Quarterly Review: Mos Generator, Psychic Lemon, Planet of Zeus, Brass Hearse, Mother Turtle, The Legendary Flower Punk, Slow, OKO, Vug, Ultracombo

Posted in Reviews on January 6th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

I’d like to hope y’all know the drill by now. It’s the Quarterly Review. We do it (roughly) every quarter. The idea is 10 reviews per day for a Monday to Friday span, running 50 total. I sometimes do more. Sometimes not. Kind of depends on the barrage and how poorly I’ve been doing in general with keeping up on stuff. This time is ‘just’ 50, so there you go. You’ll see some bigger names this week and some stuff that’s come my way of late that I’ve been digging and wanting to check out. It’s a lot of rock, which I like, and a few things I’m writing about basically as a favor to myself because, you know, self-care and all that.

But staring down the barrel of 50 reviews over the next few days has me as apprehensive and how-the-hell-is-this-gonna-happen as ever, so I think I’ll just get to it and jump in. No time to waste.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Mos Generator, Exiles

mos generator exiles

Worth it just for the Sabbath cover? Most definitely. As Mos Generator take on “Air Dance” from Never Say Die as part of the Glory or Death Records LP compilation release, Exiles, they blend the proggy swagger of later-’70s Iommi leads with the baseline acoustic guitar fluidity that makes those final Ozzy-era records so appealing in hindsight. It’s just one of the six reasons to take on Exiles however. The A side comprises three outtakes from 2018’s Shadowlands (review here), and guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed‘s Big Scenic Nowhere bandmate Bob Balch sits in on “Battah,” while a duly manic reworking of Van Halen‘s “Light up the Sky,” the Black Sabbath track and a live version of Rush‘s “Anthem” from 2016 make up side B. It’s a quick listen and it’s Mos Generator. It may be a stopgap on the way to whatever they’re doing next, but if you think about it, so is everything, and that’s no reason not to jump in either for the covers or the originals, both of which are up to the band’s own high standard of output.

Mos Generator on Thee Facebooks

Glory or Death Records on Bandcamp

 

Psychic Lemon, Freak Mammal

psychic lemon freak mammal

The distorted wails of Andy Briston‘s guitar echo out of Freak Mammal — the five-track/46-minute third LP from London’s Psychic Lemon — like a clarion to the lysergic converted. A call to prayer for those worshiping the nebulous void, not so much kept to earth by Andy Hibberd‘s bass and Martin Law‘s drums as given a solidified course toward the infinite far out. Of course centerpiece “Afrotropic Bomb” digs into some Ethiopian groove — that particular shuffling mania — and I won’t take away from the lower buzz of “Free Electron Collective” or the tense hi-hat cutting through all that tonal wash or the ultra-spaced blowout that caps six-minute finale “White Light,” but give me the self-aware mellower jaunt that is the 13-minute second track “Seeds of Tranquility” any day, following opener “Dark Matter” as it does with what would be a blissful drift but for the exciting rhythmic work taking place beneath the peaceful guitar, and the later synthesized voices providing a choral melody that seems all the more playfully grandiose, befitting the notion of Freak Mammal as a ceremony or at very least some kind of lost ritual. Someday they’ll dig up the right pyramid and call the aliens back. Until then, Psychic Lemon let us imagine what might happen after they return.

Psychic Lemon on Thee Facebooks

Drone Rock Records website

 

Planet of Zeus, Faith in Physics

PLANET OF ZEUS FAITH IN PHYSICS

There’s a context of social commentary to Planet of ZeusFaith in Physics that makes one wonder if perhaps the title doesn’t refer to gravity in terms of what-goes-up-must-come-down as it might apply to class hierarchy. The mighty, ready to fall, and so on. Songs like the post-Clutch fuzz roller “Man vs. God” and “Revolution Cookbook” (video premiere here) would seem to support that idea, but one way or the other, as the later “Let Them Burn” digs into a hook that reminds of Killing Joke and the dense bass of eight-minute closer “King of the Circus” provides due atmospheric madness for our times, there’s a sense of grander statement happening across the album. The Athens-based outfit make a centerpiece of the starts and stops in “All These Happy People” and remind that whatever the message, the medium remains top quality heavy rock and roll songcraft, which is something they’ve become all the more reliable to deliver. The more pointed perspective than they showed on 2016’s Loyal to the Pack suits them, but it’s the nuance of electronics and arrangements of vocals and guitar on cuts like “The Great Liar” that carry them through here. If you believe in gravity, Planet of Zeus have plenty on offer.

Planet of Zeus on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Brass Hearse, Oneiric Afterlife

brass hearse oneiric afterlife

Experimentalist keyboard-laced psychedelic goth your thing? Well, of course it is. You’re in luck then as Brass Hearse — an offshoot of once madly prolific Boston outfit Ice Dragon — unveil three new songs (plus an intro) with the Oneiric Afterlife and in 10 minutes work to unravel about 30 years of genre convention while still tying their material to memorable hooks. “Bleed Neon,” “Indigo Dust” and “Only Forever” seem simple on the surface, and none of them touch four minutes long, let alone “A Gesture to Make a Stop,” the 26-second introduction, but their refusal of stylistic constraint is as palpable as it is admirable, with a blend of folk guitar and dark-dance-party keys and percussive insistence on “Bleed Neon” and a ’60s Halloweeny rock organ line in “Only Forever” that’s complemented by low-end fuzz and a chorus that would rightly embarrass Ghost if they heard it. In comparison, “Indigo Dust” is serene in its presentation, but even there is a depth of arrangement of keys, guitar, bass and drums, and the skill tying it all together as a cohesive sound is not to be understated. A quick listen with a lot to unpack, it’s not going to be everyone’s thing, but those who get it will be hit hard and rightly so.

Brass Hearse on Thee Facebooks

Brass Hearse on Bandcamp

 

Mother Turtle, Three Sides to Every Story

mother turtle three sides to every story

The first of three tracks on Greek progwinders Mother Turtle‘s fourth LP, Three Sides to Every Story, “Zigu Zigu,” would seem to cap with a message of congratulations: “You’ve listened to three musicians indulging themselves with some kind of weird instrumental music.” It then goes on to question its own instrumentalism, because it has the words presently being spoken, continuing in this manner until a long fadeout of guitar leads to the funky start of the 15-minute-long “Notwatch.” Good fun, in other words. Mother Turtle maybe aren’t so weird as they think they are, but they are duly adventurous and obviously joyful in their undertaking, bringing chants in over drifting guitar and synth swirl in “Notwatch” before building to a crescendo of rock guitar and organ, ultimately dominated by a solo as it would almost have to be, before intertwining piano lines in 16:46 closer “A Christmas Postcard from Kim” lead to further shenanigans, vocal experimentation, plays on metal, holiday shimmer, and a fade into the close. At 38 minutes, Three Sides to Every Story doesn’t at all overstay its welcome, but neither is it an exercise looking for audience engagement in the traditional sense. Rather, it resonates its glee through its offbeat sensibility and thus works on its own level to craft a hook. One can’t help but smile while listening to the fun being had.

Mother Turtle on Thee Facebooks

Sound Effect Records website

 

The Legendary Flower Punk, Wabi Wu

The Legendary Flower Punk Wabi Wu

It is something to consider, perhaps as you dive into the nine-minute “Prince Mojito” on The Legendary Flower Punk‘s Wabi Wu, that the band started as a psych-folk solo-project. Currently working as a core trio plus a range of guests, the Russian troupe make their debut on Tonzonen with the brazenly prog seven-tracker, totaling just a 44-minute run but with a range that would seem to be much broader. Alternately jazzy and synth-laden, technically intricate but never overly showy, pieces like the bass-led “Azulejo” and the penultimate “Trance Fusion På Ryska” present a meeting of the minds with founding guitarist Kamille Sharapodinov at the center of most compositions, he and bassist Mike Lopakov and drummer Nick Kunavin digging into nothing’s-off-limits textures from fusion onward through New Wave and dub. The abiding rule followed seems to be whatever moves the band about a given track is what they roll with, and though The Legendary Flower Punk has evolved well beyond its origins, there’s still a bit of flower and still a bit of punk amid all the legends being made. Good luck keeping up with it.

The Legendary Flower Punk on Bandcamp

Tonzonen Records website

 

Slow, VI – Dantalion

Slow VI Dantalion

With the follow-up to 2018’s V – Oceans (review here), Belgian duo Slow rattle off another 78 minutes of utterly consuming, crushing, atmospheric and melancholic funeral doom like it’s absolutely nothing. Well, not like it’s nothing — more like it’s a weight on their very soul — but even so. Issued through Aural Music, VI – Dantlion brings the two-piece of guitarist/vocalist/drummer Déhà and bassist/lyricist Lore B. once again into the grueling, megalithic churn of self-inflicted riff-punishment that’s so encompassing, so dark, so deep and so dramatic it almost can’t help but also be beautiful. To wit, second track “Lueur” is a 17-minute downward journey into ambient brutalism, yet as it moves toward the midsection one can still hear melodic elements of keyboard and orchestral sounds peaking through. There is letup in the lush finale “Elégie,” but to get there, you have to make your way through “Incendiaire,” which is possibly the most extreme movement of the seven inclusions. Though frankly, after a while, you’re buried so far down by Slow‘s glorious miseries that it’s hard to tell. The world needs this band. They are what humanity would sound like if it was ever honest with itself.

Slow on Thee Facebooks

Aural Music on Bandcamp

 

OKO, Haze

oko haze

Adelaide, Australia, newcomers OKO present their debut EP in the form of Haze, a 14:44 single-song outing that sees the instrumental three-piece of guitarist Nick Nancarrow, bassist Tyson Ruch and drummer Ash Matthews tap into organic heavy psych vibes while working cross-planet with Justin Pizzoferrato (known for his work with Elder, among others) on the mix and master. The resulting one-tracker has a clarity in its drum sound and clean feel that one suspects might speak of more progressive intentions on the part of OKO in the longer term, but as they are here they have a sense of tonal warmth that serves them well across the unpretentious span of “Haze” itself, the winding riff inevitably bringing to mind some of Colour Haze‘s jammier work but still managing to find its own direction. I hear no reason OKO can’t do the same, regardless of the influences they’re working under in terms of sound. Further, the longform modus suits them, and while future work will inherently develop some variety in general approach, the natural exploration they undertake on this first outing easily holds attention for its span and is fluid enough that, had they wanted, they could have pushed it further.

OKO on Thee Facebooks

OKO website

 

Vug, Onyx

vug onyx

Vug are not the first European heavy rock band to blend vintage methods with modern production. They’re not the first band to take classic swagger and drum urgency and meld it with a pervasive sense of vocal soul. I’m not sure I’d tell them that though, because frankly, they’re doing pretty well with it. At its strongest, their Tonzonen-released sophomore outing, Onyx, recalls Thin Lizzy via, yes, Graveyard, but there’s enough clarity of intention behind the work to make it plain they know where they’re coming from. Such was the case as well with their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), and though they’ve had some lineup turnover since that first offering, the self-produced four-piece bring a character to their material on songs like “Tired Of” and the penultimate boogier “Inferno” before closing with the acoustic “Todbringer” — a mirror of side A’s “On My Own” — that they carry the classic-style 39-minute long-player off without a hitch, seeming to prep the heavy ’10s for a journey into a new decade.

Vug on Thee Facebooks

Noisolution webstore

 

Ultracombo, Season 1

Ultracombo Season 1

As the title hints, the Season 1 EP is the debut from Italy’s Ultracombo, and with it, the five-piece of vocalist Alessio Guarda, guitarists Alberto Biasin and Giordano Tasson, bassist Giordano Pajarin and drummer Flavio Gola work quickly to build the forward momentum that brings them front-to-back through the 23-minute five-track release. “Flusso” and opener “The King” feel particularly drawn from an earlier Truckfighters influence, but Guarda‘s vocals are a distinguishing factor amidst all that ensuing fuzz and straight-ahead drive, and in “Sparatutto” and the closer “Il Momento in Cui Non Penso,” they seem to strip their approach to its most basic aspects and bring together the tonal thickness and melodicism that’s been at root in their sound overall. The subtlety, such as it is, is to be found in their songwriting, which results in tracks that transcend language barriers through sheer catchiness. That bodes better for them on subsequent outings better than a wall o’ fuzz ever could, though of course that doesn’t hurt them either, especially their first time out.

Ultracombo on Thee Facebooks

Ultracombo on Bandcamp

 

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2019

Posted in Features on December 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk best of 2019

[PLEASE NOTE: These are not the results of the year-end poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t contributed your list to the cause yet, please do so here.]

Make no mistake, my friends. 2019 was the year it went off the rails.

Every 12-month period brings a lot of records, and they all seem overwhelming, but this was the first year I’ve ever felt quite so helpless when it came time to sit down and actually make my list. Of course, I keep running notes all year long, but even so, ordering everything, bringing it all together? What a mess.

I almost thought of breaking it down into smaller lists in addition to the big one, subgrouped by style. But then, where does doom end and sludge begin? What about psych and heavy rock? Should prog get its own list? And what the hell counts as prog?

In the end, that didn’t seem like it would be doing me any favors, so we’ll stick with the one big list and then others for debut releases and another for EPs, splits, demos and so on. You know, the usual.

Pretty sure I say this every year too, but it bears repeating: if you read any of the below — and thanks if you do — and have a response, be nice. If I’ve forgotten something — and yes, I have; I’m sure of it — that you think needs to be included, and you want to leave a comment that says so, please, by all means. But keep it civil. I know people are passionate about this stuff and so am I, but consider there are probably over 200 offerings covered here by the time you get through all the lists and honorable mentions, and I’m one person. I’m doing my best, and though I try not to, I tend to take being called a dumbass personally. So yeah, chill out and please be constructive in calling me a dumbass. Words matter.

A few hard choices here, most especially for album of the year. I was back and forth with each of the top three in the top spot for a good long while, and it might change again between now and when this post goes up. But it’s been that kind of year. In 2018, there was no question. It was Sleep all the way. The question was what came after that. This year has been different without that kind of duh, punch-in-the-face obvious pick. Relative parity isn’t a bad thing though.

Enough delay. The usual parameters apply. These are a combo of my personal listening habits and what I think are the most important records/achievements of the year, critical importance, etc.

Here we go:

The Top 50 Albums of 2019

#50-31

50. Hazemaze, Hymns of the Damned
49. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
48. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Grandmother
47. PH, Osiris Hayden
46. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
45. Abrahma, In Time for the Last Rays of Light
44. Uffe Lorenzen, Triprapport
43. Swallow the Sun, When a Shadow is Forced into the Light
42. Caustic Casanova, God How I Envy the Deaf
41. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Tre
40. SÂVER, They Came With Sunlight
39. Ogre, Thrice as Strong
38. Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension
37. Vokonis, Grasping Time
36. Sacri Monti, Waiting Room for the Magic Hour
35. Across Tundras, The Rugged Ranges of Curbs and Broken Minds
34. Duel, Valley of Shadows
33. Orodruin, Ruins of Eternity
32. Zaum, Divination
31. Inter Arma, Sulphur English

Notes: Honestly, if this had been the top 20 of the year, I’d still call 2019 a win. Aside from the fact that I somehow thought Caustic Casanova would enjoy coming in a number 42, the sheer quality of this stuff should tell you what kind of year 2019 was. Inter Arma’s Sulphur English was a significant achievement in genre melding, and Orodruin’s return after more than a decade since their last LP was a masterclass in doom worship. Debut albums from SÂVER and Thunderbird Divine and Lightning Born showed marked promise of things to come — and there’s more on them below as well — while Zaum’s, Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree’s and Lamp of the Universe’s meditations, Vokonis’ noise, Abrahma’s emotive progressivisim, Swallow the Sun’s melodic melancholy, Sacri Monti’s boogie, and whatever the hell PH were doing on Osiris Hayden remind just how much the word “heavy” can encompass. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Duel and Uffe Lorenzen and Hazemaze were musts here, and Ogre are perennial favorites whose work always brings a doomly grin. Don’t sleep on any of it.

30. Sun Blood Stories, Haunt Yourself

sun blood stories haunt yourself

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 6.

Until they put out a complementary follow-up record of such fare, one might’ve accused Idaho three-piece Sun Blood Stories of becoming less experimentalist/droned-out/noisy on Haunt Yourself, but they seem to have met their quota one way or the other with the Oct. 2019 advent of Static Sessions Vol. 1. Still, it’s melody, heavy post-rock/psychedelic drift and emotive soul that rule the day on the crushing and enriching Haunt Yourself, and no complaints from me on that.

29. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Everybody’s Going to Die

Church of the Cosmic Skull Everybodys Going to Die

Released by Septaphonic Records. Reviewed Dec. 10.

I don’t have to do anything more than read the name of the album to have the chorus of the title-track stuck in my head, and it’s a reminder that although the Nottingham troupe put so much into their progressive style and vocal harmonies and arrangements, and a more conceptual theme in the case of Everybody’s Going to Die — their answer to 2018’s excellent Science Fiction (review here) — their roots are in songcraft, and it’s the foundation of songcraft that lets them soar. Would be higher on the list if it weren’t so new.

28. Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

devil to pay forever never or whenever

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 4.

With their sixth album, Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay collect 10 tracks of unpretentious-almost-to-a-fault of straightforward heavy rock songwriting that continues to be woefully underappreciated. They have become utterly reliable in that regard — you know, to a certain extent, what’s coming — but the vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (also Apostle of Solitude) and some more metallic turns to the riffing give Forever, Never or Whenever a subtlety that holds up all the more on repeat visits. I don’t know if Devil to Pay will ever get their due, but suffice it to say, they’re due.

27. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds

howling giant the space between worlds

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Oct. 11.

If you’re of a certain age, you remember when the first Playstation came out and everyone looked around at their Nintendos and Segas like, “What the hell am I messing around with Mario Golf for? I could be playing Resident Evil!” That’s kind of what Howling Giant are as compared to “regular” rock bands. They’re the Playstation of heavy: that next progressive step forward carrying an inhuman amount of swagger and personality while still delivering a stepped-up product from their would-be peers. The scariest thing about The Space Between Worlds is it’s their first LP. One looks forward to the next generation.

26. Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

saint vitus saint vitus

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 19.

I know for a fact that bassist Pat Bruders and drummer Henry Vasquez had a hand in writing some of the material on Saint Vitus’ second self-titled LP, and yet the album so much bears the indelible mark of guitarist Dave Chandler that it’s hard not to think of it all as his. The album marked their first release with original singer Scott Reagers since 1995’s Die Healing (discussed here) and featured among their trademark low-tuned slog, an actual punk song, which showed the grinning glee that underlies all they do. Four decades on, Saint Vitus sound like they’re having fun. How is that not a win?

25. Ealdor Bealu, Spirit of the Lonely Places

ealdor bealu spirit of the lonely places

Self-released. Reviewed July 10.

Woodsy Rocky Mountain psychedelia abounded on Boise foursome Ealdor Bealu’s second full-length, and their blend of landscape meditations and grounded heavy progressive melodicism made Spirit of the Lonely Places as much about impact as about space, though of course the real joy was the experience of the entirety. Very much a sophomore album, it learned lessons from 2017’s Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain (review here) that one only hopes the band will continue to push forward in scope as they so gracefully did here.

24. Yatra, Death Ritual

yatra death ritual

Released through Grimoire Records. Discussed Nov. 13, 2018..

Though hard- and to-date quick-working Maryland trio Yatra have already moved on and are looking ahead to releasing their second album, Blood of the Night (review here), their Grimoire-delivered debut, Death Ritual, is impossible to ignore for the impact it had on reminding listeners of the impact that primeval extreme sludge can have. Another couple tours and some bigger label — Relapse, Prosthetic, eOne, Season of Mist, whoever — will decide they’re “ready,” whatever that means, and then sign them and I won’t be cool enough to do track premieres for them anymore, but as far as accolades go, Yatra earn whatever they get and Death Ritual stands among 2019’s most landmark debuts. They’ve already outdone it, but it’s a stunner just the same.

23. Ecstatic Vision, For the Masses

ecstatic vision for the masses

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 17.

Ecstatic Vision frontman Doug Sabolik has cast himself in the mold of Arthur Brown or Dave Wyndorf or probably seven or eight dudes who were in Hawkwind at some point as a manic-but-stoned space rock preacher with as he and his band behind him plunge headfirst-or-feetfirst-it-doesn’t-matter-because-your-body-is-an-illusion-man into the molten multicolor void. For the Masses. The ‘masses,’ such as they are, should be so lucky, but the double-meaning is the real tell for where the Philly unit are coming from. Their shows are the masses — gatherings of spirit and song to give praise to the willful expansion of mind. If you can’t get behind that, you might as well go get a job or something. This ain’t no lightweight party for squares and dabblers. This is a high-potency happening for werewolves on motorcycles and freaks of all stripes. Get weird stay weird. Ecstatic Vision are one mostly-mellow 15-minute “Spine of God”-style psych-epic away from perfection.

22. Beastwars, IV

beastwars iv

Released by Destroy Records. Reviewed June 27.

But for the circumstances that brought it about — i.e. Beastwars vocalist Matt Hyde’s cancer — the unexpected fourth installment in the Beastwars trilogy was nothing if not welcome. An grand-feeling sense of largesse was nothing new to the New Zealand four-piece, but after breaking up and getting back together to make the album, the grim sincerity with which they presented this exploration of mortality and betrayal by one’s own body was no less palpable than the undulating riffs that threatened, as ever, to consume all in their path. I don’t know their future plans in terms of continuing to write and/or record, but there are reports of touring beyond Aus/NZ for 2020, so one way or another, stay tuned for more from them. Whether or not they do anything else, IV was a triumph in spirit and execution.

21. Eternal Black, Slow Burn Suicide

eternal black slow burn suicide

Self-released. Reviewed June 7.

With the nine songs of Slow Burn Suicide, Brooklyn’s Eternal Black began to unveil the true depth of their project. Their 2017 debut, Bleed the Days (review here), was well received, and rightly so, but operated more in a straight-ahead doom sphere. The second outing, by contrast, delved into a particular vision of the style informed by the crunch of peak-era New York noise and crossover hardcore, and it succeeded not just because it did this, but because it did so around a conjuration of memorable riffs and tracks building on accomplishments carried over from its predecessor. Is this an awaited arrival of next-generation ‘New York doom’? Will theirs be a blueprint others will follow? It’s impossible to know now, and their next album will be telling either way, but the course they’ve set is significant.

20. Candlemass, The Door to Doom

candlemass the door to doom

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 22.

It may have been the Tony Iommi guest appearance that got Swedish doom legends Candlemass — the world’s earliest and foremost purveyors of doom both classic and epic — their recent Grammy nomination, but it was the long-overdue reunion with original vocalist Johan Längquist that made the album as a whole as powerful as it was. Pairing Längquist’s theatrical and vital approach with founding bassist Leif Edling’s second-to-none doomcraft, The Door to Doom was a catapult not to the bygone days of the band’s landmark debut, 1986’s Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, but an inspired look at not just what might’ve been had Längquist remained with the band longer, but what might still be if he does this time around. Candlemass have been through their share of singers, but as fresh as The Door to Doom sounded, it’s hard not to hope for something more than a one-off with he who got there first. The songs, the spirit, the sheer heart poured into Candlemass’ doom some 35 years past the band’s start only emphasizes how special they have always been.

19. Nebula, Holy Shit

nebula holy shit

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed June 13.

Anyone who might’ve predicted Nebula getting into the studio and making a new album was either in the room when it happened or talking out their ass. And speaking of, was Nebula’s Holy Shit named for the shock one might’ve felt at its existence, or the surprise at how good it actually sounded when you put it on? I don’t know. I probably won’t ever know. It was the best title I saw all year, but more than that, it was a Nebula record, fueled by the classic riffing and unmitigated desert punk soul of founding/guitarist Eddie Glass, whose absence from the heavy underground for the last decade left a void only too many others whiffed on filling. Holy Shit showed just how singular a player Glass was and is, and how much character there is in his style, particularly in solos, but also in rhythmic changes, and so on. I won’t discount the work of bassist Tom Davies and drummer Mike Amster in making Nebula what they are in this incarnation — they’re essential, obviously — but there’s simply no denying that presence at the band’s core.

18. Valley of the Sun, Old Gods

valley of the sun old gods

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed May 21.

This was a heavy rock record that had everything. Everything. It had songs, style, ups, down, purples, greens, ins, outs, all kinds of whathaveyou. Riffs forever. Valley of the Sun should keep their eyes on Sasquatch, because if they want it, that path is theirs. I know the Cincinnati outfit have had trouble keeping lineups together, but if they can hold onto one, and maybe after their next record start touring more, domestically and abroad — not at all a minor ask, I know — then people will catch on. Old Gods is evidence of the fact that they genuinely have something to offer, and frankly, it’s not at all the first such effective case they’ve made in their career. But they’ve never put anything out that wasn’t a step forward, and yet they’ve never lost sight of the roots of their initial inspiration. And they’ve never sacrificed the song for the riff, which so many do. They’ve only ever gotten better. Let Old Gods be a step toward them getting attention they’ve long since deserved.

17. Kadavar, For the Dead Travel Fast

Kadavar For the Dead Travel Fast

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 28.

In style and production, For the Dead Travel Fast is the most vintage-sounding offering Berlin trio Kadavar have made in over a half decade, yet neither is it looking backward wistfully toward 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) or giving up the modern clarity of 2017’s Rough Times (review here) or 2015’s Berlin (review here). Instead, it strikes a balance with a more sinister edge à la Uncle Acid in songs like “Children of the Night” and “Demons in My Mind” — both singles — and makes a home for itself between proto-metal and garage doom. Whatever genre tag you want to give it — and that might vary from track to track, mind you — it’s unmistakably Kadavar, with the signature hooks and memorable craftsmanship that have made them one of the decade’s most pivotal heavy bands. The real challenge at this point in their career is not to take for granted that Kadavar will produce material of such quality, because, frankly, that’s all they’ve ever done.

16. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Yn Ol I Annwn

mammoth weed wizard bastard yn ol i annwn

Released by New Heavy Sounds. Reviewed Feb. 7.

Welsh sci-fi cosmic doomers Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard billed Yn Ol I Annwn as the final installment of a trilogy that includes their two prior LPs, 2015’s Noeth Ac Anoeth (review here) and 2016’s Y Proffwyd Dwyll (review here), and while that may be true thematically, there’s also no question the third is a marked step forward from anything they’ve done before. They’re one foot out of the airlock and into space as their synth-laden longform riffing and melodies take them to places they’ve not yet gone, explorations of sight as much as sound, aural translation of colors humans aren’t gifted to see. Their songs across the 65-minute span unfold with the grace of a gravity spiral, pulling the listener deeper into the proceedings with each new phase that emerges until, what, obliteration? Stellar genesis? I’m not sure. They’ve reportedly got one more record to make and then they’re done. If that’s true, they’ll be missed then they’re gone.

15. Magic Circle, Departed Souls

magic circle departed souls

Released by 20 Buck Spin. Reviewed April 3.

They’ve found their way to die, and it’s upon an altar of classic metal and doom. And honestly, they make a pretty good case for it. Departed Souls is the third full-length from the Boston unit and their most stylistically realized work yet, with vocalist Brendan Radigan giving a standout performance alongside the guitars of Chris Corry and Renato Montenegro, the bass of Justin DeTore and Michael “Q” Quartulli’s drums, as the entire band taps into vibes from mid-’70s Black Sabbath and brings them to bear with an energy that is unlike anything in Magic Circle’s history. 2015’s Journey Blind (review here) brought in NWOBHM flash in the guitar work, sure enough, but Departed Souls doesn’t so much carry the torch of classic metal as it does use it to burn down the whole village and rebuild it in the five-piece’s image. From their doomed beginnings on their 2013 self-titled debut (review here) to now, they’re an act who’ve genuinely earned cult status. If you can find a backpatch, buy it.

14. Spaceslug, Reign of the Orion

Spaceslug Reign of the Orion cover

Released by BSFD Records. Reviewed Nov. 22.

Controversy! Drama! Well, probably not, but at very least some respectful disagreement on my part. You see, Poland’s Spaceslug have stated publicly that their latest release, the late-2019 surprise Reign of the Orion is an EP. Their albums regularly top 50 minutes, and at 36 minutes, I guess relative to that, you can see where they’re coming from. However, with the flow of these five songs and the ease with which they carry the listener from front-to-back through the listening experience, I’m sticking to my guns and calling Reign of the Orion an album. Sorry guys. True, it’s shorter than the other full-lengths, but it’s got everything you could ask an album to have in terms of how tracks like “Spacerunner” and the shouty “Half-Moon Burns” play into each other, and the fluidity of the outing on the whole is inarguable. An LP by any other name? Whatever you or they want to call it, there’s no question in my mind Reign of the Orion is one of 2019’s best records. If they insist on it being an EP, then it’s the best one of the year, but I still say it belongs in another category altogether, so here it is.

13. Green Lung, Woodland Rites

green lung woodland rites

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Jan. 28.

As hyper-crowded as London is with bands at this moment in history, there continue to be acts who sneak through with an individualized and intriguing perspective on doom and heavy rock, and Green Lung are a perfect example, learning from fellow Brits like Alunah and Elephant Tree and incorporating folk and forest goth vibes to their debut album, Woodland Rites. Laced with organ and stuck-in-the-head choruses like “Let the Devil In” and the creeper “Templar Dawn,” the record also pushed into drifting verses on “Into the Wild,” setting up future experimentation with atmospheric variety and genre manipulation. If part of any first album’s appeal is the potential it represents, Green Lung’s offers plenty, but wherever their subsequent course may or may not take them, their accomplishments here shouldn’t be overlooked. Woodland Rites is nothing less than the heavy rock debut album of the year, and though they emerge from a packed field, the work they do to stand themselves out already carries their mark and an apparent will toward progression. They’re on their way.

12. Lo-Pan, Subtle

lo-pan subtle

Released by Aqualamb Records. Reviewed May 9.

My head immediately goes to the hooks of “Ten Days” and “Ascension Day” and “Savage Heart,” but the up-down surges of guitar in “Old News/New Fire” and the midtempo soulfulness in “A Thousand Miles” are no less resonant when it comes to the actual listening experience of the fifth Lo-Pan LP. Subtle, when it came to living up to its name, as much wasn’t as it was. Flourishes of harmony in the vocals of Jeff Martin, the pops in Jesse Bartz’s snare punctuating and propelling in kind, turns in Scott Thompson’s bass work twisting around the guitar of Chris Thompson, a relative newcomer to the fold making his debut with the band and showing no apparent trouble fitting in. I don’t imagine Lo-Pan is an easy band to join, especially at this point. They thrive on personality clash and, through years of touring, have a chemistry they’ve built between them that comes through even on their recordings. Nonetheless, Subtle is their clearest, sharpest-edged work yet, and as tight as their songwriting has become, they still groove and groove mightily. They are a treasure of American heavy rock and roll. Believe it.

11. Roadsaw, Tinnitus the Night

roadsaw tinnitus the night

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 12.

While members of Roadsaw have spent the intervening years in projects like Kind, White Dynomite, Sasquatch and Murcielago, the Boston heavy rock kingpins have indeed been missed, and Tinnitus the Night works quickly to show why. It’s been well over 20 years since their first LP — hell, it’s been eight since they put out their 2011 self-titled (review here) — but their craft is at its own level, and Tinnitus the Night comes barreling through with “Shake” and “Along for the Ride” and “Final Phase” before opening up to broader fare on side B with “Find What You Need,” “Under the Devil’s Thumb” and “Midazolam” ahead of the subdued finale “Silence,” and the result is nothing less than a classic heavy rock LP structure as befitting what is itself a classic heavy rock LP. What’s Roadsaw’s future? I don’t know. It took them the better part of a decade to make this one happen, so take from that what you will, but to me, all it says is there’s even more reason to be grateful they got it done and out. To say the songs deserve that is putting it mildly.

10. Worshipper, Light in the Wire

worshipper light in the wire

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 24.

I’m not doing a ‘song of the year’ post, but if I was, Worshipper’s “Coming Through” might be it. The opening track from the Boston four-piece’s second album, Light in the Wire, marries classic pop drama in its melody with careening progressive riffing, and sets the tone for a record that is of both future and past, twistingly complex and yet immediately accessible, immersive as an entirety and still comprised of standout moments. These aren’t contradictions in Worshipper’s skillful hands, but the stuff of what’s already becoming their own take on rock. Tied together through melody, skillful rhythmic intricacy and solid structural foundations, “Light in the Wires,” “Visions from Beyond,” “Wither on the Vine” and others throughout post their own triumphs en route to enhancing the album as a whole, while “Nobody Else” and closer “Arise” underscore the emotive basis from which the perspective of the whole LP emanates. There are a lot of “next-gen” heavy rock bands out there weaving prog elements and traditional riffing together to some degree or other. Few, if any, can write a song like Worshipper can. I mean it. This band is something special.

9. Solace, The Brink

solace the brink

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Nov. 21.

What is there to say about Solace? A band who, nine years after revealing the expectation-slaughtering masterpiece A.D. (review here), return with three-fifths of a swapped-out lineup and simply do it again? This band is explosive. Really. Like, they might explode at any minute. It’s a miracle The Brink ever happened. I’ll be honest, I had my doubts. But Solace are a force like nothing else I’ve ever encountered in music. They take metallic aggression, hardcore’s sense of self-righteousness and heavy rock’s groove, set it all to a doomly swing and they play it in such a way as to leave you utterly dumbfounded by what you just experienced. Here’s a challenge though, for the band personally. From me to them. Do another one. Go ahead. Put out another album. You don’t even have to do it in 2020. Do it 2021. Write the songs and give me a no-holds-barred 45-minute LP of the tightest, meanest shit you’ve ever written. Because massive as the accomplishments are on The Brink, it’s the potential to build from them that resonates most here. So do it, guys. Step up and take advantage of the moment. Call me greedy if you want, I don’t care. Give me another Solace record. I dare you.

8. Brume, Rabbits

brume rabbits

Released by Doom Stew Records & DHU Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

Simply a case of a band wildly outdoing themselves. Easy story, yeah? In some ways, maybe, but the truth of what Brume achieve on Rabbits. Their second long-player behind 2017’s Rooster (review here), the five-track offering sees the San Francisco three-piece of vocalist/bassist Susie McMullan, guitarist/vocalist Jamie McCathie and drummer Jordan Perkins-Lewis working with producer Billy Anderson to bring theatricality and emotionalism together in a flowing post-heavy context that’s neither derivative nor working at cross purposes. Instead, it is a gorgeous and blooming undertaking across its 43-minute span, working in its own light/dark spectrum and bringing not just the sense of trapped fragility evoked by the cover art, but a corresponding sureness of intent to its ascendant heavy surges. Like Rooster before it, it is loaded with potential, but in “Scurry” and “Lament” and “Despondence” and “Blue Jay and “Autocrat’s Fool,” there’s a patience and command that absolutely does not waver. So yes, a band outdoing themselves. But so much more too.

7. Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal

mars red sky the task eternal

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Sept. 20.

This may forever be known as the Mars Red Sky album they wrote in a cave, but the Bordeaux three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matieu “Matgaz” Gazeau nonetheless plunged forward along the progressive course they charted back on 2014’s sophomore outing, Stranded in Arcadia (review here), and continued to manifest in 2016’s Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here). Their blend of melody and tonal heft has become a hallmark of their work to this stage in their career, but The Task Eternal continues to add a sense of breadth to the proceedings, giving their sound a full three-dimensional pull that feels tailor-made for headphones and is consuming in its entirety. With experiments in structure like the pairing of “Recast” and “Reacts,” and the rushing sweep of melody in “Hollow King,” Mars Red Sky’s latest is, as ever, their finest. Outdoing themselves would seem to be the task from which the record derives its title. Fine. Just keep going. Please.

6. Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 15.

Every time I think I understand where Kings Destroy want to go as a band, they pull the rug out. That’s what Fantasma Nera is. After their 2015 self-titled (review here) third LP seemed to declare them once and for all in a space between doom and noise rooted in their respective hardcore pasts, the Brooklynite five-piece hooked up with producer David Bottrill (Tool, etc.) and composed a rock album. A real live rock album! With progressive undertones in the guitar work and the most accomplished melodicism of their career, Kings Destroy put everything they had into making Fantasma Nera and one need look no further than the title-track to hear the result of that monumental effort. It is the realization of a band challenging themselves to go so far out of their comfort zone as to be only recognizable in the most rudimentary of ways, and to say it as plainly as I can, “Dead Before” on its own is enough of an accomplishment — and enough of a full-length, at all of 4:25 — to make this list on its own, whatever surrounds it. Song of the year. I’ll say every time I’m a Kings Destroy fan, but I’ve never been gladder to say it than I am in talking about Fantasma Nera.

5. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Dec. 3.

If you’re saying to yourself, “Ah come on, Colour Haze are always on the list when they put out records,” I have two answers. One, you’re right, and two, if you have a problem with that, blow it out your ass. The Munich forefathers of the European heavy psychedelic underground — yup — marked their 25th anniversary this year, and did so not just by putting out an album, but by putting out We Are, which introduces a full-fledged fourth member to what’s been a three-piece since 1998. Granted, it’s not the first time guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald have worked with organist/keyboardist/synthesist Jan Faszbender, but never has the presence of keys been so integral to their work, and never has the dynamic between players shifted in the way it does on tracks like “The Real” and “Life” and “I’m With You,” with keys fleshing out melodies and enriching the bass and guitar. Add to that the Spanish-style guitar on centerpiece “Material Drive” or the operatic flash in the penultimate “Be With Me,” and it’s one more example of one of the best bands on earth refusing to rest on their laurels. Which, as it happens, is why they’re one of the best bands on earth. So hell yes, they’re on all my lists. Fact is my lists are lucky to have them.

4. Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter

blackwater holylight veils of winter

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Sept. 26.

Like nothing else I heard in 2019, Veils of Winter had repeat listenability. It was the album that, most often, when I was choosing something I actually wanted to hear, I went back to time and again. Its dark, moody psychedelic and heavy vibe stands alone among the year’s releases, and is a stylistic milestone that one only hopes other artists will pick up on. Toying with pop melodies on tracks like “Death Realms” and bringing hypnosis and clarity in kind to the subtly traditionalist winding riff of “Moonlit” — would it have been out of place on the first Witchcraft LP? — the Portland, Oregon, five-piece worked on a speedy turnaround and squashed even the significant expectations I had after their self-titled debut (review here) last year. They’ve begun to tour, so I don’t know if another full-length is in the works for 2020, but their craft is enviable in its flow and their songs are shimmering in tone and cohesion alike. Given how bold a step forward Veils of Winter is, I hear nothing in their material to this point to make me think their momentum won’t continue to carry them forward. But, you know, if not, I’d also take about six or seven records just like this one. That’d be fine too. Whatever they want, really.

3. Slomatics, Canyons

Slomatics Canyons

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed May 15.

Belfast, Northern Ireland, three-piece Slomatics — guitarists David Marjury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/synthesist Marty Harvey — finished a narrative trilogy with 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here), and though the storyline was always vague throughout that and the preceding two offerings, the question of how they would proceed nonetheless hung over Canyons prior to its release. The answer is in the songs themselves. From the sci-fi majesty of lumbering, rolling groove in opener and longest track “Gears of Despair” — oh, they grind — through the mega-stomp of “Telemachus, My Son” and the righteously synth-laden wash that consumes “Mind Fortresses on Theia,” Slomatics bring together concept and execution with a readiness that highlights the fact of their 15th anniversary. They are mature in their approach, yes, but the fact is their approach is so much their own and so given to their particular mode of progression that it almost can’t help but feel fresh. How could something so utterly crushing also feel rejuvenating? As they plod through finale “Organic Caverns II” ending with more waves of synth and tectonic guitar — no bass, remember — they are as restorative as they are punishing, and they stand astride that duality with neither mercy nor pretense. Canyons, whether it’s setting up a new story, building from the old, or doing something completely different, stands on its own.

2. Year of the Cobra, Ash and Dust

year of the cobra ash and dust

Released by Prophecy Productions. Reviewed Oct. 24.

My anticipation for and expectations of Year of the Cobra’s second long-player were high most especially after 2017’s Burn Your Dead EP (review here), which along with the dead, set alight the notion that the Seattle duo of bassist/vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith and drummer Jon Barrysmith were simply a heavy/doom band. With elements of post-punk, psych wash, minimalist stretches and propulsive gallop, Ash and Dust cast itself out over an aesthetic range that set a new standard not just for Year of the Cobra, but for anyone who’d dare match them at their own game — and that list will grow with time, absolutely. As their first outing through Prophecy Productions, Ash and Dust threw itself into the very melting pot of its own ambition and emerged with songs that didn’t just bring together disparate ideas, but made them flourish and engage and challenge the listener while still proving consistent in tone and underlying groove. For a two-person, two-instrument outfit (not counting voice, though I should), they proved more malleable than many with more than twice the number of hands on deck, and pushed the notion of what heavy rock is and does forward without stopping to look back or ask for permission. They just did it, and maybe Ash and Dust is the aftermath of all that burning.

2019 Album of the Year

1. Monolord, No Comfort

monolord no comfort

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Look back over the course of this list, and you will find no shortage of bands and releases that surpassed the group in question’s past work. With Gothenburg, Sweden’s Monolord, it wasn’t just about No Comfort — their debut on Relapse, fourth full-length overall — being better than 2017’s Rust (review here), because that was pretty jolly gosh darn enjoyable, but about the band reaching a moment of transcendence to which Rust and all their prior work across 2015’s Vænir (review here) and 2014’s Empress Rising has been leading. With the six tracks of No Comfort, guitarist/vocalist Thomas Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and drummer Esben Willems not only overcome the influences that launched them — taking full ownership of their sound and defending that claim with the sheer quality of their songwriting — and they not only become as identifiable as those influences themselves, but they overcome themselves. No Comfort means no comfort. Monolord take the simplicity that once fueled their riffing, the willful primitivism of their earliest work, and with songs like “Larvae” and “The Bastard Son” and the closing title-track use it as the foundation it was apparently always intended to be. Monolord have toured plenty and certainly their studio output has shown an increasing complexity from one LP to the next, so progression isn’t unexpected, but the manner in which Monolord have executed that progression has been. Even on “The Last Leaf,” which is arguably the most straightforward fare on the album, one hears it as them rather than the manifestation of the acts that inspired them. The same holds for “Skywards” later on, and for the immersion that takes hold as the mournful “Alone Together” plays into “No Comfort” itself. Monolord take their place among the best bands on the planet, and deliver an Album of the Year for 2019 that, like the absolute best, will have an impact lasting much longer than any period of 12 months might convey.

The Top 50 Albums of 2019: Honorable Mention

You didn’t think we’d stop at 50, did you? Come on. You know me better than that. The fact is that the list itself, humongous as it is, is just the start of the tip of an iceberg attached to a glacier that’s somewhere on an entire planet constructed of ice.

Honorable mentions, you say? Yeah, a few. Here they are in no order whatsoever:

Lord Vicar, Goatess, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, Zone Six, Lykantropi, Earth, White Manna, Atala, Tia Carrera, Merlin, WEEED, Híbrido, Cities of Mars, Stone Machine Electric, Bretus, Blackwolfgoat, The Black Wizards, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Alunah, V, Pale Grey Lore, Leeds Point, Sons of Alpha Centauri, Spidergawd, Bus, Death Hawks, BBF, Vessel of Light, Crypt Trip, The Pilgrim, Uffe Lorenzen, Brant Bjork, Doomstress, Black Lung, Kandodo3, Monkey3, Bask, Horseburner, Zed, Bright Curse, Spillage, Sigils, Papir, Dune Sea, Destroyer of Light, Mastiff, Warp, Centrum, Varego, Lord Dying, Volcano, Saint Karloff, Firebreather, High Reeper, Bible of the Devil, Obsidian Sea, Torche, Motorpsycho, Sunn O))), Deadbird, Russian Circles, El Supremo, Pyramidal, Holy Serpent, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Demon Head, Red Beard Wall, Onhou, Kamchatka, Iguana, Arrowhead, The Whims of the Great Magnet, Serial Hawk, Scissorfight, Monte Luna, Lingua Ignota, Valborg, Sageness, Ruff Majik, The Giraffes, High Fighter, Comacozer, Burning Gloom, Swan Valley Heights, Mark Deutrom, Cable, AVER, Superlynx, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Old Mexico, Skraeckoedlan, Godsleep, Øresund Space Collective Meets Black Moon Circle.

Seems cruel to leave it to you to sort through those, but I’m tempted to do just that. You might notice some bigger names there in bands like Earth, Russian Circles, Torche and Sunn O))). Nothing against those bands, but I think we’re seeing a moment where a different group of artists are taking point in terms of innovating heavy styles across an entire swath of microgenres. Either way it’s not a slight that something is here instead of above. And of course, there are plenty of up and coming groups here as well, with Ruff Majik, Elizabeth Colour Wheel — who I’m sure would be a top 30 if I knew the record better than I do — Pale Grey Lore, Monte Luna, Papir, Destroyer of Light, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Skraeckoedlan, and so on, but hell’s bells, there’s already a list of 50 and I’m only one man. How high is the list supposed to go and still be a list?

Bottom line: Music is as endless as space and has as much beauty in it for those willing to hear. Do more digging.

The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2019

green lung woodland rites

1. Green Lung, Woodland Rites
2. Yatra, Death Ritual
3. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds
4. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
5. SÂVER, They Came with Sunlight
6. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
7. Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Nocebo
8. The Pilgrim, Walking into the Forest
9. Sigils, You Build the Altar You Lit the Leaves
10. E-L-R, Maenad
11. Hey Zeus, X
12. Bellrope, You Must Relax
13. Asthma Castle, Mount Crushmore
14. Thronehammer, Usurper of Oaken Throne
15. Inner Altar, Vol. III
16. Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember
17. Hippie Death Cult, 111
18. Faerie Ring, The Clearing
19. Gone Cosmic, Sideways in Time
20. Haze Mage, Chronicles

Honorable Mention: Warp, Pelegrin, Lucy in Blue, Volcano, The Sabbathian, Red Eye Tales, Dune Sea, Dury Dava, Pharlee, Giant Dwarf, Ghost:Hello, Surya, Workshed, Children of the Sün, Burning Gloom, Temple of the Fuzz Witch.

Notes: As ever, I consider a band’s debut album something unique and separate from everything else they’ll ever do, and so worthy of highlighting in its own category. It’s a different standard in my mind, one that takes into account what a group might accomplish going forward as well as what they do on the record itself. Plus, putting out an album is hard. Getting two, three, four, five or more people to agree on anything is an accomplishment. Making a cohesive album? Come on. So yes. We see some crossover from the main list above, but I want to draw attention to Howling Giant, Thunderbird Divine and SÂVER particularly here. There’s a swath of genres represented and I feel like a couple of these releases — Sigils, Bellrope, Thronehammer, Inner Altar, Faerie Ring, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember — didn’t get their due attention. It’s a busy year, I get it. But if you’re skimming through looking for stuff to check out, DON’T IGNORE THIS LIST. Aside from whatever line about the best of tomorrow you want to trot out, there’s important work being done by these acts today. As somebody who’s constantly behind the times, I urge you not to

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2019

geezer spiral fires

1. Geezer, Spiral Fires
2. Ufomammut, XX
3. All Them Witches, 1×1
4. Mount Saturn, Mount Saturn
5. Dopelord, Weedpecker, Major Kong & Spaceslug, 4-Way Split
6. Horehound, Weight
7. Molasses, Mourning Haze
8. Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Split
9. Here Lies Man, No Ground to Walk Upon
10. The Golden Grass, 100 Arrows
11. Mount Atlas, Mistress
12. Midas, Solid Gold Heavy Metal
13. Glory in the Shadows, Glory in the Shadows
14. Hot Breath, Hot Breath
15. Crystal Spiders, Demo
16. Red Wizard, Ogami
17. Thermic Boogie, Fracture
18. Pinto Graham, Dos
19. High Priest, Sanctum
20. Set Fire, Traya
21. Seedium, Awake

Honorable Mention: Love Gang & Smokey Mirror Split, Forebode, Land Mammal, Very Paranoia, Plague of Carcosa, Daal Dazed, Komodor, Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge Split, High on Fire, Mount Soma.

Notes: This is probably the least complete of the lists, because it’s the hardest category for me to keep up with. EPs, singles, demos, splits and basically anything else that isn’t an album, all lumped together. Still, I stand by the picks here, and I don’t think anyone who takes on any of them will regret doing so, whether it’s All Them Witches’ surprisingly weighted first single as a trio, Mount Saturn’s debut release, or Geezer’s cosmic jams. Felt a little like cheating putting Ufomammut on there, since technically XX wasn’t new material so much as reworked stuff captured live, but if you want to call me out on it, my own listening habits also factor in, and I’ve spent plenty of time with those reimagined tracks. But anyway, I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff that hasn’t been included here, so please feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll work accordingly.

Postwax

I haven’t felt comfortable with the idea of writing about it editorially, since I’ve been involved in discussions about it since before it came together and since I did the liner notes for each of the six releases (plus one to come), but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible work done on the Postwax vinyl subscription series by Blues Funeral Recordings. Label head Jadd Shickler and design specialist Peder Bergstrand (also of Lowrider) put together six offerings that came out in the span of this year and when you hold the LPs in your hand, you can feel the passion that went into making them, from the artists in question to those curating the series in the first place. I hear tell there’s going to be a Postwax Year Two, and I don’t know if I’ll be involved or not, but I’m proud of my miniscule part in the work that went into making these and wanted to bring them to your particular attention. They are something special for those who got to partake:

  • Elder, The Gold and Silver Sessions
  • Daxma, Ruins Upon Ruins
  • Besvärjelsen, Frost
  • Big Scenic Nowhere, Dying on the Mountain
  • Domkraft, Slow Fidelity
  • Lowrider, Refractions

And while we’re talking about projects I was proud to be involved with, I also did liner notes for Acrimony’s The Chronicles of Wode box set from Burning World Records and was honored to do so. Thanks to any and everyone in question for having me involved and dealing with me blowing past deadlines one after the next. It is humbling.

Looking Ahead to 2020

A few names and nothing more about what definitely is and/or might be in the works for next year. Woefully incomplete, so feel free to add to it:

1000mods, Wolves in the Throne Room, Deathwhite, Mondo Drag, Drug Cult, Ocean Chief, Soldati, Sergio Ch., Mitochondrial Sun, Geezer, Mirror Queen, Mondo Generator, The Otolith, Asteroid, Yatra, Vestal Claret, Farer, Ryte, Shadow Witch, Six Organs of Admittance, Naxatras, Wolftooth, Snail, Elder, Pale Divine, Grey Skies Fallen, Ruby the Hatchet, Yuri Gagarin, Sasquatch, Godthrymm, Wo Fat, Red Mesa, CB3, Onsegen Ensemble, Insect Ark, Acid Mammoth, Ritual King, Ulls, Om.

Thank You

Thank you for reading, and please, if you have a thought or something you want to share in the comments, please remember to be kind to each other. We are all human beings behind our phones and keyboards, and while we’ll disagree, often in some ways and some cases, a basic level of respect is always appreciated. At least by me.

I am not so deluded as to think anyone might still be reading, but I want it on record how much I appreciate you being a part of this site and a part of my experience in making it. I’ve been ruminating all year since marking the 10th anniversary back in January about how much The Obelisk has become a part of who I am, and it’s utterly essential to my every day. The way I continue to think about it — and myself, as it happens — is a work in progress, and that would not be possible without you. One more time. Thank you. Always. Always thank you. Thank you.

More to come.

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Stahv Premiere “Voyage of the Dawndraper”; The Sundowner EP out Feb. 21

Posted in audiObelisk on December 9th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

stahv

Today, Seattle one-man outfit Stahv announce the Feb. 21 release of a new EP, The Sundowner, streaming where stuff streams and on limited edition tape through Solid 7 Records. Out as the follow-up to the project’s early-2018 self-titled debut (review here), it’s a quick instrumentalist run through a variety of anti-genre influences, maintaining a heft of atmosphere while exploring further reaches of echoing guitar in darkened progressive form. One might not know that from the noise-rock-origins-giveaway opener “Voyage of the Dawndraper,” which takes its skronk and you-go-here-while-you-go-here rhythm-making with jazzy seriousness and virtuosity, but from there, the prior single “All Seeing I” takes seven of the total 22 minutes of the offering and introduces a more willfully fluid course of post-heavy, upon which “Evhgot” builds with an added sense of churn and the finale title-track resolves in interweaving layers of guitar and drone, drums or drum sounds sitting out the final four and a half minutes to leave room for strumming breadth and undulating waves of keys or synth or effects or other noise.

It’s a course designed to be linear, I think. At lest that’s how it seems on listening. The leadoff is the outlier, which is a particularly progressive and — dare I say it? — fun move on the part of Stahv and Solomon Arye Rosenschein, who is the lone figure at the stahv the sundownerhelm of the band. It’s a purposeful act of disorientation. Meant to throw the listener off. Maybe that would happen wherever “Voyage of the Dawndraper” went, but it’s pretty clear that “All Seeing I,” “Evhgot” and “The Sundowner” all run together as a unified work, and before you get there, you have this bumpy two-and-a-half-minute ride through brash noise-jazz and, yeah, I’m sorry, but that’s just a blast. From the surf guitars to the freakout organ and the snare shuffle and the theremin-esque fuzz lead, it’s a rush and a head-spinner that by the time you’re two minutes into “All Seeing I” seems to have been a dream only to be led away by the melancholy YawningMan-of-the-Pacific-Northwest spirit of what follows, but that contrast, the sheer brazen nature of the incongruity, makes the whole release as far as I’m concerned.

That’s not to take away from the scope of what follows, however. Honestly, if Stahv put out The Sundowner without “Voyage of the Dawndraper,” I’d probably praise it anyway for its fluidity and the open-feeling nature of its course, the patience of its execution and the sense of atmosphere it builds. The fact that all of that happens after a two-minute blastoff, however, only adds an element of joy and celebration to the proceedings, even if those proceedings aren’t especially celebratory themselves. It is a surge of artistic honesty and playfulness that’s rare in underground music or otherwise, and as I find doing-whatever-he/she/they-want to be one of the most respectable drives a creative person or project can follow, it’s hard not to admire the entirety of The Sundowner all the more for the fact that it lets itself have a bit of a good time before getting down to business.

Again, the EP’s not out for another three months, so maybe sit tight for a bit until they get there, but between the premiere of “Voyage of the Dawndraper” below and the prior stream of “All Seeing I” (also at the bottom of the post), maybe you can get some idea of what’s going on with the thing. Listen to them back-to-back and you’ll get some sense of what I’m talking about.

However you go, enjoy:

STAHV – The Sundowner

On February 21st, STAHV will release The Sundowner EP, a 22-minute head trip dusted with traces of Meddle-era Floyd, Oxbow-style polyrhythms, bleak post-metal atmospherics, and auditory hallucinations a la Can. The Sundowner is the followup to STAHV’s self-titled 2017 debut.

A post-metal solo project by multi-instrumentalist Ari Rosenschein, STAHV expands its palette on The Sundowner to incorporate slide guitar, synth textures, even a smattering of vocals–new for the primarily instrumental act. The EP will appear on all streaming platforms with a limited-edition cassette version arriving via Solid 7 Records (Sons of Alpha Centauri, Yawning Man, Gary Lee Conner of the Screaming Trees).

The Sundowner’s opening salvo, “The Voyage of the Dawndraper,” pushes off the dock with odd-metered riffs and unhinged vocals. Included on The Sundowner, last year’s single “All-Seeing I” is a jumping-off point for the rest of the EP which takes STAHV into darker dimensions. At seven and a half minutes, the penultimate “Evhgot” incorporates both contemplative passages and frenetic soloing.

Live, STAHV has supported Scott Kelly of Neurosis, Sixes, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Mondo Generator, Yawning Man, Indian, Usnea, and Conan. The band has also appeared on curated festivals like Northwest Terror Fest, Rat City Recon, and Freakout Fest.

Music: Solomon Arye Rosenschein
Image: Detail of Sundowner Moth by Bernard Dupont
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

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Snail Recording Pink Floyd Cover “Fearless”; New LP in the Works

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

snail in studio

As 2019 starts to wind down, it’s time to start looking ahead at some of what next year will offer, and I can pretty much tell you right now that if a new Snail full-length actually materializes, there’s just about no damn way I’m not going to spend a lot of time telling you to listen to it. Now then, the three-piece based in Los Angeles and Seattle aren’t quite recording the LP yet — that starts next month. But they’re currently tracking a take on Pink Floyd‘s “Fearless” as well as a new song called “Nothing Left for You” that will feature alongside it on a precursor single. Digital release seems to be how it’s going to happen, given the timing, but of course they’re open to a 7″, because why wouldn’t they be, should someone be up for releasing. Can’t imagine there wouldn’t be a taker there.

So we’re not to titles or release dates for the album yet. Hold your horses and I’ll do the best to do the same, but realizing it will have been five years since 2015’s Feral (review here) was released by the time the new one arrives, well, I think you’re almost justified in letting the anticipation run wild. It’s officially “a while in the making” as far as I’m concerned.

Bassist/vocalist/recording engineer Matt Lynch — pictured above with drummer/vocalist Marty Dodson this past weekend, while vocalist/guitarist Mark Johnson will track his parts in the Pacific Northwest — was kind enough to give an update on the proceedings:

We are recording Pink Floyd’s Fearless and a song I wrote that has lyrics partially inspired by Fearless [“Nothing Left for You”]. We have been wanting to cover Fearless for over 20 years now and feel the time is finally right. This will be released as an advanced digital single for the coming LP. Unless of course someone wants to put it out on a 7”, which would rule.

Currently no working title for the LP. We want to release this advance single for the new year, so early January. We are recording the rest of the basic tracks for the LP the second week of January. The material’s direction is similar to Feral in that it is varied with a wide range of sound and influences. There is melodic psych and heavy doom. Straight up Camaro stoner rock to galloping metal.

These two [tracks] Mark will do his parts from home in Seattle. The rest of the LP we will all do together at [Mysterious Mammal Recording/All Welcome Records] as much as possible with continued overdubs for Mark’s parts at home as usual.

SNAIL IS
Mark Johnson – Guitars, lead vocals, keys
Matt Lynch – Bass, keys, vocals
Marty Dodson – Drums, percussion, vocals

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Snail, “Nothing Left for You” drum recording

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Serial Hawk, Static Apnea: Depths and Passages

Posted in Reviews on November 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Serial Hawk Static Apnea

At its core, Static Apnea is an exploration of distance and weight. How much space can be conveyed in a song even as a full-on tonal crush is enacted? The second album from Seattle outfit Serial Hawk — the core trio of guitarist/vocalist Will Bassin, bassist Adam Holbrook and drummer Sean Bulkley (who would seem to have parted ways with the band in the interim, with Jason Bledsoe and Brock Bledsoe stepping in), here working with a swath of guests — is presented as a 49-minute self-released 2LP and spreads across six tracks that range from the megaplod of “Detatch” and the growling aggression of the subsequent “Depths and Passages” on side B to the sweet post-rocking pastoralia drift of “Surrender” at that I suspect is the outset of the second platter. Longer cuts “Resting Waters” (10:15) and “Diminished Return” (13:46) would seem to consume the first and last sides, and in immersive fashion, they help present and bolster the impressive scope with which Serial Hawk are working this time out, taking the largesse of their debut and focusing it on conveying a sense of atmosphere amid all the sheer sonic plunder.

Even as “Depths and Passages” seems to chug-march into trenchant low end and a post-Helmet vision of what West Coast noise rock could’ve become, the open space is as much responsible for the sense of heaviness as are the distorted vocals buried beneath the mountainous guitar and bass. And when they want to be, they are tectonically heavy, but from the post-Isis/Ancestors build in “Resting Waters” and the howling guitar solo that takes hold in the first half there to the final riff that leads the march outward in the final minute of “Diminished Return,” Serial Hawk maintain a poised presentation of their songs that not only emphasizes their dynamic, but the patience behind their composition and execution. As they come up on marking a decade together in 2020 and have numerous tours to their credit, they bring that dynamic to its most forward position yet in a recording, and use it as the foundation to craft a collection that is gorgeous, cohesive, and, on occasion, outright pummeling.

The album takes its title from the practice of holding one’s breath underwater without necessarily swimming anywhere; you put your face in the water (the cover art could be seen as interpreting this) and see how long you can go I guess before you either pass out or have to give up. Aside from the dopey-internet-challenge potential there, there’s a sense of meditative ritual to the notion of pushing oneself to physical extremes without really knowing what those extremes are, and through I don’t know whether or not that’s what Serial Hawk had in mind when they named Static Apnea as they did, the chasms and the sheer physical force with which the band bring a song like the penultimate “Summon” to bear, letting it devolve into noise in its second half before ultimately rescuing it from that void of their own making, is palpable and dramatic, and while much of what they do here might be traced to one style or another — a post-metal moment here, a doomed riff, some sludge groove, etc. — it is the way these personality aspects are combined that makes the album such an exciting and adventurous listen.

serial hawk

It is aware of its range, aware of its depths — hell, it has a song called “Depths and Passages” — but not at all hindered by that consciousness of self. Instead, it results in flashes like when “Resting Waters” seems to hint ever so slightly toward the melodies that will find their answer as “Surrender” opens LP2 in a striking turn that nonetheless flows smoothly into “Summon,” which in turn gives way directly to “Diminished Return,” as the band shows an obvious concern for the listening experience beyond structuring for vinyl and create a linear overarching progression that encompasses all the tracks in one way or the other. For a record that’s 11 minutes longer than its predecessor — and certainly longer than anything else they’ve done — that flow proves essential to the listening experience, as every step outward seems to bring them to a new place that they immediately make their own. The sense of identity here — of Serial Hawk as Serial Hawk — is among Static Apnea‘s greatest strengths.

There are, as noted, a host of others contributing besides BassinHolbrook and Bulkley. The names listed are Robert Cheek, Paurl Walsh, Jessica Kitzman, Aaron Krause, Evan Ferro and Michael Sparks Jr., but as to who does what, I don’t have that information and the choice on the band’s part to keep that nebulous seems purposeful. Instead, their focus seems to be on the wash of noise itself. Static Apnea is noisy, it is aggressive, it is at times downright nasty — as in, “Oh, that’s nasty” — but if one takes a step back from the band voluminous slow-ish motion plunder, a fuller picture of what they’re doing emerges. That is, it’s a record that needs to be appreciated as a whole statement. There is no neat summary of aesthetic, though in the 13 minutes of “Diminished Return,” one could argue they come close. Still, the spirit of the offering they make is one that requires a complete engagement. I usually recommend headphones for something much more psychedelic, but they can only bolster the feeling of being surrounded by the richness of Serial Hawk‘s sound, and that richness is writ large across these songs, be it the rawer riff-led nod of “Detach” or the ultra-slow culmination circa seven minutes into “Summon.”

The band’s utter mastery of their approach comes through in either context and all across Static Apnea, and though the record would seem to be the result of careful plotting or at very least willful experimentation subject to scrutiny afterward in the recording process, it maintains an exciting feeling that goes beyond pace not just for the energy in its execution, but for the forward-thinking nature of the work itself. Serial Hawk are actively working against genre pigeonholing. They’re not looking to be classified. Their project, instead, is to search for the individualism that their influences can bring to bear, and they succeed purely because they let nothing, including their own awareness of what they’re doing, hold them back. Four years between first and second LPs is a pretty significant stretch. Serial Hawk‘s time has obviously not been misspent.

Serial Hawk, Static Apnea (2019)

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Mos Generator, Spontaneous Combustions: All in a Day’s Work

Posted in Reviews on November 14th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

mos generator Spontaneous Combustions

Issued just a month after the Exiles collection of outtakes and covers, the four-song, Kozmik Artifactz-released Spontaneous Combustions LP is a sort of conceptual one-off from Port Orchard, Washington, heavy rockers Mos Generator. The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — is that the Tony Reed-led three-piece had an opportunity to get together and rehearse and record at a rental house before new tenants moved in and Reed, bassist Sean Booth and drummer Jono Garrett began a US tour the following day. One assumes they started fairly early in the morning. Even so, for a group whose material is historically so structured and well put-together, it hardly seems like the the ideal circumstance for making an album. And one assumes that is precisely why they did it in such a manner.

The title Spontaneous Combustions, then, refers to the tracks themselves as being the result of improvisational jams; the trio setting up a few mics and hitting it with an eight-track recorder rolling to capture whatever came out. Mos Generator stepped back from the road this year, but between 2013 and 2018, they toured heavily with the Reed/Booth/Garrett lineup, and thereby developed the sort of chemistry that might, say, allow them to make an album in a single day’s time. But though the inclusions are plenty jammy and each one hovers somewhere around 10 minutes long — the exception is second track “Things to Unremember,” at 9:14 — the tracks aren’t just jams in the sense of the raw instrumentalist exploration proffered by some outfits. While opener “Bonehenge (Parts 1 & 2)” speaks to the urgency of its making in a kind of manic guitar line and sans-vocal approach, “Things to Unremember” and especially the subsequent “Who Goes There?” have vocals over top, and layered vocals in the case of the latter, meaning that at some point after the initial instrumental bed was laid down — even if it was on the same day — it was further developed.

Mos Generator, and Reed particularly, almost can’t help but write songs. The rule under which he worked was that things could be added to the basic track but not removed or changed, and indeed, “Who Goes There?” was an earlier piece they finished as a part of the session. So maybe Spontaneous Combustions-plus? However one wants to draw that line of distinction, the fact remains that one of American heavy rock’s most powerful power trios took a bold step in making a record like this, and after nearly two decades mostly-together in one form or another, the simple fact that they would push themselves to try something new at all is testament to the admirable nature of their creativity. The impulse — conceptual and in terms of the execution in these songs — bears fruit, whether it’s in the long, quiet stretch that opens “Who Goes There?” or the keyboard-added smooth jam at the beginning of closer “Age Zero,” also the longest song at 10:34.

And sure, one can hear a hiccup here and there on a probably-too-close inspection. Maybe that’s a hesitation because Garrett is wondering if there’s a change coming. Maybe that’s Reed pulling a bum note. Whatever it is, it’s to Spontaneous Combustions‘ credit that it’s left in. That might be the biggest departure Mos Generator make here, since while they’ve certainly done warts-and-all live releases in the past — the past year, that is — recent studio outings like 2018’s Shadowlands (review here), 2016’s Abyssinia (review here) and 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here) have been clean and increasingly progressive affairs. “Who Goes There?” has shades of that, certainly, but the first impression with “Bonehenge (Parts 1 & 2)” and the last impression with “Age Zero” that Spontaneous Combustions makes is one of taking a far more open and naturalist approach. While I don’t doubt that time felt like a crunch with one day to work on all the material and get a usable take, etc., it’s just as likely it was a relief to record live, since once the song was down, that was it. The rules were set, and they required that the band be free from hammering out all the rougher spots in the material. It’s an intense process, but it throws open a range of possibilities as well.

mos generator spontaneous combustions

To be sure, the three-piece take advantage. “Things to Unremember” moves from its shreddy march into a more drifting verse, bluesy licks from Reed and a steady bass from Booth seemingly led by the plodding drums of Garrett. An Iommic riff emerges — as it would almost have to given the jam setting and the tempo — and “Things” threatens to come apart just before six and a half minutes in, but Reed‘s solo holds its course and the trio builds back up around it, eventually finishing with a last rendition of the semi-hook to give just a hint of how organically a sense of structure comes to Mos Generator. The song, as an idea and ideal, is always there. Even with just a matter of hours to put together an album. Why would they even try to get away from it?

In that way, “Who Goes There?” is an emphatic highlight, even if something of an outlier on Spontaneous Combustions for having been to some degree prior-composed. One can quibble with that if so inclined — as a fan of the band, I tend to think Mos Generator have earned the trust that they know what’s best for their own albums — but in its hypnotic beginning, emergent depth of groove and absolute standout melody it brings together the best of their more progressive recent work with this offering’s sonic reach, essentially tying the two sides together before “Age Zero” bookends with another instrumental push, mellower on the whole than that of “Bonehenge (Parts 1 & 2),” which maybe toys subconsciously with some Earthless influence, but still sweeping up at the end to finish in raucous fashion.

Time has proven Mos Generator can go where they please when they please and still retain their identity. They’ve done hardcore punk, they’ve done psychedelia, they’ve done prog, and they’ve done a whole lot of heavy rock and roll. It has come to a point where it’s almost shocking to think of them as still being a relatively straightforward act, but it’s always the songcraft that comes through no matter how it’s being put to use. In putting that to the side even somewhat, Spontaneous Combustions feels particularly brave on the part of ReedBooth and Garrett, but that’s nothing new for them either, and they demonstrate not only the roots of their process here, but the clarity of vision that underscores their material even at its foundations. I won’t attempt to predict what they might do next — their every-two-years pace for a proper studio release has one due in 2020, if they intend to hold to it — but I do hope this isn’t the last time Mos Generator take on a project like this. The possibilities are as vast as they want them to be.

Mos Generator, “Shadowlands” live in Cleveland, OH, 2018

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Year of the Cobra, Ash & Dust: Dark Shadows Dance

Posted in Reviews on October 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

year of the cobra ash and dust

To some degree or other, every generation carries the fear that it will be the last. Some have better cases in that regard than others — world wars, the Black Plague, environmental catastrophe, etc. — but apocalypse-ism is a historical consistency in the way few things can claim to be, and Year of the Cobra‘s second album, Ash & Dust, seems not so much to proliferate this concern, but to dwell in the aftermath of it. Also their debut on Prophecy Productions, it is a deeply human offering that communes with old gods in “The Divine,” surveys oblivion, finds love amid a devastated landscape in the ultra-moody “Demons” and gives itself a road-weary pep talk on “Into the Fray,” the hook of which shows a new pinnacle of the Seattle duo’s songcraft. That was already a proven commodity, frankly, on 2016’s …In the Shadows Below (review here) debut LP as well as 2015’s The Black Sun EP (review here) before it and most especially 2017’s Burn Your Dead EP (review here) after, which worked directly to expand the sonic palette of the full-length in a way that the Jack Endino-produced Ash & Dust very much furthers, basking in heft and melodic drift alike, as well as a varied approach that’s no less at home in the rumble-punk of its early title-track as the airy pop evocations of “At the Edge” and the atmospheric, vocal-centric minimalism of closer “In Despair.”

The duo of bassist/vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith and drummer Jon Barrysmith altogether offer eight tracks and 41 minutes for their sophomore outing, and their ability to trade back and forth between rawness and fullness of sound becomes a crucial asset to their approach, making the most or the least of their two-piece configuration depending on for what a given song is calling, and from seven-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “The Battle of White Mountain” — which may or may not be about the slaughter of the Bohemians in 1620 in what’s now the Czech Republic — through the subtle nuance in the central verse progression of the penultimate “Dark Swan” and the ambience of the finale that follows, Ash & Dust is nothing less than the manifestation of what Year of the Cobra‘s earliest potential held the promise of them being.

They come by it honestly, and one can hear that as they begin to venture toward influences beyond the heavy rock standard — pop, punk, grunge; maybe even a bit of modern hip-hop’s rhythmic intricacy on “Demons” — and embrace a broader aesthetic on the whole. It’s easy enough to put this to a narrative of Year of the Cobra as a hard-touring band building confidence in their approach, to hear the sureness in Amy Tung Barrysmith‘s voice and the instrumental chemistry and inherent same-pageness of her bass and Jon‘s drums and understand that as something born of time on the road. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but they have toured a lot over the last few years domestically with increasing incursions abroad, and one seriously doubts that will cease with Ash & Dust and Prophecy‘s greater European reach. So be it, but at the same time, these songs are more than just pieces for the stage.

year of the cobra

From the very first measures of “The Battle of White Mountain,” glorious in their fuzz and only enhanced when the drums and “ooh” vocals join in, the songs offer depth for listener immersion, and even as Year of the Cobra contradict themselves, turning from the rolling “The Divine” into the outright raw insistence of “Ash & Dust” itself and finish out side A with “Demons” — each one bringing a different aspect of who they are to the forefront — they’re able to make these changes fluid in such a way as to bring the listener along with them on that journey. Hooks help. “The Divine” is an early highlight in that regard, as well as “Demons,” and in leading off side B, “Into the Fray” lumbers out perhaps the single most memorable chorus on the album, settling in on the lines of its last intonation, “Go slow/Stay low/In strength/We go.” It is difficult to read this as being about anything other than the band itself.

Of course, they don’t always go slow, and they don’t always stay low, but wherever Year of the Cobra go on Ash & Dust, they certainly go in strength and “face it head-on,” as an earlier verse says. Continuing the dynamic of side A, the subsequent “At the Edge” is grimmer lyrically, but the momentum of side B’s opening carries through nonetheless, and a subtle build of tension pays off in the song’s second-half melody, bringing about the drum start of “Dark Swan” and the patient and atmospheric build thereof, a background filled out by swirling drone touching on psychedelic impulses while ultimately remaining grounded by the drums and accompanying bassline. It never quite explodes, but neither does it seem to want to, and it does hit a peak in its final minute that serves the function well enough without being overstated, giving “In Despair” a smooth lead-in from silence from out of which the quiet bass and vocals emerge to hold sway for most of the duration. They’re five minutes in before sudden last crashes and feedback signal the end of the proceedings, and in that time, they never lost sight of the primacy of mood in the piece, making it all the more a standout finish.

What seems to remain for Year of the Cobra in terms of stylistic growth is to draw the different sides of their sound together, so that a track might carry the brooding vibe of “In Despair” and the push of Ash & Dust‘s title-track, but even if they went that route, I’m not sure it’d be worth the trade off in terms of how their output functions to interact here. Would they lose as much as they gained, in other words? I don’t have an answer for that, and I certainly wouldn’t speculate on where else the two-piece’s exploration outside genre confines might take them, but perhaps most of all, Ash & Dust finds Year of the Cobra earning the trust that they’ll figure it out when they get there, and that, yeah, one way or the other, they will indeed get there. This is a band interested in moving forward, in writing quality material with an engaging presentation and a cohesive, progressive underlying statement to make. From their first EP to now, they’ve yet to deliver anything that wasn’t a marked step forward from what they’d done prior. One doesn’t expect that would change anytime soon, and certainly hopes it doesn’t, in any case.

Year of the Cobra, Ash & Dust (2019)

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Mos Generator to Release Exiles Collection of Lost Tracks and Covers

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

mos generator glory or death

You know my feelings on Mos Generator: the more the merrier. Fortunately, the band generally seems to work under this ethic as well. There’s been a fair amount of news from the Port Orchard, Washington, heavy rockers over the last couple months as they’ve played limited regional live shows but announced releases like the Spontaneous Combustions jam collection and the redux The Late Great Planet Earth Suite, following up on the bootleg-ish live record Night of the Lords earlier this year. Add to that list Exiles, due out at the end of this month through Glory or Death Records with preorders up now. The two-sided offering brings together tracks recorded during the sessions for Mos Generator‘s 2018 studio LP, Shadowlands (review here), with various covers of Van Halen, Rush and Black Sabbath on side B.

Cool stuff all around. The Sabbath cover — “Air Dance,” from Never Say Die — has been posted by the band before, and you can hear it below. I hate to say it, but would it be too much to ask Mos Generator to cover that whole album? I mean, I know that might be a lot of time, but they’ve done plenty of Sabbath tunes over the years any, as guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed notes below, and “Air Dance” really, really fits with their sound. I’d love to hear them do that entire record. And with the rate at which Mos does stuff these days, figure maybe they’d be up for it, just to keep busy.

I’ll look for an announcement of that soon (not really, but it would be cool). In the meantime, here’s preorder info for Exiles:

Mos Generator – Exiles

Side A of this release is a collection of outtakes from our last album Shadowlands. “Twelve Psychics” which was pulled from Shadowlands at the eleventh hour, and “Battah”, show a more metal side to our writing which is usually represented by at least one song on each of our albums. The third track on side A is an alternate version of a song from Shadowlands called Woman Song. “The Lady Vanishes” is an extended (and at times drastically different) version of the track that made it on the album. I think I prefer this version and I’m not sure why I put the edit on the final tracklisting for Shadowlands.

Side B is comprised of three covers we recorded over the last few years. The first is a song from Van Halen II. This is my favorite VH song and I’m very happy with how it came out. Next up is “Air Dance” by Black Sabbath. I really enjoy the Never Say Die album and although it doesn’t fall into the classic Sab album lineup, it has a lot to offer as a unique and diverse album. We’ve done a lot of Sabbath covers over the years and this was by far the most challenging. Last on side B is “Anthem” by Rush. Sometimes I think Rush get overlooked as being a powerhouse heavy rock band and I think Anthem is the proof. This was from our first live performance of it from Vancouver BC 2016.
– Reed, August 2019

Mos Generator – Exiles
Program One:
Twelve Psychics
Battah
The Lady Vanishes

Program Two:
Light Up The Sky (Van Halen)
Air Dance (Black Sabbath)
Anthem (Rush)

PreOrders are open now with official release set as October 28th.

You can secure your copy at Glory or Death Records Web Store;
gloryordeathrecords.bigcartel.com

Mos Generator “Exiles”

Side A
1. Twelve Psychics 03:49
2. Battah (Featuring Bob Balch of Fu Manchu) 03:42
3. The Lady Vanishes 05:05

Side B
4. Light up the Sky (Van Halen Cover) 03:09
5. Air Dance (Black Sabbath Cover) 05:19
6. Anthem (Rush Cover) 04:31

Available in 4 options;

Test Press;
12” Test Press “Exiles”

Die Hard Version;
Metallic Mix Cherry Bomb 12″ Vinyl
2′ x 3′ Mos G/Glory or Death Tapestry
(Photo attached)
Mega Mos G/Glory or Death Sticker Pack
(Photo attached *CD not included)
Digital Download

Transparent/Clearwater Blue 12″ Vinyl Mos Generator – “Exiles”;
Transparent/Clearwater Blue 12″ Vinyl
Random Stickers
Digital Download

Transparent/Clear 12″ Vinyl Mos Generator – “Exiles”;
Transparent/Clear 12″ Vinyl
Digital Download

Mos Generator is:
Tony Reed: guitar, vocals
Jono Garrett: drums
Sean Booth: bass

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Mos Generator, “Air Dance” (Black Sabbath cover)

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