The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2017

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

the obelisk top-20-debut-albums

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

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

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

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

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

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

telekinetic-yeti-abominable

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2017

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

Honorable Mention

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review & Full Album Stream: WhiteNails, First Trip

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 24th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

whitenails first trip

[Click play above to stream First Trip by WhiteNails in its entirety. Album is out Friday, May 26, via Magnetic Eye Records.]

Quebecois six-piece WhiteNails make a resoundingly cohesive impression with First Trip, which telegraphs its self-awareness even unto its title. Delivered through Magnetic Eye Records, it is the debut release from the Canadian outfit, not just their first full-length, and as an opening argument it speaks to the band having come together last year with some clear idea of what they wanted to do sonically, in form and maybe general style if not the direct specifics of cuts like “Dead in Time” or “Damn Judas.” A mission to make catchy, uptempo, soulful heavy rock, perhaps, and First Trip is the result of that from the first-name-only lineup of vocalist Darcy, guitarists Danahé and Taylor, bassist JP, keyboardist Vince and drummer Maxx, who for all the personnel — they also bring in guest vocalist Gab Shonk on the aforementioned “Dead in Time” — don’t come across as overblown in the slightest.

Throughout the eight-track/41-minute offering, they endeavor to hone a foundation of songwriting to underscore the boogie in cuts like “In My Blood” and the thrust of opener “Shanghaied,” and though their arrangements are full, it’s perhaps in part thanks to the vocal command of Darcy that the record remains grounded, as from the leadoff onward, his presence as a frontman comes through in verses and chorus alike, whether he’s surfing the riff of “Shanghaied” reminding somewhat of Black Thai‘s Jim Healey or calling to mind Gozu‘s Marc Gaffney in “In My Blood” and the layered harmonies of “Silver Linings.” Gozu, in some of their harder-edged post-Queens of the Stone Age swagger, would seem to be an influence across the board.

Still, those vocals are well-balanced in the mix, and the aesthetic remains modern throughout, with a full and willfully distortion driving Danahé and Taylor‘s guitars that finds its most-doom moment in the penultimate “Brazen Bull” after a variety of executions playing around the central heavy rock theme in terms of pace, push and the structure of the riffs that lead, be it the all-forward movement of “Shanghaied” welcoming the listener to First Trip by pulling them through an open doorway of accessibility, or the ultra-catchy companionship that track finds as “Damn Judas” leads off side B. Some of the titles convey a sense of darkness, whether it’s the chugging “Done and Gone” or “Dead in Time,” which come back to back after the opener, or “In My Blood” and “Damn Judas” later — even closer “The Crooked Lake” seems to have some measure of threat in the use of “crooked” — but it’s not until “Silver Linings” that one finds that darkness beginning to come to fruition.

whitenails (Photo Caroline Perron)

And though their cover art might lead one to go into the album immediately searching for an Uncle Acid influence, the amount of strain required to hear it in the riff of “Damn Judas” is enough to make me think it simply isn’t there at all. Okay then. Basically, the crux of First Trip sets itself toward pursuing a solid execution of varied heavy rock songcraft, and it most certainly gets there, building in momentum through the first five songs — if one is listening on CD/DL, the linear momentum flows notably well; I haven’t heard a vinyl edition but the track structure is definitely two-sided — before shifting into that darker terrain on “Silver Linings” and “Brazen Bull” and airing out a bit of psychedelia on “The Crooked Lake,” which marks the most patient stretch of the record and a departure from the preceding ground covered.

Particularly for a debut, it would likely be enough for WhiteNails to acknowledge the need for aural diversity, let alone actually bring it to fruition in the manner they do, but they find a balance between consistency of tone and changes in structure and mood that hints either at prior experience among the members in bands together or at an especially quick-in-developing chemistry at work. One way or the other, the reward is palpable throughout First Trip, up to and including the closer, which with its more prominent keys and fluid guitar lines nods at Vangelis-style atmospherics early and drifts into a markedly satisfying linear build in its second half to pay off the album as a whole. It’s a long way from the party vibe of “Dead in Time” or “In My Blood,” which would seem to be the most motion-minded cuts along with “Damn Judas,” which is a highlight overall, but it serves as an encouraging last-minute defiance of the expectation WhiteNails have already put in effort to establish.

That is to say, they’ve set forth their rules and then almost immediately, gleefully broken them. Again, this is something a penchant one generally expects a group to develop over time — and WhiteNails may yet have more anti-conventionalism up their collective sleeve; I wouldn’t speculate after only one release — but it serves notice to anyone willing to hear it that the band are not at all finished growing. So be it. While the destination where that growth might take them ultimately in terms of style feels open to a range of possibilities, it seems safer to bet that the underlying quality of songwriting will be a continuing factor from WhiteNails as they move forward, as it proves to be the essential statement made by their impressive and cogent first offering.

WhiteNails on Thee Facebooks

WhiteNails on Bandcamp

WhiteNails website

Magnetic Eye Records on Bandcamp

Magnetic Eye Records on Thee Facebooks

Magnetic Eye Records webstore

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Magnetic Eye Records Adds Greenleaf, Mars Red Sky, Pallbearer, Yawning Man, ASG, Ruby the Hatchet, Sasquatch and More to The Wall [Redux]

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 2nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

The clock is ticking on the crowdfunding campaign to support the making and release of Magnetic Eye Records‘ upcoming Pink Floyd tribute, The Wall [Redux], and the NY-based label has broken out some big guns in terms of confirmations for who will take part. Greenleaf, Mars Red Sky, Pallbearer, Ruby the Hatchet, ASG, Yawning Man, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic and Sasquatch, as well as the likes of Swedish crushers Domkraft, L.A.’s LowFlyingHawks and Ghastly Sound from the label’s own roster — along with the previously-announced Summoner — would seem to only bolster the offering as a whole, for which preorders are being taken directly through the Kickstarter. This is the third of these projects Magnetic Eye has done, and as ever, the scope of the thing is massive and the logistics seem, frankly, nightmarish.

You don’t need me to sell you on shit and you already know this is a cause worthy of your support, so I’ll spare you all that it’s-an-emergency-you-gotta-help-out whatnot, but suffice it to say that this thing happening only makes the world a better place. So there you go.

Here’s the latest update, courtesy of the label:

the wall redux

Magnetic Eye’s ambitious homage to Pink Floyd, THE WALL [REDUX], has gained some serious momentum in the final week of its preorder/crowdfunding campaign. The confirmation of several higher-profile artists, including Greenleaf, Pallbearer, Mars Red Sky, Yawning Man, Sasquatch and Noveller all signing on to bring their distinct voices to the project has prompted the MER to add an exclusive “Best of Pink Floyd” companion LP for Kickstarter backers. This complement to the main THE WALL [REDUX] will feature a range of cuts from throughout the Floyd catalog by even more fantastic artists from the scene and beyond.

There are still a few days left to support the project by pre-ordering one of several versions of the record, all of which will reflect Magnetic Eye’s well-documented aesthetic and penchant for gorgeous vinyl. This also means there’s still time for a final few hush-hush conversations to potentially yield even more intriguing artist confirmations.

To see what an undertaking this has been (and what an amazing spectacle the finished albums will surely be), here’s a quick review of the latest list of confirmed bands and an exclusive first reveal of some tracks, with numerous more still to be announced:

ASG, “Mother”
Domkraft
Ghastly Sound
Greenleaf
Mos Generator
Low Flying Hawks (feat. Dale Crover of The Melvins)
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard
Mars Red Sky, “Comfortably Numb”
Pallbearer, “Run Like Hell”
Ruby the Hatchet, “Pigs” (The Best of Pink Floyd)
Sasquatch
Sergeant Thunderhoof
The Slim Kings (feat. drummer Liberty DeVitto)
Solace, “In the Flesh”
Summoner
The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic (feat. Ed Mundell of Monster Magnet)
WhiteNails
Worshipper
Yawning Man
Year of the Cobra

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/magneticeye/the-wall-2
store.merhq.com
http://magneticeyerecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/MagneticEyeRecords

Mars Red Sky, Alien Grounds short film

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