Sleep, Live at Third Man Records: The Botanist Goes to Nashville

Posted in Reviews on May 29th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

sleep live at third man records

‘The Vault’ is a quarterly subscription service from Third Man Records, the Nashville-based imprint, record store, studio and apparently live venue owned by Jack White, formerly of The White Stripes and currently of Jack White doing whatever the hell he wants, which would seem to include putting out Sleep records. The subscription fee is $60 per quarter, so not nothing, but the pull is that the releases are exclusive and limited, and at least in the case of Sleep‘s Live at Third Man Records, that $60 breaks down to $15 per each different-colored LP of a quadruple-LP box set release. It almost sounds sensible at that rate. I don’t know what releasing Sleep did for subscriptions, but the package in which Live at Third Man Records arrives is equal parts gorgeous and heavy — that is, you feel like you’re carrying records when you hold it, because you are — and with this kind of release, that’s definitely a piece of the experience, like the poster and patch also included.

The other part is a two-hour live set from Sleep — vocalist/bassist Al Cisneros, guitarist Matt Pike, drummer Jason Roeder — recorded in Dec. 2018, months after the release of their awaited album, The Sciences (review here), and its companion single “Leagues Beneath” (review here), that finds the landmark trio playing much of the record to a duly salivating audience, as well as classics from 2003’s Dopesmoker (discussed here) and the mega-influential 1993 sophomore outing, Sleep’s Holy Mountain (reissue review here). It is, essentially, a fan piece, special in hindsight for those who were there to see it and a work for the rest of us plebs to chase down however possible. For what it’s worth, I don’t imagine anyone who is a more than casual Sleep fan doing so would regret it. The sound throughout the 11-song set is raw in live-set-recorded-to-acetate fashion, but that does no disservice to the material, and the band of course sound spot on. If they didn’t, Live at Third Man Records probably wouldn’t exist. It’s about as close to a sure thing as you can get, again, if you’re a fan.

They open with “Leagues Beneath” and then go directly into the trimmed down version of “Dopesmoker” they’ve been playing live for however long. It’s broken up into “Dopesmoker Pt. 1” and a much-shorter “Dopesmoker Pt. 2” and when one factors in the subsequent “Holy Mountain,” that already covers sides A, B and C in basically three songs. Welcome to the Sleep show. It’s as though they knew their audience showed up wanting to get pummeled by riffs so they got it out of the way quickly so they could get down to the business of… more pummeling with riffs, I guess. But what a way to go. Cisneros‘ vocals sound right on in a way that demonstrates how much he’s found a way to meld the newer, less guttural vocal style of the more recent songs with his throatier past, and his vocal patterning in “Dopesmoker” only adds to that meisterwerk’s unique appeal.

sleep

Of The Sciences, only “Antarcticans Thawed” isn’t aired (or the title-track intro, if you want to be technical about it), and a slowed down version of “Sonic Titan,” particularly in following “The Clarity” (review here), which was released in 2014 as a standalone single and the band’s first studio work in more than a decade, which also hits the brakes on tempo to some degree, is a righteous highlight, with Roeder‘s march setting the pace via snare taps that do justice to original drummer Chris Hakius while adding his own sense of purpose to each crash that accompanies. Likewise, Pike‘s solo shred is a fitting reminder of his near-unmatched stage force. “Sonic Titan” accounts for side E all on its own after “The Clarity” and “Aquarian” on side D, and from there, the three-piece dig even deeper into The Sciences, with “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” “Giza Butler” and “The Botanist” one into the next.

The difference is a live version of “Sonic Titan” had appeared on the 2003 Tee Pee release of Dopesmoker, but the other three were exclusive to the new record. The band break into the manic groove of “Marijuanaut’s Theme” after “Sonic Titan,” and then follow with “Giza Butler”‘s mellow intro and omega-riff later. With the languid, solo-topped “The Botanist” as a comedown after that, it’s as dynamic as Sleep have ever sounded on a recording, and absolutely representative of what they do on stage, whether it’s Cisneros announcing “The pterodactyl flies again over emerald fields” as part of the weedian storytelling of “Giza Butler” or Roeder‘s final tom fill in “The Botanist.” Closing out with “Dragonaut” is essentially a victory lap.

One more full dose of fuzz overload is applied, and Sleep ride the dragon on Mars all the way to unmatched stoner supremacy. The recording ends with Pike‘s guitar feeding back while the crowd cheers, which is a pretty efficient way of saying it all. I don’t think Live at Third Man Records is a release for a novice Sleep fan, and I also think that if one hasn’t seen Sleep since The Sciences came out, something of the context here will be lost. However, I also don’t really think Sleep have casual fans. This isn’t a band you maybe put on every now and again because, eh, whatever. This is a band that incites worship, as the increasingly rabid response to their post-reunion run has shown.

As they’ve shifted back to being a working band promoting a new album, touring, headlining festivals, etc., they’ve not only harnessed a new generation of followers, but they’ve managed to give those who would pay homage a fitting altar to do so. They’re as much a community as a band at this point, and Live at Third Man Records is more than just a companion to The Sciences. It’s a document for and of that community at a pivotal moment, just months after the surprise release of that studio album, capturing the band as they set about that work. Not everyone’s going to get it, but isn’t that part of the appeal too?

Sleep, “Dopesmoker” live at Third Man Records

Sleep on Thee Facebooks

Sleep on Twitter

Sleep website

Tags: , , , , ,

Boris Announce Love & Evol 2LP Release & US Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 16th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

boris

2LP and digital release only for the new Boris record, Love and Evol. Fair enough, I guess, as CDs prove historically to more and more be the bastard-child of physical formats as tapes at least earn some kind of revisionist hipness. I’ll still take a tiny plastic platter if one’s on offer, but I’d be lying if I said didn’t say that more often than not it’s digital files I’m actually listening to these days, and if you’re having one or the other sit on a shelf, the vinyl is more impressive. For those of us who buy in bulk, however, there’s something to be said for saving every bit of space possible.

Either way, new Boris is nothing but good news, whatever format restrictions may apply, and even better that they’ll tour to support it. I’ll look forward to seeing them in… Jersey City?

Time does strange things to us all.

From the PR wire:

BORIS LOVE AND EVOL

BORIS ANNOUNCE ‘LOVE & EVOL’ & NORTH AMERICAN TOUR IN CELEBRATION

LOVE & EVOL will be released via Third Man Records in August. Re-issues of Boris’s Akuma no Uta and Feedbacker are forthcoming.

Boris have never been one for sentimentality—they simply wave goodbye to old worlds in favor of new horizons. That’s exactly the logic behind the band’s two forthcoming reissues of Akuma No Uta and Feedbacker, which will be released via Third Man Records this year, marking a new partnership between the band and label. The batch of reissues also makes way for Boris’s first new album in two years: L?VE & EV?L, due out this August on Third Man. The pioneering, monolithic trio will also be hitting the road with NYC industrialists Uniform this fall – tour dates are listed below.

L?VE & EV?L exist as two independent works, encapsulating conflicting connotations that interweave and become intricately entangled with one another, gradually eroding before becoming utterly singular. Continuing to tinker and toil with their sound since the release of DEAR, Boris have pivoted onward a more organic, non-grid literary style that L?VE & EV?L showcases.

Boris was formed in 1992, culminating in the current lineup of Takeshi, Wata, and Atsuo just three years later. Even in their infancy, the members of Boris boldly explored their own vision of heavy music, where words like “explosive” and “thunderous” barely do justice. Using overpowering soundscapes embellished with copious amounts of lighting and billowing smoke, Boris has shared with audiences across the planet an experience for all five senses in their concerts, earning legions of zealous fans along the way.

L?VE & EV?L will be released this August on double LP and digital formats via Third Man Records, with the reissue details to follow. Stay tuned for more news to come.

Boris is:
Takeshi — Vocal, Bass & Guitar
Wata — Vocal, Guitar & Echo
Atsuo — Vocal, Drums, Percussion & Electronics

L?VE & EV?L — Track Listing:
Disc [L?VE]
Side A
1. Away from You
2. Coma

Side B
3. EVOL

Disc [EV?L]
Side A
1. uzume
2. LOVE

Side B
3. In The Pain(t)
4. Shadow of Skull

BORIS — On Tour w/ Uniform:
August 19 San Diego, CA @ Casbah
August 20 Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar
August 22 San Antonio, TX @ Paper Tiger
August 23 Austin, TX @ Barracuda
August 24 Denton, TX @ Rubber Gloves
August 25 Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
August 28 Mexico City, MX @ Galera *
August 30 Tampa, FL @ Orpheum
August 31 Gainesville, FL @ High Dive
September 1 Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade
September 3 Nashville, TN @ Exit/In
September 4 Asheville, NC @ The Orange Peel
September 5 Raleigh, NC @ Hopscotch Festival *
September 7 Washington, DC @ Black Cat
September 8 Jersey City, NJ @ White Eagle Hall
September 10 Brooklyn, NY @ Elsewhere
September 11 Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
September 12 Portland, ME @ Port City Music Hall
September 13 Montreal, QC @ Theatre Plaza
September 14 Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace
September 15 Grand Rapids, MI @ Pyramid Scheme
September 17 Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
September 18 St. Louis, MO @ Delmar Hall
September 20 Denver, CO @ Marquis Theater
September 21 Salt Lake City, UT @ Metro Music Hall
September 23 Seattle, WA @ Neumos
September 24 Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
September 26 San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
September 27 San Jose, CA @ The Ritz
September 28 Camarillo, CA @ Rock City
September 29 Los Angeles, CA @ Echoplex

* no Uniform

Artist photo by: Miki Matsushima

http://www.facebook.com/borisheavyrocks/
http://borisheavyrocks.com/
https://thirdmanstore.com/

Boris, Live at Psycho Las Vegas 2018

Tags: , , , , ,

The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the-top-30-of-2018

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2018 to that, please do.

It just wouldn’t be a year if it wasn’t completely overwhelming, right?

2018 has certainly met that standard and then some. The swath of output, whether it’s a new generation adopting and adapting established methods or out and out reinventing the stylistic wheel and then pushing it uphill on a seemingly endless barrage of tours, has been staggering, and it’s still happening. There’s a little more than a week to go in the year. You think a band isn’t putting something out today? Of course they are. It’s every day. It’s all the time.

But this year wasn’t just about quantity either. I think one of my biggest struggles in writing about albums in 2018 — and with the last Quarterly Review and various premieres and video posts that were basically album reviews in disguise, let’s estimate we’re somewhere past 300 records reviewed one way or another — was in conveying just how killer so much of the stuff coming through was. How many times can you say the word “awesome?” Well, I’m sure we’ll see it a few more times before this list is over, so there you go.

I say something like this every time I do a list, but please keep in mind these are my picks and I’m one person. But I am a person. I know there’s the whole internet-anonymity thing, but I assure you, I’m a human being (more of a cave troll, really) typing these words. I’m all for everyone sharing their own picks in the comments, and all for passionate advocating, but please, let’s keep it civil and respectful. These things can spiral out of control quickly, but let’s remember that we’re all human beings and worth of basic courtesy, even if some of us are dead wrong about a good many things. You should definitely punch nazis, though.

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

[UPDATE: You’ll notice the inclusion of an ’18a.’ I had Stoned Jesus in my notes as number 18 initially and they got dropped as I was adjusting things along the way. I’ve added them back in, but it didn’t seem fair to bump everyone else down after the post had already been published. That was the best I could come up with for a solution. If you’re pissed about one more killer record being added, please feel free to email me and tell me all about it.]

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Chicago’s The Skull had no small task before them in following up their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) — let alone living up to their pedigree — but their second album demonstrated a creative growth that sacrificed nothing of memorability when it came to songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “All that Remains (Is True).” They got down to work and got the job done, which is what a working band does. 2018 was by any measure a fantastic year for doom, and The Skull were a big part of why.

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

The Dec. 2017 murder of Rev. Jim Forrester was tragic. No other way to say it. Foghound, who were in the midst of making Awaken to Destroy at the time, put together an album that not only features Forrester‘s last recorded performance, but pays respect to his memory while the wound is still raw and manages to kick ass all the while. It’s a record that can’t ever be divorced from its circumstances — just can’t — and so it can be a heavy listen in more than just its tones, but it’s basically Foghound proving they’re unstoppable. And so they are.

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

Who among us here today is not a sucker for Orange Goblin? Come forward an be judged. I mean, really. Nine records deep, the London sceneforgers are nothing less than an institution, beloved by boozehounds, riffhounds, doomhounds, and really, a wide variety of hounds the world over. Also dudes. With its essential title-track hook and highlight cuts in “Ghosts of the Primitives” and “Burn the Ships” — or, you know, any of them — they added to one of heavy’s most unshakable legacies with an album as furious as it is welcoming to its generations-spanning fanbase.

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

fu manchu clone of the universe
Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed Feb. 15.

There are two kinds of people in this world, and they’re both Fu Manchu fans. Clone of the Universe turned heads with a guest appearance from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson on the 18-minute side-B-consuming “Il Mostro Atomico,” but really to focus on that instead of “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” etc., is only seeing half the point of the album in the first place. The long-running lords of fuzz hit a new stride with 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), and Clone of the Universe was in every way a worthy successor.

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain
Released by Svart Records. Reviewed May 16.

It was an unenviable task before Witch Mountain in replacing vocalist Uta Plotkin, but founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson found the right voice in Kayla Dixon and solidified the lineup with her and bassist Justin Brown enough to make a declarative statement in Witch Mountain‘s self-titled LP. That’s the story of it. They pulled it off. Met with what was unquestionably a bummer circumstance, they pushed through and moved their sound forward through a new beginning — and not their first one. Watch out when their next record hits.

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Richmond, Virginia, doomers Windhand‘s second collaboration with producer Jack Endino produced a marked and purposeful expansion of their sound, encompassing classic grunge influences and a heavy psychedelic swirl that added color their previously-greyscale sonic haze. Resonant in tone and emotionalism, Eternal Return readjusted Windhand‘s trajectory in such a manner that, where one might’ve thought they knew where the band were headed in terms of their progression, they’ve made themselves a less predictable outfit on the whole. For that alone, it’s a triumph. Then you have the songs.

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

I don’t even want to admit how long I was waiting for Sun Voyager‘s first long-player to show up, but when it finally did, the New York trio did not disappoint. Catchy, energetic, fuzzed-out tunes with driving rhythms and a heavy psych flourish, they tapped into shoegaze and desert vibes without losing any sense of themselves in the process, and if the extra wait was so they could be so remarkably coherent in their expression on their full-length, then I wouldn’t want it to have shown up any sooner. An easy pick to stand among 2018’s best debut albums. Now to wait for the next one.

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

It should tell you something that after working quickly to produce three albums, Louisiana’s Forming the Void are still defined by their potential. If I had my druthers, I’d put the recent Ripple signees on tour for the bulk of 2019, across the US and in Europe for festivals and support-slot club shows, really give them an opportunity to hammer out who they are as a band and then hit the studio for LP four. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but they’d only be doing the universe a favor by kicking into that gear. As it stands, their progression is palpable in their material and they stand absolutely ready for whatever the next level might be for them.

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

Released by BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed June 29.

Aside from the speed at which Spaceslug have turned around offerings — with Eye the Tide following 2017’s Mountains and Reminiscence EP (review here) and Time Travel Dilemma (review here) full-length and their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here) — the Polish outfit have undertaken significant progression in their sound, moving from pure heavy psychedelic warmth to incorporating elements out of extreme metal as they did on Eye the Tide. Adding to the latest record’s accomplishment is the smoothness with which they brought seemingly opposing sides together, only adding depth to an approach already worthy of oceanic comparison.

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

Conan Existential Void Guardian
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Conan‘s reign of terror has been unfolding for more than a decade now, and each of their albums has become a kind of step along a path of incremental growth. Consider the melody creeping into the shouts of founding guitarist Jon Davis, or the emergence of bassist Chris Fielding as a vocal presence alongside, the two sharing a frontman role more than ever before while welcoming drummer Johnny King to the fold of destructive tonality and doomly extremism. Existential Void Guardian may end up just being another stomp-print on their way to the next thing, but it affirmed the fact that as much as Conan grow each time out, their central violence continues to hold sway.

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

PALE DIVINE S/T
Released by Shadow Kingdom Records. Reviewed Nov. 21.

Look. A new Pale Divine record doesn’t come along every day, so yeah, their self-titled was probably going to be on my list one way or the other, but it definitely helps that not only was it their first outing in six years since 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here), but it had the songs to live up to a half-decade-plus of anticipation. It marked the first studio appearance from bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis alongside guitarist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey — now both of Beelzefuzz as well — and made a strong argument for how much Pale Divine deserve more than 20 years on from their initial demo to be considered classic American doom.

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands
Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed May 11.

The return and rise to prominence of Washington pure heavy rockers Mos Generator might be the underground’s feelgood story of the decade, but it hasn’t by any means been easily won. In addition to rebuilding the band however many albums ago, guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed has put in innumerable hours on tour and worked to actually develop the group creatively in addition to in terms of stage presence. This is shown throughout some of the classic prog elements making their way onto Shadowlands, and perhaps some of the collection’s moodier aspects are born of the aforementioned road time as well. Hard for that kind of thing not to be a slog after a while, but at least they have killer tunes to play.

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

The only safe bet about Stoned Jesus‘ fourth long-player, Pilgrims, was that it was going to sound different than the third. That 2015 outing, The Harvest (review here), preceded the band touring to celebrate the fifth anniversary and after-the-fact success of 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but Pilgrims defied narrative in that instead of incorporating elements from the second record in more of a heavy psych or jam sound, Stoned Jesus instead showcased a tighter, more sureheaded sense of craft than they’ve ever displayed before, and arrived on Napalm Records with a collection of songs that demonstrated the growth and sense of creative will that drives them. While one can take a look at their moniker and think immediately they know what’s coming, Stoned Jesus have made themselves one of the least predictable bands in heavy rock.

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

“Pirate Smile.” “Lines.” “Whatever.” “It Ain’t Right.” “Threes.” “Cinderella.” “Generals.” “Big Enough.” “Alone.” “Lucky. Mike Cummings, Jessica Baker, Erik Larson. Every player, every song, every minute. If you want to know what heart-on-sleeve sounds like, it fucking sounds like Backwoods Payback. In their line from hardcore punk to grunge to heavy rock, they encompass experiences and emotionalism that are both shown in raw form throughout Future Slum, and build all the while on the chemistry they set out in developing with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), when they welcomed Larson to the lineup on drums and revitalized their mission. Also worth noting, they were the best live band I saw this year. Anywhere.

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

No question the excitement of C.O.C. putting out their first record with frontman Pepper Keenan involved since 2005’s In the Arms of God was one of this year’s top stories in heavy. And No Cross No Crown tapped directly into the spirit of 1994’s Deliverance (discussed here) and 1996’s Wiseblood (discussed here) in terms of direction, while updating the band’s style with a four-part 2LP in mind. In some ways, it’ll be their next album that really gives listeners a sense of where they’re at and where they might be headed, but as welcome returns go, having Keenan alongside Mike DeanWoody Weatherman and Reed Mullin is in no way to be understated, and neither is the quality of their output together, then and now.

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It is no simple feat to hypnotize an audience and convey serenity while at the same time holding attention with songcraft, so that the listener isn’t actually so much unconscious as malleable of mood and spirit in such a direction as the band suggests. Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to become experts at this, and their third full-length fosters tonal warmth and jammy progressions with an overarching naturalism that finds them so committed to analog recording that one can buy direct transfers of the tape master of III. Some acts take classic-style practices as an aesthetic choice. With Naxatras, it seems to be the stuff of life, yet their sound is only vibrant and human in a way that, at least one hopes, is even more representative of the future than the past.

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

It was time for Clutch to make a change in producers, and the Maryland overlords of groove seemed to know it. Known as a live band, they went with Vance Powell, who’s known a live band producer. The results on Book of Bad Decisions might not have been so earth-shatteringly different from 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here), which was the too-soon follow-up to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — both helmed by Machine — but the inimitable four-piece indeed succeeded in capturing the electricity of their stage performance and, as ever, treated fans to a collection of songs bearing Clutch‘s unmistakable hallmarks of quirky lyrics, funky rhythms and heavy roll. They may always be a live band, but Clutch‘s studio work is in no way to be discounted, ever, as this record reaffirmed. Plus, crab cakes.

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

After 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), I wasn’t sure Ancestors were going to put out another record. They kicked around word of one for a while, but it wasn’t until the end of last year that it really seemed to congeal into a possibility. And by then, who the hell knew what they might get up to on a full-length? With Suspended in Reflections, in some says, they picked up where they left off in terms of finding a niche for themselves in progressive and melodic heavy, but I think the time showed in the poise of their execution and the control of the material. Suspended in Reflections can’t help but be six years more mature than its predecessor, and that suits its contemplative feel. In tracks like “Gone,” and “The Warm Glow,” they tempered their expansive sound with an efficiency that can only be had with time.

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

The narrative here was hard to beat. Matt Pike spending an album cycle talking about Lemmy Kilmister and paying homage to his dirt-rock forebear and the gods of old? It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Electric Messiah was the third collaboration between High on Fire and producer Kurt Ballou behind 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), and while it seemed after the last record that the formula might be getting stale, the band only sounded more and more lethal throughout the latest offering. Even putting aside their contributions to underground heavy, they’ve become one of the most essential metal bands of their generation. Metal, period. Doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re talking about it. If you’re listening to High on Fire, you know it. Usually because you’ve just been decapitated.

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

You know, if you take the time to separate Yawning Man from their 30-plus-year history and their legacy as one of the foundational acts of what later became desert rock, and you listen to The Revolt Against Tired Noises, you’re still left with basically a dream of an album. Mostly instrumental, as is their wont, they nonetheless had bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) sing this time around on a version of the previously-unreleased “Catamaran,” which Kyuss covered once upon a whenever although Yawning Man had never officially put it to tape. But really, that and all other novelty aside, guitarist Gary Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are a chemistry unto themselves. I don’t know if they’ll ever be as huge as they should be, but every bit of acclaim they get, they’ve earned, and if The Revolt Against Tired Noises helps them get it, all the more so.

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

Swedish heavy rock mavens Greenleaf have become an entirely different band than they once were. No longer a Dozer side-project from guitarist Tommi Holappa with a rotating cast of players, they’re a solidified, road-tested, powerhouse unit, and Hear the Rivers bleeds soul as a result. Holappa, frontman Arvid Hällagård, bassist Hans Fröhlich and drummer Sebastian Olsson sound like they’re absolutely on fire in the album’s tracks, and far from being staid or formulaic as one might expect a sixth long-player to be, Hear the Rivers built on what the band accomplished with 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) and came across as all the more vital and nearly frenetic in their energy. I won’t say Greenleaf has seen their last lineup change, because one never knows, but the band as they are today is the realization of potential I don’t think even Greenleaf knew was there.

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 4.

Five records deep into a career into its second decade, Gozu haven’t had a miss yet. Admittedly, some of their early work can seem formative considering where they are now, but still. And after the 2016 rager, Revival (review here), to have the band return to the same studio — Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where strides producer Dean Baltulonis — for the follow-up allows for the four-piece to directly show how their sound has grown more encompassing in the last couple years. And it has. Equilibrium is a rich and varied listen that holds true to Gozu‘s well-established penchant for soulful vibes and crunching, hard-hitting riffs and groove, but while it shares the directness of approach with Revival, it makes moves that a band could only make moving from one record to the next. I expect nothing less their next time out as well, because a decade later, that’s Gozu‘s proven track record.

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

monster magnet mindfucker
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 23.

The battle for the best album title of 2018 ended early when New Jersey everything-rockers Monster Magnet announced the release of Mindfucker. And what else to call a Monster Magnet LP at this point? They’ve stopped writing to genre. They’re driven by the creative mania of frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf, and they’ve seen psychedelic expanses and commercial success the likes of which would serve the tenure of four lesser bands. What’s left to do but whatever the hell you want? So that’s what Monster Magnet are doing. It just so happens that while they’re doing it, they’re still basically outclassing the entirety of the former planet earth as songwriters. As Monster Magnet fan in 2018, there was nothing more I could’ve asked than what Mindfucker delivered. And if you’re still trying to get your brain around it however many months later, you’re not alone. I think that’s the idea.

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Best doom album of 2018. The combination of craft and passion behind the delivery. The way the dark tones fed into the emotions so clearly on display and sheer presence of it in listening to songs like “Keeping the Lighthouse,” “Ruination by Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here.” Apostle of Solitude never seem to be the highest profile band out there, but their work seems never to be anything less than outstanding, and I refuse to accept them as anything less than among the most pivotal American acts out there making traditional doom. And not just making it, but making it their own, with a sense of new pursuits and individualism that extends to playing style as well as atmosphere. I know doom isn’t exactly in short supply these days — figuratively or literally — but if you miss out on what Apostle of Solitude are doing with it, you’ll only regret it later. I’ll say it one more time: Best doom album of 2018.

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

holy grove ii
Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 31.

Every now and again, anticipating the crap of an album really pays off, and such was the case with Holy Grove II, the Ripple Music debut from the Portland outfit whose 2016 self-titled (review here) seemed like such a herald of excellence to come while also, you know, being killer. Holy Grove II brought the four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis to entirely new levels of composition and execution. In songs like “Blade Born,” the shorter, sharper “Aurora,” the patiently rolling “Valley of the Mystics,” “Solaris” and closer “Cosmos,” which boasted a not-really-necessary-but-definitely-welcome guest vocal appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt, — and oh wait, that’s all of the tracks — Holy Grove entered a different echelon. Anticipation will likewise be high for Holy Grove III, but it’ll be hard to complain with this record to keep company in the meantime.

6. All Them Witches, ATW

all them witches atw
Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Over five All Them Witches albums, the Nashville four-piece have gone from a nascent heavy Americana jam band to one of the most distinct acts in the US underground. Their development in sound is chemistry-driven, so it was a risk when the founding trio of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) and drummer Robby Staebler welcomed new keyboardist Jonathan Draper into the lineup to take the place of Allan van Cleave. Amid a more naturalist production than that of 2017’s Sleeping Through the War (review here), the revamped four-piece flourished in terms of songwriting and conveying their stage-born sonic personae. From the gleeful fuckery of opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” to the memorable moodiness of “Diamond” and the back-end jam “Harvest Feast” en route to the stretched-out end of “Rob’s Dream,” All Them Witches essentially confirmed they could do whatever they wanted and make it work.

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

yob our raw heart
Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed June 7.

Actually, if you want a sample of YOB‘s raw heart, the place to go is probably 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), but whatever the Eugene, Oregon, shapers of cosmic doom might’ve lacked in titular accuracy on their eighth long-player, they made up for in a new, statesman-like posture. Their approach was mature, hammered out to a professionalism working completely on its own terms, and they never sounded so sure of who they are as a band or as confident of their direction. In extended cuts “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and “Our Raw Heart,” they explored new and progressive textures and melodies, and managed to reaffirm their core aspects while finding room for conveying emotion that came across as nothing but ultimately sincere. They have been and still are one of a kind, and as they continue to move forward, they remain a band that makes one feel lucky to be alive to witness their work. Our Raw Heart was perhaps more refined than it let on, but the heart was there for sure, as always.

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t a fan of the (relatively) harder-hitting approach Brant Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band took on 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), but Mankind Woman brought in some more of his soul influences, and whether it was the subtly subversive funk of “Chocolatize” and “Brand New Old Times” or the callout “1968” and laid back vibes of the title-track and “Swagger and Sway,” Bjork — working with guitarist Bubba DuPree on songwriting and production — offered a definitive look at what has made his 20-year solo career so special and demonstrates not only his longevity and his legacy, but his will to continue to progress as an artist honing his craft. His discography is well populated by now to be sure, but Mankind Woman represents a turn from the last couple records, and if it’s in any way portentous of things to come, it bodes well. Bjork is right at home nestled into classic-style grooves, and his legacy as one of the principal architects of desert rock is continually reaffirmed.

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

They’ve been great, not just good, for a long time now, and as forerunners of the San Diego heavy scene, they’re godfathers to an up and coming generation of bands taking their influence — let alone acts from the rest of the world — but Black Heaven is a special moment for them because of its departure. No, it wasn’t not the first time guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sang on an Earthless recording, but it did represent a tip of the balance in that direction for the band on a studio full-length, and that resulted in a special moment. Album opener “Gifted by the Wind” was one of the best songs I heard this year, and while “End to End” and the all-thrust “Volt Rush” affirmed that more traditional songwriting was well within the grasp of Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, they still found space for a sprawling jam or two, keeping their claim on the instrumentalism that’s (largely) fueled their tenure to date. Earthless don’t want for acclaim, but every bit of it is earned, and while their primary impact has always been live, Black Heaven saw them construct a traditional-style LP that still bore the hallmarks of their collective personality. It was the best of all worlds.

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

king buffalo longing to be the mountain
Self-released/released by Stickman Records. Reviewed Sept. 27.

In the dark early hours of 2018, the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson issued the Repeater EP (review here) as a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), so Longing to Be the Mountain didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but even with Repeater preceding its arrival, I don’t think anyone necessary expected King Buffalo‘s second album to have such a scope or to be so engrossing with it. In its melody, patience, atmosphere and heft, it was an absolute joy to behold. Its songs were memorable at the same time they were far-reaching, and while Orion was already my pick for the best debut of 2016, Longing to Be the Mountain realized even more potential than that record had hinted toward. It could be intimate or majestic at its whim, and its dynamic set an individual characterization of heavy psychedelia and blues-style sprawl that the band wholly owned. With production by Ben McLeod of All Them Witches behind them, they worked to serve notice of a progression undertaken the results of which are already staggering and still seem to be looking ahead to the next stage, literally and figuratively. One of the principal standards I use in constructing this list every year is what I listen to most. That’s this record.

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

Obviously, right? To some extent, when Sleep surprise-announced on April 19 they’d release their first album in 15 years the next day, and then did, they took ownership of 2018. Even with records still to come at that point from YOB and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike‘s own High on Fire, there was no way that when the end of the year came around, it wasn’t going to be defined by the advent of a new Sleep record. And even if it sucked, it would probably still be Album of the Year, but fortunately, as Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om) and drummer Jason Roeder (also Neurosis) took their long-running stage reunion to the studio, they brought material that highlighted the best elements from all players. Pike‘s wild soloing, Cisneros‘ meditative vocals and Roeder‘s intricate but smooth style of roll all came together in older pieces like “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Sonic Titan” and newer highlights “Giza Butler” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” and aside from the excitement at their existence, they showed the mastery of form that Sleep had been demonstrating live since 2009 and which they hinted toward in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here). A new Sleep full-length was something long-discussed, long-rumored and long-considered, but when it finally happened, I think the results vaporized expectation in a way no one could’ve anticipated. There’s a reason Sleep are Sleep. Having The Sciences as a reminder of that brought about the defining moment of 2018.

The Next 20

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a Top 30 at all if it didn’t go to 50. Don’t try to make sense of it, just look at the records.

31. Atavismo, Valdeinfierno
32. Grayceon, IV
33. Clamfight, III
34. Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique
35. Megaton Leviathan, Mage
36. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland
37. Arcadian Child, Superfonica
38. Freedom Hawk, Beast Remains
39. The Machine, Faceshift
40. Messa, Feast for Water
41. Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium
42. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Science Fiction
43. Domkraft, Flood
44. Träden, Träden
45. Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
46. Samavayo, Vatan
47. Foehammer, Second Sight
48. Bongripper, Terminal
49. Mansion, First Death of the Lutheran
50. Sunnata, Outlands
51. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Come and Chutney

Believe me when I tell you, I sweated over this section more than I did the actual top 30. Mansion should be higher. So should Chubby Thunderous, though something in me thought they might like being #50 on a list of 30. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Clamfight, Black Rainbows, Foehammer, Seedy Jeezus, Messa, Domkraft. All of these were fucking awesome. And there are more (we’ll get there). Eventually numbers add up. I won’t say a bad word about any of these. That’s it.

Honorable Mention

This section always winds up expanded as other people point out things I missed and so on, but here’s what I’ve got in the immediate, alphabetically:

  • Alms, Act One
  • Ape Machine, Darker Seas
  • Belzebong, Light the Dankness
  • Black Moon Circle, Psychedelic Spacelord
  • Blackwater Holylight, Blackwater Holylight
  • Bong, Thought and Existence
  • Carpet, About Rooms and Elephants
  • Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery
  • Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree
  • Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need
  • Death Alley, Superbia
  • Drug Cult, Drug Cult
  • Dunbarrow, II
  • Electric Citizen, Helltown
  • Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn
  • Evoken, Hypnagogia
  • Funeral Horse, Psalms for the Mourning
  • Fuzz Evil, High on You
  • Graven, Heirs of Discord
  • Graveyard, Peace
  • Green Dragon, Green Dragon
  • Green Druid, Ashen Blood
  • Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing
  • High Priestess, High Priestess
  • Horehound, Holocene
  • IAH, II
  • JIRM, Surge ex Monumentis
  • Killer Boogie, Acid Cream
  • Lonely Kamel, Death’s Head Hawkmoth
  • MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure
  • Moab, Trough
  • Mountain Dust, Seven Storms
  • Mouth, Floating
  • Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence
  • T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid
  • Onségen Ensemble, Duel
  • Orango, Evergreen
  • Owl, Nights in Distortion
  • Pushy, Hard Wish
  • Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground/Meditation
  • River Cult, Halcyon Daze
  • Rotor, Sechs
  • Somali Yacht Club, The Sea
  • Sumac, Love in Shadow
  • Sundrifter, Visitations
  • Svvamp, Svvamp II
  • Thou, Magus
  • Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse
  • Weedpecker, III

Special Note

Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to include these in the list proper because they’re not really underground releases, but there were two more records I especially wanted to highlight for their quality:

  • Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
  • Judas Priest, Firepower

Best Short Release of the Year

Normally I’d do this as a separate post, but as a result of being robbed earlier this year, I feel like my list is woefully incomplete. If you have any demos, EPs, splits, singles, etc., to add to it, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Still, the top pick was clear:

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Rarely do two bands work in such coherent tandem to their mutual benefit. Here are a few other essential short releases for 2018, alphabetically:

  • All Them Witches, Lost and Found
  • Alunah, Amber & Gold
  • Canyon, Mk II
  • Demon Head, The Resistence
  • Destroyer of Light, Hopeless
  • Ecstatic Vision, Under the Influence
  • Godmaker & Somnuri, Split
  • Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul
  • King Buffalo, Repeater
  • Minsk & Zatokrev, Split
  • Sleep, Leagues Beneath
  • Stonus, Lunar Eclipse
  • Sundecay, Gale

Looking Forward

A good many albums have already been announced or hinted at for 2019. I in no way claim this to be a complete roundup of what’s coming, but here’s what I have in my notes so far, in absolutely no order:

Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Cities of Mars, Heavy Temple, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan (LP), Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Om.

Okay, That’s It

Yeah, no, I’m serious. List is done. Everybody go back to your lives. Your families miss you.

Really though, while this is by no means my last post of 2018, I can’t let it pass without saying thank you so much to everyone for checking out the site this year, or for just digging into this, or for sending me music, or hitting me up on social media, sharing a link, anything. Thank you. Thank you. I could never have imagined when it started out where it would be now. Or that I’d still be doing it. Your support means more to me than I can say, and I thank you so much for being a part of this with me.

So thanks.

If you have something to add to the list, please do so by leaving a comment below, but keep in mind as well the above note requesting civility. Please don’t make me feel stupid because I forgot your favorite record. I forgot a lot of people’s favorite records. I’m one dude. I’m doing my best.

And please keep in mind if you’ve got a list together that the Year-End Poll is open and results will be out Jan. 1.

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday Full-Length: Massive Gratitude and Some New Sleep for the Hell of It

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I try to say thank you as often as I can on here. I really do. I’ve considered getting a ‘thanks for reading’ tattoo. Maybe for the 10th anniversary. Anyhow, this week, you’ve really saved my ass, and I don’t even know how to start showing my appreciation.

If you didn’t read the Elephant Tree live review yesterday or haven’t seen on the social medias, I’ve been in England this week with my wife, who along with another professor is leading a study abroad trip for some of her undergrad and graduate students. The three of us were staying in a house in Canterbury earlier this week, and overnight on Tuesday the place was robbed — or “burgled” as Constable Toby put it the next morning — while we slept in the bedrooms upstairs.

Well, first off, nobody got hurt. Nobody’s passport was taken. The baby didn’t even wake up. It could’ve been much worse.

Along with some other stuff, they took my laptop Big Red, camera, lenses and backpack, all of which was set up on the kitchen table so I could come downstairs early in the morning Wednesday and start to write. When the alarm went off at 5AM — a luxury for being away; usually it’s 4:30 these days — I found the door was wide open and the kitchen table had been cleaned off.

I lost stuff. Stuff can be replaced. Even my laptop and camera, which, as I’ve said, were by a wide margin the two nicest pieces of stuff I owned.

What really hurt was the years of writing on Big Red and my notes for The Obelisk. Upcoming releases, ongoing best of the year lists, Quarterly Review slots, and a calendar of upcoming premieres. Now I don’t even know what I’m reviewing on Monday. I know I’ve got commitments to host things into June and I just have no idea what they are. Online backups? Nope. Why would I need those? What, am I gonna get robbed?

Plus the years’ worth of past writings. A half decade or so of bios, press releases, my own personal stuff. That collection of Star Trek-themed poetry I was never going to finish. All that. And the music. The music on my desktop alone — new records from YOB, the Sleep album above, so many others I can’t even remember. I’ll get a new computer. But that other stuff I’ll never get back. It’s just gone.

Within hours, I couldn’t even hang my head. Scott Harrington, a friend at this point for more than a decade and the dude whose passion drives Salt of the Earth Records, sent a text and asked if he could set up a GoFundMe.

I’m not comfortable asking for money. I’m not comfortable handling money. But the fact of the matter is I’m a homemaker. I don’t work except to take care of the house and the baby and therefore I’m in a much different financial position than I was in when I purchased these things.

Scott set up a GoFundMe for $3,000, which would be enough to cover most of what I lost. It would get me a new laptop of some color — red, green, blue, banana yellow (?), whatever — a comparable camera and pay for part of the cost of a professional-grade lens like the one I had.

By the time it was Wednesday night here in the UK, as I was using a camera loaned to me by one of my wife’s students to take pictures and banging my head to Elephant Tree’s “Aphotic Blues” — maybe if I get a blue laptop I’ll name it ‘Aphotic Blue’ — the $3,000 goal was met and surpassed. Here’s where it’s at currently:

Over $4,000. More than a third beyond the original goal. I don’t even know what to say. It’s fucking insane. All of a sudden I’m looking at the Canon 5D Mark IV as a real possibility of something I can bring into my life. It’s something I never expected, and I’m absolutely floored and humbled and just given this incredible sense of warmth from the support I’ve received and all the kind words people have said about me, and this site, and everything. It’s been two days now. I still can’t get my head around it. Does not compute.

From the deepest part of me, thank you. The money’s gonna help, make no mistake, but the feeling of community, of belonging, and of being appreciated has been so incredibly validating that I’m astounded. Astounded and touched and, yeah, just made to feel like something I’ve done has mattered to somebody. It makes me want to be a better person, to be better at this, and it’s utterly renewed my faith in this project as a whole, which if I’m honest wasn’t exactly lagging but could only benefit from a kick in the pants.

So once again, thank you. The only thing I could think to do was close out the week by saying thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I’d put the notes here for what’s coming up next week, but again, I haven’t got a clue. I know at some point I was supposed to do something with Saturno Grooves and I think maybe review the new Graveyard (which, whoops, was on Big Red), and maybe a House of Broken Promises video premiere? I honestly don’t know. I’ll be seeing Colour Haze on Tuesday night, so will hope to have a review of that up Wednesday. I also travel back to the US on Wednesday, so might take Thursday off? I’m going to play it by ear a little bit and see what surfaces.

But in the meantime, thank you once again for your incredible support, whether you’ve made a donation or just shared the link, it’s huge for me. Genuinely life-changing. I will aspire to live up to the faith shown in me.

Oh, and I put a YouTube playlist with the new Sleep at the top of the post because if my gratitude was a new record, that’s the one it would be, and on the off-chance you haven’t heard it yet, you really should. I reserve the right to close out a week with a proper discussion of it again sometime probably years down the line. If you’d like to read the review of it, it’s here.

For not at all the last time, thank you. I promise something will be up Monday one way or the other.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sleep, The Sciences: The Pterodactyl Flies Again

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

sleep the sciences

In their absence between 1998 and 2009, Sleep became the stuff of legend. The stoner metallers were unquestionably ahead of their time in 1993’s genre-defining Sleep’s Holy Mountain (reissue review here), but it was the 2003 release of Dopesmoker (discussed here) through Tee Pee Records that seemed to solidify them as objects of reverence. Previously issued through The Music Cartel in an edited form as Jerusalem (and before that, self-bootlegged by the band), the narrative behind the release of Sleep inking a deal with London Records only to take the money from their recording budget, blow it on weed, and then essentially turn in an album unreleasable to a mass market is well documented and has become one of the great tall tales of underground heavy.

This, coupled with the success bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros went on to find in the then-duo-now-trio Om and guitarist Matt Pike likewise achieved fronting the more aggressive High on Fire, only increased Sleep‘s profile, and when Cisneros and Pike reformed the band with NeurosisJason Roeder on drums and began playing shows again in 2009, the speculation of new studio material was immediate and nearly as deafening as the volume of the riffs emanating from the stage. Sleep had gone from a cult footnote in the Earache Records catalog to headlining festivals and tours, and with their unabashed worship of Black Sabbath, weedian mythologies and massive influence, they became a genuine guiding force for a new generation of bands and fans alike. The last decade of heavy simply would not be the same had they not reformed, and as their first studio full-length in 15 years, the six-track The Sciences is all the more a landmark in one of the genre’s most storied and pivotal careers.

Is there any way The Sciences isn’t the biggest heavy underground release of 2018? Look at the sheer circumstances of its arrival. On April 19, word was put out in morse code that the next day Sleep would release an album. Bam. There was no advance press, no track premieres through NPR or Rolling Stone or other major outlets with smirking treatises on the group’s importance, no months-long agony of trickled out information: the tracklisting in one press release, the artwork in another, a teaser video, etc. It simply wasn’t there and then it was. How many heavy bands could get away with that and expect any kind of response? Sleep dropped a record like Beyonce drops records, and it absolutely worked. Issued through Jack White‘s Third Man Records, The Sciences dominated the high holiday of stoner idolatry, and while any release of this magnitude is bound to have detractors as well as proponents, it’s a basic truth regardless that for many listeners, this year will be defined by Sleep‘s 53-minute march to the riff-filled land. Rightly so.

There are a host of higher-profile offerings still to come in the next several months, from groups like Graveyard (who return after a much shorter hiatus), ConanClutchAncestorsYOBAll Them Witches and so on, but none of them orany of the others as yet announced will show up after a 15-year absence, and none will be released with the same kind of break-the-internet anti-fanfare fanfare as The Sciences, which it should be noted isn’t the first studio output Sleep have had since their reformation. In 2014, they had the lone track The Clarity (review here) as part of the Adult Swim Singles Series, and though it’s been four years, that would prove to be a crucial lead-in for The Sciences in preparing the audience and laying the groundwork for the album’s overall sound. The single was recorded by Roeder‘s Neurosis bandmate Noah Landis, and the LP is likewise — cover design by former Neurosis visual specialist Josh Graham is another line between the bands — and the style is consistent between the two. The Sciences works because it does not try to pretend the last 20-25 years didn’t happen. It doesn’t try to rewrite Dopesmoker. It doesn’t try to rewrite Sleep’s Holy Mountain or their preceding 1991 debut, Volume One.

In “Marijuanaut’s Theme” and “Giza Butler,” it embraces the same weed-and-riff-worship/Tony Iommi-as-deity (anyone remember that t-shirt?) mythology that Dopesmoker was essential in creating — “Marijuanaut’s Theme” has “planet Iommia” and an “Iommosphere” in its lyrics while “Giza Butler” speaks of an “Iommic Pentacost,” and riffs and weed, well, are just about everywhere lyrics are — but The Sciences is an honest look at Sleep in 2018. They know who they are as a band, they’ve crafted this aesthetic on stage over the last nine years, and rather than ignoring Pike‘s work in High on Fire or Cisneros‘ in Om or even Roeder‘s in Neurosis, the offering to the holy trinity of riffs, weed, and Black Sabbath presents its addled adorations in tales of blown-out space travels, reborn Antarctic legions set free from icecap prisons (based on a true story, from what I’m told), and a homeless guy living under a bridge getting stoned (ditto).

All of this arrives amid groove that somehow remains inimitable despite the fact that an entire generation of bands has and continues on a daily basis to directly emulate it. The nod isn’t immediate, as the opening title-track is three minutes of layered amp noise and feedback in a filthy-sounding but appropriate beginning to what follows, a church organ at the end and volume swell cutting sharply to the sound of a bong being hit and then the first crash of “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” which quickly establishes the thickness of tone, the rhythm and the distinct patterning and melodic delivery in Cisneros‘ vocals that will remain consistent throughout The Sciences and tie its songs together despite variations in theme and tempo.

At 6:39, “Marijuanaut’s Theme” is the shortest of the non-instrumental material — closer “The Botanist” is just a bit shorter and “The Sciences” itself, as the intro, is the shortest — but its position after the hypnotic feedback of the title-cut is pivotal in leading the way into the trio of “Sonic Titan,” “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Giza Butler,” all of which top 10 minutes and comprise the heart of the record, showcasing Pike‘s penchant for wild soloing has he layers across the right and left channels in Iommian tradition and the stoned serenity of Cisneros‘ vocals, which deliver “Sonic Titan”‘s only lines, “Look unto Zion though it can’t be seen/Man in the moon cannot help me see,” twice — and that’s it — after unfolding an entire narrative for “Marijuanaut’s Theme.”

sleep

It’s worth noting that those lyrics have changed since a live-in-studio version of “Sonic Titan” appeared as a bonus track for the ’03 Dopesmoker release, and though he doesn’t really there, Cisneros plays the role of storyteller again in “Antarcticans Thawed” — which has also featured for years as part of live shows — and “Giza Butler,” crafting clever weed puns and twice referencing the “rifftree”; one imagines a sort of THC-laced yggdrasil dripping hash oil like maple sap. The characters in these songs — the Marijuanaut, the Antarcticans, and the guy living under the bridge on his “milk crate throne” who is presumably Giza Butler himself — make The Sciences a richer listening experience and deepen Sleep‘s overarching process of world-creation. Like any good science fiction, they’re setting the rules of their own universe, and it’s one of tonal depth and narrative arc alike. The Marijuanaut blasts to Planet Iommia; the Antarcticans board a skyship and sail off to parts unknown thereupon; Giza Butler smokes an ounce a day.

As much as Sleep are about what they’re about — see “riffs, weed and Black Sabbath” above; these may well be the sciences to which the title re(e)fers — there is a pervasive sense of craft in these tracks. They came together over a period of years and they sound like it. They are not haphazard or sloppy either in construction or execution, and even as “Sonic Titan” marches to its lyrics at about the halfway point and then riffs-out hypnotic before a madness of shredding soloing takes hold after 11 minutes into its total 12:26 and they cap with one of the record’s best nods, the plotted progression makes sense both on its own and leading into the opening riff of “Antarcticans Thawed.”

Spending its first two minutes on a linear build toward the first verse, “Antarcticans Thawed” again demonstrates the consciousness at work behind The Sciences, and as the longest inclusion at 14:23, the mid-paced plodder plays a special role in setting and maintaining the smoke-filled vibe. A somewhat more shouted vocal from Cisneros tops Pike‘s relatively languid central riff and the ride/crash work of Roeder, who has long not only done justice to the work of original Sleep drummer Chris Hakius, but also brought his own stamp to the material. He shines here, and if the album were to accomplish nothing else, it would still be worth making for getting the trio in this form on tape for more than just a single. As “Antarcticans Thawed” presses forth, it seems to get slower and slower until the Antarcticans sail off on the windship and Pike marks the occasion with a highlight solo. The central riff resumes and after a last verse, Roeder moves to a snare progression as the song gradually deconstructs itself in the guitar and bass, fading to silence ahead of the languid start of the 10-minute “Giza Butler,” which lasts for about the first two minutes before the chugging riff starts the verse and Cisneros begins his tale of the “shopping cart chariot” and the “rifftual commenc[ing] around the tree stump altar.”

There’s obviously humor at work here, but Sleep aren’t making fun so much as preaching to a converted who once took the advice “drop out of life with bong in hand” to heart. “Giza Butler” boasts the album’s standout lyric: “The pterodactyl flies again/Over emerald fields,” and a companion riff that makes it seem like a realistic possibility leading to the apparent summary of the entire point of view in the lines, “Marijuana is his light and his salvation/Harvest sustains the altitude within/Ends the rationing/Hocks the Ohaus Triple Beam,” as the central character gets rid of his scale and, seemingly, smokes the entire harvest. As “Giza Butler” stomps through its instrumental finish and lands after seven minutes into a highlight riff for the record as a whole, one might say Sleep are doing the same thing all throughout The Sciences. They’ve hocked the scale, gone all-in, and smoked the entire planet’s worth of weed in ritualistic fashion and in one sitting. The aforementioned leads and groove cap “Giza Butler” in an apex that could easily go another five or six minutes and not meet with any complaints, and residual noise gives way to the closing instrumental lumber of “The Botanist.”

A final nod to nod itself, it mellows out after a minute in and picks up with a relatively subdued solo — I saw someone on the social medias call it Matt Pike‘s “Maggot Brain”; not quite, but it’s choice work — before feedback seems to end and Roeder‘s drums restart at 4:16 to add an epilogue to the proceedings. The jam that ensues for the last two minutes of “The Botanist” is laced with noise and sounds improvised over that drum movement, and if it is off the cuff, all the better to leave on a moment of spontaneity on a full-length at least 15 years in the making. It shows that even after the distances traveled in these songs, there’s still a creative spark in Sleep. Who knows? Maybe they’ll do another record.

I won’t take away from the band’s past accomplishments. I refuse to. Sleep’s Holy Mountain is arguable as the greatest achievement in riff-led heavy outside of Black Sabbath‘s original lineup, and in both its legend and its over-the-top, barely-listenable course, Dopesmoker stands on a level of its own in power, concept, delivery and influence. However, The Sciences stands as the most sonically cohesive record Sleep have ever made. It’s the output of a band who know exactly what they want their material to do, how to make it do that thing and how to capture that process in the studio. It’s new Sleep, taking the lessons of the old and bringing them into a more modern context.

For a whole generation of their fanbase, The Sciences will serve as something like a new debut, and for older fans who were able to get into The Clarity or have seen them live since they got back together, it may or may not top what once was, but neither has it had 25 years of deification around it. Give it some time. The songs are memorable, the sound impressively weighted, and it’s got riffs, weed and Sabbath. There’s nothing more one could possibly ask of a Sleep record that The Sciences doesn’t bring to the table, and it’s an easy contender for album of the year. For many, it already was before they even listened.

Sleep, “Giza Butler”

Sleep on Thee Facebooks

Sleep on Twitter

Sleep website

Tags: , , , , ,