The Machine, Faceshift: Finding a New Norm

Posted in Reviews on August 10th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the machine faceshift

Six full-lengths in, Rotterdam’s The Machine are not only veterans with more than a decade of work behind their 2007’debut, Shadow of the Machine, but participating in an ongoing sonic development that seems to be playing out in real-time on each of their records. Their earliest work — the just-mentioned debut, as well as 2009’s Solar Corona, 2011’s way-jammed-out Drie (review here) — was square in the vein of heavy psychedelic rock, rife with longform jams led by the warm fuzz tone of guitarist/vocalist David Eering and backed by the rhythmic fluidity of bassist Hans van Heemst and drummer Davy Boogaard. With 2012’s Calmer than You Are (review here) and their 2013 split with Sungrazer (review here), The Machine began a process of solidifying their songwriting, condensing ideas into tighter structures. They still had a propensity to jam out, and that continued onto their fifth LP, Offblast! (review here), which tipped the balance even further, showing a budding affinity for noise rock.

To listen to Shadow of the Machine and the band’s latest work, Faceshift, one would hardly recognize it’s the same outfit. At 40 minutes, the eight-track collection is a full 10 shorter than its predecessor, and it’s the tightest collection of songs the band has yet produced. Eering‘s vocals still have a watery effect on them, and he still breaks out a longer solo on the 11-minute title-track, but that’s the only song not in the three-to-five-minute range, and from the 5:50 opener “Crack You” onward, there’s a predilection toward noise rock that makes its way in amid the heavy and desert influences that comes even more forward on songs like the subsequent “Agitate” and the later “The Norm,” “Kick It” and the closing duo of “Zeroten” and “Kamikaze.” Faceshift still has its foundation in heavy rock, but it’s clear the band has grown into something else and are still growing into something else in these tracks. Something all the more their own.

If one were to think of it as a new era for The Machine, I don’t think that would be wrong. And it goes further than just their sound. Faceshift is their first record since Solar Corona not to be released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten, and instead it finds them self-releasing through their own newly-started imprint, Awe Records. Not only that, but it marks van Heemst‘s last performance with the band, and he’s been replaced for live shows, maybe more, by Sander Haagmans (The Whims of the Great Magnet, ex-Sungrazer). That’s The Machine‘s first lineup change in memory, and to listen to anything the band has done is to realize it’s not a minor one; even on Faceshift, the bass makes significant contributions to the overall effectiveness of the tracks. It’s still something of a mystery as to what the future holds, whether Haagmans will join full-time (one hopes), but the point is that the sonic turns made throughout are only part of the story.

They’re a crucial part, of course, with “Crack You” giving way to the punkish “Agitate,” with Boogaard‘s raw snare cutting through Eering‘s solo en route to a cold finish and a bass-led intro to “Heads Up.” Not necessarily as sharp edged as some of what surrounds, “Heads Up” still offers plenty of bite as it works what turns out to be a linear building path of dynamic ebbs and flows headed to a brash final payoff. Their turns are deceptively smooth as they make their way through verses and choruses with guitar at the top of the mix riding the groove of the bass and drums. They finish with a solo that cuts back to the central riff at the end, almost making the listener wish for one more run through the hook, but there’s no time, especially with the 2:41 crasher “The Norm” immediately following. It’s arguably the most singularly intense moment on Faceshift, with a searing lead of wah capping after an assault of drums and sheer rhythmic thrust buries the vocals beneath such that they seem to simply disappear as the song plays out.

the machine

Stop for a beat and “Kick It” begins the presumed end of side A, with a chunkier riff at its core and Eering‘s vocals tapping grunge melodies at around the first-minute mark. Boogaard‘s drums bring a steady bombast to the recording, but he’s never actually out of control; just insanely talented. “Kick It” also has a payoff at the end, but it’s longer after the solo than that of “Heads Up” and it leads to the smoother-edged, fuzzy start of the title-track, which one half expects to be a jam given its extended length and The Machine‘s past patterning, and it is one after a fashion, but here too the “face” of the band’s approach has shifted. They bounce easily through the first four minutes of the song, adding a bit of lumber to the final hook, then crash out on a wash of cymbals and bring the song down to nothing but residual amp hum and dead space only to have the guitar return alone with a line at 4:32. It’s the beginning point for an instrumental freakout that consumes the rest of “Face Shift,” building over the few minutes that follow not to a psychedelic spaciousness, but to an absolute cacophony of guitar, bass and drums all working together in power trio fashion.

The touchstone comparison for it would be Earthless, but really what’s happening is The Machine are building a bridge between their former style and their new one. They push it until shortly before 10 minutes in and then crash out once more, and Eering holds out a guitar line on a long fade that brings it to a close. A stretch of actual silence follows before “Zeroten” bursts in with its own noisy starts and stops, Helmet-style, some highlight basswork from van Heemst and drawling vocals for an extra ’90s-style touch. Using feedback as a weapon, it pulls and careens through a solo in its second half before dipping back to the central riff for a last verse and then caps with harsh noise en route to the finale of “Kamikaze,” which holds a similar riff structure but more of a nodding groove and an open chorus that’s among the most satisfyingly Alice in Chains-y throughout. “Face Shift” was a pretty grand finale in itself, but neither “Zeroten” nor “Kamikaze” feels tacked on, and the latter has a raucous ending of its own to cap the record, returning at the last minute to underscore just how skilled songwriters The Machine have become.

It’s important to highlight the creative growth The Machine have undertaken on Faceshift, but it’s not as if it’s come out of nowhere and all of a sudden they decided to be different-sounding band. They’ve never put out the same record twice, and Faceshift is a step forward from Offblast! much as that record was a step forward from Calmer than You Are and so on through their back catalog. And in much the same way one expects their next one will progress from where they are now. Nonetheless, it’s striking how they bring the diversity of their influences together in an aesthetic they’ve so much made their own, and how they seem to set up yet another avenue of pursuit for their ongoing sonic progression.

The Machine, Faceshift (2018)

The Machine on Thee Facebooks

The Machine on Twitter

The Machine on Instagram

The Machine website

Awe Records on Thee Facebooks

Awe Records on Instagram

Awe Records website

 

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The Machine Post “Crack You” Video; Faceshift Preorders Available

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 14th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the machine

Based on what I read in the band’s announcement for their new video and first public audio from their sixth full-length, I’m going to guess that ‘Crack You’ doesn’t necessarily speak for the entirety of The Machine‘s Faceshift from whence it comes. Because they say it doesn’t, and six records in, one can generally trust a band to know the difference. The Netherlands-based three-piece are set to release Faceshift next month through new imprint Awe Records — they were formerly on Elektrohasch — and though “Crack You” features a warm, heavy/desert rock tonality, The Machine over the years have moved beyond their initial post-Colour Haze jammy beginnings and, while still retaining some of that in their sound, have pushed into a more noise-rocking direction. Certainly that was the case on their fifth LP, 2015’s Offblast! (review here), and 2012’s Calmer than You Are (review here) might be the root of that change, coming as it did just a year after 2011’s Drie (review here). Each of their records, from 2007’s debut Shadow of the Machine and 2009’s Solar Corona onward, has been a clear step in their growth. No doubt the same holds true of Faceshift as well.

And though one would hardly listen to Shadow of the Machine and guess where the band would wind up 11 years later, The Machine have yet to release an outing that doesn’t make sense to their progressive arc. That is, especially with songs like “Crack You” at their disposal, the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist/engineer David Eering, bassist Hans van Heemst — since out of the band and replaced for shows by Sander Haagmans, formerly of Sungrazer, who out out a split with The Machine in 2013 (review here) — and drummer Davy Boogaard are able to tie their noisier proclivities to the naturalist psychedelia of their earlier days. Offblast! did so with tracks like “Coda Sun” and “Dry End” and the stretched-out “Chrysalis (J.A.M.).” And while in their album announcement they said it would be their noisiest and harshest offering yet, “Crack You” features an accessible groove and little of the punk-derived duderism that one might expect. Presumably, they get there later on.

Preorders for Faceshift are up now — right now — via Awe Records ahead of the July 13 release date. CD and limited vinyl. The video for “Crack You” features footage in the studio and out, some of it new, with Haagmans on bass, some of it older, with van Heemst, who appears on the record. I’ll hope to have more to come ahead of the release, but you can check out the “Crack You” clip below, followed by the band’s announcement of it and the preorder link courtesy of the social medias.

Dig it:

The Machine, “Crack You” official video

We present you Crack You, the first track of our sixth album Faceshift. The album will be released on July 13 on CD and LP (180gr black and limited transparent magenta). To warm you up we’re starting out with the most easy listening and catchy track on the album.

Pre sale just started, the store is open. Go to www.awe-records.com and visit the shop to make a reservation.

Faceshift will be available on CD and 180gr vinyl (black/transparent magenta).

Orders will be shipped out starting from Monday July 16.

First gigs will be at ‘t Keldertje (event The Machine & Walden & Junkfood Lunchbox) on July 13 (release day) and Stoned From The Underground 2018 on July 14.

The Machine on Thee Facebooks

The Machine on Twitter

The Machine on Instagram

The Machine website

Awe Records on Thee Facebooks

Awe Records on Instagram

Awe Records website

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The Machine to Release Faceshift July 13

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 8th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the machine

Rotterdam-based psych-jammers-turned-noise-rockers-and-sometimes-still-psych-jammers The Machine have a new album, a new bassist, and a new label. The record, which has been dubbed Faceshift, speaks to the ongoing change in the veteran three-piece’s sound even unto its artwork, and as they passed the decade mark late last year, early in 2018 guitarist/vocalist David Eering and drummer Davy Boogaard bid farewell to bassist Hans van Heemst. I’m not sure if van Heemst plays on the album — given the timing, I think so, but I’m not 100 percent — but with his maybe-temporary-maybe-permanent replacement being none other than Sander Haagmans, formerly of The Machine‘s tour, split and once-labelmates Sungrazer and currently also making music under the guise of The Whims of the Great Magnet, one could hardly argue for a more fitting replacement. That is, it’s not the original lineup of the band anymore, but it’s about as close as they were going to get.

The Machine feature in the lineup for this year’s Stoned from the Underground in Germany. Actually, it was seeing them listed as a part of that bill that made me hit up their Thee Facebooks to find out what they were up to. And if you’re curious, yeah, I’m a little bummed that’s how I’m finding out about their new record nearly a month after it was first announced, but hey, it’s still one to look forward to, as these guys always deliver.

The following is culled together from their social medias and that of Awe Records, their aforementioned new label:

the machine faceshift

Friday the 13th, July. Save the date.

We have a new album coming up! Our new one, “Faceshift” will be released at Awe Records, worldwide distribution by Cargo Records. Click and follow the Awe page to be kept updated about this and potential other future releases.

Tracklist:
01 – Crack You
02 – Agitate
03 – Heads Up
04 – The Norm
05 – Kick It
06 – Face Shift
07 – Zeroten
08 – Kamikaze

Other info will follow soon. There will be a pre-sale and some other funky stuff. The record will be available on CD/LP/Digital. As a limited edition, we’ll have transparent magenta for all the vinyl collectors out there. We will also put some new music online any time soon.

Anyway, we think Faceshift kicks ass and we will play some new tunes at the handful of shows we’ll do during the summer to support this release. We’ll have the very first copies with us on the road by then, some new design t-shirts as well to top if off. A couple of additional summer dates to follow asap. Since Hans left, we’ll have Sander with us to do these gigs.

From Awe Records:

The Machine is back! Heavier than ever before, their sixth full length album Faceshift sees them further carving out their own sonic identity. The successor to 2015’s Offblast! is the band’s most noisy and melodic effort to date. After an existence of over a decade, The Machine digs more into their grunge and noise rock side, without sacrificing any trademarks.

Faceshift was recorded live at Studio De Zolder (as always), with The Machine’s own David Eering at the helm. The outcome is a more focused and punchy album, straying further and further from the stoner and psych jams of the early years. A maturation of the trio’s song writing results in memorable hooks, more room to breathe for the rhythm section and punishing riffs smashing you in the face with a hammer. Album highlight and title track “Face Shift” offers all of these ingredients, while the long instrumental section is a reminder that The Machine is not completely ignoring their heritage. Clocking in at 11:11, it is by far the longest track on the record.

https://www.facebook.com/themachine.nl/
https://twitter.com/themachine_nl
https://instagram.com/themachine_nl/
http://www.themachineweb.com/
https://www.facebook.com/awerecords/
https://www.instagram.com/awerecords
https://awe-records.com/

The Machine, “Coda Sun” official video

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SonicBlast Moledo 2017: Colour Haze, Acid King, Black Bombaim & Bar de Monjas Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 31st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

sonicblast-moledo-2017-banner

If you had a two-band festival, and those two bands were Colour Haze and Acid King — and that’s it — no one else — I’d still call it an awesome time. Accordingly, kudos to SonicBlast Moledo 2017 for signing up both acts and setting my mind immediately adrift on a daydreaming course of Portuguese wonders that could be had. Of course, Colour Haze and Acid King aren’t the only bands playing — see also Elder, Sasquatch, The Machine, Monolord, Death Alley, Blaak Heat, Orange Goblin, Kadavar, and so on — but yeah, that’s a special couple days right there when you can get those groups together. “Kudos” is probably an understatement.

The PR wire has the latest:

sonicblast moledo 2017 colour haze

SonicBlast Moledo 2017 | Haze of acid in sight!

With the dates settled for August 11th and 12th, the seventh edition of SonicBlast Moledo closes the two-day lineup with Colour Haze, Acid King, Black Bombaim, Stone Dead, It Was the Elf, Ana Paris and Bar de Monjas !

They’ll be joining the previously confirmed Orange Goblin, Kadavar, Elder, Sasquatch, Kikagaku Moyo/?????, Dead Witches, Monolord, The Machine, Yuri Gagarin, The Well, Death Alley, Blaak Heat, Toxic Shock, Löbo, Vinnum Sabbathi and Holy Mushroom!

Now heading to its seventh edition, the festival located at the small beach village of Moledo, North of Portugal, includes two stages (the smaller one with a pool), free camping (to ticket holders) right by the beach and an amazing ambient for any heavy rock, psych, doom or stoner fan.

Colour Haze

With more than twenty years on the road, almost twenty studio records and a relentless will to keep going, it’s more than comprehensible that Colour Haze are easily considered one of the highest exponents within the European Psychedelic Stoner culture. On their course, they count with innumerable presences throughout all Europe and also on USA, although, they never had the chance to debut on Lusitanian territory. Following the release of their newest full-length album “In Her Garden”, the German trio embraces themselves to descend upon Portuguese lands for the first time ever in their career, received with all the enthusiasm for this seventh edition of SonicBlast Moledo.

Acid King

Formed by the charismatic Lori S. during the year of 1993, Acid King are, without any doubt, one of the classic acts of the Stoner Doom’s genre. Their intense and powerful sound, turn them into one of the most influential band within this musical circuit, only having passed through Portugal once. On 2017, they make their debut on Moledo and we can only wait for a triumphant presence.

Bar de Monjas

The Mexican / German duo Bar de Monjas promises a thunderous discharge of agitated rhythms, always heavy and filled with fuzz. On the road since 2010, they already count with one full-length studio record, two EP’s and an amazing split, released in collaboration with the already confirmed Vinnum Sabbathi.

Black Bombaim

After being obliged to cancel their presence at the last edition, Black Bombaim are ready to return to Moledo to spread their contagious psychotropic Rock.

We also receive the fresh Rock n Roll of Stone Dead, as well as the energetic Stoner Metal of It was the Elf and the return of Ana Parisw ith their characteristic Stoner Rock force.

Tickets Price:
2nd pre-sale : 42€ | From 01/03/17 to 30/06/17
3rd pre-sale : 48€ | From 01/07/17 to 31/07/17
4th pre-sale: 55€ | From 01/08/17 to the event’s final

https://sonicblastmoledo.bol.pt/
https://www.facebook.com/SonicBlast-Moledo-242619262427066/
https://www.facebook.com/events/1818493011695737/
https://sonicblastmoledo.wordpress.com/

Colour Haze, In Her Garden (2017)

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Setalight Festival 2016 Announces Lineup for Oct. 21-22 in Berlin

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 18th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

setalight festival 2016 header

The fall festival season kicks off in Europe before fall even starts. It’s like car companies rolling out next year’s models before we’re halfway through this year (though we are that now as well; you get my point). It seems like between August and November there isn’t a week when one if not multiple nations is playing host to a swath of quality bands, and Setalight Festival 2016 throws itself into the heart of the fray on Oct. 21 and 22, hosting an already-packed two-day lineup at the these-are-German-words Zukunft am Ostkreuz venue in Berlin.

I’m not sure if this is the complete lineup or not. It could be, easily. As of now, jam-prone Dutch trio The Machine, and Germany’s own Mother Engine — veterans of Freak Valley and Desertfest Berlin, no doubt among others — will also take part, as well as East-meets-West groovers Samavayo (based in Berlin), French mostly-instrumentalists Glowsun, uptempo rockers Phiasco and a host of others, some familiar — looking at you, Motorowl — and some less so. A couple names to investigate below, since if Setalight Records — which of course is putting on the festival — knows anything it’s how to pick bands.

The particulars came down the PR wire:

setalight festival 2016 poster

The Berlin based music label SETALIGHT presents the 4th time bands out of Stonerrock, Heavy & Hard Rock, Doom, Noise and Psychedelic Rock. Beside known bands of the scene, we will also present new or unknown bands.

For the lineup, we picked some great bands out of the dust, such as:

THE MACHINE
MOTHER ENGINE
SAMAVAYO
NEUME
OUZO BAZOOKA
PHIASCO
GLOWSUN
THIEVES BY THE CODE
BALG
MOTHERBRAIN
SWEDENBORG RAUM
KALAMAHARA
MOTOROWL
and many more.

When / where:

The SETALIGHT FESTIVAL will take place from 21st to 22nd of October 2016 in Berlin, (Club: Zukunft am Ostkreuz). The pre-sale just started. Get more information at the links:

www.setalight-festival.com
https://www.facebook.com/events/1671298366486172/

The Machine, “Coda Sun” official video

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Yellowstock X: Lineup Complete; Kadavar to Headline

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 6th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Set for Aug. 13 and 14 in Geel, Belgium, Yellowstock X is sort of where the summer festival season meets the fall festival season in Europe, thus reinforcing the notion that there is at this point no such thing as a festival season at all, and awesome shows are just a year-round occurrence. Either way, the lineup for the 10th edition of the fest is a striking international assemblage, from Kadavar confirmed to headline to the psych jams of Hills, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s bluster-blues, Zone Six‘s space rock triumphs, Greenleaf‘s hard-driving choruses and on and on.

With bands from Russia to the US, as well as Belgian acts like Flying Horseman, the why-would-you-call-your-band-this Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat, Tangled Horns and The Glücks, it looks like a well-curated mix of groups and should make for a great precursor to the busy autumn ahead.

Complete lineup and headliner announcement follow, courtesy of the fest:

yellowstock-festival-x

The Line-up is complete!!! We are siked to have the almighty KADAVAR to headline Sunday August 14th at Yellowstock Festival 10th Anniversary Edition!!! These retro rockers combine the finest 70’s Rock with enough Psychedelic & Stoner grooves to let y’all band or move!! IF you don’t know’m yet make sure to check’m out!!

Spread the words boys & girls; mothers & fathers; Psychedelic MoFo’s and all the rest!! See you at Yellowstock 2016!!!

TICKETS available now at: http://bit.ly/1prkFxW

EARLY BIRD TICKETS: SOLD-OUT!!!

ALL BANDS CONFIRMED
KADAVAR (Ger)
MICHAEL ROTHER plays NEU!, Harmonia and selected solo works (Ger)
HILLS (Se)
GREENLEAF (Se)
THE OSCILLATION (Uk)
THE MACHINE (Nl)
K-X-P (Fin)
SIENA ROOT (Se)
ZONE SIX (Ger)
THE FLYING EYES (Usa)
FLYING HORSEMAN (B)
PAUW (Nl)
THE MIDNIGHT GHOST TRAIN (Usa)
TERMINAL CHEESECAKE (Uk)
BIRTH OF JOY (Nl)
KISS THE ANUS OF A BLACK CAT (B)
LAY LLAMAS (It)
THE GRAND ASTORIA (Rus)
BLOWN OUT (Uk)
THE GLÜCKS (B)
MANTRA MACHINE (Nl)
TANGLED HORNS (B)

https://shop3.ticketscript.com/channel/html/get-dates/rid/4BHR9KMQ/eid/297973/language/nl
https://www.facebook.com/events/118832615129683/
https://www.facebook.com/YellowstockConcerts/

Kadavar, “Filthy Illusion” official video

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Yellowstock Festival: First Bands Confirmed; Early-Bird Tickets Sold Out

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 8th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

This year’s Yellowstock festival is set for Aug. 13-14 at Bogaard in Geel, Belgium. 2016 marks the 10th anniversary of the fest, which has in years past featured lineups gathering a particular slice of European and American heavy psychedelia, and it looks like this incarnation of the fest is no different. It’s up from one day in 2015 to two now, so I’d expect more than a few lineup additions are still to come, but they’re off and running with the likes of Michael RotherGreenleafHillsThe Flying EyesThe Midnight Ghost TrainThe MachineThe Grand Astoria and so on in their initial announcement.

Enough so that upon being made available this past weekend, early-bird tickets sold out quickly. There’s still time before August gets here if you happen to be near Geel or otherwise ready to travel, but it’s one to keep an eye on. The first Yellowstock was in 2007, and since then the fest has continued to flourish and build its own community in an increasingly crowded heavy scene.

I’ll do my best to keep up with announcements as they come out, but here’s the initial word from the fest itself, as seen on the social medias:

yellowstock header

Yellowstock Festival 10th Anniversary Edition!

TICKETS available now at: http://bit.ly/1prkFxW

EARLY BIRD TICKETS: SOLD-OUT!!!

August 13 – August 14
BOGAARD Diesteweg 135 B-2440 Geel Belgium

First bands confirmed!
Michael Rother plays NEU!, Harmonia and selected solo works (Ger)
HILLS (Se)
GREENLEAF (Se)
THE OSCILLATION (Uk)
K-X-P (Fin)
THE MACHINE (Nl)
THE FLYING EYES (Usa)
THE MIDNIGHT GHOST TRAIN (Usa)
TERMINAL CHEESECAKE (Uk)
KISS THE ANUS OF A BLACK CAT (B)
LAY LLAMAS (It)
THE GRAND ASTORIA (Rus)
BLOWN OUT (Uk)
THE GLÜCKS (B)
+ many more soon!

We are back with 2 full days of music!! Campsite!! and lots more coming soon!!

Cross the dates in your agenda!

https://shop.ticketscript.com/channel/web2/start-order/rid/4BHR9KMQ/language/nl
https://www.facebook.com/YellowstockConcerts/
https://www.facebook.com/events/118832615129683/
http://www.yellowstock.be/

Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow (2016)

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2015

Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2015 by JJ Koczan

top 30 albums of 2015 1

Please note: This list is not culled in any way from the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2015 to that, please do.

It’s damn near impossible to start one of these posts without some derivation of, “Whew! What a year it’s been!” The truth is that, since 2014, I’ve been keeping a list of the best releases of 2015, and the list has just grown and grown and grown over the last 12 months. Could have been a top 40, easy. Could have been a top 50, 60, whatever. It was complete inundation.

If you’ve been checking in on any of the lists that have gone up so far, you might notice that some of these records have appeared elsewhere, and possibly in a different order. How does an album end up ahead of another on one list and not on another? Different criteria. Different basis of judgment. As always, the big year-end list (this one) is derived both from what I think are the most important offerings of the year plus what I listened to the most, because while I believe deeply in the critical value of a given work, I also believe there’s value in the kind of record you just can’t put down.

Basically, I believe records have value. Stay tuned for more daring adventures in understatement.

A few emergent factors for 2015 to note: The increasing expansion of subgenres. Psychedelia and what I’ve come to call the heavy ’10s sound finding further root as prominent styles of the day, as well as a budding of emotive doom in the post-Pallbearer vein. At the same time, a more straightforward heavy rock is also making a return, and look for that to continue as new listeners discover past landmarks and modern plays thereupon. Everything is cyclical, and I’m interested to see what the next two or three years bring, both as Millennials hit 30 (and beyond) and as younger kids come up and fuzz out.

But that’s a conversation for a different time, and before we get there, it’s time to take a look back at the best full-lengths of 2015. I hope if I’ve left something out, you’ll let me know about it in the comments, but until then, here we go:

30. High on Fire, Luminiferous

high on fire luminiferous

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed June 15.

Going by some of the results I’ve seen from the Readers Poll, I’m guessing there will be some disagreement on the placement of High on Fire‘s seventh full-length, third for eOne and second to be produced by Kurt Ballou behind 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), but for me it came down to what I went back to more. The brilliant “The Falconist” would be enough on its own for Luminiferous to be included on this list, and taken as a whole, the record affirmed the trio as pivotal heavy metal marauders, an act whose devastation is undulled by the wear they’ve put on it touring the world over and again.

29. CHRCH, Unanswered Hymns

chrch unanswered hymns

Released by Battleground Records. Reviewed June 30.

Undaunted by a name change from Church to CHRCH, the Sacramento five-piece unleashed rare doom extremity on their debut album, but peppered that with a stylistic nuance that many in the pummel-pummel-pummel game cast off, whether it was psychedelic flourish in the guitar or some eerie atmospheric. Among the post potential-filled debut offerings of the year, that’s not a guarantee they’ll find future success on the same level, but it does mean that if you didn’t hear the 19-minute “Dawning,” you missed out.

28. Golden Void, Berkana

golden void berkana

Released by Thrill Jockey Records. Reviewed Sept. 22.

Coherent bliss. The second full-length from the four-piece Golden Void was a logical step forward from the band’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), but that was precisely what it needed to be. With an emerging dynamic of dual vocals between guitarist Isaiah Mitchell (also Earthless) and keyboardist Camilla Saufley-Mitchell on cuts like “Astral Plane” and “Silent Season,” Berkana was less adherent to space rock overall than its predecessor, but gave a more individualized take and was all the richer for it.

27. Stoned Jesus, The Harvest

stoned jesus the harvest

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Probably should have a higher number. Part of the enduring appeal for The Harvest for me is not only how Ukrainian three-piece Stoned Jesus so absolutely pushed back from the album before it, 2012’s sophomore outing, Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but how much reasoning they put behind the moves they made on the six included tracks. Each song had its purpose and place in the overarching flow, and The Harvest continues to deliver something new on thoroughly-earned repeat listens. Perhaps most encouraging of all, I have no idea what they’ll do next.

26. Graveyard, Innocence and Decadence

graveyard innocence and decadence

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 7.

Swedish retro forerunners are hands-down one of the most influential European heavy rock acts of their generation. The ’70s revivalism they helped spearhead on their first, second and third LPs has given them rich ground to develop, and they still managed to bring something new to their sound with the soulfulness of Innocence and Decadence, as well as increasing command and diversity in the vocals. Drummer Axel Sjöberg turned in a career performance, and although there are heaps upon heaps of bands out there indulging in post-Graveyard boogie, they showed once again that they’re able to stand both out from the crowd and well above it. Plus, any swing-rocking album that dares to break out soul-singer backing vocals and blastbeats, and pull both off without blinking deserves respect, no matter what else it might have going on.

25. Death Hawks, Sun Future Moon

death hawks sun future moon

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Nov. 3

It felt so good to put on Death HawksSun Future Moon for the first time and be completely blindsided by its serene psychedelic ritualizing. The Finnish four-piece reveled in classic progressive methods, and where it would’ve been so easy for songs like “Hey Ya Sun Ra” or “Dream Life, Waking Life” to come across as pretentious, the naturalism in the recording gave the band’s third album such a liquefied flow that it was impossible not to be swept up by it until, at last, “Friend of Joy” launched into and beyond a peaceful stratosphere in spaced-out ambience. My first exposure to the group and their first outing for Svart, it’s a record so textural and so graceful that it seems to unfurl itself more each time through.

24. Spidergawd, II

spidergawd ii

Released by Stickman Records and Crispin Glover Records. Reviewed Jan. 5.

A quick and strong turnaround from this Norwegian sax-inclusive foursome, who might seem to come out of nowhere were it not for the pedigree of Kenneth Kapstad and Bent Sæther in long-running progressives Motorpsycho. Together with Per Borten and Rolf Martin Snustad, Spidergawd spoke to more primal rock instincts — their two LPs to-date and soon to be three are testaments to the ability of music to move, to shove, and to shake; or as they put it, “Get Physical” — but as there is breadth as well, as the psychedelic “Caereulean Caribou” demonstrated. Anchored by the hook of “Fixing to Die Blues,” Spidergawd‘s second wandered far and wide, but welcomed listeners along for each step of the journey.

23. The Midnight Ghost Train, Cold was the Ground

the midnight ghost train cold was the ground

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 26.

As the title promised, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s third offering and Napalm Records debut delivered harsh truths. They came at breakneck speed and delivered with stage-hewn chemistry by the Midwestern power trio, whose years of road-dogging were brought to bear in the gruff, gravel-throated voice of guitarist Steve Moss, who led drummer Brandon Burghart and newcomer bassist Mike Boyne across nigh-unparalled riff torrents, with all the boogie of any number of ’70s-style sidewinders, but also with a tonal thickness that seemed a miracle it could move at all. Not without its adventurous side in the quieter “The Little Sparrow,” Cold was the Ground brimmed with intensity that brought the band to new levels in every conceivable fashion.

22. Leeches of Lore, Motel of Infinity

leeches of lore motel of infinity

Released by Lorchestral Recording Company. Reviewed Sept. 15.

Blessed art the weirdos, whose records might be few and far between, who might not tour, but whose bold fits and starts span genres easily and whose work truly stands alone. Leeches of Lore‘s Toshi Kasai-produced Motel of Infinity was a godsend in the enduring battle against normality. It was a grinding, grooving anti-punk stampede, at times frenetic and at other times whatever the opposite of frenetic is, and to-date, it’s the Albuquirky outit’s masterpiece, from the low-end buzzsaw, gang-shout and falsetto of “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” through the bass and organ bounce of “Noah’s Soul (is Burning).” They have been and still are a band unto themselves, and the we-do-this-every-day confidence of their execution across Motel of Infinity‘s run only emphasizes how utterly necessary they are.

21. With the Dead, With the Dead

with the dead self titled

Released by Rise Above Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

With the Dead vocalist Lee Dorrian (also head of Rise Above Records, also ex-Cathedral) basically laid it all out there in the interview here when he said, “We wanted to make the most skull-crushing record we possibly could.” That’s precisely what With the Dead‘s self-titled debut is. It’s as heavy as possible, as filthy as possible, all the way through. In some ways very much the sum of its elements with Dorrian on vocals, Tim Bagshaw on guitar/bass and Mark Greening on drums (both ex-Ramesses), it was also of course more than just that, and while so much of their story has yet to be told as they move into their initial live appearances in 2016, their opening salvo was nothing if not as destructive as its intent.

20. Clutch, Psychic Warfare

clutch psychic warfare

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Oct. 6.

How could anyone possibly have even remotely reasonable expectations for a Clutch record after 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here). I won’t say the Maryland stalwarts didn’t deliver with Psychic Warfare, and I doubt any fan of the band who’s dug into “X-Ray Visions,” “A Quick Death in Texas” or “Noble Savage” would, but their returning to producer Machine for the second time in a row made it almost too easy to compare Clutch‘s 10th and 11th long-players. Four years between albums was shortened to just two, and that may have had something to do with it as well, but while the songs were there and I’ve no doubt that Psychic Warfare will endure over the long term — ask me sometime how long it took me to get into Pure Rock Fury — in the moment of its release, Psychic Warfare seemed to stand in the shadow of its predecessor rather than in its own light.

19. Mondo Drag, Mondo Drag

mondo drag self-titled

Released by Kozmik Artifactz and RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Jan. 8.

An awaited return for Midwestern-turned-West-Coast psychedelic rockers Mondo Drag, their self-titled sophomore outing had three years between its recording and release, and was made in 2012 with a shortlived incarnation of the band with bassist Zack Anderson and drummer Cory Berry, both formerly of Radio Moscow and then-soon to be of Blues Pills. Unsurprisingly, the grooves were tight, but even better, Mondo Drag blew past the peaceful headtrippery of their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), toward more expansive and proggy fare. They’ll look to continue that thread on their third outing, The Occultation of Light, in 2016, but the self-titled captured a special moment worthy of celebration, still rife with the classic-minded ethereal spirit of the first outing, but clearly bent on defining its own sonic dogma in hooks and synthy vibes.

18. Lamp of the Universe, The Inner Light of Revelation

lamp of the universe the inner light of revelation

Released by Clostridium Records and Astral Projection. Reviewed April 27.

At the risk of sounding biased, just about any new release from New Zealand tantric psych outfit Lamp of the Universe is going to be welcome by me. Comprised solely of Craig Williamson (also Arc of Ascent), the long-running project nonetheless casts out gorgeously textured meditative psychedelia, at times delving into drone or Eastern folk, but always marking out its own sonic space, whether in the more rock-minded groove of “God of One” or the drumless acoustic swirl of “Ancient Path.” Lamp of the Universe is a rare band — as much as it is a band — that covers a swath of ground stylistically and manages to sound like nothing but itself as it does so, and Williamson‘s commitment to his cosmic mantras remains firm and creatively fertile as the seeds he planted early on continue to bear fruit in complex arrangements that never distract from the central, spiritual purpose of the music.

17. Mammatus, Sparkling Waters

mammatus sparkling waters

Released by Spiritual Pajamas. Reviewed Nov. 9.

Even with its title-track broken into two 20-plus-minute side-consuming halves, it was abundantly plain to hear that Sparkling Waters was the most realized Mammatus outing yet. The four-song, 75-minute offering brimmed with a clarity that even their late-2013 third album, Heady Mental (review here), could only partially claim, leaving behind the fuzz and fog of their earlier work almost entirely while remaining open to employing sonic heft when suitable to their more complex motives. Most effective about Mammatus at this stage was the way they eased into and through varied parts while tying together a coherent whole piece, the builds and cascades of “Sparkling Waters Part One” setting up an expectation of fluidity that held firm even through the more jagged buzz in the early going of closer “Ornia,” the grand finale of which resonates as a cacophony without letting itself actually lose control.

16. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, The Night Creeper

uncle acid the night creeper

Released by Rise Above Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

UK ladykillers Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats have emerged as one of the most essential bands of the ’10s. The Night Creeper is their fourth album and it takes the defining eeriness of their melodies and roughs it up with a mostly-live recording job — something which, now that they’re a touring act, they can do — for their grittiest, dirtiest-sounding offering yet. Songs like “Melody Lane,” “Pusher Man” and opener “Waiting for Blood” speak to what’s let their methodology spread so widely in the first place, the VHS grain of their guitars and vocals resting over classic swing and proliferating maddening hooks with lethal intent. Between the nine-minute gruel of “Slow Death” and the hidden acoustic track “Black Motorcade,” The Night Creeper wasn’t without its element of sonic progress, but with Uncle Acid, it’s still the combination of threat, swing and memorable songwriting that brings listeners back to their dark alleyways for another taste.

15. Death Alley, Black Magick Boogieland

death alley black magick boogieland

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 8.

Easily one of 2015’s most encouraging debuts. Making its opening salvo with the propulsion of Motörhead-derived heavy rock in songs like “Over Under” and “Black Magick Boogieland,” the first outing from Amsterdam-based foursome Death Alley touched on classic ideals without going retro on “Bewildered Eyes,” nodded toward psychedelic melodicism and more patient intentions in “Golden Fields of Love,” and portrayed its punker roots in “Dead Man’s Bones” — all before the 12:40 space rock extravaganza that took hold with closer “Supernatural Predator.” It was a lot of territory to cover, but Death Alley not only made it sound cohesive, they made it rock and they made it a good time. In just about 41 minutes, Black Magick Boogieland was not only a voyage well worth taking, it was a potential-filled, headbang-worthy ripper of an album from an outfit who deserves every bit of attention they seem to be shouting for. Hope they don’t wait long for a follow-up.

14. The Machine, Offblast!

the machine offblast

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed May 28.

Five records in, Dutch trio The Machine have found a niche for themselves between heavy psych rock, desert fuzz and exploratory jamming. Offblast!, with a title that seemed more reminiscent of Europunker speed rock, was as spacious as it was driving, and whether it was the more structured material like “Dry End” or “Coda Sun” or the two extended cuts, 16-minute opener ““Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and 12-minute closer “Come to Light,” their dynamic remained natural and held firm to a spontaneous sensibility, like at any turn, any part might take off for an eight-minute ride to who knows where. That that didn’t always happen only made Offblast! a richer listening experience, its varied ideas coming through consistent tonality to affect a more than satisfying front-to-back flow that toyed with momentum even as it built more and more of it. Was a while in the making, coming three years after 2012’s Calmer than You Are (review here), but easily worth the wait.

13. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth

brothers of the sonic cloth self titled

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed March 3.

There were moments where the self-titled debut from Brothers of the Sonic Cloth was almost too much to take in one sitting. By the time the Tad Doyle-led trio got around to the 11-minute “La Mano Poderosa,” sometimes I felt like I needed a second to catch my breath before diving further, always further, into the smoldering abyss their tones, growls and lurch seemed to create. Six years after their demo (review here) served notice like a tectonic rumble in the distance, the album arrived with comet-into-planet heft, and its oppression was as much about atmosphere as it was sheer aural assault. Imagine an arm reaching down your throat, grabbing your lungs, and forcibly deflating them one at a time. Is that hyperbole? Absolutely, and well earned. Every bit the debut of the year.

12. Kind, Rocket Science

kind rocket science

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Dec. 2.

No, Boston supergroup Kind aren’t so high on this list just because they called a song “Pastrami Blaster.” Granted, that didn’t hurt, but ultimately it was the blend of cavernous psychedelics and heavy rumble that made Rocket Science so infectious. Comprised of vocalist Craig Riggs (Roadsaw), guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, The Scimitar, etc.), bassist Tom Corino (Rozamov) and drummer Matt Couto (Elder), Kind earned immediate interest for their pedigree, but it was more the breadth of jams like “Hordeolum” and “The Angry Undertaker” that defined their first outing, various impulses toward structure and open-endedness not so much pushing against each other as working in tandem to craft something that drew from the best of both mindsets. Obviously these are busy guys, but hopefully Kind doesn’t all by the wayside for other ongoing projects. Rocket Science was unmistakable in its demonstration that they have much to offer.

11. Bloodcow, Crystals and Lasers

bloodcow crystals and lasers

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 4.

Iowa five-piece Bloodcow hadn’t put out a record since 2007’s Bloodcow III: Hail Xenu, but that didn’t stop Crystals and Lasers from being their best work yet. As much punk as metal as heavy rock, it wasn’t for everybody, but it was most definitely for me. With a constant thread of satire in songs like “Ultra Super Sexual,” “Sock,” “Dick for Days” and the oh-shit-I’m-middle-aged-how-the-fuck-did-this-happen (not saying I relate or anything, but holy shit I can relate) “After Party,” it was nonetheless a stylistically varied and universally professional-sounding 13-track collection, offering weirdo quirk in “Blood and Guts,” “Exploding Head” and “Little Chromosome” and finding room for a bit of scathing social commentary in its title-track and “HIVampyre.” If they’re working at an eight-year pace, I don’t know that we’ll get another Bloodcow record, but they very clearly put everything they had into Crystals and Lasers and the result was a defining statement.

10. Kadavar, Berlin

kadavar berlin

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed July 7.

After two wallops in the form of 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) and 2012’s self-titled debut (discussed here), German trio Kadavar continued to prove the effectiveness of their songwriting on Berlin, a return that front-to-back brimmed with vitality and bounce rare enough for heavy rock generally more content to be downtrodden or attempting to feign bluesy substance. Unabashedly poppy at times, Berlin was the party that brought everyone along who was up for taking the ride, and whether it was the hook of “Lord of the Sky” showing how just a tiny melodic turn could make a track infectious or cuts like “Thousand Miles Away from Home,” “Filthy Illusion,” “Stolen Dreams,” “Spanish Wild Rose,” “See the World with Your Own Eyes” — all of them, really — working their way into the consciousness, Berlin felt like it was primed to be the soundtrack of many summers to come. They moved away from the retro style of their first two outings, but in so doing took fuller command of their sound and put it to remarkable use.

9. Goatsnake, Black Age Blues

goatsnake black age blues

Released by Southern Lord. Reviewed May 19.

Picking up right where Flower of Disease closer “The River” left off with “Another River to Cross,” Goatsnake‘s third full-length arrived a full 15 years after its predecessor, and as one might expect that brought some considerable changes in the band’s sound. Oh, they still rolled the hell out of a riff, guitarist Greg Anderson (he of SunnO))) and Southern Lord Recordings) very much at the fore tonally, but a bluesy inflection from vocalist Pete Stahl (also earthlings?) and some well-placed backing vocals added personality in a daring and unexpected fashion. Songs like “Jimi’s Gone,” “Elevated Man” and “Grandpa Jones” sat comfortably in the band’s influential pantheon of heft, but it was how Black Age Blues pushed beyond what Goatsnake did in their initial run that made it so satisfying. For a record that arrived five years after they got back together, it could have easily been disaster, but Black Age Blues built on what Goatsnake was without detracting from the legacy that has influenced a generation of heavy rock.

8. Kings Destroy, Kings Destroy

kings destroy self titled

Released by War Crime Recordings. Reviewed April 15.

I’m proud to call the members of Kings Destroy friends and I won’t attempt to feign impartiality when it comes to considering their work as a band, but I felt in listening to their self-titled third LP that they had finally gotten to the point where they were bringing the onstage confrontationalism of their live show to the studio. Yeah, “Mr. O” was upbeat and catchy and gave side A some thrust, but even in chugging opener “Smokey Robinson” or the moody “Mytho” and “Embers,” Kings Destroy not only came further into their own in terms of style, building on the anti-genre defiant stance of 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), but did so with a clearheaded progressivism, a better sense of who they are musically and what they want the band to be. I wouldn’t trade seeing them play “Embers” or “W2” as many times as I have for anything, but even unto the gang-shout half-speed hardcore of “Time for War,” Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy made no bones about how it wound up with the eponymous title. It’s them through and through.

7. Cigale, Cigale

cigale self titled

Self-released. Reviewed May 4.

It may never be possible to listen to the self-titled debut from Cigale outside the context of the death of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets (ex-Sungrazer). That loss casts a dark shadow over a collection that otherwise radiates colorful sweetness and serenity, the peaceful depth beginning with “Grey Owl” and only broadening as it turns and weaves through “Steeplechase,” “Feel the Heat,” “Harvest Begun” and so on, but the record remains a gorgeous, engrossing wash of resonant melody and underlying presence. Not without its moments of melancholy, the more overarching impression was of beauty not tied to any notion of playing to genre or style, and while I don’t know what the future will hold for the band, if they’ll keep moving forward or not or if they’re even in a place yet to consider such things, they helped broaden the context of European heavy psychedelia with their first album, and that is no minor achievement.

6. Sun Blood Stories, Twilight Midnight Morning

sun blood stories twilight midnight morning

Self-released. Reviewed June 19.

Another one that just kind of smacked me in the face. Idahoan heavy psych explorers Sun Blood Stories‘ second album, Twilight Midnight Morning was soaked in vibe and moved fluidly between experimentalist noisemaking and patient, memorable songwriting. Tracks like “West the Sun,” “Witch Wind” and “Found Reasons Found Out” never raged, exactly, but had enough weight to their rhythm to let you know they were there and interested in groove, while later pieces “Time Like Smoke,” “Moon Song: Waxing” and “Misery is Nebulous” drew exponentially from earlier freakout impulses and shifted into a dronier and more ambient approach. The combination of the two — semi-structure up front, open expansion in the back — made the three-part Twilight Midnight Morning engaging and hypnotic in kind, and though I hope they get weirder and experiment and develop the atmospheric side of their sound, I’ve also got my fingers crossed they hold firm to their more grounded aspects, since its the range between the two that gives their sophomore outing its defining fluidity.

5a. Colour Haze, To the Highest Gods We Know

colour haze to the highest gods we know

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Jan. 6.

I’ll cite precedent in last year’s list for including a “5a.” The intent in doing so is to convey the idea that Colour Haze‘s latest outing, To the Highest Gods We Know, is worthy of top five consideration, but its release date was split between 2014 (CD) and 2015 (LP), so it was a little unclear where to put it. As the album is basically a year old at this point, it seems fair to say it’s held up, drawing back from the grandiose vision of 2012’s She Said (review here) without losing sight of the progressive elements that have taken root in the German trio’s sound. Their work has been and remains essential to the development of heavy psychedelic rock in Europe and beyond, and even though To the Highest Gods We Know felt like something of a reset — a stripping down of arrangements in places and getting back to a trio-in-a-room feel — it still stepped forward in its title-track and in songs like “Überall” and “Call” and showed that even when it seems Colour Haze have pushed their approach as far as it can go, there’s always new ground to explore, and their pull to do so is undiminished.

5. The Atomic Bitchwax, Gravitron

the atomic bitchwax gravitron

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 20.

Doesn’t exactly seem like giving away state secrets to note that a record with songs like “Sexecutioner” and “Fuck Face” is aggressive, but it’s particularly interesting in light of the past work of New Jersey trio The Atomic Bitchwax, who I don’t think sounded as barn-burning as they do on Gravitron even in their earliest going. The trio of bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella kept their signature winding riff style intact — demonstrated most expansively over 2011’s single-song full-length instrumental The Local Fuzz (review here) — but while their turns were as blinding as ever, their tones were more pointed and Pantella‘s snare more upfront on the beat, which gave Gravitron a newfound sense of urgency. It worked. Even poppier songs like “Roseland” or the closing “Ice Age Hey Baby” benefited from the additional thrust, and the album overall felt lean, mean and ready to be taken on the road, which of course is exactly what they did with it. Six albums in, The Atomic Bitchwax were at their most vital yet.

4. All Them Witches, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker

all them witches dying surfer meets his maker

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

Nashville four-piece All Them Witches probably could’ve gone into the studio, churned out a record of crunchy riffs with a quiet part or two for flavor and positioned themselves at the forefront of American heavy rock with their New West Records debut and third full-length overall, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. Instead, they defied expectation boldly and brought their growing audience into the room with them and producer Mikey Allred as they captured the album, which finds its most affecting moments not in tonal weight, but emotional resonance, the melody at the midpoint of “Talisman” or the string arrangement gracefully tucked into “Open Passageways.” There’s still the push of “Dirt Preachers,” and entrancing closer “Blood and Sand – Milk and Endless Waters” has its heft as well, but All Them Witches‘ success ultimately came from being the album they wanted to make, built from the dynamic that’s developed on stage between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeodAllan Van Cleave on Fender Rhodes/strings, and drummer Robby Staebler, and alive in its feeling of exploration. I won’t predict what they might do from here, but I’m willing to say outright it’ll be worth hearing one way or another.

3. Snail, Feral

snail feral

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Oct. 13.

My expectations for Snail‘s third post-reunion full-length and Small Stone label debut, Feral, were pretty high. Not unreasonably so, though. Their 2012 outing, Terminus (review here), built on the blend of heavy psych riffs, laid back roll and melodicism that 2009’s Blood (review here) established as the band’s working modus, but Feral was going to be a different beast from the start because it was the West Coast outfit’s first full-length as a trio since they made their self-titled debut (reissue review here) in 1993 before splitting up the next year. Whatever my expectations were, however, Snail shattered them almost immediately. In the progression of their songwriting as shown across the strong opening salvo of “Building a Haunted House,” “Smoke the Deathless” and “A Mustard Seed” through one of the year’s best songs in the expansive and crushing “Thou Art That,” the three-piece showcased a breadth unlike anything they’d conjured before, and it only continued through “Born in Captivity,” the catchy “Derail,” “Psilocybe” and the soul-infused wah leads that peppered the pleading closer “Come Home.” Where Terminus offered intensity, Feral offered patience in its execution, and the atmosphere it created suited the band’s sound as well as the Seldon Hunt cover art seemed to summarize the alternate reality in which the music took place. Everything about how it came together worked just right, and even as a fan of the band’s work since they got together again, I was taken aback by the unflinching quality of Feral front to back.

2. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere

acid king middle of nowhere center of everywhere

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 19.

Ten years is a long, long time. Especially in music. The prospect of a fourth Acid King record has been tossed around for at least the last six of those 10 years, but to finally have it realized was something else entirely. Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere was without a doubt my most-listened-to album of the year, and its combination of tonal haze, low-end heft and spacious atmosphere was perfect. There’s just no other way to say it. It was perfect. From “Silent Pictures” and “Coming down from Outer Space” through “Red River,” “Infinite Skies” and the sprawling “Center of Everywhere” itself, guitarist/vocalist Lori S., bassist Mark Lamb and drummer Joey Osbourne crafted an absolutely perfect heavy psych record. How many bands walking the earth could even get away with calling a track “Laser Headlights,” let alone make it kick ass? Yeah, Goatsnake came back this year, and that was great, but for me, the return of Acid King to their throne of nod was even more the story of the year. Together with producer Billy Anderson, they offered a depth of tone that was simply unmatched, and without an ounce of pretense, they unveiled a roll that continues to resound. I’m a big fan of getting lost in a record, and Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere eased the listener in with its “Intro,” pulled reality apart from with “Silent Pictures” and set about doing the universe a favor by remaking the cosmos as the kind of place where one might find a wizard riding a tiger past the craters of the moon, until, at last, it deposited you back where you started. Best trip of 2015, no question.

1. Elder, Lore

elder lore

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed Feb. 19.

Make no mistake, 2015 was Elder‘s year. We were all just living in it. Truth be told, I’ve been back and forth between Elder and Acid King in the top spot for the last couple months (you might recall in July they were reversed), but when it finally came to it, there was no way I could feasibly call anything other than Lore the album of the year. From the gorgeous Adrian Dexter artwork (discussed here), through the progressive clarion of “Compendium”‘s noodling guitar line and into the massive scope of the title-track (discussed here), Lore was the moment in which Elder — guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto — tore down the walls of genre, whether it was heavy rock, psychedelia or anything else, and emerged with their own approach and complex, varied modus of songwriting. They’ve been turning heads since their self-titled debut arrived in 2008, but with 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), they began to demonstrate the potential for really adding something to the patchwork of underground heavy. In moving forward by making clarity a hallmark both of their sound and of their purpose, Elder came into their own with these five tracks, and do not at all be surprised a couple years from now when bands start showing up aping DiSalvo‘s style of riffing, since such a bold and successful foray of individualism can only be influential in the longer run. At nearly an hour long, Lore was not a minor undertaking, but each song seemed to set up its own atmosphere, feeding not only its own singular focus, but that of the album overall. Its turns blinding, its impact forceful and its affect drawing from the best of the sonic personalities of all three players, Elder‘s Lore reaped wide acclaim and earned it every step of the way. Its progressive vision has only begun to be digested.

Honorable Mention

Killer Boogie, Detroit – Impressive debut from the retro-minded offshoot of Black Rainbows brought ’70s boogie to Italy. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a quick turnaround, but either way, their first outing knew its audience and spoke directly to it.

My Sleeping Karma, Moksha – This one was on various incarnations of the list. Very interested to see where the German heavy prog outfit wind up in terms of expanding their arrangements, but Moksha was a satisfying step forward in that process.

Egypt, Endless Flight – Should probably have a number, but the fact is it’s only been out for like two weeks, so it hasn’t really been given the test of time at this point. Still, Egypt always deliver and this was no exception.

Valkyrie, Shadows – An awaited third full-length from Virginia’s Valkyrie and also their Relapse Records debut offered enough blazing guitar work to meet any quota, and was a welcome return after a long absence.

Magic Circle, Journey’s End – The second LP from this Massachusetts outfit pushed beyond doomly confines into more traditional metallurgy but held its eerie atmospherics intact, and the combination suited them remarkably well.

Monolord, Vænir – This was my go-to for 2015 when nothing else seemed quite crushing enough. The Swedish trio have very quickly stomped their way into the hearts and minds of the international underground, and rightfully so.

Freedom Hawk, Into Your Mind – After making a transition from a four-piece to a trio, this Virginian outfit proceeded to take a few stylistic risks on their second Small Stone long-player, and they paid off.

TombstonesVargariis – Fourth full-length from this Norwegian trio pushed them outside of doom’s confines into a darker and more extreme version of heaviness that pulled from death and black metals in addition to its sludgy underpinnings. The meld was punishing and lost nothing of its groove, wherever it went at any given moment.

Faces of Bayon, Ash and Dust Have no Dominion – I guess my only hesitation with including Faces of Bayon‘s second outing in any kind of year-end fare is I’m not sure if the album has actually been released yet. Even if not, they’re easily worth a mention.

Ice Dragon, A Beacon on the Barrow – Kind of a down year from Ice Dragon in terms of overall productivity, but if the quantity was down compared to some, A Beacon on the Barrow was quality enough to carry them through. In a way, I think the album actually benefited from the band giving listeners time to take it in.

Arenna, Given to Emptiness – Ah, so good. The Spanish heavy psych troupe dug in deep on Given to Emptiness and conjured sonic and emotional resonance on their second full-length. It’s one that still gets repeat listens.

Monster Magnet, Cobras and Fire – The long-running New Jersey outfit’s reworking of their 2010 album Mastermind was excellent, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t seem fair to list it when they’re working mostly from already-released source material. But still, if you haven’t heard it, go find it.

Various Artists, Electric Ladyland [Redux] – Even if the results hadn’t been so spectacular, Electric Ladyland [Redux] would deserve a mention for the sheer scope and logistical nightmare that the project must have been. Kudos to Magnetic Eye Records all around.

There are so many others: Abrahma, GoyaSun and Sail Club, DevilleSacri MontiDirty StreetsUfomammutWo Fat‘s live album, Mirror Queen, PentagramTorcheSumacGarden of WormBlack RainbowsHoly SerpentMinskBaronWeedpeckerElectric MoonFuzzBell WitchWindhand, Niche, We Lost the SeaSeremoniaSunderDomovoyd, The Heavy EyesDemon HeadFoggStars that MoveEnslavedRuby the Hatchet, on and on and on. That’s not even to mention the stuff I didn’t hear — Baroness will be on many people’s lists, no doubt, as well as Mutoid Man, Ghost and Kylesa — so yeah, I could pretty much keep going ad infinitum.

I, however, cannot. It’s been an absolute pleasure trying to keep up with 2015’s barrage the last 12 months, and I expect 2016 will only bring more. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading or that you’re able to get some use out of this post, whatever that might mean, and I thank you deeply, from the bottom of my heart, for your time and for reading. It means more to me than I can say that you might check out even any portion of this site or be involved, whether it’s sharing a link, leaving a comment to let me know who I forgot to mention or correct my spelling, signing up for the forum, listening to the radio, whatever it might be.

Thank you for an amazing 2015. And please stay tuned, because of course, there’s much more to come.

 

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