Quarterly Review: Carlton Melton, Horseskull, Dreadnought, Forsaken, Moon Rats, Son of the Morning, Jesus the Snake, Bert, Galactic Gulag, Band of Spice

Posted in Reviews on January 8th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Lodewijk de Vadder (1605-1655) - 17th Century Etching, Landscape with Two Farms

Today begins the Quarterly Review. You know the deal by now. 50 records written up between today and this Friday, 10 per day. As always, it’s a huge swath of stuff, and by the end of it I’m usually ready to collapse in a heap, but I’ve yet to regret it afterwards, so we press on. I hope you find something you dig in all this. I say that every time, but it’s still true.

Speaking of digging, how about that new logo up there? Thanks goes out to the Lord of the Logos himself, Christophe Szpajdel, who took on the project. This is the second one he’s done for the site, and aside from being in a completely different style from the last — I like covering a good amount of ground, even in logos — I think it fits pretty well with a variety of aesthetics. Could be doom, could be heavy rock, psych, stoner garage, whatever. Anyway, I’m into it. Hope you are too.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Carlton Melton, Mind Minerals

carlton melton mind minerals

It might be decades before the dimension we live in has caught up to the plane from which Northern California’s Carlton Melton emanate their resonant transmissions of space-psych, but somehow time doesn’t seem to matter anyway when actually listening. To wit, Mind Minerals, the trio’s first LP since 2015’s Out to Sea, is an 11-track/76-minute whopper – unmanageable by any standard – but once it’s on, all you want to do is roll with it and by the time post-aptly-named intro “Untimely” has begat “Electrified Sky” has begat the droning “The Lighthouse” has begat the fuzzy swirl of “Eternal Return” has begat the 10-minute rumble-and-synth soundtracking of “Snow Moon,” etc., there’s neither escape nor the desire for it. Does it need to be a 2LP? Nope, but nothing needs to be anything, man. In the subdued boogie of “Basket Full of Trumpets,” the is-it-backwards slow freakout of “Sea Legs,” the experimental guitar ambience of “Way Back When,” headphone-ready minimalism of “Climbing the Ladder,” the shaker’s tension that sustains the otherwise wispy “Atmospheric River,” and the final fuzzy resurgence of “Psychoticedelicosis,” Carlton Melton thoroughly reaffirm their residency in the far, far out. Not that anyone was questioning their paperwork or anything.

Carlton Melton on Thee Facebooks

Agitated Records website

 

Horseskull, Chemical Winter Blues

horseskull chemical winter blues

With fluid shifts between Ripple-style straightforward heavy rock, rolling Sabbathian lumber and even some harsher sludge elements, the seven-minute “Black Dawn, Bright Day” sets a varied tone for Chemical Winter Blues, the second LP from North Carolina’s Horseskull. I’m not sure I’d declare any one side or the other the winner in the fight between them by the time the death ‘n’ roll of “Luckless Bastards” gives way to closer “Lost all I Had, then Lost Again” – itself a 17-minute noise-nodder triumph of, well, loss – but the trip through “Hypocrites and Pigs” and 10-minute centerpiece “The Black Flame of Cain” is unpredictable and fun to make in kind. Guitarist/vocalist Anthony Staton reminds a bit of Slough Feg’s Mike Scalzi in his cleaner delivery, which only adds to the album’s declarative feel, and the overarching groove surrounding from guitarist Michael Avery, bassist Robert Hewlett and drummer Steve Smith only reinforces the developing individualism.

Horseskull on Thee Facebooks

Horseskull on Bandcamp

 

Dreadnought, A Wake in Sacred Waves

dreadnought-a-wake-in-sacred-waves

There is very little beyond the reach of Denver four-piece Dreadnought. Their third album, A Wake in Sacred Waves (Sailor Records), blends open, psychedelic jazz, progressive black metal, folk and more into a sometimes-thrashing/sometimes-sprawling meld that recalls the promise of Grayceon and the poise of Opeth while at the same time casting its own impression in melody, arrangement, variety and scope. Opening with the 17-minute longest cut (immediate points) “Vacant Sea,” it brilliantly ties its elements together to present a story arc following in elemental theme from Dreadnought’s first two offerings in centering around the rise and fall of a water-born apex predator, the narrative of which plays out across its four intense, extended and resoundingly complex inclusions, which alternate between beautiful and terrifying in a way that leaves the line utterly blurred and irrelevant. Why this band isn’t on Profound Lore or Neurot, I have no idea, but either way, A Wake in Sacred Waves is a conceptual and manifest triumph not to be missed.

Dreadnought on Thee Facebooks

Sailor Records website

 

Forsaken, Pentateuch

forsaken-pentateuch

A spirit of classic doom metal abounds on Forsaken’s fifth long-player, Pentateuch (Mighty Music), which is the long-running Malta-based outfit’s first offering since 2009’s After the Fall, but though righteous fist-pumpers like “Primal Wound” and “Decalogue” carry an epic and unflinchingly progressive underpinning in their layered vocal melodies, a harsh snare sound and awkwardly punching bass stifle complete immersion. It’s less an issue in a cut like “Saboath (The Law Giver),” which has a full swing surrounding, but it makes post-intro opener “Serpent Bride” sound like a demo (unless it’s my digital promo?) in a way that sets an unfortunate tone in contrasting the obvious class and high-level execution of Pentateuch as a whole. It should be noted that even a rough production can’t hold “The Dove and the Raven” back from making its Candlemassian intent clear, but a record of such overall high standard should feel as crisp as possible, and particularly for being so many years in arriving, Forsaken’s latest seems to want more in that regard, despite the quality of the material that comprises it.

Forsaken on Thee Facebooks

Mighty Music website

 

Moon Rats, Highway Lord

moon-rats-highway-lord

I’ve already counted Highway Lord among my favorite debuts of 2017, but consider it’s worth taking a moment to underline the point of the heavy psych and stoner-fuzz wash that Moon Rats so vigilantly emit on cuts like the opening salvo of “Become the Smoke,” “The Dark Takes Hold” and “Heroic Dose,” balancing languid vibe and sonic heft atop gorgeously natural songcraft. Among the short-feeling 29 minutes and seven inclusions, with the title-track at the center shifting into “Overdose,” the deeply atmospheric “The Hunter” the and melodically spacious “Motor Sword” at the finish, there isn’t a weak spot to be found, and whether it’s the added dynamic of a key arrangement in the closer or the landmark feel of the hook to “Heroic Dose,” the Milwaukee five-piece tap into the there’s-no-rush-we’ll-all-get-there sonic sentiment that once made Quest for Fire so entrancing, while engaging subtle flourish of presentation that promises creative development to come. Bring it on. Please. The sooner the better.

Moon Rats on Thee Facebooks

Gloss Records website

 

Son of the Morning, Son of the Morning EP

son-of-the-morning-son-of-the-morning-ep

Newcomer four-piece Son of the Morning, with the crisply-realized three tracks of their self-titled debut EP, would seem right away to be trying to stake their claim on a piece of the Midwest’s doom legacy. Coiling between heavy rock swing and classic doom tonality, each cut, from “Left Hand Path,” which rounds out after its welcoming hook with a sample of what sounds like somebody hanging in the breeze, through the post-Uncle Acid riffing of “Release,” and the more ethereal, organ-laced psych of “House of Our Enemy,” offers its own take in a clearheaded and efficient five minutes, getting in, leaving its mark and getting out to make room for the next piece in this initial sampling. Potential abounds from vocalist/organist Lady Helena, bassist Lee Allen, guitarist Levi Mendes and drummer H.W. Applewhite, and the core question is how they might tie these elements together across a first full-length. It should be noted they sound more than ready to embark on that project and provide an answer.

Son of the Morning on Thee Facebooks

Son of the Morning on Bandcamp

 

Jesus the Snake, Jesus the Snake EP

 jesus-the-snake-jesus-the-snake

A 31-minute debut EP clearly meant to be heard in its entirety, Jesus the Snake’s self-titled treads some familiar ground in progressive heavy psychedelic instrumentalism throughout its four tracks – “Floyds I,” “Floyds II,” “Karma” and “Moment” – but with an inherent sense of mood and reach not unlike earliest My Sleeping Karma, its tonal warmth and emergent weight of groove find welcome all the same. Particularly for being the Portuguese outfit’s first public unveiling, the interplay of Joka Alves’ keys and Jorge Lopes’ guitar is immediately fluid, and as the bass of Rui Silva provides foundation to let drummer João Costa explore jazzy snare textures and stylistic nuance. It’s a beginning, and it sounds like a beginning, but Jesus the Snake also offers a richness and patience that many bands simply don’t have their first time out, and for that and the classic stoner fuzz of “Moment” alone, it’s easily worth the time and effort of thorough investigation.

Jesus the Snake on Thee Facebooks

Jesus the Snake on Bandcamp

 

BerT, The Lost Toes

bert-the-lost-toes

Officially defunct for some time now, Michigan’s BerT compile tracks from throughout their prolific and bizarre run in The Lost Toes (Madlantis Records), proffering a timeline of their post-Melvins avant weirdness that starts with their very first song, “Stuff,” and makes its way through various demos, lost tracks, noise experiments, etc., to the 11-minute drone-out “Return” at the finish line. The digital version on Bandcamp offers an origin story with each track – the 90-second noise rock blast “Human Bone Xylophone” was cut from 2012’s Return to the Electric Church for time concerns, and the subsequent “Commercial Break” (which, yes, is a commercial break) was a class project – but whether you engage the narrative or not, the enduring vibe remains strange and charming in its garage-fuckall, could-and-just-might-go-anywhere-at-any-moment kind of way. BerT were always good fun, and The Lost Toes serves as reminder of the personality they had together that was so very much their own.

BerT on Thee Facebooks

The Lost Toes at Madlantis Records website

 

Galactic Gulag, To the Stars by Hard Ways

galactic gulag to the stars by hard ways

Brazilian instrumental troupe Galactic Gulag traffic in cosmic heft across the five pieces that comprise their first full-length, To the Stars by Hard Ways, but there’s ultimately little about the album that seems to be the hard way. If anything, it’s easy: Easy to groove on, easy to let it unfold over you in a spacious psychedelic drift, easy to nod along as the bassline of “Escape from Planet Gulag” picks up from 12-minute opener “Home.” Easy even to get lost in the sax-laden swirl-bounce off-kilterism of “The Hollow Moon.” So yeah, guitarists Breno Xavier and Pablo Dias, bassist Gabriel Dunke and drummer César Silva might be overselling a sense of difficulty, but as “Space Time Singularity” rolls into the shreddy-style fuzz of 15-minute closer “Eta Orionis,” there are clearly more important issues at hand. Like space. And riffs. And tone. And everything else that’s working so well for the Natal-based foursome on this jam-laden debut.

Galactic Gulag on Thee Facebooks

Galactic Gulag on Bandcamp

 

Band of Spice, Shadows Remain

band of spice shadows remain

Former Spiritual Beggars and The Mushroom River Band vocalist Christian “Spice” Sjöstrand has been fronting the namesake act Band of Spice – formerly Spice and the RJ Band — for over a decade now, and Shadows Remain (Scarlet Records) follows 2015’s Economic Dancers (review here) as their fifth overall full-length. After the suitably-drunk-sounding vocals-only intro “Only One Drink,” the album rides the line between classically metallic tones and heavy rock riffing, a cut like “Don’t Bring Me Flowers” having little time in its 2:46 for brooking nonsense of any sort while later pieces like “Apartment 8” and “The Savior and the Clown” find time for more brooding and sentimental fare, and the penultimate “Take Me Home” and closer “Apartment 8 (Part II)” offer acoustic-strummed departure, so while the 51-minute runtime gives the 13-tracker something of a CD-era throwback feel and the songwriting the resolute in its straightforwardness, neither is Shadows Remain completely single-minded in its approach. A touch of grunge-funk in “Sheaf” goes a long way as well in lightening the mood, making the whole presentation all the more pro-shop, as it should be.

Band of Spice on Thee Facebooks

Scarlet Records on Bandcamp

 

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Attalla Announce Sept. Tour Dates; Glacial Rule Cassette Available

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

attalla

Wisconsin’s Attalla will head outward from the frozen wasteland/dairy paradise they call home — depicted via live webcam, one assumes, as the cover art of their new album, Glacial Rule (review here) — next month on a two-week tour. The sludge rocking four-piece make their way toward the East Coast and have gigs set for Rochester and Baltimore with an open Sept. 5 date between that seems like it would be perfect for some generous soul in the New York or Philly area to put something together for. I don’t know who that generous soul might be, but yeah, somebody should get on it, because these guys are good and deserve a gig every night they want one.

In addition to these dates, Attalla took part this past weekend in the opening night of Sheavy‘s ‘Tour of the Doomed’ (info here) alongside those Canadian stalwarts, Apostle of SolitudeThe Skull and many others, and Glacial Rule has just been pressed to tape via Shadow Kingdom, which also got behind Attalla‘s self-titled debut (review here) in 2014. The band sent dates and more info down the PR wire:

attalla tour dates 2017

ATTALLA – September tour and cassette tape release

Wisconsin heavy riff rockers, ATTALLA, head back out on the road this September in support of their latest fuzzed out offering, ‘Glacial Rule’. Cruising through some of the same cities leveled on their last east coast tour and ripping up some Midwest clubs on the route as well.

The highly praised ‘Glacial Rule’ has recently been released on limited edition cassette tape by Shadow Kingdom Records and a 2nd pressing of vinyl is also smoldering on the horizon.

ATTALLA – GLACIAL RULE TOUR 2017
9/01/2017 – Detroit, MI – Corktown Tavern
9/02/2017 – Columbus, OH – Victory’s Live
9/03/2017 – Buffalo, NY – Mohawk Place
9/04/2017 – Rochester, NY – Bug Jar
9/05/2017 – TBA
9/06/2017 – Baltimore, MD – The Sidebar
9/07/2017 – Richmond, VA – McCormack’s Pub
9/08/2017 – Louisville, KY – Magnolia Bar
9/09/2017 – Indianapolis, IN – Taps Live
9/13/2017 – Moline, IL – The Island
9/14/2017 – St. Louis, MO – Fubar
9/15/2017 – Kansas City, MO – Union Library
9/16/2017 – Omaha, NE – Wired Pub

Attalla is:
Cody Stieg – Lead Guitar/Vocal
Brian Hinckley – Rhythm Guitar
Bryan Kunde – Bass
James Slater – Drums

http://facebook.com/attallawi
https://www.instagram.com/attallawi/
http://www.attallawi.bandcamp.com
http://www.shadowkingdomrecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ShadowKingdomRecords/

Attalla, Glacial Rule (2017)

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Moon Rats Stream Title-Track of Debut Album Highway Lord out June 23

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on June 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

moon rats

I wouldn’t usually make this kind of call outright, but I’ll tell you right now that come December, Moon RatsHighway Lord will be on my list of the best debut albums of 2017. A position has already been secured for the Milwaukee five-piece, who’ll release the seven-song outing on tape June 23 through Gloss Records, thanks to their memorable songwriting, perfect pacing, rich tonality, and unpretentious, laid back vibes. Songs like “Heroic Dose,” “Highway Lord,” “The Hunter” and “Motor Sword” — hell, “Become the Smoke,” “The Dark Takes Hold” and “Overdose” too — land heavy but smooth and interplay between two guitars and keyboards let the band shift fluidly between epic-sounding heavy rock and classic psychedelia in a manner that undercuts the idea of Highway Lord as a debut album at all.

Somebody will make vinyl happen. It’s just a question of when. But take a listen to the premiere of Highway Lord‘s title-track at the bottom of this post to get yourself introduced in the meantime and I think you’ll find yourself just as inclined as I am to want to chase down that tape in the interim before a CD or LP shows up. One can always acquire formats as they surface — the important thing is not to miss out. So don’t.

Art, info and audio follow:

moon-rats-highway-lord

MOON RATS – Highway Lord

A collection of Milwaukee music-scene veterans have formed a new band, MOON RATS, and are stoked to announce the release of their debut album, HIGHWAY LORD. The band itself is an amalgamation of musicians from bands (Calliope, The Rashita Joneses, Sonic J, Myles Coyne) whose styles range wildly from folk to psych and stoner rock.

The album developed a sound which the band has dubbed ‘stoner-psych rat-metal for motorcycle enthusiasts’ as it took them through seven creeping and heavily fuzz-laden tracks, which follow the path of realization for the legendary hero, the Highway Lord.

HIGHWAY LORD will be released on a limited quantity of high-quality cassette tapes via GLOSS RECORDS on Friday, June 23rd.

Tracklisting:
1. Become the Smoke
2. The Dark Takes Hold
3. Heroic Dose
4. Highway Lord
5. Overdose
6. The Hunter
7. Motor Sword

MOON RATS will celebrate their release on Tuesday, June 27th at Cactus Club (2496 S. Wentworth ave. Milwaukee, WI) with THE WELL (Riding Easy Records) and Asatta.
Doors @ 9:00 PM // $8 // 21+

Moon Rats is:
Al Kraemer (Calliope) – vocals, rhythm guitar
Jeff Grabo – vocals, bass
Victor Buell – lead guitar
Myles Coyne – keys
Brendt Dondero – drums

https://www.facebook.com/MOONRATSmke/
https://moonratsmke.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/glossrecords/
http://www.glossrecords.us/

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Droids Attack Announce West Coast Tour and Beer Collaboration; New Live Video Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

droids attack

Friday night, Droids Attack play a release show for what sounds like a beer strong enough to be worthy of the gauntlet thrown down by their 2016 album, Sci-Fi or Die (review here), the secret hidden title-track of which (posted here) laid it all on the line: “Death to false stoner thrash.”

So be it. The Madison, Wisconsin, trio have been steadily kicking ass for nearly the last decade and a half, and if they want to up the stakes, they’re backing it up both in the quality of their material — look, I dig Must Destroy and Fatal/Error as much as the next cat who really, really digs them, but the new record’s just at another level — and the ABV of the new, 8.2 percent double red IPA they’re producing with House of Brews, which has been dubbed Aztec Astronaut and apparently already so well received that it’s going to be the first in a series of Droids Attack-themed adult beverages. Can “The Kegger” be far behind?

In addition to this big news, Droids Attack also have a new live video for “Koko Beware” from a show earlier this year, and a round of tour dates coming up next month that will take them out to the West Coast for what I’m pretty sure is the first time supporting Sci-Fi or Die.

Much to see, much to do. Check it out:

Droids Attack – Beer & Tour

We recently had a craft beer released in our honor. It’s called Aztec Astronaut, brewed by House Of Brews by brewer Peter Schroder here in Madison, WI, and commissioned by Trixie’s Liqour who are planning to make it a yearly release. It is a 8.2% Double Red IPA. The beer is sold in 22 oz. hand numbered bottles that include a unique download code for Brahma Astra off of SFoD, and it is also available on tap at select venues. We are performing a launch party for the beer at The High Noon Saloon in Madison this Friday, May 19th.

Thanks to everyone who bought up all of the Droids Attack beer around town! Because of the success of the release, the folks who put it out are interested in doing another Droids Attack beer based on one of our other albums in the Fall! I hope you can all maintain your unquenchable thirst for alcohol until then! In the meantime, we are getting ready to party at the High Noon Saloon this Friday, & announce all of the places where you will be able to find Aztec Astronaut on tap! Come join us! More fun to be announced soon!

Droids Attack live:
06.16 Des Moines IA Des Moines Social Club
06.17 Omaha NE O’Leaver’s
06.18 Denver CO Bar Bar
06.19 Bozeman MT The Filling Station
06.20 Spokane WA The Pin
06.21 Seattle WA Substation
06.22 Portland OR High Water Mark
06.23 Eureka CA Little Red Lion
06.24 Sacramento CA Starlite Lounge
06.25 Los Angeles CA Viper Room
06.26 Las Vegas NV Beauty Bar
06.27 Tempe AZ Yucca Taproom
06.29 San Antonio TX The Gold Bar
06.30 Austin TX Swan Dive
07.01 Oklahoma City OK Blue Note Lounge
07.02 St. Louis MO Fubar
07.03 Chicago IL Township

https://www.facebook.com/events/1891476624460859/
http://www.facebook.com/droidsattack
http://droidsattack.bandcamp.com/album/sci-fi-or-die
http://droidsattack.com/product/pre-order-sci-fi-or-die/

Droids Attack, “Koko Beware” Live at the Majestic Theatre, Jan. 7, 2017

Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die (2016)

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Days of the Doomed Fest Announces ‘Tour of the Doomed’

Posted in The Obelisk Presents, Whathaveyou on April 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Today I’m proud to count The Obelisk among the presenters for the Tour of the Doomed — the traveling incarnation of the Wisconsin-based festival Days of the Doomed set to take place this summer. I had some great times out in Cudahy at Days of the Doomed, so it’s awesome to see Mercyful Mike Smith take his game to this important next level, and all the better for the fact that the week-long run will head east, starting out at the fest’s home base of The Metal Grill — formerly The Blue Pig — and finishing in Brooklyn at the Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn.

The lineup is three bands strong with Sheavy headlining and supported by Beelzefuzz and Spillage, covering a swath of heavy from the doom-tinged Chicago-style deep-dishery of Spillage through the progressive oddness that always emanates from Beelzefuzz on stage to the we’ve-long-since-mastered-this riff rock Sheavy have been proffering for more than the last 20 years. Not a doubt in my mind the shows will be killer and there might be a few surprises in store along the way as well, so stay tuned for more as we get closer to August.

Poster and announcement from Mercyful Mike himself follow:

tour of the doomed 2017

After a much needed break to focus on work, family, and life in general, 2017 has presented itself as a fine time to bring back Days Of The Doomed Fest. That being said, I wanted to do something different this time around, so I revisited something I had been working on since late 2011. The planets had never lined up for this to happen before, but again, 2017 presented itself as the perfect time for this to work out.

So… prepare yourselves because we are taking Days Of The Doomed Fest on the road!!! I give you TOUR OF THE DOOMED! I am absolutely ecstatic to announce that this tour will be headlined by a legendary band that will be making its first official visit to the US! The one and only… SHEAVY! Stephen Hennessey (lead vocalist) and I have been in touch for the past 6 years trying to make this happen, and we are both stoked to finally make this a reality. Through the years of doing Days Of The Doomed Fest, sHeavy has always been one of the most mentioned bands to be added to the roster. I am so happy to now be able to honor those requests!

Direct support for the tour will be supplied by the undeniably unique, heavy riffs of the mighty Beelzefuzz, and the brilliant, “bluesy-doom” sounds of Chicago’s own Spillage! But that’s not all! Each date on the tour will feature more support acts that make Days Of The Doomed Fest what it is. You will see some favorite alumni acts along the way, and of course be witness to the new crop of riff-worshiping bands as well!

The tour kicks off on 8/12 in Milwaukee, WI, and in true Days Of The Doomed Fest style, I promise you an absolutely insane line up to literally “get the show on the road”! Rosters for each date of the tour will be announced next week, so keep an eye out!

I’m really excited to be bringing Days Of The Doomed Fest to all of you, so come on out and get heavy with us!!! See you in August!!!
–Mercyful Mike

https://www.facebook.com/daysofthedoomedfest/
www.daysofthedoomed.com

Sheavy, “0000011111”

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Review & Full Album Stream: Attalla, Glacial Rule

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

attalla glacial rule

[Click play above to stream Attalla’s Glacial Rule in its entirety. Album is out March 24 with preorders up now.]

If you want to get a sense for what Oshkosh, Wisconsin, four-piece Attalla are up to on their second full-length, Glacial Rule, you don’t have to go far. The opening cut of the album is “Butte des Morts,” and it lands with a swing and a stomp at six and a half minutes of the band digging their heels into what reveals itself as the first of many amply-proportioned, riff-led grooves. Their prior offering, a 2014 self-titled (review here), carried with it an abidingly raw sensibility, and while the six tracks of Glacial Rule follow suit to a degree, guitarists Cody Stieg (also vocals) and Brian Hinckley, bassist Bryan Kunde and drummer James Slater are likewise blunt in conveying the progression they’ve undertaken in the three years since. On a production level, Glacial Rule — recorded last Spring by Shane Hochstetler at Howl Street Recordings in Milwaukee — is crisper and cleaner, but Attalla still have some dirt under their sonic fingernails, giving their material from the launch of “Butte des Morts” onward character and a sense of intent standing behind it.

Working on themes as shown in the Adam Burke cover art of cold and cruel nature throughout pieces like “Ice Harvest,” “Black Wolf Rituals” and the closing title-track, Attalla — who are not to be confused with California post-desert rockers Atala — come across as more confident on the whole in their presentation, surer in their footing rhythmically and clearer in their thinking of who they are and what they want to be as a band. To say they took important lessons from their debut would perhaps be an understatement, and more importantly, it’s how they’re putting those to use in the songwriting on the 40-minute sophomore outing that really conveys the growth at hand.

There doesn’t seem to be a narrative arc tying the songs together, but the already noted themes — freezing, naturalist, and vicious as they are — begin with “Butte des Morts,” which takes its name from a lake near Oshkosh named for a Native American burial ground discovered by French settlers. As it should, the opener sets the tone as well in its upbeat, noise rock-infused groove, which would border on the hypnotic were it not so active in its bounce. I’ll allow the alphabetical coincidence might have something to do with it, but in their treatment of the theme, all-in-the-room-together-style recording, fluidity between tempos, noise influence and far-back but still raw vocals, songs like “Ice Harvest” and the rolling “Valderan,” which follow, remind somewhat of Jersey Shores, the 2008 swansong from Seattle’s Akimbo.

Of course, that album had its own story to tell and Glacial Rule is clearly happening in a different time and place, but some of the brashness and roots in hardcore come through Attalla‘s material in similar fashion, even as “Ice Harvest,” which is the longest track on Glacial Rule at 8:44, digs into the righteous nastiness of its lumbering midsection ahead of a long instrumental/solo exploration that follows and leads the way out of the song. Nothing on Attalla touched that kind of length or adventurousness, but the band’s development can be heard in the restraint of the tempo on “Valderan” as well; in an emerging patience within their sound that seems to be struggling against the impulse to burst out, creating a tension that accompanies the palpable build as the side A finale marches forward. I don’t know which came first, the riffs or the notion that would tie them together, but they were right to settle on the word “glacial.” It’s not the slowest thing in the world, but the theme fits for sure, and as it proceeds into its second half Glacial Rule, feels all the more consistent for working around this central idea.

attalla

And perhaps what’s not as immediately apparent to an outsider is just how directly tied to Wisconsin that central idea is. “Valderan” would seem to take its name from Valders, a town surrounded by hills that were once a mountain range eroded by glaciers, and the state’s Amish population actually do harvest lake ice in order to preserve food without the use of electricity. Likewise, side B’s “Black Wolf Rituals” comes from the town of Black Wolf, in Winnebago County, and “Devil’s Lake” — a misinterpreted Native American translation — is in Sauk County, so even as the former might appear on the surface like mountain-man-rock cultism, it’s actually speaking to a very specific location as it unfurls its mid-paced push and more open-feeling verse, moving in its back end like “Ice Harvest” into an ending instrumental section from which the core structure opts not to return.

“Devil’s Lake” brings more stomp just when it seems to be most needed — by this point, Attalla have dug themselves pretty deep into a moraine of frozen sludge riffing — but ultimately nestles into its own solo section led by Stieg before a thunderous chugging finish. As Slater‘s drums calmly start the closing title-track, it’s hard not to feel like Glacial Rule has hit its moment of arrival. The guitars soon take hold with resonant heft backed by the bass and drive into a quick verse near the two-minute mark. There are two such verses and an accompanying chorus for the second of them, but by the time Attalla hit the third minute of “Glacial Rule”‘s total 7:32, they seem itching to launch into the solo section that will finish track and album alike, breaking after a subtle hat-tip in the riff to Sabbath‘s “Snowblind” into a more subdued progression in order to enact a last build not quite from the ground up, but close enough to make the point.

That nod to the masters — emphasis on “nod” — comes back around in the last minute of the track just before it ends, and provides a crucial moment not just of creating an analog of influence, paying homage, etc., but of demonstrating the continuing process by which Attalla are maturing as a band, since by bringing that part back on “Glacial Rule,” they’re doing what “Devil’s Lake,” “Ice Harvest” and “Black Wolf Rituals” refused to in reinforcing a sense of structure and craft at work in the songwriting. Taken in kind with the thematic cohesion so prevalent throughout Glacial Rule, that characterization becomes even more important, since it gives StiegHinckleyKunde and Slater something to work from their next time out, and as Glacial Rule shows in relation to the self-titled before it, that’s work Attalla are clearly interested in doing. How all of this intent might find balance with the rawer aspects of their style, it’s hard to guess, but they capture an intriguing moment of revelry in the interaction between impulses in these tracks, and one looks forward to finding out where they’re headed.

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Attalla Announce Glacial Rule out March 24

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Wisconsin-based sludge rockers Attalla — not to be confused with similarly-named Californian post-desert outfit Atala — put out their self-titled debut (review here) in 2014. That album struck a grower chord over time, and eventually earned itself a reissue through doesn’t-put-put-stuff-if-it-sucks Pennsylvania imprint Shadow Kingdom Records. The band has announced they’ll self-release the follow-up, titled Glacial Rule, on vinyl March 24, and will begin taking preorders a month before.

Art, tracks and whatnot are all still to come, but Attalla put in some significant road time last year, so it should be interesting to hear what they’ve come up with when they get there. I asked the band to tell me a little bit about the record and they were kind enough to oblige. You can see in the quote below that it’s 12 minutes longer than the self-titled while remaining the same number of songs, so seems like some definite changes in approach will have taken place. Guess we’ll find out.

That quote and album details follow, as sent by the band:

attalla

Attalla on making Glacial Rule:

‘Glacial Rule’ is a huge step forward for us both musically and as a band. We really took our time working and reworking the songs on this album until they were exactly what we wanted. It is another six-track album but it’s about 12 minutes longer than our first. We were not afraid to jam on a riff until we felt it was finished.

The songs are more dynamic, have some real depth and carry an overall heavier, darker tone. Recording was handled by Shane Hochstetler at Howl Street and the production is absolutely huge. We didn’t half-ass anything on the vinyl packaging either. It is a gatefold jacket with two great pieces by Adam Burke and the vinyl is pressed on two different colors. It is an album we are truly proud of!

‘GLACIAL RULE’
Out March 24th, 2017 on vinyl, cd and digital.
Recorded by Shane Hochstetler of Howl Street Recordings.
Mastered by Carl Saff.
Artwork by Adam Burke.
Layout by the Company.
Released 100% DIY.
Pre-Orders start February 24th at www.attallawi.bandcamp.com

‘Glacial Rule’ tracklisting:
1. Butte Des Morts
2. Ice Harvest
3. Valderan
4. Black Wolf Rituals
5. Devil’s Lake
6. Glacial Rule

Attalla is:
Cody Stieg – Lead Guitar/Vocal
Brian Hinckley – Rhythm Guitar
Bryan Kunde – Bass
James Slater – Drums

http://facebook.com/attallawi
http://www.attallawi.bandcamp.com

Attalla, Attalla (2014)

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2016

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

the obelisk top 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30. Talmud Beach, Chief

talmud beach chief

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

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

29. Comet Control, Center of the Maze

comet control center of the maze

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 22.

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

28. Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids attack sci-fi or die

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 17.

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

27. Beelzefuzz, The Righteous Bloom

beelzefuzz the righteous bloom

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

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

26. Foghound, The World Unseen

foghound the world unseen

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed July 6.

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

25a. Egypt, Endless Flight

egypt endless flight

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

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

25. 1000mods, Repeated Exposure To…

1000mods repeated exposure to

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

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

24. Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy

black rainbows stellar prophecy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 11.

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

23. Borracho, Atacama

borracho atacama

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Nov. 14.

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

22. The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again

the golden grass coming back again

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed April 26.

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

21. Curse the Son, Isolator

curse the son isolator

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

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

20. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires

neurosis fires within fires

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

19. Conan, Revengeance

conan revengeance

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 19.

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

18. Baby Woodrose, Freedom

baby woodrose freedom

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Aug. 18.

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

17. Geezer, Geezer

geezer geezer

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

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

16. EYE, Vision and the Ageless Light

eye vision and the ageless light

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

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

15. Fatso Jetson, Idle Hands

fatso jetson idle hands

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Oct. 3.

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

14. Hexvessel, When We are Death

hexvessel when we are death

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Feb. 5.

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

13. Zun, Burial Sunrise

zun burial sunrise

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Feb. 16.

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

12. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree

elephant tree elephant tree

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

11. Mos Generator, Abyssinia

mos generator abyssinia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed July 12.

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

10. Slomatics, Future Echo Returns

slomatics future echo returns

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed June 29.

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

9. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh

wo fat midnight cometh

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 21.

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

8. King Buffalo, Orion

king buffalo orion

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed July 29.

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

7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know

wight love is not only what you know

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

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

6. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil

brant bjork tao of the devil

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 15.

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

4. Asteroid, III

asteroid iii

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

3. Gozu, Revival

gozu revival

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 19.

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

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

mars red sky apex iii praise for the burning soul

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

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

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

subrosa for this we fought the battle of ages

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

The Next 20

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions

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

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

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

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

Thank You

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

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

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

One more time: Thank you.

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