atomic Bitchwax had Dave Witte filling in on drums; Black Cobra also played that night; weird show, but awesome — they do so at their most progressive moment. They seem at this point not only to be challenging themselves physically, as in, “Can we possibly play faster than this?,” but also as songwriters: “Can we write songs that speed by listeners in a blur but are still somehow memorable?” The answer, at least on Force Field, is a resounding yes.

To wit, “Hippie Speedball” is an unbridled beast of a track. Placed right at the open of Force Field it’s primed to shake even the least shakable of posterior chains, and the new video for the track, with clips out of old sci-fi movies, the band jamming out and good fun all around, could hardly do more to represent some of what works best about the record as a whole: excellent band, all cylinders, killer tune, hitting the road. How could you call that anything but a win?

I consider pretty much any time I get to post about The Atomic Bitchwax a favor to myself, so I’m extra thrilled today to be able to host the premiere of the “Hippie Speedball” clip, which you’ll find on the player below. The tour dates with The Sword and more info off the PR wire follow.

Enjoy:

The Atomic Bitchwax, “Hippie Speedball” official video premiere

Recorded at the Freakshop in Keyport, New Jersey, mixed at The Panic Room in Ocean, New Jersey and mastered by Alan Douches (CHELSEA WOLFE, TOMBS, THE OBSESSED), “Force Field” sees THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX’s high energy, scale-based guitar mangling hitting astronomical levels, 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.

The Atomic Bitchwax w/ The Sword:
6/07 Albuquerque NM @ Launchpad
6/08 Tucson AZ @ 191 Toole
6/09 San Diego CA @ Belly Up
6/11 Portland OR @ Wonder Ballroom
6/12 Bellingham WA @ Wild Buffalo
6/13 Vancouver BC @ Venue
6/15 Calgary AB @ Marquee
6/16 Edmonton AB @ Union Hall
6/17 Regina SK @ The Exchange
6/18 Winnipeg MB @ Pyramid
6/19 Chicago IL @ Thalia Hall
6/20 Cincinnati OH @ Bogart’s
6/22 Pittsburgh PA @ Mr Smalls Theatre
6/23 Washington DC @ Rock N’ Roll Hotel
6/24 New York NY @ Irving Plaza
6/26 Johnson City TN @ Capone’s
6/27 Nashville TN @ Exit/In
6/29 Hot Springs AR @ Maxine’s

The Atomic Bitchwax on Thee Facebooks

The Atomic Bitchwax website

Tee Pee Records on Thee Facebooks

Tee Pee Records website

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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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audiObelisk Transmission 064

Posted in Podcasts on December 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

audiobelisk transmission 064

So this is something I’ve never done before. I’m not exactly what you’d call an early adopter when it comes to new technology, but this weekend I finally signed up for Spotify and decided to give a shot at putting together a year-end playlist through that rather than doing the standard podcast. Aside from a kind of ongoing latent concern about essentially giving away downloads of music that doesn’t belong to me via the old mp3 files — no one’s ever said anything and I always figured it was okay since songs were bundled together as one file — this just seemed more useful in allowing people to explore different artists, albums, etc. If you disagree, I’m sorry.

I can’t say I won’t ever go back to the other way, or that I’ll actively enjoy having a Spotify account enough to keep it, and so on, but it’s something new to try, so I’m giving it a shot. The playlist turned out to be nine hours and 12 minutes long, and once I got going, I couldn’t really resist making it 65 tracks, what with it being the 64th podcast and all. One to grow on.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for listening:

Track details:

• Artist, Track, Album, Runtime
• Elder, Sanctuary, Reflections of a Floating World, 00:11:13
• All Them Witches, Am I Going Up?, Sleeping Through the War, 00:05:33
• Lo-Pan, Pathfinder, In Tensions, 00:06:22
• MOON RATS, Heroic Dose, Highway Lord, 00:04:27
• Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Medicine, Medicine, 00:06:38
• Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream, Lucifer’s Dream, 00:09:06
• Brume, Reckon, Rooster, 00:09:12
• Riff Fist, King Tide, King Tide, 00:11:20
• Monolord, Dear Lucifer, Rust, 00:08:41
• Hymn, Serpent, Perish, 00:07:32
• Vinnum Sabbathi, Gravity Waves, Gravity Works, 00:08:26
• Electric Wizard, Wicked Caresses, Wizard Bloody Wizard, 00:06:43
• Ruby the Hatchet, Symphony of the Night, Planetary Space Child, 00:07:08
• Telekinetic Yeti, Colossus, Abominable, 00:08:56
• Bong Wish, My Luv, Bong Wish, 00:02:31
• Radio Moscow, New Skin, New Beginnings, 00:03:02
• Cloud Catcher, Celestial Empress, Trails of Kozmic Dust, 00:05:41
• The Atomic Bitchwax, Humble Brag, Force Field, 00:02:52
• Sasquatch, Just Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Maneuvers, 00:06:27
• Kadavar, Die Baby Die, Rough Times, 00:04:18
• Cities of Mars, Children of the Red Sea, Temporal Rifts, 00:08:27
• Argus, You Are the Curse, From Fields of Fire, 00:06:23
• Comacozer, Hylonomus, Kalos Eidos Skopeo, 00:13:43
• Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe, One with the Universe, 00:15:02
• Orango, Heirs, The Mules of Nana, 00:04:46
• Siena Root, Tales of Independence, A Dream of Lasting Peace, 00:03:39
• Demon Head, Older Now, Thunder on the Fields, 00:04:17
• Sun Blood Stories, Great Destroyer, It Runs Around the Room with Us, 00:06:11
• Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma, Time Travel Dilemma, 00:10:07
• Arc of Ascent, Hexagram, Realms of the Metaphysical, 00:07:34
• Causa Sui, Seven Hills, Vibraciones Doradas, 00:07:24
• Alunah, Fire of Thornborough Henge, Solennial, 00:05:32
• Vokonis, Calling From The Core, The Sunken Djinn, 00:06:03
• Enslaved, Sacred Horse, E, 00:08:12
• Dvne, Edenfall, Asheran, 00:07:04
• The Midnight Ghost Train, Break My Love, Cypress Ave., 00:03:33
• The Obsessed, It’s Only Money, Sacred, 00:02:35
• Mothership, Crown of Lies, High Strangeness, 00:05:41
• Geezer, Red Hook, Psychoriffadelia, 00:06:02
• Uffe Lorenzen, Flippertøs, Galmandsværk, 00:02:46
• Youngblood Supercult, Master of None, The Great American Death Rattle, 00:04:01
• Beastmaker, Nature of the Damned, Inside the Skull, 00:03:26
• Pallbearer, I Saw the End, Heartless, 00:06:21
• Paradise Lost, Blood and Chaos, Medusa, 00:03:51
• Rozamov, Wind Scorpion, This Mortal Road, 00:08:49
• Eternal Black, Sea of Graves, Bleed the Days, 00:06:33
• Demon Eye, Politic Divine, Prophecies and Lies, 00:03:40
• Snowy Dunes, Ritual of Voices, Atlantis, 00:07:17
• The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Low, II, 00:08:49
• Abronia, Glass Butte Retribution, Obsidian Visions / Shadowed Lands, 00:06:09
• John Garcia, Kylie, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, 00:04:58
• Tuna de Tierra, Raise of the Lights, Tuna de Tierra, 00:07:09
• Colour Haze, Lotus, In Her Garden, 00:07:05
• IAH, Stolas, IAH, 00:08:39
• Fungus Hill, Are You Dead, Creatures, 00:08:54
• Atavismo, El Sueño, Inerte, 00:11:18
• Tuber, Noman, Out of the Blue, 00:08:14
• Spidergawd, What You Have Become, Spidergawd IV, 00:03:44
• Puta Volcano, Bird, Harmony of Spheres, 00:05:07
• Ufomammut, Core, 8, 00:05:15
• Kings Destroy, None More, None More, 00:14:03
• PH, Looking Back at Mr. Peter Hayden, Eternal Hayden, 00:16:44
• Mt. Mountain, Dust, Dust, 00:17:15
• Electric Moon, Live Forever Now (You Will), Stardust Rituals, 00:22:41
• Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper, Mirror Reaper, 01:23:15

If you want to follow me on Spotify, apparently that’s something you can do here.

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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

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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

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