Revisiting the Top 20 of 2012

Posted in Features on June 27th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

They always say you there’s no going back. I don’t know who they are, but they’re right. As I searched back through posts to find the Top 20 of 2012, I realized it had been way too long since I heard some of these records. It’s so easy to get caught up with what’s current and what’s coming next that sometimes I forget to actually listen to albums I already enjoyed. That happened a couple times along the way.

When a year ends and the lists start coming out, it’s like records as numbered, stocked and then forgotten. I guess I’m guilty of it too. With that in mind, here’s a quick revisit to what I had as my favorites of 2012:

The Top 20 of 2012 Revisited

20. Mos Generator, Nomads
I can’t even look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “Lonely One Kenobi” play in my head. Still a sentimental favorite.

19. Golden Void, Golden Void
Haven’t put it on in a while, but probably should.

18. Wight, Through the Woods into Deep Water
Ditto. This record was great and if I made the list today, it would probably be higher than it is here.

17. Lord Fowl, Moon Queen
Didn’t I start this week off with Moon Queen? Well, I guess it’s pretty fresh on my mind.

16. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction
I’ve seen them three times so far this year and they’ve delivered each time, but haven’t put on the album itself in a while. Still looking forward to new stuff though.

15. Kadavar, Kadavar
I think I’ve had more fascinating conversations about Kadavar than any other band in the last year. So many opinions, so widely varied. I dig the self-titled, will probably have the follow-up on my list at the end of 2013. Nuclear Blast needs to bring them over to tour, maybe opening for Witchcraft?

14. Stubb, Stubb
Yay fuzz! Catchy songs, easy formula, well structured and impeccably performed.My favorite straight-up heavy rock record of 2012.

13. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned
Hard to fuck with these dudes. The production here was a presence, but the songs still hold up.

12. Ararat, II
No shit, I live in terror of having Ararat release their third album and missing it. Like all of a sudden the album will have been out for three months and I’d have no idea.

11. Ufomammut, Oro
Haven’t listened to Opus Primum or Opus Alter since. Can’t help but think if Oro was released as one record, I’d put it on from time to time.

10. Conan, Monnos
I put this in the top 10 for a reason. Because it’s fucking ridiculously heavy. I stand by my reasoning. Looking forward to their new one.

9. My Sleeping Karma, Soma
An album I couldn’t manage to put down even when I wanted to, and one I still pick up from time to time. Glad I finally gave in an bought a copy to get away from the shitty digital promo version.

8. Graveyard, Lights Out
Maybe I burnt myself out on this? I went on a binge after their show in January for a bit and then put Lights Out away and that was that.

7. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65
Every time I’m in a record store, flip through the Vitus selection and see my quote on the sticker on the front of the jewel case of Lillie: F-65, I feel like an entire decade of shitty career decisions is justified. No bullshit.

6. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time
Brilliant. Mostly brilliant for closer “First Light,” but that song was brilliant enough to get this spot on the list anyway.

5. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis
Hard to argue with its intensity. Not much staying power as I would’ve thought, but god damn that’s a heavy record.

4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay
An overwhelming listen. I have to prepare my head for putting it on, but I continue to find it worth the effort.

3. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers
It was the highlight of my year last year to see this material live. Greenleaf have a new lineup now and another album in the works, but if Nest of Vipersis how the last one was going out, they killed it.

2. Om, Advaitic Songs
Sometimes I fantasize about living in a temple where I wake up and Advaitic Songs is playing every day. That is 100 percent true.

1. Colour Haze, She Said
I’d probably listen to it even more if it was on one CD, but god damn, this record is amazing. Another one that’s kind of overwhelming, but it gets regular play as I expect it will continue to do into perpetuity.

All in all, pretty great year. Some stuff that’s fallen by the wayside, but a few landmarks as well that have carried over, and more importantly, some that seem like they’ll continue to carry over and grow in appeal as more time passes. Wight should’ve been higher on the list, but other than that, I’ll take it.

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2012

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Please note: This list is my personal picks, not the Readers Poll, which is ongoing — if you haven’t added your list yet, please do.

As ever, I’ve kept a Post-It note on my wall all year long, and as the weeks and months have ticked away, I’ve added names of bands to it in preparation for putting together my Top 20 of 2012. There was a glut of excellent material this year, and I know for a fact I didn’t hear everything, but from bold forays into new sonic territory to triumphant returns to startling debuts, 2012 simply astounded. Even as I type this, I’m getting emails about new, exciting releases. It’s enough to make you lose your breath.

Before we get down to it and start in with the numbers, the hyperbole, etc., I want to underscore the point that this list is mine. I made it. It’s not the Readers Poll results, which will be out early in January. It’s based on how I hear things, how much I listened to each of these records, the impressions they left on me — critical opinion enters into it, because whether or not I want to I can’t help but consider things on that level when I listen to a new album these days — but it’s just as much about what I put on when I wanted to hear a band kick ass as it is about which records carried the most critical significance or import within their respective genres.

With that caveat in mind, let’s do this thing:

20. Mos Generator, Nomads

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 7

Over the last couple years, I’ve come to think of the #20 spot as where I put my sentimental favorite. That was the case with Suplecs last year, and in 2012, the return of Mos Generator earns the spot. The band being led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed, Nomads marked a rehifting of Reed‘s priorities from Stone Axe, with whom he’d proffered ’70s worship for several years prior, and wound up as a collection of some of my favorite heavy rock songs of 2012 — tracks like “Cosmic Ark,” “Torches” and “Lonely One Kenobi” were as strong in their hooks as they were thorough in their lack of pretense. But the bottom line is I’m a nerd for Reed‘s songwriting, playing and production (more on that to come), and at this point it’s not really something I can even pretend to judge impartially. Still, the record’s friggin’ awesome and you should hear it as soon as you can.

19. Golden Void, Golden Void

Released by Thrill Jockey. Reviewed Nov. 20.

Seems like it would make sense to say Golden Void would be higher on the list if I’d spent more time with it — written up just a month ago, it’s the most recent review here — but the fact is I’ve sat with Golden Void‘s self-titled debut a lot over the course of the last month-plus, and I’ve been digging the hell out of it. Really, the only reason it’s not further up is because I don’t feel like I have distance enough from it to judge how it holds up over a longer haul, but either way, the Isaiah Mitchell-led outfit’s blend of heavy psych, driving classic rock and retro style gave some hope for beefing up the US’ take on ’70s swagger — usually left to indie bands who, well, suck at it — and also showed Mitchell as a more than capable vocalist where those who knew him from his work in Earthless may only have experienced his instrumental side. A stellar debut, a wonderful surprise, and a band I can’t wait to hear more from in the years to come.

18. Wight, Through the Woods into Deep Water

Released by Fat & Holy/Bilocation. Reviewed Aug. 3.

This was basically the soundtrack to my summer. From the catch-you-off-guard aggression in opener “I Spit on Your Grave” to the extended stoneralia of “Master of Nuggets” and the jammy “Southern Comfort and Northern Lights,” the follow-up to Wight‘s self-produced debut Wight Weedy Wight (review here) showed an astonishing amount of growth, and though it had the laid back, loose feel that distinguishes the best of current European heavy psych, Through the Woods into Deep Water was also coherent, cohesive and impeccably structured. I thought it was one of the year’s strongest albums when it was released, and its appeal has only endured — as much as I listened to it when it was warm over the summer, now in December I put it on wishing the temperature would change to match. The songs showed remarkable potential from the German three-piece and cast them in an entirely different light than did their first out. Really looking forward to where they might go from here, but in the meantime, I’m nowhere near done with Through the Woods into Deep Water yet.

17. Lord Fowl, Moon Queen

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed Aug. 29.

“Oh, Moon Queen! Flyin’ down the world on a moonbeam!” Somehow the first lines of the opening title-track to Lord Fowl‘s Moon Queen always seem to wind up stuck in my head. The Connecticut foursome made their debut on Small Stone with the loosely thematic full-length, and touched on a sense of unabashedly grandiose ’70s heavy rock in the process. That said, Moon Queen wasn’t shooting for retro in the slightest — rather, guitarist/vocalists Vechel Jaynes and Mike Pellegrino fronted the band’s classic sensibilities with a wholly modern edge, like something out of an alternate dimension where rock never started to suck. The classic metal guitar in “Streets of Evermore” and the swaying groove from bassist Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman under the wandering leads of “Hollow Horn” made Moon Queen more stylistically diverse than it might otherwise have been, but at its core, it was a collection of stellar heavy rock songs, unashamed of its hooks and unafraid to put its passions front and center. They packed a lot into a 47-minute runtime, but I’ve yet to dig into Moon Queen and regret having pressed play. Another band to watch out for.

16. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It was impossible not to be swept up in the hype surrounding Pallbearer‘s Profound Lore debut, but one listen to Sorrow and Extinction and it was clear that its resounding praise was well earned. By blending thickened psychedelic tonality and emotionally resonant melodies, the Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece concocted the single most important American doom release of the year. Their efforts did not go unnoticed, and as they supported the album on tour, the swell of the crowds spoke to the right-idea-right-time moment they were able to capture in songs like the stunning “An Offering of Grief” and “The Legend.” There’s room for growth — I wouldn’t be surprised to find guitarist Brett Campbell‘s vocal range greatly developed next time out — but Pallbearer have already left a mark on doom, and if they can keep the momentum going into wherever they go from here, it won’t be long before they’re being cited as having a significant impact on the genre and influencing others in their wake.

15. Kadavar, Kadavar

Released by Tee Pee. Track streamed July 9.

I already singled out Kadavar‘s Kadavar as the 2012 Debut of the Year, so if you need any sense of the reverence I think the German trio earned, take whatever you will from that. There really isn’t much to add — though I could nerd out about Kadavar‘s ultra-effective retroisms all day if you’re up for it — but something I haven’t really touched on yet about the record: When I was out in Philly last weekend, the DJ cleverly mixed Kadavar into a set of early ’70s jams, and it was all but indistinguishable in sound from the actual classics. That in itself is an achievement, but Kadavar‘s level of craft also stands them out among their modern peers, and it was drummer Tiger‘s snare sound that I first recognized in “All Our Thoughts,” so right down to the most intricate details, Kadavar‘s Kadavar was a gripping and enticing affair that proved there’s still ground to cover in proto-heavy worship.

14. Stubb, Stubb

Released by Superhot Records. Reviewed Feb. 2.

The fuzz was great — don’t get me wrong, I loved the fuzz — but with Stubb‘s Stubb, it was even more about the songs themselves. Whether it was the interplay between guitarist Jack Dickinson and bassist Peter Holland (also of Trippy Wicked) on vocals for the chorus of “Scale the Mountain” or the thickened shuffle in “Soul Mover” punctuated by drummer Chris West‘s (also Trippy Wicked and Groan) ever-ready fills, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch, and though it’s an album I’ve basically been hearing since the beginning of the year, its appeal has endured throughout and I still find myself going back to it where many others have already been forgotten. With the acoustic “Crosses You Bear” and more laid-bare emotionality of “Crying River,” Stubb showed there was more them than excellence of tone and with the seven-minute finale “Galloping Horses,” they showed they were ready to jam with the best. Truly memorable songs — and also one of the live highlights of my year.

13. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned

Released by Candlelight Records. Reviewed Dec. 15, 2011.

Orange Goblin‘s purpose seemed reborn on their seventh album and Candlelight Records debut, A Eulogy for the Damned. Culling the best elements from their last couple albums, 2007’s Healing Through Fire and 2004’s Thieving from the House of God, the long-running London troublemakers upped the production value and seemed bent from the start on taking hold of the day’s sympathy toward their brand of heavy. With tales of alcoholic regret, classic horrors and a bit of cosmic exploration for good measure, they marked their ascent to the top of the British scene and took well to the role of statesmen, headlining Desertfest and proceeding to smash audiences to pieces around the continent at fests and on tours. Look for them to do the same when they bring the show Stateside in 2013 with Clutch. Their plunder is well earned, and I still rarely go 48 hours without hearing the bridge of “The Fog” in my head. Can’t wait to see them again.

12. Ararat, II

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed March 28.

While I still miss Los Natas, my grief for their passing has been much eased over the last two years by frontman Sergio Chotsourian‘s doomier explorations in Ararat. The first album, 2009’s Musica de la Resistencia (review here), ran concurrent to Los Natas‘ swansong, Nuevo Orden de la Libertad, but with II, the new three-piece came into their own, setting space rock synth against low-end sprawl, thick drumming and Chotsourian‘s penchant for experimenting with structure. Extended tracks “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” were positively encompassing, and showed Ararat not only as a distinct entity from Los Natas, but a turn stylistically for Chotsourian into elephantine plod, wide-open atmospherics and a likewise expansive creative sensibility. The acoustic “El Inmigrante” and piano-led “Atenas” offered sonic diversity while enriching the mood, and closer “Tres de Mayo” hinted at some of the melding of the various sides that might be in store in Ararat‘s future. If the jump from the first record to the second is any indicator, expect something expansive and huge to come.

11. Ufomammut, Oro

Released by Neurot. Reviewed April 3 & Aug. 16.

Italian cosmic doom meganauts Ufomammut outdid themselves yet again with Oro, breaking up a single full-length into two separate releases, Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter. But the album — which I’ve decided to list as the single entity Oro rather than its two component parts basically to save myself some brain space — was more than just big in terms of its runtime. More importantly, Ufomammut were able to hold firm to their commitment to stylistic growth, drawing on their greatest triumph yet, 2010’s Eve (review here), the trio pushed themselves even further on their Neurot Recordings debut, resulting in an album worthy of the legacy of those releasing it. I don’t know if Oro will come to define Ufomammut as Eve already seems to have — dividing it as they did may have made it harder for listeners to grasp it as a single piece — but it shows that there’s simply no scaring the band out of themselves. Brilliantly tied together around a central progression that showed up in “Empireum” from Opus Primum and “Sublime” on Opus Alter, I have the feeling Ufomammut will probably have another album out before Oro‘s breadth has fully set in.

 10. Conan, Monnos

Released by Burning World/Gravedancer. Reviewed March 1.

Behold the standard bearers of heavy. It wasn’t long after hearing UK trio Conan for the first time that I began using them as a touchstone to see how other bands stacked up, and to be honest, almost no one has. Led by the inimitable lumber provided by the tone of guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis (interview here), Conan stripped down their approach for Monnos, returning to Foel Studio in Wales to work with producer Chris Fielding — who’d also helmed their 2010 Horseback Battle Hammer EP — and the resulting effort was both trim and humongous. Early tracks like “Hawk as Weapon,” “Battle in the Swamp” (an old demo given new life) and “Grim Tormentor” actually managed to be catchy as well as sonically looming, and the more extended closing duo of “Headless Hunter” and “Invincible Throne” showed that Conan could both use their tone to build forward momentum and plod their way into ultra-slow, ultra-grim despairing nothingness. Monnos affirmed Conan as one of the most pivotal acts in doom, and with new material and a home studio reportedly in the works, as well as further European touring on the docket for early 2013, their onslaught shows no signs of letting up. Right fucking on.

9. My Sleeping Karma, Soma

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 6.

In some ways, it seems like the easiest thing in the world, but with My Sleeping Karma‘s fourth full-length, Soma, it really was just a question of a band taking their sound to a completely new level. The German heavy psych instrumentalists brought forth the sweetness of tone their guitars have harnessed over the course of their three prior offerings, but the progressive keyboard flourishes, the warmth in the bass, the tight pop of the drums — it all clicked on Soma in a way that the other records hinted was possible and made the album the payoff to the four-piece’s long-established potential. Wrapped around the titular theme of a drink of the gods and with its tracks spaced out by varying ambient interludes, no moment on the album felt like it wasn’t serving the greater purpose of the whole, and the whole proved to be a worthy purpose indeed. Hands down my favorite instrumental release of the year and an effort that pushed My Sleeping Karma to the front of the pack in the crowded European heavy psych scene.

8. Graveyard, Lights Out

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 11.

The damnedest thing happens every time I turn on Graveyard‘s third album, Lights Out, in that before I’m halfway through opener “An Industry of Murder,” I have to turn it up. The reigning kings of Swedish retro heavy wasted no time following up 2011’s stunning sophomore outing, Hisingen Blues (review here), and with the four-year gap between their self-titled debut and the second record, it was a surprise from the moment it was announced, but more than that, Lights Out showed remarkable development in Graveyard‘s sound, offering elements of classic soul on songs like “Slow Motion Coundown” and “Hard Times Lovin'” to stand alongside the brash rock and roll of “Seven Seven” or the irresistible hook provided by “The Suits, the Law and the Uniforms” or the single “Goliath.” A landmark vocal performance from guitarist Joakim Nilsson and newly surfaced political bent to the lyrics hinted that Graveyard were nowhere near done growing, but seriously, if they put out four or five more records in the vein of Lights Out, I doubt there’d be too many complaints. Already one can hear the influence they’ve had on European heavy rock, and Lights Out isn’t likely to slow that process in the slightest.

7. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 26.

Three drum hits and then the lurching “Let Them Fall” — the leadoff track on the first Saint Vitus studio album since 1995 — is underway, and it’s exactly that lack of pomp, that lack of pretense, that makes Lillie: F-65 so righteous. Admittedly, it’s a reunion album. They toured for a couple years playing old material, then finally decided to settle in and let guitarist Dave Chandler (interview here) start coming up with a batch of songs, but you can’t argue with the results. They nailed it. With Tony Reed‘s perfect production (discussed here), Vitus captured the classic tonality in Chandler‘s guitar and Mark Adams‘ bass and kept to their sans-bullshit ethic: A short, 33-minute album that leaves their audience wondering where the hell that assault of noise just came from. Scott “Wino” Weinrich‘s presence up front was unmistakable with Chandler‘s punkish, no-frills lyrics (as well as his own on “Blessed Night,” the first song they wrote for the album), and drummer Henry Vasquez not only filled the shoes of the late Armando Acosta but established his own persona behind the kit. I hope it’s not their last record, but if it is, Saint Vitus came into and left Lillie: F-65 as doom legends, and their work remains timeless.

6. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time

Released by Tee Pee. Reviewed March 23.

Talk about a band who shirked expectation. Guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga and I discussed that aspect of Ancestors a bit in an interview over the summer, but it’s worth underscoring. There was next to nothing in either of Ancestors‘ first two albums to hint at where they’d go with the third. Both Neptune with Fire and Of Sound Mind (review here) were rousing, riff-led efforts that headed toward a particular heavy sensibility, but it was with last year’s Invisible White EP (review here) that the L.A. outfit began to show the progressive direction they were heading. And In Dreams and Time is even a departure from that! It’s kind of a departure from reality as well, with the Moog/organ/synth mesh from Matt Barks and Jason Watkins (also vocals), dreamy basslines from Nick Long and hold-it-all-together drumming of Jamie Miller — since out of the band. Closer “First Light” was my pick for song of the year, and had the album been comprised of that track along, it’d probably still be on this list somewhere, but with the complement given to it by the piano sprawl of “On the Wind” and driving riffs and vocal interplay of “Correyvreckan” (if you haven’t heard Long‘s bass on the latter as well, you should), there was little left to question that this was the strongest Ancestors release of their career to date and hopefully the beginning of a new era in their sound. They’ve never been what people wanted them to be, but I for one like not knowing what to expect before it shows up, at least where these guys are concerned.

5. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis

Released by E1 Music. Reviewed March 12.

After what I saw as a lackluster production for 2010’s Snakes for the Divine, Oakland, CA, trio High on Fire aligned themselves with producer Kurt Ballou (Converge) for De Vermis Mysteriis and completely renewed the vitality in their attack. Built on the insistence of “Bloody Knuckles,” furious fuckall of “Fertile Green,” unmitigated piracy of “Serums of Laio” and eerie crawl in “King of Days,” De Vermis Mysteriis was both aggressive in High on Fire‘s raid-your-brain-for-THC tradition and extreme in ways they’ve never been before. Groovers like the instrumental “Samsara” and earlier “Madness of an Architect” offered bombast where the thrash may have relented, while “Spiritual Rites” proved that guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike (also Sleep; interview here), bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensell had arrived at a new threshold of speed and intensity. Whatever personal issues may have been in play at the time, High on Fire delivered a blistering full-length that stands up to and in many ways surpasses any prior viciousness in their catalog, and their level of performance on their current tour makes it plain to see that the band is ready for ascendency to the heights of metal. They are conquerors to the last, and if De Vermis Mysteriis is what I get for wavering, then I’ll consider my lesson hammered home in every second of feedback, tom thud and grueling second of distortion topped with Pike‘s signature growl.

4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay

Released by Neurot. Reviewed Sept. 21.

When I interviewed interviewed Steve Von Till about Honor Found in Decay, the Neurosis guitarist/vocalist called the band “a chaos process” in reference to their songwriting. I have no trouble believing that, because while Neurosis stand among the most influential heavy metal bands of their generation — having had as much of an effect on what’s come after them as, say, Meshuggah or Sleep, while also having little sonically in common with either of them — it’s also nearly impossible to pinpoint one aspect of their sound that defines them. The churning rhythms in the riffing of Von Till and his fellow frontman, guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly (interview here), Dave Edwardson‘s intensity on bass and periodic vocal, the assured percussive creativity of Jason Roeder and the experimental edge brought to bear in Noah Landis‘ synth and sampling all prove to be essential elements of the whole. On Honor Found in Decay — and this isn’t to take away anything from any other particular member’s songwriting contributions — it would be Landis standing out with his greatest contributions yet, becoming as much a defining element in songs like “At the Well,” “Bleeding the Pigs” and “Casting of the Ages” as either Kelly or Von Till‘s guitars. Had I never seen the band before, I’d have a hard time believing Honor Found in Decay could possibly be representative of their live sound, but they are every bit as crushing, as oppressive and as emotionally visceral on stage — if not more so — as they are on the album, and while their legacy has long since been set among the most important heavy acts ever, period, as they climb closer to the 30-year mark (they’ll get there in 2015), Neurosis continue to refuse to bow to what’s expected of them or write material that doesn’t further their decades-long progression. They are worthy of every homage paid them, and more.

3. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed Feb. 28.

It’s hard for me to properly convey just how happy listening to Greenleaf‘s Nest of Vipers makes me, and I’ve got several false starts already deleted to prove it. The Swedish supergroup of vocalist Oskar Cedermalm (Truckfighters), guitarists Tommi Holappa and Johan Rockner (both Dozer), bassist Bengt Bäcke (engineer for Dozer, Demon Cleaner, etc.) and drummer Olle Mårthans (Dozer) last released an album in 2007. That was Agents of Ahriman, which was one of my favorite albums of the last decade. No shit. Not year, decade. With a slightly revamped lineup and Dozer‘s maybe-final album, 2008’s Beyond Colossal, and the never-got-off-the-ground side-project Dahli between, Nest of Vipers landed this past winter and with the shared membership, Karl Daniel Lidén production and consistency of songwriting from Holappa (interview here), I immediately saw it as a sequel to the last Dozer, but really it goes well beyond that. Tracks like “Dreamcatcher,” “Case of Fidelity,” “The Timeline’s History” and soaring opener “Jack Staff” show that although they’d never really toured to that point and been through various lineups over the years, Greenleaf was nonetheless an entity unto its own. Cedermalm‘s vocals were a triumph, Mårthans‘ drumming unhinged and yet grounded, and guest appearances from organist Per Wiberg and vocalists Peder Bergstrand (Lowrider/I are Droid) and Fredrik Nordin (Dozer) only enriched the album for repeat listens, which I’m thrilled to say it gets to this very day. If I called it a worthy successor both to Dozer and to Agents of Ahriman, those words alone would probably fall short of conveying quite how much that means on a personal level, so let its placement stand as testimony instead. This is one I’ll be enjoying for years to come, and when I’m done writing this feature, this is the one I’m gonna put back on to listen through again. It has been, and no doubt will continue to be, a constant.

2. Om, Advaitic Songs

Released by Drag City. Reviewed Aug. 13.

Go figure that the Om record two albums after the one called Pilgrimage would feel so much like a journey. Further including multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Robert A. A. Lowe (also of experimental one-man outfit Lichens) alongside the established core duo of drummer Emil Amos (also of Grails) and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also of Sleep), as well as incorporating a range of guest appearances from the likes of Grayceon‘s Jackie Perez Gratz on cello and Worm Ouroboros‘ Lorraine Rath (who appeared on 2010’s God is Good as well) on flute, Om fleshed out what was once a signature minimalism to the point of being a lush, constantly moving and markedly fluid entity. Cisneros, as the remaining founder and lead vocalist, served as a unifying presence in the material — his bass still was still very much as the center of  “Gethsemane” or the more straightforward and distorted “State of Non-Return” — but those songs and “Addis,” “Sinai” and gloriously melodic closer “Haqq al-Yaqin” amounted to more than any single performance, and where prior Om outings had dug themselves deep into a kind of solitary contemplation, Advaitic Songs looked outward with a palpable sense of musical joy and a richness of experience that could only be called spiritual, however physically or emotionally arresting it might also prove. I’ve found it works best in the morning, as a way to transition from that state of early half-there into the waking world — which no doubt has more harshness in mind than the sweet acoustics and tabla at the end of “Haqq al-Yaqin” — so that some of that sweetness can remain and help me face whatever might come throughout the day. A morning ceremony and a bit of meditation to reorder the consciousness.

1. Colour Haze, She Said

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Didn’t it have to be Colour Haze? Didn’t it? Two discs of the finest heavy psychedelic rock the world has to offer — yes I mean that — plus all they went through to get it out, the drama of building and rebuilding a studio, recording and re-recording, pressing and repressing, what else could it have been but She Said? After two-plus years of waiting, I was just so glad when it actually existed. Late in 2008, the Munich trio released All, and that was my album of the year that year as well (kudos to anyone who has that issue of Metal Maniacs), but I feel like even if you strip all that away and take away all the drama and the band’s influence, their standing in the European scene, guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek (interview here) fostering next-gen talent on Elektrohasch and whatever else you want or need to remove, She Said still holds up. Just the songs themselves. The extra percussion layered in with Manfred Merwald‘s drums on “She Said,” the horns and Duna Jam-ambience on “Transformation,” the unpretentious boogie of “This” on disc one, or the rush of “Slowdown” on disc two and the culmination the whole album gets when the strings kick in on “Grace.” Those strings. God damn. Suddenly a 2CD release makes sense, when each is given its own progression, its own destination at which to arrive, and tired as I am I still tear up like clockwork when I put on “Grace” just to hear it while I type about it. Beautifully arranged, wonderfully executed, She Said couldn’t be anywhere but at the top spot on this list. The warmth in Koglek‘s guitar and Philipp Rasthofer‘s bass on “Breath” and the way their jams always seem to have someplace to go, I feel like I’m listening to a moment exquisitely captured. There isn’t a doubt in my mind Colour Haze are the most potent heavy rock power trio in the world, and that their chemistry has already and will continue to inspire others around them, but most importantly, She Said met the true album-of-the-year criteria in not seeming at all limited to the confines of 2012 — as though it had some kind of expiration date. Not so. Even though I’ve already been through them more times than I know or would care to share had I counted, I look forward to getting to know the songs on She Said over the years to come, and as I have with Colour Haze‘s works in the past, seeing their appeal change over time the way the best of friends do. It couldn’t have been anything but Colour Haze. Whatever hype other albums or bands have, for me, it’s this, and that’s it.

Honorable Mentions

If this list went to 25, the next five would be:

21. Snail, Terminus
22. Revelation, Inner Harbor
23. Wo Fat, The Black Code
24. Groan, The Divine Right of Kings
25. Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes

Honorable mention goes to: Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight (another one about whom I have a hard time being impartial), Mighty High, At Devil Dirt, Bell Witch, Samothrace, Enslaved, Viaje a 800, and Larman Clamor.

Also worth noting some conspicuous absences: Witchcraft, Swans, Baroness, Royal Thunder, The Sword, Torche. These albums garnered a strong response and have done well in the Readers Poll looking at the results so far, but please keep in mind, this is my list, I took a night to sleep on it, I stand by it and I’ve got my reasons for selecting what I did. You’ll find about 5,000 words of them above.

Thank you as always for reading. If you disagree with any picks, want to add your own take on any of the above, or anything else — really, whatever’s cool — please leave a comment below.

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Colour Haze Update on Progress for She Said LP

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 14th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Colour Haze guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek sends over the latest word on the 2LP release of the band’s latest album, She Said (review here). Also noting upcoming releases on his label, Elektrohasch, from All Them Witches, Sgt. Sunshine and the previously reported Sungrazer and The Machine split, Koglek details the process of getting the vinyl together and plugs the tour dates for Elektrohasch upstarts, Been Obscene, whose tour trailer can be found below.

The CD version of She Said is available now, and the vinyl… well, it’s coming:

Just a short note: due to the apparently great vinyl-revival, producing an LP seems to take endless time at the moment. We finished a new special-vinyl-master in the beginning of November. While usually it took only a couple of days to receive the testpressing from a master, at the moment this takes 3 weeks. The testpressings are scheduled to leave the factory by the end of next week (of course I`m getting on everybody’s nerves to hurry up). As soon as I heard them I`ll send out a new newsletter. In case of approval I`ll finally have a fixed delivery date for the DLPs and it will be possible then to (pre)order them at Please do not send any preorder-requests via email. I can`t make it to take care of that. The issue is high enough and the unlimited version as well is already ordered at the pressing factory.

We are working on new releases by All Them Witches, Sgt. Sunshine, Sungrazer and The Machine – more about in the newsletter.

Been Obscene are on tour at the moment – go and see and hear them!
Nov 15 | San Sebastian (SPA) | Le Bukowski
Nov 16 | Clermont-Ferrand (FRA) | Le Baraka
Nov 17 | Mulhouse (FRA) | TBA
Nov 18 | Paris (FRA) – Les Combustibles
Nov 24 | Fürstenfeldbruck (GER) – Schlachthof
Dec 07 | Wien (AUT) – Arena

Been Obscene Tour Trailer

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Colour Haze Interview with Stefan Koglek: “Obstacles are Just Obstacles”

Posted in Features on October 5th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

It’s not the longest an album has ever taken to come out. She Said — the 10th studio album by Munich-based heavy psych progenitors Colour Haze — closes the four-year gap since the previous record, All, was released. But isn’t Chinese Democracy, or Smile, by The Beach Boys, which finally came to light 37 years after it was first conceived. But it’s the longest stretch Colour Haze have ever had, and as guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek recounts in astounding detail below, the trio hit delay after delay in every step of the process, from the beginning stages of setting up a studio in their rehearsal space to record in to the mastering for the vinyl even now that the CD has been released.

Fortunate that they stuck it out, however. She Said (review here) is easily one of the best albums of the year, the double-CD accounting for Colour Haze‘s past even as it boldly pushes their sound to new places with the inclusion of elements like horns, strings, sampled beaches, etc. The chemistry between Koglek — who also runs the label Elektrohasch Schallplatten and so is in charge of not just making the record, but also releasing it — bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald has never been so potent or prevalent in their songs, as tracks like “Breath” and even the shorter “Slowdown” and “This” demonstrate. As Colour Haze‘s sound has developed to become focused on improvisation, the band itself has risen to the task of becoming ever more cohesive as a unit. She Said stands in a string of releases successful in this regard — you could go back to 2003’s Los Sounds de Krauts, but certainly the 2004 self-titled, 2006’s Tempel and 2008’s All captured the live dynamic between the players — but it stands alone in its creative drive and level of performance.

Further, the album proves Colour Haze‘s dedication to their form (not that it was necessarily in doubt — as I said, this is their 10th full-length, and one doesn’t get to that point without some purposefulness — but still). Koglek‘s tale of the troubles the band hit is long and complex — like a Colour Haze song, it also grooves — but what comes through at the end is that he and the rest of the band weren’t willing to compromise their vision of what they wanted the album to be. Four years and about 200,000 Euros later, She Said is the end result of a one-of-a-kind stubbornness. They could easily have gone to a studio, put the tracks to tape, mixed it down and been done. But they didn’t, and She Said is the fruit of those efforts. Constructed in the truest sense of the word.

I could go on, but the review was long enough — though I should mention that even in listening to She Said this morning while editing this interview, I heard sounds I hadn’t picked up on before; early humming at the start of the opening title-track — and while I could continue to ramble at length about the breadth She Said makes its own, you’re better off just hearing the story from Koglek himself (yes, he knows just how beautiful “Grace” is). This is easily the longest interview I’ve ever posted on this site, and I want to personally thank Koglek for his dedication not just to his music, but to telling his story as well. It is much appreciated.

Colour Haze are currently on the She Said XXL tour, which is discussed in the interview as well. Remaining dates are listed here.

You’ll find the complete 8,200-word Q&A after the jump with pictures from the studio (click any to enlarge). Please enjoy.

Read more »

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Colour Haze’s She Said Tour Starts Tomorrow

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 26th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Of all the bands in the world, I think I’d probably have a really easy time sitting through three hours of a Colour Haze set. This weekend, the band will kick off their XXL tour in support of their much-anticipated new album, She Said (review here), bringing Elektrohasch labelmates Saturnia along for the ride.

Because I’ve seen people asking, I’ll mention as well that She Said has been released on CD. You currently order a copy on the label’s website now, and as I said in the review, I’d definitely recommend doing so.

Here are the dates:


+support: Saturnia

27.09.2012 GER Rüsselsheim, Das Rind
28.09.2012 UK London, The Garage
29.09.2012 F Paris, Nouveau Casino
30.09.2012 BEL Antwerp, Trix
01.10.2012 GER Köln, Live Music Hall
02.10.2012 GER Karlsruhe,  Substage  * without Saturnia *
03.10.2012 CH Bern, ISC * without Saturnia *
04.10.2012 CH Genf , L´ Usine
05.10.2012 A Salzburg, Rockhouse
06.10.2012 A Linz, Stadtwekstatt
07.10.2012 A Vienna, Arena
08.10.2012 GER Jena, F Haus
09.10.2012 GER Bremen, Schlachthof
10.10.2012 GER Berlin, Lido
11.10.2012 POL Warsaw, Progresja
12.10.2012 GER Dresden, Scheune
13.10.2012 GER München, Feierwerk

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Colour Haze, She Said: What You See and What You Look out For

Posted in Reviews on September 18th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

For a few minutes, let’s try and remove Colour Haze’s 10th studio outing, She Said, from the context in which it was created. Those who’ve followed the groundbreaking German heavy psych trio’s progress over the time since their last album, 2008’s All, was released know She Said is a long time coming, the Munich trio having hit technical snags enough for three records, let alone one. They built and rebuilt a studio in the process, but as the sounds of the finished versions of She Said’s eight component tracks are sweet enough to make one forget nearly anything, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to pull the record out of the tumult and examine it on its own level. Colour Haze in 2012 is a different band than was Colour Haze in 2008. Not in the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald, which has remained consistent since 1998, but in plenty else. Of course, they’ve played shows all along the four-year span between records – European touring, stints at Duna Jam and Roadburn, etc. – but even outside the band, the context in which She Said arrives is different than that which met All when it came out through Koglek’s Elektrohasch Schallplatten imprint, itself a driving force in European heavy psych. The climate was different. Colour Haze had been on a hot streak of genre-defining records that included 2003’s Los Sounds de Krauts, 2004’s Colour Haze and 2006’s Tempel, but even All couldn’t anticipate the explosion of bands who have emerged in the subsequent years who’ve taken influence from Colour Haze’s tonally warm, jam-ready aesthetic. With She Said, they emerge as leaders of a scene they helped create. Whether it’s younger acts like Sungrazer, The Machine and Wight or their peers as much as they have any, Colour Haze have had a pervasive effect on their surrounding European scene – one can hear elements of theirs in American bands like Elder as well – and She Said is their first album to be released since that scene around them solidified as a group of bands touring and issuing works of their own. So even in the timing, much-hindered though it has been, She Said captures Colour Haze at a special moment in their career.

For reference, here is the full tracklisting:

Disc 1
1. She Said (18:42)
2. This (2:12)
3. Transformation (16:53)

Disc 2
1. Breath (12:05)
2. Slowdown (3:57)
3. Stand In… (8:27)
4. Rite (5:46)
5. Grace (10:58)

But though the album arrives with twice the longest stretch between records since this lineup came together, it’s important to remember that these songs have likely been in the works for two years already. Pieces may have been added and expanded along the way, but stylistically, She Said shouldn’t be expected to be any more of a leap from All than All was from Tempel, or Tempel from the self-titled, and so forth. However, Colour Haze have always shown a distinct drive toward progression, have never failed to evolve from one collection to the next, and that applies as well to She Said, which though it seems to work in a lot of the same moods and atmospheres as All, is relentless in its pursuit of taking those ideas further. This is true in the very manner of the album’s construction. She Said is the first 2CD Colour Haze outing since Los Sounds de Krauts, and as it clocks in at just under 82 minutes, it barely crosses that line of fitting onto one disc. The mere fact that a song like “This” was included demonstrates the purposefulness of the choice. By splitting the album onto two CDs, Colour Haze have not only made an already difficult production process that much more complicated, but they’ve effectively mirrored the necessary disc-swap of a double-vinyl release (which of course She Said is also getting). Where many other 2LPs can fit onto one CD, She Said forces you to – if you’re going to listen to it on tangible media – take an active physical role in the process one way or another if you want to hear the full thing, which you doubtless do, otherwise you wouldn’t be listening in the first place. To that end, I’ll add that as someone who’s generally not a supporter of the idea of double-albums – they’re a given in the world of post-CD-era vinyl, but in terms of non-concert CDs, I’m not a fan but for a rare few exceptions; rarely in my view does a release of any kind call for more than an hour’s runtime – She Said justifies the indulgence sonically, and if one needs a reason Colour Haze might want to include as much material on the album as possible, one need only reread the first sentence of this paragraph to find it.

Not only that, but the two component discs of She Said also set up individual progressions, starting off slowly with the opening title-track and more immediately with “Breath” on the second disc, but each winding up in a grand and progressive exploration of a more evolved Colour Haze scope, “Transformation” closing disc one with the inclusion of a horn section and “Grace” culminating the second disc and She Said as a whole with a string arrangement playing off Koglek’s guitars, which themselves are layered acoustics and electrics over backwards swirls similar to those that showed up on the All title-track. Though it brims with this mastery of the heavy psychedelic form and clearly knows its place in the current European milieu, She Said is no less laid back and unpretentious than Colour Haze has ever been, whatever the depths of the arrangements or the complexities of the structure.

The album commences humbly, so quietly you’re not sure it’s there, with windchimes and rustling leaves, setting up a slow, patient arrival indicative of none of the frustration of the process by which She Said came together. Each member arrives in a slow fade, Koglek, Rasthofer and Merwald, and in its first minute, “She Said” has gracefully swept off. Soft humming tops the still-quiet progression beginning at 1:23, but there’s still a long way to go in the near-19-minute track before it reaches its full burst. The foremost guitar line drops momentarily as piano is introduced – time doesn’t matter anymore – and the build continues amid engrossing swirls of melody, gradually getting louder to smother everything around it. Past four minutes, Merwald hits his snare, and the progression changes and just a couple seconds later, Koglek opens into a fuzzy sweep of a lead (is that a whistling theremin underneath?) that shows there’s been no diminishing of his stunning tone, either in the lead or the crunchier riff that follows. It’s still instrumental, but there’s a quick shift into a more uptempo section underscored by fantastic fills from Rasthofer and Merwald alike, the verse riff is introduced, and as “She Said” crosses the eight-minute line, Koglek delivers the opening titular line of the album: “She said your reality is not determined by what you see, but by what you look out for.”

Koglek answers back, and the band cycles through another verse and break, leading to an instrumental chorus with effective breaks from Rastofer and Merwald over which the guitar continues, and then the second of the song’s extended instrumental jams takes hold, first with a pair of solos cutting through the fully-formed and fully-thick fuzz surrounding and then smoothly into a percussion-led jam that begins shortly before 11 minutes in, Merwald leading the way on his kit with a host of other instruments following and playing off the central rhythm. Guitar and bass persist, spacing out, holding the rhythm, riffing all the while, but that added percussion doesn’t go away however swallowed up it might get in the other instrumentation. Koglek takes a bluesy solo given a near-salsa feel by the constant rhythmic throb, and they break to a jazzier progression, the whistle eventually returning, that once more comes to a righteous head, and then suddenly, they break back into the verse and tie the entire song together in the span of four lines in the last two minutes, the instrumental chorus now serving as the starting point of the outro progression. If it seems a grandiose opening, it is. “She Said” is the longest song on the album that shares its name (immediate points), but also one of the most immersive, and it’s fitting that after it, they should move directly into the 2:12 “This,” which begins with – of all things – a false start.

Whatever richness they might craft tonally or however vivid might be the mood their songs create, there’s no substitute for a little humor, and “This” has that, Koglek introducing a funky riff that Merwald and Rasthofer join before the whole thing cuts off. A few words are said in German and they start again, the same way, done right, with keys joining in. It’s a brief, lighthearted jam, but not at all without its own sense of movement, getting heavier and allowing the keyboard to take a solo between thickly-riffed sections. It grooves for just long enough to make me wonder why some songs get to be 19 minutes long and others are cut short, but is stopped at the 2:12 mark and “Transformation” begins with the sounds of ambient conversation and waves. If it’s not Duna Jam, it might as well be. “Transformation” swirls its way to life with backwards guitar between these sounds, sort of smoothly shouldering its way through the ambient noise while not so much competing with the waves as creating some of its own. Even backwards, the melodies are beautiful, Hendrixian, and when Rasthofer introduces the bassline at 2:15, it’s the foundation on which the track begins its build. The guitar continues its run of loops, though a riff is also layered in, and a lead line emerges to focus the rhythm, all three members of the band seeming to weave together for a time before Koglek takes off with another solo and Rasthofer and Merwald skillfully maintain the groove, each giving no less a show of their personality in the process.

Already here, five minutes into the 16:53 song, the short breather that “This” offered makes sense, giving some notion of simplicity to contrast the breadth of what’s happening on either side of it. “Transformation” settles into a driving rhythm that’ll be not unfamiliar to Colour Haze fans – something else in shares in common with the album finale in “Grace” – and continues to add to its instrumental push, the waves seeming to reemerge after eight minutes in, until a solo signals the culmination and they step down into a quiet moment of ambient guitar that seems a direct nod to the song “Alberto Migré,” which closed Argentinian trio Los Natas’ first album, Delmar, in 1996. Koglek played on Los Natas’ 2004 München Sessions and released it through Elektrohasch, so it’s not unreasonable to think he’d want to pay homage to such an endearing and memorable moment in their work, but even if the subtle, sandy echo in his guitar for this later section of “Transformation” is a coincidence, the sweet, wistful effect is largely the same, and it makes an excellent basis for the triumph that ensues, Colour Haze once more sweeping to life in a sudden turn, this time accompanied by chimes, and launching on the build that will bring the first disc of the album to its end over the course of the next five minutes. In this process, as ever, they are dynamic – there are ebbs and flows – but when Koglek hints at the line that will soon be adopted by horns at 13:22, it’s hard not to get a chill up the spine, even if you don’t know what’s coming. All momentum forward, they break into a part that seems at first to be derived from the traditional wedding march (“Here comes the bride,” and so on), Merwald engaged in what seems like a ceaseless battle against his already bloodied kit, and give new life to the last couple minutes of “Transformation,” joining their purposes at 14:37 to embark on a riff that’s downright poppy. Cue the horns at 15:01 and suddenly the song can’t get loud enough. How something can come so utterly out of nowhere in the last two minutes and still work in context of the song as a whole is beyond me.

Perhaps that’s the effect of Koglek having previously introduced the line – the cleverness of doing so emerging in the fact that by the times the horns come in, you already have some sense of where they’re going and are thus more apt to follow – but as the guitar and the brass play off each other in a brilliant revival of classic prog rock methodology repurposed into earthy psychedelic bliss, I don’t even want to let go of the moment to think about it. Merwald gives some sense of this being the final stretch by cutting to half-time on the drums, but for a time the horns and guitar keep going, and there’s a few seconds yet where it seems like they might pick it back up, but they don’t and the “Transformation” meets its end in a ring out that’s interrupted by bumped-into guitar strings, sticks being put down and a few words in German. The impression is that it was all done live in the studio, and maybe it was, I don’t know, but the mere fact that at this point Colour Haze have moved from a windchimed porch to a bathroom stall to a beach to their own recording outpost should say something about the reach of She Said’s first 38 minutes. The ending of “Transformation” provides an apex for the song itself, but also for the first disc as a whole, and stands as one of Colour Haze’s most impressive instrumental works to date. On first listen, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think they won’t be able to top it with the second part of the album.

The short version – because at this point, you’re entitled to it – is they do.

Interesting to note that though She Said is broken into two discs, the break is not clean and the discs do not each represent a half of the whole. This is all the more reason to think of it as individual progressions serving one larger one rather than only one large one playing out over an extended field, and with disc one at 38 minutes and disc two at 43, it’s yet another display of the consciousness behind Colour Haze’s album structure. If the four-minute “Slowdown” had been moved from the second disc to the first, they’d be closer to even time-wise and even in number of tracks, but as that song serves a similar purpose to “This” in offering contrast to the grander movement in 12:05 disc-two opener “Breath,” it’s rightfully positioned as it is. Still, with more songs and a longer runtime, when taken on its own, disc two also has a more open feel to it, perhaps more directly in answer to All than was She Said’s first installment, though as “Breath” is so quick to introduce Koglek’s vocals – they haven’t been heard since he was singing in the can at the end of “This” – I’m more inclined to see it as part of the linear flow of She Said as a whole than anything else. Colour Haze’s jammed-out vibes are still there, but Koglek sets a rhythm on the muted strings of his guitar similar to how “Moon” from All began – fittingly, the beat is more complex – and Rasthofer soon joins on bass. Merwald comes in with a long perfectly-timed fill, and barely a minute has passed before the first crooning verse begins. Soft desert rock lines are plucked in a quick bridge and it’s not until the second verse that it’s really apparent that Koglek’s not the only one singing. “Breath” winds up a duet, the companion vocals starting off soft but eventually coming to the fore even more than those of the guitarist after an instrumental break that develops a riff, rides it out for a while, and then transitions into one of She Said’s most pastoral stretches. The two vocals bring about a sense of peace, and it’s not the first time Colour Haze have had a guest appearance, but it works remarkably well in “Breath,” the song careening into and out of verses and instrumental passages with fluidity that would be eerie were it not so lovely.

Just before six minutes in, right around its halfway point, the guitars kick in and a heavier riff is introduced that brings up a thicker bed for the vocals, which in turn are by necessity more forward. For the most part, Colour Haze (and Koglek particularly, as he’s the one singing) have been content to let the instruments carry these kinds of passages on their own – something they’ve proven well up to the task of doing – but as the singing joins the build, the affect is even more engrossing. There is a long, guitar-led instrumental passage that accounts for most of the last five minutes of “Breath,” introduced by the same riff that signaled the heavier change in the first place, which comes on somewhat changed with a solo layered over it, and the trio moves with confidence into a winding, jazzy groove with Rasthofer keeping pace with Koglek every step of the way. Merwald doesn’t falter either, and if you’ve ever had any question as the appeal of a power trio, Colour Haze provide clear response, deftly, smoothly shifting into a build topped with Sabbath-style psychedelic lead work before hitting the reset button at 10:43 and chugging into a massive, simple, slowed-down stoner riff that gives the entire song preceding a groovy culmination. Rasthofer’s bass is as thick as I’ve ever heard it, and there’s a short break to signal the end coming, but other than that, the flourishes are gone, the layered in leads, the extra instrumentation, any of it. Not that they had to say so, but the ending of “Breath” confirms that the band still knows the power a straightforward riffy groove can have when put to its best use.

And its sense of immediacy carries into “Slowdown” as well, which in terms of its pacing and groove is anything but. Merwald keeps an undercurrent of 32nd notes on his hi-hat that adds to the frenetic energy in Rasthofer’s bassline, and as Koglek belts out a boogie verse while holding back on the guitar until the jagged, almost garage rock-type chorus, the song sounds like an absolute blast. Guest vocals return for the thicker second chorus, and Colour Haze move to a lead-led (ha!) jam that’s no less natural for its course seeming scripted. The transition back to the hi-hat, to the verse, is seamless and by the time the chorus comes back on, its hook is both telegraphed and welcome, “Slowdown” giving a show of classic rock songwriting the likes of which the band rarely concerns itself these days. The pattern repeats as they shift back into a jammy break and slowly fade the track out, making way for the more singular, linear build of the 8:54 “Stand In…,” which serves as the centerpiece of disc two. As with “Breath,” they begin “Stand In…” more immediately than either “She Said” or “Transformation,” and that lends the song a straightforward feel even if what ensues is plenty ethereal. Koglek tops quiet bass and soft but moving drums with a soothing lead groove that steps its way upward over the course of the next two minutes and as Merwald sets up a build on his toms, it’s clear something big is coming, but they delay impact some, transitioning into synth-accompanied soloing and a quieter stretch of jamming. There may be more than one guitar at work, or it may be Koglek layering, but they pull together for a heavier low end thrust at 3:51, the fuzz rising like a wave crashing on the shore during the beginning of “Transformation.” The overall rhythm is familiar in the context of Colour Haze’s past work, but they let “Stand In…” become its own expedition, ranging for a while and then pulling back to the riff from which they came, then adding more guitar, more bass to it.

One almost expects vocals on “Stand In…” if for no other reason than “Slowdown” and “Breath” both had them, but Colour Haze instead let the keys – it’s either a mellotron or something aping a mellotron sound – carry across a drawn-out melody starting at 6:31 that pays off the prior build. The melody and the strength of the rhythm beneath it will bring “Stand In…” to its finish, but they’re patient with it over the next couple minutes, Koglek jamming out leads underneath while Rasthofer and Merwald keep the rhythm going, the guitar, bass and drums eventually meeting up for a faster, more straightforward push – Merwald moves to the hi-hat – before going back to the solo-caked apex and eventually stopping the whole song on what sounds like a sudden decision to do so. It’s a little bit less clear where the listener is supposed to be at that point than it was, say, with the serenity of “She Said” starting off the record, but the birdsong subtly included to the beginning of “Rite” is all the answer necessary. Acoustics and double-bass are introduced in an otherwise straightforward verse, and though the song doesn’t move especially fast, neither does it really allow one to keep up with it – there’s just enough to have to get a handle on at any one of its earliest moments so as to make doing so a challenge. It’s a contrast to the patience they’ve shown elsewhere, but on the other hand, we’re also more than an hour into She Said, and if Colour Haze are going to start offering surprises – which they are – “Rite” throwing the listener off guard only makes that more effective.

An insistent, punctuated groove meets with fuzz guitar and a mounting sense of tension, and at 2:55, Koglek layers “doo-doo doo-do-doo” vocals for a chorus that are both rhythmically memorable and just weird enough to highlight the song’s progressive nature. Colour Haze can pull this off – they’ve done it before – and Merwald’s freakout drums behind the intertwining acoustic and electric guitars and Rasthofer’s bass only make the vibe more quizzical. Acoustics come to the fore, heavy guitars come to the fore, the chorus returns, they stop, they start again — the guitar sounds an awful lot like a didgeridoo — and once more, when it’s done, they give a couple seconds’ silence prior to the first chords of “Grace,” a song the task of which is undeniably huge in having to not only sum up the second of the two discs on which it plays out, but the entirety of She Said before it. To be fitting for its role as the last track on the first Colour Haze record in four years, it has to at once affirm the band’s sprawl of influence and expand it, bringing together familiar ideas with elements used as they never have been before. It has to be new and old while also fitting with the rest of She Said’s already expansive atmosphere. I’ve yet to give “Grace” a listen on headphones and not have tears come to my eyes when the strings kick in.

If I had another word for it besides beautiful, I’d use that, but I don’t. Where “Transformation” teased its “outside” aspects – i.e. the horns – but kept the actual reveal a surprise for toward the very end, “Grace” makes no such efforts to obscure its scope. Rather, true to its name, the song unfolds itself almost immediately, acoustic guitar strum setting a bed for layers of violin and cello, which are introduced at 50 seconds in amid a harder guitar strum and immediately set about an arrangement that’s both signature Colour Haze in its patterning and wholly new, plucking strings and playing off Koglek’s guitar, rising and falling and beautiful and natural all the while. It’s so fucking perfect. At 2:48, a quicker strum signals the next movement and shortly thereafter a backwards electric lead is layered over the acoustics – the strings gone for the moment – and Merwald comes in on the drums with Rasthofer and a heavier riff emerges not entirely dissimilar from the ultimate triumph of “Fire” from Tempel, but like if that riff was a statue and you stuck that statue in a museum also made of marble and itself just a bigger work of art. The track is floating at this point, a Beatlesian march that seems to be running a parallel line from an imaginary “here” to a very real “somewhere else,” and through all the swirling layers of guitar, forwards and back, the original acoustic line remains. Koglek, Rasthofer and Merwald prove an orchestra on their own, and the feeling isn’t so much sad as the progression gradually gets deconstructed as joyful for what might follow, Koglek’s leads showing no intention of letting the jam end even as the toms drop out amid a cymbal crash and the bass is gone and the acoustic line is gone and it’s hard to know anymore what’s moving in which direction and only the solo line stays. At 7:55, the acoustic line is brought in again, different, more like the strings, and Merwald thuds out a straight build on his drums though it took a minute to get there, Colour Haze are back riding the “Fire”-esque riff one more time, less surrounded by swirling and the rest of it, but still.

At this point, the acoustics are gone and there’s an overarching sway behind in Merwald’s cymbals, they’re still building toward something as much as they’re locked into the groove. There’s less than two minutes to the whole album left when at 9:55, the strings return. No less huge than the guitar, bass or drums at that point, they answer back the riff in the guitar much as the horns did in “Transformation,” but it’s even more masterful on “Grace” – more graceful – and at 10:18, some of the strings throw in a lead flourish that it’s so easy to imagine Koglek playing on guitar I had to go back and make sure he wasn’t. They mirror the trio’s groove, but dance around it, and with a crash at 10:40, they end it too soon. Seems strange to want a record that’s already more than 80 minutes long to be longer, but at that point, what’s another two or three riding out that payoff? It’s already one of the most satisfying moments of the band’s career. Hardly would be out of line for them to milk it for a while more. Chalk it up to persistent humility, or class, or whatever you want, but they don’t, and for a band 10 albums in and nearly 15 years together with the same lineup, they’re obviously aware that they could’ve kept “Grace” going. To the last, whatever spirit of spontaneity and organic, live-sounding performance runs throughout the course of She Said, Colour Haze are in total control of everything they do. Even when they let go, they mean to let go.

Back at the beginning of this review, I said to put aside for a moment the context of the manifold technical difficulties Colour Haze endured to make the album. Well, let’s factor that back in. To the best of my understanding, Colour Haze were finished with the tracking when they had to scrap it all and start again, and from every circuit in their board, it seemed for a while like whatever could break would break. Release dates were set, made tentative, then passed. But through all of that, and through expectations and doubts and anticipation and through a scene they had to stand by the sidelines and watch boom all around them, the trio did not relent in their stubborn pursuit of this album, either to their end or its end. And now She Said arrives not just as a creative victory, but a practical one as well over stumbling blocks large and small and Colour Haze take their rightful place as one of the fostering acts of modern European heavy psychedelia. I don’t know if it’s their best album, nor do I know what that question means in the context of a band like this – people will have years of personal association behind their various catalog picks – but it’s their most accomplished, hands down, and the poise with which they step out of themselves and into the larger scale of what they can do with their sound is unlike anything I’ve ever heard from them. If that makes it the best, so be it. It’s definitely the Colour Haze record I’m the gladdest to see materialize, whatever else it might be, since it shows that if this band  can survive making this album, then there’s nothing foreseeable that can stop them until they decide to stop themselves, which – if the progress in their sound they’ve made here is anything to go by – is still a long way off. Glorious. Highly recommended.

Colour Haze’s website

Elektrohasch Schallplatten

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audiObelisk: Colour Haze Premiere “Breath” to Herald the Arrival of She Said

Posted in audiObelisk on September 12th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

It was almost a full year ago that Colour Haze‘s track “Transformation” was hosted for streaming as a way of reminding the Munich trio’s fans that they were still working hard on their long-awaited 10th album, She Said, and at that point, the record was already long past due. She Said has been met with snags every step of the way, from recording, to re-recording, to production — even to the point that last week, guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek sent out an update that there was a problem in the vinyl manufacturing.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will stay these couriers from delivering their trademark and boomingly influential heavy psychedelia. Make no mistake — She Said exists, and it’s on its way. The CD version is due from the plant before the end of this week and my understanding is it will be available any day now for purchase at long, long last. It’s been four years since Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald released All — double their longest prior stretch between studio albums — and it should say something about the quality of their output that the clamor for new material has only grown in that time.

The good news is that She Said is of a scale to stand up to the delay. An 81-minute 2CD, it’s the first Colour Haze studio offering to comprise more than one disc since 2003’s Los Sounds de Krauts, and the tones are no less warm for the frustration that must have been so present in their creation. As you’ll hear when Rasthofer‘s bass starts the 12-minute disc-two opener, “Breath,” Colour Haze‘s sound is more expansive than ever, bringing in guest vocals alongside Koglek‘s and embarking on an inimitable psychedelic pastoral. As “Breath” also captures the band’s jamming sensibilities and the all-important dynamic between Koglek, Rasthofer and Merwald, it seemed too perfect a summation of She Said to not highlight.

Thanks to Koglek and Elektrohasch for the permission to host the song for streaming. Colour Haze will embark on the European “XXL Tour” following the CD release, playing three-hour sets with guest musicians, special lighting and more.

Info and dates for that follow “Breath,” which you’ll find on the player below. Please enjoy:

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

Colour Haze XXL Tour with Saturnia supporting:

27.09  Rüsselsheim Das Rind GER
28.09  London Garage UK
29.09  Paris Nouveau Casino FR
30.09  Antwerp Trix BEL
01.10  Köln Live Music Hall GER
02.10  Karlsruhe Substage GER
03.10  Bern ISC CH
04.10  Geneva L’usine CH
05.10  Salzburg Rockhouse A
06.10  Linz Stadtwerkstatt A
07.10  Wien Arena A
08.10  Jena F Haus GER
09.10  Bremen Schlachthof GER
10.10  Berlin Lido GER
11.10  Warsaw Progresja POL
12.10  Dresden Scheune GER
13.10  München Feierwerk GER

For news and updates, visit Colour Haze‘s recently redone website here.

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13 Before ’13 — Albums Not to Miss Before the End of 2012

Posted in Where to Start on July 26th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

We’re more than halfway through 2012, and we’ve already seen great releases from the likes of Orange Goblin, Pallbearer, Conan, C.O.C., Saint Vitus and many others, but there’s still a long way to go. The forecast for the next five months? Busy.

In my eternal and inevitably doomed quest to keep up, I’ve compiled a list of 13 still-to-come releases not to miss before the year ends. Some of this information is confirmed — as confirmed as these things ever are, anyway — either by label or band announcements, and some of it is a little bit vaguer in terms of the actual dates, but all this stuff is slated to be out before 2013 hits. That was basically my only criteria for inclusion.

And of course before I start the list, you should know two things: The ordering is dubious, since it’s not like I can judge the quality of an album before I’ve heard it, just my anticipation, and that this is barely the beginning of everything that will be released before the end of 2012. The tip of the fastly-melting iceberg, as it were. If past is prologue, there’s a ton of shit I don’t even know about that (hopefully) you’ll clue me into in the comments.

Nonetheless, let’s have some fun:

1. Colour Haze, She Said (Sept./Oct.)

I know, I know, this one’s been a really, really long time coming. Like two years. Like so long that Colour Haze had to go back and remake the album because of some terrible technical thing that I don’t even know what happened but it doesn’t matter anymore. Notice came down yesterday from guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek that the recording is done and the long-awaited She Said is on the way to be pressed on vinyl and CD. Got my fingers crossed for no more snags.

2. EnslavedRIITIIR (Sept. 28)

The progressive Norwegian black metallers have put out 10 albums before it, and would you believe RIITIIR is the first Enslaved album that’s a palindrome? Kind of cheating to include it on this list, because I’ve heard it, but I’ve been through the record 10-plus times and I still feel like I just barely have a grasp on where they’re headed with it, so I think it’ll be really interesting to see what kind of response it gets upon release. Herbrand Larsen kills it all over these songs though, I will say that.

3. Mos Generator, Nomads (Oct. 23)

Hard for me not to be stoked on the prospect of the first new Mos Generator album since 2007, especially looking at that cover, which Ripple Music unveiled on Tuesday when it announced the Oct. 23 release date. It’s pretty grim looking, and even though Mos once put out a record called The Late Great Planet Earth, I’ve never thought of them as being particularly dark or doomed. I look forward to hearing what Tony Reed (Stone AxeHeavyPink) has up his sleeve for this collection, and if he’s looking to slow down and doom out a bit here, that’s cool too. I’ll take it either way.

4. Ufomammut, Oro – Opus Alter (Sept.)

No, that’s not the cover of Oro – Opus Alter, the second half of Italian space doom grand masters Ufomammut‘s Oro collection — the first being Opus Primum (review here), which served as their Neurot Recordings debut earlier this year. That cover hasn’t been released yet, so I grabbed a promo pic to stand in. I’m really looking forward to this album, though I hope they don’t go the Earth, Angels of Darkness Demons of Light route and wind up with two records that, while really good, essentially serve the same purpose. I’ve got my hopes high they can outdo themselves once again.

5. WitchcraftLegend (Sept. 21)

I guess after their success with Graveyard, Nuclear Blast decided to binge a bit on ’70s loyalist doom, signing Witchcraft and even more recently, Orchid. Can’t fault them that. It’s been half a decade since Witchcraft released The Alchemist and in their absence, doom has caught on in a big way to their methods. With a new lineup around him, will Magnus Pelander continue his divergence into classic progressive rock, or return to the Pentagram-style roots of Witchcraft‘s earliest work? Should be exciting to find out.

6. Wo FatThe Black Code (Nov.)

After having the chance to hear some rough mixes of Texas fuzzers Wo Fat‘s Small Stone debut, The Black Code, I’m all the more stoked to encounter the finished product, and glad to see the band join the ranks of Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk and Gozu in heralding the next wave of American fuzz. Wo Fat‘s 2011 third outing, Noche del Chupacabra (review here), greatly expanded the jammed feel in their approach, and I get the sense they’re just beginning to find where they want to end up within that balance.

7. Blood of the SunBurning on the Wings of Desire (Late 2012)

As if the glittering logo and booby-lady cover art weren’t enough to grab attention, Blood of the Sun‘s first album for Listenable Records (fourth overall) is sure to garner some extra notice because the band is led by drummer/vocalist Henry Vasquez, better known over the past couple years as the basher for Saint Vitus. Whatever pedigree the band has assumed through that, though, their modern take on classic ’70s heavy has a charm all its own and I can’t wait to hear how Burning on the Wings of Desire pushes that forward. Or backward. Whatever. Rock and roll.

8. SwansThe Seer (Aug. 28)

This one came in the mail last week and I’ve had the chance to make my way through it only once. It’s two discs — and not by a little — and as was the case with Swans‘ 2010 comebacker, My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky (review here), the far less cumbersomely titled The Seer is loaded with guest contributions. Even Jarboe shows up this time around, doing that breathy panting thing she does. Unnerving and challenging as ever, Swans continue to be a litmus for how far experimentalism can go. 3o years on, that’s pretty impressive in itself.

9. Swallow the Sun, Emerald Forest and the Blackbird (Sept. 4)

Apparently the Finnish melo-doom collective’s fifth album, Emerald Forest and the Blackbird, came out earlier this year in Europe, but it’s finally getting an American release in September, and as I’ve always dug the band’s blend of death metal and mournful melodicism, I thought I’d include it here. Like Swans, I’ve heard the Swallow the Sun once through, and it seems to play up more of the quiet, weepy side of their sound, but I look forward to getting to know it better over the coming months.

10. My Sleeping Karma, Soma (Oct. 9)

Just signed to Napalm Records and tapped to open for labelmates Monster Magnet as they tour Europe performing Spine of God in its entirety this fall, the German four-piece are set to follow-up 2010’s Tri (review here) with Soma. Details were sketchy, of course, until about five minutes after this post initially went up, then the worldwide release dates, cover art and tracklist were revealed, so I updated. Find all that info on the forum.

11.Eagle Twin, The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale (Aug. 28)

Way back in 2009 when I interviewed Eagle Twin guitarist/vocalist Gentry Densley about the band’s Southern Lord debut, he said the band’s next outing would relate to snakes, and if the cover is anything to go by, that seems to have come to fruition on The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale, which is set to release at the end of next month. As the first album was kind of a mash of influences turned into cohesive and contemplative heavy drone, I can’t help but wonder what’s in store this time around.

12. Hooded MenaceEffigies of Evil (Sept. 11)

You know how sometimes you listen to a band and that band turns you on in their liner notes to a ton of other cool bands? I had that experience with Finnish extreme doomers Hooded Menace‘s 2010 second album, Never Cross the Dead (review here), except instead of bands it was hotties of ’70s horror cinema. Needless to say, I anxiously await the arrival of their third record and Relapse debut, Effigies of Evil. Someone needs to start a label and call it Hammer Productions just to sign this band.

13. Yawning Man, New Album (Soon)

Make no mistake. The prospect of a new Yawning Man album would arrive much higher on this list if I was more convinced it was going to come together in time for a 2012 release. As it is, Scrit on the forum has had a steady stream of updates since May about the record — the latest news being that it’s going to be a double album — and Scrit‘s in the know, so I’ll take his word. One thing we do know for sure is that the band in the picture above is not the current Yawning Man lineup. Alfredo Hernandez and Mario Lalli out, Greg Saenz and Billy Cordell in. Bummer about the tumult, but as long as it’s Gary Arce‘s ethereal guitar noodling, I’m hooked one way or another.

Since we closed with rampant speculation, let me not forget that somewhere out there is the looming specter of a new Neurosis album, which the sooner it gets here, the better. Perhaps also a new Clutch full-length, though I doubt that’ll materialize before 2013. And that’s a different list entirely.

Thanks for reading. Anything I forgot or anything you’d like to add to the list, leave a comment.

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