The process of getting up and going to finalize and print out the first issue of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch (download it here) probably couldn’t have been much easier than it was. I credit this entirely to Lee Edwards (of The Sleeping Shaman) and the 013 staff, all of whom expose me for the sulky amateur-hour schlub I am with their sheer professionalism. I continue to be astounded at how lucky I am to work with these people.
Whilst schlubbing and prior to folding my portion of the 1,000 copies of WCD, I caught a couple seconds of Coven‘s soundcheck, and so knew that was going to be a good time later in the day — not that Roadburn 2017 Day One was light on anticipation. Today actually was my busiest day here. It started intense and ended intense, with a fair bit of back and forth between, and I feel like I’m only being honest when I say I dragged ass for a decent portion of it, despite my best efforts to hyper-caffeinate and pound vitamins, but Roadburn only comes once a year. You stick it out as much as you can.
As such, I was over to Het Patronaat early to catch the start of Wretch. I’d rode in from the airport with the Indianapolis trio just by happenstance, and I knew it would be a quick stop through just to check out part of their set ahead of hoisting myself over to the Main Stage for the start of Crippled Black Phoenix, but the doom called me to the church and it was not to be missed. Before they got going, guitarist/vocalist Karl Simon recalled on stage when The Gates of Slumber played (they had canceled in 2010 owing to that goddamn volcano, only to make the trip a couple years later in 2012), only reinforcing how linked the two bands are, but that’s not to take anything away from the presence bassist Bryce Clarke and drummer Chris Gordon bring to the rhythm section or what the new three-piece accomplished on last year’s self-titled debut (review here). Even if it’s grown out of another, it’s a new band.
They made that clear in cuts like “Icebound,” “Running out of Days,” “R.I.P.” and “Drown” from the record, and even managed to sneak in the Judas Priest cover “Winter,” as well as their take on Motörhead‘s “Sweet Revenge.” The hook of “R.I.P.” made it a personal highlight, and The Gates of Slumber‘s “The Wretch” was certainly a fit. I hear tell Wretch are recording a new single while touring the UK with Iron Void on this trip, so hopefully it’s not too long before we hear from them again. In the meantime, I rushed over to catch Crippled Black Phoenix on the Main Stage.
Call it an early headlining set from the by-now-long-ish-running UK avant rock outfit, whose blend of heavy indie, goth, melancholic rock and generally progressive undertone makes them a standout not only on this bill but also generally this planet. They’re simply like no one else. Supporting their latest album, Bronze (review here), they brought in a considerable crowd for it being so light out and managed to cast a balance between life-affirming and crushingly-depressive throughout. To wit, “No Fun” and “Scared and Alone” from Bronze were high points, the latter teased as being their last song without actually being it. They’ve become such an astoundingly different band than they were when they released their debut album, A Love of Shared Disasters, a decade ago, but have manage to lose neither their edge nor their will to push themselves forward. After being a dork for their work for so long, I felt lucky to finally see them play live.
I also knew that I was cool to stay put for the duration of Crippled Black Phoenix, because while much of Roadburn 2017 and indeed every single Roadburn involves bouncing around between stages, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa were hitting the Main Stage next, so I wasn’t going fucking anywhere. The string-laden outfit played the Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn last month and they’ll play here again tomorrow at Het Patronaat for a special “SubDued” mostly-acoustic set, but today was a front-to-back performance of 2016’s For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (review here), and as that was my pick for Album of the Year last year when it came out on Profound Lore, they were my most anticipated band of the entire festival. I didn’t cry to miss them in New York because I knew I’d see them in Tilburg.
However, I kind of did cry when they played “Troubled Cells.” At least teared up at the end when they brought out the backing chorus which, if I’m not mistaken, counted Nathan Carson of Witch Mountain among its ranks. Could be wrong, but the Magma shirt was a dead giveaway. Earlier in the set, I’d gone up after taking pictures to the side of the stage to watch from there for a couple minutes, which is something I let myself do only once per Roadburn. Like Crippled Black Phoenix before them, SubRosa carried the air of being early headliners, and at least for me, they most definitely were. If you’d told me I had to go back to the hotel, pack up my gear and get on a plane home when they were done, I’d have been bummed to leave the rest of the fest behind, but I wouldn’t be able to say I didn’t get my fest’s worth out of Roadburn 2017 after watching SubRosa. Yes, they were that unbelievable. “Black Majesty.” Holy shit. I scurried to the merch area when they were done like the beaten fool I was. Gladly.
There was something of a break for me when they were done. My next stop was Cul de Sac around the corner for Harsh Toke. I’d been fortunate enough to catch the San Diego jammers when they played Roadburn in 2014 (review here), and I’d taken due advantage of the lesson of watching them then, which was “Don’t miss Harsh Toke,” and so I didn’t want to. Apparently I wasn’t the only one, however. I’d made a quick stop at the hotel to drop off my newly-acquired SubRosa merch, my laptop, coffee thermos, Weirdo Canyon Dispatch issues and other detritus from the early part of the day, and though I got to the smaller venue with 20 minutes to spare, it was still too late to get up front and get a spot where I could see. I bought a patch for five euros, took what wound up being the last open spot at the bar — a seat, no less! — and tried to let my head get into the flow. Given their propensity for groove, it wasn’t much of a challenge to catch my breath and chill out for a few minutes at least until the why-haven’t-you-ordered-a-beer stares of the staff got the better of me. I tried and failed to snap a decent picture of the band on my phone and once more sent myself packing back over to the 013, where Wolves in the Throne Room were on the Main Stage.
Didn’t take long to remember what was so easy to appreciate about them, what with their textured blackened approach, which sounded almost orchestral in that huge space. I hadn’t been in the Green Room yet, so I poked my head in to catch a couple seconds of Esben and the Witch — was bummed to see the miniature photo pit from last year was gone; that thing had been a godsend — ahead of Coven starting on the Main Stage. I didn’t know it until about 10 minutes before they went on, but apparently one needed a special photo pass to shoot Coven‘s set. Whoops. Just about everyone else and their cousin had one, but I guess I missed that memo. I went backstage to try my luck at getting one and was told in no uncertain terms in which direction to fuck (spoiler alert: “off”), so I went out to the front of the house and waited for Jinx Dawson to emerge in her sparkly mask from the coffin that had been placed in the middle of the stage. Not a hardship, but I felt like a dope. Not like I’m shooting pictures for a magazine or anything. It’s just me on here.
Once Coven got going, they dug wholesale into the classic heavy Satanic-ritual pop rock that’s made them the generational influence that they have been, and came across like the blueprint Ghost wish they could follow. Dawson was in complete command of the crowd and the sense of dark worship and drama was palpable. The biggest crowd of the day so far? I wasn’t counting heads in the Main Stage area, but it might’ve been, just by eyeballing it. i thought maybe I’d pop back over to the Green Room to watch Suma get going, but once again my timing was off and the place was packed out before I could get through the door. Would seem to have helped nothing in terms of timing that I left my watch at home this year. Speaking of amateur hour. Woof. One day I’ll have my shit together. Clearly that was not today.
Having thusly flubbed my shot at watching Suma, I lumbered over to Extase in plenty of time to await the start of The Devil and the Almighty Blues, whose second album, II (review here), was still pretty fresh in my mind. That helped — that always helps — but the truth of the matter is that in the energy of their delivery and their instrumental chemistry on-stage, the Norwegian outfit blew the record right out of the water. I looked around from in front of the stage and saw a lot of familiar faces from Roadburns past. Different genres here tend to attract niche portions of the overall crowd, and judging from how the temperature jumped in Extase shortly after The Devil and the Almighty Blues went on, the secret’s out. They came out to “O Death” and the mesh of blues and heavy rock they unleashed seemed in direct response to that fact. They were flat-out awesome, and the kind of act that, as an American, I simply don’t get to see anywhere but here. It wasn’t the first time in the day I felt lucky and it wasn’t the last, but the chance even to catch part of their set gave me a new appreciation for what they’re doing sound-wise, and for a band I already dug, the way they brought their material to life only added to their appeal.
My plan for ending the night would require better timing than I’d had all day, but I was relatively certain I’d be able to pull it off if I played my cards right. It meant skipping out earlier than I wanted to on The Devil and the Almighty Blues, but the basic fact of the matter is that particularly as someone who lives in New England, I’m way, way overdue for catching the reformed Scissorfight live on stage. In the back of my head, I’ve been able to justify not going to their local gigs in Massachusetts or their native New Hampshire by saying, “It’s okay; I’ll catch them at Roadburn,” so there was no way I was going to let myself not do that. Plus, it’s fucking Scissorfight. The band wrote “Granite State Destroyer.” “Blizzard Buzzards Bastards.” “New Hampshire’s Alright if You Like Fighting.” Not exactly like one needs to make excuses to show up.
To get to the bottom line of it, my ultimate opinion of the four-piece live was pretty much the same as of their 2016 Salt of the Earth Records EP, Chaos County (review here), which is that if you miss this band, you’re only denying yourself an outlet of pure, crushingly heavy joy. I’m not saying that as someone who never saw Scissorfight in their original incarnation. In fact, I caught them multiple times with their original lineup, and whether they’re playing old material or new, Scissorfight in 2017 is no less a beast than they ever were. Guitarist Jay Fortin — of whom I remain embarrassed to take pictures, knowing him as an amazingly talented photographer — still has one of the finest tones in New England. Frontman Doug Aubin is absolutely insane on stage as well as off, as he showed by jumping into the crowd several times and starting a rare Roadburn mosh. Paul Jarvis‘ bass is still the source of heft behind their maddening impact, and newcomer drummer Rick Orcutt fits into those grooves with an ease and swing that makes the songs his own even as he does justice to their original incarnations. Shit was so right on. New songs or old, Scissorfight were a steamroller of riffs and growls that flattened the Green Room, and though the lesson that those who whine about this or that person not being in the band anymore are missing out was one I already knew, such fervent reinforcement of same was a pleasure to behold.
Scissorfight are touring with Backwoods Payback, and the latter Pennsylvania-based trio would be my final stop of the night, over in Extase once again. I got there early enough to get a spot up front and watched as Jeff and Kyle from Atala — labelmates all on Salt of the Earth — bonded over mutual desert connections, and kind of parked myself and made ready to round out the night, taking the last of my notes on Scissorfight — they read like, “Duh, they’re killer” — and asking and being shot done to take a photo with Jamie Cavanagh from Anathema, who was working sound at the venue. I’d already told him earlier that I thought their new record is great, which I do, so whatever. There you go. My nerd-out moment for Roadburn 2017 Day One.
Guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings, bassist Jessica Baker and drummer Erik Larson compriseBackwoods Payback at this point, and goodness gracious, what a band. What a band. Late last year, they snuck out the full-length Fire Not Reason (review here), but they were a different level of righteous on stage, and the balance of fury and melody in what they do remains underrated in US heavy rock. I get that they haven’t been the most active group in the States over the last, say, five years, but especially with Larson on drums, they were every bit as tight as that thrash band I saw last night at the Hard Rock Hideout and had a depth of character to offer in their songwriting that most acts just can’t compete with. Heavy, but emotionally resonant, punkish in their execution but with a touch of metallic aggression as well, they not only write a solid hook like that of “You Don’t Move,” but they give that hook a purpose and an underlying sense of humanity. I’ve missed seeing them play live, and though the last time I caught them — I don’t even know what year it was — was a while back and with a different lineup, what’s always worked at their core was exactly what made me so happy I was able to finish the first night of Roadburn 2017 by watching them play. Once again, the Extase was full. That little club has been a fantastic addition to this festival, and it’s where I plan to start my afternoon tomorrow, as it happens.
Plenty to do before then, however. Including sleep, which as we press on past 3AM local time seems like an increasingly good idea.
Indianapolis doomers Wretch head overseas next month, and after taking part in Roadburn 2017 in the Netherlands, they’ll hook up with UK outfit Iron Void for a run through England and Scotland that begins at the warm-up gig for Desertfest London 2017 at the righteous digs of The Black Heart in Camden Town. From there, the two acts will make their way north toward and past Iron Void‘s hometown in Wakefield, and round out in Newcastle on May 2.
Wretch go, of course, supporting their 2016 self-titled LP (review here), which was among the year’s finest debuts, to be sure. Iron Void, meanwhile, released their second album, Doomsday, in 2015 on Doomanoid Records, and you can hear it, as well as a new Motörhead cover by Wretch from a Bad Omen Records label compilation, at the bottom of this post.
Do I even need to tell you to doom on? Nah, you already know:
Wretch / Iron Void UK tour
Lest we forget, doom metal stands for much more than merely a collection of Sabbathian riffs, funereal tempos and enormous amp-stacks. It’s a form of music that issues forth from the heart, the soul, and the gut. It can be an alchemical force that functions as a process of catharsis in times of need. What’s more, few know more about the power of this music than Karl Simon, formerly of the titanic and much-respected The Gates Of Slumber, and now of WRETCH, whose debut carries on valiantly with the mission he began some eighteen years ago.
The making of this self-titled album marked both a renaissance and a crucial tonic for Simon himself – in the wake of the death of his close friend and The Gates Of Slumber bandmate Jason McCash, he was forced to make sense of a profound loss, and the making of this debut formed a crucial part of this process.
The new power-trio he formed with drummer Chris Gordon and bassist Bryce Clarke rose above their circumstances to issue forth a fearsome salvo of cast-iron riffage and heartfelt traditional metal heraldry, shot through with a steely conviction instilled by the experiences of recent days. “It is a new beginning, but I am what I am. I don’t set out to write a style of music.” notes Simon, “This is what happens when I pick up a guitar.”
IRON VOID was originally formed by Sealey way back in November 1998 in order to create an old-school Doom Metal band. The band reformed in 2007 and released their Debut EP, entitled ‘Spell of Ruin’, in 2010. Their self-titled debut album was released on CD in 2014 on the Barbarian Wrath label. Their second album ‘Doomsday’ is out now on Doomanoid Records.
Wretch & Iron Void UK Tour – April / May 2017 Thursday 27th April – The Black Heart, London (Desertfest Warm Up) Friday 28th April – The Gryphon, Bristol Saturday 29th April – The Lughole, Sheffield Sunday 30th April – The Snooty Fox Club, Wakefield w/ Earthen Ritual Monday 1st May – Bannerman’s Bar, Edinburgh w/ Skeleton Gong & Psychotic Depression Tuesday 2nd May – Trillians Rock Bar, Newcastle
Official tour poster designed by Pol Abran of Branca Studio.
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.
Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.
The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.
This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.
Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.
I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:
Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.
Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.
There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.
A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.
Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.
Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.
There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.
Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.
Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.
Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.
For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.
I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, Neurosis‘ Fires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.
Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.
Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.
I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.
Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.
Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.
Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.
Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.
One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.
If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.
In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.
After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.
Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.
7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know
Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.
German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.
A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.
Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Che, Vista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.
What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.
Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.
2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)
It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.
Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.
The Next 20
Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:
31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll
From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.
Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:
Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment
And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:
Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.
In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.
If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.
And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.
Posted in Features on December 15th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
Of all the lists I do to wrap up or start any given year, this is the hardest. As someone obviously more concerned with first impressions than I am and thus probably better-dressed once said, you only get one chance at them. For bands, that can be a vicious bite in the ass on multiple levels.
To wit, you put out a great debut, fine, but there’s a whole segment of your listeners who’re bound to think you’ll never live up to it again. You put out a meh debut, you sell yourself short. Or maybe your debut is awesome but doesn’t really represent where you want to be as a band, so it’s a really good first impression, but a mistaken one. There are so many things that can go wrong or go right with any LP, but with debuts, the stakes are that much higher because it’s the only time you’ll get the chance to engage your audience for the first time. That matters.
And when it comes to putting together a list of the best debuts of the year, how does one begin to judge? True, some of these acts have done EPs and singles and splits and things like that before, and that’s at least something to go on, but can one really be expected to measure an act’s potential based on a single collection of songs? Is that fair to anyone involved? Or on the other side, is it even possible to take a debut entirely on its own merits, without any consideration for where it might lead the band in question going forward? I know that’s not something I’ve ever been able to do, certainly. Or particularly interested in doing. I like context.
Still, one presses on. I guess the point is that, like picking any kind of prospects, some will pan out and some won’t. I’ve done this for enough years now that I’ve seen groups flame or fade out while others have risen to new heights with each subsequent release. It’s always a mix. But at the same time, it’s important to step back and say that, as of today, this is where it’s at.
And so it is:
The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016
1. King Buffalo, Orion
2. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree
3. Heavy Temple, Chassit
4. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
5. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
6. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
7. Wretch, Wretch
8. Year of the Cobra, In the Shadows Below
9. BigPig, Grande Puerco
10. Fuzz Evil, Fuzz Evil
11. Bright Curse, Before the Shore
12. Conclave, Sins of the Elders
13. Pale Grey Lore, Pale Grey Lore
14. High Fighter, Scars and Crosses
15. Spirit Adrift, Chained to Oblivion
16. Bellringer, Jettison
17. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Is Satan Real?
18. Merchant, Suzerain
19. Beastmaker, Lusus Naturae
20. King Dead, Woe and Judgment
There are many. First, the self-titled from Pooty Owldom, which had so much weirdo charm it made my head want to explode. And Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun‘s acoustic solo record was technically a debut. And Atala‘s record. And Horehound. And Mother Mooch. And Domkraft. And Spaceslug. And Graves at Sea? Shit. More than a decade after their demo, they finally put out a debut album. And Second Grave‘s full-length would turn out to be their swansong, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the thing. There were a lot of records to consider in putting this list together. As always, it could’ve been a much longer list.
For example, here are 20 more: Swan Valley Heights, Arctic, Blues Funeral, Teacher, Psychedelic Witchcraft, Nonsun, Duel, Banquet, Floodlore, Mindkult‘s EP, Mountain Dust, Red Lama, Red Wizard, Limestone Whale, Dunbarrow, Comacozer, Sinister Haze, Pants Exploder, Akasava, Katla and No Man’s Valley. That’s not even the end of it. I could go on.
It was a fight to the finish. There’s always one, and as late as yesterday I could be found kicking back and forth between King Buffalo and Elephant Tree in the top spot. What was it that finally put King Buffalo‘s Orion over Elephant Tree‘s self-titled? I don’t know. Ask me tomorrow and the answer might be completely different.
They had a lot in common. Not necessarily in terms of style — King Buffalo basked in spacious Americana-infused heavy psych jams while Elephant Tree proffered more earthbound riffing and melodies — but each executed memorable songs across its span in a way that would be unfair to ask of a debut. The potential for what both bands can turn into down the line played a part in the picks, but something else they share between them is that the quality of the work they’re doing now warrants the top spots. Orion and Elephant Tree were great albums, not just great first albums.
From there, we see a wide swath of next-generation encouragement for the future of heavy rock, whether it’s coming from Sweden’s Vokonis or Philadelphia’s Heavy Temple, or London’s Bright Curse, or Los Angeles duo BigPig. The latter act’s punkish fuzz definitely benefited from guitarist/vocalist Dino von Lalli‘s experience playing in Fatso Jetson, but one hopes that as the years go on his own multifaceted songwriting style will continue to grow as well.
A few offerings weren’t necessarily unexpected but still lived up to the anticipation. High Fighter‘s EP prefaced their aggro sludgecore well. Ditto that for the grueling death-sludge of Massachusetts natives Conclave. The aforementioned Bright Curse, Merchant, Fuzz Evil, Atala, Bellringer, Holy Grove, Wretch and Worshipper all had offerings of one sort or another prior to their full-length debuts — in the case of Bellringer, it was just a series of videos, while Wretch had the entire The Gates of Slumber catalog to fall back on — but each of those albums offered surprises nonetheless.
It would’ve been hard not to be taken by the songwriting on display from the likes of Holy Grove, Year of the Cobra, Pale Grey Lore and Beastmaker, who between them covered a pretty broad variety of atmosphere but found ways to deliver high-quality crafted material in that. Those albums were a pleasure to hear. Put Boston’s Worshipper in that category as well, though they were just as much a standout from the pack in terms of their performance as what they were performing. Speaking of performance, the lush melodies from Church of the Cosmic Skull and classic progressive flourish were enough to make me a believer. Simply gorgeous. And one-man outfit Spirit Adrift shined, if in that matte-black doom kind of way, on an encouraging collection of modern melancholic heavy that seemed to hint at sprawl to come.
As we get down to the bottom of the list we find Pennsylvania ambient heavy post-rockers King Dead. Their Woe and Judgment was released digitally last year (2015) but the LP came out earlier this year, so I wasn’t quite sure where to place them ultimately. I know they got some mention on the 2015 lists somewhere, but while they’re an act who’ve flown under a lot of people’s radar as yet, I have good feelings about how they might continue to dig into their sound and the balance of bleakness and psychedelic color they bring to their material. They’re slated for a follow-up in 2017, so this won’t be the last list on which they appear in the next few weeks.
Like I said at the outset, putting out a debut album is a special moment for any band. Not everyone gets to that point and not everyone gets beyond it, so while a list like this is inherently bound to have some element of speculation, it’s still a worthy endeavor to celebrate the accomplishments of those who hit that crucial moment in their creative development. Hopefully these acts continue to grow, flourish, and build on what they’ve thus far been able to realize sonically. That’s the ideal.
And before I go, once again, let me reinforce the notion that I recognize this is just a fraction of the whole. I’d like it to be the start of a conversation. If there was a debut album that kicked your ass this year and you don’t see it here, please drop a note in the comments below. I’m sure I’ll be adding more honorable mentions and whatnot over the next couple days, so if you see glaring omissions, let’s have ’em.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 14th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
So I guess we’re pretty much ready to roll on Maryland Doom Fest 2017, right? We’ve had the lineup announced, we’ve got the schedule now. Might be another couple weeks getting t-shirts together — and hoodies; should’ve gotten a hoodie this year, which admittedly is something that occurs to one way less at the end of June than in mid-November — but then I’d say we’re about good to go. No need to wait until next summer on it. Let’s do this thing.
Maybe that’s just me being excited at the prospect of that Friday night lineup, which seems particularly strong front to back — not to take away from any of the other days, but you know I dig me some Lo-Pan — but either way, if Maryland Doom Fest‘s now-three-year tenure has been marked by anything it’s a lack of bullshit. A fervent get-down-to-business-and-kick-as-doing-it mentality. It’s perhaps the most “Maryland doom” aspect to the whole event. Maryland Doom Fest 2017 is clearly no different. Here we are more than half a year from the event kicking off and I know what time I need to be there on Thursday to watch Spillage start the pre-party. This is information I’m glad to have.
If your calendar isn’t marked yet, you might want to get on that:
The Maryland Doom Fest 2017
June 23, 2017 – June 25, 2017
611 N Market St, Frederick, Maryland 21701
SATURDAY JUNE 24 • The Skull 1245 – 150 • Bang! 1140 – 1235 • Wo Fat 1050 – 1130 • The Well 1000 – 1040 • The Watchers 910 – 950 • Hollow Leg 825 – 900 • Iron Man 740 – 815 • Dark Music Theory 655 – 730 • War Injun 610 – 645 • Thonian Horde 525 – 600 • Witches of God 440 – 515 • Black Tar Prophet 355 – 430 • Conclave 305 – 345
SUNDAY JUNE 25 • Headliner 1140 – 1245 • The Atomic Bitchwax 1045 -1130 • Serpents of Secrecy 955 – 1035 • Lightning Born 905 – 945 • Lifetime Shitlist 815 – 855 • Akris 730 – 805 • Burn Thee Insects 645 – 720 • Faith In Jane 600 – 635 • Cavern 515 – 550 • Old Blood 430 – 505 • Horehound 345 – 420
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Having had the pleasure twice now, I can only recommend checking out Wretch live for anyone who hasn’t and might find themselves in a position to do so. The post-The Gates of Slumber project of guitarist/vocalist Karl Simon released their self-titled debut (review here) back in August through Bad Omen Records, and as you can hear on the full stream below, it captures the classic downtrodden vibes of Simon‘s prior work at its best while expanding on it in new directions, up to and including flourish of psychedelic jams. That’s right, I said it. Psych doom. Check it out and tell me if I’m wrong.
But I’m not. Also noteworthy that Wretch were included in the last round of additions to Roadburn 2017. Info and show dates follow, courtesy of the PR wire:
WRETCH (ex-The Gates of Slumber) Announces U.S. Tour Dates
True Doom Metal Trio to Hit the Road In Support of Celebrated Debut LP
Indianapolis-based doom metal trio, WRETCH, has announced U.S. tour dates in support of its self-titled debut album. The trek will launch on November 8 in Indianapolis, when the band shares the stage with Nik Turner’s Hawkwind. The WRETCH tour will run through November 22 in Chicago, hitting Detroit, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and more, along the way. Released on August 26 via Bad Omen Records, Wretch has met to staunch acclaim.
eaturing vocalist / guitarist Karl Simon, formerly of critically-acclaimed underground legends The Gates of Slumber, alongside drummer Chris Gordon and bassist Bryce Clarke, WRETCH rises from the ashes of the musician’s past project, which ended tragically with the passing of Gates’ bassist Jason McCash in 2014. With WRETCH, Simon carries on valiantly with the musical mission he began some eighteen years ago. In Wretch, the trio has laid down a fearsome salvo of cast-iron riffage and heartfelt traditional metal heraldry, shot through with a steely conviction instilled by the experiences of recent days.
Additionally, WRETCH has been confirmed as one of the featured acts at the 2017 Roadburn Festival, set for April 20-23 in Tilburg, The Netherlands. The band will perform on Thursday, April 20. Read the festival’s official announcement at this location.
WRETCH tour dates: (additional dates TBA) November 8 Indianapolis, IN 5th Quarter Lounge (w/ Nik Turner’s Hawkwind) November 11 Detroit, MI Small’s November 13 Philadelphia, PA Kung Fu Necktie November 14 Pittsburgh, PA Cattivo (w/ Bongzilla and Wizard Rifle) November 16 Brooklyn, NY Saint Vitus Bar November 19 Baltimore, MD Metro Gallery November 22 Chicago, IL Live Wire
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 18th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Great googly-moogly, Roadburn. If Roadburn 2017 didn’t already have your attention when it announced Coven as part of its first revelations for next year’s lineup — and it should have, make no mistake — then this should do the trick. The list is, frankly, overwhelming, and it speaks both to how immense the scale of Roadburn has become and how much the event continues to strive to push the boundaries of what it does. The first acts for the day curated by Baroness‘ John Dyer Baizley? Magma and Chelsea Wolfe. SubRosa playing two sets, one of which is comprised of this year’s magnificent For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (review here) in full, the other a stripped-down, at least semi-acoustic version of the band. Leif Edling of Candlemass debuting his new project The Doomsday Kingdom. Slomatics, Dylan Carlson of Earth, Wretch, Inter Arma, Crippled Black Phoenix (hope they’re on the Main Stage; fingers crossed), Woe, Ahab, so many more it’s astounding.
If Roadburn 2017 was like, “Okay, that’s it. We’re done.,” could you really argue with what’s been put together already? The terrifying thing is they’re still just getting started.
Fresh off the PR wire:
New names added to Roadburn Festival 2017 ahead of ticket onsale
• MYSTICUM to bring their incredible stage show to Roadburn 2017 • CHELSEA WOLFE and MAGMA are the first names confirmed for John Dyer Baizley’s curation • THE BUG VS DYLAN CARLSON OF EARTH confirmed for a special Roadburn show • DEAFHEAVEN finally make their Roadburn debut at the 2017 edition • SUBROSA to play two exclusive sets • …and more.
ROADBURN FESTIVAL is pleased to add new names to the bill for Roadburn 2017. The 22nd edition of Roadburn Festival will take place April 20-23, 2017 at the 013 Venue, Tilburg, The Netherlands.
MYSTICUM have been confirmed to play the main stage at Roadburn 2017, bringing their distinctive brand of black metal to Tilburg. Back in 1996, MYSTICUM wrote the rulebook, for what industrial black metal should be with their debut album, In The Streams of Inferno – and then swiftly torched it. Renowned for their incredible stage show, MYSTICUM have some clear intentions for Roadburn 2017: “We shall invade your minds and tear your souls apart.”
MYSTICUM will play the 013 venue on Saturday, April 22.
John Dyer Baizley has confirmed the first two names for his curated event: CHELSEA WOLFE and MAGMA.
Describing himself as “a loyal devotee of her songwriting, performance and recorded output”, John echoed many Roadburn attendees in calling for the return of CHELSEA WOLFE to the Roadburn stage. Having performed at the festival in 2012, and again this year as part of Converge’s Blood Moon Set, we’re thrilled to have CHELSEA WOLFE back in Tilburg.
Unequivocally one of the most talked about moments in the history of Roadburn was MAGMA’s overwhelming performance at the 2014 festival. These seminal progressive rock pioneers went down a storm, and to this day, we still hear so many attendees talking about MAGMA’s set, and craving their return for Roadburn.
Both acts will perform on Friday, April 21 at the 013 venue, as part of John Dyer Baizley’s curation.
Although they come from disparate sonic universes, THE BUG (electronic music wizard Kevin Martin) and DYLAN CARLSON (mastermind of the massively influential EARTH, who have graced Roadburn with their presence in 2009 and 2011) are nevertheless two of the more revered names in experimental music as a whole. Their paths crossed in 2014, when they surprisingly teamed up on a Record Store Day exclusive release. Americana meets industrial, minimalism meets pulsating dance beats, metal meets electronics… who knows what can happen when THE BUG meets DYLAN CARLSON OF EARTH? One thing is for sure, the walls will shake.
THE BUG VS DYLAN CARLSON OF EARTH will perform at the 013 venue on Saturday, April 22.
DEAFHEAVEN’s appearance at Roadburn has been a long time coming. As divisive as they are inclusive, DEAFHEAVEN have thrown the field wide open with regards to what it means to be a metal band. They have managed to bring extreme metal fans to the same room as shoegaze and post-rock/metal fans; their music doesn’t simply tick all those genre boxes, it plays join the dots with them – just as we like to do at Roadburn Festival.
DEAFHEAVEN will play at the 013 venue on Thursday, April 20.
SUBROSA’s For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages has been out less than two months, but at Roadburn HQ it not only hovers near the top of our album of the year lists, it is marked as a future classic. We are delighted to have the Salt Lake City five-piece perform the album in full at Roadburn 2017. Not only that, they will perform SubRosa – Subdued; a not-quite-acoustic set with all the passion at a fraction of the volume of a regular SUBROSA set.
SUBROSA will perform For This We Fought The Battle of Ages at the 013 venue on Thursday, April 20, and Subrosa – Subdued on Friday, April 21.
• CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX will fuse progressive rock, post-rock and righteous, guitar-driven heaviness. Prior to their Roadburn appearance, Crippled Black Phoenix will play Doornroosje, Nijmegen (NL) on December 10. • DÄLEK will bring a different kind of heaviness to the Roadburn stage, and comment “Some people might wonder why a hip-hop act was added to the bill… we intend to show them why.” • AHAB will play The Call of the Wretched Sea in full • ZHRINE bring a slice of Icelandic darkness to Roadburn • AUÐN join their Icelandic brothers, delivering windswept, atmospheric black metal • ALUK TODOLO will perform latest album Voix in full • ZU bring their frenzied experimentation to Roadburn 2017 again • INTER ARMA will make a triumphant return to Roadburn, and no doubt deliver yet another stunning performance • Leif Edling’s THE DOOMSDAY KINGDOM will make their live debut at Roadburn 2017 • Karl Simon brings his post-Gates of Slumber band WRETCH to Roadburn for their European debut • Thick tones, soaring melodies, and bone-crunching rhythms will be the order of the day for SLOMATICS • WOE bring their passionate and potent American black metal to Tilburg • ULTHA will be making a bid for the heaviest set of the day when they perform • EMPTINESS will blend black metal and power electronics
Tickets for Roadburn 2017 will go on sale from Thursday, 20 October 2016. They will be available to purchase in person from the 013 venue, Tilburg, The Netherlands from 6.30pm local time – and ticket buyers are invited to the pre-sale party at the venue featuring Ortega and Gomer Pyle. Tickets will go on general sale at 9pm (NL and mainland Europe)/ 8pm (UK)/ 3pm (East Coast USA)/ 12 noon (West Coast USA). Tickets can be purchased fromthis link.
For more information on the pre-sale party, clickHERE.
[Click play above to stream ‘Icebound’ from Wretch’s self-titled debut, out Aug. 26 on Bad Omen.]
Doom has anxiously and rightfully awaited the return of Karl Simon to the fold. Formerly the guitarist/vocalist for The Gates of Slumber, Simon formed Wretch shortly before the untimely passing of Gates bassist Jason McCash in 2014, that band having called it quits some months earlier after the release of a final EP, Stormcrow (review here). The Indianapolis outfit make their self-titled debut on Bad Omen Records with seven tracks that in some ways stand very much in line with what Simon brought to The Gates of Slumber and in other ways are a marked departure. Bassist Bryce Clarke and drummer Chris Gordon both make a striking impression as the rhythm section, particularly in the Judas Priest cover “Winter” and the tempo-shifting “Icebound,” which follows, but a lot of Wretch‘s Wretch is Simon directly confronting the death of a close friend, and even in stylized moments like the churning, mostly-psychedelic instrumental solo showcase “Bloodfinger,” that sincerity and intensity of feeling are palpable.
The Gates of Slumber told stories about conquerors and monsters — Wretch seem more grounded in the actual pains of living on. Of course, anyone who has heard Simon‘s prior work will recognize crucial elements like the early NWOBHM darkness and, in closer “Drown” particularly, the influence of Saint Vitus‘ Dave Chandler‘s style of lurch-riffing. What Simon has managed to do throughout his career — and most especially on the final The Gates of Slumber album, 2011’s The Wretch (review here), from which this band takes their moniker — is bring something fresh to that influence and to that of Scott “Wino” Weinrich, preaching a true doom ethic that has both won over and created converts for more than the last decade.
Wretch‘s Wretch is hard to separate from this context, but it’s important to note that the album does have a personality of its own that’s separate from what The Gates of Slumber might’ve done even on a follow-up to their last offering. A seven-track run provides a dense but manageable and varied 33-minute listen, and between the gallop of opener “Running out of Days” and the hook of the subsequent “Rest in Peace” — not a Trouble cover, but no doubt nodding in that direction — on which Simon delivers the lines “Set me free/Let me rest in peace” in such a manner as to make one wonder who the speaker in the song is, himself or McCash, the new band is quick to establish itself as something separate. That one-two punch — the leadoff track crashing directly into the second — gives Wretch an immediately distinct feel, and it’s one that feeds into even the later crawl of “Drown” or “Icebound” or even the minimal guitar interlude “Grey Cast Mourning” that separates them.
A general downward trajectory in tempo for the linear front-to-back listen, Wretch split the album neatly into two sides, and though the whole thing is downtrodden, it’s clearly side B where that comes through most in the material, though even the Wino-style solo layering of “Bloodfinger,” which is as close to classic psychedelia as anything I’ve ever heard Simon play, and probably closer — Gordon does an excellent job holding down a central groove to give the guitar space to flesh out — there’s an underlying melancholy. “Winter,” which originally appeared on Judas Priest‘s 1974 debut, Rocka Rolla as “Winter/Deep Freeze,” plays that up as well even as it basks in “War Pigs”-esque bounce and an element of swirl that feeds off what “Bloodfinger” accomplishes before it in expanding the overall scope of the record.
As “Winter” fits thematically with “Bloodfinger”‘s instrumental feel, so too does “Icebound” pick up smoothly in lyrical theme from “Winter.” The eight-minute cut is the longest on Wretch and while its main riff brings to mind The Obsessed and is trad doom of the highest order, the three-piece find room as well to sneak a bit of boogie into the midsection, which is unexpected and satisfying in kind, particularly following a wah-soaked solo from Simon. They return to that main riff without ceremony and ride it through a verse and shift into a long minute-plus fadeout that ends the song and brings on “Grey Cast Mourning,” a 2:34 piece for standalone guitar that reinforces the emotional crux of the album in its atmosphere of grief and melancholy. It’s an interlude, but both for how it splits “Icebound” and “Drown,” and for what it brings in mood, is more than justified in its presence. Its peaceful meditation makes the “I Bleed Black”-ish riff of “Drown” feel that much more weighted as it introduces the album’s closer.
A massive, rolling nod ensues, Simon‘s vocals buried under his and Clarke‘s tones and coated in effects, and it becomes clear quickly that Wretch are hitting bottom as regards the atmosphere of the record. I’m not sure if there could’ve been a more appropriate finish for the self-titled than “Drown,” which not only contrasts the relatively upbeat — at least in pace — beginning of the album, but emphasizes the spiral that led them to that point while mirroring that downward movement in the lyrics with masterful cohesion. The end comes with a final crash from Gordon and a short ring-out, leaving the listener with the feeling that there’s more to say. This too is no doubt purposeful on the band’s part, and it ultimately makes their debut all the more resonant, as if to ask what good it would do to keep going, emotionally or practically. In taking these issues head-on, Wretch‘s Wretch would be grueling were it not for the work the early portion does in building forward momentum, but as it stands, the balance positions the album among 2016’s best in doom. It is brutally honest, conceptually and aurally weighted, and, one hopes, cathartic.