The Obelisk is Six Years Old Today

Posted in The Numbers on January 30th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

the obelisk 6 years

A lot has changed in the last six years. Not so much my PhotoShop skills, but plenty of other stuff. The first post on this site went up on Jan. 31, 2009. It was a Saturday, like tomorrow. The better part of the few days prior had been spent sorting out a WordPress back end with Slevin, picking a theme, making a header and all that kind of stuff, so I usually just mark the last Friday of each January as the anniversary of the site’s launch. I’m sure there’s a way to figure out the exact time and date it happened, but I’m also sure I have neither any idea nor inclination to find out what it might be. We’ll all live.

My perspective, of course, is skewed, but to me it seems like this site has come to occupy a curious space in the weird, online version of the heavy underground. There are a lot of blogs out there now — more than when I started and there were plenty then as well — and what I think continues to set this one apart is that I have no staff. I doubt everyone who stops by to check out a track stream or whatever or read a press release knows that, but it’s true. Apart from a few tour diaries (and more to come) and a few short-lived columns by others, I’ve done all the writing on this site in the last six years and over 5,800 posts. I’ve been places I never thought I’d go, heard things I never thought I’d hear. It’s become my creative livelihood. If it’s a weekday and I’m not writing, I feel disconnected.

That’s about me, though. I’ve said thanks many times over the years, and I continue to do so without fear of redundancy because it’s important to me on a personal level that you understand how much I appreciate your role in all this nonsense. I’ve thanked readers, my wife, labels, PR firms, Slevin, and many others along the way, but the group I think I probably thank the least is the bands, the people who actually make the music. I’ve also said there are days when The Obelisk is what gets me out of bed in the morning, which is very true, but if the music wasn’t there to start with, if these wonderful people weren’t reaching out to me at a rate that I can in no way keep up with anymore, the impulse would’ve died long ago. Whether it’s your fifth album or your debut EP on Bandcamp, thank you.

And to the rest as well, of course. Readers, both brand new and old enough to be considered friends. EVERYBODY on the forum and EVERYBODY who listens to the radio. The Patient Mrs., who I don’t think really understands this project completely but knows I need it and accepts that, which to me is all the more beautiful. My family for their support, especially this last year. The labels and public relations folk who’ve stuck with me even as my career in print media evaporated one outlet at a time. Slevin for his unending willingness to hold my hand through what must seem like the easiest damn things in the world to him.

The list goes on and is full of names that by now feel pretty familiar, which makes me feel even luckier for the loyalty that implies. If I believed in blessings, I’d call myself blessed. I am instead incredibly fortunate, and this site reminds me of that every single day. Even the weekends.

To six years.

Thank you,
JJ Koczan

 

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Top 20 of 2014 Readers Poll is Now Open!

Posted in Features on December 1st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

top 20 of 2014 readers poll (etching by maxime lalanne)

Believe it or not, it’s that time again. Welcome to The Obelisk’s Top 20 of 2014 Readers Poll. Like last year, we’ll be using a point system to tabulate the results, wherein a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one, as well as tabulating the raw votes — so rest assured that come New Year’s Day, we’re going to know what was the best album of 2014. Frankly, I can’t wait to find out.

With the Top 20 of 2013 Readers Poll there was never any mystery to it. The number one pick was number one from the first day and never looked back. This time, I feel like there are any number of potential top contenders that could vie for Album of the Year, and in a range of styles. I know I’ve been back and forth on what it should be for my own list — which will be along sometime later in the month — and I’ve got a nerd’s eagerness to find out how some of my own picks stack up to yours.

Thank you in advance to everyone who chooses to participate in this year’s Readers Poll. It’s always kind of nerve-wracking to ask people to type out their top choices, but it’s something that’s gotten bigger every time we’ve done it, and I hope 2014 follows that pattern as well. Any sharing of the link or reposting or anything of the kind is appreciated more than I can say.

Poll stays open until Jan. 1, 2015.

Let’s have some fun:

[THIS POLL IS NOW CLOSED. THANK YOU TO ALL WHO ENTERED.]

As always, the Readers Poll wouldn’t be possible without the diligent efforts of Slevin, whose coding talent is so far beyond my realm of understanding that I can only consider it magic. Please also know that your email address will not be used or kept, it’s simply a matter of verifying one-vote-per-address. All data is wiped clean after the poll is over. Thank you again for being a part of this.

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audiObelisk Transmission 037

Posted in Podcasts on June 20th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Click Here to Download

 

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

The apparent hubris I showed in bragging last time around at the silly method by which I transferred audio editing software from one laptop to another came back to bite me in the ass as I put this podcast together. Finally, last night, I turned to Thee Facebooks for assistance and received an amount of input that was both useful and encouraging on a personal level. Thanks to everybody who took the time to help and to recommend alternative programs to the one I was using. I’m by no means technically inclined, so it is very much appreciated.

So yeah, there was a bit of drama in the making maybe — it was right around the Buzzo track that everything went to hell — but I don’t think you’ll get any clue of that from the audio, which has a few unexpected turns in its progression. At least in the first hour. Hour two is huge jams, because basically there was no way I wasn’t going to put that 17-minute-long Wo Fat song in there and I wanted to have some other stuff to stand up to it, but hour one takes a couple different avenues toward heavy rock and I guess I was feeling some bluesy psych this time as well. I won’t spoil it any more than I already have. Hope you enjoy.

First Hour:
The Scimitar, “Babylon” from Doomsayer (2014)
Moab, “No Soul” from Scion A/V Presents Billow (2014)
Monobrow, “Cicada” from Big Sky Black Horse (2014)
1000mods, “Horses’ Green” from Vultures (2014)
Mat McNerney & Kimmo Helén, “Blood and Bone Revival” from The World is Burning OST (2014)
The Atlas Moth, “City of Light” from The Old Believer (2014)
Highlands, “Your Let Down” from Dark Matter Traveler (2014)
Blues Pills, “River” from Blues Pills (2014)
Sea Bastard, “Door Sniffer” from Scabrous (2014)
Major Kong, “Acid Transmission” from Doom for the Black Sun (2014)
Buzz Osborne, “The Ripping Driving” from This Machine Kills Artists (2014)
Prisma Circus, “Napalm” from Reminiscences (2014)
The Heavy Company, “One Big Drag” from Uno Dose (2014)

Second Hour:
Mope, “Doomed to Feed the Ground” from Mope (2014)
Idre, “Witch Trial” from Idre (2014)
Harsh Toke, “Weight of the Sun” from Light up and Live (2013)
Wo Fat, “Dreamwalker” from The Conjuring (2014)

Total running time: 1:58:41

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 037

 

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The Top 20 of 2013 Revisited

Posted in Features on June 12th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Six months ago, nearly to the day, I posted my Top 20 of 2013. Maybe I remember it so well because it took so damn long to put together. Well, now it’s time to basically look back and tear my own picks a new one. To see who’s stood up six months after the fact and which albums have been forgotten.

You know the drill. This is always an enjoyable, if somewhat humbling experience, but if a fierce numerical inventory is what needs to be made, then I’m on board. Here’s how it shakes out:

20. All Them Witches, Lightning at the Door

If I was putting this list together today, this would be a top 10 album. It was pretty recently released when I first did the top 20, but the more I’ve gotten to know it, the more I’ve dug it.

19. Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork

I went back and revisited this a couple weeks back, as I’ll probably do once or twice a year into perpetuity, but yeah, I’m still way more inclined to reach for an earlier Queens of the Stone Age album.

18. I are Droid, The Winter Ward

Spent a lot of time with I are Droid‘s second outing this long winter, has held up well. A clean, full, professional sound and excellent songwriting. Poppy at times, but that’s the idea.

17. Magic Circle, Magic Circle

This was some of 2013’s best doom. I haven’t gone back to the album a million times, but I do keep trying to track down a Magic Circle gig to see them live again. Hoping for new stuff from them soon.

16. Iron Man, South of the Earth

I felt like when Iron Man got signed to Rise Above, it was a victory for every underrated doom band ever. At very least all the ones floating around in Maryland. This deserved to be on the list.

15. Sasquatch, IV

So good. Sasquatch write hooks so catchy it’s supernatural. IV was a vision of what hard rock should’ve become after grunge died out in the ’90s. Haven’t gone back to it every day, but it remains a killer record.

14. Black Pyramid, Adversarial

This was going to be in my top 20 one way or another. With the breakup of the band owing to members leaving the Boston area, it’s become kind of a sad swansong in my mind, though the songs still make their victory plain to hear.

13. Across Tundras, Electric Relics

Every now and again, I check Tanner Olson‘s Bandcamp page to see if he’s put out anything new. He’s due at this point, but this Across Tundras record has enough staying power to hold me over either way. “Gravel Roads,” man.

12. Borracho, Oculus

I feel like I listened to this record so much I know it front to back, so I don’t even need to put it on. I just press play in my brain and the songs start. Riffs riffs riffs. Borracho proved they could thrive as a three-piece and Oculus blew their first one out of the water.

11. Ice Dragon, Born a Heavy Morning

Fucking hell, I wish Ice Dragon played shows. They’ve got four new CD reissues out since Born a Heavy Morning that haunt my dreams. If I had any money, I’d be telling them to shut up and take it from me.

10. Devil to Pay, Fate is Your Muse

It was a long album, but a good one. I was happy I could fit this into the top 10, and I still am. Charm goes a long way, and Devil to Pay have plenty.

9. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below

I played this in the car the other day and The Patient Mrs. goes, “Can we listen to something less… abrasive?” It seemed to me she immediately understood the appeal of Beast in the Field. This record continues to crush everything in its path.

8. Beelzefuzz, Beelzefuzz

Kind of a similar deal to Borracho. Truth be told, at this point, I’m just glad to even talk about Beelzefuzz‘s self-titled. Seriously. I saw it on the other list and was like, “Yay!” One of the most inventive and individual albums I heard last year. Can’t wait to find out how they follow it.

7. Samsara Blues Experiment, Waiting for the Flood

I had kind of put this one down for a while, but I recently picked it back up and have been listening again. Excellent heavy psych. Put Samsara Blues Experiment in another class of bands as far as I’m concerned.

6. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Mind Control

Probably haven’t listened to it all the way through since I made the Top 20 in December. Some of its hooks continue to resonate though, and I hope Uncle Acid continue to get weirder and more spaced out.

5. Lumbar, The First and Last Days of Unwelcome

I remember making the list and then pushing everything back by one to fit this in the top five. One of those one-time-only records that you’re going to hear people talk about a decade from now, myself included.

4. Vista Chino, Peace

No regrets for having this on the list, but there are records behind it in number that I’ve listened to more since. I hope at some point they do a second one, and I hope Mike Dean plays bass on it.

3. Gozu, The Fury of a Patient Man

Absolutely, yes. I haven’t seen any single band play as much as Gozu since I moved to Massachusetts about a year ago, and I am 100 percent okay with that. These dudes kill it, and these songs have only become tighter and more lethal on stage. Whatever they do next, it’s going to be very, very heavy.

2. Monster Magnet, Last Patrol

Hasn’t quite had the staying power I thought it would, to be honest. I have the vinyl but never got it on CD and I’m sure I would listen to it more often if I had that version. The LP is killer, but there are like two songs per side and that’s an awful lot of flipping for an album that just demands you chill the fuck out and let it take over your mind.

1. Clutch, Earth Rocker

Pretty satisfying to know that if I had to make a Top 20 of 2013 today, this would still be my number one pick. It felt glaringly obvious to me — it was the top of the Readers Poll as well — but some things you just can’t ignore. Clutch added a few classics to their catalog with Earth Rocker, and it felt like even the record’s B-grade material was top notch.

The Top 20 last year actually went to 30 — I think this year I’ll probably cut out the middle-man and just do a Top 30 — but here were the other 10 picks:

21. Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era
22. The Freeks, Full On
23. Luder, Adelphophagia
24. The Flying Eyes, Lowlands
25. Black Skies, Circadian Meditations
26. At Devil Dirt, Plan B: Sin Revolucion No Hay Evolucion
27. Kadavar, Abra Kadavar
28. Naam, Vow
29. Mühr, Messiah
30. Uzala, Tales of Blood and Fire

Most of those look about right. If I was making the list now, I’d put Mühr and Naam in the Top 20, in place of Queens of the Stone Age and I don’t know what else, and just seeing the name of the album there now makes me want to put on that Luder. I still feel like I don’t know the Uzala as well as I’d like to, and I bought that on CD and tape when I saw them last fall.

There you have it. Seems like the original list actually held up better than I expected, so right on. Overall it was a fairly stellar year for new music, though I doubt I’ll be saying anything different in another six months when the end of 2014 rolls around.

Anything you forgot about or anything that dropped off from your favorites last year? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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This is the 5,000th Post on The Obelisk

Posted in The Numbers on June 2nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

That is a lot of posts. Five frickin’ thousand, and apart from the odd and usually shortlived column from someone else, they’ve all been by me. I’ll be the first to tell you it isn’t all gold, but I’m proud of this site and proud to be passing this mile-marker along the way.

Earlier this year, I celebrated five years since I started The Obelisk at the end of January in 2009. I’ve spent some time thinking since then about what doing this means to me. I don’t think it was ever more in my consciousness than at Roadburn in April just how much the music is a part of who I am and how baseline elemental — air, water, food, riffs — it is. After a month of dragging ass mentally for having lost my last remaining job, to go there and be so inspired felt like being renewed. There’s some comedown obviously as you return to your life and the realities that presents, but I’ve worked hard to retain that feeling as much as possible, and hopefully it comes through in whatever it might be that I’m posting on a given day.

There’s no doubt in my head that without the immense and incredible support I get week in and week out, this site wouldn’t be here. Every comment is appreciated, every retweet, every Thee Facebooks like or share or comment or whatever it is. All of it, really. It sounds like a huge ego trip, and maybe it is, but every time I see someone sharing a post from this site, or having something to say — good or bad — about a review or other piece I wrote, or even if they’re just stoked that a press release I put up has good news, it’s validating in a way that I never expected to come from doing this. When I woke up this morning, the first thought I had was cracking open the laptop and getting the day started. It’s become an important, essential piece of my existence.

And I owe that to your checking it out. If you read every day, if you post on the forum, stream the radio player, if you never read, or if you show up to hear a track stream or something, whatever, thank you. There is a real human being on the other side of these words, putting this together, and it means a lot to me that you find any level of value whatsoever in what I do.

On to 5,001.

Thanks,
JJ Koczan

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

The Obelisk

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The Obelisk is Five Years Old Today

Posted in The Numbers on January 31st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

I don’t think when this site was launched five years ago today I had any idea of what was going to happen with it. The Obelisk started basically because I was newly out of work and didn’t know what to do with myself in the wake of that. I wanted to write. Since the start, I’ve never really known what’s next, and that has continued to be the case over the last half-decade. As milestones have come up, things like adding the forum, adding the radio stream, etc., it’s really only been after the fact that I’ve been able to sort of step back and realize that any sort of shift has taken place. This is one of those times.

You know what’s coming, and though I say it with some regularity, I never quite feel like it’s enough. The internet is built on anonymity. If I’m lucky enough that your eyes are seeing this somewhere around the world, whether it’s Jersey or New Zealand, there’s a decent chance we’ll never meet. If we do, that’s awesome — please  say hi and I’m sorry in advance for being an awkward weirdo — but I know how it is to read a site like this one and have the author be an abstract, shapeless beyond the text presented, not really a consideration. I’m not saying everyone who looks at this page needs to know who I am or anything like that, just that I hope that if you’ve ever read this site before or if this is your first time here, you know that there’s a human being on the other end who is incredibly grateful to you for doing so.

The Obelisk has become a huge part of my life and a huge part of my every day, and five years on, it’s not only an outlet for writing, but a big piece of how I think about my own identity. I never anticipated that, but I’m not sorry it’s happened. I’m proud of this site, what it has managed to accomplish in its time, and I’m thrilled to be able to continue to develop it. I’m amazed at the passionate community that’s developed on the forum, and I think for the five bucks a month I spend to host it, the radio stream is worth the cash for my enjoyment alone, never mind anyone else’s. Thank you. Thank you so much. For checking in every now and again, for reading however often you might, for posting on the forum, listening to the radio, correcting my spelling on somebody’s name or offering suggestions for bands to check out, or to check out your band. For clicking Like or retweeting. All of it. Huge thanks to The Patient Mrs. for her years of rolled-eye indulgence, and to Slevin for his near-constant help in every technical aspect of running the site, from installing WordPress to designing the forum to finding the host for the radio to helping me size the header properly. There are days where The Obelisk is the reason I roll out of bed — over the last five years, more than a few — and I know that would not be the case without the kind of support I have received on every level. Once again, thank you.

I look forward to continuing to say thanks for as long as this lasts, however long it might be, wherever it might go from here, and wherever we might be headed. I’ll probably never be able to convey just how much your support and your involvement is appreciated, but please, please know that it is.

All the best,
JJ Koczan

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

The Obelisk

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audiObelisk Transmission 034

Posted in Podcasts on January 20th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Click Here to Download

 

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

I was all set to pat myself on the back for making a podcast and posting it when someone might actually see it, unlike the last two (033 and 032), which rather impractically both went up on the eve of a major holiday, and then I remembered today was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Whoops. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Oh well. There’s always next month.

This one took kind of a strange and fun turn in the making and got very languid, very spaced out and sort of dreamy but still heavy in the bottom end. We start out with new stuff from We Hunt Buffalo, Truckfighters and Dwellers right in a row, and I guess that set the tone for a heavy roll that carried through a lot of the rest of the nearly-two-hour span. Not a complaint. I think it flows really well, and of course I hope you do too.

Once again, no real theme, though in addition to the aforementioned, you’ll also find new tracks from Sahg, Papir, Radar Men from the Moon, Pontiak and The Wounded Kings, the latter providing a grim finish after All Them Witches and Black Skies offer prime terrestrial psychedelia. It’s a good mix, all told. It grooves. It nods.

First Hour:
We Hunt Buffalo, “Blood from a Stone” from Blood from a Stone (2014)
Truckfighters, “Get Lifted” from Universe (2014)
Dwellers, “Creature Comfort” from Pagan Fruit (2014)
Salitter, “But I am Not Consoled” from Salitter EP (2013)
Papir, “I” from IIII (2014)
Radar Men from the Moon, “Surrealist Appearance” from Strange Wave Galore (2014)
The Ravenna Arsenal, “The Desert Shows No Mercy” from I (2013)
Pontiak, “Surrounded by Diamonds” from Innocence (2014)
Sahg, “Blizzardborne” from Delusions of Grandeur (2014)

Second Hour:
Doctor Cyclops, “Cobweb Hands” from Oscuropasso (2014)
Mammatus, “Brainbow/Brain-Train” from Heady Mental (2013)
Sun Voyager, “Space Queen” from Mecca (2013)
All Them Witches, “Swallowed by the Sea” from Lightning at the Door (2013)
Black Skies, “Lifeblood” from Circadian Meditations (2013)
The Wounded Kings, “Consolamentum” from Consolamentum (2014)

Total running time: 1:58:52

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 034

 

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Visual Evidence: New Header Art and Logo by Adam Burke and Christophe Szpajdel

Posted in Visual Evidence on January 3rd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

This whole thing came about because I mentioned a few months back that it was a personal dream of mine to have Belgian-born “lord of the logos” Christophe Szpajdel do a logo for this site. I’ve dug Szpajdel‘s work since I first saw it editing a feature about him in Metal Maniacs, in what I like to think of now as “the before time.” Well, Kiffin Rogers of Napalm Christ/Rwake was kind enough to put me in touch and Szpajdel, instead of pointing to the nearest cliff and asking me in so many words to leap from it, was on board with designing a logo for The Obelisk. This was most certainly exciting news.

Now, I like the Skillit header currently on this site. Fucking love it, in fact, and I plan on keeping it in use along with the new design. In its every detail, it excellently encapsulates a lot of the vibe that I enjoy most about this site. However, to ask Skillit‘s work to mesh with Szpajdel — who’s more known for his associations on the extreme end of black and death metal than anything resembling desert rock — would be unfair to both artists. Adam Burke (interview here), however, seemed like a perfect fit, with his watercolor style, deep tones and fantasy influence.

A phrase I actually used in my email to Burke talking about what I had in mind for the header piece: “A land-octopus off to one side or the other’s always welcome by me.” Rules to live by, people.

Obviously, when the finished product came in, I was flabbergasted. Here’s a look at the details of both the header art and the logo. Click any to enlarge.

Header Art by Adam Burke

You ever have a picture in your mind of what you want and then what you wind up with not only is that thing, but is that thing better? Yeah, that’s kind of how it went with this one. The land-octopus, the sunscape, the crags on the left side, Burke absolutely nailed it. I damn near wept when I opened the file.

Logo by Christophe Szpajdel

This is the original hand-drawn version of the logo. You can see the marker marks and the lighter spaces where his stroke lifted. So fucking cool. If you do or don’t know Szpajdel‘s work, he’s an absolute master. It was an honor to email with him, let alone actually have him send this as an attachment.

I, on the other hand, am not at all a master when it comes to graphic design, and though I tried for an embarrassingly long time, I couldn’t get the logo either completely black or onto a transparent background. Outside help was enlisted, and this emerged as the finished version (turned white for posting here — also maybe for t-shirts):

When I put them together — that I could do — this is how it wound up:

The Finished Product

I don’t think I could be any happier with how it all came out in the end of I tried. Huge thanks to Christophe Szpajdel and Adam Burke for their attention and hard work. Please check out their sites/portfolios and support underground art by giving them money and telling other people how much ass they kick.

Christophe Szpajdel on Flickr

Lord of the Logos book on Amazon

Adam Burke on Thee Facebooks

Fellwoods on Bandcamp

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