Valley of the Sun, Old Gods: What Faith Brings

Posted in Reviews on May 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

valley of the sun old gods

They nailed it. Absolutely. That’s as simple as I can say it. Cincinnati, Ohio-based heavy rockers Valley of the Sun bring new character and dimension to their core approach in fuzzy riffs and classic desert-style groove, and with their third album, Old Gods (on Fuzzorama), the four-piece answer both the potential of their earliest work and the development that took place over their first two LPs. Led by the founding duo of guitarist/vocalist Ryan Ferrier and drummer Aaron Boyer, with Josh Pilot on guitar and Chris Sweeney handling bass and keys, the band present 11 tracks in a sharp-turning 41 minutes, tying together around a theme of greater instrumental variety and songcraft executed with airtight efficiency and purpose. In following up 2016’s Volume Rock (review here) and 2014’s Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk (review here), Valley of the Sun sound like a band who know when to take their time — closer “Dreams of Sands,” for example — and when to tear-ass through the speakers, as on the sub-tw0-minute scorcher “Firewalker.”

That maturity and self-realization very much suit their basic sound, which has always been professional at its foundation, going back to their first two EPs, 2011’s The Sayings of the Seers (review here, discussed here) and the prior year’s Two Thousand Ten, but has never quite had the reach it does on Old Gods. The album is quick to showcase that with the mellow guitar intro to the opening title-track, but it comes out all the more in the series of interludes peppered through the tracklisting. Named on-theme to the title of the record itself, “Gaia Creates,” “Shiva Destroys” and “Buddha Transcends” do an incredible amount of work in terms of diversifying and bolstering the surrounding material, taking the mid-paced nod and catchy rush of “Old Gods” and the subsequent post-QOTSA careener “All We Are” and lending depth and a more complete-album feel, despite the variety between them, with “Gaia Creates” dipping into sunny folk acoustics, “Shiva Destroys” a suitable percussion interplay, and “Buddha Transcends” an effective delve into meditative minimalism.

“Gaia Creates” is the longest of them at 2:16, and yet the effect they have on the songs around them is palpable, perhaps nowhere more than in “Dim Vision,” which sits as the only cut in between “Gaia Creates” and “Shiva Destroys.” It’s as much a quintessential Valley of the Sun track as one could ask for, even more than the opening duo of “Old Gods” and “All We Are,” but with the lead-in and lead-out, it’s given a special focus that seems to highlight its execution. On paper, it’s nothing overly fancy — basically an instance of what the band at their best have been all along — but “Dim Vision” is emblematic just the same of the progression they’ve undertaken over the course of the last nine years in the studio and on tour. Like the aforementioned “Firewalker,” it’s a song that sounds like it was made to be played live, and to have these tracks appear in such proximity to each other feels purposeful as well, with side A moving smoothly through a course that would be deceptive in its complexity if it didn’t just lay it all out there and still manage to ease the listener through its changes, whether it’s the kick in tempo between “Old Gods” and “All We Are,” or the head-spinning shifts from “Gaia Creates” to “Dim Vision” to “Shiva Destroys” to “Firewalker.”

valley of the sun

It’s worth noting as well how quickly those changes take place. The last four tracks on side A don’t add up to the total runtime of the first two. It would be an easy place for the band to lose control of Old Gods‘ flow, but they never do. Instead, they bring “Firewalker” to a crisp finish and mirror the beginning of the album with “Into the Abyss” on side B, which also begins with a stretch of mellow guitar, runs a moderate pace and gives an immersive, rolling progression for the listener to dive into, made all the more so by a laid back vocal from Ferrier, who only moments ago, was in full-on belt-out mode for “Firewalker.” Especially listening in a linear format (CD or DL), it’s not at all the first striking shift on Old Gods, but it’s another one Valley of the Sun make sound much easier than it actually is.

Fuzz comes to the fore in the relatively brief but effective “Faith is for Suckers,” a hooky, cowbell-infused desert riffer with a driving volume tradeoff, and “Buddha Transcends” resets the mood to quiet ahead of “Means the Same” and “Dreams of Sands” at the finish. With “Into the Abyss” and “Dreams of Sands” — the latter of which is perfectly placed as a memorable closer — as six-plus-minute bookends for side B, “Faith is for Suckers,” “Buddha Transcends” and “Means the Same” play out in a kind of parabolic fashion, both in energy and runtime; longer-to-shorter-to-shortest, and back up, though “Faith is for Suckers” and “Means the Same” surround the centerpiece interlude with arguably a more active spirit than “Into the Abyss” and “Dreams of Sands.” But if that’s the case, it’s only because the longer pieces are more ambitious in their scope, and “Dreams of Sands” not only serves as payoff for side B, but for the record as whole, rewarding the risks taken on side A and the structural turn of side B with a scope of its own that, as analogy for the entirety of Old Gods pushes beyond what Valley of the Sun have done in the past, ending on a long fade as if to return the listener to wherever they might’ve been before the quiet beginning of the title-track first cropped up.

Old Gods brings Valley of the Sun‘s take to a new level, pushing aside preconceptions of who the band are by using its theme to tie the material together instrumentally and structurally, and leaving one to wonder where they might go from here, whether it’s in integrating the acoustics and percussion of the interludes to their songwriting — would be fair enough ground to cover — or continuing to progress in some other, unexpected way. Perhaps most telling of all, listening to Old Gods, one feels less concerned about what shape the inevitable ‘new gods’ might take than the achievements brought to bear here. This is what Valley of the Sun have been moving toward for the last nine years. This realization. For now, it seems most crucial to understand that and appreciate the work on its own merits. Where it might lead is a concern for another day, but if you’re worried about it, have a little faith.

Valley of the Sun, Old Gods (2019)

Valley of the Sun on Thee Facebooks

Valley of the Sun on Bandcamp

Fuzzorama Records

Fuzzorama Records on Thee Facebooks

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Freak Valley 2019 Adds Valley of the Sun, A Place to Bury Strangers, High Fighter and More; Lineup Complete

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 17th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

freak valley 2019 final banner

I’ll just go ahead and answer a question no one asked by saying that, yes, I was thinking of Arrested Development when I wrote the opening line of the announcement below with “MONSTER” in all-caps. Like Buster Bluth with his hook raised. But I mean, who could argue, anyway. Looking at the final lineup for Freak Valley 2019, long since sold out, it is indeed beastly. Even the final splurge of additions below, with Valley of the SunTuberOutsideinsideGreat Electric QuestA Place to Bury StrangersLacertilia, High Fighter and John Fairhurst Band shows the festival branching out in terms of style and geography, and there’s really no stopping it. Biggest Freak Valley yet? Yeah, I think maybe it is. They’ve had some righteous lineups in the past, but it’s hard to mess with Corrosion of Conformity playing Deliverance or the kind of reach that pulls in Arc of Ascent from New Zealand. For them and Spaceslug alone, this thing is masterful. If you go, well, good call.

It’s been a pleasure to help the fest in the small way I have by writing these lineup announcements over the last however long. Here’s the final one:

freak valley 2019 final poster

+++ A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS | TUBER | VALLEY OF THE SUN | JOHN FAIRHURST BAND | OUTSIDEINSIDE | GREAT ELECTRIC QUEST | LACERTILIA | HIGH FIGHTER +++

Freaks!

This is it — the last lineup announcement for FREAK VALLEY FESTIVAL 2019, and it’s a MONSTER.

In grand finale fashion, we’re doing an absolute blowout to finish out the three-day lineup for this year’s fest, and we’re continuing to add more and diverse acts from across a broad spectrum of heavy so you can, you know, broaden your horizons while you expand your consciousness.

So keep eyes, ears and mind open as we welcome A Place To Bury Strangers, Tuber, Valley of the Sun, John Fairhurst Band, Outsideinside, Great Electric Quest, Lacertilia and High Fighter to Freak Valley 2019!

A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS
Chaos holds a strong sway in the aesthetic of Brooklyn’s A Place to Bury Strangers, but out of that chaos has derived some of today’s most essential post-space experimentalism. With over 15 years of tenure under their belt in one form or another, they’ve remained relentlessly committed to a forward-thinking, deeply affecting approach, and they’ll come to FREAK VALLEY with an intent to own the stage as only they can. We’ll just say it in advance: You’re welcome.

TUBER
The Greek four-piece Tuber made a definitive statement in 2017 with their second album, ‘Out of the Blue.’ It was a record that took Krautrock and heavy vibes and keyboard-based nuance to a new level for the band and the ultra-populated, much-loved Greek scene from which they’ve emerged. Since their 2012 self-titled EP and the follow-up 2013 long-player, ‘Desert Overcrowded,’ they’ve been geared toward doing their own thing, and we can’t wait to bear witness to their doing exactly that.

VALLEY OF THE SUN
Yes! You may or may not know it yet, but Valley of the Sun are about to release one of the best albums of 2019. It’s called ‘Old Gods’ and it’s the perfect occasion to have the Ohio band over to play. As they approach a decade since their first release, they take their melodic, catchy, and heavy desert-style rock to a new level entirely and stand tall like the statesmen they’ve always been ready to be. If you thought you knew them, prepare to be surprised.

JOHN FAIRHURST BAND
Got the blues? Want some? John Fairhurst is nothing short of an electric blues master and a troubadour for our tumultuous times. His latest work — released April 12 — is ‘The Divided Kingdom,’ and for the UK-based guitarist probably not much more needs to be said about the meaning behind the title. His modern perspective brings a much-needed edge to a classic blues style, and no doubt we’ll all be dancing the merry dance when he comes to FREAK VALLEY.

OUTSIDEINSIDE
Born out of the ashes of Carousel, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based rockers Outsideinside — who are named for THE BEST Blue Cheer record; that’s right, we said it — made their debut with 2017’s ‘Sniff a Hot Rock,’ a shred-laced paradise of ‘70s-style soul boogie. They’ve been quiet since last Fall, but they’ll come roaring back to Europe to join our festivities and we know their warm vibes will turn heads when they hit the stage.

GREAT ELECTRIC QUEST
The seekers of the flame themselves are coming to FREAK VALLEY! The legend of Great Electric Quest has spread far and wide and now we’ll get the real deal right in our faces. The San Diego heavy rockers aren’t shy about their classic metal leanings or anything else, and whether they’re climbing on the amps or waving their banner, literally, their brash, all-out performance will be one you’ll be talking about when the weekend is done. Get ready for true madness.

LACERTILIA
Genre-spanning UK progressive, heavy, psychedelic, space, whatever-you-got rockers Lacertilia have a new album in progress right now. They’re done recording and were mixing last time we checked, so let’s say FREAK VALLEY’s their deadline. Get it done, gentlemen! Whether it’s on-hand or not for the fest, we’ll be glad to see them doing new material after their debut album, ‘We’re Already Inside Your Mind,’ so thoroughly kicked our asses in 2016.

HIGH FIGHTER
Speaking of new albums, High Fighter are in the midst of making their second full-length, taking their metallic sludgecore to new places with a fresh batch of songs to answer the accomplishments of 2016’s ‘Scars and Crosses.’ They’ve been pretty secretive on what the new record sounds like, but we know already they’ll deliver something special, so while we all wait for the release date to be announced, get ready for one of the most aggressive sets you’ll see all year.

www.freakvalley.de
https://www.facebook.com/freakvalley
https://www.facebook.com/events/299339670806919/
https://twitter.com/FreakValley

Great Electric Quest, Chapter II (2018)

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 13

Posted in Radio on April 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

gimme radio logo

This was a good one. After last episode, which was kind of working on a theme of balancing different kinds of heavy against each other, it felt rewarding to just get down to business and play some tunes without worrying really about some grander statement. Plus, during the voice breaks I got to bitch about having a cold, and you know I loves me some complaining. What other recourse is there for such a condition? DayQuil? Well, okay, yes, but also complaining.

Anyway, it starts with new Valley of the Sun because golly goodness golly golly is that record good, and then there’s some High Reeper, and then Saint Vitus because I’m still so gosh darn proud of having premiered that track that I included it basically as a gloat to myself. It’s mostly new music this time, which is how I like it, but I’ll say that in doing my typical classic-track thing, the intro to Electric Wizard‘s “Funeralopolis” is the best one I’ve ever done. Look out for the Centrum and Sigils tracks — both are marvelous — and though I was basically late to the party on Mammoth Grove‘s Slow Burn, which came out last year, “Gloria” makes an excellent closer to the set, which doesn’t really have a miss in the bunch. Again, it was a good one.

Note the second airing has moved from Tuesday morning to Thursday morning. It’ll be this Thursday at 6AM Eastern, which I’m calling the “Euro airing,” which means it comes with universal healthcare and old buildings, I guess. That’ll be fun, and hopefully the cold will be gone by then, because it certainly isn’t yet.

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 03.31.19

Valley of the Sun Means the Same Old Gods*
High Reeper Eternal Leviathan Higher Reeper*
Saint Vitus Bloodshed Saint Vitus*
BREAK
La Grande Armée Normandía La Grande Armée*
Sigils Faceless You Built the Altar, You Lit the Leaves*
Pyramidal Digital Madness Pyramidal*
Spaceslug Ahtmosphere Split with Major Kong, Dopelord & Weedpecker*
BREAK
Electric Wizard Funeralopolis Dopethrone
Abrahma Lost Forever In Time for the Last Rays of Light*
Centrum Stjärnor För Meditation*
The Devil and the Almighty Blues Salt the Earth Tre*
BREAK
Monocluster Leviathan Ocean*
Mammoth Grove Gloria Slow Burn

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Sunday night at 7PM Eastern, with replays the following Thursday at 6AM. Next show is April 14. Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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Valley of the Sun to Release Old Gods May 24; New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

valley of the sun

Okay, fine. I guess that’s why you wait for the press release. Last week when I apparently jumped the gun on posting Valley of the Sun‘s upcoming tour dates with Bellringer, I said they were due but I didn’t know anything about a new record coming out. Sure enough, here we are and here’s the announcement of that new record, along with a new track. Fine. You got me. There’s a new Valley of the Sun record and I’m not cool enough to know shit about shit ahead of time. Story of my god damn life.

New song does sound awesome though. Seems like Ryan Ferrier might be pulling back from some of the belt-it-out-all-the-time mindset that’s characterized the band’s past work in favor of a more measured approach. I don’t know if that’s the case across the whole record — recall I didn’t know the damn thing existed, so I definitely haven’t heard it — but it works well in “Means the Same,” which will serve as the penultimate track.

Art and info, as well as those tour dates again, and the track — all from the PR wire:

valley of the sun old gods

Ohio hard rock quartet VALLEY OF THE SUN return with new album on FUZZORAMA RECORDS | Stream new single ‘Means the Same’

Fuzzorama Records – home to world beating rock of Truckfighters, Deville and Skraeckoedlan – is thrilled to announce the release of Old Gods; the brand-new studio album US trio, Valley of the Sun.

Formed in Cincinnati, OH in 2010, the band instantly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with, thanks to an impressive succession of self-released EPs; the kind that never seem to go unnoticed/unheard for long. Often compared to the likes of Corrosion of Conformity, Alice in Chains and Badmotorfinger-era Soundgarden – the latter due in no small part to singer Ryan Ferrier’s exemplary vocal range – listeners are treated to a sound that runs the gamut of blues, hard rock, grunge and heavy metal; with big riffs, fuzzed out hooks and deep bass grooves.

For the band, whose last release came in 2016 with the impressive Volume Rock, new album Old Gods – their third album on Fuzzorama Records – is a new and exciting concoction expertly packaged and delivered with a raw and unbridled power whether listened to via stage or speaker. In this incarnation, incorporating heady moments of psychedelia and assuming a form unlike anything the band has ever attempted before.

“To me, Old Gods is a meditation on who I once was, who I am now, and who I’d like to become,” explains guitarist/vocalist Ryan Ferrier.

“We try to evolve with each album,” adds drummer Aaron Boyer. “On Old Gods we added some heavier elements, darker tones, and a touch of psychedelia. We tried some things on this record that we’ve never done before and that made it a lot of fun to make.”

Old Gods by Valley of the Sun is released on 24th May 2019 and can be pre-ordered via Fuzzorama Records HERE. Editions of Old Gods will include gatefold splatter (only sold at live shows and directly through Fuzzorama), gatefold transparent green, gatefold black and CD digipak.

TRACK LISTING:
1. Old Gods
2. All We Are
3. Gaia Creates
4. Dim Vision
5. Shiva Destroys
6. Firewalker
7. Into the Abyss
8. Faith is for Suckers
9. Buddha Transcends
10. Means the Same
11. Dreams of Sands

VALLEY OF THE SUN – TOUR DATES:
US/Canada with BELLRINGER (feat. Mark Deutrom of Melvins)
4/13/2019 – Milwaukee WI Cactus Club
4/14/2019 – Iowa City IA Wildwood
4/15/2019 – Sioux Falls SD Bigs
4/16/2019 – Fargo ND Aquarium
4/17/2019 – Winnipeg MB Windsor Hotel
4/18/2019 – Saskatoon SK Amigos
4/19/2019 – Edmonton AB Starlite
4/20/2019 – Calgary AB 420 Fest
4/23/2019 – Vancouver BC Astoria
4/24/2019 – Portland OR High Water Mark
4/25/2019 – Seattle WA El Corazon
4/27/2019 – Sacramento CA Cafe Colonial
4/29/2019 – Los Angeles CA Resident
4/30/2019 – Phoenix AZ Club Red
5/02/2019 – Austin TX Come And Take It Live
5/03/2019 – Ft Worth TX Lolas
5/04/2019 – Oklahoma City OK 89th Street
5/05/2019 – St Louis MO Fubar
5/06/2019 – Kansas City MO Riot Room
5/07/2019 – Chicago IL Reggies

VALLEY OF THE SUN:
Ryan Ferrier – Guitar/Vocals
Aaron Boyer – Drums
Chris Sweeney – Bass, Keys
Josh Pilot – Guitar

https://www.facebook.com/valleyofthesun/
http://valleyofthesun.bandcamp.com/
http://www.twitter.com/centaur_rodeo
http://www.fuzzoramarecords.com/
http://www.twitter.com/fuzzorecords
http://www.facebook.com/Fuzzorama

Valley of the Sun, “Means the Same”

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Valley of the Sun Announce US/Canada Touring with Bellringer; Playing 420 Fest and More

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 12th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

valley of the sun

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Valley of the Sun don’t exactly announce US touring every day. Over the last five years or so, they’ve been much more apt to head abroad and do stints in Europe, so as they head out next month with Bellringer from Austin, Texas, it’s something of an occasion. They’ll make a stop at 420 Music & Arts Festival in Calgary up in Canada, and will make circuit stops in the Midwest and along the West Coast as they continue to support 2016’s Volume Rock (review here), their latest full-length, which was released through Fuzzorama. Given that record came out upwards of three years ago, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if they had something new in the works, but I haven’t heard either way as to progress in that regard. In any case, the possibility of new songs being aired out only adds to the impetus to see them where and when you can.

They also seem to have made more lineup changes, which, you know, happens. Even so, whatever form you get to catch them, expect them to be in nothing less but top form. Good band. I wouldn’t complain about a new record.

From the social medias:

valley of the sun tour

VALLEY OF THE SUN – TOUR ANNOUNCEMENT!!!

US/CANADA with BELLRINGER feat. Mark Deutrom of Melvins!!!

04/13/2019 Milwaukee WI Cactus Club
04/14/2019 Iowa City IA Wildwood
04/15/2019 Sioux Falls SD Bigs
04/16/2019 Fargo ND Aquarium
04/17/2019 Winnipeg MB Windsor Hotel
04/18/2019 Saskatoon SK Amigos
04/19/2019 Edmonton AB Starlite
04/20/2019 Calgary AB 420 Fest
04/23/2019 Vancouver BC Astoria
04/24/2019 Portland OR High Water Mark
04/25/2019 Seattle WA El Corazon
04/27/2019 Sacramento CA Cafe Colonial
04/29/2019 Los Angeles CA Resident
04/30/2019 Phoenix AZ Club Red
05/02/2019 Austin TX Come And Take It Live
05/03/2019 Ft Worth TX Lolas
05/04/2019 Oklahoma City OK 89th Street
05/05/2019 St Louis MO Fubar
05/06/2019 Kansas City MO Riot Room
05/07/2019 Chicago IL Reggies

Ryan Ferrier-Guitar/Vocals
Aaron Boyer-Drums
Chris Sweeney-Bass and Keys
Josh Pilot-Guitar

https://www.facebook.com/valleyofthesun/
http://valleyofthesun.bandcamp.com/
http://www.twitter.com/centaur_rodeo
http://www.fuzzoramarecords.com/
http://www.twitter.com/fuzzorecords
http://www.facebook.com/Fuzzorama

Valley of the Sun, Volume Rock (2016)

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Planet Desert Rock Weekend Announces Lineup with John Garcia, Wino, Wo Fat, Sasquatch and More

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

planet desert rock weekend john garcia

Last week, John Garcia and the Band of Gold announced that a lone US appearance would take place in Las Vegas on Nov. 29. As presented by Vegas Rock Revolution, that show will be the first of a three-evening event called the Planet Desert Rock Weekend, also featuring headlining spots from Scott “Wino” Weinrich and Texas fuzz-blues stalwarts Wo Fat, as well as support from the likes of House of Broken PromisesFreedom HawkSasquatchPowered Wig MachineValley of the SunThe Heavy Eyes, and so on. The venue changes each night, but there’s no question what’s happening here: It’s a festival.

Look. I can’t tell you how to live your life. Well, I could — eat right, try to get some exercise, love everybody, etc. — but I can’t tell you where to go on any given day. Even aside from this being a rare chance to catch John Garcia in the States, this lineup is pretty much unfuckwithable. Vegas may be known as the land of Psycho, but without a doubt, Planet Desert Rock is looking to make an impact of its own in underground heavy. If you were there to see it, I can’t imagine you’d have regrets later.

Awesome posters by Joey Rudell, full lineup and info follow, courtesy of the fest’s social medias:

Planet Desert Rock Weekend

A Desert Rock Weekend Experience of amazing music from all over the country. Each band hand selected to ensure amazing relevant lineups daily. No fillers just got music.

3 nights of amazing Heavy Rock lineups

Night 1 starts off with legendary vocalist John Garcia of Kyuss. This is a exclusive evening that has never happened before. He will be singing songs from all his bands including Kyuss, Unida (Arthur Seay on guitar) , Hermano (Dave Angstrom on guitar) and Slo Burn (Chris Hale on Guitar). Former Kyuss bandmate Nick Oliveri will also be playing a song or two with John. Luna Sol featuring Angstrom also on the bill as well as Nick Oliveri and Arthur Seay’s Death in Pretty Wrapping with Unida/House of Broken Promises bandmate Mike Cancino on drums. This will be John Garcia only show in the U.S. in 2018. Vinyl at Hard Rock Casino is home to this very special one time event Thursday night.

Night 2 The Bunkhouse Saloon in Downtown Las Vegas hosts headliner Scott “Wino” Weinrich. Longtime heavy rock vocalist with such iconic underground bands as The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan , Saint Vitus and Shrinebuilder. Also joining on the bill will be heavy rock veterans Valley of the Sun who is rising from the ashes and gearing up for a big 2019 with a new album. The Heavy Eyes comes in from blues town Memphis with their psychedelic bluesy rock style and their own very unique catchy sound. House of Broken Promises featuring Arthur Seay and Mike Cancino of Unida fame will be representing Indio CA with riff rocking madness. War Cloud out of Oakland revs up with a late 70s/early 80s high energy styled metal/rock. King Chiefs (formerly Chiefs) gives a 90s grunge era style to this stacked lineup.

Night 3 is highlighted by a rare west coast appearance by Wo-Fat out of Dallas Texas. This power trio has played all over the world at many of the top festivals including DesertFest. Thick Bluesy psychedelic explosion of heavy rock would be a start to describing their incredible sound. World travelled Sasquatch joins the party as one of the premier bands poised for next level breakthrough. Freedom Hawk flies over from Virginia Beach bringing with them catchy rocking songs with duel guitar action. One of the most consistent bands in the stoner rock genre. Powered Wig Machine gets its motor running again after a little layoff as Wayne and Joey Rudell of Fuzz Evil play the epitome of desert rock style blended with retro rock influences. Blackwulf flies down from Oakland on the heals of their last highly acclaimed album which featured former Pentagram member Geoff O’Keefe. Heavy riff rocking live band. Red Desert makes a special appearance coming all the way from Minnesota as they prepare for a big 2019 with a new album/EP. Desert rock sound blended with stoner and doom. Beauty Bar downtown on Fremont street is home to this all star lineup.

We are very proud of these lineups and will only have a limited amount of tickets to sale as each of the last 2 locations have only room from 270 or so……snag those tickets as this is first come first serve. Cool vibe and stacked lineups will be happening each and every night. Our hopes is to develop this into something heavy rock bands and fans can flourish in for future shows. See you soon !

Tickets available on each of these links for the individual days

Night 1 –John Garcia and Friends – NOV. 29
https://www.facebook.com/events/2217039788574233/

Night 2 –Wino/ Valley of the Sun/ The Heavy Eyes/ House of Broken Promises/ War Cloud/ King Chiefs – NOV. 30
https://www.facebook.com/events/734357036916015/

Night 3 — Wo-Fat / Sasquatch/ Freedom Hawk/ Powered Wig Machine/ Blackwülf/ Red Desert – DEC. 1
https://www.facebook.com/events/296321447858932/

https://www.facebook.com/VRRProductions/
https://www.facebook.com/vegasrockrevolution/

Wo Fat, Live in Oklahoma City, OK, Aug. 10, 2018

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Friday Full-Length: Valley of the Sun, The Sayings of the Seers

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 23rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Not that they haven’t done plenty since, but can you believe it’s coming up on seven years since Valley of the Sun released The Sayings of the Seers (review here)? The Ohio-based heavy rockers issued their second EP in June 2011, and at the time, it was impossible to know what it would signal. I remember getting the vinyl and being so enthralled by the potential. Did it sound like Slo Burn? Shit yeah, but that wasn’t about to stop me from singing along to “Hearts Aflame” or “Riding the Dunes,” and for a band who was so new, they seemed to have their sound so together, so dead on, that — I’ll be honest — I thought they were going to take over the US heavy underground.

In a way, they did. The signal that was impossible to see at the time was just how much The Sayings of the Seers indicated that a new generation of American heavy rockers was on the rise and would take hold of the greater rock consciousness throughout the course of this decade. Ripple Music had gotten rolling in 2010, and certainly a heavy rock label boom followed in the wake of their success — it’s ongoing — but that wouldn’t have happened without an explosion of bands, and Valley of the Sun, if they were concurrent, they were also more cohesive than most at the time. Though its only five tracks long, The Sayings of the Seers presented them as a band whose work was essentially ready to roll out. Like few others in the sphere of US heavy — names like fellow Ohioans Lo-Pan, Portland forerunners Red Fang, Texas’ Wo Fat and Mothership and maybe one or two from a then-nascent scene in San Diego — Valley of the Sun not only represented a generation of heavy rock coming to fruition in the post-Facebook age, but did so at the head of the wave. The next couple years 2012, 2013, and 2014, would see a massive increase in the number of riff-led acts from across the country. Valley of the Sun by no means invented heavy rock and roll, but they sure as shit knew what they were doing when they started to play it.

The evidence of that is as plain as riff on “Hearts Aflame”‘s face. The way that song starts out a rager and subtly builds from there to give a genuine crescendo feel at the end. With guitarist Ryan Ferrier‘s vocals so dead-on in their John Garcia-esque delivery, Valley of the Sun seemed to be speaking immediately to a swath of the converted that most didn’t even know existed. The Sayings of the Seers only got stronger with the momentum-building boogie of “Deep Light Burns,” which gave their future Fuzzorama Records label bosses Truckfighters a run for their money in terms of its energy and seemed to be daring the audience to keep up with it. Later on, “Aquarius” would provide a likewise charge at the outset of side B, but to get there, one first had to brave the hook that was centerpiece “Mariner’s Tale,” which remains seven years later the kind of song one might listen to and say, “Okay, well there’s no way in hell they could possibly come up with anything catchier than this,” and then you hear “Riding the Dunes” close out and have to just throw up your hands and admit defeat. In sound, in the crispness of their production, the clarity of their execution, the vibe born of their tones and the accomplishment of their songwriting, Valley of the Sun wanted for absolutely nothing. At the time, I said, “Provided Valley of the Sun can continue to hone this level of craft and grow into their own as a band, I see no reason they couldn’t stand with a select few others at the forefront of their generation of American heavy rockers.”

A bit of a hyperbolic prediction, I’ll admit — there are many other factors besides quality of work that come into play between one band “making it” and another not; how much they tour, their management choices, their PR, their label, who they play with, when and where, etc. — but it was true enough that there was nothing at that point to indicate Valley of the Sun didn’t have that kind of potential. They’ve only grown bolder throughout their two to-date Fuzzorama LPs, 2014’s Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk (review here) and 2016’s Volume Rock (review here), though lineup shuffles around Ferrier and drummer Aaron Boyer have been a steady issue. Their work may be slightly underappreciated as a result, but they’ve never doled out anything less than ultra-engaging, sharply-turned professional heavy rock. Looking back on it now, The Sayings of the Seers was nothing if not a righteous statement of this intent.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

I really, really wanted to sleep until six this morning. I didn’t. I had an announcement that I’d meant to write yesterday for the Freak Valley Festival — it’ll be posted here Monday — that I needed to bang out on European time, so it was a 4AM wakeup, which quite frankly is better than 2:30. After I did the writeup, futzed through some emails and stutter-started this post, falling asleep with my head on the kitchen table all the while, I went back to bed for a bit. Maybe an hour and a half or so. Something like that.

It really only matters because tonight I’m driving to Worcester to see Judas Priest and Saxon, and as I’ll be taking The Patient Mrs.’ car — mine is registered and starts now, but the brakes, not so much — I’d prefer not to fall asleep at the wheel and veer into the woods off the Masspike. It would be just my luck to completely total her car and survive to catch hell about it for the rest of my life.

That possibility notwithstanding, I’ll have a review up of that show on Monday. Monday’s also a pretty special occasion that I’ll be marking, so please keep an eye out for that. Here’s the rest of the notes for the week:

Mon.: Special post, Judas Priest review, Malady album stream/review.
Tue.: Baby Bones track premiere, Black Rainbows video.
Wed.: Sunnata review.
Thu.: T.G. Olson double-review.
Fri.: Soldat Hans review.

Those last three are basically me doing myself a favor pre-Quarterly Review, which is the following week, but they might get moved around. We’ll see.

You’re probably not, but if you’re wondering, eating disorder treatment continues and continues to suck. I’ve hit the point in this process of “getting healthy” where just about none of the clothes I’ve bought or acquired in the last two years fit me — a record label very kindly sent me a t-shirt this week that I’ll never be able to wear — and my favorite flannel — “the wizard flannel,” so dubbed because it’s huge like a wizard’s robe and when you wear it, its magical powers make the world seem less shitty — has gone missing. It’s probably in the basement where the clothes are kept [update: it was], somewhere among the mass of baby clothes and now-too-tight boxer shorts, but frankly, every time I go down there to look and get something to wear, I see the stack of shirts people sent me, from Year of the Cobra to Comacozer to Cosmic Fall, on and on and on, that can’t get around me anymore and it makes me want to veer into the woods off the side of the Masspike. So I try not to go downstairs. Not a sustainable plan, but fuck it. I’m a homemaker. If I wear the same t-shirt three days in a row, as I have with this Ancestors shirt I have on now, the only people who are going to be disappointed in me are myself and Donna Reed. Oh, and I’ve also stopped showering every day because I hate the sight of my own body in the bathroom mirror. “Getting healthy!”

That’s a fun one. Also fun is my anxiety about leaving the house — I’m nervous enough about going to Worcester tonight; Roadburn already has me terrified — and the generic platitudes I get about how much better I’m doing. Some level of some stupid fucking thing in my bloodwork is higher or lower than it used to be, isn’t that great? Who fucking cares? Do I live forever now? “Well, you were miserable at 150 pounds too.” No shit. I’d rather be miserable and have my fucking clothes fit me. I went out last summer and bought three pairs of hippie pants. Real hippie pants. Not that I could get them around my ass if I tried, but I don’t ever want to wear colors again. Let me just fucking do whatever I can do disappear and leave it at that. Like stay home and fall asleep typing and feel bad about not answering emails and Facebook messages fast enough.

So many fucking typos. I’m doing my best to catch them, but I know they’re getting through. It’s because I’m only half-conscious when I’m writing. Now you know.

Wow. Okay. Hard reboot? Delete everything past the notes for next week and start over? Nah fuck it. If you’re interested enough to keep reading this far into a 1,600-word post, you deserve nothing less than the truth about what a wretched wreck (“wrecktched?”) I am. So there it is. This week. And everyone tells me I’m getting better.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. I wish I lived in New Jersey. I wish I had money enough to not have to worry about money. I wish I didn’t have to write down every fucking thing I eat in a day so it can be checked over like fourth grade math homework. I sucked at that too.

Thanks for reading. Please don’t forget to check out the forum and radio stream, and just to not end on a bummer note, please make sure you check back Monday for that special post. It’ll be the first post of the day and it’s a big one, so yeah, stay tuned. It’ll be fun. I mean it.

Until then, all the best.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2016

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

the obelisk top 30

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

30. Talmud Beach, Chief

talmud beach chief

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

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

29. Comet Control, Center of the Maze

comet control center of the maze

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 22.

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

28. Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids attack sci-fi or die

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 17.

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

27. Beelzefuzz, The Righteous Bloom

beelzefuzz the righteous bloom

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

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

26. Foghound, The World Unseen

foghound the world unseen

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed July 6.

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

25a. Egypt, Endless Flight

egypt endless flight

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

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

25. 1000mods, Repeated Exposure To…

1000mods repeated exposure to

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

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

24. Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy

black rainbows stellar prophecy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 11.

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

23. Borracho, Atacama

borracho atacama

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Nov. 14.

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

22. The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again

the golden grass coming back again

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed April 26.

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

21. Curse the Son, Isolator

curse the son isolator

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

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

20. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires

neurosis fires within fires

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

19. Conan, Revengeance

conan revengeance

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 19.

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

18. Baby Woodrose, Freedom

baby woodrose freedom

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Aug. 18.

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

17. Geezer, Geezer

geezer geezer

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

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

16. EYE, Vision and the Ageless Light

eye vision and the ageless light

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

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

15. Fatso Jetson, Idle Hands

fatso jetson idle hands

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Oct. 3.

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

14. Hexvessel, When We are Death

hexvessel when we are death

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Feb. 5.

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

13. Zun, Burial Sunrise

zun burial sunrise

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Feb. 16.

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

12. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree

elephant tree elephant tree

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

11. Mos Generator, Abyssinia

mos generator abyssinia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed July 12.

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

10. Slomatics, Future Echo Returns

slomatics future echo returns

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed June 29.

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

9. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh

wo fat midnight cometh

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 21.

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

8. King Buffalo, Orion

king buffalo orion

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed July 29.

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

7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know

wight love is not only what you know

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

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

6. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil

brant bjork tao of the devil

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 15.

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

4. Asteroid, III

asteroid iii

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

3. Gozu, Revival

gozu revival

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 19.

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

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

mars red sky apex iii praise for the burning soul

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

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

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

subrosa for this we fought the battle of ages

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

The Next 20

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions

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

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

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

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

Thank You

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

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

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

One more time: Thank you.

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