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 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 atwww.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
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, Neurosis‘ Fires 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Che, Vista 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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Wisconsin heavy rockers Droids Attack wanted to do something special with the title-track of their latest album, Sci-Fi or Die (review here), so they hid it. No, really. It’s hidden. As in you need to go and find it. Fortunately, you don’t have to go that far. If you bought the CD when it came out at the end of February, you already have “Sci-Fi or Die” whether you know it or not. It’s in the jewel case, under the disc tray, behind a false back card on a mini-CD of its own with its own special artwork and lyric liner. “Something special” achievement unlocked.
As to what you’ll find when you dig out that mini-CD, “Sci-Fi or Die” is a departure from much of the record that bears its name, moving away from the full-thrust of songs like “New Plague” into almost proggy riffing and spacious, echoing vocals reciting lyrics that not only acknowledge the listener’s success — “You have found our hidden track/Sci-fi or die” — but then immediately express gratitude for said listener having bought the album — “Thanks for choosing Droids Attack/Sci-fi or die.” Hard to beat that as far as charm goes, and the trio of guitarist/vocalist Brad Van, drummer Tony Brungraber and bassist/backing vocalist Darwin Sampson know plenty about charm, as anyone who’s actually already bought the CD can tell you.
Below, you can exclusively stream “Sci-Fi or Die.” It’s not available digitally anyplace else. You can’t buy it except as the CD with the CD, and you can’t download it anywhere. So if you want to hear it, now’s your chance. If my description above didn’t explain properly how to find the mini-CD in your copy of Sci-Fi or Die, Van was kind enough to make an unboxing video for the album in which he not only goes through the process, but rightly takes some time to highlight the excellent and intricate artwork throughout the package by Eli Quinn, which is already in my notes for some of the best cover art of 2016 and should be in yours as well if you’re the list-keeping type.
Van also gives some comment on what drove them to handle the secret track this way under the song itself, which you’ll find on the player below.
Brad Van on “Sci-Fi or Die”:
We were goofing around at practice, and we joked about writing a hidden track song about finding the hidden track. We came up with a bunch of elaborate ways to hide it, including really dumb ideas like hiding a treasure map in the album liner notes and actually burying a box with the song in it somewhere when we went out on tour.
We definitely didn’t want to do the typical ‘tack on 20 minutes of silence’ after the final track that people would fast forward through, and we didn’t want the track to be a senseless noise jam, or anything useless that folks would just want to skip. It’s more of a missing puzzle piece that fits right in as the final song of the album. It’s also the title-track, “Sci-Fi or Die.”
Tutorial: How to Uncover Droids Attack’s “Sci-Fi or Die”
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 16th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
I’ll admit I kind of thought Romero were done. The songwriting-led Wisconsin heavy rockers were last heard from with the single, Gold for the Hunt (review here), which was released in Jan. 2015, and knowing they were having lineup issues, it just seemed like maybe they wouldn’t be back this time. Can’t keep a good band down. The Madison natives welcome bassist/vocalist Jamie Giesen and drummer/vocalist Joseph Cummings to the lineup with organist Tim Consequence and vocalist/guitarist Jeffrey Mundt and are reportedly at work on a new release for next year. Shows what I know. Or think I know. Or kind of think I know.
They sent the following update down the PR wire, newsletter-style:
ROMERO working with new line-up – next release 2017
Hello everybody! We just wanted to give you a quick update before things get rolling again…
FIRST! We have a new line-up! Please welcome Jamie Giesen (bass/vocals) & Joseph Cummings (drums/vocals)! Here is some info on the new guys:
– Jamie Giesen, a monster, Steve Harris-style metal player, and music student adept at any style, will bring his expansive knowledge, creativity and low, low frequencies to ROMERO. Never quite understanding the meaning of free-time, Jamie fills every second of his day with music. In addition to Romero, Jamie teaches bass guitar, plays with the Madison College Big Band, plays in the much-heralded Chaos Revolution Theory & newbies Raw Is War Backwards, plus he records & performs as his hip-hop alter-ego Gentlejay and with Tim Consequence in Optigan who’s “Too High To Dance” is a local hit and popular YouTube video.
– Drummer, Joseph Cummings, Oklahoma transplant and also-drummer for new Madison-doomers, Cosmic Relic, is excited to join the band: “I bought ROMERO’s Take The Potion album back in 2013. The CD came with a handwritten note from Jeff and…(pin-back) buttons! I thought that was so unique and cool. So, yeah, I have been a longtime fan of the band and it’s an honor to be involved.” From thrashers Kadath & Mortal Fear to alt-rock, Orpheus, to Rockford’s Celtic punk Screw City Saints, Joe has kept time for a whole host of bands in many different genres.
SECOND! For our return to the stage, the band will start by hosting a series of FREE Distortion Thursday shows for the entire month of October at Madison, WI bar, Mr. Roberts. The first of 3 shows is October 6th, 2016 and each one will feature a closing set by ROMERO. Musical guests for the shows include Compact Deluxe, Hired Rivals, Stone Room, Optigan & Others, as well as a special guest appearance by Freakshow and the cast of CW57’s Bordello Of Horror. More info and specific dates / openers TBA.
Please keep in touch on the social media, as humans do. Watch for photos and videos of what you missed and maybe come out to see us once in a while. We hope to see you out there!
ROMERO is Jeffrey Mundt, Jamie Giesen, Tim Consequence & Joseph Cummings
Wisconsin’s Attalla — not to be confused with the differently-spelled Californian outfit of the same name — have done the requisite van maintenance and are ready to hit the road once more next month. They head west starting July 7, pretty much on a straight shot, actually, first to Minneapolis and then making their way toward the West Coast for a swath of shows in Washington, Oregon and north and south in California that then turn back inland and route them back through the Midwest.
It was last July that Attalla toured along the East Coast, so safe to say they’re putting their vacation time to good use once again, and now will have covered the entire country from one end to the other.
They go still supporting their 2014 self-titled debut (review here), which has newly seen reissue through Shadow Kingdom Records, and also to herald new material in the works for what I hear is a forthcoming LP.
More on that to come. For now, dates:
ATTALLA – West Coast Tour Dates
ATTALLA is hitting the road again this summer. We’re heading west this time and couldn’t be more excited for these dates! Here are our tour dates!
ATTALLA – West Coast Tour 2016 7/07/2016 Minneapolis, MN – Cabooze 7/08/2016 Minneapolis, MN – Eagles Club 7/09/2016 Fargo, ND – The Aquarium 7/10/2016 Sioux Falls, SD – Bigs Bar 7/11/2016 Rapid City, SD – Black Hills Vinyl 7/12/2016 Billings, MT – Railyard 7/13/2016 Spokane, WA – The Checkerboard 7/14/2016 Seattle, WA – High Dive 7/15/2016 Portland, OR – The Know 7/16/2016 Chico, CA – TBA 7/17/2016 Sacramento, CA – Starlite Lounge 7/18/2016 Pacifica, CA – Winter’s Tavern 7/19/2016 Oakland, CA – The Golden Bull 7/20/2016 Los Angeles, CA – The Complex 7/21/2016 San Diego, CA – The Merrow 7/22/2016 Tucson, AZ – Surly Wench 7/23/2016 Phoenix, AZ – The Sandlot 7/24/2016 Las Vegas, NV – The Warehouse 7/25/2016 Logan, UT – Why Sound 7/26/2016 Colorado Springs, CO – Flux Capacitor 7/27/2016 Denver, CO – TBA 7/28/2016 Omaha, NE – Shamrocks 7/29/2016 Kansas City, MS – MiniBar 7/30/2016 Rockford, IL – Mary’s Place
From what I hear, there’s still one band to be announced for the inuagural The Midwest Day of Wreckoning. The real question is whether or not it’s Brimstone Coven, but we’ll have to wait to find out, and either way, the lineup is already pretty impressive, with the likes of Apostle of Solitude, Droids Attack, Thorr-Axe and Superchief taking part, along with Cold Black River, Subatomic, Shogun and Heavycraft. It’s all presented by Riff Reaper Records and Mercyful Mike Productions and is set to take place Aug. 13 at The Metal Grill in Cudahy, Wisconsin.
If some of the non-band names ring familiar there, Mike Smith was the creative honcho behind the Days of the Doomed fest a few years ago. It would seem that after a couple years “off” — as much as running a management and promotion company is “off” — from larger event planning, he’s getting back in the game, and with an immediately broader stylistic reach than Days of the Doomed was prone to showing. Plus, where that fest was two days, this one is one, so probably less stress all the way around, at least somewhat.
I’ll keep an eye out for that last group TBA, and in the meantime, you can check out the fest announcement below:
Riff Reaper Records and Mercyful Mike Management & Productions bring you… The Midwest Day Of Wreckoning!
Featuring 8 of the Midwest’s very best in stoner/doom/riff-rock, Day Of Wreckoning will have something for everyone!
Bands include: Apostle of Solitude Thorr-Axe Droids Attack Superchief Cold Black River subatomic Shogun Heavycraft
The Metal Grill 5036 S Packard Ave, Cudahy, Wisconsin 53110
$10 gets in in the door for an all day event! Merch galore! Riffs galore! Grab some grub and a brew! This gig is for YOU!
Come on out and see what heaviness the Midwest is conjuring! 18+ (21 to drink with ID)
Milwaukee-based doomers Asatta have two EPs under their belt — a self-titled issued in 2013 and last year’s Songs from the Blood Moon — and will make their full-length debut on Sept. 2 via Burnout Planet Records with Spiraling into Oblivion. A nine-minute sampling of the band’s wares can be heard in the form of “She Died Long Ago” below, and it finds the band nestled into a post-Pallbearer kind of mournful take, but expanding on it with their own dark impulses and emotional sensibility. September is still a minute or two away, so it seems pretty safe to say “more to come” on this one, but if you, like me, are just getting introduced to the band, “She Died Long Ago” should serve as a fitting introduction.
Release show is Sept. 17 at The Metal Grill (formerly The Blue Pig) in Cudahy, Wisconsin. Album art and info follow, courtesy of the PR wire:
ASATTA to release Spiraling Into Oblivion this September | Stream and share new song ‘She Died Long Ago’
Spiraling Into Oblivion will be released on 2nd September 2016 via Burnout Planet Records
Formed in late 2011 by drummer Neil Pech and joined shortly after by guitarist Jay Denzer, vocalist Sean Anderson and bassist Joe Arenas, Milwaukee’s Asatta are arguably one of doom metal’s best-kept secrets.
With two EPs currently to their name – 2013’s self-titled Asatta EP and last year’s excellent Songs For A Blood Moon – 2016 promises to bring about big things for the underground quintet.
Eschewing any temptation to simply rehash old material, Asatta instead chose to enter Howl Street Recording Studio in July 2015 with producer Shane Hochstetler to lay down a fresh batch of new tracks for their debut album Spiraling Into Oblivion. A devastatingly heavy collection of doom/stoner rock mantras, the final set was initially carved into completion via an extensive two-year period of road testing, playing live on countless bills with the likes of Spirit Caravan, Windhand, The Skull and Ufomammut.
Out of the mind-bending riffs and extended jam sessions, the band also drafted in newest member Kara Phillips to explore previously untapped dimensions in their apocalyptic sound. Using keys and synths to color the band’s desolate din in swathes of cosmic noise – best captured on standout tracks ‘She Died Long Ago’ and ‘Breath Of Kali’ – for those currently holding court in Doom’s busy kingdom, make no mistake that Asatta are out to challenge the throne.
Spiraling Into Oblivion is the band’s first full-length album and will be released via Burnout Planet Records on 2nd September 2016. Ahead of its official release stream and share new song ‘She Died Long Ago’ here – https://soundcloud.com/sheltered-life-pr/asatta-she-died-long-ago-burnout-planet/s-cYKRk Asatta:
Sean Anderson – Vocals Joe Arenas – Bass Neil Pech – Drums Jay Denzer – Guitar Kara Phillips – Keyboards
Asatta Live: 21st July – Frank’s Power Plant (w. Druids) – Milwaukee, WI 28th July – Frank’s Power Plant (w. Castle, Brimstone Coven, and Nadoula) – Milwaukee, WI 9th August – Cactus Club (w. Caustic Casanova) – Milwaukee, WI 20th August – Firewalk Threadz Fashion Show at The Metal Grill – Cudahy, WI 16th September – The Wisco (w. Blunt, Order Of The Jackal, and Cosmic Relic) – Madison, WI 17th September – OFFICIAL ALBUM RELEASE PARTY at The Metal Grill – Cudahy, WI
Wisconsin four-piece Attalla self-released their self-titled self-debut (as in, their debut as themselves — keep up; also review here) in the midst of summer 2014. Shadow Kingdom Records, whose taste in heavy is both varied and killer, has stepped up to give the album a look this June. The band put it out on vinyl themselves, and the CD I got to write about was in a sleeve, but the Pittsburgh imprint seems intent on doing it up right for a compact disc, tape and download, and that’s not at all something I’m going to complain about. If you need a refresher on the record, it’s streaming in its entirety below.
You know how it goes. The PR wire has details:
ATTALLA set release date for SHADOW KINGDOM debut
On June 3rd, prepare for total amplifier worship: Attalla’s self-titled debut album will be released by Shadow Kingdom Records on CD, cassette, and digital formats. Marrying the stoned swagger of early Sabbath to the leafiest of ’70s hard rock, this Wisconsin quartet don’t so much go back in time as stop time itself. Lumbering, doomed-out rhythms roll forward and engulf the listener in a lysergic haze, while the thick ‘n’ moist riffs pulse and pound with an insistence that’s totally entrancing.
In fact, the album’s cryptic song titles – chronologically “Light,” “Haze,” “Lust,” “Thorn,” “Veil,” and “Doom” – vividly portray the trip to come. Too dark for regular hard rock but still committed to its earthier values without traversing into proto-metal territory, Attalla could verily be a sonic document of 1973, unearthed today. And yet, undeniably retro as the record may be, Attalla brim with a potency that’s timeless and wholly appealing to a wide swath of rock and metal listeners, and in vocalist Cody Stieg, the band has a great ROCK voice not unlike The Cult’s Ian Astbury. Spark up and drop out! Cover and tracklisting are as follows: