Review & Track Premiere: The Golden Grass, Absolutely

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the golden grass absolutely

[Click play above to stream ‘The Spell’ from The Golden Grass’ new LP Absolutely. Album is out April 6 via Listenable Records with preorders here and The Golden Grass are on tour in Europe with Heat this May. Click here to pop out the tour poster.]

The very first lyrics one hears on the opening track of The Golden Grass‘ third long-player, Absolutely, arrive in the line, ‘I want a piece of the action.’ In no small way, that’s been the story of the Brooklynite trio all along. The boogie-minded trio made their self-titled debut (review here) in 2014 through Svart, and followed that up by signing to Listenable Records for the 2016 release of Coming Back Again (review here), a more spacious and progressive offering that nonetheless held onto the maddening catchiness of its predecessor. With Absolutely, they do likewise, and rein in some of the more complex impulses of the second album in favor of good-time heavy rock more akin to the debut.

Like everything the band has done since their outset, that can only be the result of a conscious decision — nothing in this group, whether it’s the vocal harmonies between drummer Adam Kriney and guitarist Michael Rafalowich on “Catch Your Eye,” the opener alluded to above, or the persistent shuffle in the penultimate “Out on the Road,” on which KrineyRafalowich and bassist/backing vocalist Frank Caira put themselves in direct conversation with “Wheels” from the debut in several interesting and telling ways. As they tell tales of the road, to think of a line like “Rock and roll was just out of season” working its way into “Out on the Road” could easily be taken as an assessment of their touring experience over the last several years, at least in the US. At the same time, “Out on the Road,” which is the longest track on the 39-minute Absolutely at 8:58, operates more efficiently than did “Wheels,” or, say, “See it Through” from Coming Back Again, the perspective of which also seems to be a factor here.

Could it be that a cynical or more jaded perspective is taking hold in the band after two records that, by all accounts, probably didn’t get the attention they deserved for their stylistic cohesion, nuance of sound, and quality of performance and craft? It wouldn’t be unreasonable if that were the case, but I’m not sure it is, because while The Golden Grass may have their frustrations as they approach the end of a resoundingly productive first half-decade together — three records, numerous tours at home and abroad, picked up by quality labels pretty much from the beginning — they’ve also never seemed to put more into their songwriting or arrangements. Cuts like “Show Your Hand” and “Runaway” deftly balance accessibility and subtlety in their execution.

the golden grass

The hooks are forward as ever, but there’s more complexity to the interplay of the trio singing together that would seem to be a lesson learned from Coming Back Again and repurposed into more straightforward songwriting — not that there isn’t still room for some psychedelic flourish from Rafalowich‘s guitar in “Runaway” or the brief “Never You Mind,” just that it comes in conjunction with the ultra-boogie of side B’s “The Spell” and harder-edged closer “Begging the Question,” which brings Iron Butterfly-via-Hendrix-style late ’60s fuzz to bear amid a longer instrumental stretch of dug-in turns and more highlight lead work from Rafalowich, who shines throughout Absolutely in a way he hasn’t yet done in The Golden Grass‘ material. The same could be said of his vocals as well in standing up to Kriney‘s still-the-lead-singer positioning, and more than ever, it’s the dynamic between these two that lets The Golden Grass be who they are throughout this mature and deceptively forward, hook-laden and gorgeously executed third outing.

And if The Golden Grass “want a piece of the action” — which I’ll grant they’re talking about in something of a different context in “Catch Your Eye,” but I still think applies to their situation overall; they started out as a band with an idea of who they were looking to match themselves with as broad an audience as possible — one could only say it would be a piece well earned. Their sound, which has always been so much their down despite basking in a swath of classic influences as it continues to do, has never sounded so developed or quite so engaging as it does here as “Never You Mind,” “Runaway” and the trippier “Walk Along” draw listeners deeper and deeper into the meat of the album, headed to the apex in “Out on the Road”‘s plotted but still jammy-sounding take, sounding no less like it was written for the stage than “The Spell” before it or “Show Your Hand” earlier in the tracklisting. Having long since mastered their aesthetic, The Golden Grass have yet to stop developing it, and that’s emblematic of the underlying force of will that drives them overall. Make no mistake, they still sound positive. The melodies are still sweet. The songs are still unbridled, unashamed fun and the vibe remains as upbeat and welcoming as one could possibly ask.

Three albums deep into their tenure, it’s strange to think of The Golden Grass as underrated, or as a cult band despite the absolute lack of sinister edge to what they do, but somehow both terms apply. Nonetheless, what was true about them four years ago remains true on Absolutely, and that’s that their good-times spirit is delivered with genuine and engaging energy and that it puts them in a category of their own in heavy rock, and remains a very-much-needed breath of fresh air in a heavy rock scene so often geared toward pessimism. Underrated or not, The Golden Grass remain a singular good time and sound more content than ever to let the rest of the world do what it is while they throw a party to which anyone and everyone who can get down — even for just a little while — is invited. That means you. They don’t want your blood. They just want you do dance. For those who take on the dare to let loose and meet The Golden Grass on their own level, Absolutely should be no less revered than anything they’ve done to-date. If anything, more so.

The Golden Grass on Thee Facebooks

The Golden Grass on Bandcamp

The Golden Grass on Twitter

Listenable Records on Thee Facebooks

Listenable Records on Twitter

Listenable Records website

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The Golden Grass Announce April 6 Release for New LP Absolutely

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 29th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

THE GOLDEN GRASS

It stands to reason there would be a new record from The Golden Grass this year, but that doesn’t make the confirmation of its coming any less welcome. Given the righteous title Absolutely the third long-player and second for Listenable Records from the good-time-harmonious Brooklynite trio will comprise eight tracks and see release April 6. The central question involved is whether the new offering will continue down the progressive path that their 2016 sophomore outing, Coming Back Again (review here), or readjust the focus back toward the classic-feeling hooks that permeated The Golden Grass‘ 2014 Svart Records self-titled debut (review here). Nothing this band does is by mistake, so wherever they end up, you can get it’s entirely right where they want to be sound-wise. I look forward to finding out just where that is.

Info from the PR wire. Be friends with it:

the golden grass absolutely

THE GOLDEN GRASS: Psychedelic Retro Rock Power Trio To Release Absolutely Full-Length Via Listenable Records This Spring

Brooklyn, New York’s THE GOLDEN GRASS is free-wheelin’, good-time rock ‘n’ roll band manifesting a soulful mix of heavy-country-funk-boogie and progressive-psychedelic-freakbeat. The group effortlessly draws their influence from a time when rock ruled the world as if they truly are from that “Golden” era. But their gift to us is in The Now, and it is an epic, soulful, and hard-hitting maelstrom of anthemic and tough-swinging aural delights.

THE GOLDEN GRASS will release their third full-length, titled Absolutely, this Spring via Listenable Records. An eight-track sonic adventure steeped in psychedelic flavored blues riffs, the mind-warping fantasy of early progressive/jazz rock, a pulsating British freakbeat/mod sound, heavy doses of proto-metal power, funk, sou, and a southern rock edge, Absolutely is undoubtedly the band’s strongest, most accomplished offering to date.

Absolutely will see North American release on April 6th via Listenable Records with teaser tracks, preorders, and further info to be announced in the coming weeks.

Absolutely Track Listing:
1. Catch Your Eye
2. Show Your Hand
3. Never You Mind
4. Runaway
5. Walk Along
6. The Spell
7. Out On The Road
8. Begging The Question

THE GOLDEN GRASS Discography:
456thDiv. – Cassette EP
One More Time / Tornado 7″ EP
A Curious Case / The Pilgrim 7″ EP
Realisations 11″ EP
The Golden Grass (Svart Records)
Coming Back Again (Listenable Records)
Absolutely (Listenable Records)

http://www.facebook.com/thegoldengrass
http://www.twitter.com/TheeGoldenGrass
http://www.thegoldengrass.bandcamp.com
http://www.listenable.net
http://www.facebook.com/listenablerecs
http://www.twitter.com/Listenable

The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again (2016)

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The Golden Grass Announce Midwestern Tour & New Album Recording Plans

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the golden grass

Alright, let’s just go ahead and put The Golden Grass‘ third album on the list of most anticipated for 2018. The groovy Brooklynite three-piece played it proggy on their second record last year, Coming Back Again (review here), but still held to the sunshiny vibes and standout songwriting of their 2014 self-titled debut (review here), so a third installment from them is a no-brainer to look forward to as far as I’m concerned. Pretty killer as well that as they get ready to hit the studio to record it, they’ll do a nine-date Midwestern run playing all new songs, so not only will they have a chance to see what works on stage and what doesn’t and adjust accordingly, but by the time they get back to NYC they should be in top form to actually go and track the material. It’s a badass plan. Hopefully the results show up sooner than later.

Also, I’m not usually going to be the kind of guy who tells you that you need to watch a tour promo video, but the one below by Anthony Franchina for these shows, in addition to boasting a clip of a new song from The Golden Grass, actually gives a pretty succinct impression of what the band is all about. So yeah, you should take the 100 seconds or so to check it out.

Dates and info from the PR wire:

the golden grass midwest tour poster

THE GOLDEN GRASS announces October Midwest USA Tour Dates and enter studio immediately after to record album #3.

That’s right, Brooklyn’s one and only traditional heavy rock boogie band THE GOLDEN GRASS is headed ((OUT ON THE ROAD)) in the USA once again! It’s been a few years since they’ve toured domestically, finding their niche more amongst the European underground and focusing on touring abroad, but they’re beyond excited to bring their soulful sounds across America’s heartland this October 2017 for 9 concerts stretching from PA to IL and back again!

They’ll be exclusively performing ALL NEW MATERIAL this time out, which has been slowly and organically crafted over the past year, and all of which will end up on their 3rd full length LP (their 2nd for Listenable Records). In fact, this tour is a true-to-life road test for their new batch of music, and by taking it out, performing, twisting, living, and breathing it every night, it will be internalized and honed to perfection, and THEN the boys will be entering the studio immediately following the tour to record it all for the new record!

Once again, they’ll be utilizing the powerhouse recording/mixing engineering team of Andrea Zavareei (Urban Spaceman Studio) and Jeff Berner (Studio G), both of whom have had a hand in capturing each THE GOLDEN GRASS release so far. There is a high energy about the group right now, so if you’re along the tour route, do your best to catch it!

The good folks at Heavy And Beyond have created an amazing Tour Promo video for the group, showing off some sneak peaks of their new musical material, and tease the forthcoming album, not to mention some choice groovy footage of the boys!

In For The Kill Records Presents THE GOLDEN GRASS 2017 Midwest USA Tour
10/06 The Bog – Scranton PA w/ THE HILL YOU DIE ON
https://www.facebook.com/events/264624160696366/
10/07 Stonehenge Gardens – Tamaqu PA w/ MYSTERYTRAIN
https://www.facebook.com/events/265140343984727/
10/08 The Happy Dog – Cleveland OH w/ BURNIN LOINS + SALEM’S EYE
https://www.facebook.com/events/121403778585243/
10/09 The Tree Bar – Columbus OH w/ BOURBON TRAIN
https://www.facebook.com/events/117163712345407/
10/10 Reggies – Chicago IL w/ MR BLOTTO
https://www.facebook.com/events/114572125888037/
10/11 The Spot Tavern – Lafayette IN w/ SPACEWORDS
https://www.facebook.com/events/167903790434163/
10/12 Bent River Brewing Company – Rock Island IL w/ SUBATLANTIC
https://www.facebook.com/events/479941462369690/
10/13 Chameleon – Cincinnati OH w/ THE HARLEQUINS
https://www.facebook.com/events/143554142903428/
10/14 Guidos Speakeasy – Frederick MD w/ BLACK RADIO + BORRACHO
https://www.facebook.com/events/746296975549182/

http://www.facebook.com/thegoldengrass
http://www.thegoldengrass.bandcamp.com
http://www.facebook.com/listenablerecs
http://www.listenable.net

The Golden Grass, Midwestern Tour Promo

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Rattlesnake Post Outlaw Boogie Debut Demo & Announce First Show; Band Features Members of Ramming Speed & The Golden Grass

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

rattlesnake

May 25 will mark the live debut of Brooklyn-based four-piece Rattlesnake. With members of The Golden GrassRamming Speed and J.A.C.K., the band announces their first time on stage will be at Union Pool in the company of psychblasters Ecstatic Vision and resurgent, native Brooklynite post-doomers Unearthly Trance. Pretty good way to kickoff a new band, if you ask me.

By way of advance notice, Rattlesnake have posted their initial three-song demo. Dubbed Outlaw Boogie — which seems as much a mission statement as a title — the short offering finds them well sure of where they want to be aesthetically, and fans of The Golden Grass will recognize the lead vocals of drummer Adam Kriney (also ex-La Otracina), here in harmony with guitarists J.P. Gilbert and Blake Charlton on “BWOL (Burning Way of Life)” while Ian Anderson (since replaced by Don Berger) holds down a classic-rocking bassline to go with the riffs somewhere between NWOBHM, Southern pastoralia and classic swagger.

That territory seems to be where it’s Rattlesnake‘s intention to dwell, and Outlaw Boogie finds them comfortable there for its entire 16-minute duration. The promise of guitar scorch is telegraphed early on “The Reason Why,” but there’s a funky wah-soaked stomp to the lead cut as well, and before it’s even made it to the halfway point, the band has careened through a winding bridge and established the hook to be built off of upon return from a lengthy, righteous solo section.

It’s a fluidity backed by the gritty, motoring push of “Wicked Man,” the middle cut that seems to have taken a couple key lessons from Death Alley‘s straddling the line between classic metal and post-Motörhead biker riffing, though again it’s the melody of the chorus that sets it apart, as well as a distinctly Southern feel in the soloing, which “BWOL (Burning Way of Life)” reinforces as well, paying off the foreshadow at the beginning of “The Reason Why” as it leads the way out of Outlaw Boogie‘s smooth-flowing, unpretentious run.

Below, you can read more background about Rattlesnake, where they’re from and where they might be headed, and dig into the stream of Outlaw Boogie. First show is May 25. Safe bet is it won’t be the last.

Dig it:

rattlesnake unearthly trance ecstatic vision

Rattlesnake – Outlaw Boogie

The true sound of Outlaw Boogie! It’s heavy, loud, swinging & tough! And it’s coming at you spittin’ venom!

Between the mid-70’s and mid-80’s, the worlds of Southern/Country Rock, Hard/Heavy Rock, Prog, Proto-Metal and NWOBHM collided in a brief but stellar shining moment that was sonically crystallized by cult & legendary groups such as POINT BLANK, BLACKFOOT, OUTLAWS, MOLLY HATCHET, ALKANA, HYDRA, ASHBURY & BLACKHORSE! And like a bolt of lightning out of the dark and desolate sky, a new group has exploded on the underground heavy music scene to carry on the torch of those legendary pioneers, and that band is RATTLESNAKE! Hailing from Brooklyn NY, this 4-piece craft classic, epic & breathtaking tunes, powered by dazzling twin guitar melodies/harmonies/solos, and an earnest delivery of soulfully tough vocals, all served up greasy and swampy! You’re gonna love the way it BITES!

Now they say “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, well then RATTLESNAKE’s sound and swagger should come as no surprise to those familiar with the band members’ other/previous musical groups, and this fact only strengthens their creative forces! However, RATTLESNSAKE is without a doubt, its own unique musical vision! It’s a colossally focused synergy, and quite possibly some of the best darn rock n roll any of these underground heavyweights have ever made!

RATTLESNAKE is Outlaw Boogie! Blazing hard, riding high & swinging low on that lonesome road! Across the dusty desert on up through the mountain high! It’s the thunderous sound of hard working rock n roll lifers! They’ve got enough fire & power to share the stage with any modern rock/metal band out there and the classic/timeless feel to warm an old bluesman’s heart.

Rattlesnake first show!
Thursday May 25 at Union Pool with ECSTATIC VISION and UNEARTHLY TRANCE

The group is comprised of:
Adam Kriney – drums/lead vocals (THE GOLDEN GRASS/LA OTRACINA)
Blake Charlton – electric guitar/backing vocals (RAMMING SPEED/SLASHERS/HELLBENT HOOKER)
JP Gilbert – electric guitar/lead vocals (J.A.C.K./JP & THE GILBERTS)
Don Berger – electric bass

https://www.facebook.com/RattlesnakeBoogie69/
https://rattlesnakeboogie69.bandcamp.com/album/outlaw-boogie
https://www.facebook.com/In-For-The-Kill-Records-415384318840806/

Rattlesnake, Outlaw Boogie Demo (2017)

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South County Fest 2017 Set for May 20

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Four bands, a ton of groove and what seems to be a pretty laid back vibe if the pitch is anything to go by, it’s hard not to get behind the concept of an event like South County Fest 2017. You could quibble about whether four bands makes a fest if you want. Me? Considering who’s involved, I’ll take it. King Buffalo sharing a bill with The Golden Grass would be enough motivation, let alone bringing in ex-Carousel dudes in Outsideinside and importing a bit of Marylander surf in The Flying Faders. That’s right — two alliterative groups on the same bill! Think of the grammar-nerd/rocker-dude crossover appeal.

With this year’s fest, South County Brewing marks its sixth anniversary. JR Heaps, the founder of the company and head brewer, was kind enough to talk a bit about putting the lineup together and the creativity driving relationship between beer and music. You’ll find his words under the fest info — keep in mind the show’s got an early start — below.

Also this badass poster:

south county fest 2017 poster

South County Fest 2017 (6th Anniversary Bash)

Saturday, May 20 at 4 PM – 9 PM
South County Brewing Co.
104 Mill St, Fawn Grove, Pennsylvania 17321

To think that we have been making beer for 6 years now is surreal. Come celebrate with us! We have an amazing lineup for this year’s event. $5 Cover at the door (BANDS START AT 4 PM). We will have food vendors and a new beer release (16oz cans).

For those music and audiophile nuts, we have a limited run of the South County Fest 2017 18×24 posters that will be for sale on May 20th, art by Chris Pappas https://www.etsy.com/shop/BosWorkshop go follow him now! These will be on cardboard transport backers with its own cover plastic.

BANDS:

King Buffalo -Rochester, NY- Psychedelic / Heavy Blues / Stoner Rock
Outsideinside – (Ex- Carousel members) -Pittsburg, PA- Heavy Blues Rock
The Golden Grass – Brooklyn, NY- Groove / Psych // Blues / Stoner Rock
The Flying Faders -MD- Surf Rock

JR Heaps of South County Brewing on the South County Fest 2017 lineup:

What I try to do with these shows is celebrate what music and beer does for the soul. Music has always been healing and growth for me personally and I know I’m not the only one. After closing Second Order Sound (my recording studio) and committing to brewing, I have been able to live vicariously through the unbelievable talents that play at this fest. It a chance to reestablish community in such a “disposable” world. The lineups are admittedly self-indulgent and but are fairly specific to create a mood, progression and vibe. The same goes for our beer/band collaborations such as Black Cowgirl DIPA.

https://www.facebook.com/southcountybrewingco/
https://www.facebook.com/events/498260340563650/

Outsideinside, “Dreamless”

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Heavy Psych Sounds Announces Volume II Label Sampler; New Music from Black Rainbows and Killer Boogie

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

The label compilation is kind of a lost art in this age of digital whathaveyou. Used to be imprints put together comps on the regular. Some had rough mixes, some had exclusive tracks or things that wound up getting dropped off albums, and they kind of became a place where you might find something special once and then not run into it again. Italy’s Heavy Psych Sounds, with an ever-expanding roster and an already-full slate of releases as a result, seems intent on reviving the tradition. In addition to the label, booking agency, four-way split series and now two organized festivals under its belt, last year saw the release of Heavy Psych Sounds Volume I, and it seems that, indeed, it was the beginning of a series.

Heavy Psych Sounds Volume II will feature exclusive tracks from Black Rainbows and Killer Boogie and will be released on March 24. The same day, Black Rainbows will release their “The Red Sky Above” as a digital single following-up on last year’s Stellar Prophecy (review here) and leading to speculation of a sixth long-player in the works from them.

From the PR wire:

heavy-psych-sounds-volume-ii

Heavy Psych Sounds Records presents: HPS CD SAMPLER VOL II (2017)

HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS Records & Booking is stoked to announce: The HPS Records Sampler Vol 2

Europe’s ever-growing riff powerhouse HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS is set to release the second chapter of its “Heavy Psych Sounds Sampler”, featuring 15 bands of the roster among which two exclusive new songs!

This new compilation features 15 tracks taken off the label’s most recent releases (Fatso Jetson, Nick Oliveri, The Freeks…) as well as a nice preview of some upcoming gems from The Sonic Dawn, Farflung, Duel or Cachemira. As an icing on this rifftastic cake, “Heavy Psych Sounds Sampler Vol. 2” offers two exclusive new singles from the mighty Black Rainbows and Killer Boogie.

HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS VOLUME II TRACK LISTING:
Black Rainbows “The Red Sky Above” (exclusive track!)
Cachemira “Overpopulation”
Doctor Cyclops “Lonely Devil”
Duel “Witchbanger”
Farflung “You Will Kill For Me”
Fatso Jetson “Wire Wheels And Robots”
Giöbia “This World Was Being Watched Closely”
Glitter Wizard-Mycelia
Killer Boogie “Eight Ball” (exclusive track!)
Mothership “Crown Of Lies”
Nick Oliveri “Anything And Everything”
The Clamps “Must Destroy”
The Golden Grass “Flashing Out Of Sight”
The Freeks “Uncle Jack’s Truck”
The Sonic Dawn “Summer Voyage”

Heavy Psych Sounds Sampler Vol. 2
Out March 24th on Heavy Psych Sounds

Black Rainbows, “The Red Sky Above”

Unreleased dope track for the Italian fuzzsters, 6 minutes of Doomy, Stoner, Sabbathty groove stuff, recorded specifically for the new HPS Sampler. Recorded during their last tour in a cool studio surrounded by white snow mountains in the north of Italy last January 2017. You can taste the change of direction for the band with a monolithic style, more dark, more heavy, more straight in your face!

HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS is an ever-growing European record label and booking agency specialized in stoner, hard, psychedelic, fuzzy, doomy rock and more largely, all kinds of blazing retro riffage. Since its creation in Roma in 2007, HPS has released projects for Black Rainbows, Nick Oliveri, Karma To Burn, Naam, White Hills, Farflung, Fatso Jetson, Deville, Hot Lunch, Killer Boogie, Mos Generator, Isaak, The Sonic Dawn, Mothership and many more.

https://www.facebook.com/HEAVYPSYCHSOUNDS/
heavypsychsoundsrecords.bandcamp.com
http://www.heavypsychsounds.com/

Black Rainbows, “The Red Sky Above”

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2016

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 30

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 2016 to that, please do.

I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.

Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.

The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.

This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.

Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.

I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:

30. Talmud Beach, Chief

talmud beach chief

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.

29. Comet Control, Center of the Maze

comet control center of the maze

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 22.

Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.

28. Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids attack sci-fi or die

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 17.

There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.

27. Beelzefuzz, The Righteous Bloom

beelzefuzz the righteous bloom

Released by Restricted Release and The Church Within. Reviewed Aug. 2.

A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.

26. Foghound, The World Unseen

foghound the world unseen

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed July 6.

Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.

25a. Egypt, Endless Flight

egypt endless flight

Released by Doomentia Records. Reviewed Dec. 11, 2015.

Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.

25. 1000mods, Repeated Exposure To…

1000mods repeated exposure to

Released by Ouga Booga and the Mighty Oug Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 20.

There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.

24. Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy

black rainbows stellar prophecy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 11.

Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.

23. Borracho, Atacama

borracho atacama

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Nov. 14.

Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.

22. The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again

the golden grass coming back again

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed April 26.

Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.

21. Curse the Son, Isolator

curse the son isolator

Released by Snake Charmer Coalition and The Company Records. Reviewed March 1.

For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.

20. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires

neurosis fires within fires

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 21.

I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, NeurosisFires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.

19. Conan, Revengeance

conan revengeance

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 19.

Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.

18. Baby Woodrose, Freedom

baby woodrose freedom

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Aug. 18.

Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.

17. Geezer, Geezer

geezer geezer

Released by Ripple Music and STB Records. Reviewed Nov. 10.

I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.

16. EYE, Vision and the Ageless Light

eye vision and the ageless light

Released by The Laser’s Edge. Reviewed Nov. 17.

Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.

15. Fatso Jetson, Idle Hands

fatso jetson idle hands

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.

14. Hexvessel, When We are Death

hexvessel when we are death

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Feb. 5.

Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.

13. Zun, Burial Sunrise

zun burial sunrise

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Feb. 16.

Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.

12. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree

elephant tree elephant tree

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Jan. 29.

One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.

11. Mos Generator, Abyssinia

mos generator abyssinia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed July 12.

If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.

10. Slomatics, Future Echo Returns

slomatics future echo returns

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed June 29.

In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.

9. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh

wo fat midnight cometh

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 21.

After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.

8. King Buffalo, Orion

king buffalo orion

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed July 29.

Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.

7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know

wight love is not only what you know

Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.

German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.

6. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 18.

A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.

5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil

brant bjork tao of the devil

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 15.

Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in KyussFu ManchuCheVista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.

4. Asteroid, III

asteroid iii

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed Oct. 21.

What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.

3. Gozu, Revival

gozu revival

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 19.

Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.

2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)

mars red sky apex iii praise for the burning soul

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.

1. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages

subrosa for this we fought the battle of ages

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Aug. 26.

Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.

The Next 20

Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:

31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll

From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.

Honorable Mentions

Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:

Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
Spidergawd, III
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment

And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:

Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.

Thank You

In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.

If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.

One more time: Thank you.

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The Obelisk Presents: The Golden Grass, Pilgrim & The Sweet Heat in Providence, RI, Nov. 5, 2016

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on October 4th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the-golden-grass-dusk

On Saturday, Nov. 5, Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass head north to Providence, Rhode Island. They’ll play a show at Dusk with two of the area’s finest outfits in doomers Pilgrim and heavy rock newcomers Sweet Heat, who formed after the dissolution of Balam, and I couldn’t be more pleased to say The Obelisk will present the show. Three bands, all excellent, each with something of their own to bring. Who the hell wouldn’t want to put a logo on a gig like that?

The Golden Grass head north supporting earlier-2016’s Coming Back Again (review here), their progressive-leaning second album and debut on Listenable Records. Meanwhile, Rhode Island doom forerunners Pilgrim continue their slog back from the abyss. In August, they ran alongside Castle for a handful of shows and continue to reap acclaim for their 2014 sophomore outing, II: Void Worship (review here).

And though The Sweet Heat only recently unveiled their first demo recording, the four-piece arrive with immediate intrigue owing to their past participation in the classically doomed Balam. They’re a brand new band emerging with newfound purpose.

Drummer/vocalist Adam “Adzo” Kriney of The Golden Grass was kind enough to discuss the night a little bit. You’ll find his comments below. He’s right when he says you should show up:

Adzo speaks:

November 5 will be a memorable evening at Dusk. This will be THE GOLDEN GRASS’ triumphant and highly anticipated return after a two-year absence! And we couldn’t be more enthused than to share the stage with two of our favorite local-ish groups, the shimmering doom brilliance of PILGRIM and the throbbing monolith that is SWEET HEAT, who are none other than the newest band featuring four out of five members of BALAM, bringing ever-so-tasty hard rock to the festivities.

Boogie hard straight to your doom everyone! This night gonna be a killer, and anyone who lives within a three-hour radius of this concert had better be there as it’s gonna be one for the records… and everyone gonna get high through the night!

The concert is being graciously presented by The Obelisk.

Amazing eye-popping show poster by the ever-righteous designer Stephen Voland.

Thanks to the bands and venue for allowing The Obelisk to present the show. More info and tickets available from the links below.

The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again (2016)

The Golden Grass on Thee Facebooks

Show event page

Dusk on Thee Facebooks

Dusk website

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