Posted in Whathaveyou on May 27th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Have to chuckle a bit at The Skull calling a tour ‘November of Doom,’ when they’re from Chicago and that same city is host to Novembers Doom, but hey, sometimes coincidences happen. On their latest run of Europe, which follows two earlier this Spring, including one that stopped for a total of three sets at Roadburn 2016, they’ll be joined by Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain. As coordination would have it, the two bands share a guitarist in Rob Wrong at this point, so though he’ll be pulling double-duty, the pairing makes an awful lot of sense. The Skull, who are continuing to support their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here), as well as a self-titled follow-up EP (review here), features vocalist Eric Wagner, bassist Ron Holzner, guitarist Lothar Keller and drummer Sean Saley, in addition to Rob Wrong.
To my recollection, this is the first time Witch Mountain will be headed to Europe since acquiring vocalist Kayla Dixon. They toured North America last Spring alongside Enslaved and YOB and are about due for a follow-up to 2014’s Mobile of Angels (review here), their gorgeous and fraught fourth full-length.
Both bands also play Erosion Festival 2016 (info here) in Missoula, Montana, this October.
From the PR wire:
THE SKULL featuring former Trouble members including vocalist Eric Wagner and bassist Ron Holzner are returning to Europe in November 2016!
The Skull & Witch Mountain: 11/04 Bristol, UK Exchange 11/05 Milton Keynes, UK Crauford Arms 11/06 London, UK Underworld 11/07 Tilburg, NL Little Devil 11/08 Utrecht, NL DBS 11/09 Karlsruhe, DE Jubez 11/10 Vienna, AT Doom Over Vienna 11/11 Arnstadt, DE Rockjunfer 11/12 TBA 11/13 Drachten, NL Iduna 11/14 Wiesbaden, DE Schlachthof 11/15 Kassel, DE Schlachthof 11/16 Hamburg, DE Hafenklang 11/17 Dortmund, DE Piano 11/18 Würzburg, DE Hammer Of Doom 11/19 Winterthur, CH Gaswerk
Posted in Whathaveyou on May 9th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Working out of a home-base in Missoula, Montana, Erosion Festival 2016 has announced a formidable lineup bringing together bands from the West Coast and the Midwest and beyond, including headliners Saint Vitus, Acid King and The Skull, for a two-night stint at Stage 112. Familiar names from the Pacific Northwest include Mos Generator, Witch Mountain, Mammoth Salmon, Teepee Creeper, Mother Crone and Disenchanter, and they’re joined by Thorr Axe, Chron Goblin, Stone Elk, Wizzerd, American Falcon, and others for a heavy weekend surrounded by mountains and Montana’s open sprawl. I wonder if it snows in Missoula in October.
There’s more info to come from the fest in terms of who’s playing when, how much tickets are, how to buy them, when to buy them, and so on, but the lineup is the news here and the lineup is more than solid. If you’re wondering, Missoula does have an international airport. Not that I’ve looked or anything, but flights seem to be pretty cheap.
From the festival:
We are very excited to finally announce our entire 2016 Erosion Festival line-up! It’s an honor to have these awesome bands on board for 2016, please welcome SAINT VITUS, THE SKULL, ACID KING, and WITCH MOUNTAIN!
Erosion will be held in Missoula, MT on Friday October 14th and Saturday October 15th @ Stage 112. 18 bands total for 2 nights of heavy music and great times we hope to see you there!
We will have ticket information soon, our facebook event page, and the official Erosion Fest 2016 poster, with all the information you’ll need.
Thank You all for supporting us and we’ll see you in October!
Erosion Festival lineup: Saint Vitus The Skull Acid King Witch Mountain Mos Generator Thorr Axe Mammoth Salmon Mother Crone Disenchanter Chron Goblin Teepee Creeper Swamp Ritual Stone Elk American Falcon Shramana Wizzerd The Old Ones Piranha Dog
Posted in Whathaveyou on June 18th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Can’t say it’s much of a surprise, but the lineup for Hoverfest 2015 looks pretty awesome. The second installment of the annual fest brought together by Hovercraft Amps, Cravedog and Nanotear is set for an all-dayer Aug. 8 in Portland, Oregon, and like last year, the lineup of acts is made up mostly of locals — there are a few to choose from in Portland these days — and to go with all that hometown spirit, they’ll bring in San Francisco kings of weirdo trad metal Slough Feg to headline.
Slough Feg will sit atop a mighty Portlander grouping, varied between the doomly ways of Witch Mountain, who make a return appearance, a return as well for the ’70s heavy of Danava, Lord Dying‘s don’t-tell-anybody-it’s-death-metal-because-we-like-playing-with-stoner-bands genrebending, Sons of Huns on the heels of their new album, While Sleeping Stay Awake, a second showing from Holy Grove, and first-timers Zirakzigil and Mane of the Cur to lead things off. Sounds like a good time to me.
Last year, Billy Anderson was brought on to work the mixer, and whether or not he’ll make another appearance has yet to be revealed, but the preliminaries are out. With presumably more to come, here they are:
Cravedog Presents HOVERFEST 2015
Cravedog, Hovercraft Amps, and Nanotear Booking have teamed up to bring the second annual HOVERFEST on Saturday 8.8.15 in Portland, OR
The rocks starts at noon and rolls til sundown. Once again set in the alley behind Cravedog with the gorgeous sunset view of the Fremont Bridge. 611 N. Tillamook Street
This year will be 21+ so the whole alley is a beer garden.
Rock, metal, and doom all day long from:
SLOUGH FEG WITCH MOUNTAIN DANAVA LORD DYING SONS OF HUNS HOLY GROVE ZIRAKZIGIL MANE OF THE CUR
Posted in Reviews on March 23rd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Driving the four-plus hours from Massachusetts to NYC to see Enslaved, YOB, Witch Mountain and Ecstatic Vision on Saturday wasn’t the practical choice, but it was the only choice. True, three of the four would be much, much closer to me this week, but to catch them in a bigger room and with Witch Mountain wasn’t an opportunity I wanted to miss. I left much earlier than I needed to, leaving as little as humanly possible to chance in terms of sitting in traffic, stressing out, etc. Turned out to be one of the easier rides south that I’ve had.
A positive omen? Maybe. I had time to hit Academy Records before the the show, which was a rare pleasure, and plenty of opportunity to catch my breath before doors to Gramercy Theatre opened. Last time I was there was for Pentagram, Kings Destroy, Bang and Blood Ceremony, and as ambivalent as I was at being back in Manhattan itself, it would prove to be a night surrounded by old friends, laughs and good vibes. More than anything, that made trip worthwhile.
But there was a show on as well, and a killer one at that. An early start for a packed night had Witch Mountain on at 7:30, and here’s how it went from there:
A couple new faces in Portland’s scene-preceding four-piece, Witch Mountain. Very new, as it happened. As in, this was their second show. Led by founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nate Carson, the band had played Pittsburgh the evening prior, and that was the first gig with newcomer vocalist Kayla Dixon and bassist Justin Brown (also of Lamprey). Night two of the band’s Mk. III lineup was a short set, but they made the most of it and showcased the potential for continued growth. Dixon had a distinctly metallic presence as frontwoman, and the entire band, Brown included, seemed to relish the opportunity to have a bigger stage on which to unfurl their doom. Again, their time was brief, but “Psycho Animundi” from last year’s Mobile of Angels (review here) more than ably demonstrated Dixon‘s vocal range, while “Veil of the Forgotten” and particularly the end of “Shelter” from 2012’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) thrust into an almost power metal presentation, already edging up to the boundaries of a shifting personality for the band. Especially for it being night two, it was an encouraging sight. I’d expect over time Witch Mountain will loosen up further in presence as they continue to tighten sonically, but I felt fortunate to see that process at its beginning.
Of the four bands on the bill, I wondered most about how Ecstatic Vision‘s sound would translate to the spaciousness of Gramercy Theatre. The Philly three-piece would hardly be the first act in history to play space rock in a high-ceiling room, but for their being a newer band despite the experience of guitarist/vocalist Doug Sabolik and drummer Jordan Crouse in A Life Once Lost, it was a point of curiosity. Some of Sabolik‘s flourish, the chimes on his mic stand and melodica, weren’t as prevalent as they had been when I saw the band open for YOB at the Saint Vitus Bar in December (review here), but they did well all the same, and bassist Michael Connor‘s tone came through the house clear and warm in kind. Their custom lighting, the rope lights around the drums, strobe, and so on, left Connor more or less out of the equation, and that seemed to create some imbalance on stage, but unless you happened to be the black metal purists positioned in front of me as I watched Estatic Vision space out on encompassing, fluid psychedelic jams, there was little to argue with as they warmed up and settled into their engaging vibe. They still don’t have much recorded but are expected to make a debut sometime later this year on Relapse. Still worth keeping an eye on.
Would YOB do “Marrow” in that room? Yes, they would. Three of the four cuts from last year’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here) — also my pick for the best album of 2014 — were aired, with opening duo “In Our Blood” and the scorching “Nothing to Win” leading to the aforementioned 19-minute record-closer, which was followed in turn by the title-track of their 2011 sixth album, Atma (review here), the Eugene, Oregon, three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster crisp in their delivery but not at all dead-eyed in the here’s-another-show way one might expect after their having spent the better part of the last three weeks on the road. The run with Enslaved ends this week, but YOB will continue to tour their way back west before returning in May to the East Coast for Maryland Deathfest in Baltimore. In New York, their response showed a considerable crossover response from the clearly-there-for-Enslaved contingent, particularly as the culmination of “Marrow” hit and they followed it by the gallop-laden “Atma,” which seemed all the more furious in comparison. I’ve seen YOB at least five times in the last 12 months and have yet to come out of a set without any regrets. Foster‘s snare was loud in the house mix, but so was everything else, so, you know, it kind of worked itself out. Every accolade YOB gets, they earn. I know they did that European stint last year with Pallbearer, and that was a month-plus on the road, but it’s still a change to think of YOB as a touring band after their years of keeping shows limited. While I wonder what the rest of 2015 will hold for them, I also couldn’t help but notice how sustainable and decidedly un-worn they looked on stage, like they could just keep going. I doubt they’d have met any complaints if they had.
Last time I saw Enslaved in New York was early 2013. They played the Bowery Ballroom (review here), which is a not-insignificant space in itself, but not as sizable as the Gramercy, and I think it says something about the long-running Norwegian outfit’s growing US fanbase that their return to Manhattan would be in a larger venue. They’re supporting the release of their 13th full-length, In Times (review forthcoming) on Nuclear Blast, but new material or old, they had the room on their side from the word go. Bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson joked with the crowd between songs, and by the time they got down to playing the title-track from In Times laughingly promised the crowd that it would be the last new song they played. For what it’s worth, I didn’t notice much of a change in reception for recent or older material. Sure, a song like “The Watcher” from 2008’s Vertebrae, with its mega-chorus, or a by-now staple like “Ruun” from the 2006 LP of the same name is bound to get a response, but “Thurisaz Dreaming” and “Building with Fire” sat well alongside those and “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” from 2012’s RIITIIR (review here), and wherever the band headed, the crowd went along. Of course, their stage presentation was air-tight, Kjellson holding down a frontman role flanked on either side by guitarists Ivar Bjørnson and Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, while keyboardist/vocalist Herbrand Larsen made a case for up-front featuring of his own with stellar command of the clean-sung parts — I saw Enslaved for the first time eight years ago at SXSW, and I’d mark Larsen‘s growth as a vocalist among the foremost catalysts enabling their musical progression in that time; that growth was, I’ll note, already underway for several years by then — and drummer Cato Bekkevold sat swallowed up by his expansive kit surrounding. They came out one at a time to start their set and for the encore, and each time Bekkevold sat down, he disappeared. Good for a laugh, but he also used that whole drumset, and flawlessly. Their encore was “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth” from 2003’s Below the Lights, “Fenris” from 1994’s sophomore outing, Frost, and the title-cut from 2004’s landmark Isa, and when it was over, there was nothing left for the audience to do but leave, having so thoroughly been handed its ass on a platter by the five-piece, whose reach seems only to continue growing with time.
If you want the short version, the show was a win, but what made it even better was seeing old friends throughout the night and catching up, and that was something that continued even as security started shuffling people out of the downstairs lounge. On my way back north on Sunday, it was the memories of good times and good music that seemed to make the trip shorter, both thoroughly appreciated.
Speaking of old friends, this review is dedicated to Loana dP Valencia of Nuclear Blast, alongside whom it has been my complete and utter pleasure to work for the last decade.
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 29th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Several days ago, Portland, Oregon, doomers Witch Mountain posted the above image on their Facebook page as a way of teasing the fact that they are once again a complete four-piece. Today, the parties joining with founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson have been officially announced as vocalist Kayla Dixon and bassist Justin Brown.
Formerly based in Ohio, Dixon comes to Witch Mountain via Cleveland metallers Demons Within. She steps into the vocalist role in place of Uta Plotkin, who over the course of Witch Mountain‘s three post-reactivation full-lengths on Profound Lore, 2011’s South of Salem (review here), 2012’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and last year’s Mobile of Angels (review here), became one of doom’s most recognizable voices, with a soulful, bluesy inflection that has already left an influential stamp on the genre. When Plotkin announced her departure from the band prior to their tour in Sept. with Nick Turner’s Hawkwind, it was a shock but only made the lyrics to Mobile of Angels tracks like “Can’t Settle,” “Your Corrupt Ways (Sour the Hymn)” and “The Shape Turth Takes” even more visceral.
In an interview here last fall, Carson speculated that it could be years before the right voice was found to fill the position. That the band was aware and mindful of the task before them serves as further endorsement of Dixon‘s ability and the potential for their continued progress as a group with her on board. Bassist Justin Brown enters the lineup having spent the last several years in the two-bass/no-guitar trio Lamprey, from whom a follow-up long-player to 2012’s The Burden of Beasts EP (review here) is expected sometime this year, its coming heralded by a recent video for the track “Iron Awake” that was featured here.
Witch Mountain are slated to take part in an upcoming Black Sabbath tribute that will also feature Kylesa and Wo Fat, among others, though at this time it’s not clear when their contribution was recorded or who was involved. They have toured extensively in support of each of their three records since returning from a decade’s hiatus, and the first road test of the new lineup will be a run of shows alongside YOB following that outfit’s stint with Enslaved in March. With congratulations to Brown and Dixon on landing what can only be considered as enviable as a gig playing doom can get by playing in Witch Mountain, the tour dates follow here:
YOB + Witch Mountain
3/21 New York, NY @ Gramercy Theatre w/ Enslaved, YOB, Ecstatic Vision
3/22 Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer w/ Enslaved, YOB, Ecstatic Vision
3/25 Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter
3/26 Raleigh, NC @ King’s Barcade
3/27 Johnson City, TN @ The Hideaway
3/28 Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
3/29 Memphis, TN @ Hi-Tone
3/30 New Orleans, LA @ Siberia
3/31 Houston, TX @ Walter’s
4/01 Austin, TX @ Red 7
4/03 Albuquerque, NM @ Launch Pad
4/04 Tucson, AZ @ The Flycatcher
4/05 Los Angeles, CA @ Los Globos
4/07 San Francisco, CA @ Golden Bull
4/08 Sacramento, CA @ Press Club
4/10 Seattle, WA @ Victory
4/11 Portland, OR @ Star Theater
Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.
I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.
Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.
The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.
A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.
Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.
His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”
An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.
I initially made this list without Alunah‘s excellent third album and Napalm Records, but when it came down to it, not having the UK four-piece on here haunted me to the point where I had to come back in and swap them out with somebody else. Just couldn’t live with myself for not giving this record its due, which, to be frank, I’m still not since it should be higher on the list than it is. At least it’s here though, so the mistake is somewhat corrected.
The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.
Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.
Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.
Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.
Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.
Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.
For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.
You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.
Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.
Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.
14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower
Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.
An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.
What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.
My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which Graham, Alley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow Season, The Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.
10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute
Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.
Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew Giacumakis — Fu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”
Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.
Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.
A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.
What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.
A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angelsthat brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.
In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis‘ Skyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.
Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.
Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.
Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend — YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.
First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.
A few other honorable mentions:
Mothership, Mothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.
Sólstafir, Ótta — They were originally on the list proper but had to be moved to make room for Alunah. I didn’t really get to know this record in 2014 anyway.
Ice Dragon, Seeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.
Truckfighters, Universe — I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.
Steak, Slab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.
Godflesh, A World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.
Thou, Heathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.
Corrosion of Conformity, IX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.
Spidergawd, Spidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.
Slomatics, Estron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.
Electric Wizard, Time to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.
Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.
The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.
Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.
More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.
And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.
Posted in Features on November 20th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Something is stirring in the Witch Mountain camp. I don’t know quite what yet, but on Nov. 10, the Portland, Oregon, outfit posted the following: “Just booked studio time to record a song in early December. Details when we are allowed to share them.”
Cryptic but precise, obscure and calculated, the message itself sums up a lot of what Witch Mountain have become over the last few years. After getting off tour this fall Nik Turner‘s incarnation of Hawkwind, the band — founded by guitarist Rob Wrong (to whom I’ve never spoken because he used to review records for stonerrock.com and would blow my meager knowledge of heavy out of the water) and drummer Nathan Carson (who also runs Nanotear Booking and has been interviewed here before) — said farewell to vocalist Uta Plotkin. They lost their bassist at the time as well, but it was Plotkin who grabbed the headlines, and reasonably so. Among metal singers, hers was a singular voice, resonant in its power and presence, but able also to convey emotion, bluesy soul and, particularly in the case of their latest album, Mobile of Angels (review here), a desperate sense of longing.
Their third offering for Profound Lore and third since reactivating following a long hiatus after their 2001 debut, Come the Mountain (discussed here), it’s easy to think of Mobile of Angels as a culmination in light of Plotkin‘s departure, and certainly it is their crowning achievement to date, but it’s also a step in an interrupted progression from their last two outings, 2012’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and 2011’s South of Salem (review here). With the constant thread of Billy Anderson‘s production, one can hear Witch Mountain growing on these three albums, becoming the assured, progressive act they are on Mobile of Angels, patiently presenting an all-too-brief 38 minutes that’s beautiful and desolate at the same time.
Carson knows that whoever takes the vocalist role has a challenge ahead of them. In the interview that follows, he talks about how Plotkin‘s leaving took shape, making Mobile of Angels, the mood on this last tour and what they might be looking for in a new singer. The question at this point, after the above Nov. 10 post, is whether or not they’ve found that person. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
This one’s beamed in from a universe of all good times. I don’t want to walk around tooting my own horn like I actually did anything, but you’ll pardon me if I say that once you get on board here, you might not want to jump back off. The flow is up and down, alternately drawn out and rushing, and right up to the last song which is a bit of a return to earth, the second hour is the most spaced out it’s ever been around these parts. I’m way into it. I hope you’re way into it.
Like last time, I tried to get a mix of excellent stuff upcoming with other recent items you might’ve missed. One of these days I’m gonna do another one of these where I talk, but this is straight-up track into track the whole way through and I think it moves really well that way. Please feel free to grab a download or hit the stream and dig in and enjoy.
The Melvins, “Sesame Street Meat” from Hold it In (2014)
Fever Dog, “One Thousand Centuries” from Second Wind (2014)
Lo-Pan, “Eastern Seas” from Colossus (2014)
Witchrider, “Black” from Unmountable Stairs (2014)
Alunah, “Awakening the Forest” from Awakening the Forest (2014)
Craang, “Magnolia” from To the Estimated Size of the Universe (2014)
Slow Season, “Shake” from Mountains (2014)
Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds, “Guillotine” from The Shining One (2014)
The Proselyte, “Irish Goodbye” from Our Vessel’s in Need (2014)
Flood, “Lake Nyos” from Oak (2014)
Lord, “Golgotha” from Alive in Golgotha (2014)
My Brother the Wind, “Garden of Delights” from Once There was a Time When Time and Space were One (2014)
Spidergawd, “Empty Rooms” from Spidergawd (2014)
The Myrrors, “Whirling Mountain Blues” from Solar Collector (2014)
Witch Mountain, “Your Corrupt Ways (Sour the Hymn)” from Mobile of Angels (2014)