Quarterly Review: DVNE, Wowod, Trace Amount, Fuzzcrafter, Pine Ridge, Watchman, Bomg, White Void, Day of the Jackal, Green Druid

Posted in Reviews on April 1st, 2021 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-spring-2019

Oh, hello there. Don’t mind me. I’m just here, reviewing another 10 records today. I did it yesterday too. I’ll do it again tomorrow. No big deal. It’s Quarterly Review time. You know how it goes.

Crazy day yesterday, crazy day today, but I’m in that mode where I kind of feel like I can make this go as long as I want. Next Monday? Why not? Other than the fact that I have something else slated, I can’t think of a reason. Fortunately, having something else slated is enough of one. Ha. Let’s go.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

DVNE, Etemen Ænka

dvne Etemen Ænka

It’s like Scotland’s DVNE threw all of modern heavy metal into a blender and hit “cohesive.” Etemen Ænka‘s lofty ambitions are matched indeed by the cohesion of the band’s craft, the professionalism of their presentation, and the scope of their second album’s 10 component tracks, whether that’s in the use of synth throughout “Towers” or the dreamy post-rock aside in “Omega Severer,” the massive riffing used as a tool not a crutch in “Court of the Matriarch,” closer “Satuya” and elsewhere, and even the interlude-y pieces “Weighing of the Heart,” “Adraeden” and the folkish “Asphodel” that leads into the finale. DVNE have made themselves into the band you wish Isis became. Also the band you wish Mastodon became. And probably six or seven others. And while Etemen Ænka is certainly not without prog-styled indulgence, there is no taking away from the significant accomplishment these songs represent for them as a group putting out their first release on Metal Blade. It’ll be too clean for some ears, but the tradeoff for that is the abiding sense of poise with which DVNE deliver the songs. This will be on my year-end list, and I won’t be the only one.

DVNE on Thee Facebooks

Metal Blade Records website

 

Wowod, Yarost’ I Proshchenie

Wowod Yarost I Proshchenie

Beginning with its longest track (immediate points) in the 11-minute “Rekviem,” Yarost’ I Proshchenie is the third full-length from St. Petersburg’s Wowod, and its sudden surge from ‘unfold’ to ‘onslaught’ is a legitimate blindside. They hypnotize you then push you down a flight of stairs as death growls, echoing guitar lines and steady post-metallic drum and bass hold the line rhythmically. This sense of disconnect, ultimately, leads to a place of soaring melody and wash, but that feeling of moving from one place to another is very much the core of what Wowod do throughout the rest of the album that follows. “Tanec Yarosti” is a sub-three-minute blaster, while “Proshschenie” lumbers and crashes through its first half en route to a lush soundscape in its second, rounding out side A. I don’t care what genre “Zhazhda” is, it rules, and launches side B with rampaging momentum, leading to the slow, semi-industrial drag of “Chornaya Zemlya,” the harsh thrust of “Zov Tysyachi Nozhey” and, finally, dizzyingly, the six-minute closer “Top’,” which echoes cavernous and could just as easily have been called “Bottom.” Beautiful brutality.

Wowod on Thee Facebooks

Church Road Records on Bandcamp

 

Trace Amount, Endless Render

trace amount endless render

The chaos of last year is writ large in the late-2020 Endless Render EP from Brooklyn-based solo industrial outfit Trace Amount. The project headed by Brandon Gallagher (ex-Old Wounds) engages with harsh noise and heavy beatmaking, injecting short pieces like “Pop Up Morgues” with a duly dystopian atmosphere. Billy Rymer (The Dillinger Escape Plan, etc.) guests on drums for opener “Processed Violence (in 480P)” and the mminute-long “Seance Stimulant,” but it’s in the procession of the final three tracks — the aforementioned “Pop Up Morgues,” as well as “S.U.R.V.I.V.A.L.” and “Easter Sunday” — that Gallagher makes his most vivid portrayals. His work is evocative and resonant in its isolated feel, opaque like staring into an uncertain future but not without some semblance of hope in its resolution. Or maybe that’s the dream and the dance-party decay of “Dreaming in Displacement” is the reality. One way or the other, I’m looking forward to what Trace Amount does when it comes to a debut album.

Trace Amount on Thee Facebooks

Trace Amount on Bandcamp

 

Fuzzcrafter, C-D

Fuzzcrafter C D

French instrumentalists Fuzzcrafter issued C-D in October 2020 as a clear answer/complement to 2016’s A-B, even unto its Jo Riou cover art, which replaces the desert-and-fuzz-pedal of the first offering with a forest-and-pedal here. The six works that make up the 41-minute affair are likewise grown, able to affect a sense of lushness around the leading-the-way riffage in extended cuts “C2” (13:13) and the psychedelic back half of “D2” (13:18), working in funk-via-prog basslines (see also the wah guitar starting “D1” for more funk) over solid drums without getting any more lost than they want to be in any particular movement. In those songs and elsewhere, Fuzzcrafter make no attempt to hide the fact that they’re a riff-based band, but the acoustic side-finales in “C3” (which also features Rhodes piano) and “D3,” though shorter, reinforce both the structural symmetry of the mirrored sides as a whole and a feeling of breadth that is injected elsewhere in likewise organic fashion. They’re not changing the world and they’re not trying to, but there’s a mark being left here sound-wise and it’s enough to wonder what might be in store for the inevitable E-F.

Fuzzcrafter on Thee Facebooks

Fuzzcrafter on Bandcamp

 

Pine Ridge, Can’t Deny

Pine Ridge Can't Deny

Pine Ridge‘s second album, Can’t Deny, finds the Russian four/five-piece working in textures of keys and organ for a bluesier feel to tracks like the post-intro opening title-cut and the classic feeling later “Genesis.” Songwriting is straightforward, vocals gritty but well attended with backing arrangements, and the take on “Wayfaring Stranger” that ends the record’s first half conjures enough of a revivalist spirit to add to the atmosphere overall. The four tracks that follow — “Genesis,” “Runaway,” “Sons of Nothing” and “Those Days” — featured as well on 2019’s Sons of Nothing EP, but are consistent in groove and “Sons of Nothing” proves well placed to serve as an energetic apex of Can’t Deny ahead of “Those Days,” which starts quiet before bursting to life with last-minute electricity. A clear production emphasizes hooks and craft, and though I’ll grant I don’t know much about Siberia’s heavy rock scene, Pine Ridge ably work within the tenets of style while offering marked quality of songwriting and performance. That’s enough to ask from anywhere.

Pine Ridge on Thee Facebooks

Karma Conspiracy website

 

Watchman, Behold a Pale Horse

watchman behold a pale horse

Plain in its love for Sabbath-minded riffing and heavy Americana roll, “Bowls of Wrath” opens the three-song Dec. 2020 debut EP, Behold a Pale Horse, from Indiana-based solo-project Watchman, and the impression is immediate. With well-mixed cascades of organ and steadily nodding guitar, bass, drums and distorted, howling vocals, there is both a lack of pretense and an individualized take on genre happening at once. The EP works longest to shortest, with “Wormwood” building up from sparse guitar to far-back groove using negative space in the sound to bolster “Planet Caravan”-ish watery verses and emphasize the relative largesse of the track preceding as well as “The Second Death,” which follows. That closer is a quick four minutes that’s slow in tempo, but the lead-line cast overtop the mega-fuzzed central riff is effective in creating a current to carry the listener from one bank of the lake of fire to the other. In 15 minutes, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist/producer Roy Waterford serves notice of intention for a forthcoming debut LP to be titled Doom of Babylon, and it is notice worth heeding.

Watchman on Instagram

Watchman on Bandcamp

 

Bomg, Peregrination

bomg peregrination

Bomg‘s Peregrination isn’t necessarily extreme the way one thinks of death or black metal as extreme styles of heavy metal, but is extreme just the same in terms of pushing to the outer limits of the aesthetics involved. The album’s four track, “Electron” (38:12), “Perpetuum” (39:10), “Paradigm” (37:17) and “Emanation” (37:49), could each consume a full 12″ LP on their own, and presented digitally one into the next, they are a tremendous, willfully unmanageable two-and-a-half-hour deep-dive into raw blowout dark psychedelic doom. The harsh rumble and noise in “Perpetuum” some 28 minutes on sounds as though the Ukrainian outfit have climbed the mountains of madness, and there is precious little clarity to be found in “Paradigm” or “Emanation” subsequent as they continue to hammer the spike of their manifestations deeper into the consciousness of the listener. From “Electron” onward, the self-recording Kyiv trio embark on this overwhelming journey into the unknown, and they don’t so much invite you along as unveil the devastating consequences of having made the trip. Righteously off-putting.

Bomg on Thee Facebooks

Robustfellow Productions on Bandcamp

 

White Void, Anti

white void anti

As much as something can fly under the radar and be a Nuclear Blast release, I’m more surprised by the hype I haven’t heard surrounding White Void‘s debut album, Anti. Pulling together influences from progressive European-style heavy rock, classic metal, cult organ, New Wave melodies and a generally against-grain individualism, it is striking in its execution and the clear purpose behind what it’s doing. It’s metal and it’s not. It’s rock and it’s pop and it’s heavy and it’s light and floating. And its songs have substance as well as style. With Borknagar‘s Lars Nedland as the founding principal of the project, the potential in Anti‘s eight component tracks is huge, and if one winds up thinking of this as post-black metal, it’s a staggeringly complex iteration of it to which this and any other description I’ve seen does little justice. It’s going to get called “prog” a lot because of the considered nature of its composition, but that’s barely scratching the surface of what’s happening here.

White Void on Thee Facebooks

Nuclear Blast Records store

 

Day of the Jackal, Day Zero

Day of the Jackal Day Zero

Leeds, UK, four-piece Day of the Jackal bring straight-ahead hard rock songwriting and performance with an edge of classic heavy. There’s a Guns ‘n’ Roses reference in “Belief in a Lie” if you’re up for catching it, and later cuts like “Riskin’ it All” and “‘Til the Devil” have like-minded dudes-just-hit-on-your-girlfriend-and-you’re-standing-right-there vibes. They’re a rock band and they know it, and while I was a little bummed out “Rotten to the Core” wasn’t an Overkill cover, the 10 songs of love and death that pervade this debut long-player are notably hooky from “On Your Own” to “Deadfall” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Deathride,” which casually inhabits biker riffing with no less ease of movement than the band would seem to do anything else. Production by James “Atko” Atkinson of Gentlemans Pistols highlights the clarity of the performance rather than giving a rawer glimpse at who Day of the Jackal might be on stage, but there’s plenty of vitality to go around in any case, and it’s headed your way from the moment you start the record.

Day of the Jackal on Thee Facebooks

Day of the Jackal on Bandcamp

 

Green Druid, At the Maw of Ruin

green druid at the maw of ruin

Following their 2018 debut, Ashen Blood (review here), Denver heavy lifters Green Druid give due breadth to their closing take on Portishead‘s “Threads,” but the truth is that cover is set up by the prior five tracks of huge-sounding riffery, basking in the varying glories of stoner doom throughout opener “The Forest Dark” while keeping an eye toward atmospheric reach all the while. It is not just nod and crush, in other words, in Green Druid‘s arsenal throughout At the Maw of Ruin, and indeed, “End of Men” and “Haunted Memories” bridge sludge and black metal screaming as “A Throne Abandoned” offers surprising emotional urgency over its ready plod, and the long spoken section in “Desert of Fury/Ocean of Despair” eventually gives way not only to the most weighted slamming on offer, but a stretch of noise to lead into the closer. All along the way, Green Druid mark themselves out as a more complex outfit than their first record showed them to be, and their reach shows no sign of stopping here either.

Green Druid on Thee Facebooks

Earache Records website

 

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Freddy Allen of Sun of Grey

Posted in Questionnaire on March 29th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Freddy Allen of Sun of Grey

The Obelisk Questionnaire is a series of open questions intended to give the answerer an opportunity to explore these ideas and stories from their life as deeply as they choose. Answers can be short or long, and that reveals something in itself, but the most important factor is honesty.

Based on the Proust Questionnaire, the goal over time is to show a diverse range of perspectives as those who take part bring their own points of view to answering the same questions. To see all The Obelisk Questionnaire posts, click here.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all who participate.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Freddy Allen of Sun of Grey & Gypsybyrd

How do you define what you do and how did you come to do it?

I’ve always loved music and felt the strength and warmth it can bring to one’s soul. No matter the different paths I’ve followed through the years, music has always found me and been a big part of my life. I started guitar at the age of 13 and worked hard every day since then. It’s been tough but I can’t see myself doing anything else that makes me this happy. Sure the nights on the road can be long and lonely, and the equipment seems to get heavier every gig but I am a rockstar and this is what we do!

Describe your first musical memory.

I had been taking guitar lessons from the local music shop and was learning all kinds of stuff I didn’t care for much. One day I was walking to the corner store and heard someone playing all kinds of Metallica/ Megadeth bass riffs from an open window. I yelled in to introduce myself and met my now longtime friend Shag. He told me about his awesome guitar teacher, Al. From that moment on, Al changed everything for me and became a huge influence in all aspects of my life. I babysat his children, I guitar tech’ed/roadied for his band and eventually I got to open for him with my own band!

Describe your best musical memory to date.

I have been playing music for over 30 years and have had some great opportunities with many great players; but my best musical memory is happening right now with the release of my first album Outerworld. My whole career has consisted of helping other singer/songwriters reach their goals and dreams but this is the first time I’ve ever gone after mine and it was scary at first to say the least. It is a big learning curve and I am blessed to have people around me that believe in my vision.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

I think everyone’s faith is tested daily with the invention of social media. I always try to look at any situation with the “walk a mile in their shoes” mentality. I might not be aware of someone else’s beliefs, customs, traditions or any challenges or tragedies they might have suffered so I shouldn’t jump to accusations or conclusions when dealing with a difficult or awkward situation. We’re all human and life can be hard most times so a little bit of reflection and kindness goes a long way.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

Depends on the artist in question I guess. Bands for instance might be able to do great things over time and keep refining their craft bringing delight to our ears with each new album. Or they could burn out where most people will argue their first four albums was where it’s at. While still some bands might only have their first album as a crowning achievement with nothing more to show over a span of time. I think this can be said of any artistic endeavor whether they be a painter, director, writer, etc. I guess unless you try, you’ll never know.

How do you define success?

Man, has that answer changed so much for me over time. As a kid, one year we didn’t have much money for Christmas so I had to sell my bike to buy my first guitar. Something I’ve never regretted but a personal sacrifice nonetheless. So money and material items seemed like the way to prove yourself to others and be happy, right? After achieving a lot of what I set out to do as a young man I’ve found that real happiness/success comes from within us and not from the things we own. My wife and I recently started to minimize our lives and belongings and couldn’t be happier letting go with the stress and chaos that accompanied those items. Be a good person and do good things, that’s the true key to success.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

My father’s funeral. He was taken from me when I was 16 and not a day goes by that I wish I could just call him and tell him about his grandkids and all the wonderful things that have happened to me over the years. Losing someone you love is never easy but a boy losing his father is all together something different. His passing is what fueled my fire to leave town and pursue my dreams so I’ve always looked at that as my silver lining. He didn’t always understand it, but he always supported me and my music.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

My passions have always been Film/TV and music so I would love to work on more film projects as well as compilation albums with the artists that I love. I particularly like ’80s metal and ’90s grunge to sing too so I’d love to be involved with a project like that in the near future.

What do you believe is the most essential function of art?

To move an individual in a way that no other person or thing can. The beautiful thing is, it can happen at anytime of the day, anywhere in the world at anytime in our lives. That’s powerful stuff!

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

I have two younger children, a boy and girl that I look forward to spending every day with. I never thought I’d have children but now can’t imagine my life without them in it. Watching them grow and pick up hobbies and likes/dislikes is a real joy for my wife and I. They really have made me a better man and I can’t wait to see where their lives and dreams lead them.

https://www.facebook.com/sunofgreyband
https://www.instagram.com/sunofgreyband/
https://sunofgrey.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/gypsybyrdmusic
https://gypsybyrd.bandcamp.com/

http://kozmik-artifactz.com/
https://www.facebook.com/kozmikartifactz

Sun of Grey, Outerworld (2020)

Gypsybyrd, Eye of the Sun (2020)

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Video Interview: Oryx Talk Lamenting a Dead World, the Scourge of Individualism, and More

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Features on March 25th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

oryx

Denver-by-way-of-New-Mexico sludge extremists Oryx will release their third full-length, Lamenting a Dead World, on April 30. Their first offering made through Translation Loss, it is — no big surprise here — not the album they thought it would be a year ago. At that time, they were planning to hit Earhammer Studios in Oakland, California, with Brainoil‘s Greg Wilkinson (who wound up mixing/mastering) at the helm, and just like everyone else doing anything just about anywhere, they found themselves needing to change plans. Please try to contain your shock.

I can’t speak to what Lamenting a Dead World might’ve been in other circumstances, but in this reality’s 2021, it’s a fucking beast. Five tracks running from “Contempt” to the eerily hopeful and more-complex-than-you-probably-think-it-is 15-minute closer “Oblivion,” the Ben Romsdahl-produced affair finds Oryx‘s founding duo of drummer Abigail Davis and guitarist/vocalist Tommy Davis opening the band in new ways — not the least of which is the inclusion of a third party, bassist Eric Dodgion, in theoryx lamenting a dead world creative process. Coming off of their 2018 sophomore LP, Stolen Absolution, which was produced for maximum mass by Dave Otero, the new record finds Oryx striking a balance between rawness and breadth and delivering both with volume and atmosphere that are consuming in kind.

With guest vocals on the early cut “Misery” by Erika Osterhout, synth on the aforementioned finale by Paul Riedl, textures and whatnot by Primitive Man‘s Ethan McCarthy (also Many Blessings) and an overall more experimental, broad-reaching approach that Tommy and Abigail credit in part to Romsdahl as producer and in part to being forced off the road to basically sit in quarantine with this material for the better part of 2020, Lamenting a Dead World exists in a space that is charred black with “Contempt,” ready to shut down its own mind in “Misery,” deathly in its force on centerpiece “Last Breath,” ambient in its title-track and finding rebirth in the end of all things at its close. It is an effective encapsulation of horror and succeeds with a creative voice that is abidingly and strikingly human.

I’ll not mince words: these two were sweethearts and this was a fun chat. I’d been forced to reschedule owing to family emergency and they very kindly obliged. When we “hung up” — or whatever it is you do on Zoom — I was glad that we’d been able to find a new time.

I hope you enjoy as well:

Oryx, Lamenting a Dead World Interview, March 22, 2021

Once again, Oryx‘s Lamenting a Dead World is out April 30 through Translation Loss. Preorders are up now.

Oryx, Lamenting a Dead World (2021)

Oryx on Thee Facebooks

Oryx on Instagram

Oryx on Bandcamp

Translation Loss Records on Thee Facebooks

Translation Loss Records on Instagram

Translation Loss Records website

Translation Loss Records webstore

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Oryx Sign to Translation Loss; Lamenting a Dead World Due April 30

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 11th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

oryx

Veterans of Electric Funeral Fest in their hometown of Denver and all-around skull-pummelers Oryx have signed to Translation Loss Records for the release of their upcoming full-length, Lamenting a Dead World, which, well, fair enough on the title. It’ll be out April 30 and preorders are up now along with a streaming song that should show up sooner or later in the player below once it’s public. Decibel had the premiere. Rest assured, if you’ve got the nothing-heavy-or-miserable-enough itch — don’t we all? — it’s got enough nails to offer some measure of relief.

Also peel your face off.

Okay.

The record runs 40 minutes and I’m not even through it for the first time yet and I’m spitting blood. Of course the fact that I just had a tooth removed might have something to do with that, but that’s a firm maybe. In any case, I’m on painkillers and here’s this from the PR wire:

oryx lamenting a dead world

ORYX ANNOUNCE LAMENTING A DEAD WORLD; DROP CRUSHING SINGLE

Denver apocalyptic sludge trio, ORYX will release the bands Translation Loss Records debut, Lamenting A Dead World, on April 30, 2021. Five tracks show the band at their most crushing – with momentous and catastrophic waves of sludge, doom, and a symphony of pitch-black savagery! Lamenting A Dead World marks a pivotal point in the bands already prolific existence. Along with the bands most profound musical performances to date, the album features standout appearances from Ethan McCarthy (Primitive Man, Many Blessings), Paul Riedl (Blood Incantation, Spectral Voice), and Erika Osterhout (Scolex, Chthonic Deity).

Along with the announcement, ORYX have dropped the first single from Lamenting A Dead World, titled, “Misery.” The crushing track features guest vocals from Erika Osterhout (Scolex, Chthonic Deity).

Lamenting A Dead World will be released on April 30th on two vinyl variants and digital via Translation Loss Records. Pre-order is available now HERE: https://orcd.co/lamentingadeadworld

Tracklisting:
1. Contempt
2. Misery
3. Last Breath
4. Lamenting A Dead World
5. Oblivion

Recorded and engineered by Ben Romsdahl at Juggernaut Studios in Denver, CO in August 2020. Mixing and mastering by Greg Wilkinson at Earhammer Studios in Oakland, CA.

Artwork by Ettore Aldo Del Vigo.
Promotional photos by Alvino Salcedo.

ORYX is:
Tommy Davis – vocal, guitar, synth
Abigail Davis – drums
Eric Dodgion – bass

https://www.facebook.com/theeoryx
https://www.instagram.com/thebandoryx/
https://oryx.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/TranslationLossRecords/
https://www.instagram.com/translationlossrecords/
https://translationloss.com/
http://translationlossrecords.bigcartel.com/

Oryx, Lamenting a Dead World (2021)

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Bog Wizard & Dust Lord Team Up For Four Tales of the Strange Split

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 7th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Bog Wizard and Dust Lord both made their debuts last year, the former with From the Mire and the latter with Machine Cult. Both records — because it’s the future — can be streamed below. Now, under normal circumstances, it’d be easy to imagine that two bands with first albums out from vaguely the same part of the country (that is, the Middle part) teaming for a split probably met playing a show together somewhere as they each supported their album. Well, obviously that’s not the case here, so how exactly Bog Wizard met Dust Lord — like When Harry Met Sally, but with riffs — I have no idea.

It is a formidable pairing though, and the two bands complement each other well on the four-tracker split, suitably enough dubbed Four Tales of the Strange. Dust Lord are nastier in terms screaming and general sludgy harshness, and Bog Wizard are a little more doomed but rawer in production value, so they hit with a sludge vibe as well that way. One way or the other it’s 36 minutes of mess-up-your-afternoon distortion and downward vibes, united by legitimate disaffection.

No audio yet, but it’s out March 5 and the PR wire brings forth the following:

bog wizard dust lord four tales of the strange-2000

Dust Lord & Bog Wizard – Four Tales of the Strange

Four Tales of the Strange was created with publishing help from The Swamp Records and The Cosmic Peddler. Put together out of love and appreciation for both bands successful 2020 full length album debuts. The album weaves a blend of sludge, doom, and psychedelic material including some of the heaviest, sludgiest, fuzzed-out riffs created by either band.

The split will be released on CD, cassette, and vinyl pressing in transparent blue with light blue splatter, and transparent red with gold splatter. Releasing with help from The Swamp Records and The Cosmic Peddler.

Album art by Marinko Milosevski, most well known for his work on the cover art for the game Red Dead Redemption 2, among many other widely known games, shows, and movies.

Bog Wizard is a three-piece West Michigan based doom/ sludge/ stoner metal band, inspired by Dungeons & Dragons and fantasy literature. Dust Lord hails from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and is a heavy stoner rock band in the vein of Bongzilla, Weedeater, Eyehategod, Buzzoven.

Bog Wizard is Ben Lombard (guitar/vox), Harlen Linke (percussion, synth, vox), and Colby Lowman (bass)

Dust Lord is Spike Whirley (guitar/ vox), Peter Low Frequency (bass), Rob Deadraiser (percussion)

Bog Wizard vs Dust Lord
Four Tales of the Strange
Out March 5th 2021
Published with help from The Swamp Records & The Cosmic Peddler
Bog Wizard: West Michigan, US
Dust Lord: Colorado Springs, Colorado

Track Listing:
1. Dust Lord – Not Men, Not Women, Not Beasts (6:38)
2. Dust Lord – Career Opportunities (9:37)
3. Bog Wizard – Paladin of Death (9:12)
4. Bog Wizard – Gelatinous Cube (10:26)
Run time: 35:53

Album art by Marinko Milosevski https://marinkoillustration.com/

https://bogwizard.bandcamp.com/
https://twitter.com/bogwizardband/
https://www.facebook.com/BogWizardBand/
https://www.instagram.com/bogwizardband/
https://www.youtube.com/bogwizard
https://bogwizard.bigcartel.com/
https://open.spotify.com/artist/0mooueq4AqCcD9cZ6yfV2B

https://dustlordpartydoom.bandcamp.com/
https://facebook.com/dustlordpartydoom/
https://www.instagram.com/dustlord_official/
https://open.spotify.com/artist/1AcNF4c7i4GuekqeTZadQ1

Dust Lord, Machine Cult (2020)

Bog Wizard, From the Mire (2020)

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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.

ukmedsnorx.com/zopiclone
ukmedsnorx.com/zolpidem

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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Friday Full-Length: Wovenhand, The Threshingfloor

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 11th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

There’s a kind of freedom in writing when I know a given post is going to get a minimal response. A kind of safety that lets me imagine I’m speaking to myself rather than addressing an audience. Some “me” versus some “you,” both little more than vague ideas perpetuated by digital distance. Nobody cares when I write about Wovenhand. They’re one of those bands. I have a list of them. So yeah. Maybe I’ll talk to myself for a little bit to close out the week instead of doing the normal thing.

I still remember where I was when I first wrote about The Threshingfloor. Wovenhand’s sixth album, it was released in 2010 through Sounds Familyre and Glitterhouse Records — the latter covering Europe — and I was in a public library in or near Ludlow, Vermont. The Patient Mrs. and I had rented a cabin up that way on someone’s property for a month as a kind of escape-from-Jersey getaway. We had to open the glass door to let in the internet from the main house on the property. One night she made a mac and cheese that was too spicy to eat. We drank Switchback ale on tap at the bar down the road, and I wrote more in that time than I think I’d ever written anytime before or have written anytime since. We slept, we woke, we wrote. She worked on her Ph.D. dissertation, I wrote the stories that would become my Master’s thesis, and later, that book I put out a few years ago. By any measure, it was a beautiful stretch of a beautiful, unemployed summer.

The Threshingfloor was new. As it happened I traveled south a few times over the month to go to band practice — the band would break up later that year mostly because I’m an asshole; so it goes — and I bought the CD at the now-defunct Other Music in Manhattan. Did I see there’s a new documentary about the store? I think so. It was a cool spot. I don’t remember but according to that old post I’d looked in a few other stores with no success, but Other Music came through. Fair enough.

The album is brilliant. There’s little in the David Eugene Edwards-led outfit’s catalog to take the place in my heart held by their 2002 self-titled debut (discussed here), with Edwards fresh out of 16 Horsepower and bleeding that band’s traditional folk into an experimentalism that helped spread both the actual gospel and that of neo-folk in and beyond the aughts. The Threshingfloor is a landmark for how it engaged with an expanded definition of sonic and atmospheric weight, how the strings and ringing melody of “Singing Grass” became heavy despite a still-gentle impact, and how Edwards’ richly creative arrangements gave nuance to the material ahead of the mid-’90s acoustic rocker “Denver City” at the finish.

These are impulses Edwards has continued to explore. The Native Americanwovenhand the threshingfloor language that shows up in “The Threshingfloor” itself can also be heard in Edwards’ recent collaborative single with Carpenter Brut, “Fab Tool” (posted here), and Wovenhand’s three LPs since The Threshingfloor — 2012’s The Laughing Stalk (review here), 2014’s Refractory Obdurate (review here) and 2016’s Star Treatment (review here) — have pushed further toward aural heft. The band resides in a few places between. They’re too folk for heavy heads, too heavy for the jam circuit, too Christian for the non-Christians, too weird to be pop or Christian rock, and so on. In terms of genre, they’ve kind of made it up as they’ve gone along. Fine.

Sunshine was coming through the windows of the library that I’m sure have grown taller in my mind in the decade since, and the table and chairs I sat on were made of a dark wood. I don’t actually remember that — they could’ve been particle board for all I know — but it’s my story, so let’s go with cherry or something like that. The floor had a municipal rug that smelled of recently-vacuumed dust and, though not new, was neither completely worn, though the paths to the bookshelves could be seen like prints waiting to be chased. I had headphones on — my old Bose noise-cancelers that broke a few years after this — and the portable CD player that came with them. I carried CDs around with me in an old typewriter case garnered from the closet at The Aquarian when I worked there. I’d packed it full because there was a lot of music I couldn’t live without for that month, and I had a moral objection to the restrictive nature of iPods, iTunes, etc. There was a righteousness to consider.

On headphones, The Threshingfloor remains sweeping and extreme in its own peculiar way. To someone taking it on for the first time, its arrangements can seem obtuse, because they are, but ultimately I’m of the mindset that it matters less what’s making the sound so much as what’s the sound being made. At least some of it, as I recall from the one time I interviewed Edwards — I can’t remember if it was for this record or 2008’s Ten Stones — was found folk instruments in different countries picked up on tour. That accounts for some of the flute sounds, various guitar-ish things here and there in the material, with Edwards’ voice and unique vocal cadence serving as the unifying factor, let alone the songwriting.

I guess this record’s been on my mind, and definitely some escapism behind that. Thinking about writing about it that warm day — the nights were cool in that cabin — and all that writing, it would be hard not to be nostalgic for it. It’s been a rough few weeks. I cut off my hair and beard to see what I looked like underneath and I’ve found myself looking older, fatter and more miserable, all of which I am. My disappointment with myself seems to leak through my pores like sweat. I exude it like my dead father used to. I am tired and I see no point to anything. I lose patience. When my son whines, I whine back at him. I just try to scratch through my day minute by minute so that I can go back to bed at the end of it. I just want the day to end.

Self-loathing is a comfortable traveling companion. It’s been with me as long as I’ve had the capacity to carry it. How familiar. Always there. How reliable.

What is the point of anything anymore? It’s laughably melodramatic, but I have been struggling to answer this question. What is the point of doing this? What is it that’s keeping me going with this project? This. Right here. What am I doing this for? All the fretting, all the time, all the bullshit, all the vague transactional garbage. My position on keeping this site going is that I won’t make any decisions until after live music returns — not a minor consideration even as regards The Threshingfloor, since Wovenhand’s performance at Roadburn 2011 was one of the most incredible shows I’ve ever seen — but what if it doesn’t come back? Without that, why do I need this in my life? What if I didn’t have it? After nearly 12 years, am I really so afraid to find out what might be next? Am I really so weak and cloying a person? Does my ego, my narcissism really need to be glutted by my own delusions of relevance? What the fuck am I doing and what the fuck have I done?

12 years later, what have I said?

Great and safe weekend. Drink water.

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Lost Relics Premiere “Unrealistic Cause” Video; New EP out Next Year

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 7th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

lost relics

Angular, noisily crunching riffs pervade the new single from Denver four-piece Lost Relics. In following up their 2019 debut EP, 1st (review here), the band recently unveiled “Unrealistic Cause” and as of today — right now, actually — they’ve got a new video to go with the track. Like the song itself, the clip is straight-ahead, brooding and aggressive, and pulls approximately zero punches in letting the listener know its intent. Amid dark, green-tinted lights, quick cuts and an alternatingly rolling and charging groove, dual vocals issue proclamations of coming revolution and urge their audience to get educated and “eradicate the wealth.”

Wouldn’t that be nice? If that happened? If your racist-ass neighbors were like, “You know what, I’mma go read a thing and have my mind changed by it, then I’m going to act on that change.” The idea has persisted for too long that “hearing all sides” is the best avenue toward progress. Bullshit. If one side is saying “$20 an hour minimum wage and public-option healthcare” and the other side is saying “babies in cages,” you do not need to listen to both sides of that argument. You need to invest in education, particularly underserved rural and urban communities.

I don’t disagree with Lost Relics‘ position, and hey, if the revolution’s coming, cool. But part of the reason the status quo seems so immobile in America is because we’re taught from the lost relics unrealistic causetime we’re two years old that capitalism and competition for resources is the natural order of things. I see this shit all the time, even with my toddler. Parents are like, “share your toys,” to their kids at the playground, but you can tell they don’t mean that shit, and the kid can tell too. Get all you can, junior; life’s short and ain’t nobody ever bought their parents a house with a poem.

Education is the answer. But “educating yourself” is something that cultural forces and major, billion-dollar-making corporations have actively worked to make it harder to do, never mind something like wealth redistribution. The kind of mindset shift that’s needed to promote even vaguely progressive causes in the US is the work of generations. America has no coherent “left wing,” only disconnected movements, many of which are based around causes that a majority of voters actually support — see Black Lives Matter, gun control, a woman’s right to choose, trans rights, again, public healthcare, etc.

And if you think that disjointedness is an accident, don’t kid yourself.

There’s a lot of divorcing of heavy music from social issues — something I suspect it’s easier to do since so much of the demographic makeup of the heavy underground remains white and male. And Lost Relics, who’ll have a new EP out in 2021 through Golden Robot Records and Coffin and Bolt Records, are indeed four white dudes. But that divorcing isn’t what’s happening here. Seems pretty obvious at this point, but what Lost Relics are doing in the three-plus minutes of “Unrealistic Cause” is examining the world around them and prodding their audience to question why things are the way they are. As regards sides to take, it certainly beats the alternative.

Enjoy the video:

Lost Relics, “Unrealistic Cause” official video premiere

Denver dirt rockers LOST RELICS have dropped their new single Unrealistic Cause via Coffin & Bolt / Golden Robot Records.

The weight of indifference is the boulder that crushes our society. Empathy is dead and with it so are we. It is an Unrealistic Cause. LOST RELICS employ Richter scale riffs to manifest the emotional density of these troubled times. Songs of protest. Songs of desperation. Songs for the end.

Formed from the ashes of Low Gravity, The Worth and Smolder and Burn, Marc Brooks, Jess Ellis, Jason James and Greg Mason quickly hit the ground rolling with their monstrous riffs with breakneck changes and dual vocal delivery. After releasing their self-titled EP in February of 2019, they have steadily been taking the stage to open for national acts and playing festivals across the front range of Colorado.

After teaming up with Coffin & Bolt Records in September of 2020, Lost Relics is now in the process of finishing up an EP for release early 2021.

Lost Relics are:
Jason James : Greg Mason : Jess Ellis : Marc Brooks

Lost Relics on Thee Facebooks

Lost Relics on Bandcamp

Coffin and Bolt Records on Thee Facebooks

Coffin and Bolt Records on Instagram

Coffin and Bolt Records website

Golden Robot Records on Thee Facebooks

Golden Robot Records on Instagram

Golden Robot Records website

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