The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

Posted in Features on December 31st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

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[PLEASE NOTE: These are not the results of the year-end poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t contributed your list to the cause yet, please do so here.]

Invariably, the ultimate measure of 2020 will be in lives and livelihoods lost around the world. I have nothing to add to the discourse of the COVID-19 pandemic that others haven’t said in more articulate and precise language. Suffice it to note that 2020 was the year that the very concept of “unprecedented” itself became trite.

One does not have to look far to find positives amid the devastation. Creativity continues to flourish. Art cannot be killed. Even locked away from each other in quarantine, artists will continue to reach out, to collaborate, to fulfill the human need for expression that has driven the species since cave drawings and will no doubt be the ruins we leave behind us when we’re gone.

In underground music, it was simply overwhelming. And though I’ll admit it was hard at times to listen to music and divorce it from the larger context of what was happening in the world — it was there like a background buzz — this year reinforced how necessary music is, not only as an escape or a source of income for those who make/promote it, but as an integral component of life and community. Absences have been keenly felt.

I won’t try to sate you with platitudes, to say “things will get better.” Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. One year turning to the next does not fix broken systems and it does not cure raging plagues. It’s just a number. Arbitrary except as a convenient marker for things like this, births, deaths, and so on. Bookkeeping.

Before I turn you over to the lists: Please be kind in the comments if you choose to leave one. To me. To other people. To yourself. These lists are culled from my listening preference and what I consider of critical importance. But I’m one person. If there’s something you feel has been left out, say so. I ask you only to do so in a spirit of friendship rather than argument. Thank you in advance.

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Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

50. Sun Crow, Quest for Oblivion
49. Atramentus, Stygian
48. Arcadian Child, Protopsycho
47. Fuzz, III
46. Jointhugger, I Am No One
45. Dirt Woman, The Glass Cliff
44. Switchblade Jesus, Death Hymns
43. Foot, The Balance of Nature Shifted
42. Hymn, Breach Us
41. IAH, III
40. Lord Fowl, Glorious Babylon
39. Acid Mess, Sangre de Otros Mundos
38. 1000mods, Youth of Dissent
37. Deathwhite, Grave Image
36. Soldati, Doom Nacional
35. Cortez, Sell the Future
34. Kadavar, The Isolation Tapes
33. Black Rainbows, Cosmic Ritual Supertrip
32. Shadow Witch, Under the Shadow of a Witch
31. Insect Ark, The Vanishing

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30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Persuasive Speech On Homework Premium Quality At Scientific Editing, we have methodical academic editors to help you succeed. Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

There was no shortage of anticipation for what L.A. cultists Order best Assignment Help Gold Coast service in a few clicks Feel free to get the custom written papers, research papers, essays, term papers, thesis writing on the market Security and confidentiality guarantee High Priestess would do to follow their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), and the three-piece did not disappoint, instead gave a ritual mass that included the 17-minute concept piece “Invocation” alongside infectious and ethereal melodies like “The Hourglass.” And now that the circle’s been cast? Seems like they can do anything.

29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

Released by read this - leave behind those sleepless nights working on your coursework with our custom writing help Receive an A+ help even for the Svart Records. Reviewed Oct. 12.

High-powered cosmic metal from Finland pulling apart heavy psychedelia on an atomic level with an urgency that speaks of youth, progress and an ingrained need for exploration? Sign me up. A lot of bands on this list put out their first album this year. There are few for whom my hopes are as high as they are for Creative Writing Ideas High School. growth and change essay car accident essay victoria's secret credit card. microfiche dissertation writing, Polymoon. If you haven’t yet heard Learn about our http://www.oeziv.org/?primary-homework-help-rivers, and how our service can help improve your paper. Caterpillars of Creation, do.

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by writing an admission essay Visit Website Mistakes essay on compulsory military service should i do my homework now or later Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

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27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Where can i great post to read - Dissertations and essays at most attractive prices. Entrust your task to us and we will do our best for you receive Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

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26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

The debut album from Colorado’s BleakHeart collected pieces united by melody and overarching atmosphere, positioned stylistically somewhere around heavygaze or heavy post-rock, but feeling less limited to genre bounds than some others working in a similar sphere. As a first outing, it brought a promise of things to come even as the depths of its mix seemed to swallow the listener entirely, equal parts serving claustrophobia and escapism.

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

There is not enough space here to properly commend Pale Divine founding guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener on how much he opened up the band by bringing in his and drummer Darin McCloskey‘s former Beelzefuzz bandmate Dana Ortt on shared guitar, vocal and songwriting duties. Completed by Ron “Fezz” McGinnis on bass/vocals, Pale Divine are a refreshed and ready powerhouse of American traditional doom.

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

One is going to have to get used to the idea of Uncle Woe residing in the places between, I think. An inward-looking cosmic doom that’s likewise morose and reaching, opaque and translucent, Phantomescence could be almost troubling in its feeling of off-kilter expression. Yet that’s exactly what multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Rain Fice was going for. Thriving on contradiction, exploratory, and individualized. Start from doom, move outward.

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

Released by Off the Record Label. Reviewed Oct. 15.

I don’t feel like I’m cool enough to offer any substantive comment on what Chicago’s REZN do, but their sax-laced heavy psychedelia comes across warm and is invitingly languid while still delivered with a sense of energy and purpose. It rolls and you want to roll with it, so you do. They were clearly hurt by not being able to tour this year, as were audiences for not seeing them. Call them neo-stoner metal or whatever you want, these songs deserve to be played live.

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

A revamped lineup for South African desert-ish heavy rockers Ruff Majik brought producer Evert Snyman in as co-conspirator with frontman/principal songwriter Johni Holiday, and found the former trio working as a five-piece with a broader sound underscored by an electric sense of purpose and willingness to push themselves to places they hadn’t gone before. Their third record, it seemed as well to be a new beginning, and they met the challenge head-on.

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

The underheralded children of rolling fuzz riffage, Connecticut’s Curse the Son found new depths of emotion to bring to Excruciation — and I do mean “depths.” Dark times for dark times. Fueled by personal hardship, turmoil, motorcycle accidents and a pervasive sense of struggle, the LP was nonetheless a triumph of their songwriting and brought new melodic character to their established largesse of tone. Your loss if you missed it.

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

Business as usual in ferocious heavy/speed rock from The Atomic Bitchwax on Scorpio — and that was only reassuring since the band’s eighth full-length marked the first since the departure of guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and his replacing with Garrett Sweeny, a bandmate of founding bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik and drummer Bob Pantella in Monster Magnet. They barely stopped to cool their heels and yet still managed to be catchy as hell. How do they do it? Jersey Magic.

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

Such pervasive melancholy could only be derived from Irish folk, and so it was on Cinder Well‘s No Summer, which managed to move between singer-songwriter minimalism from Amelia Baker and arrangements of deceptive and purposeful intricacy. Wherever it went, from traditional songs “Wandering Boy” and “The Cuckoo” to originals like “Fallen” and the nine-minute “Our Lady’s,” it was equal parts gorgeous and sad and resonant. It remains so, despite the fleeting season.

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

Their fourth album and first since crossing the decade-mark since their inception, Pallbearer‘s Forgotten Days wasn’t just heavy, emotional or big-sounding; it was the most their-own of anything they’ve done. It felt exactly like the record they wanted it to be, and reconfirmed that the generation of listeners being introduced to doom by their music is going to be just fine if they follow the cues laid out for them here.

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

Released by Stolen Body and Vicious Circle Records. Reviewed March 26.

Less a reinvention of space rock than a kick in its ass, Slift‘s Ummon pushed well past the line of manageability at 72 minutes and reveled in that. The French outfit were greeted as liberators when they released the album, and with the way the respect has been maintained in the months since they’ve given themselves a high standard to meet, but there’s only promise to be heard as you get lost in the nebular wash of this sprawling 2LP. They’ll have two more records out before this one’s fully digested.

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

The first album in half a decade from long-established UK death-doom forebears My Dying Bride found vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe coping with his daughter’s cancer diagnosis and translating that into the morose poetry for which the band is so well known and with which they’ve been so influential. My Dying Bride has never wanted for sincerity, but to call them affecting here would be underselling the quality of their craft and the heart they put into it. Follow-up EP is already out with extra non-album tracks.

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

Denmark’s Causa Sui may be on a mission to unite jazz and heavy psychedelia — and blessings on them for that — but the mellow jammy vibes they conjured on Szabodelico only emphasized how much it’s the character of what they do and the chemistry they’ve brought as bandmates that has allowed them to branch thusly in terms of aesthetic. It was the kind of album you wanted to put on again even before it was over, and its sweet instrumentals felt born to a greater timeline than a single year can encompass.

14. All Souls, Songs for the End of the World

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

I’m not a punk rocker, but All Souls make me wish I was. Their emotive and engaged heavy rock looks out as much as in on Songs for the End of the World — their second LP behind a 2018 self-titled debut (review here) — but it’s undeniably punk in its foundation, and what the four-piece of Antonio Aguilar and Meg Castellanos (both ex-Totimoshi), Erik Trammell (Black Elk) and Tony Tornay (Fatso Jetson) have put together builds on that in exciting, inventive and individualized ways, while staying nonetheless true to its roots.

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

Five years after their debut album, Rocket Science (review here), Boston four-piece Kind return with Mental Nudge. And despite the different situations in which it finds the band’s members — bassist Tom Corino is now ex-Rozamov, drummer Matt Couto now ex-Elder — the group’s focus remains on carving memorable, mostly structured tracks out of ethereal heavy psychedelia, guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, etc.) and vocalist Craig Riggs (RoadsawSasquatch, etc.) adding space and melody to the crunching, driving grooves.

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

Founded by vocalist Farida Lemouchi (ex-The Devil’s Blood) and guitarist Oeds Beydals (ex-Death Alley, also ex-The Devil’s Blood) and commissioned as a project for Roadburn Festival 2019 (review here), Molassess are inextricably tied to Lemouchi‘s groundbreaking former outfit and its tragic ending, but the musical branching out into darkened progressive textures on Through the Hollow isn’t to be understated. It was an album that pushed past the past, not overlooking it, but finding new ways of moving forward in life and sound.

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

While of course the Mos Generator frontman is no stranger to writing or recording on his own, Funeral Suit was Tony Reed‘s debut as a solo artist and it carried his progressive stamp in melody and arrangement. It was not just a guitarist playing acoustic instead of electric, and it was not a manifestation of self-indulgence. Whether it was reworking a Mos Generator song like “Lonely One Kenobi” or pursuing a new piece like the title-track or “Waterbirth,” Reed found balance between personal and audience, evoking traditional songsmithing even as he reminded listeners of his dual role as a producer.

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

Spectacular showing from Kingston kingpins Geezer with Groovy as their first offering for Heavy Psych Sounds. Led by guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington, the three-piece brought material that flowed with the organic feel of jams despite being structured and catchy songs. In pieces like “Dead Soul Scroll” and “Drowning on Empty,” they melded stonerized groove with what felt like genuine emotional expression, and “Dig” and “Groovy” still managed to be a heavy fuzz-blues party. And they still had room at the end to jam out on “Slide Mountain” and “Black Owl.” It was nothing but a win, rising to the occasion on every level.

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

So Bob Balch from Fu Manchu and Gary Arce from Yawning Man have a band. They get Tony Reed from Mos Generator on board. Mario Lalli from Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson comes and goes. Nick Oliveri comes and goes. Bill Stinson from Yawning Man plays drums. Alain Johannes sits in on vocals. Reed does a bunch of vocals; his kid does a track too. Per Wiberg from Spiritual Beggars, Opeth, Candlemass, etc., lends some keys. What do you call such a thing? Who cares? You call yourself lucky it exists. They called the record Vision Beyond Horizon. Can’t wait to find out what they call the next one.

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed April 27.

Omens marked a new beginning for Elder as the band pushed deeper into the realm of progressive rock and beyond their weightier beginnings. The arrival of Georg Edert (also Gaffa Ghandi) on drums in place of Matt Couto shifted the band’s dynamic in a number of ways, providing not a swinging anchor for the rhythm section necessarily, but another avenue of prog fluidity. Bassist Jack Donovan brought a steady presence in the low end as guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo and guitarist/keyboardist Mike Risberg embarked on new melodic explorations while staying loyal to the band’s established penchant for sweeping changes. Omens may live up to its name as a sign of things to come, but either way, it was a strong display of the band’s will to pursue new ideas and methods.

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

First words that come to mind here: “eminently listenable.” With seven tracks and 36 minutes, Reverie may not have taken up much of your afternoon… once. But by the time you gave it its proper respect and listened through three times in a row, the situation was somewhat different. The Lafayette, Louisiana, four-piece gracefully brought together structured songwriting with proggier leanings and were able to bring together rampaging hooks like “Trace the Omen” and “Manifest,” casting a sense of sonic hugeness without forgetting to add either melody or personality along with that. The band — who here welcomed bassist Thorn Letulle alongside guitarist/vocalist James Marshall, guitarist Shadi Omar Al-Khansa and drummer Thomas Colley — have worked quickly and evolved with a sense of urgency. Is Reverie the goal or another step on that path?

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

Vocalist/cellist Jackie Perez Gratz (interview here), guitarist Max Doyle and drummer Zack Farwell comprise Grayceon, and with their fifth record, the band looks around thematically at environmental devastation through the lens of record-breaking California wildfires from their vantage point in the Bay Area. Even as the world shifted priorities (at least most of it did) to yet another global crisis in the COVID-19 pandemic, genre-melting-pot songs like “Diablo Wind,” “The Lucky Ones,” and “This Bed” reminded of the horrors humanity has wrought on its battered home, and still managed to find hope and serenity in “And Shine On” and “Rock Steady,” a closing duo that shifted to a more personal discussion of family and one’s hope for a better future for and by the next generation. 2020 had plenty of horror. At least we got a new Grayceon record out of it.

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

When Sho’Nuff asked Bruce Leroy “who’s the master?,” dude should’ve said Brant Bjork. It would’ve been a confusing end to Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, but ultimately more accurate, as Brant Bjork‘s homegrown kung fu was unfuckwithable as ever on the album that shares his name. After two decades of solo releases in one form or another, Bjork is not just a pivotal figurehead for desert rock, he’s a defining presence, as well as one of its most treasured practitioners. Brant Bjork, the album, brought initial waves of funk in “Jungle in the Sound,” explored weedy worship in “Mary (You’re Such a Lady)” and toyed with religious dogma in offsetting that with “Jesus Was a Bluesman” while still tossing primo hooks in “Duke of Dynamite” and “Shitkickin’ Now” ahead of the more open “Stardust and Diamond Eyes” and the acoustic closer “Been So Long.” With Bjork recording all the instruments himself, a due feeling of intimacy resulted, and yet he still found a way to make it rock. How could it be otherwise?

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

Why do I feel the immediate need to defend this pick? I’m not sure. Norway’s Enslaved are an institution, not just of black metal, but of bringing an ideology of creative growth to that style that often willfully resists it. They are iconoclastic even unto their own work. Utgard was released as the band stood on the precipice of 30 years together and yet it stood as their most forward-looking offering yet, as co-founders Grutle Kjellson (bass/vocals) and Ivar Bjørnson (guitar/sometimes vocals), as well as longtime lead guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal backed up the change from 2017’s E (review here) that brought in new keyboardist/vocalist Hakon Vinje with the incorporation of drummer Iver Sandøy, who doubles as a vocalist (and triples as a producer). The “new blood” made all the difference on Utgard, allowing Enslaved to piece together new ranges of melody in their work and offset instrumental shifts into and out of krautrock-derived progressions. Simply the work of a band outdoing itself from a band who does so at nearly every opportunity.

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten and Ripple Music. Reviewed Dec. 3, 2019.

Every year I allow myself one addendum pick, and this is it. We Are was on last year’s list because it was digitally released, but the vinyl came out this year and it received its North American release this year as well, so it seemed only right to acknowledge that. So here it is in its proper place.

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

All-Them-Witches-Nothing-as-the-Ideal

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

This is a band controlling their own narrative. Instead of Nothing as the Ideal being ‘the one they made as a three-piece,’ the Nashville outfit decided to make it ‘the one they recorded at Abbey Road.’ Were they thinking of it on those terms? Yeah, likely not, but it goes to demonstrate all the same just how much of themselves All Them Witches put into what they do musically, since not only are they continuing to refine and define and undefine their approach, but they’re setting the terms on which they do it. Each of their records has been a response to the one prior, but that conversation has never been so direct as to make them predictable. So what are they chasing? Apparently nothing. I’m not entirely sure I buy that as a complete answer, but I am sure I love these songs and the experiments with tape loops and other sounds that fill these spaces. Whatever they do next — or even if nothing — their run has been incredible and exciting and one only hopes their influence continues to spread over the next however many years.

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

There was a high standard set by Elephant Tree‘s 2016 self-titled debut (review here), but their second LP, Habits, surpassed even the loftiest of expectations. With vocals centered around harmonies from guitarist Jack Townley and bassist Peter Holland, the former trio completed by drummer Sam Hart brought in guitarist/keyboardist John Slattery (also sometimes vocals), and the resultant breadth gave the material on Habits spaciousness beyond even what the first album promised. Drifting, rolling, unflinchingly melodic and somehow present even in its own escapism, Habits was not just an early highlight for a rough 2020, but a comforting presence throughout, and the further one dug into tracks like “Sails,” “Exit the Soul,” “Faceless,” “Wasted” and the acoustic “The Fall Chorus,” the more there was to find — let alone “Bird,” which I’ll happily put against anything else one might propose for song of the year. As their former UK label crumbled, Habits emerged unscathed and Elephant Tree‘s future continues to shine with ever more hope for things to come. Being able to say that about anything feels like a relief.

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

Twenty years ago, Sweden’s Lowrider put out what would become a heavy rock landmark in their 2000 debut, Ode to Io (reissue review here). A follow-up years in the making even after the band got back together to play Desertfest in London (review here) and Berlin in 2013, Refractions first saw limited release in 2019 as part of Blues Funeral‘s PostWax series (discussed here), but its proper arrival was in early 2020, and there was really no looking back after that. It wasn’t just the novelty of a new Lowrider album that made Refractions such a joy, but the manner in which the band went about its work. There was no pretending that 20 years didn’t happen. There was no attempt to recapture the bottled lightning that was the first record, and Lowrider did not sound like a band “making a comeback” rife with expectations and fan-service. Refractions acknowledged the legacy of Ode to Io, sure enough, but as a step toward adding to it in meaningful and engaging ways. The songs — “Red River,” “Ode to Ganymede,” “Sernanders Krog,” “Ol’ Mule Pepe,” “Sun Devil/M87” and the 11-minute finale “Pipe Rider” — were fashioned without pretense and came across as the organic output of a band with nothing to prove to anyone but themselves. They made it their own. In a wretched year, Lowrider shined.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

Yeah, okay. There are a lot of these, so buckle in. Last year I just threw out a list of bands. This year I’m a little more organized, so here are bands and records alphabetically.

Across Tundras, LOESS ~ LÖSS
Across Tundras, The Last Days of a Silver Rush
Alain Johannes, Hum
Arboretum, Let it All In
Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin, Stygian Bough Vol. 1
Black Helium, The Wholly Other
Boris, No
Brimstone Coven, The Woes of a Mortal Earth
CB3, Aeons
Celestial Season, The Secret Teachings
Crippled Black Phoenix, Ellengæst
Cruthu, Athrú Crutha
Domo, Domonautas Vol. 2
DOOL, Summerland
Dopelord, Sign of the Devil
Dwaal, Gospel of the Vile
Elder Druid, Golgotha
Ellis Munk Ensemble, San Diego Sessions
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, May Our Chambers Be Full
EMBR, 1823
Familiars, All in Good Time
Forlesen, Hierophant Violent
Galactic Cross, Galactic Cross
The Heavy Eyes, Love Like Machines
Hum, Inlet
Human Impact, Human Impact
Humulus, The Deep
Jupiterian, Protosapien
Kariti, Covered Mirrors
Khan, Monsoons
Kingnomad, Sagan Om Ryden
King Witch, Body of Light
Kryptograf, Kryptograf
Light Pillars, Light Pillars
Lord Buffalo, Tohu Wa Bohu
Lord Loud, Timid Beast
Lotus Thief, Oresteia
Malsten, The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill
Mindcrawler, Lost Orbiter
Motorpsycho, The All is One
Mountain Tamer, Psychosis Ritual
Mr. Bison, Seaward
Mrs. Piss, Self-Surgery
Mugstar, GRAFT
Murcielago, Casualties
Oranssi Pazuzu, Mestarin Kynsi
Paradise Lost, Obsidian
Parahelio, Surge Evelia Surge
The Pilgrim, …From the Earth to the Sky and Back
Pretty Lightning, Jangle Bowls
Psychlona, Venus Skytrip
Puta Volcano, AMMA
Ritual King, Ritual King
River Cult, Chilling Effect
Rrrags, High Protein
Shores of Null, Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying)
Sigiriya, Maiden – Mother – Crone
Six Organs of Admittance, Companion Rises
16, Dream Squasher
Slomosa, Slomosa
Somnus Throne, Somnus Throne
Steve Von Till, No Wilderness Deep Enough
Stone Machine Electric, The Inexplicable Vibrations of Frequencies Within the Cosmic Netherworld
Sumac, May You Be Held
Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Red Tide
Temple of Void, The World That Was
The Kings of Frog Island, VI
Tia Carrera, Tried and True
Turtle Skull, Monoliths
Uffe Lorenzen, Magisk Realisme
Ulcerate, Stare Into Death and Be Still
Vessel of Light, Last Ride
Vestal Claret, Vestal Claret
Vinnum Sabbathi, Of Dimensions and Theories
Wight, Spank the World
Wino, Forever Gone
Yatra, All is Lost
Yuri Gagarin, The Outskirts of Reality

By no means is that list exhaustive. And to look at stuff like Psychlona, Oranssi Pazuzu, Wight, Wino, Puta Volcano, Kingnomad, Ellis Munk Ensemble, Paradise Lost, Alain Johannes, Arbouretum, Uffe Lorenzen, Tia Carrera — on and on and on — I can definitely see where arguments are to be made for records that should’ve been in the list proper. I can only go with what feels right to me at the time.

Together with the top 50, this makes over 110 albums in the best of 2020. If you find yourself needing something to hang your hat on, be glad you’re alive to witness this much excellent music coming out.

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

Atramentus, Stygian
Bethmoora, Thresholds
BleakHeart, Dream Griever
Crystal Spiders, Molt
Dirt Woman, The Glass Cliff
Dwaal, Gospel of the Vile
Electric Feat, Electric Feat
Familiars, All in Good Time
Galactic Cross, Galactic Cross
Human Impact, Human Impact
Jointhugger, I Am No One
Light Pillars, Light Pillars
Love Gang, Dead Man’s Game
Malsten, The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill
Might, Might
Mindcrawler, Lost Orbiter
Mrs. Piss, Self-Surgery
Parahelio, Surge Evelia Surge
Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation
Ritual King, Ritual King
SEA, Impermanence
Slomosa, Slomosa
Soldati, Doom Nacional
Somnus Throne, Somnus Throne
SpellBook, Magick & Mischief
Spirit Mother, Cadets
Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Red Tide
The Crooked Whispers, Satanic Melodies
White Dog, White Dog

Notes: I sparred with myself every step of the way here. The last couple years I’ve tried to give the top-debut spot to not just a new band, but a new presence. Green Lung, King Buffalo, etc. Molassess, with members from The Devil’s Blood, Death Alley and Astrosoniq, isn’t exactly that. So what do I do? Do I go with something newer like Polymoon, Dirt Woman, BleakHeart, SEA, White Dog or The Crooked Whispers, or something with more established players like Molassess, Soldati, or even Light Pillars?

In the end, what made the difference was not just how brilliant the songs on Molassess’ Through the Hollow, but how honestly the band confronted the legacy they were up against. The songs had a familiar haunting presence, but they were also moving ahead to somewhere new. It was that blend of old and new ideas, and the resonant feeling of emotional catharsis — as well as the sheer immersion that took place while listening — that ultimately made the decision. Turns out I just couldn’t escape it.

And why not a list? Because this feels woefully inadequate as it is. I reviewed over 250 records this year one way or another — and that’s a conservative estimate — but a lot gets lost in the shuffle and somehow it just seemed wrong this time around to call something the 13th best first record of the year. I wanted to highlight the special achievement that was the Molassess album, but really, all of these records kicked my ass one way or the other.

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

Big Scenic Nowhere, Lavender Blues
Coma Wall, Ursa Minor
Conan/Deadsmoke, Doom Sessions Vol. 1
Fu Manchu, Fu30 Pt. 1
Grandpa Jack, Trash Can Boogie
Howling Giant/Sergeant Thunderhoof, Masamune/Muramasa (split)
Oginalii, Pendulum
Kings Destroy, Floods
Lament Cityscape, The Old Wet
Limousine Beach, Stealin’ Wine +2
Merlock, That Which Speaks
Monte Luna, Mind Control Broadcast
Mos Generator/Di’Aul, Split
Pimmit Hills, Heathens & Prophets
Rito Verdugo, Post-Primatus
Rocky Mtn Roller, Rocky Mtn Roller
Spaceslug, Leftovers
10,000 Years, 10,000 Years
The White Swan, Nocturnal Transmission
Thunderbird Divine, The Hand of Man
Witchcraft, Black Metal

Notes: If you were wondering why King Buffalo’s Dead Star (review here) wasn’t on the big list, this is why. It was pitched to me as an EP and that’s how I’m classifying it. I’m taking the out. Is it an EP? Not really, but neither is it a full-length album, given its experimental nature and focus around its extended two-part title-track. Whatever it was, it was the best that-thing, and this is the category where such things go.

Again, tough choices after King Buffalo. Thunderbird Divine’s EP was wonderfully funk-blasted and woefully short (new album, please). The newly-issued Spaceslug EP branches out their sound in fascinating ways as a result of the lockdown. Witchcraft’s acoustic EP, Coma Wall’s EP and Big Scenic Nowhere’s EP all signaled good things to come, and Howling Giant’s split with Sergeant Thunderhoof was a highlight of the most recent Quarterly Review. There really isn’t a bummer on the list there, from the bitter psych of Oginalii to the industrial metal of Lament Cityscape, the unadulterated riffery of Merlock to the live-captured rawness of Monte Luna.

So again, why no list? Same answer. I want to highlight the progression King Buffalo made in their sound and leave room open elsewhere for things I missed. Please let me know what in the comments. Cordially.

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

Ahab, Live Prey
Amenra, Mass VI Live
Arcadian Child, From Far, for the Wild (Live in Linz)
Author and Punisher, Live 2020 B.C.
Cherry Choke, Raising Salzburg Rockhouse
Dead Meadow, Live at Roadburn 2011
Dirty Streets, Rough and Tumble
Electric Moon, Live at Freak Valley Festival 2019
Kadavar, Studio Live Session Vol. 1
King Buffalo, Live at Freak Valley
Monte Luna, Mind Control Broadcast
Orange Goblin, Rough & Ready: Live and Loud
Øresund Space Collective, Sonic Rock Solstice 2019
Pelican, Live at the Grog Shop
SEA, Live at ONCE
Sumac, St Vitus 09/07/2018
Sun Blood Stories, (a)Live and Alone at Visual Arts Collective
Temple Fang, Live at Merleyn
YOB, Pickathon 2019 – Live From the Galaxy Barn

Notes: In this wretched year (mostly) void of live music, marked by canceled tours and festivals, the live album arguably played a more central role than it ever has, whether it was a band trying to keep momentum up following or leading into a studio release, taking advantage of the emergence of the Bandcamp Friday phenomenon or just trying to maintain some connection to their fans and the process of taking a stage. Or even playing in a room together. Or not a room. Anything. What was once a tossoff, maybe an afterthought companion piece became an essential worker of the listening experience.

You might accuse desert rock progenitors Yawning Man of playing to their base with Live at Giant Rock (featured here), and if so, fine. At no point in the last 50 years has that base more needed playing-to. And in the absence of shows, being able to hear (and watch, in the case of the accompanying video) Yawning Man go out to the landscape that spawned them and engage with their music was a beautiful moment of reconciliation. An exhale for the converted that didn’t fill one with empty promises of better tomorrows or tours to come, but served to remind what’s so worth preserving about the spirit of live music in the first place. The fact that anything can happen. A replaced note here, a tuning change there — these things can make not just an evening, but memories that go beyond shows, tours, to touch our lives.

There were a ton of live records this year. Some were benefits for worthy causes between saving venues, Black Lives Matter, voting rights organizations, and so on. And whether these were new performances from captured livestreams (Monte Luna, Kadavar) or older gigs that had been sitting around waiting for release at some point (Sumac, Dead Meadow), this, very much, was that point, and these live offerings kept burning a fire that felt at times very much in danger of being extinguished.

Looking Ahead to 2021

A list of bands. Some confirmed releases, some not. Here goes:

Dread Sovereign, Sasquatch, Year of Taurus, Apostle of Solitude, Weedpecker, Borracho, Love Gang, Jointhugger, Demon Head, Iron Man, Greenleaf, Samsara Blues Experiment, The Mammathus, Evert Snyman, Wo Fat, Conclave, Here Lies Man, Kabbalah, Komatsu, Hour of 13, Wedge, Amenra, La Chinga, Spidergawd, Wolves in the Throne Room, Vokonis, Freedom Hawk, Masters of Reality, ZOM, Eyehategod, Sanhedrin, Green Lung, The Mountain King, Albatross Overdrive, Elder, King Buffalo, Sunnata, Howling Giant, SAVER, Conan, Slomatics, Ruff Majik, Kind, Mos Generator, Yawning Sons, Lantlôs, Brant Bjork, Spiral Grave, Crystal Spiders, Lightning Born, Samavayo, Wovenhand, Merlock, Comet Control, The Age of Truth, Eight Bells, BlackWater Holylight, DVNE, Monte Luna.

Thank You

You’ve read enough, so I will do my best to keep this mercifully short. Thank you so much for reading — whether you still are or not — and thank you for being a part of the ongoing project that is The Obelisk. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have such incredible support throughout not just this year, but all the years of the site’s existence. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you most of all to The Patient Mrs. for her indulgence in letting me get this done. I’m am amazed forever.

More to come.

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Molassess Interview with Farida Lemouchi: “Through Fire Reborn”

Posted in Features on August 17th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

molassess (Photo by Ryanne Van Dorst)

Vocalist Farida Lemouchi tells her own story throughout the debut Molassess album, Through the Hollow. Set for release Oct. 16 through Season of Mist, the record is the realization of what began as a commissioned project for Roadburn Festival 2019 (review here) and a concurrent CD single, and a return to music for Lemouchi after the dissolution of her former band, The Devil’s Blood, and the March 2014 suicide of her brother and bandmate, Selim Lemouchi.

Alongside a cast of familiar and respected players and veterans of The Devil’s Blood — guitarists Oeds Beydals (also ex-Death Alley) and Ron van Herpen (Rrrags, ex-Astrosoniq), bassist Job van de Zande, keyboardist Matthijs Stronks and drummer Bob Hogenelst (also Atlanta), Lemouchi casts a tale of perseverance. As one the album’s most resonant choruses tells it, of “getting out from under.” Heavy catharsis takes many forms, however, and Molassess are not attempting to continue what The Devil’s Blood accomplished. This isn’t cult rock in any previously known form. Across its 65 minutes, Through the Hollow may touch on familiar darkness, but it does so with a progressive experimentalism that is no less the band’s own than the lyrical theme and performance is Lemouchi‘s; signature soul, inimitable.

I’ll tell you flat out I was honored to do this interview. And a bit nervous. I was there in 2014 when Lemouchi, Beydals and others took the stage at the 013 to pay tribute to Selim just over a month after his death, and it was one of the most powerful and genuine live performances I’ve ever witnessed. In some ways, it felt voyeuristic to stand and watch the rawness of someone’s grief like that, and now, I’d be engaging that same person — a human being, not just an idea of a person on a stage — in conversation about how she’s moved forward over the six years since. She was, thankfully, kind and sincere and open and honest, and the strength of vulnerability in her telling her story throughout the album came through as much in how she framed talking about returning to music as in learning to focus her energies without her brother’s voice pushing her.

Strength, vulnerability, and the strength to be vulnerable. I hope that’s what comes through here. Thank you for reading.

Full Q&A follows. Thanks to Katy Irizarry for coordinating, to Oeds Beydals, Walter Hoeijmakers, and of course Lemouchi herself.

Please enjoy:

molassess roadburn 2019 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Molassess Interview with Farida Lemouchi: “Through Fire Reborn”

You’re on the Main Stage at Roadburn 2019 with a brand new band, who people kind of know through association with The Devil’s Blood, Astrosoniq, and you’re up front. What were you feeling at that point, as you were performing as Molassess for the first time, this new entity?

It was the first 30 minutes of the show, I was very much aware of all these things you’re talking about right now, and I needed some time to shake that loose. I think we all had the same experience with the band. It was not uncomfortable, but it was, well… I was making a statement for myself to be something completely new and completely different, but of course we had this story.

I had to shake it out during the first part of the set. Up front, I was thinking, how should I behave? How should I act on stage? Then I let that go, like, okay, I’m not going to think about it, I’m going to do whatever I feel. But it was hard to do that at the beginning. Then, when we went along, it kept feeling better and better and then suddenly I was one with the music and one with the stage and one with all the people there, and it felt like letting go.

It’s all about that, also, the theme. It fit it perfectly, I guess. It maybe represented the time that I needed to get to that point.

What you’re describing sounds to me like catharsis. After five years from being on a stage like that – or on that stage – aside from being exhausted emotionally, was there a sense of relief, too, because, “we did this thing and it worked?”

molasses at roadburn 2019 (Photo by JJ Koczan)(Laughs) Enormously, of course. Yeah, exhausted, but very energetic and very happy, like okay, so we did it and it was good and we overcome, and yeah. All kinds of emotions like that, yes. And then, of course, it was a good thing that Walter decided to put us on the first day so we had the whole weekend then to party (laughs) and be happy.

They call that “processing.” Time to “process.”

(Laughs) Exactly.

Tell me about creating for Molassess. Obviously you and Selim working together had a bond that went beyond the band, and these are familiar players as well, but it’s naturally going to be different. Can you tell me about writing for this band and how your relationship to this music is different from your relationship to that music?

Well, to start with the second part of your question, the relationship is bound to be different, because Selim is not there anymore. What we had was brotherhood or sisterhood, or yeah, and I’m never gonna have that again, it’s obvious. But we have this deep connection in this band, in Molassess. Of course, the two people that [joined], that are there, I didn’t know up front. So that was a search and a process to get to know each other, but in the rehearsal room, there was this energy immediately, so it fits.

Me and Oeds are very deeply connected also, and we had this experience and this history together, so even on a spiritual level, we’re very close. I was very nervous at the beginning to do this, because I had to let myself get into that again, and I think I was a little bit scared of doing that again, because I had all these uncertainties, that I thought I maybe couldn’t do it without Selim. But on the other hand, it was also this challenge for me individually, like, “Okay, I’m on my own now and I have to do it, and I have to search different ways to do that,” and I think we managed very well along the way.

In the beginning, when we were asked for Roadburn, then it was very clear what we needed to do and we also had lots of plans before already, so it was just like, “Okay, let’s put everything together and let’s do this.” So it went really well, actually. But always with this feeling that, you know, and I don’t want to sound too insecure, but, “What am I doing? Is this really gonna be worthwhile? Is it going to be good enough?” But on the other hand, I think all creators deal with that stuff when you’re working on something. I hear it all the time, so yeah. It’s always a personal process.

That’s something I wanted to talk about too. So many of the themes on the album feel directly personal, and to me, the key phrase is “getting out from under.”

Yes, that’s very true.

And that’s kind of what the album is doing as well. For all of you, really, but especially for you. Acknowledging this weight and getting out from under it as best you can. One thing I was struck by in listening is the power of your voice and the vulnerability of your lyrics. You mentioned going into Roadburn you had this story. Can you talk a bit about writing your story and framing it for yourself in this way?

I can. It was very clear to me that I needed to talk about me, and the feelings that I have and the emotions I went through, because that was the story that needs to be told. But however, I never wrote before. Oeds helped me a lot. Because we are connected so well. But I told him, I don’t know how, I don’t know where to begin, how does one go about that? I think it’s very… It’s like walking naked through the street, right? I don’t know if I can do it.

So we had this like a ping-pong game, where I told him my thoughts and my feelings and of course we talked – all those years we stayed in contact – so we knew everything. Then he kind of asked all the questions, “do you mean this?” and “are you saying that?” and then it became lyrics. He texted me back, do you mean this? And I was like, “No I mean that.” And then like molds, you put it in very poetic – I’m not a word artist myself, but together we created. I think he put my thoughts into this cool.. I’m searching for a word.

Like a frame. He helped you frame your thoughts.

Yeah, exactly. And then the music was there. Most of the ideas came from Oeds and Ron, actually, and we started working on that sitting at my kitchen table or at his place. Well, most of the time here because I don’t have any neighbors who – they are all good with it. We started to work and work and work, and that’s how it went. And then we went to the rehearsal room.

Molassess at Roadburn 2019 (Photo by JJ Koczan)What was is like for you, sitting down and getting back to work and back to songwriting after half a decade-plus?

It felt really good, because I missed making music all day. I wasn’t sure. I wanted to, but on the other side, I didn’t want to. I don’t know if I can explain it clearly, but when you’re mourning, you get all these emotions and all this stuff, and sometimes you don’t know why or what does it mean, or how should I deal with them, so my thoughts went from left to right and everything in between, so one day I was very clear about, “Okay, I want a new band and I want to make music,” and then the next day, “Oh no, it’s a really bad idea. I’m never going to do that again.”

I needed a little kick in the ass. We all talked about it a lot, but everyone was doing their own stuff, and because I was sure that if I would do it again it would be with these people, because we had something to finish – or something to begin, but first something to finish – but we never did it together. So yeah, catharsis again. I think maybe if it wasn’t for Walter, we would’ve waited longer. Someone had to put the seed there and then we all were live wolves, “Yeah! Let’s do this!”

So you had ideas and things loosely in progress then, that solidified after Walter came into the picture. When did you know Molassess was something you wanted to keep going?

It was in the first stage of rehearsing for Roadburn. I think when we were in the rehearsal room two or three times, nobody was a done deal (laughs). So in the beginning, Oeds, Ron, Job and me were sitting, at my kitchen table again – lots of stuff happens at my kitchen table (laughs) – and we talked about, you know, are we serious and this is what we want, and are we going to do this, and everyone was very, very into it. That was even before we asked the other musicians to join us, so we were very clear about it, “Okay, the four of us are gonna do it.”

It was in the beginning already. First three get-togethers, we were very decided. It’s like — always this language is so difficult sometimes when you’re talking emotions — but we missed each other. We saw each other, but musically and on a creative level, we missed each other very much, and it was time. We felt it. It was this energy that felt like being whole again, actually.

And in terms of putting the songs together and putting the album together, what can you tell me about being in the studio again and recording vocals again?

Of course, we recorded the single or the 7”, and I did some studio stuff for friends that went pretty cool. But of course it was very, very different. I had to practice and do stuff to get my voice in shape. But it all went very natural.

The real struggle was to find the power in myself. And that is where Selim came in, because he was always very good at challenging me to give everything and more. And you have to dive deep into yourself, and he could fight me to get the best things. And I didn’t know if I could do it in this form, but it did. I had to do it myself, and I found myself, so I think I’m stronger than ever, actually.

And the studio experience was great. We did it with Pieter [Kloos], and of course we did all The Devil’s Blood records with him also, only he changed the studio. He had a studio in one place, but now he built a beautiful little studio in his back yard, and in the old studio, there was a cellar and I had to go into the cellar and was all alone in a dark room (laughs), sort of a dark room.

And they were upstairs telling me all kinds of stuff through their mic to my headphones, and so I told Pieter, “How are we gonna do it because I don’t want to be in the studio where everyone can see me. I want the dark room!” So he made one for me with black curtains, I could say bye-bye, close the curtains, and sing. It went very natural. It was a really great experience and I think I felt more free.

How do you mean?

Well, it’s the paradox of missing someone who’s not there anymore, and thinking that it was maybe Selim who made me do stuff, or I thought I needed him to get the best out of me. But he’s still here, in one form or another, but it was never him. It was always me. But I had to find that out.

Selim’s style comes into a little bit with what Oeds and Ron are doing, and “Molasses” was the last song on the Enemies record, so in what ways do you feel like Through the Hollow is moving forward from that point?

If you look at it music-wise, you can see the progression The Devil’s Blood made from the first one to the last one – it’s not an official album but it is to me – and also how Selim progressed in his way of thinking. He changed very much. In the beginning, he was very like, “This is what I want and you all have to do it like this,” and he was very… what’s the word?

Controlling?

(Laughs) Well yeah, controlling, it’s a Molassess at Roadburn 2019 (Photo by JJ Koczan)good one. He was controlling, but he also had the whole picture in his head already. He had the vision. Along the way, he started also to be more free, and be more loose. More jams and more intuitive, I think. I think you can hear that also in the music very much, and maybe it is where The Devil’s Blood left, or quit, or stopped, that everyone had their own stuff. I’m making it too difficult right now (laughs).

It developed from there to Molassess, and then Molassess was the last song on the album, also the last song we worked together on, and then we all had time to grieve and grow and develop in all kinds of ways, and yeah. It’s like Molassess picked up maybe we left off, but not exactly at the point where The Devil’s Blood quit, but years later, with all the progression and development. You get that?

You’re saying Molassess aren’t trying to pretend the last five years-plus didn’t happen.

There could never be a Molassess without all those years.

It’s taking what’s happened in that time and translating it emotionally and in terms of musical progression into the songs.

And also as individuals, for each and every one. Even with the new guys, I guess. Otherwise we couldn’t – not to get spiritual – but everything feels very organic and it had to be like this, otherwise we couldn’t make this album.

But it is spiritual. In the sense of something intangible, you’re a group of people coming together to make this thing. Shit, if there’s magic anywhere, that’s it. There’s so much honesty in this record, and you see the frame and the story. Where does it go from here? You get the front to back journey on the record. What happens next?

“What happens next?” (Laughs) Yeah, that’s a good… I mean, who knows? We’re already writing again, new stuff. It goes on, but I mean, I don’t know how, I don’t know when. And also everything is on hold. But we’re moving along. It was very, very good to finish this album because it was also like, “When is it gonna be done? I want a copy and I can’t listen to it” and all that stuff, of course.

Because when you have a story to tell and you’ve told it, then it needs to get out there. Because otherwise you still can’t let go. “So go now, thank you” (laughs). But where, I don’t know. I’m not a fortune teller. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But I hope… We’re not done, so we’re moving on and we’re moving forward and now that this has been said, we can search for other stuff and grow again. It would be really nice if people like it and want more, but we have more, so this is definitely just a beginning.

It sounds like a beginning. You’re working with the benefit of knowing each other, you, Ron and Oeds. You have this foundation of a relationship, but it is a new exploration, and you can hear that as the album goes on. And there’s the story with that as well. I keep going back to the storyline happening across the album.

It is the story from beginning to end. I can almost not listen to it. Well, now I don’t listen to it for a while now. But it was one thing. It almost feels like, yeah. One book. And it’s the beginning and it’s the end and now we’re gonna make a new album (laughs).

It’s like a memoir, almost.

Well yeah, you could call it that. I never thought of that, but yeah. That’s a good name (laughs). We should’ve called it Memoir (laughs).

What do you take away from the experience of making the record ultimately? You’ve mentioned finding that ability to push yourself, the level of catharsis in this expression, and I’d think the ability to make a song personal for you would have to be satisfying. Having told this story now that’s being put out there, I guess in October, what are you taking with you from this experience as you move forward?

Lots of stuff, I guess. It’s this kind of freedom. This inner-freedom. I don’t know if that’s a word.

It changed me as a person. In the way I feel and the way I think. Not really changed, because you never really change –

Molassess at Roadburn 2019 (Photo by JJ Koczan)Wait wait wait wait! Don’t back off that. No no no. Keep going.

Yeah, so I changed. My state of mind changed. It gave me so much energy. New energy, I think, that I haven’t found in my whole life. Maybe also because this was my first experience with really creating something myself that is totally mine – and of course with everyone in the band included because it’s not about me alone – but for me, personal.

I have a child, you have a child also. Something is so yours. It’s in your flesh, it’s in your genes. It’s so hard to give away, and that whole process to really experience that, and yeah. So I’m taking with me that I’m very strong, and I know, I know, I just know, I have to do this and I want to do this and it brought me… everything. That is too fake, I guess.

No, that is not fake. That’s the opposite of fake. That’s is the real thing. You have made a piece of art that has changed who you are. That’s incredible.

Well it feels incredible, and I’m very thankful that I’ve got this chance to do that and I’m in a lucky position that we could do this. And one thing I learned from my brother was that, you know, at the times I was very insecure about, “Was it good enough,” and “Should we do this,” I always listened to him telling me, “If you are okay with it and you did the best you can, then it is good, whatever people will think doesn’t matter anymore.”

That’s how I feel now. When I got insecure, that was what I would think about and say, “I’m good with this. It is fucking good, so yes, move on to the next,” and so on and so on. I changed. It changed me. I’m grown up now. Maybe that’s the thing. I feel very mature (laughs). Not really.

Selim passed away six years ago, and my mother passed away three years ago, and my father passed away like nine years ago. Nine, six, three. So this freedom is also about that, because I’m loose. I have a son, but I don’t have any more responsibilities to my family. In the beginning, also it felt very alone, but I can only depend on me and now I’m very proud of myself, because I’m able to make this great music. Everything I just said, but this is a personal process thing.

The record ends with “The Devil Lives.” Can you talk a little about that?

That was a Selim song, a Devil’s Blood song, that was never finished. And we tried it. We worked on it many times, but it never was good enough, or it was never appropriate. Then it became just another thing that was thrown on the pile of unfinished stuff. But also it was one of my favorites. Way before Roadburn, I had all the guys together, like, “We should finish this song, we should finish it!” so we tried something but it didn’t work and everyone went on doing their stuff again, and then now this was the perfect time to try it again and I think we did a good job.

Molassess Through the HollowWe finished it, but it was Selim’s song. We put it at the end of the album I think too, Through the Hollow is more of a statement like, “And now for something completely different.” It’s very clear that it’s no Devil’s Blood and we’re doing our own shit, but it felt really good to have him there also. We thought it was a perfect ending of this new beginning.

We thought about it, because it’s a very difficult thing. At first when we talked about Molassess, a lot of people were like, “Oh, The Devil’s Blood!” or “Oh, she’s coming back!” and we didn’t want that, but can you really blame people?

It’s like, this is our history, so I learned you need to embrace everything. Also that. When we were thinking about this song, we had also mixed feelings about it, like, “No, but it’s too Devil’s Blood,” and just when we let that go, well, it’s part of us. So here it is.

Molassess, “Through the Hollow”

Molassess on Thee Facebooks

Molassess on Instagram

Molassess on Bandcamp

Season of Mist on Thee Facebooks

Season of Mist website

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Molassess Announce Oct. 16 Release for Through the Hollow; Title-Track Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 22nd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

I’ve been waiting for this news, and I’ve been waiting for this song and I’ve been waiting for this album. Molassess‘ impending Season of Mist debut full-length is called Through the Hollow and the 11-minute opener, longest and title-track (immediate points) is streaming now. You’ll find it’s nothing less than a masterclass in dark psychedelic progressive rock, a churning rhythm set to a soulful melody that pushes outside of expected bounds right from the outset. The record’s on my desktop and if I wasn’t at this very minute giving my kid a bath, I’d for sure dig in, but frankly, it’d be hard to hear over the water going in the tub. I’ve got a date for naptime though.

You might recall drummer Bob Hogenelst was also featured on the Atlanta release streamed today. That is just the tip of the black-iceberg when it comes to Molassess.

The PR wire has more to tell about tracks and preorders, and the song’s down at the bottom.

Enjoy:

Molassess Through the Hollow

MOLASSESS Announces New Album, Shares Title Track

Dutch psychedelic rock formation MOLASSESS (ft. members of The Devil’s Blood) will be releasing their debut full-length, ‘Through the Hollow,’ on October 16! The record will be released via Season of Mist, making it the band’s debut to the label. The album art and tracklist can be found below.

MOLASSESS comments on the single, “This was the first one to erupt out of our sonic maelstrom. It represents a journey into the unknown, yet obvious. A creative urge, a story to tell, a perfect timing led Molassess ‘Through the Hollow.’”

Featuring four musicians from THE DEVIL’S BLOOD, MOLASSESS was formed upon being commissioned for a performance during the 2019 edition of Roadburn Festival. Yet, MOLASSESS is not a continuation of a buried past, nor a celebration of a cherished collaborator, but a culmination of heartache, requisite resolution, a rediscovery of rage and the relighting of a fire that never really burned out.

‘Through the Hollow” can be pre-ordered HERE.

Tracklist:
1. Through the Hollow (11:06)
2. Get Out From Under (06:50)
3. Formless Hands (10:54)
4. Corpse of Mind (04:58)
5. The Maze of Stagnant Time (04:03)
6. I Am No Longer (06:21)
7. Death Is (04:54)
8. Tunnel (05:21)
9. The Devil Lives (10:33)
Total: 01:05:00

MOLASSESS are:
Oeds Beydals – guitar
Ron van Herpen – guitar
Job van de Zande- bass guitar
Bob Hogenelst- drums and percussion
Matthijs Stronks- keys
Farida Lemouchi- vocals

https://www.facebook.com/Molassessofficial
https://www.instagram.com/molassessofficial/
https://molasses-vanrecords.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/seasonofmistofficial
http://www.season-of-mist.com/

Molassess, “Through the Hollow”

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Temple Fang Stream Live at Merleyn in Full

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on June 23rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

temple fang

This Saturday, June 27, Amsterdam’s Temple Fang will release their debut long-player, Live at Merleyn on vinyl. Whether you know or not, you’ve been waiting for it. It is the first release of any kind from the four-piece spacious psych resonators, and the decision for it to be a live outing comes as a marked signal of aesthetic intent.

Regardless of the de rigeur nostalgia that has taken hold in the first half of 2020 for live shows owing to a season-plus of limited social gathering due to a global pandemic, a concert recording is a notion inherently defined by — and in some ways, working in defiance of — ephemera. It is a fleeting moment. True, some live albums draw from an entire tour or even a span of years, but for an offering like Live at Merleyn — which arrives as a bootleg-style stamped LP cover and three or four tracks (depending on what counts) consuming two sides of a 40-minute set — it’s one night. They took the stage, played on the stage, and left the stage. Maybe had some beers or something afterward, I don’t know.

But the point of Live at Merleyn isn’t that Temple Fang isn’t just that the band recorded a show, it’s that they’re using this particular show as a first statement of who they are as a band. That whole thing about first impressions? Well, consider that Temple Fang are not arriving as an entirely unknown entity. I was lucky enough to see them twice at Roadburn last year (review here and here) and I can definitely confirm I wasn’t alone in either room. They also played Desertfest Belgium last Fall and a swath of temple fang live at merleynothers, and this Spring alone they would’ve been at Freak Valley and Desertfest Berlin in Germany, and no doubt more. No doubt a pedigree that includes Dennis Duijnhouwer‘s tenure on bass in Death Alley doesn’t hurt, but if he, guitarist/vocalist Jevin de Groot, guitarist Ivy van der Veer and drummer Jasper van den Broeke couldn’t meet the demand of establishing their own presence, the entire project would fall flat. And as Live at Merleyn proves in raw fashion, Temple Fang do anything but.

De Groot and Duijnhouwer are both members of the much-underappreciated cosmic doom outfit Mühr, so to find them exploring such vast sonic reaches throughout “Gemini/Silky Servants” on side A and the two-part “Not the Skull” on side B of Live at Merleyn isn’t necessarily such a surprise, and de Groot and van der Veer offer a distinct chemistry as well on guitar, pushing into a sound that’s as progressive as it is organic. There are verses and parts plotted out, but Temple Fang don’t sound restricted as the show plays out by form. Maybe on another night “Gemini/Silky Servants” would sound different. Maybe it would lean on different progressions, tip its balance one way or the other. Not knowing is part of what makes it an adventure in the listening. There are soundscapes being created that are unquestionably formative, and more likely than not that’s precisely Temple Fang‘s intention. As much as the atmosphere of both sides of the long-player brims with psychedelic shimmer, the two guitars winding into and out of harmonized leads over a languid rolling rhythm in side B as de Groot‘s vocals come and go like so much consciousness itself, more than that, what Live at Merleyn captures is the spirit of creativity at work beneath, driving each of the changes in the linear build of “Not the Skull Pt. 1” and its coinciding second installment, which picks up after 12 minutes in with a heavy kraut riff and points itself in the direction of FAR OUT at a steady churn and gallop.

You can mourn for what’s been lost in live music. Over these last several months. Or what will continue to be lost for however long it is. You’re not wrong to do so, and in some ways, Live at Merleyn is a reminder of that too. But as van der Veer, de Groot, van den Broeke and Duijnhouwer all seem to align in the final thrust of “Not the Skull Pt. 2,” it’s not so much the nebulousness of Temple Fang‘s creativity that comes across as it is the progressive intention; the idea that not every night will be the same because the band will learn, adapt and grow as players and as a unit in conversation with itself. Live at Merleyn, a show from last October in the Netherlands — just another night in Nijmegen — is something special precisely for that. It’s one night, of many, preserved. It calls the listener to realize that Temple Fang were not this thing before and may not be this thing again, but right then, they were. Whatever comes next, this has been said, upfront and without pretense. It can’t and won’t be denied. Reality audio.

Below you’ll find the full stream of Temple Fang‘s Live at Merleyn. They’ll be taking orders through Bandcamp while the pressing lasts. The band tells their story under the player here:

In February of 2018, at the request of Tee Pee Records owner Kenny Sehgal, ex-Death Alley bassist Dennis Duijnhouwer put together a band for a one-off show at Little Devil in Tilburg, a day before the kickoff of Roadburn Festival in that same town.

He recruited his former Mühr bandmate Jevin de Groot to join him on guitar and vocals and pulled in two brand new friends, guitarist Ivy van der Veer and drummer Jasper van den Broeke. And thus Temple Fang was born. After this show the band was asked to open two shows for Coven and after doing those, the band decided to be just that, a band.

A long string of shows followed, that took the band to Roadburn, Sonic Whip, Desertfest Antwerp, Void Fest, Stick and Stone and many other heavy psych fest. All based on word of mouth, since the band hadn’t released any music.

As the band pondered their future and considered offer from various labels, they weren’t quite sure if they were ready to enter the music-biz game of album cycles and thus decided to focus on being a live-band and made no plans on releasing anything for a while, if ever.

But their roadcrew decided otherwise and hatched a plan of their own to secretly start recording the live shows and release them as bootlegs, with or without permission of the band.

The first show they clandestinely recorded was on Oct. 24th at Merleyn, Nijmegen (NL), a sold out night in a small club where the the bill was shared with their good friends of Ecstatic Vision.

When the band heard the result, they decided it to put it out, warts-and-all, with minimal artwork and no promo, only to be available at shows.

And then corona happened…

So here it is, a vinyl document of a Temple Fang show on their first run, an honest representation of what this band was at that moment in time.

Temple Fang on Thee Facebooks

Temple Fang on Bandcamp

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Molassess Sign to Season of Mist

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 4th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Molassess (Photo by JJ Koczan)

After coming together as a commissioned project for Roadburn 2019 (review here) and releasing the debut two-songer Mourning Haze / Drops of Sunlight as a part of that process, Molassess — who at the time only had one ‘s’ at the end of their name — have now signed to Season of Mist and will release a debut full-length this Fall. That’s an automatic win, like, hold-a-spot-on-your-best-of-the-year-list win. Having been fortunate enough to see them at Roadburn, I plan on doing precisely that.

The legacy of The Devil’s Blood obviously looms large, as four of the six members of Molassess took part in that group at one point or another, most pivotally vocalist Farida Lemouchi, but it would be even more surprising if, given the parties involved, there wasn’t a forward push to establish a style of Molassess‘ own as well. Can’t wait to find out.

The PR wire takes it from here:

molasses (Photo by Esther van Waalwijk)

MOLASSESS Sign to Season of Mist

Season of Mist are proud to announce the signing of Dutch psychedelic rock formation MOLASSESS. A new full length will be released in the fall of 2020.

Featuring four musicians from THE DEVIL’S BLOOD, MOLASSESS was formed upon being commissioned for a performance during the 2019 edition of Roadburn Festival. Yet, MOLASSESS is not a continuation of a buried past, nor a celebration of a cherished collaborator, but a culmination of heartache, requisite resolution, a rediscovery of rage and the relighting of a fire that never really burned out.

The Dutch six piece comment on the signing: “This newborn beast is growing vastly within us. Calling out in ways yet to explore. We are excited to become one with its ever expanding language the coming years. We will be its best host possible, together with our newly formed alliance. A call for adventurous spirit is reaching out its formless hands, moving forward in blatant celebration of the irrational. We are more than ready to surface and start pouring out this cosmic glue over mind and matter. Drunk on Molassess!”

MOLASSESS previously released the EP ‘Mourning Haze / Drops of Sunlight’ in April of 2019.

MOLASSESS are:
Oeds Beydals – guitar
Ron van Herpen – guitar
Job van de Zande- bass guitar
Bob Hogenelst- drums and percussion
Matthijs Stronks- keys
Farida Lemouchi- vocals

https://www.facebook.com/Molassessofficial
https://www.instagram.com/molassessofficial/
https://molasses-vanrecords.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/seasonofmistofficial
http://www.season-of-mist.com/

Molasses, Mourning Haze / Drops of Sunlight (2019)

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Friday Full-Length: The Devil’s Blood, III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 3rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The 2013 release of the third and final The Devil’s Blood full-length, III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars, will be forever tainted by the context of the subsequent suicide-by-overdose of the band’s founder and mastermind Selim Lemouchi, but even by the time the record came out, the band had broken up. Based in the Netherlands, and with a legacy there that continues to spread thanks to the likes of erstwhile The Devil’s Blood members Oeds Beydals and Ron Van Herpen — not to mention vocalist Farida Lemouchi, sister to Selim, whose singular voice was essential in conveying The Devil’s Blood‘s theatricality and thereby setting the course of European cult rock for years to come — The Devil’s Blood were only together for about seven years, but their work continues to resonate for those who’d dare take it on. In the case of III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars, it is an alternately dense and sprawling inwardly-churning cosmic storm, with 22-minute opener “I Was Promised a Hunt” set up across side A of a 2LP like a wall to keep out all but the bravest of listeners, harnessing krautrock-derived repetitions, spacious echoes in the vocals of both Lemouchis and a nigh-opaque feeling of purpose behind its expression. By the time it’s nine minutes in, it’s almost gothic in its level of drama, and the atmosphere it creates is pervasive throughout subsequent tracks “The Lullaby of the Burning Boy,” “…If Not a Vessel?” and “In the Loving Arms of Lunacy’s Secret Demons” on side B or the second platter’s longer stretches in “Dance of the Elements” and “White Storm of Teeth” and the consuming/consumed finale “Tabula Rasa.” With the years of hindsight, it is a powerful and at times overwhelming listening experience.

“Overwhelming” simply because of its scope. The Devil’s Blood had already proven expansive at an increasing rate on their prior full-lengths, 2011’s The Thousandfold Epicentre (review here) and 2009’s The Time of No Time Evermore (review here), and even the formative 2009 Come, Reap EP (review here) as well as other itinerant short releases demonstrated the potential in their craft and style. III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars, however, was simply working on another level. Refusing genre constraints, it was as much progressive as it was psychedelic, as much metal as dark heavy rock, and it was as much spirit and soul as it was tied to the earth as it was unwilling to do anything but soar. With guitar, bass, drum programming, vocals, music and lyrics and recording by Selim, vocals by Farida and a mix and master by Peter G. Kloos, it was nothing short of a vision manifested and turned into reality — such as it was — through songwriting of rare introspective urgency. Self-indulgent? You bet your ass. From the invocation of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” in the last movement of “I Was Promised a Hunt” down through the intertwining bass/guitar noodling of “In the Loving Arms of Lunacy’s Secret Demons” and the galloping final build and Floydian wash of “Tabula Rasa,” the seven-song/65-minute offering carried a sense of pushing The Devil’s Blood‘s sound as far as it could go — all the more in light of the band’s breakup. It was and is gorgeous and damaged, deeply human andthe devils blood iii tabula rasa or death and the seven pillars otherworldly, and propelled as much by these conflicts as by Farida‘s operatic vocals.

A masterpiece, in other words, and the work to which everything The Devil’s Blood had done up to that point had been leading. Releasing through Ván Records in Europe and Metal Blade in the US as of the second album, they’d taken on increasing notoriety. They’d toured the States as well as Europe and were already seen as having some measure of influence, and that has only continued to grow as the years have passed and the wound of Selim Lemouchi‘s death has, if not healed — because it hasn’t; it looms over the songs on III and is inseparable from the album — then at least become less fresh with time. But it’s important to remember that came later. Selim had already moved on to Selim Lemouchi and His Enemies, and it was The Devil’s Blood‘s breakup that so much snapped their forward momentum. Metal Blade gave a cursory push as I recall, but really, what was to be done with III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars if The Devil’s Blood weren’t a band anymore?

But that circumstance, bummer as it was, can’t now take away from the accomplishment that III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars represents. In the barrage of verses throughout “White Storm of Teeth,” the final lines of the album are delivered thusly:

I fall into the spaceless space
The timeless time, the endless end
Neither here nor there, above or below
Into the night I go

Even this final statement seems to carry extra weight because of Selim‘s death. It made it all real and terrible, and even years later, it makes listening to III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars harder — and the album is by no means easy listening anyhow, despite its melodic range. But the album also stands as a testament to how beautiful the work could be, and as time passes, that seems to come more into focus. One hopes it will continue to be the case.

Among the most touching live experiences I’ve ever witnessed was at Roadburn Festival in 2014 as Farida LemouchiOeds Beydals and others took to the Main Stage as Selim Lemouchi’s Enemies and paid tribute to Selim little more than a month after his passing. By then, Beydals had already formed Death Alley and was ramping up momentum with that outfit, and other Job Van De Zande would join Dool while Ron Van Herpen continued on periodically with Astrosoniq and Rrrags, etc. Farida would remain unheard-from until 2019 when, again at Roadburn (review here) she appeared fronting Molasses with BeydalsVan Herpen, Van De Zande and other The Devil’s Blood associates in tow. A concurrent single was released in the form of Mourning Haze / Drops of Sunlight, but at the time it was a question as to whether or not the project — commissioned specifically for the festival — would continue, and certainly considering the emotional drain of performing essentially together without Selim there, especially on Farida Lemouchi, it’s easy enough to understand why. They have two live performances booked thus far for 2020: The Abyss Festival in Gothenburg, Sweden, on March 28, and Eros at Arms in Zürich on April 25. After that, your guess is as good as mine.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Thanks for reading.

I slept an extra half-hour this morning on a gamble that The Pecan: Toddlerian would also sleep late. It seems to have worked out thus far — quarter after six — but I expect him up at any minute. Nothing major, but I’m having a kind of minor outpatient surgical procedure done on my left leg later on, and they said no coffee beforehand — I could cry — and it was that much harder to get out of bed with the extra incentive of turning on the Chemex in the kitchen to make the first pot of the day. I had a protein bar and drank a bunch of water instead. Not nearly the same, but so it goes.

Rumor has it I’ll be laid up for a good portion of the weekend — at least tomorrow — so it seems like a good time to begin work on the Quarterly Review, which is precisely my intention. It’ll be next Monday through Friday, 10 reviews per day, 50 total, kind of putting a bow on 2019 and a little bit looking ahead to the months to come. It’ll be fun. Usually is, anyhow, by the time it’s finished.

There’s also a new Gimme Radio show today at 1PM Eastern listen here: http://gimmeradio.com.

I like doing that a lot, and I wonder if now that I’m back in NJ I might be able to volunteer at WFMU as a DJ. Think they’d take me? They sure as hell didn’t last time. I cut a voice sample and then never heard from Brian Turner again. He works at Gimme now. We email a lot. Go figure. Seems like a nice guy. I’ve never reminded him of the time I tried to join his staff. That was maybe 2007-2008. I was still at Metal Maniacs.

My illustrious career.

What a wreck.

I don’t have any New Year’s resolutions, and I frankly believe they’re bullshit, but it is important to set reasonable, attainable goals for oneself, and at some point in the next 12 months, I’d like to conceive of and begin a new book project. What does that look like? I have no idea. Could be a children’s book I’ll write in a day and spent two months revising to get the meter right. Could be a collection of essays I’ll map out and put together over the next couple years. Could be a compilation of stuff from on here. I don’t know. But I’d like to get something moving in that regard. I don’t think it’ll be fiction on the order of the first book. It started to feel too formulaic and “literary,” which, I’m sorry, but screw that. The universe needs my white-cis-male ass to be making literary proclamations like it needs a supermassive black hole in its infinitely expanding head.

So I’ve been thinking about that and will continue to do so and see where it takes me and where I take it. I’m sure I’ll find some way to keep you posted if you’re interested, if not here then on thee social medias.

Oh, and I put out the notion of doing a newsletter a bit ago and seemed to get a positive response. Then I signed up for MailChimp and forgot all about it when the holidays hit. Ha. Survival-mode came on. I’ll maybe get on that sooner or later if anyone really cares.

And speaking of the social medias, I put out word there that the Decade-End Poll was staying up an extra week. If you haven’t turned in a list or however many picks for your favorite records of the 2010s yet, please do so here.

It’s also my mother’s birthday tomorrow. Happy birthday, mom.

Alright, I think that’s everything.

FRM: Forum, Radio, Merch at MiBK.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

The Obelisk merch

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Splinter Post Video for “Bitter Sounds”; Debut Single out Now

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 8th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

splinter logo

Before you start feeling like you’re out of the loop — I promise you, you’re way more in the loop than I am; stuck in the rhombus over here — Splinter are a pretty new band. Based in the Netherlands (I think probably Amsterdam or somewhere thereabouts), they did what was most likely their first recording session this past March, with Igor Wouters (indeed in Amsterdam), and from that issued the debut single Hurt b/w Brand New Future that they self-released as a 7″ vinyl with the logo you see above as its cover. There was a video for “Hurt” — no it’s a not a cover of the Nine Inch Nails song later taken on by Johnny Cash — that went up last month, and that’s now been followed-up with a new clip, this time for a song called “Bitter Sounds.”

The thing about “Bitter Sounds?” It wasn’t on that single.

So clearly there’s more to come.

Fair enough. Splinter‘s heralding of a busier future is extra notable given that the band is fronted by Douwe Truijens, formerly of Death Alley, and also features guitarist Sander Bus, who was brought in as that group’s second bassist, as well as drummer Barry van Esbroek and organist Gertjan Gutman (also of Utrecht’s Birth of Joy, who played their final show in January), whose contributions to both “Hurt” and “Bitter Sounds” are significant. The sound is either a formative punker take on classic heavy rock or a formative heavy rocker take on classic punk, depending on the angle you look at it, and for an act who are just getting going, they’ve clearly got their songwriting ducks a row. That is to say, get ready to want to put on “Bitter Sounds” twice, and maybe clap along the second time.

Video follows here, and definitely stay tuned for more.

Please enjoy:

Splinter, “Bitter Sounds” official video

Recorded and mixed by Igor Wouters at Amsterdam Recording Company

Mastered by Attie Bauw at Bauwhaus

Video by Hakki Takkie, shot and cut by Max Westendorp

Splinter live:
Oct 19 Ballroom Fest Zukunft am Ostkreuz Friedrichshain

Splinter is:
Douwe Truijens – vocals
Sander Bus – guitar
Gertjan Gutman – organ
Barry van Esbroek – drums

Splinter on Thee Facebooks

Splinter BigCartel store

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Quarterly Review: Total Fucking Destruction, Hippie Death Cult, The Cosmic Dead, Greenthumb, Elepharmers, Nothing is Real, Warish, Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge, Those Furious Flames, Mantra Machine

Posted in Reviews on October 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

I’d like to find the jerk who decided that the week I fly to Norway was a good time for the Quarterly Review. That, obviously, was a tactical error on my part. Nonetheless, we press on with day four, which I post from Oslo on CET. Whatever time zone you may find yourself in this Thursday, I hope you have managed to find something so far in this onslaught of whatnot to sink your chompers into. That’s ultimately, why we’re here. Also because there are so many folders with albums in them on my desktop that I can’t stand it anymore. Happens about every three months.

But anyhoozle, we press on with Day Four of the Fall 2019 Quarterly Review, dutiful and diligent and a couple other words that start with ‘d.’ Mixed bag stylistically this time — trying to throw myself off a bit — so should be fun. Let’s dive in.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Total Fucking Destruction, #USA4TFD

Total Fucking Destruction USA4TFD

Who the hell am I to be writing about a band like Total Fucking Destruction? I don’t know. Who the hell am I to be writing about anything. Fuck you. As the Rich Hoak (Brutal Truth)-led Philly natives grind their way through 23 tracks in a 27-minute barrage of deceptively thoughtful sonic extremity, they efficiently chronicle the confusion, tumult and disaffection of our age both in their maddening energy and in the poetry — yeah, I said it — of their lyrics. To it, from “Is Your Love a Rainbow”: “Are you growing? Is everything okay? Are you growing in the garden of I don’t know?” Lines like this are hardly decipherable without a lyric sheet, of course, but still, they’re there for those ready to look beyond the surface assault of the material, though, frankly, that assault alone would be enough to carry the band — Hoak on drums/vocals, Dan O’Hare on guitar/vocals and Ryan Moll on bass/vocals — along their willfully destructive course. For their fourth LP in 20 years — most of that time given to splits and shorter releases, as one might expect — Total Fucking Destruction make their case for an end of the world that, frankly, can’t get here fast enough.

Total Fucking Destruction on Thee Facebooks

Give Praise Records website

 

Hippie Death Cult, 111

Hippie-Death-Cult-111

Issued first by the band digitally and on CD and then by Cursed Tongue Records on vinyl, 111 is the impressively toned debut full-length from Portland, Oregon’s Hippie Death Cult, who cull together heavy rock and post-grunge riffing with flourish of organ and a densely-weighted groove that serves as an overarching and uniting factor throughout. With the bluesy, classic feeling vocals of Ben Jackson cutting through the wall of fuzz from Eddie Brnabic‘s guitar and Laura Phillips‘ bass set to roll by Ryan Moore‘s drumming, there’s never any doubt as to where Hippie Death Cult are coming from throughout the seven-track/42-minute offering, but longer, side-ending pieces “Unborn” (8:24) and “Black Snake” (9:06) touch respectively on psychedelia and heavy blues in a way that emphasizes the subtle turns that have been happening all along, not just in shifts like the acoustic “Mrtyu,” but in the pastoral bridge and ensuing sweep of “Pigs” as well. “Sanctimonious” and “Breeder’s Curse” provide even ground at the outset, and from there, Hippie Death Cult only grow richer in sound along their way.

Hippie Death Cult on Thee Facebooks

Cursed Tongue Records BigCartel store

 

The Cosmic Dead, Scottish Space Race

The Cosmic Dead Scottish Space Race

Heavyweight Glaswegian space jammers The Cosmic Dead present four massive slabs of lysergic intensity with their eighth long-player, Scottish Space Race (on Riot Season Records), working quickly to pull the listener into their gravity well and holding them there for the 2LP’s 75-minute duration. As hypnotic as it is challenging, the initial churn that emerges in the aptly-named 20-minute opener “Portal” clenches the stomach brutally, and it’s not until after about 12 minutes that the band finally lets it loose. “Ursa Major,” somewhat thankfully, is more serene, but still carries a sense of movement and build in its second half, while the 12-minute title-track is noisier and has the surprising inclusion of vocals from the generally instrumental outfit. They cap with the 24-minute kosmiche throb of “The Grizzard,” and there are vocals there too, but they’re too obscured to be really discernible in any meaningful way, and of course the end of the record itself is a huge wash of fuckall noise. Eight records deep, The Cosmic Dead know what they’re doing in this regard, and they do it among the best of anyone out there.

The Cosmic Dead on Thee Facebooks

Riot Season Records website

 

Greenthumb, There are More Things

greenthumb there are more things

With just three tracks across a 20-minute span, There are More Things (on Acid Cosmonaut) feels like not much more than a sampler of things to come from Italian post-sludgers Greenthumb, who take their name from a Bongzilla track they also covered on their 2018 debut EP, West. The three-songer feels like a decided step forward from that offering, and though they maintain their screamier side well enough, they might be on the verge of needing a new name, as the rawness conveyed by the current moniker hardly does justice to the echoing atmospherics the band in their current incarnation bring. Launching with the two seven-minute cuts “The Field” and “Ogigia’s Tree,” they unfurl a breadth of roll so as to ensnare the listener, and though “The Black Court” is shorter at 5:37 and a bit more straight-ahead in its structure, it still holds to the ambient sensibility of its surroundings well, the band obviously doing likewise in transposing a natural feel into their sound born of landscape real or imagined.

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Elepharmers, Lords of Galaxia

Elepharmers Lords Of Galaxia Artwork

Riffy Sardinians Elepharmers set themselves to roll with “Ancient Astronauts” and do not stop from there on Lords of Galaxia, their third LP and debut through Electric Valley Records. There are some details of arrangement between the guitars of El Chino (also bass, vocals and harmonica) and Andrea “Fox” Cadeddu and the drums of Maurizio Mura, but as Marduk heralds his age on second cut “Ziqqurat,” the central uniting factor is g-r-o-o-v-e, and Elepharmers have it down through “The Flood” and into side B’s classic stoner rocking “Foundation” and the driving “The Mule,” which shifts into laser-effects ahead of the fade that brings in closer “Stars Like Dust” for the last 10 minutes of the 47-minute offering. And yes, there’s some psychedelia there, but Elepharmers stay pretty clearheaded on the whole in such a way as to highlight the sci-fi theme that seems to draw the songs together as much as the riffage. More focus on narrative can only help bring that out more, but I’m not sure I’d want that at the expense of the basic songwriting, which isn’t at all broken and thus requires no fixing.

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Electric Valley Records website

 

Nothing is Real, Only the Wicked are Pure

nothing is real only the wicked are pure

How do you recognize true misanthropy when you come across it? It doesn’t wear a special kind of facepaint, though it can. It doesn’t announce itself as such. It is a frame. Something genuinely antisocial and perhaps even hateful is a worldview. It’s not raise-a-claw-in-the-woods. It’s he-was-a-quiet-loner. And so, coming across the debut album from Los Angeles experimentalist doom outfit, one gets that lurking, creeping feeling of danger even though the music itself isn’t overly abrasive. But across the 2CD debut album, a sprawl of darkened, viciously un-produced fare that seems to be built around programmed drums at the behest of Craig Osbourne — who may or may not be the only person in the band and isn’t willing to say otherwise — plays out over the course of more than two hours like a manifesto found after the fact. Imagine chapters called “Hope is Weakness,” “Fingered by the Hand of God,” and “Uplift the Worthy (Destroy the Weak).” The last of those appears on both discs — as do several of the songs in different incarnations — as the track marries acoustic and eventual harder-edged guitar around murderous themes, sounding something like Godflesh might have if they’d pursued a darker path. Scary.

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Warish, Down in Flames

warish down in flames

The fact that Warish are blasting hard punk through heavy blowout tones isn’t what everyone wants to talk about when it comes to the band. They want to talk about the fact that it’s Riley Hawk — of royal stock, as regards pro skateboarding — fronting the band. Well, that’s probably good for a built-in social media following — name recognition never hurts, and I don’t see a need to pretend otherwise — but it doesn’t do shit for the album itself. What matters about the album is that bit about the blasting blowout. With Down in Flames (on RidingEasy), the Oceanside three-piece follow-up their earlier-2019 debut EP with 11 tracks that touch on horror punk with “Bones” and imagine grunge-unhinged with “Fight” and “You’ll Abide,” but are essentially a display of tonal fuckall presented not to add to a brand, but to add the soundtrack to somebody’s blackout. It’s a good time and the drunkest, gnarliest, most-possibly-shirtless dude in the room is having it. Also he probably smells. And he just hugged you. Down in Flames gets high with that dude. That matters more than who anyone’s dad is.

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RidingEasy Records website

 

Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge, Split

It’s a double-dose of New England doom as Connecticut’s Mourn the Light and Boston’s Oxblood Forge pair up for a split release. The former bring more material than the latter, particularly when one counts the digital-only bonus cover of Candlemass‘ “Bewitched,” but with both groups, it’s a case of what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Both groups share a clear affinity for classic metal — and yes, that absolutely extends to the piano-led drama of Mourn the Light‘s mournful “Carry the Flame” — but Oxblood Forge‘s take thereupon is rougher edged, harder in its tone and meaner in the output. Their “Screams From Silence” feels like something from a dubbed-and-mailed tape circa ’92. Mourn the Light’s “Drags Me Down” is cleaner-sounding, but no less weighted. I don’t think either band is out to change the world, or even to change doom, but they’re doing what they’re doing well and without even an ounce of pretense — well, maybe a little bit in that piano track; but it’s very metal pretense — and clearly from the heart. That might be the most classic-metal aspect of all.


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Those Furious Flames, HeartH

those furious flames hearth

Swiss heavy rockers Those Furious Flames push the boundaries of psychedelia, but ultimately remain coherent in their approach. Likewise, they very, very obviously are into some classic heavy rock and roll, but their take on it is nothing if not modern. And more, they thrive in these contradictions and don’t at all sound like their songs are in conflict with themselves. I guess that’s the kind of thing one can pull off after 15 years together on a fifth full-length, which HeartH (on Vincebus Eruptum) is for them. Perhaps it’s the fact that they let the energy of pieces like “VooDoo” and the boogie-laced “HPPD” carry them rather than try to carry it, but either way, it’s clearly about the songs first, and it works. With added flash of organ amid the full-sounding riffs, Those Furious Flames round out with the spacey “Visions” and earn every bit of the drift therein with a still-resonant vocal harmony. You might not get it all the first time, but listening twice won’t be at all painful.

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Mantra Machine, Heliosphere

mantra machine heliosphere

This is what it’s all about. Four longer-form instrumentalist heavy psych jams that are warm in tone and want nothing so much as to go out wandering and see what they can find. Through “Hydrogen,” “Atmos,” “Delta-V” and “Heliosphere,” Amsterdam-based three-piece Mantra Machine want nothing for gig-style vitality, but their purpose isn’t so much to electrify as to find that perfect moment of chill and let it go, see where it ends up, and they get there to be sure. Warm guitar and bass tones call to mind something that might’ve come out of the Netherlands at the start of this decade, when bands like Sungrazer and The Machine were unfolding such fluidity as seemed to herald a new generation of heavy psychedelia across Europe. That generation took a different shape — several different shapes, in the end — but Mantra Machine‘s Heliosphere makes it easy to remember what was so exciting about that in the first place. Total immersion. Total sense of welcoming. Totally human presence without speaking a word. So much vibe. So much right on.

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