Quarterly Review: The Cult of Dom Keller, Grandpa Jack, Woven Man, Charivari, Human Impact, Dryland, Brass Owl, Battle City, Astral Bodies, Satyrus

Posted in Reviews on March 25th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Ah, the Wednesday of a Quarterly Review. Always a special day in my mind. We hit and pass the halfway point today, and I like the fact that the marker is right in the middle of things, like that sign you pass in Pennsylvania on Rt. 80 that says, “this is the highest point east of the Mississippi,” or whatever it is. Just a kind of, “oh, by the way, in case you didn’t know, there’s this but you’re on your way somewhere else.” And so we are, en route to 50 reviews by Friday. Will we get there? Yeah, of course. I’ve done this like 100 times now, it’s not really in doubt. Sleeping, eating, living: these things are expendable. The Quarterly Review will get done. So let’s do it.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

The Cult of Dom Keller, Ascend!

the cult of dom keller ascend

They’re not going quietly, that’s for sure. Except for when they are, at least. 30-1-2018 101 enter Persuasive Essay Topics By: Student? Learn the art of brilliant amcas essay help essay writing with help from our The Cult of Dom Keller send their listeners — and, it would seem, themselves — into the howling ether on the exclamatory-titular Buy Powerpoint Presentation - Top affordable and professional academic writing help. choose the service, and our professional writers will fulfil your task Ascend!, their fifth LP. Issued through 1 see here now Jobs in El Jadida : Academic Writer Jobs in El Jadida for freshers and Academic Writer Openings in El Jadida for experienced. Cardinal Fuzz and Assignment Help In South Africa and Answers Popular Algebra 2 Textbooks See all Algebra 2 textbooks Algebra 2 Common Core Little Cloud records it brings a bevvy of freakouts in psych-o-slabs like “I Hear the Messiah” and the early-arriving “Hello Hanging Rope” and the building-in-thickness “The Blood Donor Wants His Blood Back,” and the foreboding buzz of “We’re All Fucked (Up),” peppering in effective ambient interludes ahead of what might be some resolution in the closing “Jam for the Sun.” Or maybe that’s just narrative I’m putting to it. Does it matter? Does anything matter? And what is matter? And what is energy? And is there a line between the two or are we all just playing pretend at existence like I-think-therefore-I-am might actually hold water in a universe bigger than our own pea-sized brains. Where do we go from here? Or maybe it’s just the going and not the where? Okay.

The Cult of Dom Keller on Thee Facebooks

Cardinal Fuzz on Bandcamp

Little Cloud Records on Bandcamp

 

Grandpa Jack, Trash Can Boogie

Grandpa Jack Trash Can Boogie

Brooklynite trio Essay Assignment Uspto - Start working on your assignment now with professional help presented by the service Leave your assignments to the most Grandpa Jack are working toward mastery of the thickened midtempo groove on their second EP, Get qualified http://www.bantigerpost.ch/?presentation-on-purchase and proofreading services in Dubai from Editor.ae for students and businesses. Our academic editors has revised +3000 documents Trash Can Boogie. Led by guitarist/vocalist Creative Writing Activities For Kindergarten - Proofreading and proofediting aid from top professionals. Essays & dissertations written by top quality writers. Get to know Johnny Strom with backing shouts from drummer Wanted to become a good lawyer? We have professional lawyers who provide should animals be used for research essay to the students for getting your desire degree. Matt C. White and a suitable flow provided by bassist we do assignment for you Cover Letter For Phd Application Biology university essays online example of a research essay Jared Schapker, the band present a classic-tinged four tracks, showing some jammier psych range in the 7:47 second cut “Untold” but never straying too far from the next hook, as opener “Ride On, Right On” and the almost-proto-metal “Imitation” show. Finishing with “Curmudgeon,” Are you in need of Make Research Paper? Get PhD professional editing service when you click here. Grandpa Jack ride a fine line between modern fuzz, ’90s melody and ’70s groove idolatry, and part of the fun is trying to figure out which side they’re on at any given point and which side they’ll want to ultimately end up on, or if they’ll decide at all. They have one LP under their collective belt already. I’d be surprised if their next one didn’t garner them more significant attention, let alone label backing, should they want it.

Grandpa Jack on Thee Facebooks

Grandpa Jack on Bandcamp

 

Woven Man, Revelry (In Our Arms)

woven man revelry in our arms

There’s metal in the foundation of what We are http://nam.fo/?biology-homework-help-online based in London, UK. We offer the most affordable and bespoke business plan writing services including Tier-1 Woven Man are doing on their 2019 debut, Online Qualitative Research Proposal Template for students of PK with 100% money back guarantee. Our professional writers help you achieving your academic and career goals. Revelry (In Our Arms). And there’s paganism. But they’re by no means “pagan metal” at least in the understood genre terms. The Welsh outfit — featuring guitarist If you tolerate nothing but excellence, our trustworthy writing service is ready to assist you in writing Business Plan For A Nail Salons. Place an order and our Lee Roy Davies, formerly of Simply tell us "https://wenxiaow.com/3446.html!", and our experienced writers will be glad to provide you with professional services! We are at your disposal! Acrimony — cast out soundscapes in their vocal melodies and have no lack of tonal crunch at their disposal when they want it, but as eight-minute opener/longest track (immediate points) shows, they’re not going to be rigidly defined as one thing or another. One can hear Seeking for follow site? That's great! Check out the most reliable essay writing service EssayOnTime You can decide which writer will create C.O.C. in the riffs during their moments of sneer on “I am Mountain” or the centerpiece highlight “With Willow,” but they never quite embrace the shimmer outright Though they come right to the cusp of doing so on the subsequent “Makers Mark,” but closer “Of Land and Sky” revives a more aggressive push and sets them toward worshiping different idols. Psychedelic metal is a tough, nearly impossible, balance to pull off. I’m not entirely convinced it’s what Woven Man are going for on this first outing, but it’s where they might end up.

Woven Man on Thee Facebooks

Woven Man on Bandcamp

 

Charivari, Descent

charivari descent

Whether drifting mildly through the likes of drone-laden pieces “Down by the Water,” the CD-only title-track or “Alexandria” as they make their way toward the harsh bite at the end of the 11-minute closer “Scavengers of the Wind,” Bath, UK, heavy post-rockers Charivari hold a firm sense of presence and tonal fullness. They’re prone to a wash from leadoff “When Leviathan Dreams” onward, but it’s satisfying to course along with the four-piece for the duration of their journey. Rough spots? Oh, to be sure. “Aphotic” seethes with noisy force, and certainly the aforementioned ending is intended to jar, but that only makes a work like “Lotus Eater,” which ably balances Cure-esque initial lead lines with emergent distortion-crush, that much richer to behold. The moves they make are natural, unforced, and whether they’re trading back and forth in volume or fluidly, willfully losing themselves in a trance of effects, the organic and ethereal aspects of their sound never fail to come through in terms of melody even as a human presence is maintained on vocals. When “Down by the Water” hits its mark, it is positively encompassing. Headphones were built for this.

Charivari on Thee Facebooks

Worst Bassist Records on Bandcamp

 

Human Impact, Human Impact

human impact human impact

Bit of a supergroup here, at least in the underrated-New-York-art-noise sphere of things. Vocals and riffy crunch provided by the masterful Chris Spencer (formerly of Unsane), while Cop Shoot Cop‘s Jim Coleman adds much-welcome electronic flourish, Swans/Xiu Xiu bassist Chris Pravdica provides low end and the well-if-he-can-handle-drumming-for-Swans-he-can-handle-anything Phil Puleo (also Cop Shoot Cop) grounds the rhythm. Presented through Ipecac, the four-piece’s declarative self-titled debut arrives through Ipecac very much as a combination of the elements of which it is comprised, but the atmosphere brought to the proceedings by Coleman set against Spencer‘s guitar isn’t to be understated. The two challenge each other in “E605” and the off-to-drone “Consequences” and the results are to everyone’s benefit, despite the underlying theme of planetary desolation. Whoops on that one, but at least we get the roiling chaos and artful noise of “This Dead Sea” out of it, and that’s not nothing. Predictable? In parts, but so was climate change if anyone would’ve fucking listened.

Human Impact on Thee Facebooks

Ipecac Recordings store

 

Dryland, Dances with Waves

dryland dances with waves

The nautically-themed follow-up to Bellingham, Washington, progressive heavy/noise/post-hardcore rockers Dryland‘s 2017 self-titled debut album, the four-song Dances with Waves EP finds the thoughtful and melodic riffers working alongside producer/engineer Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Isis, etc.) on a recording that loses none of its edge for its deft changes of rhythm and shifts in vocals. There’s some influence from Elder maybe in terms of the guitar on “No Celestial Hope” and the finale “Between the Testaments,” but by the time the seven-minute capper is done, it’s full-on Pacific Northwest noise crunch, crashing its waves of riffs and stomp against the shore of your eardrums in demand of as much volume as you’ll give it. Between those two, “Exalted Mystics” moves unsuspectingly through its first half and seems to delve into semi-emo-if-emo-was-about-sailing-and-death theatrics in its second, while “The Sound a Sword Adores” distills the alternating drive and sway down to its barest form, a slowdown later setting up the madness soon to arrive in “Between the Testaments.”

Dryland on Thee Facebooks

Dryland on Bandcamp

 

Brass Owl, State of Mind

brass owl state of mind

Brass Owl foster on their self-released debut full-length, State of Mind, a brand of heavy rock that maintains a decidedly straightforward face while veering at the same time into influences from grunge, ’70s rock, the better end of ’80s metal and probably one or two current hard or heavy rock bands. You might catch a tinge of Five Horse Johnson-style blues on “No Filter – Stay Trendy” or the particularly barroom-ready “Jive Turkey,” which itself follows the funkier unfolding jam-into-shredfest of “The Legend of FUJIMO,” and the earlier “Hook, Line & Sinker” has trucker-rock all over it, but through it all, the defining aspect of the work is its absolute lack of pretense. These guys — there would seem to have been three when they recorded, there are two now; so it goes — aren’t trying to convince you of their intelligence, or their deep-running stylistic nuance. They’re not picking out riffs from obscure ’80s indie records or even ’70s private press LPs. They’re having a good time putting traditionalist-style rock songs together, messing around stylistically a bit, and they’ve got nine songs across 43 minutes ready to roll for anyone looking for that particular kind of company. If that’s you, great. If it ain’t, off you go to the next one.

Brass Owl website

Brass Owl on Bandcamp

 

Battle City, Press Start

Battle City Press Start

From even before you press play on Press Start, the 22-minute debut release from South Africa’s Battle City, the instrumental duo make their love of gaming readily apparent. Given that they went so far as to call one song “Ram Man” and that it seems just as likely as not that “Ignition” and “Ghost Dimension” are video game references as well, it’s notable that guitarist/bassist Stian “Lightning Fingers Van Tonder” Maritz and drummer Wayne “Thunder Flakes” Hendrikz didn’t succumb to the temptation of bringing any electronic sounds to the six-song offering. Even in “Ghost Dimension,” which is the closer and longest track by about three minutes, they keep it decidedly straightforward in terms of arrangements and resist any sort of chiptune elements, sticking purely to guitar, bass and drums. There’s a touch of the progressive to the leadoff title-track and to the soaring lead “Ignotion,” but Press Start does likewise in setting the band’s foundation in a steady course of heavy rock and metal, to the point that if you didn’t know they were gaming-inspired by looking at the cover art or the titles, there’d be little to indicate that’s where they were coming from. I wouldn’t count myself among them, but those clamoring for beeps and boops and other 8-bit nonsense will be surprised. For me, the riffs’ll do just fine, thanks.

Battle City on Thee Facebooks

Battle City on Bandcamp

 

Astral Bodies, Escape Death

Astral Bodies Escape Death

Spacious, varied and progressive without losing their heft either of tone or presence, Manchester, UK, trio Astral Bodies debut on Surviving Sounds with Escape Death, working mostly instrumentally — they do sneak some vocals into the penultimate “Pale Horse” — to affect an atmosphere of cosmic heavy that’s neither indebted to nor entirely separate from post-metal. Droning pieces like the introductory “Neptune,” or the joyous key-laced wash of the centerpiece “Orchidaeae,” or even “Pale Horse,” act as spacers between longer cuts, and they’re purposefully placed not to overdo symmetry so as to make Escape Death‘s deceptively-efficient 36-minute runtime predictable. It’s one more thing the three-piece do right, added to the sense of rawness that comes through in the guitar tone even as effects and synth seem to surround and provide a context that would be lush if it still weren’t essentially noise rock. Cosmic noise? The push of “Oumuamua” sure is, if anything might be. Classify it however you want — it’s fun when it’s difficult! — but it’s a striking record either way, and engages all the more as a first long-player.

Astral Bodies on Thee Facebooks

Surviving Sounds on Thee Facebooks

 

Satyrus, Rites

satyrus rites

Following its three-minute chanting intro, Satyrus let opener and longest track (immediate points) “Black Satyrus” unfold its cultish nod across an eight minutes that leads the way into the rest of their debut album, Rites, perhaps more suitably than the intro ever could. The building blocks that the Italian unit are working from are familiar enough — Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus, Electric Wizard, maybe even some Slayer in the faster soloing of second cut “Shovel” — but that doesn’t make the graveyard-dirt-covered fuzz of “Swirl” or the noisefest that ensues in “Stigma” or subsequent “Electric Funeral”-ist swing any less satisfying, or the dug-in chug of bookending nine-minute closer “Trailblazer.” Hell, if it’s a retread, at least they’re leaving footprints, and it’s not like Satyrus are trying to tell anyone they invented Tony Iommi‘s riff. It’s a mass by the converted for the converted. I’d ask nothing more of it than that and neither should you.

Satyrus on Thee Facebooks

Satyrus on Bandcamp

 

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2019

Posted in Features on December 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk best of 2019

[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.]

Make no mistake, my friends. 2019 was the year it went off the rails.

Every 12-month period brings a lot of records, and they all seem overwhelming, but this was the first year I’ve ever felt quite so helpless when it came time to sit down and actually make my list. Of course, I keep running notes all year long, but even so, ordering everything, bringing it all together? What a mess.

I almost thought of breaking it down into smaller lists in addition to the big one, subgrouped by style. But then, where does doom end and sludge begin? What about psych and heavy rock? Should prog get its own list? And what the hell counts as prog?

In the end, that didn’t seem like it would be doing me any favors, so we’ll stick with the one big list and then others for debut releases and another for EPs, splits, demos and so on. You know, the usual.

Pretty sure I say this every year too, but it bears repeating: if you read any of the below — and thanks if you do — and have a response, be nice. If I’ve forgotten something — and yes, I have; I’m sure of it — that you think needs to be included, and you want to leave a comment that says so, please, by all means. But keep it civil. I know people are passionate about this stuff and so am I, but consider there are probably over 200 offerings covered here by the time you get through all the lists and honorable mentions, and I’m one person. I’m doing my best, and though I try not to, I tend to take being called a dumbass personally. So yeah, chill out and please be constructive in calling me a dumbass. Words matter.

A few hard choices here, most especially for album of the year. I was back and forth with each of the top three in the top spot for a good long while, and it might change again between now and when this post goes up. But it’s been that kind of year. In 2018, there was no question. It was Sleep all the way. The question was what came after that. This year has been different without that kind of duh, punch-in-the-face obvious pick. Relative parity isn’t a bad thing though.

Enough delay. The usual parameters apply. These are a combo of my personal listening habits and what I think are the most important records/achievements of the year, critical importance, etc.

Here we go:

The Top 50 Albums of 2019

#50-31

50. Hazemaze, Hymns of the Damned
49. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
48. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Grandmother
47. PH, Osiris Hayden
46. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
45. Abrahma, In Time for the Last Rays of Light
44. Uffe Lorenzen, Triprapport
43. Swallow the Sun, When a Shadow is Forced into the Light
42. Caustic Casanova, God How I Envy the Deaf
41. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Tre
40. SÂVER, They Came With Sunlight
39. Ogre, Thrice as Strong
38. Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension
37. Vokonis, Grasping Time
36. Sacri Monti, Waiting Room for the Magic Hour
35. Across Tundras, The Rugged Ranges of Curbs and Broken Minds
34. Duel, Valley of Shadows
33. Orodruin, Ruins of Eternity
32. Zaum, Divination
31. Inter Arma, Sulphur English

Notes: Honestly, if this had been the top 20 of the year, I’d still call 2019 a win. Aside from the fact that I somehow thought Caustic Casanova would enjoy coming in a number 42, the sheer quality of this stuff should tell you what kind of year 2019 was. Inter Arma’s Sulphur English was a significant achievement in genre melding, and Orodruin’s return after more than a decade since their last LP was a masterclass in doom worship. Debut albums from SÂVER and Thunderbird Divine and Lightning Born showed marked promise of things to come — and there’s more on them below as well — while Zaum’s, Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree’s and Lamp of the Universe’s meditations, Vokonis’ noise, Abrahma’s emotive progressivisim, Swallow the Sun’s melodic melancholy, Sacri Monti’s boogie, and whatever the hell PH were doing on Osiris Hayden remind just how much the word “heavy” can encompass. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Duel and Uffe Lorenzen and Hazemaze were musts here, and Ogre are perennial favorites whose work always brings a doomly grin. Don’t sleep on any of it.

30. Sun Blood Stories, Haunt Yourself

sun blood stories haunt yourself

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 6.

Until they put out a complementary follow-up record of such fare, one might’ve accused Idaho three-piece Sun Blood Stories of becoming less experimentalist/droned-out/noisy on Haunt Yourself, but they seem to have met their quota one way or the other with the Oct. 2019 advent of Static Sessions Vol. 1. Still, it’s melody, heavy post-rock/psychedelic drift and emotive soul that rule the day on the crushing and enriching Haunt Yourself, and no complaints from me on that.

29. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Everybody’s Going to Die

Church of the Cosmic Skull Everybodys Going to Die

Released by Septaphonic Records. Reviewed Dec. 10.

I don’t have to do anything more than read the name of the album to have the chorus of the title-track stuck in my head, and it’s a reminder that although the Nottingham troupe put so much into their progressive style and vocal harmonies and arrangements, and a more conceptual theme in the case of Everybody’s Going to Die — their answer to 2018’s excellent Science Fiction (review here) — their roots are in songcraft, and it’s the foundation of songcraft that lets them soar. Would be higher on the list if it weren’t so new.

28. Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

devil to pay forever never or whenever

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 4.

With their sixth album, Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay collect 10 tracks of unpretentious-almost-to-a-fault of straightforward heavy rock songwriting that continues to be woefully underappreciated. They have become utterly reliable in that regard — you know, to a certain extent, what’s coming — but the vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (also Apostle of Solitude) and some more metallic turns to the riffing give Forever, Never or Whenever a subtlety that holds up all the more on repeat visits. I don’t know if Devil to Pay will ever get their due, but suffice it to say, they’re due.

27. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds

howling giant the space between worlds

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Oct. 11.

If you’re of a certain age, you remember when the first Playstation came out and everyone looked around at their Nintendos and Segas like, “What the hell am I messing around with Mario Golf for? I could be playing Resident Evil!” That’s kind of what Howling Giant are as compared to “regular” rock bands. They’re the Playstation of heavy: that next progressive step forward carrying an inhuman amount of swagger and personality while still delivering a stepped-up product from their would-be peers. The scariest thing about The Space Between Worlds is it’s their first LP. One looks forward to the next generation.

26. Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

saint vitus saint vitus

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 19.

I know for a fact that bassist Pat Bruders and drummer Henry Vasquez had a hand in writing some of the material on Saint Vitus’ second self-titled LP, and yet the album so much bears the indelible mark of guitarist Dave Chandler that it’s hard not to think of it all as his. The album marked their first release with original singer Scott Reagers since 1995’s Die Healing (discussed here) and featured among their trademark low-tuned slog, an actual punk song, which showed the grinning glee that underlies all they do. Four decades on, Saint Vitus sound like they’re having fun. How is that not a win?

25. Ealdor Bealu, Spirit of the Lonely Places

ealdor bealu spirit of the lonely places

Self-released. Reviewed July 10.

Woodsy Rocky Mountain psychedelia abounded on Boise foursome Ealdor Bealu’s second full-length, and their blend of landscape meditations and grounded heavy progressive melodicism made Spirit of the Lonely Places as much about impact as about space, though of course the real joy was the experience of the entirety. Very much a sophomore album, it learned lessons from 2017’s Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain (review here) that one only hopes the band will continue to push forward in scope as they so gracefully did here.

24. Yatra, Death Ritual

yatra death ritual

Released through Grimoire Records. Discussed Nov. 13, 2018..

Though hard- and to-date quick-working Maryland trio Yatra have already moved on and are looking ahead to releasing their second album, Blood of the Night (review here), their Grimoire-delivered debut, Death Ritual, is impossible to ignore for the impact it had on reminding listeners of the impact that primeval extreme sludge can have. Another couple tours and some bigger label — Relapse, Prosthetic, eOne, Season of Mist, whoever — will decide they’re “ready,” whatever that means, and then sign them and I won’t be cool enough to do track premieres for them anymore, but as far as accolades go, Yatra earn whatever they get and Death Ritual stands among 2019’s most landmark debuts. They’ve already outdone it, but it’s a stunner just the same.

23. Ecstatic Vision, For the Masses

ecstatic vision for the masses

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 17.

Ecstatic Vision frontman Doug Sabolik has cast himself in the mold of Arthur Brown or Dave Wyndorf or probably seven or eight dudes who were in Hawkwind at some point as a manic-but-stoned space rock preacher with as he and his band behind him plunge headfirst-or-feetfirst-it-doesn’t-matter-because-your-body-is-an-illusion-man into the molten multicolor void. For the Masses. The ‘masses,’ such as they are, should be so lucky, but the double-meaning is the real tell for where the Philly unit are coming from. Their shows are the masses — gatherings of spirit and song to give praise to the willful expansion of mind. If you can’t get behind that, you might as well go get a job or something. This ain’t no lightweight party for squares and dabblers. This is a high-potency happening for werewolves on motorcycles and freaks of all stripes. Get weird stay weird. Ecstatic Vision are one mostly-mellow 15-minute “Spine of God”-style psych-epic away from perfection.

22. Beastwars, IV

beastwars iv

Released by Destroy Records. Reviewed June 27.

But for the circumstances that brought it about — i.e. Beastwars vocalist Matt Hyde’s cancer — the unexpected fourth installment in the Beastwars trilogy was nothing if not welcome. An grand-feeling sense of largesse was nothing new to the New Zealand four-piece, but after breaking up and getting back together to make the album, the grim sincerity with which they presented this exploration of mortality and betrayal by one’s own body was no less palpable than the undulating riffs that threatened, as ever, to consume all in their path. I don’t know their future plans in terms of continuing to write and/or record, but there are reports of touring beyond Aus/NZ for 2020, so one way or another, stay tuned for more from them. Whether or not they do anything else, IV was a triumph in spirit and execution.

21. Eternal Black, Slow Burn Suicide

eternal black slow burn suicide

Self-released. Reviewed June 7.

With the nine songs of Slow Burn Suicide, Brooklyn’s Eternal Black began to unveil the true depth of their project. Their 2017 debut, Bleed the Days (review here), was well received, and rightly so, but operated more in a straight-ahead doom sphere. The second outing, by contrast, delved into a particular vision of the style informed by the crunch of peak-era New York noise and crossover hardcore, and it succeeded not just because it did this, but because it did so around a conjuration of memorable riffs and tracks building on accomplishments carried over from its predecessor. Is this an awaited arrival of next-generation ‘New York doom’? Will theirs be a blueprint others will follow? It’s impossible to know now, and their next album will be telling either way, but the course they’ve set is significant.

20. Candlemass, The Door to Doom

candlemass the door to doom

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 22.

It may have been the Tony Iommi guest appearance that got Swedish doom legends Candlemass — the world’s earliest and foremost purveyors of doom both classic and epic — their recent Grammy nomination, but it was the long-overdue reunion with original vocalist Johan Längquist that made the album as a whole as powerful as it was. Pairing Längquist’s theatrical and vital approach with founding bassist Leif Edling’s second-to-none doomcraft, The Door to Doom was a catapult not to the bygone days of the band’s landmark debut, 1986’s Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, but an inspired look at not just what might’ve been had Längquist remained with the band longer, but what might still be if he does this time around. Candlemass have been through their share of singers, but as fresh as The Door to Doom sounded, it’s hard not to hope for something more than a one-off with he who got there first. The songs, the spirit, the sheer heart poured into Candlemass’ doom some 35 years past the band’s start only emphasizes how special they have always been.

19. Nebula, Holy Shit

nebula holy shit

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed June 13.

Anyone who might’ve predicted Nebula getting into the studio and making a new album was either in the room when it happened or talking out their ass. And speaking of, was Nebula’s Holy Shit named for the shock one might’ve felt at its existence, or the surprise at how good it actually sounded when you put it on? I don’t know. I probably won’t ever know. It was the best title I saw all year, but more than that, it was a Nebula record, fueled by the classic riffing and unmitigated desert punk soul of founding/guitarist Eddie Glass, whose absence from the heavy underground for the last decade left a void only too many others whiffed on filling. Holy Shit showed just how singular a player Glass was and is, and how much character there is in his style, particularly in solos, but also in rhythmic changes, and so on. I won’t discount the work of bassist Tom Davies and drummer Mike Amster in making Nebula what they are in this incarnation — they’re essential, obviously — but there’s simply no denying that presence at the band’s core.

18. Valley of the Sun, Old Gods

valley of the sun old gods

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed May 21.

This was a heavy rock record that had everything. Everything. It had songs, style, ups, down, purples, greens, ins, outs, all kinds of whathaveyou. Riffs forever. Valley of the Sun should keep their eyes on Sasquatch, because if they want it, that path is theirs. I know the Cincinnati outfit have had trouble keeping lineups together, but if they can hold onto one, and maybe after their next record start touring more, domestically and abroad — not at all a minor ask, I know — then people will catch on. Old Gods is evidence of the fact that they genuinely have something to offer, and frankly, it’s not at all the first such effective case they’ve made in their career. But they’ve never put anything out that wasn’t a step forward, and yet they’ve never lost sight of the roots of their initial inspiration. And they’ve never sacrificed the song for the riff, which so many do. They’ve only ever gotten better. Let Old Gods be a step toward them getting attention they’ve long since deserved.

17. Kadavar, For the Dead Travel Fast

Kadavar For the Dead Travel Fast

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 28.

In style and production, For the Dead Travel Fast is the most vintage-sounding offering Berlin trio Kadavar have made in over a half decade, yet neither is it looking backward wistfully toward 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) or giving up the modern clarity of 2017’s Rough Times (review here) or 2015’s Berlin (review here). Instead, it strikes a balance with a more sinister edge à la Uncle Acid in songs like “Children of the Night” and “Demons in My Mind” — both singles — and makes a home for itself between proto-metal and garage doom. Whatever genre tag you want to give it — and that might vary from track to track, mind you — it’s unmistakably Kadavar, with the signature hooks and memorable craftsmanship that have made them one of the decade’s most pivotal heavy bands. The real challenge at this point in their career is not to take for granted that Kadavar will produce material of such quality, because, frankly, that’s all they’ve ever done.

16. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Yn Ol I Annwn

mammoth weed wizard bastard yn ol i annwn

Released by New Heavy Sounds. Reviewed Feb. 7.

Welsh sci-fi cosmic doomers Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard billed Yn Ol I Annwn as the final installment of a trilogy that includes their two prior LPs, 2015’s Noeth Ac Anoeth (review here) and 2016’s Y Proffwyd Dwyll (review here), and while that may be true thematically, there’s also no question the third is a marked step forward from anything they’ve done before. They’re one foot out of the airlock and into space as their synth-laden longform riffing and melodies take them to places they’ve not yet gone, explorations of sight as much as sound, aural translation of colors humans aren’t gifted to see. Their songs across the 65-minute span unfold with the grace of a gravity spiral, pulling the listener deeper into the proceedings with each new phase that emerges until, what, obliteration? Stellar genesis? I’m not sure. They’ve reportedly got one more record to make and then they’re done. If that’s true, they’ll be missed then they’re gone.

15. Magic Circle, Departed Souls

magic circle departed souls

Released by 20 Buck Spin. Reviewed April 3.

They’ve found their way to die, and it’s upon an altar of classic metal and doom. And honestly, they make a pretty good case for it. Departed Souls is the third full-length from the Boston unit and their most stylistically realized work yet, with vocalist Brendan Radigan giving a standout performance alongside the guitars of Chris Corry and Renato Montenegro, the bass of Justin DeTore and Michael “Q” Quartulli’s drums, as the entire band taps into vibes from mid-’70s Black Sabbath and brings them to bear with an energy that is unlike anything in Magic Circle’s history. 2015’s Journey Blind (review here) brought in NWOBHM flash in the guitar work, sure enough, but Departed Souls doesn’t so much carry the torch of classic metal as it does use it to burn down the whole village and rebuild it in the five-piece’s image. From their doomed beginnings on their 2013 self-titled debut (review here) to now, they’re an act who’ve genuinely earned cult status. If you can find a backpatch, buy it.

14. Spaceslug, Reign of the Orion

Spaceslug Reign of the Orion cover

Released by BSFD Records. Reviewed Nov. 22.

Controversy! Drama! Well, probably not, but at very least some respectful disagreement on my part. You see, Poland’s Spaceslug have stated publicly that their latest release, the late-2019 surprise Reign of the Orion is an EP. Their albums regularly top 50 minutes, and at 36 minutes, I guess relative to that, you can see where they’re coming from. However, with the flow of these five songs and the ease with which they carry the listener from front-to-back through the listening experience, I’m sticking to my guns and calling Reign of the Orion an album. Sorry guys. True, it’s shorter than the other full-lengths, but it’s got everything you could ask an album to have in terms of how tracks like “Spacerunner” and the shouty “Half-Moon Burns” play into each other, and the fluidity of the outing on the whole is inarguable. An LP by any other name? Whatever you or they want to call it, there’s no question in my mind Reign of the Orion is one of 2019’s best records. If they insist on it being an EP, then it’s the best one of the year, but I still say it belongs in another category altogether, so here it is.

13. Green Lung, Woodland Rites

green lung woodland rites

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Jan. 28.

As hyper-crowded as London is with bands at this moment in history, there continue to be acts who sneak through with an individualized and intriguing perspective on doom and heavy rock, and Green Lung are a perfect example, learning from fellow Brits like Alunah and Elephant Tree and incorporating folk and forest goth vibes to their debut album, Woodland Rites. Laced with organ and stuck-in-the-head choruses like “Let the Devil In” and the creeper “Templar Dawn,” the record also pushed into drifting verses on “Into the Wild,” setting up future experimentation with atmospheric variety and genre manipulation. If part of any first album’s appeal is the potential it represents, Green Lung’s offers plenty, but wherever their subsequent course may or may not take them, their accomplishments here shouldn’t be overlooked. Woodland Rites is nothing less than the heavy rock debut album of the year, and though they emerge from a packed field, the work they do to stand themselves out already carries their mark and an apparent will toward progression. They’re on their way.

12. Lo-Pan, Subtle

lo-pan subtle

Released by Aqualamb Records. Reviewed May 9.

My head immediately goes to the hooks of “Ten Days” and “Ascension Day” and “Savage Heart,” but the up-down surges of guitar in “Old News/New Fire” and the midtempo soulfulness in “A Thousand Miles” are no less resonant when it comes to the actual listening experience of the fifth Lo-Pan LP. Subtle, when it came to living up to its name, as much wasn’t as it was. Flourishes of harmony in the vocals of Jeff Martin, the pops in Jesse Bartz’s snare punctuating and propelling in kind, turns in Scott Thompson’s bass work twisting around the guitar of Chris Thompson, a relative newcomer to the fold making his debut with the band and showing no apparent trouble fitting in. I don’t imagine Lo-Pan is an easy band to join, especially at this point. They thrive on personality clash and, through years of touring, have a chemistry they’ve built between them that comes through even on their recordings. Nonetheless, Subtle is their clearest, sharpest-edged work yet, and as tight as their songwriting has become, they still groove and groove mightily. They are a treasure of American heavy rock and roll. Believe it.

11. Roadsaw, Tinnitus the Night

roadsaw tinnitus the night

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 12.

While members of Roadsaw have spent the intervening years in projects like Kind, White Dynomite, Sasquatch and Murcielago, the Boston heavy rock kingpins have indeed been missed, and Tinnitus the Night works quickly to show why. It’s been well over 20 years since their first LP — hell, it’s been eight since they put out their 2011 self-titled (review here) — but their craft is at its own level, and Tinnitus the Night comes barreling through with “Shake” and “Along for the Ride” and “Final Phase” before opening up to broader fare on side B with “Find What You Need,” “Under the Devil’s Thumb” and “Midazolam” ahead of the subdued finale “Silence,” and the result is nothing less than a classic heavy rock LP structure as befitting what is itself a classic heavy rock LP. What’s Roadsaw’s future? I don’t know. It took them the better part of a decade to make this one happen, so take from that what you will, but to me, all it says is there’s even more reason to be grateful they got it done and out. To say the songs deserve that is putting it mildly.

10. Worshipper, Light in the Wire

worshipper light in the wire

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 24.

I’m not doing a ‘song of the year’ post, but if I was, Worshipper’s “Coming Through” might be it. The opening track from the Boston four-piece’s second album, Light in the Wire, marries classic pop drama in its melody with careening progressive riffing, and sets the tone for a record that is of both future and past, twistingly complex and yet immediately accessible, immersive as an entirety and still comprised of standout moments. These aren’t contradictions in Worshipper’s skillful hands, but the stuff of what’s already becoming their own take on rock. Tied together through melody, skillful rhythmic intricacy and solid structural foundations, “Light in the Wires,” “Visions from Beyond,” “Wither on the Vine” and others throughout post their own triumphs en route to enhancing the album as a whole, while “Nobody Else” and closer “Arise” underscore the emotive basis from which the perspective of the whole LP emanates. There are a lot of “next-gen” heavy rock bands out there weaving prog elements and traditional riffing together to some degree or other. Few, if any, can write a song like Worshipper can. I mean it. This band is something special.

9. Solace, The Brink

solace the brink

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Nov. 21.

What is there to say about Solace? A band who, nine years after revealing the expectation-slaughtering masterpiece A.D. (review here), return with three-fifths of a swapped-out lineup and simply do it again? This band is explosive. Really. Like, they might explode at any minute. It’s a miracle The Brink ever happened. I’ll be honest, I had my doubts. But Solace are a force like nothing else I’ve ever encountered in music. They take metallic aggression, hardcore’s sense of self-righteousness and heavy rock’s groove, set it all to a doomly swing and they play it in such a way as to leave you utterly dumbfounded by what you just experienced. Here’s a challenge though, for the band personally. From me to them. Do another one. Go ahead. Put out another album. You don’t even have to do it in 2020. Do it 2021. Write the songs and give me a no-holds-barred 45-minute LP of the tightest, meanest shit you’ve ever written. Because massive as the accomplishments are on The Brink, it’s the potential to build from them that resonates most here. So do it, guys. Step up and take advantage of the moment. Call me greedy if you want, I don’t care. Give me another Solace record. I dare you.

8. Brume, Rabbits

brume rabbits

Released by Doom Stew Records & DHU Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

Simply a case of a band wildly outdoing themselves. Easy story, yeah? In some ways, maybe, but the truth of what Brume achieve on Rabbits. Their second long-player behind 2017’s Rooster (review here), the five-track offering sees the San Francisco three-piece of vocalist/bassist Susie McMullan, guitarist/vocalist Jamie McCathie and drummer Jordan Perkins-Lewis working with producer Billy Anderson to bring theatricality and emotionalism together in a flowing post-heavy context that’s neither derivative nor working at cross purposes. Instead, it is a gorgeous and blooming undertaking across its 43-minute span, working in its own light/dark spectrum and bringing not just the sense of trapped fragility evoked by the cover art, but a corresponding sureness of intent to its ascendant heavy surges. Like Rooster before it, it is loaded with potential, but in “Scurry” and “Lament” and “Despondence” and “Blue Jay and “Autocrat’s Fool,” there’s a patience and command that absolutely does not waver. So yes, a band outdoing themselves. But so much more too.

7. Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal

mars red sky the task eternal

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Sept. 20.

This may forever be known as the Mars Red Sky album they wrote in a cave, but the Bordeaux three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matieu “Matgaz” Gazeau nonetheless plunged forward along the progressive course they charted back on 2014’s sophomore outing, Stranded in Arcadia (review here), and continued to manifest in 2016’s Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here). Their blend of melody and tonal heft has become a hallmark of their work to this stage in their career, but The Task Eternal continues to add a sense of breadth to the proceedings, giving their sound a full three-dimensional pull that feels tailor-made for headphones and is consuming in its entirety. With experiments in structure like the pairing of “Recast” and “Reacts,” and the rushing sweep of melody in “Hollow King,” Mars Red Sky’s latest is, as ever, their finest. Outdoing themselves would seem to be the task from which the record derives its title. Fine. Just keep going. Please.

6. Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 15.

Every time I think I understand where Kings Destroy want to go as a band, they pull the rug out. That’s what Fantasma Nera is. After their 2015 self-titled (review here) third LP seemed to declare them once and for all in a space between doom and noise rooted in their respective hardcore pasts, the Brooklynite five-piece hooked up with producer David Bottrill (Tool, etc.) and composed a rock album. A real live rock album! With progressive undertones in the guitar work and the most accomplished melodicism of their career, Kings Destroy put everything they had into making Fantasma Nera and one need look no further than the title-track to hear the result of that monumental effort. It is the realization of a band challenging themselves to go so far out of their comfort zone as to be only recognizable in the most rudimentary of ways, and to say it as plainly as I can, “Dead Before” on its own is enough of an accomplishment — and enough of a full-length, at all of 4:25 — to make this list on its own, whatever surrounds it. Song of the year. I’ll say every time I’m a Kings Destroy fan, but I’ve never been gladder to say it than I am in talking about Fantasma Nera.

5. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Dec. 3.

If you’re saying to yourself, “Ah come on, Colour Haze are always on the list when they put out records,” I have two answers. One, you’re right, and two, if you have a problem with that, blow it out your ass. The Munich forefathers of the European heavy psychedelic underground — yup — marked their 25th anniversary this year, and did so not just by putting out an album, but by putting out We Are, which introduces a full-fledged fourth member to what’s been a three-piece since 1998. Granted, it’s not the first time guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald have worked with organist/keyboardist/synthesist Jan Faszbender, but never has the presence of keys been so integral to their work, and never has the dynamic between players shifted in the way it does on tracks like “The Real” and “Life” and “I’m With You,” with keys fleshing out melodies and enriching the bass and guitar. Add to that the Spanish-style guitar on centerpiece “Material Drive” or the operatic flash in the penultimate “Be With Me,” and it’s one more example of one of the best bands on earth refusing to rest on their laurels. Which, as it happens, is why they’re one of the best bands on earth. So hell yes, they’re on all my lists. Fact is my lists are lucky to have them.

4. Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter

blackwater holylight veils of winter

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Sept. 26.

Like nothing else I heard in 2019, Veils of Winter had repeat listenability. It was the album that, most often, when I was choosing something I actually wanted to hear, I went back to time and again. Its dark, moody psychedelic and heavy vibe stands alone among the year’s releases, and is a stylistic milestone that one only hopes other artists will pick up on. Toying with pop melodies on tracks like “Death Realms” and bringing hypnosis and clarity in kind to the subtly traditionalist winding riff of “Moonlit” — would it have been out of place on the first Witchcraft LP? — the Portland, Oregon, five-piece worked on a speedy turnaround and squashed even the significant expectations I had after their self-titled debut (review here) last year. They’ve begun to tour, so I don’t know if another full-length is in the works for 2020, but their craft is enviable in its flow and their songs are shimmering in tone and cohesion alike. Given how bold a step forward Veils of Winter is, I hear nothing in their material to this point to make me think their momentum won’t continue to carry them forward. But, you know, if not, I’d also take about six or seven records just like this one. That’d be fine too. Whatever they want, really.

3. Slomatics, Canyons

Slomatics Canyons

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed May 15.

Belfast, Northern Ireland, three-piece Slomatics — guitarists David Marjury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/synthesist Marty Harvey — finished a narrative trilogy with 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here), and though the storyline was always vague throughout that and the preceding two offerings, the question of how they would proceed nonetheless hung over Canyons prior to its release. The answer is in the songs themselves. From the sci-fi majesty of lumbering, rolling groove in opener and longest track “Gears of Despair” — oh, they grind — through the mega-stomp of “Telemachus, My Son” and the righteously synth-laden wash that consumes “Mind Fortresses on Theia,” Slomatics bring together concept and execution with a readiness that highlights the fact of their 15th anniversary. They are mature in their approach, yes, but the fact is their approach is so much their own and so given to their particular mode of progression that it almost can’t help but feel fresh. How could something so utterly crushing also feel rejuvenating? As they plod through finale “Organic Caverns II” ending with more waves of synth and tectonic guitar — no bass, remember — they are as restorative as they are punishing, and they stand astride that duality with neither mercy nor pretense. Canyons, whether it’s setting up a new story, building from the old, or doing something completely different, stands on its own.

2. Year of the Cobra, Ash and Dust

year of the cobra ash and dust

Released by Prophecy Productions. Reviewed Oct. 24.

My anticipation for and expectations of Year of the Cobra’s second long-player were high most especially after 2017’s Burn Your Dead EP (review here), which along with the dead, set alight the notion that the Seattle duo of bassist/vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith and drummer Jon Barrysmith were simply a heavy/doom band. With elements of post-punk, psych wash, minimalist stretches and propulsive gallop, Ash and Dust cast itself out over an aesthetic range that set a new standard not just for Year of the Cobra, but for anyone who’d dare match them at their own game — and that list will grow with time, absolutely. As their first outing through Prophecy Productions, Ash and Dust threw itself into the very melting pot of its own ambition and emerged with songs that didn’t just bring together disparate ideas, but made them flourish and engage and challenge the listener while still proving consistent in tone and underlying groove. For a two-person, two-instrument outfit (not counting voice, though I should), they proved more malleable than many with more than twice the number of hands on deck, and pushed the notion of what heavy rock is and does forward without stopping to look back or ask for permission. They just did it, and maybe Ash and Dust is the aftermath of all that burning.

2019 Album of the Year

1. Monolord, No Comfort

monolord no comfort

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Look back over the course of this list, and you will find no shortage of bands and releases that surpassed the group in question’s past work. With Gothenburg, Sweden’s Monolord, it wasn’t just about No Comfort — their debut on Relapse, fourth full-length overall — being better than 2017’s Rust (review here), because that was pretty jolly gosh darn enjoyable, but about the band reaching a moment of transcendence to which Rust and all their prior work across 2015’s Vænir (review here) and 2014’s Empress Rising has been leading. With the six tracks of No Comfort, guitarist/vocalist Thomas Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and drummer Esben Willems not only overcome the influences that launched them — taking full ownership of their sound and defending that claim with the sheer quality of their songwriting — and they not only become as identifiable as those influences themselves, but they overcome themselves. No Comfort means no comfort. Monolord take the simplicity that once fueled their riffing, the willful primitivism of their earliest work, and with songs like “Larvae” and “The Bastard Son” and the closing title-track use it as the foundation it was apparently always intended to be. Monolord have toured plenty and certainly their studio output has shown an increasing complexity from one LP to the next, so progression isn’t unexpected, but the manner in which Monolord have executed that progression has been. Even on “The Last Leaf,” which is arguably the most straightforward fare on the album, one hears it as them rather than the manifestation of the acts that inspired them. The same holds for “Skywards” later on, and for the immersion that takes hold as the mournful “Alone Together” plays into “No Comfort” itself. Monolord take their place among the best bands on the planet, and deliver an Album of the Year for 2019 that, like the absolute best, will have an impact lasting much longer than any period of 12 months might convey.

The Top 50 Albums of 2019: Honorable Mention

You didn’t think we’d stop at 50, did you? Come on. You know me better than that. The fact is that the list itself, humongous as it is, is just the start of the tip of an iceberg attached to a glacier that’s somewhere on an entire planet constructed of ice.

Honorable mentions, you say? Yeah, a few. Here they are in no order whatsoever:

Lord Vicar, Goatess, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, Zone Six, Lykantropi, Earth, White Manna, Atala, Tia Carrera, Merlin, WEEED, Híbrido, Cities of Mars, Stone Machine Electric, Bretus, Blackwolfgoat, The Black Wizards, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Alunah, V, Pale Grey Lore, Leeds Point, Sons of Alpha Centauri, Spidergawd, Bus, Death Hawks, BBF, Vessel of Light, Crypt Trip, The Pilgrim, Uffe Lorenzen, Brant Bjork, Doomstress, Black Lung, Kandodo3, Monkey3, Bask, Horseburner, Zed, Bright Curse, Spillage, Sigils, Papir, Dune Sea, Destroyer of Light, Mastiff, Warp, Centrum, Varego, Lord Dying, Volcano, Saint Karloff, Firebreather, High Reeper, Bible of the Devil, Obsidian Sea, Torche, Motorpsycho, Sunn O))), Deadbird, Russian Circles, El Supremo, Pyramidal, Holy Serpent, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Demon Head, Red Beard Wall, Onhou, Kamchatka, Iguana, Arrowhead, The Whims of the Great Magnet, Serial Hawk, Scissorfight, Monte Luna, Lingua Ignota, Valborg, Sageness, Ruff Majik, The Giraffes, High Fighter, Comacozer, Burning Gloom, Swan Valley Heights, Mark Deutrom, Cable, AVER, Superlynx, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Old Mexico, Skraeckoedlan, Godsleep, Øresund Space Collective Meets Black Moon Circle.

Seems cruel to leave it to you to sort through those, but I’m tempted to do just that. You might notice some bigger names there in bands like Earth, Russian Circles, Torche and Sunn O))). Nothing against those bands, but I think we’re seeing a moment where a different group of artists are taking point in terms of innovating heavy styles across an entire swath of microgenres. Either way it’s not a slight that something is here instead of above. And of course, there are plenty of up and coming groups here as well, with Ruff Majik, Elizabeth Colour Wheel — who I’m sure would be a top 30 if I knew the record better than I do — Pale Grey Lore, Monte Luna, Papir, Destroyer of Light, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Skraeckoedlan, and so on, but hell’s bells, there’s already a list of 50 and I’m only one man. How high is the list supposed to go and still be a list?

Bottom line: Music is as endless as space and has as much beauty in it for those willing to hear. Do more digging.

The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2019

green lung woodland rites

1. Green Lung, Woodland Rites
2. Yatra, Death Ritual
3. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds
4. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
5. SÂVER, They Came with Sunlight
6. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
7. Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Nocebo
8. The Pilgrim, Walking into the Forest
9. Sigils, You Build the Altar You Lit the Leaves
10. E-L-R, Maenad
11. Hey Zeus, X
12. Bellrope, You Must Relax
13. Asthma Castle, Mount Crushmore
14. Thronehammer, Usurper of Oaken Throne
15. Inner Altar, Vol. III
16. Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember
17. Hippie Death Cult, 111
18. Faerie Ring, The Clearing
19. Gone Cosmic, Sideways in Time
20. Haze Mage, Chronicles

Honorable Mention: Warp, Pelegrin, Lucy in Blue, Volcano, The Sabbathian, Red Eye Tales, Dune Sea, Dury Dava, Pharlee, Giant Dwarf, Ghost:Hello, Surya, Workshed, Children of the Sün, Burning Gloom, Temple of the Fuzz Witch.

Notes: As ever, I consider a band’s debut album something unique and separate from everything else they’ll ever do, and so worthy of highlighting in its own category. It’s a different standard in my mind, one that takes into account what a group might accomplish going forward as well as what they do on the record itself. Plus, putting out an album is hard. Getting two, three, four, five or more people to agree on anything is an accomplishment. Making a cohesive album? Come on. So yes. We see some crossover from the main list above, but I want to draw attention to Howling Giant, Thunderbird Divine and SÂVER particularly here. There’s a swath of genres represented and I feel like a couple of these releases — Sigils, Bellrope, Thronehammer, Inner Altar, Faerie Ring, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember — didn’t get their due attention. It’s a busy year, I get it. But if you’re skimming through looking for stuff to check out, DON’T IGNORE THIS LIST. Aside from whatever line about the best of tomorrow you want to trot out, there’s important work being done by these acts today. As somebody who’s constantly behind the times, I urge you not to

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2019

geezer spiral fires

1. Geezer, Spiral Fires
2. Ufomammut, XX
3. All Them Witches, 1×1
4. Mount Saturn, Mount Saturn
5. Dopelord, Weedpecker, Major Kong & Spaceslug, 4-Way Split
6. Horehound, Weight
7. Molasses, Mourning Haze
8. Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Split
9. Here Lies Man, No Ground to Walk Upon
10. The Golden Grass, 100 Arrows
11. Mount Atlas, Mistress
12. Midas, Solid Gold Heavy Metal
13. Glory in the Shadows, Glory in the Shadows
14. Hot Breath, Hot Breath
15. Crystal Spiders, Demo
16. Red Wizard, Ogami
17. Thermic Boogie, Fracture
18. Pinto Graham, Dos
19. High Priest, Sanctum
20. Set Fire, Traya
21. Seedium, Awake

Honorable Mention: Love Gang & Smokey Mirror Split, Forebode, Land Mammal, Very Paranoia, Plague of Carcosa, Daal Dazed, Komodor, Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge Split, High on Fire, Mount Soma.

Notes: This is probably the least complete of the lists, because it’s the hardest category for me to keep up with. EPs, singles, demos, splits and basically anything else that isn’t an album, all lumped together. Still, I stand by the picks here, and I don’t think anyone who takes on any of them will regret doing so, whether it’s All Them Witches’ surprisingly weighted first single as a trio, Mount Saturn’s debut release, or Geezer’s cosmic jams. Felt a little like cheating putting Ufomammut on there, since technically XX wasn’t new material so much as reworked stuff captured live, but if you want to call me out on it, my own listening habits also factor in, and I’ve spent plenty of time with those reimagined tracks. But anyway, I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff that hasn’t been included here, so please feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll work accordingly.

Postwax

I haven’t felt comfortable with the idea of writing about it editorially, since I’ve been involved in discussions about it since before it came together and since I did the liner notes for each of the six releases (plus one to come), but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible work done on the Postwax vinyl subscription series by Blues Funeral Recordings. Label head Jadd Shickler and design specialist Peder Bergstrand (also of Lowrider) put together six offerings that came out in the span of this year and when you hold the LPs in your hand, you can feel the passion that went into making them, from the artists in question to those curating the series in the first place. I hear tell there’s going to be a Postwax Year Two, and I don’t know if I’ll be involved or not, but I’m proud of my miniscule part in the work that went into making these and wanted to bring them to your particular attention. They are something special for those who got to partake:

  • Elder, The Gold and Silver Sessions
  • Daxma, Ruins Upon Ruins
  • Besvärjelsen, Frost
  • Big Scenic Nowhere, Dying on the Mountain
  • Domkraft, Slow Fidelity
  • Lowrider, Refractions

And while we’re talking about projects I was proud to be involved with, I also did liner notes for Acrimony’s The Chronicles of Wode box set from Burning World Records and was honored to do so. Thanks to any and everyone in question for having me involved and dealing with me blowing past deadlines one after the next. It is humbling.

Looking Ahead to 2020

A few names and nothing more about what definitely is and/or might be in the works for next year. Woefully incomplete, so feel free to add to it:

1000mods, Wolves in the Throne Room, Deathwhite, Mondo Drag, Drug Cult, Ocean Chief, Soldati, Sergio Ch., Mitochondrial Sun, Geezer, Mirror Queen, Mondo Generator, The Otolith, Asteroid, Yatra, Vestal Claret, Farer, Ryte, Shadow Witch, Six Organs of Admittance, Naxatras, Wolftooth, Snail, Elder, Pale Divine, Grey Skies Fallen, Ruby the Hatchet, Yuri Gagarin, Sasquatch, Godthrymm, Wo Fat, Red Mesa, CB3, Onsegen Ensemble, Insect Ark, Acid Mammoth, Ritual King, Ulls, Om.

Thank You

Thank you for reading, and please, if you have a thought or something you want to share in the comments, please remember to be kind to each other. We are all human beings behind our phones and keyboards, and while we’ll disagree, often in some ways and some cases, a basic level of respect is always appreciated. At least by me.

I am not so deluded as to think anyone might still be reading, but I want it on record how much I appreciate you being a part of this site and a part of my experience in making it. I’ve been ruminating all year since marking the 10th anniversary back in January about how much The Obelisk has become a part of who I am, and it’s utterly essential to my every day. The way I continue to think about it — and myself, as it happens — is a work in progress, and that would not be possible without you. One more time. Thank you. Always. Always thank you. Thank you.

More to come.

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Valley of the Sun, Old Gods: What Faith Brings

Posted in Reviews on May 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

valley of the sun old gods

They nailed it. Absolutely. That’s as simple as I can say it. Cincinnati, Ohio-based heavy rockers Valley of the Sun bring new character and dimension to their core approach in fuzzy riffs and classic desert-style groove, and with their third album, Old Gods (on Fuzzorama), the four-piece answer both the potential of their earliest work and the development that took place over their first two LPs. Led by the founding duo of guitarist/vocalist Ryan Ferrier and drummer Aaron Boyer, with Josh Pilot on guitar and Chris Sweeney handling bass and keys, the band present 11 tracks in a sharp-turning 41 minutes, tying together around a theme of greater instrumental variety and songcraft executed with airtight efficiency and purpose. In following up 2016’s Volume Rock (review here) and 2014’s Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk (review here), Valley of the Sun sound like a band who know when to take their time — closer “Dreams of Sands,” for example — and when to tear-ass through the speakers, as on the sub-tw0-minute scorcher “Firewalker.”

That maturity and self-realization very much suit their basic sound, which has always been professional at its foundation, going back to their first two EPs, 2011’s The Sayings of the Seers (review here, discussed here) and the prior year’s Two Thousand Ten, but has never quite had the reach it does on Old Gods. The album is quick to showcase that with the mellow guitar intro to the opening title-track, but it comes out all the more in the series of interludes peppered through the tracklisting. Named on-theme to the title of the record itself, “Gaia Creates,” “Shiva Destroys” and “Buddha Transcends” do an incredible amount of work in terms of diversifying and bolstering the surrounding material, taking the mid-paced nod and catchy rush of “Old Gods” and the subsequent post-QOTSA careener “All We Are” and lending depth and a more complete-album feel, despite the variety between them, with “Gaia Creates” dipping into sunny folk acoustics, “Shiva Destroys” a suitable percussion interplay, and “Buddha Transcends” an effective delve into meditative minimalism.

“Gaia Creates” is the longest of them at 2:16, and yet the effect they have on the songs around them is palpable, perhaps nowhere more than in “Dim Vision,” which sits as the only cut in between “Gaia Creates” and “Shiva Destroys.” It’s as much a quintessential Valley of the Sun track as one could ask for, even more than the opening duo of “Old Gods” and “All We Are,” but with the lead-in and lead-out, it’s given a special focus that seems to highlight its execution. On paper, it’s nothing overly fancy — basically an instance of what the band at their best have been all along — but “Dim Vision” is emblematic just the same of the progression they’ve undertaken over the course of the last nine years in the studio and on tour. Like the aforementioned “Firewalker,” it’s a song that sounds like it was made to be played live, and to have these tracks appear in such proximity to each other feels purposeful as well, with side A moving smoothly through a course that would be deceptive in its complexity if it didn’t just lay it all out there and still manage to ease the listener through its changes, whether it’s the kick in tempo between “Old Gods” and “All We Are,” or the head-spinning shifts from “Gaia Creates” to “Dim Vision” to “Shiva Destroys” to “Firewalker.”

valley of the sun

It’s worth noting as well how quickly those changes take place. The last four tracks on side A don’t add up to the total runtime of the first two. It would be an easy place for the band to lose control of Old Gods‘ flow, but they never do. Instead, they bring “Firewalker” to a crisp finish and mirror the beginning of the album with “Into the Abyss” on side B, which also begins with a stretch of mellow guitar, runs a moderate pace and gives an immersive, rolling progression for the listener to dive into, made all the more so by a laid back vocal from Ferrier, who only moments ago, was in full-on belt-out mode for “Firewalker.” Especially listening in a linear format (CD or DL), it’s not at all the first striking shift on Old Gods, but it’s another one Valley of the Sun make sound much easier than it actually is.

Fuzz comes to the fore in the relatively brief but effective “Faith is for Suckers,” a hooky, cowbell-infused desert riffer with a driving volume tradeoff, and “Buddha Transcends” resets the mood to quiet ahead of “Means the Same” and “Dreams of Sands” at the finish. With “Into the Abyss” and “Dreams of Sands” — the latter of which is perfectly placed as a memorable closer — as six-plus-minute bookends for side B, “Faith is for Suckers,” “Buddha Transcends” and “Means the Same” play out in a kind of parabolic fashion, both in energy and runtime; longer-to-shorter-to-shortest, and back up, though “Faith is for Suckers” and “Means the Same” surround the centerpiece interlude with arguably a more active spirit than “Into the Abyss” and “Dreams of Sands.” But if that’s the case, it’s only because the longer pieces are more ambitious in their scope, and “Dreams of Sands” not only serves as payoff for side B, but for the record as whole, rewarding the risks taken on side A and the structural turn of side B with a scope of its own that, as analogy for the entirety of Old Gods pushes beyond what Valley of the Sun have done in the past, ending on a long fade as if to return the listener to wherever they might’ve been before the quiet beginning of the title-track first cropped up.

Old Gods brings Valley of the Sun‘s take to a new level, pushing aside preconceptions of who the band are by using its theme to tie the material together instrumentally and structurally, and leaving one to wonder where they might go from here, whether it’s in integrating the acoustics and percussion of the interludes to their songwriting — would be fair enough ground to cover — or continuing to progress in some other, unexpected way. Perhaps most telling of all, listening to Old Gods, one feels less concerned about what shape the inevitable ‘new gods’ might take than the achievements brought to bear here. This is what Valley of the Sun have been moving toward for the last nine years. This realization. For now, it seems most crucial to understand that and appreciate the work on its own merits. Where it might lead is a concern for another day, but if you’re worried about it, have a little faith.

Valley of the Sun, Old Gods (2019)

Valley of the Sun on Thee Facebooks

Valley of the Sun on Bandcamp

Fuzzorama Records

Fuzzorama Records on Thee Facebooks

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Electric Citizen Announce European & UK Touring; Playing Desertfest, Esbjerg Fuzztival, Muskelrock and More

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

electric citizen

Ohio heavy rockers Electric Citizen have been on the Desertfest bills for a while now, London, Berlin and New York, and it was known as well they’d be in Denmark for the Esbjerg Fuzztival, so it’s not really much of a surprise they’re stringing those appearances together with a tour, but, you know, it’s nice to have the wheres and whens on that actually happening. They’ll head abroad in time for a May 1 show in Bristol, UK, after hitting Psycho Smokeout in L.A. and the aforementioned Desertfest in NYC, and then continue to make their way onto mainland Europe after Desertfest London and go for the next month, finishing out in Copenhagen on June 1. There are some days off, as will happen, but it’s still a pretty significant tour, and course the band go supporting their third album, last year’s Helltown (review here), which came out as ever through RidingEasy Records.

The PR wire brought the awesome poster and dates accordingly:

electric citizen tour

Electric Citizen announce EU & UK tour dates, plus Psycho Smokeout 4/20 in L.A. and DesertFest NYC 4/27

Also includes DesertFest London, DesertFest Berlin

Electric Citizen announce UK & EU festival and headlining tour dates for Spring 2019 in support of their recently released third album Helltown (RidingEasy Records.) They kick off the overseas trek with performances at the inaugural Psycho Smokeout Festival in Los Angeles on April 20th and DesertFest in Brooklyn, NY on April 27th. Please see all dates below.

ELECTRIC CITIZEN TOUR 2019:
04/20 Los Angeles, CA @ Psycho Smokeout Festival
04/27 New York, NY @ DesertFest NYC
05/01 Bristol, UK @ The Lanes
05/02 Newcastle, UK @ Trillans
05/03 London, UK @ DesertFest London
05/04 Liege, BE @ La Zone
05/05 Berlin, DE @ DesertFest Berlin
05/08 Malmo, SE @ Plan B
05/09 Stockholm, SE @ Undergangen
05/10 Esbjerg, DK @ Esbjerg Fuzzfestival
05/11 Gothenburg, SE @ Truckstop Alaska
05/13 Oldenburg, DE @ MTS LP Store
05/16 Olten, CH @ Coq’D’Or
05/17 Munster, DE @ Rare Guitar
05/18 Cottbus, DE @ Zum Faulen August
05/22 Koln, DE @ MTC Club
05/23 Karlsruhe, DE @ Alte Hackerei
05/24 Innsbruck, AT @ PMK
05/25 Bolzano, IT @ Pippo Stage
05/26 Monastier di Treviso, IT @ Krach
05/27 Munich, DE @ Backstage
05/28 Vienna, AT @ Arena
05/29 Linz, AT @ Kapu
05/31 Alvesta, SE @ Muskelrock Festival
06/01 Copenhagen, DK @ Lygtens Kro

www.electriccitizenband.com
www.facebook.com/electriccitizen
www.twitter.com/electriccitizen
www.instagram.com/electriccitizenband
ridingeasyrecs.com

Electric Citizen, “Hide it in the Night” official video

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Valley of the Sun to Release Old Gods May 24; New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

valley of the sun

Okay, fine. I guess that’s why you wait for the press release. Last week when I apparently jumped the gun on posting Valley of the Sun‘s upcoming tour dates with Bellringer, I said they were due but I didn’t know anything about a new record coming out. Sure enough, here we are and here’s the announcement of that new record, along with a new track. Fine. You got me. There’s a new Valley of the Sun record and I’m not cool enough to know shit about shit ahead of time. Story of my god damn life.

New song does sound awesome though. Seems like Ryan Ferrier might be pulling back from some of the belt-it-out-all-the-time mindset that’s characterized the band’s past work in favor of a more measured approach. I don’t know if that’s the case across the whole record — recall I didn’t know the damn thing existed, so I definitely haven’t heard it — but it works well in “Means the Same,” which will serve as the penultimate track.

Art and info, as well as those tour dates again, and the track — all from the PR wire:

valley of the sun old gods

Ohio hard rock quartet VALLEY OF THE SUN return with new album on FUZZORAMA RECORDS | Stream new single ‘Means the Same’

Fuzzorama Records – home to world beating rock of Truckfighters, Deville and Skraeckoedlan – is thrilled to announce the release of Old Gods; the brand-new studio album US trio, Valley of the Sun.

Formed in Cincinnati, OH in 2010, the band instantly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with, thanks to an impressive succession of self-released EPs; the kind that never seem to go unnoticed/unheard for long. Often compared to the likes of Corrosion of Conformity, Alice in Chains and Badmotorfinger-era Soundgarden – the latter due in no small part to singer Ryan Ferrier’s exemplary vocal range – listeners are treated to a sound that runs the gamut of blues, hard rock, grunge and heavy metal; with big riffs, fuzzed out hooks and deep bass grooves.

For the band, whose last release came in 2016 with the impressive Volume Rock, new album Old Gods – their third album on Fuzzorama Records – is a new and exciting concoction expertly packaged and delivered with a raw and unbridled power whether listened to via stage or speaker. In this incarnation, incorporating heady moments of psychedelia and assuming a form unlike anything the band has ever attempted before.

“To me, Old Gods is a meditation on who I once was, who I am now, and who I’d like to become,” explains guitarist/vocalist Ryan Ferrier.

“We try to evolve with each album,” adds drummer Aaron Boyer. “On Old Gods we added some heavier elements, darker tones, and a touch of psychedelia. We tried some things on this record that we’ve never done before and that made it a lot of fun to make.”

Old Gods by Valley of the Sun is released on 24th May 2019 and can be pre-ordered via Fuzzorama Records HERE. Editions of Old Gods will include gatefold splatter (only sold at live shows and directly through Fuzzorama), gatefold transparent green, gatefold black and CD digipak.

TRACK LISTING:
1. Old Gods
2. All We Are
3. Gaia Creates
4. Dim Vision
5. Shiva Destroys
6. Firewalker
7. Into the Abyss
8. Faith is for Suckers
9. Buddha Transcends
10. Means the Same
11. Dreams of Sands

VALLEY OF THE SUN – TOUR DATES:
US/Canada with BELLRINGER (feat. Mark Deutrom of Melvins)
4/13/2019 – Milwaukee WI Cactus Club
4/14/2019 – Iowa City IA Wildwood
4/15/2019 – Sioux Falls SD Bigs
4/16/2019 – Fargo ND Aquarium
4/17/2019 – Winnipeg MB Windsor Hotel
4/18/2019 – Saskatoon SK Amigos
4/19/2019 – Edmonton AB Starlite
4/20/2019 – Calgary AB 420 Fest
4/23/2019 – Vancouver BC Astoria
4/24/2019 – Portland OR High Water Mark
4/25/2019 – Seattle WA El Corazon
4/27/2019 – Sacramento CA Cafe Colonial
4/29/2019 – Los Angeles CA Resident
4/30/2019 – Phoenix AZ Club Red
5/02/2019 – Austin TX Come And Take It Live
5/03/2019 – Ft Worth TX Lolas
5/04/2019 – Oklahoma City OK 89th Street
5/05/2019 – St Louis MO Fubar
5/06/2019 – Kansas City MO Riot Room
5/07/2019 – Chicago IL Reggies

VALLEY OF THE SUN:
Ryan Ferrier – Guitar/Vocals
Aaron Boyer – Drums
Chris Sweeney – Bass, Keys
Josh Pilot – Guitar

https://www.facebook.com/valleyofthesun/
http://valleyofthesun.bandcamp.com/
http://www.twitter.com/centaur_rodeo
http://www.fuzzoramarecords.com/
http://www.twitter.com/fuzzorecords
http://www.facebook.com/Fuzzorama

Valley of the Sun, “Means the Same”

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Valley of the Sun Announce US/Canada Touring with Bellringer; Playing 420 Fest and More

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 12th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

valley of the sun

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Valley of the Sun don’t exactly announce US touring every day. Over the last five years or so, they’ve been much more apt to head abroad and do stints in Europe, so as they head out next month with Bellringer from Austin, Texas, it’s something of an occasion. They’ll make a stop at 420 Music & Arts Festival in Calgary up in Canada, and will make circuit stops in the Midwest and along the West Coast as they continue to support 2016’s Volume Rock (review here), their latest full-length, which was released through Fuzzorama. Given that record came out upwards of three years ago, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if they had something new in the works, but I haven’t heard either way as to progress in that regard. In any case, the possibility of new songs being aired out only adds to the impetus to see them where and when you can.

They also seem to have made more lineup changes, which, you know, happens. Even so, whatever form you get to catch them, expect them to be in nothing less but top form. Good band. I wouldn’t complain about a new record.

From the social medias:

valley of the sun tour

VALLEY OF THE SUN – TOUR ANNOUNCEMENT!!!

US/CANADA with BELLRINGER feat. Mark Deutrom of Melvins!!!

04/13/2019 Milwaukee WI Cactus Club
04/14/2019 Iowa City IA Wildwood
04/15/2019 Sioux Falls SD Bigs
04/16/2019 Fargo ND Aquarium
04/17/2019 Winnipeg MB Windsor Hotel
04/18/2019 Saskatoon SK Amigos
04/19/2019 Edmonton AB Starlite
04/20/2019 Calgary AB 420 Fest
04/23/2019 Vancouver BC Astoria
04/24/2019 Portland OR High Water Mark
04/25/2019 Seattle WA El Corazon
04/27/2019 Sacramento CA Cafe Colonial
04/29/2019 Los Angeles CA Resident
04/30/2019 Phoenix AZ Club Red
05/02/2019 Austin TX Come And Take It Live
05/03/2019 Ft Worth TX Lolas
05/04/2019 Oklahoma City OK 89th Street
05/05/2019 St Louis MO Fubar
05/06/2019 Kansas City MO Riot Room
05/07/2019 Chicago IL Reggies

Ryan Ferrier-Guitar/Vocals
Aaron Boyer-Drums
Chris Sweeney-Bass and Keys
Josh Pilot-Guitar

https://www.facebook.com/valleyofthesun/
http://valleyofthesun.bandcamp.com/
http://www.twitter.com/centaur_rodeo
http://www.fuzzoramarecords.com/
http://www.twitter.com/fuzzorecords
http://www.facebook.com/Fuzzorama

Valley of the Sun, Volume Rock (2016)

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Static Tension Premiere “Blank Silhouette” Video from Debut Album Ashes to Animation

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 4th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

static tension

The 10-track debut album from Ohio four-piece Static Tension dogwhistles its metallic underpinnings in a CD design evocative of, among others, Metallica’s Master of Puppets, with a red ring around the disc, an oldschool “Compact Disc Digital Audio” stamp and simple block letters running down the middle, broken in half by the hole in the disc itself. And though the record starts off with the melancholy, relatively-minimal unfolding of “Kindling,” it’s not long before the alluded fire takes hold and shows that metal-style tinge in the double-kick of “Bury My Body.” Coupled with this are harmonies out of the post-Alice in Chains sphere and a sense of melody and progressive crunch in tone and rhythm that derives in part from Tool and likewise from the modern prog metal fostered by earlier Mastodon and their sundry acolytes. The subsequent “No Return” takes a more classic-style approach and sets up the more spacious linear build of “In Spite,” which rounds out an initial four-track salvo that marks the first of three waves in which the album takes place.

From there, Static Tension — vocalist Rob Rom, guitarist Greg Blachman, bassist Brian Spurrier and drummer Tony Sager — draw back to the two-minute interlude “Absence” to introduce the fluidity at the outset of “Got to Give,” which unfurls a static tension ashes to animationdowntrodden heavy rocking sensibility ahead of the nine-minute “Serpentine,” which is duly winding as it makes its way along its melodically-complex course, finding solid footing in doom as much as classic rock with a still-raw presentation in its production that gives an earthy vibe to otherwise unearthly sounds. This is the end of Ashes to Animation‘s second movement, and the third picks up with the Staley/Cantrell-style harmony of “Blank Silhouette” — presumably that’s just Rom, so kudos — and a melancholy atmosphere to correspond with that of “Kindling” and “Absence,” while also being more realized as a complete song. That change in itself speaks to the overarching forward development across the three movements that comprise the record, but even if you’re listening to it front-to-back, the vibe comes through as suitably dynamic.

The penultimate “Where’s the Air?” takes a more aggressive posture but is still melodic at its base as it pushes into some light screaming along with the cleaner layers of singing, and its second half is dedicated to a quieter procession, leaving “Bloody Shadow” as a bookend outro featuring some guest vocals to match ambience with “Kindling” before a few moments’ silence at the end round out. Despite its somewhat depressive thematic, there’s no lack of energy in Static Tension‘s work, and as their first album, Ashes to Animation finds them setting out on a course with multiple avenues of exploration before them. They had two EPs out prior to the album — 2017’s Out of Reach and 2015’s Rebirth — so they’re not exactly coming into their LP with nothing else establishing their stylistic foundation, and they don’t sound that way either, however much one might imagine that foundation leading to continued growth.

You can check out the premiere of the video for “Blank Silhouette” below, which I think captures the spirit of the song with an appropriate human touch.

As always, I hope you enjoy:

Static Tension, “Blank Silhouette” official video premiere

As found on Static Tension’s 2019 album “Ashes To Animation.”

Drawing upon influences stemming from classic rock, grunge, and progressive metal, Static Tension creates a sound unique to their own, self described as “Progressive Grunge”. The band’s influences are vast and diverse, at times resembling classic sounds of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, while also channeling a grungy, somber atmosphere similar to Alice In Chains and Soundgarden with hints of modern, heavy tones of Mastodon and Gojira.

Static Tension is:
Rob Rom – Vocals
Greg Blachman – Guitar
Brian Spurrier – Bass
Tony Sager – Drums

Static Tension, Ashes to Animation (2019)

Static Tension on Thee Facebooks

Static Tension on Twitter

Static Tension on Instagram

Static Tension website

Static Tension on Bandcamp

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Review & Track Premiere: Electric Citizen, Helltown

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on July 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

electric citizen helltown

[Click play above to stream ‘Lunch’ from Electric Citizen’s Helltown. Album is out Sept. 28 on RidingEasy Records.]

The stated intention behind Electric Citizen‘s third album for RidingEasy RecordsHelltown, is a turn from where the band was two years ago on their sophomore outing, Higher Time (review here). Likewise, Higher Time brought the Cincinnati four-piece to someplace their 2014 debut, Sateen (review here), hadn’t dared to go. Around a central core of memorable hooks and classic heavy rock riffing, Electric Citizen wove a vision of heavy glam, taking the riff-led fare of Sateen to someplace entirely bigger — in production value, in scope, in its unabashed poppiness. Helltown once more finds vocalist Laura Dolan, guitarist Ross Dolan, bassist Nick Vogelpohl and drummer Nate Wagner in an aesthetic pivot. While it would same to be driven by the same impulse toward refining their sound and trying to bring their songs to different levels of expression, etc., the manifestation is markedly different. Dolan‘s voice still commands the proceedings with pointed melodicism, and the guitar runs the instrumental charge beneath with classic swing from the rhythm section.

What’s different is largely down to presentation, and it’s one that finds Electric Citizen engaged in entirely rawer fare. Gone is the pop-ready sheen of Higher Time, and it’s been replaced by proto-metal tonality on the part of Dolan — as heard in the solo of second cut “Hide it in the Night,” as well as the riffs throughout — and Vogelpohl, as well as a decided lack of the keys/organ that featured so prominently last time out — “Father Time,” “New Earth” and “Mother’s Little Reject” notwithstanding — in favor of a more stripped down approach overall. Vocals are treated but not as many-layered, and the album as a whole is shorter, running nine songs and 32 minutes where the last one was 10 and 40. They largely stay away from following a punkish impulse — even centerpiece “Ripper,” which is definitely not a cover of Judas Priest‘s “The Ripper,” holds more to classic metal style — but the LP’s purpose is clearly to shoot for a more live sound, something that can be brought to life on stage, say, when the band tours as support for Monster Magnet in support of Helltown this Fall.

That’s not to say there isn’t any progressive edge to be found. Dolan as a guitarist is an intricate riffer and has been since he was doing his best mid/late-’70s Iommi on Sateen. As much as the smoothness and fluidity of Higher Time suited his style, he thrives here in showcasing his chemistry with Laura‘s vocals and with the righteous solidity of the bass and drums. Of course, a more barebones production style like this is no less an aesthetic choice than something hyper-elaborate, but the stylistic turn suits him and the rest of the band well, and would seem to have been something purposefully brought to the songwriting process. These tracks, in addition to being fewer in number, feel shorter and tighter in their structure. There are still drum transitions in “Lunch” and Dolan isn’t shy about taking a solo when called on to do so, but Helltown — named for the Cincinnati neighborhood the band calls home, as if to further telegraph the “back to their roots” sentiment at play — seems to pull back on some of the expanse that Electric Citizen made their own last time out, and it’s a meaner sound for it.

electric citizen

Of course, what draws the work together is the craft behind it. “Father Time” is the longest cut on Helltown at 4:25, and its quiet, more gradual introduction would seem to be a departure from some of the immediacy held forth in songs like prior opening salvo of “Heart Attack,” “Hide it in the Night” or “Cold Blooded Blue,” all of which are into their first verse before the first 30 seconds are up. Pacing in general is a big part of what makes Helltown distinct in Electric Citizen‘s catalog. Sateen was dug into semi-garage doom shuffle, and so had a middling pace, and Higher Time followed suit with its more outwardly accessible fare. Helltown isn’t a Motörhead record or anything, but “Ripper,” “The Pawn,” “Heart Attack” have a quick pulse to be sure, and even as “New Earth” would seem to be a transitional moment into the closing duo of “Lunch” and “Mother’s Little Reject,” the momentum holds steady. And though “Lunch” digs into that eased-up tempo somewhat and “Mother’s Little Reject” starts out with organ-backed spoken word over a “War Pigs”-esque progression before igniting a finale-worthy bounce, the energy in Electric Citizen‘s delivery is unflinching.

If Helltown has a central message, that’s it. It’s enough of a declaration of who Electric Citizen are that part of me is surprised it isn’t self-titled. That identity can change, of course, and likely will if their three-to-date albums are anything to go by, but the statement in these tracks is clear and unmistakable. Whatever else Electric Citizen might do and wherever their sound might take them, they’re a heavy rock band at heart. Helltown is a performance-minded collection that would seem to be the result of some genuine soul-searching on the part of the band. It could well be they’ve found themselves as players and as a group and that whatever they do from here will be a hopeful step forward from where they currently are. Or it could be that this album, like the one before it, will spur an equal and almost-opposite reaction and the Electric Citizen will move in a different direction entirely. I like the fact that, four years and three records into their tenure as a band, I have no idea what to expect from them next.

Other than songwriting. That’s the key. It let them serve introductory notice on Sateen and it provided the foundation for the expanded-sound of Higher Time, and now it serves as the very core of being for Helltown. And if it wasn’t there, there’d be no hiding it. This is as stripped-down as Electric Citizen have gotten, and if they didn’t have the songs and didn’t have the performance and the vibe, it simply wouldn’t work. Fortunately, they do and it does. I won’t discount what each of the past two records did for their own accomplishments in their own contexts, but listening to Helltown, it very much seems to be marking a new level for Electric Citizen, and as they cull the most essential facets of their approach as a band, they emerge from that process stronger than ever and at their most vital.

Electric Citizen, “Hide it in the Night”

Electric Citzen on Thee Facebooks

Electric Citizen on Twitter

Electric Citizen on Instagram

Electric Citizen on Bandcamp

RidingEasy Records on Thee Facebooks

RidingEasy Records on Bandcamp

RidingEasy Records website

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