The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2017

Posted in Features on December 18th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top-20-debut-albums

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2017 to that, please do.

Every successive year brings an absolute inundation of underground productivity. Every year, someone new is inspired to pick up a guitar, bass, drums, mic, keyboard, theremin, cello — whatever it might be — and set themselves to the task of manifesting the sounds they hear in their head.

This is unspeakably beautiful in my mind, and as we’ve done in years past, it seems only fair to celebrate the special moment of realization that comes with a band’s first album. The debut full-length. Sometimes it’s a tossed-off thing, constructed from prior EPs or thrown together haphazardly from demo tracks, and sometimes it’s a meticulously picked-over expression of aesthetic — a band coming out of the gate brimming with purpose and desperate to communicate it, whatever it might actually happen to be.

We are deeply fortunate to live in an age (for now) of somewhat democratized access to information. That is, if you want to hear a thing — or if someone wants you to hear a thing — it’s as simple as sharing and/or clicking a link. The strong word of mouth via ubiquitous social media, intuitive recording software, and an ever-burgeoning swath of indie labels and other promotional vehicles means bands can engage an audience immediately if they’re willing to do so, and where once the music industry’s power resided in the hands of a few major record companies, the divide between “listener” and “active participant” has never been more blurred.

Therefore, it is a good — if crowded — time for an act to be making their debut, even if it’s something that happens basically every day, and all the more worth celebrating the accomplishments of these first-albums both on their current merits and on the potential they may represent going forward. Some percent of a best-debuts list is always speculation. That’s part of what makes it so much fun.

As always, I invite you to let me know your favorite picks in the comments (please keep it civil). Here are mine:

telekinetic-yeti-abominable

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2017

1. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable
2. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
3. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream
4. Dool, Here Now There Then
5. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days
6. Arduini/Balich, Dawn of Ages
7. Vinnum Sabbathi, Gravity Works
8. Tuna de Tierra, Tuna de Tierra
9. Brume, Rooster
10. Moon Rats, Highway Lord
11. Thera Roya, Stone and Skin
12. OutsideInside, Sniff a Hot Rock
13. Hymn, Perish
14. Riff Fist, King Tide
15. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Medicine
16. Abronia, Obsidian Visions/Shadowed Lands
17. Book of Wyrms, Sci-Fi Fantasy
18. Firebreather, Firebreather
19. REZN, Let it Burn
20. Ealdor Bealu, Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain

Honorable Mention

Alastor, Black Magic
Devil’s Witches, Velvet Magic
Elbrus, Elbrus
Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun
Grigax, Life Eater
High Plains, Cinderland
Kingnomad, Mapping the Inner Void
Lord Loud, Passé Paranoia
Masterhand, Mind Drifter
The Necromancers, Servants of the Salem Girl
Owlcrusher, Owlcrusher
Petyr, Petyr
The Raynbow, The Cosmic Adventure
Savanah, The Healer
War Cloud, War Cloud
WhiteNails, First Trip

I could keep going with honorable mentions, and no doubt will add a few as people remind me of other things on which I brainfarted or whathaveyou, preferably without calling me an idiot, though I recognize that sometimes that’s a lot to ask. Either way, the point remains that the heavy underground remains flush with fresh infusions of creativity and that as another generation comes to maturity, still another is behind it, pushing boundaries forward or looking back and reinventing what came before them.

Notes

Will try and likely fail to keep this brief, but the thing I find most striking about this list is the variety of it. That was not at all something I planned, but even if you just look at the top five, you’ve got Telekinetic Yeti at the forefront. Abominable is something of a speculative pick on my part for the potential it shows on the part of the Midwestern duo in their songcraft and tonality, but then you follow them with four other wildly different groups in Rozamov, Mindkult, Dool and Eternal Black. There you’ve got extreme sludge from Boston, a Virginian one-man cult garage project, Netherlands-based dark heavy rock with neo-goth flourishes, and crunching traditionalist doom from New York in the vein of The Obsessed.

What I’m trying to say here is that it’s not just about one thing, one scene, one sound, or one idea. It’s a spectrum, and at least from where I sit, the quality of work being done across that spectrum is undeniable. Think of the prog-doom majesty Arduini/Balich brought to their collaborative debut, or the long-awaited groove rollout from Vinnum Sabbathi, or how Italy’s Tuna de Tierra snuck out what I thought was the year’s best desert rock debut seemingly under everybody’s radar. Stylistically and geographically these bands come from different places, and as with Brume and Moon Rats, even when a base of influence is similar, the interpretation thereof can vary widely and often does.

That Moon Rats album wasn’t covered nearly enough. I’m going to put it in the Quarterly Review coming up just to give another look at the songwriting on display, which was maddening in its catchiness. Maddening in its cacophony of noise was Stone and Skin from Brooklyn’s Thera Roya, which found itself right on the cusp of the top 10 with backing from the ’70s heavy rock vibes of the post-Carousel Pittsburgh outfit OutsideInside. Norway’s Hymn thrilled with their bleak atmospheres, while Australia’s Riff Fist showed off a scope they’d barely hinted at previously, and Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree offered surprises of their own in their warm heavy psych tonality and mostly-instrumental immersion. That record caught me almost completely off-guard. I was not at all prepared to dig it as much as I did.

Thrills continue to abound and resound as the Young Hunter-related outfit Abronia made their first offering of progressive, Americana-infused naturalist heavy, while Book of Wyrms dug themselves into an oozing riffy largesse on the other side of the country and Sweden’s Firebreather emerged from the defunct Galvano to gallop forth and claim victory a la early High on Fire. REZN’s Let it Burn got extra points in my book for the unabashed stonerism of it, while it was the ambience of Ealdor Bealu’s Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain that kept me going back to it. An album that was genuinely able to project a sense of mood without being theatrical about it was all the more impressive for it being their first. But that’s how it goes, especially on this list.

There you have it. Those are my picks. I recognize I’m only one person and a decent portion of my year was taken up by personal matters — having, losing a job; pregnancy, childbirth and parenting, etc. — but I did my best to hear as much music as I could in 2017 and I did my best to make as much of it as new as I could.

Still, if there’s something egregious I left out or just an album you’d like to champion, hell yes, count me in. What were some of your favorites? Comments are right down there. Let’s get a discussion going and maybe we can all find even more music to dig into.

Thanks for reading and here’s to 2018 to come and the constant renewal of inspiration and the creative spirit.

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Review & Track Premiere: Tuna de Tierra, Tuna de Tierra

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on June 27th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

TUNA DE TIERRA SELF TITLED

[Click play above to stream ‘Morning Demon’ from Tuna de Tierra’s self-titled album, out Sept. 22 on Argonauta Records and available now to preorder.]

A booming Italian heavy rock underground marks yet another win in the self-titled debut from Napoli rockers Tuna de Tierra. Signed to Argonauta Records following a formative but engaging first short offering in 2015’s self-released EPisode I: Pilot (review here), the heavy psych-infused trio of guitarist/vocalist Alessio de Cicco, bassist Luciano Mirra and Marco Mancaniello (who came aboard in place of Jonathan Maurano warm their skin in sun-baked desert influences across the offering’s seven-track/47-minute run, finding a natural-sounding position between jamming and structuring and shifting fluidly between one or the other. Songs like “Morning Demon” seem to speak directly to the heavy rock tonal traditionalism born in the wake of Sweden’s Lowrider, but the later drift of “Raise of the Lights” brings to mind a dreamier take on the psych-blues proffered by All Them Witches, particularly with Mirra‘s bouncing bassline and the handclap-laden semi-interlude “Long Sabbath’s Day” preceding.

Broken into two sides with an intro for each, Tuna de Tierra‘s Tuna de Tierra gracefully builds on what the EP accomplished in setting forth on an aesthetic path, but perhaps most satisfies in the level of growth and expansion throughout its tracks. That is, they sound like a band who really learned from the experience of making their first release and set about writing an even richer and more complex set of songs from which to craft a full-length album. The progression doesn’t sound forced, either, and through extended jams like the jangly 10-minute “Out of Time” and nine-minute “Laguna” — which close side A and B, respectively — Tuna de Tierra immerse the listener in a pretense-free depth of vibe that continues to expand as the album plays out.

That linear flow — and I use “linear” pretty loosely for something that seems to delight so much in the occasional bit of jazzy, post-Causa Sui meandering — is the key element of Tuna de Tierra‘s presentation. Effective dips and swells of volume, particularly when they kick into fuller fuzz, as in the Kyuss-referential burst at the beginning of the second half of “Laguna” or the slower-grunge march that emerges in “Raise of the Lights” or even in the manner in which “Morning Demon” seems to cast out its sunrise — or perhaps welcome its demon — circa the 3:30 mark, give the listener a sense of dynamic and of the chemistry taking shape within their sound, and the drums do well to hold together these free-flowing changes, allowing exploratory moments their breadth but keeping the listener grounded in the experience even by something so simple as a tap on the ping ride amid a running bassline and airy guitar after that thrust in “Morning Demon.”

An undertone of progressive sensibility is foreshadowed in the 2:46 intro “Slow Burn,” but subtly, and the primary, first impression the long-player makes is in the guitar fuzz and the ease with which Tuna de Tierra seem to unfurl their first rollout and lead directly into the rest of what follows. Nonetheless, that progressive flourish is essential and comes through again and again in the low end and in some of de Cicco‘s more post-rocking stretches of guitar, or vocally in the penultimate “Mountain,” which finds him matching notes with the noodling bassline over tense tom work, speaking on some level perhaps to Lateralus-era Tool. Of critical importance is the way in which Tuna de Tierra meld these aspects together so that, while “Long Sabbath’s Day” marks a turning point in its position as the centerpiece track leading to the bluesier, proggier, jammier second half of the record, it’s not like it’s coming out of nowhere in doing so. There’s no interruption to the overarching smoothness occurring song-to-song.

tuna de tierra

And if there were, frankly, the album would fall flat in its mission. That it doesn’t signals an underlying consciousness on the part of the band, and one can’t help but wonder how Tuna de Tierra was composed, as a concept/thematic record or simply as a collection of songs that happened to fit together in this way, but in any case, as the “Long Sabbath’s Day” sets up the bluesy liquefaction of “Raise of the Lights,” the hardest turn Tuna de Tierra will make is pulled off with seeming ease. And once they’re there, de CiccoMirra and Mancaniello likewise have no apparent trouble in establishing themselves within the patient and spacious context that defines side B. Vocals don’t delay in arriving in “Raise of the Lights,” which owes some of its beginning tone to “Out of Time” before it — less directly fuzzed until the swaggering lead hits, but still laid back to the extreme — but the mood is casual all the same thanks to the light swing of the rhythm. Once again, a thrust of more driving riffery hits in the midsection, but though its arrival is willfully sudden, the transition back out to the track’s more serene ending portion, while nothing more then a clicking-off of a pedal, benefits from the hypnosis cast prior.

Same could be said as “Mountain” picks up from the solo-topped march-out in that final section, and though its atmosphere is slightly more brooding, the build that seems to be underway after the first minute actually restrains itself and Tuna de Tierra successfully avoid redundancy, instead allowing for a more organic exploration of the meditative feel “Mountain” elicits. One might be tempted to call it minimal, especially as the guitar gently fades to bring in the soundscaping launch of “Laguna,” but there’s actually a good deal of movement taking place. All the better, since “Laguna” follows suit, finding itself working in three stages as it gradually heads toward the payoff for the full-length as a whole. Following an initial uptick in pace and volume after 4:20 in that leads to a righteously winding solo and some particularly fuzzed bass, a stop just before the six-minute mark and a quick roll from the toms announces the push that will cap Tuna de Tierra, already noted for its Kyuss-ism.

As with the rest of its surroundings however, it’s worth emphasizing about that last segment that Tuna de Tierra do remarkably well in recontextualizing their influences, making the style their own, and that as they may be playing off the past, they’re doing so in the direction of their own future. Like the EP before it, this self-titled demonstrates marked potential in setting the band apart from the increasingly crowded sphere of the Italian underground, but more importantly, it does this by virtue of the organic presentation of the band itself, rather than some hey-look-at-us attention grab playing toward a flawed notion of uniqueness. In further casting Tuna de Tierra‘s stylistic vision and giving hints at where their ongoing development might take them, Tuna de Tierra proves to be one of 2017’s strongest debut full-lengths, and its effectiveness as such only seems to grow on repeat listens.

Tuna de Tierra on Thee Facebooks

Tuna de Tierra on Bandcamp

Tuna de Tierra on Argonauta Records

Argonauta Records on Thee Facebooks

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