Review & Full Album Stream: Vokonis, Grasping Time

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

vokonis grasping time

[Click play above to stream Vokonis’ Grasping Time in full. Album is out Sept. 6 on The Sign Records.]

Swedish trio Vokonis continue to show the kind of band they’ll become even as they become it. Grasping Time is their third long-player in the last four years, following 2017’s The Sunken Djinn (review here) and 2016’s Olde One Ascending (review here), and serves as their first offering through The Sign Records after releasing through Ripple and Ozium Records, respectively — even the 2015 demo tape Temple (review here) that they released under their old moniker had label backing, from BTNKcllctv in Malaysia. Recorded in 2018, the eight-track/44-minute Grasping Time also marks the final release to feature drummer Emil Larsson, who has since been replaced by Peter Ottoson in the Borås-based lineup with guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson and bassist/vocalist Jonte Johansson. That change feels significant, but as Larsson still features in these songs, it’s hard to know how it will ultimately affect the band’s dynamic.

It is that dynamic, incidentally, that is the story of Grasping Time. Not literally, of course, as the lyrics tell their own tale, but in terms of the sound of the record — captured like its predecessor at Studio Underjord in Norrköping by Joona Hassinen — from the head-down drive that launches opener “Antler Queen” through the post-Elder sway and chug in the finale of the capper “Fading Lights” and the brief guitar contemplation thereafter, the three-piece demonstrate their evolving approach in its latest incarnation as a more progressive and continually growing outfit. Ohlsson and Johansson share vocals effectively throughout the tracks, patient in the melodic delivery in the verses at the outset of “Sunless Hymnal” and gruff as that build kicks into its payoff shortly before the halfway point of the 9:57 longest track. I won’t take away from the breadth Vokonis bring to Grasping Time in “Embers” or even the shorter title-track, which serves as the penultimate inclusion ahead of “Fading Lights,” but “Sunless Hymnal” is an effective summary unto itself of who Vokonis are at this stage in their growth, and reveals the conscious execution with which they’re working.

If Olde One Ascending was where the direction was charted and The Sunken Djinn brought new levels of intensity to the proceedings, then Grasping Time is where Vokonis unveil a new level of ambition. It’s not that they didn’t have progressive aspects to their sound all along, and certainly putting “Antler Queen” first emphasizes the fact that they’re still plenty aggressive when they want to be. What’s shifted is the balance of elements. A greater interplay between Johansson and Ohlsson on vocals brings fresh persona to Vokonis‘ delivery, as even “Antler Queen” demonstrates, moving from its extended quiet break into a low-end-heavy doom roll topped with screams and, yes, a finish of post-rock-style airy guitar. In addition, the songs themselves mirror the duality of their sonic take, complementing each other as the brashness of “Antler Queen” leads into the sweeter beginning of “Sunless Hymnal” and the High on Fire bruiser riffing of the open and close of “I Hear the Siren” bookends a melodic dreamscape all the more resonant with the percussive force and solo shred of the two-minute instrumental “Exiled,” which follows to close out side A.

vokonis

And in case you’re not of the camp who believes format matters, the midsection of Grasping Time provides a suitable counterargument. Taken in halves, “Exiled” finishes side A as noted, and the also-just-about-two-minute, also-instrumental “Ashes” launches side B, dropping a few choice basslines beneath some proggy guitar noodling as it does. Fair enough. But in a linear format like CD/DL, the difference is striking. Essentially what happens is Vokonis shift into an instrumental hypnosis mode, with the charged end of “I Hear the Siren” — that last minute or so — gives way to the solo-topped shove of “Exiled,” which culminates with a crash but picks up fluidly in “Ashes” with a brief quiet intro before the full brunt kicks in, and then leads directly into the beginning of “Embers,” the two songs obviously meant to be taken as a pair given their respective titles. Varied and engaging as it is, the intro for “Embers” is another two minutes without vocals, so essentially what happens is Grasping Time has a stretch of about seven of its total 44 minutes, across four different tracks, without a word either from Johansson or Ohlsson.

What that shows is not only their ability to entrance the listener — which that stretch does — but their willingness to follow whatever impulse is going to lead to the best flow for the album as a whole. And the payoff for that is the smack in the face when Ohlsson and Johansson return on “Embers” for the most direct duet-ing they’ve yet done. “Embers” patiently drifts into a lumbering finish and feels something like an apex for Grasping Time, but the title-track continues to broaden the reach of the LP overall, and, again, manifest the progression of Vokonis even as it hints toward future direction for their meld between bruising and soothing impulses, not so much creating a conflict between them, banging them together and seeing what happens, but utilizing both to a singular expressive purpose.

Further proving the whole-album case for Grasping Time is the mirror that “Fading Lights” gives to “Antler Queen” with the return of the harsher screaming later in the track as it finishes its careening run. It underscores the consciousness and intent in the band’s craft, in terms of songwriting as well as structuring the LP, and across the album’s not insignificant span, the control behind Vokonis execution only makes it more impressive how far their reach has expanded in what’s still a relatively short amount of time. Their work has hit the point where one might not feel comfortable predicting where a fourth album might go in terms of sound, other perhaps than to say Vokonis continue to come across with more of an individualized take, whatever influences they may be taking from the modern sphere of heavy around them. With the lineup change bringing in Ottoson, there’s bound to be some shift in approach as a result, intentional or not, but as they prove with Grasping Time, there’s an entire stylistic spectrum they’re able to take and use as a frame for their songwriting. I’d only hope to see that frame’s borders continue to expand as they have thus far.

Vokonis, “I Hear the Siren” official video

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 10

Posted in Radio on February 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

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Yeah, this episode was cool except for the goober hosting it. I recorded the voice breaks pretty early in the day on Friday, and I don’t know if I wasn’t awake or what, but I just couldn’t get it together. I think I did the middle break in two takes and that was about as good as it got. I’d still like to go back and get another shot at the opening one. And by the time I actually got to the end of the show, I was so damned afraid of screwing it up again that I basically sprinted for the stop button to finish recording. They can’t all be gold, I guess.

The good news is the playlist itself was awesome. As I tried repeatedly and failed to explain during the show itself, this episode wound up being a pretty vast international swath of acts, and that was something that just happened out of the blue. I didn’t even realize it until afterward. Sweden, Greece, the US, Italy, Norway, Australia, Germany. It’s a broad mix of stuff from a variety of places, and I like that. it’s a lot of new music and I like that too. Really, it’s just the sound of my own voice I could do without. Ha.

I’ll get ’em next time, or something.

Playlist follows. Thanks for reading and/or listening.

The Obelisk Show – 02.17.19

Warp Out of My Life Warp*
Automaton Talos Awakens TALOS*
The Munsens Dirge (For Those to Come) Unhanded*
BREAK
Vokonis Grasping Time Grasping Time*
Terras Paralelas Bom Presságio Entre Dois Mundos*
The Pilgrim Peace of Mind Walking into the Forest*
SÂVER I, Vanish They Came with Sunlight*
REZN Quantum Being Calm Black Water*
BREAK
Colour Haze Love Colour Haze
Aver Disorder Orbis Majora*
Troll Legend Master, Book I: Proverbs of Hell Legend Master*
BREAK
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard The Spaceships of Ezekiel Yn Ol I Anwnn*
Monovine Throw Me a Bone D.Y.E.*
Demon Head The Night is Yours Hellfire Ocean Void*
Old Mexico Past the Western Wall Old Mexico*

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Sunday night at 7PM Eastern, with replays the following Tuesday at 9AM. Next show is March 3. Thanks for listening if you do.

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 08

Posted in Radio on January 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

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This was my 2019 preview… of sorts. By which I mean that it in no way encompassed everything coming out this year and that some of it was basically me being like, “golly, it sure would be nice if BAND X put out a record in the next 12 months.” Still fun, but I think definitely well earning that “of sorts” tag.

I keep notes with a running list of things like albums coming out and best records of the year, artwork, EPs, etc., and in my notes for what’s coming out in 2019 I have over 50 bands listed so far. Here they are, cut and paste-style:

Cities of Mars, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, No Man’s Valley, 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, Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Samsara Blues Experiment, Papir, Conan, Green Lung, BUS, Worshipper, Volcano, Mos Generator, Earth, Nebula Drag, Elder, Daxma, Besvärjelsen, Bellrope, The Sabbathian,

Some of that has been officially announced, some hasn’t, and some is rampant speculation, but many of these, and there’s always the contingency that expected releases can be delayed owing to recording and tour schedules, pressing concerns, pianos falling on heads, and so on, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find a bunch of those records on my year-end list in December. Whoopee.

What’s more important to stress, however, is that this is by no means the be-all-end-all list of things coming out. It’s a long year, and it’s January right now. There will be offerings in September and October that no one knows now are even in the works, and still more that aren’t. That’s why the list ends with a comma and a space instead of a period. There’s more to be added.

That said, this is a damn good show and I stand by it. Some of the inclusions could/would/will be among the year’s best albums — the new Worshipper is fantastic, and the new Kings Destroy owns my soul — but I wanted to put some stuff in here that the Gimme audience, which I tend to think of as being more metal though I have absolutely nothing to base that on, isn’t familiar with. Curse the Son, Snail, Sun Blood Stories.

It’s fun to talk about new albums coming out — I had a particular blast mentioning how annoyed I am at the universe for there being a new Sun Blood Stories album and I haven’t heard it yet — and even if some of it is speculative, that’s a good time too.

If you missed the show last night, it’s on tomorrow at 9AM at: http://gimmeradio.com.

The Obelisk Show Ep. 08 – 01.20.19

 

Lowrider Lameneshma Ode to Io (Deluxe Edition) 0:04:57
Kings Destroy Smokey Robinson Kings Destroy 0:04:03
BREAK
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard The Master and His Emissary Totems (Split w/Slomatics) 0:12:02
Snail Born in Captivity Feral 0:05:00
Motorpsycho The Tower The Tower 0:08:41
Mars Red Sky Friendly Fire Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) 0:04:51
BREAK
Sun Blood Stories Step Softly Ghost It Runs Around the Room with Us 0:04:48
Elephant Tree Dawn Elephant Tree 0:04:12
Curse the Son Aislamiento Isolator 0:07:13
Alunah Awn Amber & Gold* 0:05:50
Worshipper Night Child (The Oath cover) Mirage Daze 0:04:19
Hexvessel Old Tree All Tree* 0:03:40
Vokonis Rapturous The Sunken Djinn 0:06:09
Mr. Peter Hayden We Fly High Eternal Hayden 0:07:13
BREAK
Kind Rabbit Astronaut Rocket Science 0:03:49
Om Haqq al-Yaqin Advaitic Songs 0:11:29
Samsara Blues Experiment One with the Universe One with the Universe 0:15:07

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Sunday night at 7PM Eastern, with replays the following Tuesday at 9AM. Next show is Feb. 3. Thanks for listening if you do.

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Vokonis Announce New Drummer Peter Ottoson; New Album Title Revealed

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 7th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Sweden’s Vokonis are pretty careful in the announcement below not to give away the title of their impending third full-length, which will be issued sometime in the coming months through The Sign Records, but it’s called Grasping Time and on Feb. 2 they’ll have the first single out from the offering, also called “Grasping Time.” So there. The forthcoming album will mark the final contributions of drummer Emil Larsson, who has left the band with Peter Ottoson coming aboard as his replacement alongside guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson and bassist/vocalist Jonte Johansson.

Change is nothing new for Vokonis, whose three albums — 2016’s Olde One Ascending (review here), 2017’s The Sunken Djinn (review here), and the upcoming — have been issued through Ozium RecordsRipple Music and (shift to future tense) The Sign Records, respectively, and who began their career under a different moniker with a different lineup. So, you know, kind of how it goes. Despite or perhaps in some part because of this, the band has never failed to grow from one quick-turnaround release to the next, and I’m not saying I’ve heard it or anything, but their third LP is not an exception to the rule, with Ohlsson and Johansson introducing more depth to the vocal arrangements and sharing duties in that regard more than ever before, as well as pushing themselves in terms of their songwriting.

There will be much more to come on Grasping Time, of course, as we get closer to the release. Here’s the lineup change announcement in the meantime:

vokonis

VOKONIS ANNOUNCE NEW MEMBER

Swedish heavy prog band VOKONIS have announced that drummer Emil Larsson has left the band and replaced by Peter Ottoson.

The band commented:

“Emil has decided to leave Vokonis. There are no bad feelings involved. Emil felt done with the band and wanted to leave the position for a person that would feel love for the songs and the band. The new record we recorded in 2018 will be Emil’s last contributions to the band. We are of course incredibly sad by his decision, but that is life. We are excited to welcome Peter as our new drummer.”

More information on the new album will be announced in the next few months!

Vokonis is:
Simon Ohlsson – guitar/vocals
Jonte Johansson – bass/vocals
Peter Ottoson – drums

https://www.facebook.com/OfficialVokonis/
https://open.spotify.com/artist/3DZoit5R0ahZQCNLbDnNxr?si=eh0iJ7YHQQOblw_ztadm1Q
https://www.facebook.com/thesignrecords/
http://www.thesignrecords.com

Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn (2017)

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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.

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Various Artists, Planet of Doom: First Contact EP: A Way to Break the Ice

Posted in Reviews on July 5th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

planet of doom first contact ep

The Planet of Doom: First Contact EP is something of a curio from the outset. What it effectively does is to retintroduce The Planet of Doom (discussed here), which is an upcoming animated feature helmed by artists Tim Granda and David Paul Seymour bringing together huge names from the graphics and sonics sides of the heavy underground to tell a story in varying chapters, each with its own designer and each with its own music. As projects go, it is breathtakingly ambitious. A generational work, and understandably, it’s been a few years in the making at this point. Last I heard, a 2019 release was expected, but in order to keep momentum going, keep the movie in the mind of potential viewers/fans, and give a taste of the general aesthetic of the work, The Planet of Doom: First Contact presents four songs in a relatively brief 22 minutes that essentially serve as a sampler of what’s to come.

In order, the release presents tracks from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos Generator, who every bit deserve to be the leadoff with “Sword of the Sea,” Italian upstarts Messa, who bring the seven-minute “Serpent Libido,” Sweden’s Vokonis with “Runa” and Northern Ireland’s Slomatics, whose “Jagaer” closes out. They are just four among the likes of Order of the Owl, Phillip Cope (ex-Kylesa), Slow Season, Space Witch, Mother Crone, Granda himself, Ironweed, Destroyer of Light, Ufomammut, Cirith Ungol, Wo Fat, Orchid, Elephant Tree, who will ultimately feature on the finished product, but they’ve obviously been chosen as the first representatives because of the flow between the songs. Often with soundtracks, there’s an issue of sonic incongruity between individual cuts, and reasonably so. Different players, different tones, different recordings, different moods — it should sound different in the end result. With Mos Generator, Messa, Vokonis and Slomatics, though, it’s not an issue.

And not because the bands don’t have their own respective styles, from the pure heavy rock with just a slight darker tinge of Mos Generator through the atmospheric approach of Messa, the brash doomly bombast of Vokonis and Slomatics‘ futuristic engagement, there is enough of a leap between sounds that one would hardly be surprised if The Planet of Doom: First Contact wound up disjointed, but the progression toward Slomatics‘ “Jagaer” is such that from Mos Generator onward, there’s a downward motion brought to bear. We’re not just making First Contact with The Planet of Doom like Jean-Luc Picard showing up with a handshake and a gift basket from the United Federation of Planets — “Try the Alvanian snap peas!” — we’re being brought on a descent below its surface into some lurking subterranean cave, surrounding by an ancient murk and a looming sense of threat as we move deeper through. In that way, “Sword of the Sea” is a perfect lead-in.

the planet of doom first contact vinyl

With guest vocals alongside those of guitarist Tony Reed, the track builds on the moodier spirit of the band’s 2018 album, Shadowlands (review here), with a gradual unfolding that moves by 90 seconds in toward a more rocking tension that lets loose just before two minutes in. A sudden organ-laced break at around 2:20 leads to a section of progressive guitar textures and the aforementioned guest vocal spot, stopping again, this time to complete silence, before crashing out to a big rock finish that brings on Messa. Kind of a curious structure there, and if “Sword of the Sea” was left off Shadowlands — I don’t know that it was recorded during the same session or it wasn’t — that peculiarity might be why. In any case, Messa, who’ve reaped massive acclaim for their 2018 album, Feast for Water (review here), present the longest inclusion on the EP and earn their time well with a blend of ambiance and heft that serves as a distinguishing factor even among other accomplished purveyors of riffly wares. They’ll begin to hit the European festival circuit this Fall, and accordingly fall into the “one to watch” category, but even more than that, they’re one to listen to, since “Serpent Libido” does so well in its moody affect and loud/quiet tradeoffs, moving toward a plodding section that turns suddenly to blastbeats to end and set the stage for the initial roll of Vokonis‘ “Runa.”

The Swedish three-piece’s participation in The Planet of Doom: First Contact could hardly be better timed. They recently signed to The Sign Records and will record their third album in August to follow last year’s resounding The Sunken Djinn (review here). “Runa” was reportedly written specifically for The Planet of Doom, and though what it might have to do with the plot remains a mystery, the riff and crash of the band’s sound is well intact in the sharply delivered five-minute cut. It’s a solid showing of what they do and the individualized edge they’ve taken on developing since getting their start just a few years ago. They’ve become a vital outfit in the Euro underground, and “Runa” shows why in its blend of aggression and nod. They continue to both grow and impress, and while I don’t know if their next record will be out before the end of 2018, they very obviously are actively working to keep moving forward. The sudden collapse at the end of “Runa” gives Slomatics a bed of silence on which to begin the underlying synth of “Jagaer,” which soon enough unveils its tonal lumber and rolling rhythm.

I know there are plenty of heavy bands involved in The Planet of Doom, but Slomatics‘ blend of entrenched narrative, their otherworldly vocal echoes, and their inhuman, post-apocalyptic slow-motion assault from guitarists Chris Couzens and David Marjury and drummer/vocalist Marty Harvey is perfect for the film. “Jagaer” unfolds with patience and weight alike, and continues in the vein of the band’s 2018 split with Mammoth Weed Wizard BastardTotems (review here), to assure that Slomatics are in no way done after wrapping the trilogy story that finished on 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here). That’s invariably good news to anyone who’d take on The Planet of Doom: First Contact, as their thud-and-swirl methodology wraps by diverting into a momentary wash of feedback and cutting to nothingness. Hints of more to come? One might say that, and as it’s convenient for me to do so, I will. Either way you take it, The Planet of Doom: First Contact augers remarkably well for the rest of the soundtrack when it finally arrives, and speaks to the curated sensibility of the entire proceeding. As samplers go, it is of impeccable quality and only adds to the well justified anticipation for The Planet of Doom itself.

The Planet of Doom website

The Planet of Doom on Thee Facebooks

The Planet of Doom on Instagram

The Planet of Doom on Kickstarter

Ripple Music on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music website

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Ripple Music, DHU Records, Kozmik Artifactz & Twin Earth Records Team up for 2LP Compilation Skull Mountain

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 27th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

skull mountain cover

As an old friend used to say — SCENE UNITY! As someone who lives in fear of corralling even one label’s worth of bands onto a sampler, the notion of the logistics involved with Skull Mountain feels like the stuff of anxiety dreams on the part of those making it happen. And yet, the bold souls at Ripple Music, Kozmik Artifactz, Twin Earth Records and DHU Records have come together across continents to make it happen, and a 500-copies-pressed 2LP four-way label sampler split featuring all previously unreleased tracks and versions is the result. I shouldn’t have to tell you this is something special, something that doesn’t happen every day, and something that might not happen again.

And yet, it’s so emblematic of the moment in which the heavy rock underground finds itself today. Time was when labels like Ripple and Kozmik Artifactz would be too busy competing and trying to poach each other’s bands to team up on a joint multi-artist venture, and to have DHU and Twin Earth on board as well only affirms the passion and the taste at heart in what these people are doing. It’s not about who can be the biggest, or who can make the most money. It’s about love of the music and about wanting to support those who make it and, in this case, teaming up to reach as broad an audience as possible so that everyone benefits.

16 bands, four sides of two platters and one deeply, deeply admirable project, Skull Mountain releases on June 16 with preorders beginning today at the times listed in the flyer below.

Beneath that, you can see the official announcement of the release and the complete tracklisting. Kudos to everyone involved on every level in making this one happen.

From the PR wire:

skull mountain poster

Over a year in the making! Perhaps the world’s first Four-Label collaborative effort to bring together some of the best heavy psych, stoner, doom from both sides of the Atlantic. Two US-based labels, Ripple Music and Twin Earth Records, join forces with two European-based labels, DHU Records and Kozmik Artifactz to bring forth a double album of epic proportions, something so massive it could only have its own monolith, Skull Mountain.

Each Label showcases one full album side of its signature sound, each song previously unreleased or unreleased mix. The entire album mastered to perfection by Tony Reed at HeavyHead.

Inside the gatefold, Tarot cards display the four element theme of Skull Mountain with each Label represented by its own signature element, Ripple-Water; Twin Earth-Earth, DHU- Fire, and Kozmik- Air. Accordingly, each label has a limited amount of vinyl available in its own signature elemental color, Ripple-Blue, Twin Earth – Green, DHU-Red, and Kozmik- Clear

That’s right! Only 500 of these stunning 2xLP albums were pressed, with each label only having 125 in its signature color. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

An epic introduction into the worlds of North American and European heavy music. A monumental journey to Skull Mountain

Track Listing:

Side Ripple
The Watchers – Starfire (Cosmic Nebula mix)
Kingnomad – Dewer’s Hollow
Blackwulf – The Tempest (Black Tide mix)
Vokonis – Celestial Embrace

Side Twin Earth
Alastor – Blood on Satan’s Claw
Kabbalah – Abomination
Starts that Move – Give It All Away
Haunted – Crossmoth

Side D.H.U.
Disenchanter – More Evil Than Thou
Dawn – Day of the Lord
Witch Ritual – Drawing Down the Moon
Youngblood Supercult – Sticky Fingers

Side Kozmik
The Heavy Eyes – Home
Devil Electric – Devil’s Bells
Red Spektor – Devil’s Keeper
Hair of the Dog – My Only Home

Each label has 125 copies in its own color available on its own site.

www.ripplemusic.bigcartel.com/products
darkhedonisticunionrecords.bigcartel.com
http://twinearthrecords.storenvy.com
http://shop.bilocationrecords.com/

The Watchers, “Starfire” (original version) official video

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Vokonis Sign to The Sign Records; New Album Recording in August

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

In addition to an upcoming reissue of their 2016 debut, Olde One Ascending (review here), through Ripple Music — it originally came out on Ozium Records — and the news that they’ll come to the US for the first time this coming Fall, word’s out that Swedish bruisers Vokonis will issue their impending third album through The Sign Records. It’s the follow-up to 2017’s righteous sophomore outing, The Sunken Djinn (review here), which also came out through Ripple, and marks the third LP with the third respectable backing produced by the band on a relatively quick turnaround. Will it be out before the end of the year? Well, October seems like a good time given the traveling they’re set to do, but nothing’s set in stone as of now.

The signing was announced as follows:

vokonis (photo Jennika Photography)

VOKONIS JOINS THE SIGN RECORDS

Swedish heavy prog-metal-trio Vokonis joins The Sign Records. The band is heading into Studio Underjord in August to record their third album. Vokonis have two previous albums on Ripple Records and Ozium Records and have established themselves as one of the strongest new sludge acts out of Scandinavia in recent years. Vokonis is doing their first US-festival the 6th of October at the Doomed & Stoned Festival in Indianapolis. The band will continue with a European tour in late October.

The 28th of July this year Ripple Music will re-release the band debut album “Olde One Ascending” on the 28th of July. In 2019 Vokonis will appear in the movie “Planet Of Doom” with their song “Runa” that was written for the upcoming movie.

“It is with a lot of joy that we in Vokonis present our signing to The Sign Records. We’ve been fans of the label and its bands for years, it’s very honouring to collaborate with them and join The Sign Family. It feels like a natural transition for the band as we take our musical approach towards a more progressive territory. We can’t wait to unveil the heavy riff-barrage that we have for you.”
– Simon, Vokonis

“Vokonis have grown a lot as a band since taking their first steps in 2015. The band has transformed themselves into a progressive alternative rock act that brings to mind the creative freedom that we heard from artists in the 90´s. When we heard the pre-production of the new album we directly understood that Vokonis is terraforming the sludge landscape into a world of their own. We are looking forward to helping the band follow through on their journey”
– Kaj, The Sign Records

VOKONIS is:
Simon Ohlsson: Vocals, Guitar
Emil Larsson: Drums
Jonte Johansson: Bass, Backing vocals

https://www.facebook.com/OfficialVokonis/
https://open.spotify.com/artist/3DZoit5R0ahZQCNLbDnNxr?si=eh0iJ7YHQQOblw_ztadm1Q
https://www.facebook.com/thesignrecords/
http://www.thesignrecords.com

Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn (2017)

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