Friday Full-Length: Alice in Chains, Alice in Chains

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Alice in Chains, Alice in Chains (1995)

I’m sure one exists, but I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of a darker pop album than Alice in Chains‘ 1995 self-titled LP, and I just can’t come up with anything. Sure, most of its singles — opener “Grind,” the later “Again” with its inconsistent but catchy “boop-boop” hook, and even the acoustic-led “Heaven Beside You” — were rockers, but is 1992’s genre-defining classic Dirt was an exploration of the pain and longing of addiction, then surely the 64-minute, 12-song Alice in Chains captured something of its depths. Of course, it would be the band’s final album with frontman Layne Staley before the singer’s recession into heroin use and his eventual death in 2002 at the age of 34. That context, and the fact that until guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell, bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney released Black Gives Way to Blue in 2009 with then-new frontman William DuVall, it was their last record, period, unquestionably informs the listening experience, and songs like “Brush Away,” “Sludge Factory,” “Head Creeps,” “God Am,” “Nothin’ Song” and “Frogs” are that much darker for it, with the finale “Over Now” originally written by Cantrell about his girlfriend at the time, but seeming to mourn the band itself in the lines, “You know it’s been on my mind/could I stand right there/Look myself in the eye and say that it’s over now?/We pay our debt sometime.” One way or the other, there seemed to be an acknowledgement there that something was drawing to a close.

And so it was. Alice in Chains followed the 1994 EP Jar of Flies, which like the band’s preceding short release, 1992’s Sap (discussed here), was driven primarily by acoustic material — plus one goof track, lest they take themselves too seriously — which had followed the radio success of Dirt singles like “Would?” and “Rooster” with its own string of hits in “No Excuses” and “I Stay Away.” Neither of the self-titled’s harder singles — that’s “Grind” and “Again” — would have the same reach as “Heaven Beside You” or “Over Now,” but whether a given song was loud or quiet or brash and doomed as was “Sludge Factory” or even daring to show a little hope as was the particularly gorgeously harmonized “Shame in You,” which by my estimation is a lost treasure of the band’s discography, not the least for its meandering finish, which is something they rarely let themselves do, Alice in Chains was consuming and dark, varied in its execution but consistent in its message. With Cantrell — who would release his first solo album, Boggy Depot, three years later in 1998 and later tour with DuVall (also of Comes with the Fall) in his band — taking on the bulk of the songwriting duties, the songs had a largely unified perspective, and with Staley‘s addiction to heroin well documented as by then taking its toll on his ability to function in the band and more generally in life, it was the guitarist who stepped in to fill the void, essentially readjusting the balance that had been at work in Alice in Chains since (before) 1990’s Facelift, their debut album. Indeed, especially in light of Boggy Depot and its vastly-underrated follow-up, 2002’s Degradation TripAlice in Chains is very much emblematic of Cantrell‘s songwriting approach in its maturity, which of course would continue to manifest during Alice in Chains‘ second run beginning with their reunion in 2005.

alice in chains self titled

That isn’t to minimalize Staley‘s contributions vocally, however. “Head Creeps” was a six-and-a-half-minute chasm of grim psychedelic impact and tension with his voice overtop, and though its guitar patterning was more indicative of Cantrell‘s poppier work, “God Am” still bore the haunting quality that Staley brought to “Sludge Factory” and “Brush Away” immediately before it, following “Grind” in an opening salvo that seemed to push further into an abyss before “Heaven Beside You” stepped in to provide some measure of respite. Playing that dynamic, and indeed Staley and Cantrell, off each other — with the always-inventive drumming of Kinney and Inez‘s clinic-in-class bass as a foundation — became the push and pull of Alice in Chains, and the material thrived on the overarching conflict. Listening to it nearly a quarter-century later, it does not sound like an easy record to have made, and by all reports, it wasn’t, but its emotional basis, troubled sensibility and sheer level of craft still resonate, whether it’s the manic “So Close” or the sweet melodies corrupted in “Frogs,” which moved from its solidified hook into a wandering nod-off of Staley seeming to predict his own death in mumbles as the instruments behind offered a darker take on “Shame in You”‘s wandering sensibility, this time feeling isolated and almost nihilistic. Is it any wonder that “Over Now” began with a sample of “Good Night” by jazz bandleader Ted Lewis? What else was there to say?

Naturally, though it seemed like it would be their last record after Staley‘s death, Alice in Chains wasn’t the last music the band produced in this incarnation. In 1996, the live recording of their appearance on MTV Unplugged — I remember watching it on its first airing; it was incredible — became a hit in its own right, and two songs, “Get Born Again” and “Died,” recorded in 1998 for inclusion with the Music Bank box set. They would be the last tracks Staley recorded with Alice in Chains, though he also appeared on a cover of Pink Floyd‘s “Another Brick in the Wall” on a 1998 movie soundtrack as part of the assembled one-off “supergroup” Class of ’99 with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and members of Jane’s Addiction. It was less than a career highlight.

Last year, Alice in Chains marked the release of their third post-Staley LP, Rainier Fog (discussed here), and the fact that they’ve gone 10 years with three records out with DuVall means they’ve at this point been around longer without him than with and put out as many albums. I won’t take away from the quality of Rainier Fog in manifesting a persona for Alice in Chains having moved forward in a way that even the prior 2013 outing, The Devil Put the Dinosaurs Here, and Black Gives Way to Blue couldn’t, but there are many for whom Staley‘s work in the band remains an essential facet. There are arguments to be made for either side, and frankly, I’m not interested in laying them out or begrudging a band whose work has legitimately changed my life their finding a path and continued success along it. Either way, their ’90s-era recordings stand as testament to the force they were at the time in creativity, performance and presence, and of those, Alice in Chains remains singularly affecting.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Been up early the last two days. Like 1:45AM. Yesterday I was like, “Duh, I’ll get up and get all my writing done and then I can just relax when the baby naps and that’ll be great because I have infinite energy and I can just sit and read and there’s no way I’ll immediately fall asleep or anything.” Clearly that was dumb. Today was less of a conscious choice. I was just up. I tried to go back to sleep for an hour, read some, and then finally decided to say screw it and start the day. Coffee, Alice in Chains, the whole bit. It’s quarter-after-four now. I had the notion of going to 7-Eleven at around three to buy a bag of ice, but wanted to get this post done first. I may yet head out. It’s like three minutes away. Not such a journey. I used to walk there when I was a kid, probably listening to Dirt or Suicidal Tendencies’ Art of Rebellion or whatever on my Walkman.

We were back in Massachusetts earlier this week. Monday, I guess it was. The Patient Mrs. was giving a talk on campus up there — one of her last duties to Bridgewater State unless you count emptying her office and teaching an online class — so I went up as well and packed vinyl and a bunch of other stuff from the kitchen and around. Most of what’s left is like stuff from closets and furniture. The closing date on that place is in about a month, so hopefully nothing falls through with the buyer between now and then and we can be done with it, get everything else out before we close. We came back down to Jersey on Tuesday and have been here since, are staying here through the impending terrible heat this weekend. No central air, but window units should do the job fairly enough. One hopes, anyhow. There’s a ton to do in this house. Everyone is overwhelmed. Tense. Could probably stand to get laid.

This was my grandmother’s house before she died, we’re buying it from my mother. It’s been cleaned up, but not really cleaned out, so as we’re basically moving a house’s worth of stuff into it from, you know, our house in Massachusetts, there’s a concurrent house’s worth of stuff we’re moving out from here. Some of that has been donated, some my mother has taken, some is stuff my sister was storing here, some is going to my cousin, some we’re keeping, etc., but everything is an emotionally fraught process, and there is a fucking ton of it. Plus we found a leak in the wall upstairs in the rain yesterday and god fucking knows what that portends in terms of repair. Six years ago, when we moved to MA, we just packed our shit and left. This has thus far been much more complicated, and we have a long way to go.

But eventually, that will result in a new dishwasher, and I sincerely look forward to that.

Today at 1PM Eastern is a new episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio. It’s my tribute to Maryland Doom Fest 2019, just playing some of the bands and talking about the festival a bit. It was a good time, so I wanted to highlight that. Call me nostalgic if you must.

Next week? Wolf Blood review, I think. With the AIC done, I’m listening to that record now and it’s pretty killer. Then maybe Morass of Molasses and we’ll see about the rest. Lo-Pan have a show in Teaneck next week that I’m going to hit up ahead of seeing them with C.O.C. in August, so I’ll review that — I don’t expect much in terms of lighting — and there are a couple sweet-ass The Obelisk Presents announcements coming as well, so keep an eye out.

The rest is and will be what it is and will be.

Everyone have a great and safe weekend. If you’re someplace warm, stay cool and hydrate. If you’re someplace cool, get some good snuggles going. Who doesn’t like snuggles?

Thanks again for reading. Forum, radio, merch.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the-top-30-of-2018

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 2018 to that, please do.

It just wouldn’t be a year if it wasn’t completely overwhelming, right?

2018 has certainly met that standard and then some. The swath of output, whether it’s a new generation adopting and adapting established methods or out and out reinventing the stylistic wheel and then pushing it uphill on a seemingly endless barrage of tours, has been staggering, and it’s still happening. There’s a little more than a week to go in the year. You think a band isn’t putting something out today? Of course they are. It’s every day. It’s all the time.

But this year wasn’t just about quantity either. I think one of my biggest struggles in writing about albums in 2018 — and with the last Quarterly Review and various premieres and video posts that were basically album reviews in disguise, let’s estimate we’re somewhere past 300 records reviewed one way or another — was in conveying just how killer so much of the stuff coming through was. How many times can you say the word “awesome?” Well, I’m sure we’ll see it a few more times before this list is over, so there you go.

I say something like this every time I do a list, but please keep in mind these are my picks and I’m one person. But I am a person. I know there’s the whole internet-anonymity thing, but I assure you, I’m a human being (more of a cave troll, really) typing these words. I’m all for everyone sharing their own picks in the comments, and all for passionate advocating, but please, let’s keep it civil and respectful. These things can spiral out of control quickly, but let’s remember that we’re all human beings and worth of basic courtesy, even if some of us are dead wrong about a good many things. You should definitely punch nazis, though.

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

[UPDATE: You’ll notice the inclusion of an ’18a.’ I had Stoned Jesus in my notes as number 18 initially and they got dropped as I was adjusting things along the way. I’ve added them back in, but it didn’t seem fair to bump everyone else down after the post had already been published. That was the best I could come up with for a solution. If you’re pissed about one more killer record being added, please feel free to email me and tell me all about it.]

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Chicago’s The Skull had no small task before them in following up their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) — let alone living up to their pedigree — but their second album demonstrated a creative growth that sacrificed nothing of memorability when it came to songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “All that Remains (Is True).” They got down to work and got the job done, which is what a working band does. 2018 was by any measure a fantastic year for doom, and The Skull were a big part of why.

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

The Dec. 2017 murder of Rev. Jim Forrester was tragic. No other way to say it. Foghound, who were in the midst of making Awaken to Destroy at the time, put together an album that not only features Forrester‘s last recorded performance, but pays respect to his memory while the wound is still raw and manages to kick ass all the while. It’s a record that can’t ever be divorced from its circumstances — just can’t — and so it can be a heavy listen in more than just its tones, but it’s basically Foghound proving they’re unstoppable. And so they are.

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

Who among us here today is not a sucker for Orange Goblin? Come forward an be judged. I mean, really. Nine records deep, the London sceneforgers are nothing less than an institution, beloved by boozehounds, riffhounds, doomhounds, and really, a wide variety of hounds the world over. Also dudes. With its essential title-track hook and highlight cuts in “Ghosts of the Primitives” and “Burn the Ships” — or, you know, any of them — they added to one of heavy’s most unshakable legacies with an album as furious as it is welcoming to its generations-spanning fanbase.

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

fu manchu clone of the universe
Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed Feb. 15.

There are two kinds of people in this world, and they’re both Fu Manchu fans. Clone of the Universe turned heads with a guest appearance from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson on the 18-minute side-B-consuming “Il Mostro Atomico,” but really to focus on that instead of “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” etc., is only seeing half the point of the album in the first place. The long-running lords of fuzz hit a new stride with 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), and Clone of the Universe was in every way a worthy successor.

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain
Released by Svart Records. Reviewed May 16.

It was an unenviable task before Witch Mountain in replacing vocalist Uta Plotkin, but founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson found the right voice in Kayla Dixon and solidified the lineup with her and bassist Justin Brown enough to make a declarative statement in Witch Mountain‘s self-titled LP. That’s the story of it. They pulled it off. Met with what was unquestionably a bummer circumstance, they pushed through and moved their sound forward through a new beginning — and not their first one. Watch out when their next record hits.

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Richmond, Virginia, doomers Windhand‘s second collaboration with producer Jack Endino produced a marked and purposeful expansion of their sound, encompassing classic grunge influences and a heavy psychedelic swirl that added color their previously-greyscale sonic haze. Resonant in tone and emotionalism, Eternal Return readjusted Windhand‘s trajectory in such a manner that, where one might’ve thought they knew where the band were headed in terms of their progression, they’ve made themselves a less predictable outfit on the whole. For that alone, it’s a triumph. Then you have the songs.

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

I don’t even want to admit how long I was waiting for Sun Voyager‘s first long-player to show up, but when it finally did, the New York trio did not disappoint. Catchy, energetic, fuzzed-out tunes with driving rhythms and a heavy psych flourish, they tapped into shoegaze and desert vibes without losing any sense of themselves in the process, and if the extra wait was so they could be so remarkably coherent in their expression on their full-length, then I wouldn’t want it to have shown up any sooner. An easy pick to stand among 2018’s best debut albums. Now to wait for the next one.

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

It should tell you something that after working quickly to produce three albums, Louisiana’s Forming the Void are still defined by their potential. If I had my druthers, I’d put the recent Ripple signees on tour for the bulk of 2019, across the US and in Europe for festivals and support-slot club shows, really give them an opportunity to hammer out who they are as a band and then hit the studio for LP four. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but they’d only be doing the universe a favor by kicking into that gear. As it stands, their progression is palpable in their material and they stand absolutely ready for whatever the next level might be for them.

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

Released by BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed June 29.

Aside from the speed at which Spaceslug have turned around offerings — with Eye the Tide following 2017’s Mountains and Reminiscence EP (review here) and Time Travel Dilemma (review here) full-length and their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here) — the Polish outfit have undertaken significant progression in their sound, moving from pure heavy psychedelic warmth to incorporating elements out of extreme metal as they did on Eye the Tide. Adding to the latest record’s accomplishment is the smoothness with which they brought seemingly opposing sides together, only adding depth to an approach already worthy of oceanic comparison.

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

Conan Existential Void Guardian
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Conan‘s reign of terror has been unfolding for more than a decade now, and each of their albums has become a kind of step along a path of incremental growth. Consider the melody creeping into the shouts of founding guitarist Jon Davis, or the emergence of bassist Chris Fielding as a vocal presence alongside, the two sharing a frontman role more than ever before while welcoming drummer Johnny King to the fold of destructive tonality and doomly extremism. Existential Void Guardian may end up just being another stomp-print on their way to the next thing, but it affirmed the fact that as much as Conan grow each time out, their central violence continues to hold sway.

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

PALE DIVINE S/T
Released by Shadow Kingdom Records. Reviewed Nov. 21.

Look. A new Pale Divine record doesn’t come along every day, so yeah, their self-titled was probably going to be on my list one way or the other, but it definitely helps that not only was it their first outing in six years since 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here), but it had the songs to live up to a half-decade-plus of anticipation. It marked the first studio appearance from bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis alongside guitarist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey — now both of Beelzefuzz as well — and made a strong argument for how much Pale Divine deserve more than 20 years on from their initial demo to be considered classic American doom.

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands
Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed May 11.

The return and rise to prominence of Washington pure heavy rockers Mos Generator might be the underground’s feelgood story of the decade, but it hasn’t by any means been easily won. In addition to rebuilding the band however many albums ago, guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed has put in innumerable hours on tour and worked to actually develop the group creatively in addition to in terms of stage presence. This is shown throughout some of the classic prog elements making their way onto Shadowlands, and perhaps some of the collection’s moodier aspects are born of the aforementioned road time as well. Hard for that kind of thing not to be a slog after a while, but at least they have killer tunes to play.

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

The only safe bet about Stoned Jesus‘ fourth long-player, Pilgrims, was that it was going to sound different than the third. That 2015 outing, The Harvest (review here), preceded the band touring to celebrate the fifth anniversary and after-the-fact success of 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but Pilgrims defied narrative in that instead of incorporating elements from the second record in more of a heavy psych or jam sound, Stoned Jesus instead showcased a tighter, more sureheaded sense of craft than they’ve ever displayed before, and arrived on Napalm Records with a collection of songs that demonstrated the growth and sense of creative will that drives them. While one can take a look at their moniker and think immediately they know what’s coming, Stoned Jesus have made themselves one of the least predictable bands in heavy rock.

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

“Pirate Smile.” “Lines.” “Whatever.” “It Ain’t Right.” “Threes.” “Cinderella.” “Generals.” “Big Enough.” “Alone.” “Lucky. Mike Cummings, Jessica Baker, Erik Larson. Every player, every song, every minute. If you want to know what heart-on-sleeve sounds like, it fucking sounds like Backwoods Payback. In their line from hardcore punk to grunge to heavy rock, they encompass experiences and emotionalism that are both shown in raw form throughout Future Slum, and build all the while on the chemistry they set out in developing with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), when they welcomed Larson to the lineup on drums and revitalized their mission. Also worth noting, they were the best live band I saw this year. Anywhere.

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

No question the excitement of C.O.C. putting out their first record with frontman Pepper Keenan involved since 2005’s In the Arms of God was one of this year’s top stories in heavy. And No Cross No Crown tapped directly into the spirit of 1994’s Deliverance (discussed here) and 1996’s Wiseblood (discussed here) in terms of direction, while updating the band’s style with a four-part 2LP in mind. In some ways, it’ll be their next album that really gives listeners a sense of where they’re at and where they might be headed, but as welcome returns go, having Keenan alongside Mike DeanWoody Weatherman and Reed Mullin is in no way to be understated, and neither is the quality of their output together, then and now.

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It is no simple feat to hypnotize an audience and convey serenity while at the same time holding attention with songcraft, so that the listener isn’t actually so much unconscious as malleable of mood and spirit in such a direction as the band suggests. Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to become experts at this, and their third full-length fosters tonal warmth and jammy progressions with an overarching naturalism that finds them so committed to analog recording that one can buy direct transfers of the tape master of III. Some acts take classic-style practices as an aesthetic choice. With Naxatras, it seems to be the stuff of life, yet their sound is only vibrant and human in a way that, at least one hopes, is even more representative of the future than the past.

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

It was time for Clutch to make a change in producers, and the Maryland overlords of groove seemed to know it. Known as a live band, they went with Vance Powell, who’s known a live band producer. The results on Book of Bad Decisions might not have been so earth-shatteringly different from 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here), which was the too-soon follow-up to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — both helmed by Machine — but the inimitable four-piece indeed succeeded in capturing the electricity of their stage performance and, as ever, treated fans to a collection of songs bearing Clutch‘s unmistakable hallmarks of quirky lyrics, funky rhythms and heavy roll. They may always be a live band, but Clutch‘s studio work is in no way to be discounted, ever, as this record reaffirmed. Plus, crab cakes.

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

After 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), I wasn’t sure Ancestors were going to put out another record. They kicked around word of one for a while, but it wasn’t until the end of last year that it really seemed to congeal into a possibility. And by then, who the hell knew what they might get up to on a full-length? With Suspended in Reflections, in some says, they picked up where they left off in terms of finding a niche for themselves in progressive and melodic heavy, but I think the time showed in the poise of their execution and the control of the material. Suspended in Reflections can’t help but be six years more mature than its predecessor, and that suits its contemplative feel. In tracks like “Gone,” and “The Warm Glow,” they tempered their expansive sound with an efficiency that can only be had with time.

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

The narrative here was hard to beat. Matt Pike spending an album cycle talking about Lemmy Kilmister and paying homage to his dirt-rock forebear and the gods of old? It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Electric Messiah was the third collaboration between High on Fire and producer Kurt Ballou behind 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), and while it seemed after the last record that the formula might be getting stale, the band only sounded more and more lethal throughout the latest offering. Even putting aside their contributions to underground heavy, they’ve become one of the most essential metal bands of their generation. Metal, period. Doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re talking about it. If you’re listening to High on Fire, you know it. Usually because you’ve just been decapitated.

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

You know, if you take the time to separate Yawning Man from their 30-plus-year history and their legacy as one of the foundational acts of what later became desert rock, and you listen to The Revolt Against Tired Noises, you’re still left with basically a dream of an album. Mostly instrumental, as is their wont, they nonetheless had bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) sing this time around on a version of the previously-unreleased “Catamaran,” which Kyuss covered once upon a whenever although Yawning Man had never officially put it to tape. But really, that and all other novelty aside, guitarist Gary Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are a chemistry unto themselves. I don’t know if they’ll ever be as huge as they should be, but every bit of acclaim they get, they’ve earned, and if The Revolt Against Tired Noises helps them get it, all the more so.

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

Swedish heavy rock mavens Greenleaf have become an entirely different band than they once were. No longer a Dozer side-project from guitarist Tommi Holappa with a rotating cast of players, they’re a solidified, road-tested, powerhouse unit, and Hear the Rivers bleeds soul as a result. Holappa, frontman Arvid Hällagård, bassist Hans Fröhlich and drummer Sebastian Olsson sound like they’re absolutely on fire in the album’s tracks, and far from being staid or formulaic as one might expect a sixth long-player to be, Hear the Rivers built on what the band accomplished with 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) and came across as all the more vital and nearly frenetic in their energy. I won’t say Greenleaf has seen their last lineup change, because one never knows, but the band as they are today is the realization of potential I don’t think even Greenleaf knew was there.

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 4.

Five records deep into a career into its second decade, Gozu haven’t had a miss yet. Admittedly, some of their early work can seem formative considering where they are now, but still. And after the 2016 rager, Revival (review here), to have the band return to the same studio — Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where strides producer Dean Baltulonis — for the follow-up allows for the four-piece to directly show how their sound has grown more encompassing in the last couple years. And it has. Equilibrium is a rich and varied listen that holds true to Gozu‘s well-established penchant for soulful vibes and crunching, hard-hitting riffs and groove, but while it shares the directness of approach with Revival, it makes moves that a band could only make moving from one record to the next. I expect nothing less their next time out as well, because a decade later, that’s Gozu‘s proven track record.

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

monster magnet mindfucker
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 23.

The battle for the best album title of 2018 ended early when New Jersey everything-rockers Monster Magnet announced the release of Mindfucker. And what else to call a Monster Magnet LP at this point? They’ve stopped writing to genre. They’re driven by the creative mania of frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf, and they’ve seen psychedelic expanses and commercial success the likes of which would serve the tenure of four lesser bands. What’s left to do but whatever the hell you want? So that’s what Monster Magnet are doing. It just so happens that while they’re doing it, they’re still basically outclassing the entirety of the former planet earth as songwriters. As Monster Magnet fan in 2018, there was nothing more I could’ve asked than what Mindfucker delivered. And if you’re still trying to get your brain around it however many months later, you’re not alone. I think that’s the idea.

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Best doom album of 2018. The combination of craft and passion behind the delivery. The way the dark tones fed into the emotions so clearly on display and sheer presence of it in listening to songs like “Keeping the Lighthouse,” “Ruination by Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here.” Apostle of Solitude never seem to be the highest profile band out there, but their work seems never to be anything less than outstanding, and I refuse to accept them as anything less than among the most pivotal American acts out there making traditional doom. And not just making it, but making it their own, with a sense of new pursuits and individualism that extends to playing style as well as atmosphere. I know doom isn’t exactly in short supply these days — figuratively or literally — but if you miss out on what Apostle of Solitude are doing with it, you’ll only regret it later. I’ll say it one more time: Best doom album of 2018.

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

holy grove ii
Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 31.

Every now and again, anticipating the crap of an album really pays off, and such was the case with Holy Grove II, the Ripple Music debut from the Portland outfit whose 2016 self-titled (review here) seemed like such a herald of excellence to come while also, you know, being killer. Holy Grove II brought the four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis to entirely new levels of composition and execution. In songs like “Blade Born,” the shorter, sharper “Aurora,” the patiently rolling “Valley of the Mystics,” “Solaris” and closer “Cosmos,” which boasted a not-really-necessary-but-definitely-welcome guest vocal appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt, — and oh wait, that’s all of the tracks — Holy Grove entered a different echelon. Anticipation will likewise be high for Holy Grove III, but it’ll be hard to complain with this record to keep company in the meantime.

6. All Them Witches, ATW

all them witches atw
Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Over five All Them Witches albums, the Nashville four-piece have gone from a nascent heavy Americana jam band to one of the most distinct acts in the US underground. Their development in sound is chemistry-driven, so it was a risk when the founding trio of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) and drummer Robby Staebler welcomed new keyboardist Jonathan Draper into the lineup to take the place of Allan van Cleave. Amid a more naturalist production than that of 2017’s Sleeping Through the War (review here), the revamped four-piece flourished in terms of songwriting and conveying their stage-born sonic personae. From the gleeful fuckery of opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” to the memorable moodiness of “Diamond” and the back-end jam “Harvest Feast” en route to the stretched-out end of “Rob’s Dream,” All Them Witches essentially confirmed they could do whatever they wanted and make it work.

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

yob our raw heart
Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed June 7.

Actually, if you want a sample of YOB‘s raw heart, the place to go is probably 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), but whatever the Eugene, Oregon, shapers of cosmic doom might’ve lacked in titular accuracy on their eighth long-player, they made up for in a new, statesman-like posture. Their approach was mature, hammered out to a professionalism working completely on its own terms, and they never sounded so sure of who they are as a band or as confident of their direction. In extended cuts “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and “Our Raw Heart,” they explored new and progressive textures and melodies, and managed to reaffirm their core aspects while finding room for conveying emotion that came across as nothing but ultimately sincere. They have been and still are one of a kind, and as they continue to move forward, they remain a band that makes one feel lucky to be alive to witness their work. Our Raw Heart was perhaps more refined than it let on, but the heart was there for sure, as always.

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t a fan of the (relatively) harder-hitting approach Brant Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band took on 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), but Mankind Woman brought in some more of his soul influences, and whether it was the subtly subversive funk of “Chocolatize” and “Brand New Old Times” or the callout “1968” and laid back vibes of the title-track and “Swagger and Sway,” Bjork — working with guitarist Bubba DuPree on songwriting and production — offered a definitive look at what has made his 20-year solo career so special and demonstrates not only his longevity and his legacy, but his will to continue to progress as an artist honing his craft. His discography is well populated by now to be sure, but Mankind Woman represents a turn from the last couple records, and if it’s in any way portentous of things to come, it bodes well. Bjork is right at home nestled into classic-style grooves, and his legacy as one of the principal architects of desert rock is continually reaffirmed.

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

They’ve been great, not just good, for a long time now, and as forerunners of the San Diego heavy scene, they’re godfathers to an up and coming generation of bands taking their influence — let alone acts from the rest of the world — but Black Heaven is a special moment for them because of its departure. No, it wasn’t not the first time guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sang on an Earthless recording, but it did represent a tip of the balance in that direction for the band on a studio full-length, and that resulted in a special moment. Album opener “Gifted by the Wind” was one of the best songs I heard this year, and while “End to End” and the all-thrust “Volt Rush” affirmed that more traditional songwriting was well within the grasp of Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, they still found space for a sprawling jam or two, keeping their claim on the instrumentalism that’s (largely) fueled their tenure to date. Earthless don’t want for acclaim, but every bit of it is earned, and while their primary impact has always been live, Black Heaven saw them construct a traditional-style LP that still bore the hallmarks of their collective personality. It was the best of all worlds.

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

king buffalo longing to be the mountain
Self-released/released by Stickman Records. Reviewed Sept. 27.

In the dark early hours of 2018, the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson issued the Repeater EP (review here) as a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), so Longing to Be the Mountain didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but even with Repeater preceding its arrival, I don’t think anyone necessary expected King Buffalo‘s second album to have such a scope or to be so engrossing with it. In its melody, patience, atmosphere and heft, it was an absolute joy to behold. Its songs were memorable at the same time they were far-reaching, and while Orion was already my pick for the best debut of 2016, Longing to Be the Mountain realized even more potential than that record had hinted toward. It could be intimate or majestic at its whim, and its dynamic set an individual characterization of heavy psychedelia and blues-style sprawl that the band wholly owned. With production by Ben McLeod of All Them Witches behind them, they worked to serve notice of a progression undertaken the results of which are already staggering and still seem to be looking ahead to the next stage, literally and figuratively. One of the principal standards I use in constructing this list every year is what I listen to most. That’s this record.

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

Obviously, right? To some extent, when Sleep surprise-announced on April 19 they’d release their first album in 15 years the next day, and then did, they took ownership of 2018. Even with records still to come at that point from YOB and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike‘s own High on Fire, there was no way that when the end of the year came around, it wasn’t going to be defined by the advent of a new Sleep record. And even if it sucked, it would probably still be Album of the Year, but fortunately, as Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om) and drummer Jason Roeder (also Neurosis) took their long-running stage reunion to the studio, they brought material that highlighted the best elements from all players. Pike‘s wild soloing, Cisneros‘ meditative vocals and Roeder‘s intricate but smooth style of roll all came together in older pieces like “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Sonic Titan” and newer highlights “Giza Butler” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” and aside from the excitement at their existence, they showed the mastery of form that Sleep had been demonstrating live since 2009 and which they hinted toward in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here). A new Sleep full-length was something long-discussed, long-rumored and long-considered, but when it finally happened, I think the results vaporized expectation in a way no one could’ve anticipated. There’s a reason Sleep are Sleep. Having The Sciences as a reminder of that brought about the defining moment of 2018.

The Next 20

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a Top 30 at all if it didn’t go to 50. Don’t try to make sense of it, just look at the records.

31. Atavismo, Valdeinfierno
32. Grayceon, IV
33. Clamfight, III
34. Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique
35. Megaton Leviathan, Mage
36. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland
37. Arcadian Child, Superfonica
38. Freedom Hawk, Beast Remains
39. The Machine, Faceshift
40. Messa, Feast for Water
41. Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium
42. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Science Fiction
43. Domkraft, Flood
44. Träden, Träden
45. Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
46. Samavayo, Vatan
47. Foehammer, Second Sight
48. Bongripper, Terminal
49. Mansion, First Death of the Lutheran
50. Sunnata, Outlands
51. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Come and Chutney

Believe me when I tell you, I sweated over this section more than I did the actual top 30. Mansion should be higher. So should Chubby Thunderous, though something in me thought they might like being #50 on a list of 30. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Clamfight, Black Rainbows, Foehammer, Seedy Jeezus, Messa, Domkraft. All of these were fucking awesome. And there are more (we’ll get there). Eventually numbers add up. I won’t say a bad word about any of these. That’s it.

Honorable Mention

This section always winds up expanded as other people point out things I missed and so on, but here’s what I’ve got in the immediate, alphabetically:

  • Alms, Act One
  • Ape Machine, Darker Seas
  • Belzebong, Light the Dankness
  • Black Moon Circle, Psychedelic Spacelord
  • Blackwater Holylight, Blackwater Holylight
  • Bong, Thought and Existence
  • Carpet, About Rooms and Elephants
  • Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery
  • Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree
  • Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need
  • Death Alley, Superbia
  • Drug Cult, Drug Cult
  • Dunbarrow, II
  • Electric Citizen, Helltown
  • Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn
  • Evoken, Hypnagogia
  • Funeral Horse, Psalms for the Mourning
  • Fuzz Evil, High on You
  • Graven, Heirs of Discord
  • Graveyard, Peace
  • Green Dragon, Green Dragon
  • Green Druid, Ashen Blood
  • Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing
  • High Priestess, High Priestess
  • Horehound, Holocene
  • IAH, II
  • JIRM, Surge ex Monumentis
  • Killer Boogie, Acid Cream
  • Lonely Kamel, Death’s Head Hawkmoth
  • MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure
  • Moab, Trough
  • Mountain Dust, Seven Storms
  • Mouth, Floating
  • Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence
  • T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid
  • Onségen Ensemble, Duel
  • Orango, Evergreen
  • Owl, Nights in Distortion
  • Pushy, Hard Wish
  • Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground/Meditation
  • River Cult, Halcyon Daze
  • Rotor, Sechs
  • Somali Yacht Club, The Sea
  • Sumac, Love in Shadow
  • Sundrifter, Visitations
  • Svvamp, Svvamp II
  • Thou, Magus
  • Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse
  • Weedpecker, III

Special Note

Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to include these in the list proper because they’re not really underground releases, but there were two more records I especially wanted to highlight for their quality:

  • Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
  • Judas Priest, Firepower

Best Short Release of the Year

Normally I’d do this as a separate post, but as a result of being robbed earlier this year, I feel like my list is woefully incomplete. If you have any demos, EPs, splits, singles, etc., to add to it, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Still, the top pick was clear:

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Rarely do two bands work in such coherent tandem to their mutual benefit. Here are a few other essential short releases for 2018, alphabetically:

  • All Them Witches, Lost and Found
  • Alunah, Amber & Gold
  • Canyon, Mk II
  • Demon Head, The Resistence
  • Destroyer of Light, Hopeless
  • Ecstatic Vision, Under the Influence
  • Godmaker & Somnuri, Split
  • Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul
  • King Buffalo, Repeater
  • Minsk & Zatokrev, Split
  • Sleep, Leagues Beneath
  • Stonus, Lunar Eclipse
  • Sundecay, Gale

Looking Forward

A good many albums have already been announced or hinted at for 2019. I in no way claim this to be a complete roundup of what’s coming, but here’s what I have in my notes so far, in absolutely no order:

Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Cities of Mars, Heavy Temple, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan (LP), Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Om.

Okay, That’s It

Yeah, no, I’m serious. List is done. Everybody go back to your lives. Your families miss you.

Really though, while this is by no means my last post of 2018, I can’t let it pass without saying thank you so much to everyone for checking out the site this year, or for just digging into this, or for sending me music, or hitting me up on social media, sharing a link, anything. Thank you. Thank you. I could never have imagined when it started out where it would be now. Or that I’d still be doing it. Your support means more to me than I can say, and I thank you so much for being a part of this with me.

So thanks.

If you have something to add to the list, please do so by leaving a comment below, but keep in mind as well the above note requesting civility. Please don’t make me feel stupid because I forgot your favorite record. I forgot a lot of people’s favorite records. I’m one dude. I’m doing my best.

And please keep in mind if you’ve got a list together that the Year-End Poll is open and results will be out Jan. 1.

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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Friday Full-Length: Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 7th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog (2018)

Alice in Chains have now released as many full-length albums without Layne Staley as they had with him. Of course, their original run also produced the landmark EPs Sap (discussed here) in 1992 and Jar of Flies in 1994, as well as their captured performance at MTV Unplugged in 1996 and other sundry singles and soundtrack appearances — anyone remember Last Action Hero? — so that’s not necessarily a comparison of total output so much as the passage of time. Indeed, if one counts the Seattle grunge legends’ beginning point as 1987 and the end of their original run as the release of the Music Bank box set in 1999 — they never had a hard breakup so much as a general recession in 1996 as Staley battled with the heroin addiction that claimed his life in 2002 — and the beginning of their new run with vocalist/rhythm guitarist William DuVall joining lead guitarist/vocalist/principal songwriter Jerry Cantrell, bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney as 2005 when they started playing shows again, their second era is already longer than their first in terms of duration. Listening to their third album with DuVall in the lineup, Aug. 2018’s Rainier Fog, there’s no reason to think they’re stopping here, either.

With 10 tracks and a 53-minute front to back runtime, Rainier Fog follows 2013’s The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here and 2009’s Black Gives Way to Blue and finds Alice in Chains in more direct conversation with their legacy than they’ve been since they were forging it with landmark albums like 1990’s Facelift, 1992’s Dirt and their 1995 self-titled, each of which offered a darker and heavier take on the Seattle grunge scene that birthed them and so many others in the same era. From the title’s reference to Mt. Rainier to Cantrell‘s solo in opener “The One You Know” to the creeping modus of “Deaf Ears Blind Eyes” that speaks to some of the same atmosphere as the self-titled — which I’ll gladly argue as one of the grimmest commercial rock records ever made — Rainier Fog basks in signature Alice in Chains elements like the gorgeous vocal harmonies of “Maybe” and “Never Fade,” the crunching guitar-led stomp of the aforementioned leadoff cut or the later “So Far Under,” and the inventive rhythm work of Kinney and Inez that backs the acoustic/electric guitar arrangement of side A closer “Drone.” In tone and songwriting, Rainier Fog isn’t so much Alice in Chains trying to ape their work in the early and mid 1990s as it is their reclaiming it as their own and arguing for it not as chiseled in marble on a pedestal for all time, but something meant to be pushed forward and reshaped according to the will of their songwriting.

alice in chains rainier fogAnd their argument is compelling. Returning to the Seattle studio where they recorded the self-titled (as well as other locales in Los Angeles and Nashville), the band once again employed producer Nick Raskulinecz to work the board, and the differences in sound between Rainier Fog and its two AIC Mk II predecessors only speaks further to the consciousness with which they’re engaging their history in a way that their last two records didn’t seem to dare. It’s still a modern, commercial production. Drums are triggered — a tragedy considering the loss of the human character in Kinney‘s playing — and stops are muted and a sense of digital smoothness extends even to the vocal arrangements between DuVall and Cantrell. And while that inherently undercuts any kind of organic feel the band might be looking for, it’s a necessary evil for making an album with the scale of release — they’re on BMG — they have, and their level of craft and melody shines through just the same.

The title-track and “Red Giant” join the opener to make an initial salvo of marked weight in tone and atmosphere, while the semi-acoustic “Fly” finds Cantrell leading a softer-landing verse into an appropriately soaring hook. DuVall, who may forever be cursed with consideration as the “new guy” in the band, handles his role like the veteran he actually is, bringing personality of his own to “Deaf Ears Blind Eyes,” “So Far Under” and the penultimate “Never Fade” while seeming no less in ownership of Alice in Chains‘ past than any of the other three members of the band. Listening to “So Far Under” one is reminded of how Norwegian black metallers Darkthrone would cite themselves as an influence in their own liner notes. If Alice in Chains could influence Alice in Chains, that seems to be happening most vividly on “So Far Under,” though there are aspects new and old throughout that cohabitate fluidly in the material. They’re using their legacy as a tool, not a blueprint.

It’s a landmark foundation to work from, to be sure, but Alice in Chains are long past having something to prove, and though some of its emotional grit in the lyrics feels performative, they seem to find some resolution in the questioning of closer “All I Am,” and finish the album with a patient, flowing execution of their modern sound with a maturity of approach their earlier work was simply too troubled to bring to bear even in their acoustic material. Whatever else it might be, Rainier Fog is heavy in the way Alice in Chains always have been — never outwardly aggressive enough to be metal, but sharper in craft and meaner in tone than any of the other major grunge acts — and I found even in listening to it for the first time that I was humming along to choruses of songs I’d never heard before. That’s rare, to put it mildly. I’ll grant that I’ve been an Alice in Chains fan for more than a quarter-century, but even so, Rainier Fog establishes a relevance of its own that feels like more than just by-the-numbers classic rock from a band going through the motions. One suspects that if that were the case, it simply wouldn’t exist. That’s not to say it was created simply for the joy of the process of its making, which would be naive, but there’s still heart and still passion behind what Alice in Chains do — a credit to DuVall at least as much as the other three, as songs like “Never Fade” and “The One You Know” demonstrate — and Rainier Fog presents that with as clear a vision as one could ask.

As always, I hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading.

Not that I need to justify writing about records I like, but I don’t enjoy writing about commercial releases generally. Which is why I don’t. It’s not like Alice in Chains need the press from my dickweed blog, and the bottom line is that for a band of their stature, those who are going to be open to it already are and those who aren’t won’t be. But I did something I don’t usually do and actually read a couple reviews from other outlets for Rainier Fog and didn’t really see what I thought there was to say, so decided to say it. No regrets. If you’re looking for something in a more obscure, riffy vein, I might refer you back to Shovelhead, who closed out last week.

Anyway, that’s where that came from. Not the usual fare, but I think there’s enough of a connection that it works, and as I have to periodically remind myself, I can write about whatever the hell I want. That was the whole point of this site to start with.

Okay.

It was a busy week, but I managed to stay on top of things pretty well. I have some running around to do this weekend — Providence today, Boston tomorrow — but it felt good to get as much stuff done as I did and still have the time to see something like that Greenleaf news come in yesterday and have the flexibility to post it immediately. That wouldn’t happen every day.

Next week is a little different. There’s one premiere set for Monday, but beyond that, it’s kind of open at the moment and accordingly, I’m doing kind of a curated series of reviews. Just stuff I feel like should be covered and that I’ll be writing about because I want to write about it. There will inevitably be some changes before and when we get there, but here’s how it looks for now:

Mon.: Øresund Space Collective live album stream/review; ST 37 video premiere.
Tue.: Iron Void review.
Wed.: Brant Bjork review.
Thu.: The Skull review.
Fri.: Rotor review.

I have to look at the release date for that Rotor album and when it actually comes out to see if that review makes any sense at this point, but otherwise, yeah, that’s how it looks today.

So, I spoke a little bit last week about The Little Dog Dio having bone cancer. She was fairly miserable and clearly in pain following that initial vet appointment, and The Patient Mrs. and I kind of thought that was it, she’d either pass on her own or we would end up having her put down, which I’ll just say has been a nightmare scenario of mine for years now but when you come to it you come to it. We went back to the vet on Tuesday though to reassess and she got a steroid shot, a stronger painkiller and some takehome prednisone pills that have made a huge difference.

She wasn’t eating or drinking or really picking her head up when she stood. Now she’s able to get up on the couch and lay next to me while I type and she’s being hand-fed chicken breast and basically any cheese, as much as she’ll eat in a sitting, and drinking water. She’s markedly more comfortable, and that’s the whole point. I know we’re buying time — and if I ever need a reminder, I can look at her and see the huge fucking tumor in her shoulder — but if we can buy her good time where she’s not hurting and is still able to have some good life and eat good food and be loved on for a little while longer, she deserves nothing less.

I’m thinking about getting her some shrimp toast. It’s the only thing she’s ever eaten when she’s been left alone in the car with food. Took it right out of the bag of Chinese takeout and it was simply gone. We only knew she ate it because some of the cardboard from the container it came in was left on the back seat. This was years ago, but it seems to me that as long as she’s taking in food, speaking of things she deserves, it’s a treat that feels fitting. My only concern is what it would do to her stomach. She needs to put weight on, not take it off, and she’d almost certainly puke up that shrimp toast. We’ll see.

She’s the best dog I’ve ever had and the best dog I will ever have. Every minute I get with her is a gift.

So if you’re interested, that’s where we’re at. It might be a couple weeks, it might be a month, I don’t know. The scale of immediacy has changed a little, but she’s not actually going to heal. There’s no point at which she won’t have cancer. It’s just a question of how long she lasts with it. We’ve been very sad. A lot of crying. There will be more.

I hate to leave you on that note, but I’m going to. Just a matter of timing. We’re past 5:30AM now — woke up at 2 — and The Pecan will be up soon and ready to party as he is in mornings of late, and The Patient Mrs. will follow shortly thereafter. I have some work to do this weekend — a Roadburn writeup and another bio besides — so I’ll be around at least a bit if you need me for anything.

Till then, have a great and safe weekend. Have fun, be safe, enjoy summer’s remnants and don’t forget a little rock and roll. See you back here Monday for more of that.

Thanks again for reading. Forum and Radio:

The Obelisk Forum

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Friday Full-Length: Alice in Chains, Sap EP

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 17th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Alice in Chains, Sap (1992)

I don’t think I really need to go out of my way to justify including Sap as a heavy work. Sometimes I wonder what I would’ve thought of Alice in Chains had I been 15 or 20 years older than I was when they broke big, if the whole thing would’ve seemed as ridiculous to me then as a lot of modern alternative and pop hard rock seems to me now. Like Primus, of whom I’ve expressed a similar enduring affection, Alice in Chains hit me at just the right time. Dirt came out in Sept. 1992, and that would be the first of their albums that I heard. I was 11 years old.

Their post-reunion stuff hasn’t really interested me — I bought a used copy of Black Gives Way to Blue not so terribly long after it came out, but hardly listened to it. I heard part of one song from the one they did last year on the radio and it had that computerized wall of sound guitar anti-tone thing going for it, like Nickelback with a pitch-corrected Jerry Cantrell harmony. A futuristic nightmare in which something that once seemed so pure, on Facelift, Sap, Dirt, Jar of Flies, and the self-titled (which gets written off a lot but was actually really, really dark), comes back as unaware self-parody. Robots impersonating flowers. Food: Now with more flavor. Somewhere in a nameless city, Rowdy Roddy Piper puts on a pair of sunglasses.

But this. Beautiful. At least for the four songs of Sap proper, and then they get into the silly bonus track lest they be taken too seriously. I had this on earlier this week, turned up loud, was singing along to notes I used to be able to hit I guess before I turned 30 and finally hit puberty. My intention was to close out this week with something else, something a little more “the norm” as much as there is one, or at least something that’s not such an unrepentant downer, but this was more honest to where my head’s been at the last few days so there wasn’t really a choice. If it’s not your thing, or maybe it didn’t get into you when you were the right age, I’d be happy to hear about it in the comments.

Sorry about that whole “no posts” thing yesterday. I try to avoid that whenever I can, at least get something up. Yesterday The Patient Mrs. and I were on the road all day coming back from a mid-week trip south to Jersey. There’s a good chance this will come up again. I’ll try to give some notice or post what I can. I do my best.

Lots of news this week. Lots of videos. Not a lot of reviews. Here are the next five album reviews I’m going to write for this site. Ready? Weedpecker, Colour Haze (the Ewige Blumenkraft reissue), Conan, Mammatus and Papir. I really fucking hope it’s not a month before I get those done, but if it is, fuck it. That’s what I want to write about so that’s what I’m going to write about. I spend an awful lot of time feeling obligated and like I’m behind on shit. Well, I am behind, a lot, but when it comes to it, I do this to have a good time and write about music I enjoy, so if you’re not one of those next five reviews, I’m sorry but you’re gonna have to wait a little longer. Please know that your patience is appreciated.

I did a killer interview the other day with Rev. Jim Forrester about the Sixty Watt Shaman reunion. I’m not sure when I’ll have the time to transcribe it — Conan is next, then Alcest — but I’ll get there. I wish I had more time. Also money. Also abdominal definition. Also the ability to express emotions beyond frustration. It’s a long list. I wish and wish.

But life is what happens while you sit around and wish on bullshit you either can or can’t make real, so fuck it. I hope your week was incredible like the first time you heard Sabbath and it clicked, and I hope your weekend follows suit. If you stick around, I’ll have a new podcast coming either Sunday night or Monday morning, and there’s a lot of other silly nonsense to come as well next week other than whatever reviews I can get done. I hope you’ll hang out.

Thanks all, enjoy Sap, and please check out the forum and radio stream.

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