Big Scenic Nowhere Premiere New Single “Lavender Bleu”

Posted in audiObelisk on June 4th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

big scenic nowhere

Hard to talk about Big Scenic Nowhere and not use the term ‘supergroup.’ The band, which made their first release through Blues Funeral Recordings‘ ‘PostWax’ subscription series and followed that 2019 proof-of-concept Dying on the Mountain EP (discussed here) quickly by signing to Heavy Psych Sounds to issue a debut album, Vision Beyond Horizon (review here) and a subsequent EP, Lavender Blues (review here), both in 2020. Founded with the collaboration between guitarists Gary Arce (Yawning Man) and Bob Balch (Fu Manchu) at its core, the band quickly came to include Tony Reed (Mos Generator) on vocals, bass and various keys, drummer Bill Stinson (Yawning Man), and a range of guests that has continued to expand even as the lineup solidified.

As Bob Balch talked about in his interview here last month, the four-piece got together in Nov. 2019 for a few days of jamming and they’re still going through the resultant material to piece together songs. Their second album, The Long Morrow, is set to see release this Fall through Heavy Psych Sounds, and its big scenic nowhere the long morrowsongs are being issued piecemeal, one at a time, ahead of the full LP’s arrival. Premiering today, “Lavender Bleu” is the third cut to make its way to public ears behind the more straightforward driving “LeDü” and the weighted-riff-into-harmonies-and-dream-build of “Murder Klipp,” and like each of the preceding songs, it finds Big Scenic Nowhere with a different look. Across just over five minutes, it centers around trademark Arce noodling and the more grounded impulses of Balch setting a path for Stinson‘s drums, while Reed‘s vocals enter gentle, not quite foreshadowing the pickup to come at around 1:40 in.

Though “Lavender Bleu” — which reworks themes from the prior EP as Balch explains below — gets heavier, it never pushes too far away from the classic prog rock spirit one finds at its beginning, and instead trades back and forth before a Mellotron-inclusive ending offers duly resonant culmination. It is prog-of-old filtered through desert ambience with a heavy rock underpinning, and for many bands, this song would be more than enough of a stylistic blueprint to serve as a career arc. That is to say, there are bands who put out albums less rich than this one track and do just fine. Yet one would not call “Lavender Bleu” overbaked or overthought. Sculpted around improvisation, it nonetheless retains that air of spontaneity no matter how many layers are situated atop the basic tracks.

It’s fascinating on a process level to hear Balch talk about how the material for The Long Morrow is coming together — if you didn’t watch that interview, your loss — but “Lavender Bleu” brings more fluidity than the sum of the parts making it, and the textures it speaks to only herald further depth of exploration still to come. I can’t wait to hear this record.

Each member of Big Scenic Nowhere offers some comment below, I think in a manner that represents personae well. Arce talks about the improv, Balch the chord progression, Stinson the overall vibe of the finished product and Reed the reference point from which the lyrics emerged and the melody of the vocals. You can also stream the other two songs near the bottom of this post.

Enjoy the track and stay tuned for more on The Long Morrow:

Big Scenic Nowhere, “Lavender Bleu” official track premiere

LAVENDER BLEU is the new BIG SCENIC NOWHERE single. The track is taken from the band’s upcoming new album THE LONG MORROW, to be released this fall on Heavy Psych Sounds.

Bob Balch on “Lavender Bleu”:

“Lavender Bleu” is actually a combination of two songs from our “Lavender Blues” EP. When we recorded back in November of 2019, we would play two riffs a few times back and forth and then just jam out on one of the riffs. Think
(riff A, riff B, riff A, riff B, jam out on riff A)
(riff A, riff B, riff A, riff B, jam out on riff B)
So the jams became “Lavender Blues” and “Labyrinths Fade” from our last EP. Now with “Lavender Bleu” you get to hear how those are actually sections of the same song.
I really like how this tune turned out. Can’t really think of another band that sounds like this. Everybody killed it on this one.

Tony Reed on “Lavender Bleu”:

“Lavender Bleu” was the first song I worked on after the November 2019 recording sessions. I had Dan (Joeright) set up a microphone during the sessions so I could sing Ideas that were happening when we were recording the jams. I think this was the only song where the vocal melody came to me as we were recording. This is my favorite song of all the material we’ve done together. I’m a huge fan of melody and this has tons of it. It has a melancholy / romantic feel that I find pleasing as well. “Bleu” is spelled this way after one of my all time favorite songs. A song called “Butterfly Bleu” by Iron Butterfly. The lyrics seem to be about taking a harder path. Making sacrifices in life to follow passion and calling rather than falling into a routine where, as you get older, you’re constantly saying “I wish I….”

Gary Arce on “Lavender Bleu”:

“Lavender Bleu” started with a mellow riff I was messing with for a awhile. We had been been jamming for a few hours and I wanted to slow it down and do something more open and spacious. So I started playing the main riff and everyone just kinda fell into place quietly and patiently. The second heavier part just happened naturally during the jam. It’s one of my favorite songs we’ve done so far. Tony kills it on vocals on this song.

Bill Stinson on “Lavender Bleu”:

This song really pulls you in different directions… melancholy and weaving a story through the music.

Big Scenic Nowhere, The Long Morrow (2021)

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Video Interview: Bob Balch Talks Big Scenic Nowhere’s The Long Morrow, New Fu Manchu, and More

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Features on May 13th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

big scenic nowhere

There’s a point somewhere after 12 minutes in that Bob Balch reaches with both hands to his right and in a completely fluid motion, pulls a guitar in front of him, where it remains for the rest of the interview. And honestly, from that point on, he looks more comfortable too. This is a guy who spends a goodly portion of every day living just like this: in that chair, thinking, working, teaching, learning the craft of guitar. I don’t even know how many times he calls himself a nerd throughout the conversation, but it’s several. And awesome. He lives and breathes it.

Known for his work as well in Fu Manchu, whose 30th anniversary tour and release plans were scuttled in 2020, Balch has of late been overseeing the construction and release of the second Big Scenic Nowhere full-length, titled The Long Morrow. The group big scenic nowhere the long morrow— legit “super,” with Balch joined by Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed and guitarist Gary Arce and drummer Bill Stinson, both of Yawning Man — have two songs released as of this post. Both of them come from a stockpile of jams the four-piece (and some friends, like Masters of Reality‘s Chris Goss) put together over the course of three days in 2019 — the same sessions from which their 2020 debut, Vision Beyond Horizon (review here), and the follow-up EP, Lavender Blues (review here), were carved.

That process, taking jams, finding tones and rhythms that coincide, and building songs from them, would seem to be how Balch spent much of a 2020 that otherwise would’ve been on the road, but as of now, work is still being done on The Long Morrow ahead of its coming out sometime hopefully this Fall. Balch talks about guest appearances to come, the project’s origins in wanting to jam with Arce and Reed and some of the material’s birth in his own Sun and Sail Club outfit — also the hilarious circumstances of how that more frenetic project was born, which I didn’t know previously — recording and release plans for Fu Manchu, who’ll look to get back on tour next year across multiple continents and follow-up the early-2020 Fu30 Pt. 1 EP with more originals and covers. If you’re wondering Fu Manchu practices on Thursdays. That’s Fu day.

Given the chance, I also wanted to talk about Balch‘s work in guitar instruction — he gives lessons and runs PlayThisRiff.com with videos and interviews with guitarists — his recent return to taking lessons rather than just giving them, and more general guitar stuff that’s piqued his interest of late. There was a lot of ground to cover, and it was a cool chat.

As always, I hope you enjoy:

Big Scenic Nowhere, The Long Morrow Interview with Bob Balch, May 10, 2021

Big Scenic Nowhere‘s The Long Morrow is being released as singles ahead of a full-LP arrival later this year on Heavy Psych Sounds. Fu Manchu‘s anniversary tour plans for 2022 are coming soon. More info at the links.

Big Scenic Nowhere, The Long Morrow (2021)

Fu Manchu, Fu30 Pt. 1 EP (2020)

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Bow to Your Masters Vol. 2 Deep Purple Tribute out Tomorrow; New Teaser Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 6th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

various artists bow to your masters vol 2 deep purple vinyl

Tomorrow, Bandcamp Friday, May 7, marks the digital release of Glory or Death RecordsDeep Purple tribute, Bow to Your Masters Vol. 2. With a 2LP edition set to follow in November, the release brings together an assortment of established and new names — and stuff like Mothership-offshoot Topsy Kretts, Big Scenic Nowhere and Destroyer of Light-offshoot (also Mothership-offshoot) Temple of Love, which is new names from established names — as well as Mos GeneratorWorshipper, Steak, frickin’ YOB and groups from the Glory or Death family tree including Red WizardKOOKGygax, RedWitch Johnny, and collaborations like High Reeper with Ruby the Hatchet‘s Jillian TaylorSteak with Vodun‘s Chantal BrownFrancis Roberts of Old Man Wizard sitting in with Great Electric Quest, on and on and on and oh hell you can see the tracklisting below — just go look at it and tell me you don’t want to hear this thing. If you’ve ever EITHER heard Deep Purple OR heard any of these bands who’ve contributed to the comp, then yes, this is probably something that should pique your interest.

And yeah, YOB doing “Perfect Strangers” is a major draw, and as well it should be. It closes out the 15-song/78-minute offering with a duly flowing rendition of the title-track of the 1984 album that brought Blackmore and Gillan back together, albeit temporarily. But there’s more than just YOB going on here. Asphodel Wine‘s “Child in Time,” KOOK‘s “Space Truckin’,” RedWitch Johnny‘s “Maybe I’m a Leo” — also once covered by The Atomic Bitchwax — and Big Scenic Nowhere‘s “Demon’s Eye” are all killer, and from the boogie of “Black Night” as interpreted by Topsy Kretts to the sprawl of Worshipper taking on “Pictures from Home” — perfect band for that song, and they nail it — Bow to Your Masters Vol. 2 is jammed with what should be considered essentials. I know the sphere of heavy isn’t lacking in tributes these days, between Magnetic Eye‘s ever-expanding ‘Redux’ series and Ripple and others getting on board, but hell’s bells, how on earth are you going to deny Great Electric Quest‘s “Highway Star?” The simply answer is you’re not, and you shouldn’t bother to try.

I’ll make it simple. There’s a lot to like here.

The full thing is out tomorrow, and you can get your vinyl preorders in I assume when you do the Bandcamp thing or through BigCartel or however you go. Whatever it is that gets you on board though — whichever name is your pull — or even if its just the artwork by David Paul Seymour and Carin Hazmat that grabs you, don’t be surprised if you hear one track and wind up on board for a whole bunch more. Whether it’s Gygax boldly daring “Speed King” or Saturn doing “Into the Fire” or Steak taking one of the most iconic riffs ever and admirably making it their own, there’s plenty of fodder for a deep-dive.

That kind of makes the six-minute teaser premiering below excruciating, if I’m honest. Because while it features each song on the outing, it’s just enough of it to get hooked and want to hear the whole thing. A true tease, somewhat brutal. Fortunately a bunch of songs from the thing have already been posted and you can find them on the Bandcamp player nearer the bottom of the post.

The order link is down below as well, and the aforementioned tracklisting, which is substantial. I hesitate to call it a premiere for a teaser, but that’s what it is just the same.

Enjoy:

Bow to Your Masters Vol. 2 teaser premiere

FULL DIGITAL RELEASE is 5/7/21, but we have 6 minutes of pure bliss, a snippet of each song on the release in album order! There are a mix of incredibly faithful covers, cheeky tweaks, and full re-imaginings by 15 of the best bands making heavy music today!

ORDER YOUR COPY: https://gloryordeathrecords.bandcamp.com/

Big Scenic Nowhere – Demon’s Eye
Gygax – Speed King
RedWitch Johnny – Maybe I’m A Leo (Ft. Matthew Putman)
Topsy Kretts – Black Night
Saturn – Into the Fire
High Reeper – Burn (Ft. Jillian Taylor of Ruby The Hatchet)
Great Electric Quest – Highway Star (Ft. Francis Roberts)
Steak – Smoke (Ft. Chantal Brown)
Mos Generator – Love Child
Asphodel Wine – Child in Time
Temple of Love – Gettin’ Tighter (Ft. Anton Pukshansky)
Red Wizard – Fireball
KOOK – Space Truckin’
Worshipper – Pictures of Home
Yob – Perfect Strangers

Cover art by Carin Hazmat and David Paul Seymour
Mastered by James Page at Emerald Age Studios

Various Artists, Bow to Your Masters Vol. 2: Deep Purple (2021)

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal Playlist: Episode 55

Posted in Radio on March 19th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

I was putting the show together the other day — like everything else in the last two weeks, I had to push off doing so owing to family stuff — and when I was picking tracks, it just kind of occurred to me that I might as well do a whole show of Heavy Psych Sounds stuff. It was like, “Oh, I’ll play Bongzilla and those new Hippie Death Cult and Acid’s Trip tracks,” and then it was “Well I haven’t played any of the new Sonic Flower yet and that’s Tatsu from Church of Misery so that’s cool,” and then from there filling out an entire two hours’ worth of Heavy Psych Sounds stuff was shockingly easy.

New 16, 1782, Cosmic Reaper, Acid Mammoth, on and on, and some other awesome stuff that’s come out in the last couple years, and two hours later, it still only barely scratches the surface of what the Italian label has done. To wit, the catalog reissues from Doze and Nebula and Brant Bjork go unrepresented here. As does the last Yawning Man or the upcoming Yawning Sons, both of which I’ve played recently on the show. But yeah, there’s so much stuff to go through, I simply didn’t have room for it all, especially knowing that I wanted to end with the 19-minute track from Orgöne because that record is so weird and out there even in comparison to other stuff the label does.

I talk a bit here, mostly just to be like, “Duh that was awesome” about one song or another. Despite my verbal bumbling and constant “uh”-ness, I hope you enjoy the show.

Thanks for listening and/or reading.

The Obelisk Show airs 5PM Eastern today on the Gimme app or at http://gimmemetal.com

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 03.19.21

Bongzilla Free the Weed Weedsconsin
Hippie Death Cult Red Meat Tricks Circle of Days
Acid’s Trip Faster, Chopper, Boogie! Strings of Soul
Sonic Flower Super Witch Rides Again
16 Death on Repeat Doom Sessions Vol. 3
VT
Black Rainbows Sacred Graal Cosmic Ritual Supertrip
Fatso Jetson Flesh Trap Blues Split with Farflung
Ecstatic Vision Grasping the Void For the Masses
Acid Mammoth Ivory Towers Caravan
Crypt Trip Hard Times Haze County
VT
Big Scenic Nowhere Tragic Motion Lines Vision Beyond Horizon
High Reeper Bring the Dead Higher Reeper
The Pilgrim Waiting for the Sun …From the Earth to the Sky and Back
Geezer Black Owl Groovy
Cosmic Reaper Hellion Cosmic Reaper
1782 The Chosen One From the Graveyard
VT
Orgöne Erstes Ritual Mos/Fet

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is April 2 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

london-news-etching-1854-newcastle-upon-tyne

[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

Notes: To say nothing of the honorable mentions that follow the rest of the list below, immediately we see the problem of so-many-albums-not-enough-space. People talk about a top 50 as ridiculous, like there’s no way you can like that much music. Bullshit. I agonized over how to fit Sun Crow on this list because their Quest for Oblivion felt like it deserved to be here. Ditto that for Arcadian Child. And the achievements of bands like Kadavar, 1000mods and Switchblade Jesus and Insect Ark in breaking the boundaries of their own aesthetics deserve every accolade they can get, and likewise those who progressed in their sound like Cortez, Shadow Witch, Lord Fowl, Hymn, Foot, Black Rainbows, Deathwhite and IAH. Add to that the debuts from Atramentus, Dirt Woman, Jointhugger, Acid Mess and Sergio Ch.’s Soldati, and you’ve got a batch of 20 records — some born of this year’s malaise, some working in spite of it — that vary in sound but are working to push their respective styles to new places one way or the other.

30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

There was no shortage of anticipation for what L.A. cultists 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 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 Polymoon. If you haven’t yet heard Caterpillars of Creation, do.

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

Of the sundry horrors 2020 wrought, a new album from long-running Toronto three-piece Sons of Otis was an unexpected positive, and their ultra-spaced, murky riffs on their first studio album since 2012’s Seismic (review here, also here) launched like a slow-motion escape pod of righteous doom (s)tonality. There will never be another Sons of Otis. Be thankful for everything you get from them.

27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

Organ, Mellotron, sitar, acoustic and electric guitars, various percussion elements, and of course the inimitable fragility in Craig Williamson‘s voice itself — the ingredients for Lamp of the Universe‘s Dead Shrine were familiar enough for those familiar with the one-man outfit running more than two decades, but the lush acid folk created remains a standout the world over. Dead Shrine was a much-needed gift of peace and meditation.

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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Temple of Love: Members of Mothership, Destroyer of Light & More Premiere “Gettin’ Tighter” From Bow to Your Masters Deep Purple Tribute

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 16th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Temple of Love is a new project with members of Mothership, Destroyer of Light, Witchcryer, Crimson Devils and Bexar County Bastards. They’ll make a live-ish debut as part of Mutants of the Monster‘s upcoming virtual fest next month, but in the interim, the five-piece are premiering their cover of “Gettin’ Tighter” from Glory or Death Recordspreviously-announced compilation, Bow to Your Masters Vol. 2: Deep Purple. To the surprise of precisely nobody, the song’s a ripper and they rip it accordingly.

To coincide with the premiere of “Gettin’ Tighter,” which originally appeared on Deep Purple‘s 1975 offering, Come Taste the BandGlory or Death brings an update that Bow to Your Masters Vol. 2 is looking to be finished by Fall 2021, having made it through The Year That Scorched All Plans more or less on track with the original ETA. Kudos on that, as well as the finished selection of bands, which includes prior-revealed wizards like YOBBig Scenic NowhereSteak and Worshipper, among others.

Also included in the announcement is some new artwork that will accompany the release. You can see the theme they’re working on, I think, and fair enough.

Track is at the bottom of this post, obviously made with love. Enjoy:

temple of love

Official Update for Bow To Your Masters Volume Two: Deep Purple & Track Premiere for Temple of Love’s “Gettin’ Tighter”

Happy Holidays!

We are very excited to announce that so far we are right on track as planned for our estimated rough release date of Nov 2021 for the completion of this project. We may even wrap it up sooner than that, but we will have to see how things go with the bands finishing things up on their side and of course the ever questionable COVID-19. So far things are looking excellent though! We have been keeping in touch with our list of bands quite often as they work on their tributes to the great Deep Purple. Everyone is working very hard behind the scenes on this project and we are so honored and grateful for everyone’s efforts.

Temple of Love!

Get a load of this supergroup;
Steve Colca (Destroyer of Light)
Suzy Bravo (Witchcryer)
Shea McCoy (Bexar County Bastards)
Kyle Juett (Mothership)
Patrick Pascucci (Crimson Devils)

As if that’s not enough firepower already, they bring in Anton Pukshansky (who is a Grammy Award winning producer) to add his magic.

“All of us in the band are a big fan of Deep Purple, so when we were asked if we wanted to be a part of this compilation, we said hell yes. We asked Anton if he wanted to be a part of this song cause he is a fantastic keyboardist, and he was down. We decided to pick a pretty deep cut that gets lost in their impressive and extensive catalog because it has a killer groove and great vocals. Thanks for having us be a part of one of the best bands in rock n’ roll history!”

Feast your ears on this brand new track from the krew! If you dig it, be sure to tune in to “Mutants of the Monster” Virtual Concert Festival Jan 1st & 2nd where you can see them play this one live!

While you listen to Temple of Love’s insane version of “Gettin’ Tighter”, you can gaze at this incredible art Carin A Hazmat (@ArtofHazmat) has conjured up for us!

deep purple fireball take

If you missed it – We also previously released this piece from David Paul Seymour!

deep purple burn take

Unfortunately our friends Holy Grove could not swing their cover of “Bloodsucker” and have dropped the project, BUT in true Glory or Death style, Mr. Kelley Juett of Mothership has stepped up and thrown together a top secret super group who have been working real hard on something special for us. That is all we can unveil for now per Kelley, but something wicked has been in the works and will be released soon!

Thank you all for the MEGA SUPPORT in getting this project fired up. There is no way this would be possible without you guys and we know it will be something very special when it is completed. Much love to you and yours! Stay safe, enjoy the holidays and you can look forward to some more tracks unleashed on our Band Camp over the next few weeks. Also if you haven’t preordered a copy you can do so there as well – PLUS this month we will be donating 20% of sales on BandCamp to fight Human Trafficking!

Glory or Death Records Presents;
Bow to Your Masters Volume Two: Deep Purple

Yob – “Perfect Strangers”
Mos Generator – “Love Child”
Big Scenic Nowhere – “Demon’s Eye”
The Grand Astoria – “The Mule”
Temple of Love – “Gettin’ Tighter”
Steak – “Smoke On the Water”
Worshipper – “Pictures of Home”
Great Electric Quest – “Highway Star”
Saturn Sweden – “Into the Fire”
Asphodel Wine – “Child in Time”
Kook – “Space Truckin'”
High Reeper – “Burn”
Red Wizard – “Fireball”
Kelley Juett Top Secret Super Group – ?????

https://www.facebook.com/Gloryordeathrecords/
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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal Playlist: Episode 48

Posted in Radio on December 11th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

2020, if you can believe it, has started to wind down. The year-end poll is up, and it’s time for the Apparently-Annual The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal’s Some of the Best of 2020 Two-Part Extravaganza Blowout Supershow How Can I Possibly Make the Title Even Longer Oh Wait I Got It: The Next Generation.

That’s right, friends and neighbors, this show and the next one — which is on frickin’ Xmas Day; love it — bring just a smattering of some of 2020’s highlights. Voice tracks and playlists are in for both episodes, and this one airs today as the first of the two-parter, acknowledging the utterly spectacular time it’s been for death-doom particularly. I guess Atramentus are doing some heavy lifting there, but to listen to that track, I think you’ll agree they’re up to the task.

Beyond that, space rock, prog-heavy, psychedelia, and good ol’ riffs pervade, thriving despite the hardest and most surreal times. If you get to listen, I very much hope you enjoy it. I’ll be in the Gimme chat if you want to say hi.

Thanks for listening and reading.

The Obelisk Show airs 5PM Eastern today on the Gimme app or at http://gimmemetal.com

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 12.11.20

Forming the Void Manifest Reverie 0:05:22
Rezn The Door Opens Chaotic Divine 0:07:33
King Buffalo Dead Star Pt. 1 & 2 Dead Star 0:16:21
VT
Big Scenic Nowhere Mirror Image Vision Beyond Horizon 0:05:41
Kind Bad Friend Mental Nudge 0:07:42
Yuri Gagarin The Outskirts of Reality The Outskirts of Reality 0:08:32
Six Organs of Admittance Two Forms Moving Companion Rises 0:04:39
Bethmoora Painted Man Thresholds 0:09:05
My Dying Bride Your Broken Shore The Ghost of Orion 0:07:43
Paradise Lost Forsaken Obsidian 0:04:30
Deathwhite A Servant Grave Image 0:04:42
Atramentus Stygian I: From Tumultuous Heavens… (Descended Forth The Ceaseless Darkness) Stygian 0:16:28
VT
Colour Haze I’m With You We Are 0:07:47
Lowrider Red River Refractions 0:05:11

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is Dec. 25 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

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Big Scenic Nowhere Premiere Title-Track of Lavender Blues EP

Posted in audiObelisk on September 17th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

big scenic nowhere

Big Scenic Nowhere will issue their new three-song EP, Lavender Blues, on Oct. 23 through Heavy Psych Sounds. The 24-minute outing, captured over the course of three days last November in the Californian desert, demonstrates plainly just how much this project ignited by a guitar collaboration between Fu Manchu‘s Bob Balch and Yawning Man‘s Gary Arce has take on a life of its own. It arrives on a quick turnaround from the group’s Jan. 2020 debut full-length, Vision Beyond Horizon (review here), which itself came with relative expediency as a follow-up to their first EP, 2019’s Dying on the Mountain (discussed here).

With Mos Generator frontman Tony Reed and Yawning Man drummer Bill Stinson incorporated as full-time members alongside Arce and Balch, the endeavor only grows more expansive in terms of sound on Lavender Blues, which breaks up into two-sides the first of which is comprised of its 13-minute title-track — a lush jam built out into a work of immersive progressive psychedelia the likes of which few could hope to conjure. As per their established modus — also how the band formed — they reach out beyond themselves to include guest performances as well, this time bringing standout organ lines from the esteemed Per Wiberg (Spiritual Beggars, ex-Opeth, and the dude you call when you want keys), as well as Voivod‘s Daniel Mongrain (one of the happiest-looking headbangers I’ve ever seen) and Masters of Reality founder Chris Goss (beware his Twitter) on guitar.

Wiberg and Reed both contribute keys/organ to “Lavender Blues,” and the latter handles vocal duties as well. There’s an early verse, but the essential portion vocally is starts a little before six minutes in, as Reed begins with the lines, “Every time I wonder/All inside my slumber…” as each lyric appears at just a slight overlap to the one before it, adding to the otherworldly feel of the deep but mellow and airy and melodic fluidity that surrounds. Proggy synth follows to lead the way into a wash of a jam that, if you dig deep enough, has a discernible anchor riff, but feels wonderfully untethered creatively. It’s not all improvised — obviously keys and vocals were added later — but that spirit of the original jam beneath is there and the rest of the song feeds off it in a way that lives up to the potential that both Dying on the Mountain and Vision Beyond Horizon set forth.

As if to prove this is an outfit that can go anywhere it pleases whenever it pleases, the subsequentbig scenic nowhere lavender blues “Blink of an Eye” runs just four minutes and seems to directly call out the main riff of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” at its start. In the hands of Big Scenic Nowhere, it unfolds into a subdued desert rock bounce to which Reed brings a suitably straightforward verse, doubling his vocals in the chorus for a sing-along-ready effect — “I’ve been a fool for so long,” etc. Arce‘s floating tonality does much to add to the ethereal vibe that complements the underlying structure, and two solos follow, the latter presumably Reed on keys, before a last hook rounds out. Clean, clear, done. It’s territory the band claimed as their own in Dying on the Mountain, a kind of forewarning that they might jam and write songs, and an unmitigated win in terms of the result.

That tasks “Labyrinths Fade” to close out at 6:35. The finale, suitably enough, fades in and out on a progression that is marked by tom runs and crashes from Stinson and an immediate verse from Reed, not nearly rushed enough to be manic, but more urgent in its repetitions than one might expect after “Lavender Blues” and “Blink of an Eye.” Solos intertwine running up and down in the mix before the drums shift to hi-hat to open up the groove in the instrumental midsection. Is that you, Daniel Mongrain? With so many potential sources of shred, it’s hard to know for sure, but I’d believe it. A righteous moment of guitar harmony (blink and you’ll miss it) precedes the resurgence of vocals, likewise harmonized, and some synth beneath that would make Bernie Worrell smile under his purple hat.

Opportunity for another solo isn’t missed, and the vocal progression from the beginning of the song returns to top the fade out, giving symmetry to what, at least compared to the song before it, is a marked departure from verse/chorus patterning. It is also, however, fair enough ground for Big Scenic Nowhere to cover as they will, and one more piece of evidence to cite when arguing that good things happen when these players get together. Their time in the desert last Fall may have been brief, but what comes across clearest on Lavender Blues is just how much they’re taking inspiration from each other, playing off each other, and enjoying the outward sonic adventure that comes from that. Frankly, it seems unlikely this project would have made it past the first EP if it wasn’t fun — the logistics are just too complex for something that’s a drag — but from that spirit comes a forward-thinking take on progressive heavy psychedelia that sees BalchArceReed and Stinson and their invited company enhance each other’s work in striking, sometimes surprising, and delightful ways.

Fair enough to call them a supergroup if you must, but really they’re explorers.

Balch has a few words to offer on “Lavender Blues,” which you’ll find beneath the premiere of the track below, followed by preorder links and so on.

Please enjoy:

Bob Balch on “Lavender Blues”:

This jam is the first take with all original parts. I tried several times to re-do my parts and improve them and I couldn’t do it. The flow of this jam can’t be replicated. You can really hear all of us playing off each other and that needed to stay. Per Wiberg (OPETH, SPIRITUAL BEGGARS) added some killer key parts, Tony added some awesome keys too along with vocal passages. This song is meant for travel… whatever that means to you. LAVENDER BLUES has a HAWKWIND meets ALAN PARSON PROJECT meets PINK FLOYD vibe to it. I really like when bands take inspiration from different genres and mix it up into a unique sonic stew.

New EP ‘Lavender Blues’ out October 23rd on Heavy Psych Sounds: European presale // US presale

TRACKLIST:
1. Lavender Blues
2. Blink of an Eye
3. Labyrinths Fade

BIG SCENIC NOWHERE is
Bob Balch (Fu Manchu) – Guitar / Bass on “Blink of an Eye”
Gary Arce (Yawning Man) – Guitar on all tracks
Tony Reed (Mos Generator) – Bass / Vocals / Synths / Guitar
Bill Stinson (Yawning Man) – Drums
Per Wiberg (Kamchatka, ex-Opeth) – Synths / Piano
Daniel Mongrain (Voivod) – Guitar
Chris Goss (Masters Of Reality) – Guitar

Artwork by @haxloeffler
Mixed and Mastered by Tony Reed

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