Posted in On Wax on April 24th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
It seems unlikely that a casual listener or at very least someone who’s not already a fan would chase down an offering like Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley, which captures Dallas trio Wo Fat‘s five-song, 40-minute set at the 2014 edition of the German Freak Valley festival, held in Netphen. However, we live in a universe of infinite possibilities, so as a perfunctory notice, I’ll say that like the vast, vast majority of live releases, it’s better appreciated by those with some familiarity to the studio versions of the tracks, and that if you’re hearing Wo Fat for the first time — unless you were at Freak Valley (or somewhere else they played, I suppose), didn’t know the albums, saw them live, were super-into it and want a memento — the place to go is probably to one of their albums before you get back to Live Juju. That’s a condition of live records in general, not necessarily something related to the three-piece’s performance at the fest or anything about the recording, which is released by Fuzz Lab Records and was recorded by Jens Hunecke, but it’s a disclaimer worth putting out there anyway, should anyone happen to be new to the band. For the already-converted, Live Juju is an utter no-brainer. One of US heavy rock’s finest and fuzziest taking the stage at a major Euro fest, a setlist spanning six years in five songs recorded clean and crisp, pressed to thick-stock black LP with cover and inside-liner art by David Paul Seymour, live photos from the fest by Falk-Hagen Bernshausen (first published here) and a download code that includes a bonus 14-minute studio jam called “Dark Snow” that rumbles and grooves like the best of Wo Fat‘s latter-day explorations? If you’re already a fan of Wo Fat, there’s really nothing about Live Juju not to like.
Call it a victory lap. Guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump (who also mixed at the band’s Crystal Clear Audio in Dallas), bassist Tim Wilson and drummer/backing vocalist Michael Walter first took to European stages in 2012, then supporting their Small Stone label debut and fourth album, The Black Code (vinyl review here, CD review here). Their 2014 return trip, arriving on the heels of their fifth record and finest work to-date, The Conjuring (review here), was dubbed the “Texas Takeover” and Wo Fat were joined by fellow Dallas natives Mothership on their inaugural run. Freak Valley was an earlier stop on the tour, which lasted about two weeks. Not really what you’d call a “touring band,” in the sense of road-dogging their way back and forth from market to market, venue to venue, Wo Fat have nonetheless managed to concoct a formidable stage presence, and at least going by the audio (much as I’d like to, I’ve yet to see Freak Valley in-person), they hit stage in Netphen with no hesitation. Their set boasts highlights going back to their second full-length, 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), tying the material together with a fervent sense of ride-ready groove and weighted tones, Stump opting for a bluesman’s gruffness on “Read the Omens” from The Conjuring, which follows opener “The Black Code.” That song, the title-track of the 2012 album, is nothing if not a landmark hook for the band, and they faithfully give it a rendition north of 10 minutes, their motion no less fluid on stage than in the studio, rolling their way into the faster verses of “Read the Omens” before the chorus opens wide and echoing true to the outdoor space where it was recorded. Side A is just the two songs, and the flip does sort of pull you out of the live experience, but the way I wound up thinking about it was a second to tune ahead of “Bayou Juju” serving as the centerpiece of the set.
Side B is longer, beginning with “Bayou Juju” and rolling through “Enter the Riffian” and closer “Sleep of the Black Lotus” smoothly and with enough rumble in Wilson‘s bass as Stump tears into an extended solo on the first of them that it’s easy to imagine the grasses of Freak Valley vibrating from the low end. By the time they get there, Wo Fat are full on, about halfway through and nailing it. The track, taken from 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here), is a highlight, but the shorter “Enter the Riffian” from Psychedelonaut grounds the set and thus the recording with a more straightforward, less jammy movement. Wo Fat may have grown beyond the kind of dead-ahead heavy rock that Psychedelonaut offered — to their credit, keeping a balance of hooks and jams in doing so — but they use the older material well here, and Walter‘s ride-cymbal swing comes through loud and clear on Live Juju behind the winding riff. It’s the only song here under seven minutes long, but lives up to its multifaceted purpose, bleeding directly into “Sleep of the Black Lotus” with a cymbal wash and guitar freakout, Stump seizing an opportunity to tear into an improv-sounding take on the finale’s intro in front of the festival crowd. They telegraph the groove from the start, if only to bring that audience along, and it’s easy to imagine the sea of nodding heads that stood before them, maybe a puff of smoke here or there as the midsection evolves into a churning jam from the earlier verses and choruses, a model that came to light earlierand which The Black Code andThe Conjuring continued to grow. Feedback and earned applause ends and the arm returns, but for those listening digitally, the instrumental “Dark Snow” further affirms Wo Fat‘s improvisational sensibilities, building from a creepy backwards-cymbal fade-in to a solo-topped roll that shares in common with its live compatriots on Live Juju just how in their element Wo Fat seem to be. That’s really the story of Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley. It’s an act who have cut their teeth and organically developed their sound across five records getting on stage and sharing the fruits of their labor. The short version? They deliver, and prove that sometimes when a band doesn’t tour all the time, nine months out of the year on the road and so on, that only makes it more special when they do. This must have been something to see.
Across five records and nine fuzz-laden years, Dallas trio Wo Fat have become an institution in Texas heavy rock. Their latest album and second for Small Stone, The Conjuring (review here), is in many ways their strongest release to date, benefiting from the naturally-developed chemistry between guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter, as well as from the self-sufficiency of the band recording at their own studio, Crystal Clear Sound, in Dallas. While their reputation has built steadily since the release of their 2006 debut, The Gathering Dark, and its ’08 follow-up, Psychedelonaut (review here), 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here), on Nasoni, proved a particular breakthrough point, leading to the band’s signing to Small Stone for the next year’s The Black Code (review here), for which they toured in Europe for the first time, making their continental debut at the 2013 Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, the Netherlands (review here) and setting the stage for the triumph to come with The Conjuring and a return trip across the Atlantic, this one marked out by an appearance at last year’s Freak Valley in Germany.
Wo Fat‘s latest release is a document of their set there: Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley will hit the public on March 17. Later this year, the band will also take part in Magnetic Eye Records‘ tribute to Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland [Redux], covering “Gypsy Eyes.”
The Obelisk Questionnaire: Kent Stump
How did you come to do what you do?
Well, what I do is play music and I record music, which is how I make my living – recording music, that is. Music has always been a huge part of my life. Both of my parents are musicians, so it was something that was just ubiquitous and inescapable in our house when I was growing up. Never once in my life did I consider doing anything with my life other than becoming a musician and doing something relating to music, although the place I’m at now is not where I would have thought I would be when I was a teenager, or even when I was in college. My journey to the heavy and the riff is a bit of a circuitous one.
I went to college to study jazz and fully planned on getting out of college and going on to be a jazz musician. While at college, I got turned on to a much wider world of music by so many great people with widely varying tastes. I discovered punk rock and ‘70s funk and African music and all the great ‘70s rock and the ‘80s NY noise scene, and on and on. And most importantly, I really discovered the blues. I had always known a bit about the blues since I was heavily into jazz, but I became much more hip to a lot of blues musicians that I hadn’t previously checked out, and that eventually led me to realize that my whole life I’ve been drawn to music that comes from the blues – rock, funk, etc. That, along with a friend I had that was into all things heavy who got me listening to Sabbath as well as a lot of ‘80s hardcore and metal, led to my desire to make heavy blues music.
When I was in college in Denton, Texas, the music scene at that time was absolutely electric, and the vibe was very open and experimental. Punk rock and funk and metal with a jazz edge were all kind of mixing together and it was a really artistically open-minded vibe at the time, which I think shaped my thinking about music a lot. So eventually in the late ‘90s I discovered bands like Sleep, Fu Manchu, Nebula, Kyuss and all the Man’s Ruin bands and I came to the realization that this is the music, along with the blues, that speaks to me on the most primal level and this is what I want to play.
Describe your first musical memory.
My first musical memory is laying on our living room floor when I was very young, maybe four or five years old, and my dad putting on a record of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. It’s an amazing piece of music and it definitely left an impression on me. I think, if I’m not mistaken, when that piece was premiered in Paris it caused a riot. Stravinsky is pretty hardcore.
Describe your best musical memory to date.
I don’t know if I have just one best musical memory. I’ve got a lot of things that were landmark musical moments in my life though. Getting to play at Roadburn is without a doubt one of the best musical memories for me. Roadburn is such an iconic thing and it was the first show that we played on our first European tour, which was also the first time I had ever been to Europe and it was just kind of a surreal, epiphenal and mindblowing experience. It was amazing to walk into the scene there and see a whole bunch of people that are hardcore fans of the same music I dig. I had never seen that, at least not on that level, before.
You don’t see that kind of thing when it comes to this kind of music in the US. And to be performing at this amazing festival was just awesome, and also a bit nerve-racking at the same time. I remember going to see High on Fire’s set after we played and it was packed and the crowd was just electric and High on Fire sounded better than I’ve ever heard them before. I think they were just vibing on the amazing vibe of the fans. Same with Elder’s set, who I got to see a little later that night. The vibe from the crowd was so intense and Elder kicked ass riding that wave, I think. Amazing day.
I have memories of a lot of transcendental shows that I would put in the great musical memory category. Getting to see Sleep a couple years ago was bad ass. Sometime around 1997 or 1998 I went to SXSW in Austin, before SXSW totally turned into utter crap, and I got to see Fatso Jetson just destroy as well as an amazing showcase that had Fu Manchu and Queens of the Stone Age right before they hit big. There was a whole Man’s Ruin showcase that was killer.
When I was in college I got to see free jazz great Cecil Taylor. That was an absolutely kick ass show. He was just pounding the piano and pieces of the pads inside the piano were flying out as he was playing. And there were maybe 10 people there to see this free jazz icon. So many great shows that have shaped my thinking.
I also have a lot of memories of late nights fueled with alcohol, and other things, and hanging with friends who turned me onto heavy, heavy tunes that I wasn’t previously hip to. Some of these rank up there with the great musical moments to me – sitting on the couch and tripping out to amazing, life-changing jams… These things all are part of my story as a musician and music lover that has brought me to where I am now.
When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?
That’s a tough question. I kinda feel like most my life, my beliefs and likes/interests have been juxtaposed between two opposing worlds. For example, my heavily schooled musical upbringing versus a more primal, less technical, organic approach to playing. Or, being a recording engineer like I am, most of my peers are gearheads focused on the technical aspects of engineering, which I am to a certain extent, but I am far more focused on the musicality of recording and finding ways to make a recording reach you on an emotional level, so I’m not über-obsessed with technical- and gear-related things about recording.
Also in this particular time, my political versus spiritual beliefs, that to me, are completely simpatico, are to most, seemingly at odds with one another.
Where do you feel artistic progression leads?
Ideally artistic progression leads to more artistic progression. Art and music is a neverending journey. I don’t think I’ll ever have arrived at a stopping place artistically because every move forward reveals more things to reach for and directions to consider. That’s the beauty of it. You’re never finished. You can just abandon the quest if you want, but there is always further to go.
How do you define success?
I think it’s being happy and doing what you makes you happy. Despite the fact that financially, life is a struggle for me, I feel like I’ve achieved a good amount of success in the sense that I’m playing music I love and people are digging it, we own a killer studio and my day job involves doing things that are artistic and deal with music and, on top of it all, I’ve got the most amazing wife who I’ve been married to for 18 years.
What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?
On the one hand there’s probably a lot I wish I hadn’t seen, but at the same time, all those experiences contribute to making me who I am, although there are some things that I could probably do without ever seeing that wouldn’t change me too much. One thing that I wish I hadn’t seen is this: The studio that we run is in an industrial area of Dallas and there are a lot of stray dogs that run around in packs in that area. Seeing a stray dog is something I don’t like seeing to begin with because I love dogs and I want to help them all, but we’re full up at my house with dogs. My wife and I already have five dogs so there’s no more room at the inn.
Anyway, one day I saw a little Chihuahua-mix stray being harassed by a couple of big dogs. At first I thought they were playing, but then I realized that that was not the case and I wasn’t able to get to them to break it up before the larger dogs had inflicted a mortal wound on the little guy. It just breaks my heart that I couldn’t help him and it still pains me to this day to think about it. I hate to see the helpless get brutalized by the powerful, which, sadly, happens all around us every day.
Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.
I really wish that I could draw and paint. I would love to be able to create art like Frank Frazetta or Boris Vallejo. I don’t think that will ever happen for me, though, because I don’t have any of those skills. There is, of course, much more music I’d like to create. I’m always wanting to incorporate disparate musical styles and influences together in our music, like Afro-Cuban music, blues, jazz and metal.
Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 16th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
If, say, you’ve spent the better part of the day today figuring out why there’s water coming from the kitchen ceiling and chasing down busted baseboard leaks owed to poor insulation, you might take great comfort in knowing that Planet Earth is just a little bit closer to the arrival of Electric Ladyland [Redux], the compilation revisiting some of Jimi Hendrix‘s most essential material, as well as its companion, The Best of James Marshall Hendrix. The David Paul Seymour gatefold cover — click above to enlarge it — has been unveiled and is flat-out beautiful, and the tracklisting is iron-clad both in terms of who’s involved and which songs they’re taking on. It may not dehumidify the guest room, but god damned if it won’t at least make the place sound better.
Magnetic Eye Records, whose ambition in this undertaking isn’t to be discounted in the slightest, sent an update down about some presales they were doing through Bandcamp, where previously Electric Ladyland [Redux] was only available to those who contributed to a Kickstarter, but even more than that, I’m just happy to have another chance to stare in awe at the tracklisting of the 2LP, which I think you’ll agree is a stunner.
Behold the latest:
Project Update #41: Electric Ladyland [Redux] by Magnetic Eye Records
Just a quick update for February, we have a lot of tracks that have been submitted for both Electric Ladyland [Redux] and the stretch goal bonus LP ‘The Best of James Marshall Hendrix’. What a treat this project and these records are turning out to be. We have received nearly 1/2 all the tracks for Electric Ladyland [Redux] and nearly all the tracks for the Best of record.
All I can say is I am being blown away right now by All Them Witches version of Voodoo Chile. DAMN! Happy Valentine’s Day all you heartless bastards. You probably really, really need to pre-order Electric Ladyland [Redux] for you and/or your sweetie. This double gatefold tribute of Jimi’s masterpiece includes tracks from Open Hand, Elephant Tree, Summoner, Earthless, Superchief, Mothership, GOZU, Elder, The Budos Band, Claymation, Origami Horses (filling these dudes in for the The Phuss – sorry Phuss fans, they’ve bowed off the LP), King Buffalo, Mos Generator, TUNGA MOLN, Wo Fat.
Electric Ladyland [Redux] Classic Black Double Gatefold 180g 12″ 2xLP
Side 1 1. Elephant Tree – And The Gods Made Love 2. Open Hand – Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland) 3. Superchief – Crosstown Traffic 4. All Them Witches – Voodoo Chile
Side 2 5. Origami Horses – Little Miss Strange 6. The Budos Band – Long Hot Summer Night 7. Earthless – Come On (Let The Good Times Roll) 8. Wo Fat – Gypsy Eyes 9. Mos Generator – Burning Of The Midnight Lamp
Side 3 10. Gozu – Rainy Day, Dream Away 11. Summoner – 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be) 12. Claymation – Moon, Turn The Tides… Gently, Gently Away
Side 4 13. Mothership – Still Raining, Still Dreaming 14. King Buffalo – House Burning Down 15. Tunga Moln – All Along The Watchtower 16. Elder – Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 2nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
As announced here back in December, Dallas trio Wo Fat will release their new live album, Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley, on March 17. The three-piece, who stood tall in 2014 both on that festival’s stage (and elsewhere) and with their fifth full-length, The Conjuring (review here) on Small Stone, have the vinyl up for preorder now through their Bandcamp, and have announced a host of appearances for the coming months. They’ll play with Elder and Mos Generator for a handful of shows as the two bands make their was through Texas ahead of a slot at the Borderlands Fuzz Fiesta, and in May they’ll take part in the Psycho California festival with Sleep, Pentagram and tons of others. All this ahead of a slot at the Sylak Open Air fest in France, which would seem to hint at more European plans to be announced for the summer.
They sent the following update down the PR wire:
Live Wo Fat record and upcoming spring shows
Upcoming album release and shows in the coming months with Elder, Mos Generator, Sleep, Fireball Ministry, Pentagram and more!
Exciting things are afoot in the Wo Fat world. First of all, we will be releasing Live Juju:Wo Fat at Freak Valley on vinyl on March 17th. This was recorded live at, you guessed it, Freak Valley Festival last May 30th in Germany. It will be black vinyl, which we decided to do exclusively because of the superior sonic quality, and it will include a download card that will have a bonus, previously unreleased jam called Dark Snow. Pre-ordering is open now on our bandcamp page:https://wofat.bandcamp.com/
We’ve also got some exciting gigs coming up this spring including an appearance at Psycho California, which has arguably the best lineup of bands of any festival in the USA this year. Check out the poster. Get more info here:http://www.psychoca.com/
We’ll also be playing the Borderland Fuzz Fiesta in Tucson in February with Fireball Ministry and Mos Generator, among others, as well as doing some shows on the road with Mos Generator on the way to Arizona. Get your tickets for Borderland Fuzz Fiesta here:http://therocktucson.ticketleap.com/borderland-fuzz-fiesta-2015/
And that’s not all! We’ll be playing the 3rd annual Fuzzed Out! Fest in Fort Worth.
Upcoming Shows: 2-18 The Grotto, Fort Worth, TX with Mos Generator, Mothership, Cosmic Trigger’ 2-19 The Lost Well, Austin TX with Mos Generator, Mothership and Duel 2-20 The Low Brow Palace, El Paso, TX with Mos Generator 2-21 Borderland Fuzz Fiesta, The Rock, Tucson, AZ with Fireball Ministry, Mos Generator, and more… 3-13 Silver Dollar, Texarkana, AK with Elder and Mos Generator 3-14 Double Wide, Dallas, TX with Elder, Mos Generator and Blood of the Sun 3-21 Fuzzed Out!, Lola’s, Fort Worth, TX lineup tba 4-25 Club Dada, Dallas, TX with Mothership, Switchblade Jesus and Fuzz Evil 5-17 Psycho California, The Observatory, Costa Mesa, CA headliners: Sleep, Pentagram, Cult of Luna and many more. 8-8 Sylak Open Air Festival, France
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 15th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
True to their word, it’s Jan. 15 and Psycho California 2015 has announced the headliners for what looks like the best American festival lineup I’ve seen since the days of Emissions from the Monolith. That’s not to take away from the hard work anyone else is doing, but just look at the list of bands. It’s unreal. You’d want to be everywhere at the same time to see all of it. Absolutely wild.
Sleep and Pentagram were pretty clear choices to headline. Not only for being legends in the heavy underground, but for also being just about two of the only bands left. Sweden’s Cult of Luna were something of a surprise, but for a festival already showing a European reach in bringing aboard the likes of Samsara Blues Experiment and Stoned Jesus, they make sense. Hell of a bill. Kudos to anyone who actually gets to go to the thing.
Announcement follows, courtesy of the PR wire:
PSYCHO CALIFORNIA ANNOUNCES HEADLINERS: SLEEP, PENTAGRAM AND CULT OF LUNA
WEST COAST METAL FESTIVAL HAPPENING MAY 15, 16 & 17 AT THE OBSERVATORY IN SANTA ANA
FIRST WAVE OF ARTISTS ANNOUNCED INCLUDED KYLESA, EARTH, OM AND RUSSIAN CIRCLES
Psycho California, the west coast’s first annual metal festival and a must see for fans of doom, heavy psych and sludge, has announced the headliners for this year’s event: Cult of Luna (May 15), Sleep (May 16) and Pentagram, who will perform First Daze Here in its entirety (May 17).
“2015 is going to be a slow year for Cult of Luna. However as much as we are musicians we are also fans,” said Cult of Luna’s Johannes Persson. “Evaluating if the offer to play Psycho California was worth dusting off our instruments was not hard after looking on the line-up. Being on the same bill as Pentagram, Sleep and a festival packed with the best bands around is a privilege in itself and we’ll try to live up to that honor.”
The lineup for Psycho California is: Sleep, Pentagram, Cult of Luna, Kylesa, OM, Earth, Russian Circles, Bedemon, Conan, Wrench, Eyehategod, Indian, Earthless, Pallbearer, Stoned Jesus, Old Man Gloom, Cave In, Acid Witch, Truckfighters, Tombs, Bang, Electric Citizen, Coffinworm, SubRosa, Eagle Twin, Mammatus, True Widow, Anciients, Bellwitch, Dead Meadow, Lord Dying, Death By Stereo, Radio Moscow, Ancient Altar, Samsara Blues Experiment, Atriarch, Elder, Mothership, The Well, Deathkings, Wo Fat, Rozamov, Destroyer of Light, Highlands, Bloodmoon, Slow Season, Goatsnake, Crypt Trip, Wrench, Lords of Beacon House, Tumbleweed Dealer, Sinister Haze, Blackout, Red Wizard, Banquet and Loom.
Festival interludes will be provided by Housecore Records’ artist Author & Punisher and vinyl DJ set from Bob Lugowe (Relapse Records) and Sean Pellet (Last Daze Here).
Previously announced early bird tickets sold out immediately. Tickets for the festival are on-sale this morning with both a 3-day pass ($149.50) and a 3-day VIP pass available ($256.66)
VIP packages include a 3-day festival pass, a signed screen print concert poster by David D’Andrea, express entry via artist check-in booth, access to artist VIP lounge, a limited edition Thief X Obey festival tee, a Psycho record bag and patch as well as access to a complimentary craft tequila bar, premium microbrews and artisan snacks.
Posted in Features on January 2nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was close for a long time, but in the last week or so, one record pulled ahead to stake a definitive claim on the top spot. Even so, more than the 2013 poll, this was a fun one to watch, three albums duking it out, trading back and forth in the raw votes depending on who happened to submit a list at any given time. In the end, 355 people participated in this year’s poll, which is an average of over 11 per day — there was a significant push at the end — and up from 2013, which now that it’s 2015 will no doubt soon feel like ancient history.
To that end, Happy New Year and huge, huge thanks to everyone who took the time to contribute a list to the poll. Even if it was one or two records, the simple fact that you felt it was worth your time to type out the names of bands and albums and take part in this thing is unbelievably gratifying to me. I do a lot of the talking around here, apart from comments and the forum, so to have your participation in this really means a lot to me. It’s nice knowing you give enough of a crap to take part.
You’ll find two lists below. The first, measured in points, is the weighted tally. A 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. After that comes the raw votes, a measure of what caught the most attention along the way.
After the jump, you’ll also find all the lists contributed to the poll — including my own, which seemed fair since I do a lot of reading on this site, mostly to experience shame at the typos and correct them hoping no one else noticed — presented in the order in which they were received. Thank you all again.
Top 20 of 2014 — Weighted Results
1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend (560 points)
2. Wo Fat, The Conjuring (404)
3. Electric Wizard, Time to Die (367)
4. Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden (334)
5. Conan, Blood Eagle (275)
6. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss (254)
7. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes (240)
8. Truckfighters, Universe (237)
9. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower (235)
10. Earth, Primitive and Deadly (230)
11. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid (225)
12. Blues Pills, Blues Pills (211)
13. Lo-Pan, Colossus (202)
14. Eyehategod, Eyehategod (198)
15. Monolord, Empress Rising (190)
16. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (188)
17. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia (161)
18. John Garcia, John Garcia (156)
19. Bongripper, Miserable (141)
20. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt (127)
Honorable mention to:
Goat, Commune (126)
Swans, To be Kind (117)
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars (116)
Blood Farmers, Headless Eyes (105)
Floor, Oblation (104)
Mothership, II (104)
Stubb, Elephant Tree, Thou and plenty of others also did very well in the voting, but everything else I could find was less than 100 points. Again, it was close for a while between Wo Fat, Electric Wizard and YOB — and Pallbearer wasn’t so far behind them, either — but YOB pulled it out in the end and jumped way in front of everyone else. A lot of number-one votes for Clearing the Path to Ascend, which I can understand completely, since I happened to agree with the position.
On to the raw votes:
Top 20 of 2014 — Raw Votes
1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend (138 votes)
2. Wo Fat, The Conjuring (111)
3. Electric Wizard, Time to Die (104)
4. Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden (89)
5. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss (78)
6. Conan, Blood Eagle (72)
7. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid (71)
8. Truckfighters, Universe (66)
9. Earth, Primitive and Deadly (65)
10. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes (64)
11. Blues Pills, Blues Pills (63)
12. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower (60)
13. Lo-Pan, Colossus (58)
14. Eyehategod, Eyehategod (55)
15. Monolord, Empress Rising (52)
16. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia (48)
16. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (48)
17. John Garcia, John Garcia (47)
18. Bongripper, Miserable (41)
18. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt (41)
19. Goat, Commune (37)
19. Mothership, II (37)
20. Swans, To be Kind (32)
And some honorable mentions:
Dwellers, Pagan Fruit (31)
Floor, Oblation (31)
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars (31)
Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty (30)
Thou, Heathen (30)
The Well, Samsara (30)
A couple ties here make the raw votes list a little more inclusive, and since it’s not like we’re giving out olympic medals, it didn’t seem fair to count out ties and sacrifice other numbers. The top 20 has 23 entries? Yeah, sounds about right. Again, not much mystery ultimately to who came out on top, but it was a more thrilling race than the final numbers might suggest. Cool to see some differences in placement emerge between the two lists as well, Greenleaf and Brant Bjork doing really well in the weighted results since they obviously inspire some strong support, and a couple of others working their way into the raw votes top 20. I’m not really a numbers guy, but it’s been cool putting this together.
About not being a numbers guy: All the lists that came in appear after the jump below. If you find some glaring error in my math, or something seems like it really got enough votes to be included in one or the other, it’s possible I just missed it. I hope you’ll point it out in the comments so that if there is a mistake, I can get on correcting it as soon as possible. Your vigilance is sincerely appreciated.
And thank you again so much for being a part of this readers poll. It’s been a really great experience and I look forward to doing it again come Dec. 2015.
Please find everybody’s list after the jump, and have fun browsing:
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 29th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Sharing a base of operations with the Southwest Terror Fest in Tucson, Arizona, the upcoming Borderland Fuzz Fiesta will make its initial showing in 2015 an impressive round of acts including Fireball Ministry — as seen on Motörhead‘s Motörboat above, with none other than Scott Reeder on bass — Wo Fat, Mos Generator, Powered Wig Machine and plenty of others, plus a light show from the venerable Mad Alchemy to add visual psychedelia to what’s sure to be a well-distorted evening Feb. 21 at The Rock. Not a bad way to start out, if you’re starting out.
Put together by Wayne and Joseph Rudell of Powered Wig Machine, the whole deal was announced via the PR wire as follows:
BORDERLAND FUZZ FIESTA: Tucson, Arizona’s First Annual Riff Party Reveals 2015 Lineup Including FIREBALL MINISTRY, WO FAT, MOS GENERATOR & More
The desert city of Tucson, AZ is host to a wide array of annual events in the musical realm and this coming February will see the addition of a still another: The Borderland Fuzz Fiesta. Conceived and curated by the Rudell brothers of regional desert rockers Powered Wig Machine and Fuzz Evil, the inaugural show will take place on February 21st at The Rock.
Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2015 Official Lineup:
Fireball Ministry Wo Fat Mos Generator Powered Wig Machine Goatroper Skulldron Asimov Yeti Ender Conqueror Worm Methra
When: February 21, 2015 Where: The Rock, 136 North Park Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85719
“My brother and I have always wanted to put together a stoner rock themed fest and we’re definitely excited about this first year’s lineup,” comments an enthusiastic Wayne Rudell. The bill for the event certainly serves up ample helpings of the stoner genre with its fine mix of bands from the Southwest region and beyond, including Fireball Ministry, Wo Fat, Mos Generator, Powered Wig Machine, Skulldron, Asimov, Goatroper, Yeti Ender, Conquerer Worm, Methra and the Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show.
While the lineup is definitely under the wider umbrella of the stoner rock genre, there is a great diversity of sounds among the bands, from sprinklings of the psychedelic to slabs of doom and scorching thrash riffs, or pretty much something for every pair of ears inclined towards heavy music. Mr. Rudell certainly believes so: “We really feel that fans of this music would appreciate this event and will hopefully get behind it in the time to come, we’re going to be striving to make the Borderland Fuzz Fiesta bigger and better every year.”
Tickets for Borderland Fuzz Fiesta are $15 in advance, $20 at the door, and are available nowRIGHT HERE.
Sponsored by Eminence Speakers, Lace Pickups, Hovercraft Amplifiers, Greeson Custom Guitars, Tucson Maidens of Metal, Electric Beard of Doom, Radio, Sludged.com, and Wildcat Screen Repair.
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.