The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2019

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

the obelisk best of 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we go:

The Top 50 Albums of 2019

#50-31

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

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

30. Sun Blood Stories, Haunt Yourself

sun blood stories haunt yourself

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 6.

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

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

Church of the Cosmic Skull Everybodys Going to Die

Released by Septaphonic Records. Reviewed Dec. 10.

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

28. Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

devil to pay forever never or whenever

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 4.

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

27. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds

howling giant the space between worlds

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Oct. 11.

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

26. Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

saint vitus saint vitus

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 19.

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

25. Ealdor Bealu, Spirit of the Lonely Places

ealdor bealu spirit of the lonely places

Self-released. Reviewed July 10.

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

24. Yatra, Death Ritual

yatra death ritual

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

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

23. Ecstatic Vision, For the Masses

ecstatic vision for the masses

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 17.

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

22. Beastwars, IV

beastwars iv

Released by Destroy Records. Reviewed June 27.

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

21. Eternal Black, Slow Burn Suicide

eternal black slow burn suicide

Self-released. Reviewed June 7.

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

20. Candlemass, The Door to Doom

candlemass the door to doom

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 22.

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

19. Nebula, Holy Shit

nebula holy shit

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed June 13.

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

18. Valley of the Sun, Old Gods

valley of the sun old gods

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed May 21.

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

17. Kadavar, For the Dead Travel Fast

Kadavar For the Dead Travel Fast

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 28.

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

16. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Yn Ol I Annwn

mammoth weed wizard bastard yn ol i annwn

Released by New Heavy Sounds. Reviewed Feb. 7.

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

15. Magic Circle, Departed Souls

magic circle departed souls

Released by 20 Buck Spin. Reviewed April 3.

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

14. Spaceslug, Reign of the Orion

Spaceslug Reign of the Orion cover

Released by BSFD Records. Reviewed Nov. 22.

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

13. Green Lung, Woodland Rites

green lung woodland rites

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Jan. 28.

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

12. Lo-Pan, Subtle

lo-pan subtle

Released by Aqualamb Records. Reviewed May 9.

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

11. Roadsaw, Tinnitus the Night

roadsaw tinnitus the night

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 12.

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

10. Worshipper, Light in the Wire

worshipper light in the wire

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 24.

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

9. Solace, The Brink

solace the brink

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Nov. 21.

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

8. Brume, Rabbits

brume rabbits

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

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

7. Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal

mars red sky the task eternal

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Sept. 20.

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

6. Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 15.

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

5. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Dec. 3.

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

4. Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter

blackwater holylight veils of winter

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Sept. 26.

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

3. Slomatics, Canyons

Slomatics Canyons

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed May 15.

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

2. Year of the Cobra, Ash and Dust

year of the cobra ash and dust

Released by Prophecy Productions. Reviewed Oct. 24.

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

2019 Album of the Year

1. Monolord, No Comfort

monolord no comfort

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

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

The Top 50 Albums of 2019: Honorable Mention

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

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

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

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

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

The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2019

green lung woodland rites

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

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

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

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2019

geezer spiral fires

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

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

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

Postwax

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

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

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

Looking Ahead to 2020

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

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

Thank You

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

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

More to come.

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Lo-Pan Post “Savage Heart” Video; UK/Euro Tour Starts Sept. 30

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Lo-Pan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

What are you doing for the next four minutes that’s better than watching a new Lo-Pan video? Frickin’ nothing, that’s what. Look, between the album review for Subtle (review here), the prior-posted video for “Ten Days” from that record, an interview with drummer Jesse Bartz, three live reviews during this cycle (review here, here and here), and the fact that The Obelisk is presenting the European tour they’re about to undertake with Steak and Elephant Tree (dates below, also posted here), I think I’ve probably made my feelings on the band and their latest release plain to anyone who’s bothered to keep up with any of it. If not, you know, it’s pretty good.

As such, I do indeed think the Columbus, Ohio, four-piece’s new video for “Savage Heart” is worth four minutes out of what I’m sure is a busy day for you. Hey, these are crazy times. But here’s something that’s going to make your day better, and it’s a Lo-Pan hook, so get down with it and enjoy, because there’s not a lot out there at this point that comes close to what these cats are doing. Live, on record, whatever — L0-Pan are in a class of their own.

And you know what? That tour they’re about to start? I’m looking forward to that for them. It goes without saying that they’re going to kill it at the shows and all that kind of whatever. But the fact that Lo-Pan are going to get to run around the UK and Europe with the cats from Steak and Elephant Tree — it’s like the Good Dudes Union annual picnic takes to the road. Assuming everyone makes it back in one piece, it’s going to be a tour all three bands talk about for a long time. If you’re in that part of the world, show up and buy a Hawaiian shirt.

Here’s the video. Enjoy the next four minutes off from whatever you were doing before that wasn’t this cool:

Lo-Pan, “Savage Heart” official video

Lo-Pan Releases New Video “Savage Heart”

Respected hard rock band Lo-Pan has released a new music video for the song “Savage Heart”. Created by collage artist Somsara Rielly using old school stop-motion animation, the clip takes the viewer on a one-of-a-kind metaphysical trip.

“Savage Heart” is taken from Lo-Pan’s new LP, ‘Subtle’, which was released on May 17 via Aqualamb Records. Recorded in NYC with Grammy Award winning producer James Brown (Foo Fighters, Ghost, NIN) and mastered by famed engineer Ted Jensen (Alice in Chains, Guns ‘N’ Roses, Mastodon), the album pushes Lo-Pan’s already high ceiling straight through its proverbial roof.

The Ohio group, known for its dichotomic sound which merges sturm und drang heaviness with relentlessly catchy, AOR laden melody, just wrapped a summer North American tour alongside Corrosion of Conformity and Crowbar and will launch a three week-long European trek in support of ‘Subtle’ on September 30. Formed in 2005 and forged from the fire of more than 1,000 white hot live performances alongside peers such as High on Fire, Torche, KENmode and more, Lo-Pan’s “secret” is its unbelievable ability to create immersive rock music born of dynamic dazzle, progressive pummel and emotional energy. Silky, yet punishing.

30.09.19 London | The Black Heart** w/ Fireball Ministry & Oak
01.10.19 Bristol | The Old England (UK)**
02.10.19 Swansea | The Bunkhouse (UK)**
04.10.19 Paris | Gibus (FR)
05.10.19 Pratteln | Up In Smoke Festival (CH)
06.10.19 Salzburg | Rockhouse (AT)
08.10.19 Linz | Stadtwerkstatt (AT)
09.10.19 Freiburg | Slow Club (DE)
10.10.19 Leipzig | Werk2 (DE)
11.10.19 Berlin | Setalight Festival (DE)
12.10.19 Munich | Keep it Low Festival (DE)
14.10.19 Wiesbaden | Schlachthof (DE)
15.10.19 Cologne | Helios 37 (DE)
16.10.19 Hamburg | Hafenklang (DE)
17.10.19 Bremen | Zollkantine (DE)
18.10.19 Leuwaarden | Into the Void Festival (NL)**
19.10.19 TBA | TBA
** Lo-Pan only

LO-PAN is:
Jeff Martin – vocals
Skot Thompson – bass
Jesse Bartz – drums
Chris Thompson – guitar

Lo-Pan on Thee Facebooks

Lo-Pan on Bandcamp

Aqualamb Records on Bandcamp

Aqualamb on Thee Facebooks

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Streaming: Lo-Pan Interview with Jesse Bartz

Posted in audiObelisk, Features on September 4th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

lo-pan jesse bartz (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Lo-Pan just wrapped a month on the road alongside Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar and Quaker City Night Hawks. All told, between shows on that run (review here and review here) and an appearance back in June at Maryland Doom Fest 2019 (review here), I’ve seen the Columbus, Ohio, heavy rockers three times in the last two-plus months. That’s how Lo-Pan do when they have a new album out. It’s how they’ve done for at least the last decade and probably longer if you actually put the math to it. They go.

The occasion this summer is Subtle (review here), their awaited fourth LP, released in May through Aqualamb. It follows a 2017 EP, In Tensions (review here), and several years of lineup change tumult in terms of the guitarist position now occupied by Chris Thompson, who at both the beginning and the end of the most-recent tour only seemed to fit excellently alongside bassist Scott Thompson (no relation), vocalist Jeff Martin, and drummer Jesse Bartz, who’ve pushed their earlier fuzz rock in more aggressive and pointed directions over their last few offerings, with Subtle being their sharpest execution yet. No doubt Thompson on guitar had a hand in that as well.

I’ve interviewed Bartz on a number of occasions over the last 10-plus years, but I don’t think ever in-person before. Their tour van was lined up next to the bus and equipment truck presumably shared by Crowbar and C.O.C. and Quaker City Night Hawks‘ own van around back of Starland Ballroom, and I sat in the van with the door open while he stood, seeming relieved to do so after a seven-hour ride from the prior night’s stop. It was the penultimate night of the tour — they’d wrap in Rhode Island the next night — and I wanted to get his take not just on how it all went down, but touring in general, the grind of it, the personalities at work in Lo-Pan and how one balances life on the road with life off it. I’m fortunate that, tired though he was, Bartz was kind enough to indulge me.

After playing The Blackout Cookout X in Youngstown, OH, this weekend, Lo-Pan will head to Europe at the end of this month to join Steak and Elephant Tree for a tour presented by this site and Sound of Liberation. You’ll find the dates included under the player below, on which you can hear the chat from out back of Starland.

Please enjoy:

Interview with Jesse Bartz of Lo-Pan

 

Lo-Pan, Steak & Elephant Tree tour dates:
30.09.19 London | The Garage (UK)** w/ Fireball Ministry
01.10.19 Bristol | The Old England (UK)** w/ Sigiriya
02.10.19 Swansea | The Bunkhouse (UK)**
04.10.19 Paris | Gibus (FR)
05.10.19 Pratteln | Up In Smoke Festival (CH)
06.10.19 Salzburg | Rockhouse (AT)
08.10.19 Linz | Stadtwerkstatt (AT)
09.10.19 Freiburg | Slow Club (DE)
10.10.19 Leipzig | Werk2 (DE)
11.10.19 Berlin | Setalight Festival (DE)
12.10.19 Munich | Keep it Low Festival (DE)
14.10.19 Wiesbaden | Schlachthof (DE)
15.10.19 Cologne | Helios 37 (DE)
16.10.19 Hamburg | Hafenklang (DE)
17.10.19 Bremen | Zollkantine (DE)
18.10.19 Leuwaarden | Into the Void Festival (NL)**
19.10.19 TBA | TBA
** Lo-Pan only

Lo-Pan on Thee Facebooks

Lo-Pan on Bandcamp

Aqualamb Records on Bandcamp

Aqualamb on Thee Facebooks

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Review & Track Premiere: Pale Grey Lore, Eschatology

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on July 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Pale Grey Lore Eschatology

[Click play above to stream ‘Before the Fall’ from Pale Grey Lore’s Eschatology. Album is out Sept. 6 on Small Stone Records.]

In theology, eschatology refers to the ultimate fate of humanity, whether that’s the apocalypse or being one with the universe or whatever it might be in a given belief system. Ohio heavy rock four-piece Pale Grey Lore, whose Eschatology marks their debut on Small Stone Records and follows behind a well-received 2016 self-titled debut (review here), it’s a fairly grim picture of environmental destruction, capitalist ravaging and otherworldly semi-salvation, and it comes expressed in 10 tracks and 42 minutes of varied, atmospheric songcraft that roughs up the sound of the first album somewhat without losing the underlying structure that helped make those songs so memorable, so that from opener “Sunken Cities” onward, Pale Grey Lore establish a balance between spaciousness and hook-making, and whether that’s heard in the massive low-end roll of “Before the Fall” or the winding, Queens of the Stone Age-style “Greed Springs Eternal” just before it, the sense of poise comes through in overarching vocal melodies and harmonies between guitarists Michael Miller and Xander Roseberry as well as in the fluidity of groove from bassist Donovan Johnson and drummer Adam Miller.

Those who heard the first album will perhaps be most struck by the pervasiveness of mood throughout Eschatology, and that comes through whether a given song is fast or slow, loud or quiet, as Miller and Roseberry vary arrangements of acoustic and electric guitar and sundry effects, and even “Sunken Cities” begins with a minute and a half of ambient introduction before the bassline kicks in to lead into the first verse. But the mood suits Pale Grey Lore, and while it means that their hooks aren’t necessarily as immediate or as up-front as they were, the tradeoff for that is a richer listening experience on the whole, with a depth of tone and concept fleshing out the penchant for songwriting that serves as their foundation. In other words, Pale Grey Lore have become and are becoming a more complex band. This can only be a good thing.

“Sunken Cities” is a suitable plunge to set the tone for the rest of the record, and its mid-paced rollout (after the intro) makes an enticing contrast for the speedier, hookier “Greed Springs Eternal,” which as noted leads into the more lumbering “Before the Fall.” It’s telling that this salvo should be more focused on diversity of craft rather than “frontloading” all the rockers — which they certainly would have had plenty of material to do, with songs like “The Rift,” “Undermined” and “Silent Command” tucked safely away on side B — as it speaks not only to the narrative mission of Eschatology and the story being told, but also the band’s growth as a unit and more progressive priorities, as perhaps most shown on the closing title-track. Even cuts like “Regicide” and “Waiting for the Dawn,” which round out the first half of the album, do so with a marked distinction between them, as the former finds a grungier middle ground and is fleshed out in its verses by howling lead guitar before a second-half crash out and resounding final solo, and the latter caps side A with a quieter arrangement of fuzzy leads and combined acoustic and electric guitar as a bed for echoing vocals, a steady level of snare activity beneath wisely keeping a feeling of movement and grounding to the proceedings.

pale grey lore

By the time they get there, Pale Grey Lore have already shown their proggy intent, but “Waiting for the Dawn” highlights the point and, in a linear format — that is, a CD or DL not requiring the side flip of a vinyl — it’s less an interruption of momentum than a landmark ahead of the takeoff that follows with “The Rift,” as side B works quickly in the three-minute track to give its sense of momentum before slamming it headfirst into album highlight “Void-Cursed,” the arrival of which is marked with a wash of low-end with a solo cutting through and a more lumbering movement that’s soon enough met with resonant vocal harmonies leading to a march outward and, one assumes, a sonic payoff intended to convey the vastness of the void itself. So be it.

The deftness of the turn from “Void-Cursed” to the bouncing surf-punkishness of “Silent Command” isn’t to be understated, as it and the penultimate “Undermined,” which follow, seem to pick up where “The Rift” and “Greed Springs Eternal” left off, still changing their approach from track to track — the backing vocals on “Silent Command,” the Thin Lizzy-isms of “Undermined,” etc. — but keeping runtimes tighter and allowing more of a push to take hold. The fact that those changes occur next to songs like “Waiting for the Dawn” and “Sunken Cities” and “Void-Cursed” and indeed “Eschatology” itself put emphasis on how dynamic Pale Grey Lore‘s approach is becoming on the whole. With the title-track, the clear focus in on melody, but even then, there’s a thrust into noise and a final descent (ascent?) into cacophony that comes coupled with chant-sounding harmonized vocals — pretty sure there’s a screamed layer in there too — before the song itself finishes at just under four minutes and a bookending outro takes hold with echoes of the start of “Sunken Cities” and chimes courtesy of Roseberry leading the way into a more ethereal oblivion.

What the hell happens next? I don’t know, but I’m as curious to find out in terms of the storytelling as I am when it comes to the band itself, who seem to be signaling their readiness to enter a different level of consideration with these songs, and, more specifically, a readiness to tour. Eschatology is a record full of purpose, and the realization of not just a plotline, but a creative vision fleshed out across the work (one would guess) of multiple songwriters coming together toward a common end. It is simultaneously gorgeous and troubling, thoughtful in composition and impact-making in result. I do not know to what it might lead in terms of the band’s plans, but like “Sunken Cities” leads the way into the world they’re creating, so too does Eschatology feel much more like a beginning than an end of all things.

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Pale Grey Lore Set Sept. 6 Release for Eschatology on Small Stone Records

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 10th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

I was way into Pale Grey Lore‘s 2016 self-titled debut (review here) and bummed out hard on missing them at Maryland Doom Fest last month, but the news today is good in that the Columbus, Ohio, natives will release their second long-player, Eschatology — the theological study of death — through Small Stone Records on Sept. 6. They’ve got the opening track posted now, as is the label’s wont when preorders go live, and they’ve revealed the album details and themes. It’s not a pretty picture they paint, to be sure. Remember when a grim future run by villainous, impossibly-wealthy technological oligarchs was the stuff of science fiction? Well, prescience comes in many forms. Pale Grey Lore are indeed telling a story through these tracks, and I’ll look forward to hearing how it plays out as they make their way toward the title cut at the end, and where the balance of narrative and songwriting leads them.

The PR wire brings info and the song:

Pale Grey Lore Eschatology

PALE GREY LORE: Psychedelic Garage Doom Collective Joins Small Stone Recordings For The Release Of Eschatology September 6th; New Track Streaming + Preorders Available

Columbus, Ohio-based psychedelic garage doom collective PALE GREY LORE recently joined forces with Small Stone Recordings for the release of their second full-length Eschatology, set for release this September.

Blending elements of garage psych, space rock, post-punk, and stoner doom, PALE GREY LORE manifests focused, hook-driven, heavy, rock ‘n’ roll. Melodic vocals and subtle harmonies echo alongside the molten groove in the guitar, bass, and drums, taking a time-tested formula and proving it indeed to be timeless. Produced by the band’s own Xander Roseberry and Michael Miller, engineered and mixed by Andy Sartain, and mastered by Harold LaRue, with artwork and layout by Adam Eckley, Eschatology can be best described as heavy on the heavy, and fuzzy and trippy in all the right places.

“Eschatology tells the story of a depleted planet beset by vast inequality, ravaged by climate catastrophe, and poisoned by nuclear disaster,” relays the band of the record’s themes. “The masses are left to suffer and die while the wealthy techno-industrialists responsible for the destruction flee in luxury spacecraft that will become their tombs. The sheer magnitude of this planetary devastation summons cosmic beings whose presence warps reality itself, and the world is utterly transformed as the present collides with an ancient timeline. When the survivors finally emerge from their underground shelters, they discover that half the planet remains a post-apocalyptic wasteland while the other half has become lush and verdant. One hemisphere is strewn with melted reactors, crashed spacecraft, and bombed-out ruins; the other is an untamed wilderness, teeming with strange creatures, and dotted with ominous towering edifices that pulsate with eldritch power.”

Eschatology will be released on CD, limited LP, and digital formats on September 6th. In advance of its release, PALE GREY LORE is pleased to unveil the record’s opening track “Sunken Cities.”

Issues the band, “‘Sunken Cities’ creates tension by moving from eerie, cavernous spaciousness to tight, claustrophobic riffing and back again. The cinematic intro was based on an improvisation we developed after the rest of the song had come together. It provided us an opportunity to expand our sound in a more prog-rock direction, which is one of many influences we wanted to explore on this new record. Our goal was to experiment and evolve our sound without straying too far from the core aesthetic that animated our self-titled debut. We think we were able to achieve that balance well.”

For Eschatology preorders and to sample “Sunken Cities,” visit the Small Stone Bandcamp page at THIS LOCATION.

Eschatology Track Listing:
1. Sunken Cities
2. Greed Springs Eternal
3. Before The Fall
4. Regicide
5. Waiting For The Dawn
6. The Rift
7. Void-Cursed
8. Silent Command
9. Undermined
10. Eschatology

PALE GREY LORE:
Michael Miller – lead/backing vocals, six-string electric/acoustic guitars, theremin, mellotron
Xander Roseberry – backing vocals, six-string/twelve-string electric/acoustic guitars, theremin, chimes
Donovan Johnson – bass
Adam Miller – drums, auxiliary percussion

http://www.facebook.com/palegreylore/
htps://www.instagram.com/palegreylore
http://www.smallstone.com
http://www.facebook.com/smallstonerecords
http://www.smallstone.bandcamp.com

Pale Grey Lore, “Sunken Cities”

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Lo-Pan, Subtle: Everything Burns

Posted in Reviews on May 9th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

lo-pan subtle

It’s kind of hard to believe, but it’s been nearly five years since Lo-Pan last released an album. The Columbus, Ohio, heavy rockers issued Colossus (review here) through Small Stone in Fall 2014, and subsequently dove headfirst into a succession of years of touring and tumult. About a month after Colossus, they announced guitarist Adrian Zambrano (Brujas del Sol) taking over for Brian Fristoe; touring followed in the familiar ground of the US and on the then-uncovered territory of Europe throughout 2015. Talk began of a new record and the band hit the studio even as more touring ensued in 2016, and then Zambrano left and Chris Thompson joined, making his debut appearance in 2017 at The Blackout Cookout 7 in Kent, Ohio. The material that Lo-Pan recorded with Zambrano, meanwhile, was released in early 2017 as the In Tensions EP (review here) and would be that year’s best short release.

Again, Lo-Pan went on tour, the four-piece of Thompson, vocalist Jeff Martin, bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz running hard in 2017 only to step back last year and write and record what would become Subtle with their new lineup. Like In Tensions, the band’s fifth full-length releases through Aqualamb Records, and it arrives as they once again make ready to hit the road hard and tour at home and abroad before the end of 2019. Their commitment to what they do is admirable. In the midst of chaos and clashing personalities, Lo-Pan emerge to put forth 11 tracks/47 minutes of cohesive and few-frills songcraft. The songs, rooted in riffs and compositions by Thompson and/or Thompson (who are not related), feel as though they’ve had everything extraneous chipped away, leaving the essential components of expression.

That’s not to say Subtle is raw — far from it. With production by James Brown (GhostNine Inch Nails) in New York, the band have arguably never sounded so melodically accomplished. That’s mostly evident in Martin‘s stellar and soulful vocal performance, but it’s there in the guitar and bass as well, and even Bartz‘s crash seems to have a tunefulness about it. At the same time, structurally, songs like the opener “Ten Days,” “Ascension Day” and the later and suitably rolling “A Thousand Miles” channel powerful verses and strong hooks to a sense of urgency that Colossus brought to the fore but that’s smoothed out here in its tone and less outwardly aggressive in its overall affect. Of course, “Bring Me a War” still has its edge of confrontationalism, and likewise the early highlight “Savage Heart” and closer “The Law and the Swarm,” but the guitar tone is warmer, and that makes a difference.

The balance between these various sides and impulses, as well as the dynamic range in the massive crash of “Everything Burns” and the quieter midsection build of the penultimate “Butcher’s Bill” — I’ve always been a sucker for those moments when Lo-Pan hit the brakes on tempo — helps the band add a feeling of scope to Subtle, and as a bid for one of the best albums of 2019, it’s a blend of songwriting and performance that stands them out among would-be peers in heavy rock and roll. Though it’s anything but, Subtle is the output of a band who have mastered their approach and who still see fit to push themselves to new ground. Whether it’s the relentless shove of songs like “Sage” or the chug-into-happytime-chorus centerpiece “Old News” or even the more brooding “Khan!,” Lo-Pan stand triumphant in this material, and though it sounds hard-won, that only seems to make the victory sweeter.

lo-pan

It’s easy enough to read Subtle as a touring album in cuts like “Ten Days,” “Ascension Day,” “A Thousand Miles,” “Butcher’s Bill” “Sage” and “Bring Me a War,” on one level or another, as well as the cover art that seems to draw the eye to the desert sunset like moving down a highway laced with rows of shark teeth, but if Lo-Pan are chronicling the last few years of changes in the band and in their own lives at least in some degree within this material, then fair enough. Whether or not that’s the case, I don’t know (the finished vinyl and art-book editions include a lyric sheet), but if it is, then even in the slower “Butcher’s Bill,” they don’t sound anymore bogged down than is intended by the song itself. The album is not a minor undertaking at 47 minutes, but it’s not meant to be a minor undertaking. Even with its general lack of indulgence — as a guitarist, Thompson doesn’t take particularly sprawling solos, and Martin keeps layering to a relative minimum, saving harmonies for “The Law and the Swarm” and double-tracking for emphasis elsewhere — Subtle wants nothing for substance.

I’ll readily cop to being a fan of the band live and on record. Does it matter? I don’t know. I doubt it. As I understand it, the thing about Lo-Pan in how they function as a band is that they’re all very different people. I can’t speak to how often they hang out on weekends when they’re not touring, but in terms of the group itself, they’re able to channel that friction or that personality-clash into something special. Lo-Pan have been and remain one of America’s best heavy rock bands for the last decade-plus. Their second album, Sasquanaut (review here) — first released in 2009, then picked up by Small Stone in 2010 — and their third album, 2011’s Salvador (review here), were formative but pivotal works that helped establish the methods that Colossus and In Tensions and Subtle have refined and built on. They write and perform with soul that bleeds through every riff, bassline, drum hit and soaring vocal, and despite the ups and downs the last few years have wrought for them, Subtle stands tall and clean, having conquered a mountain of bullshit.

So yes, one of 2019’s best heavy rock albums. Fine. What seems more important is that Subtle finds Lo-Pan having come through so much without being derailed from what they do — “Ten days inside/Won’t break my stride,” Martin intones on the opener — and their central process remains vital even after being so tested leading up to this record. This is a band worth appreciating while they’re there to appreciate and the immediacy of these songs begs a likewise fervent response. Get into it.

Lo-Pan, “Ten Days” official video

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Lo-Pan on Bandcamp

Aqualamb Records on Bandcamp

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Lo-Pan Post “Ten Days” Video; Touring with C.O.C. & Crowbar

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 25th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

lo-pan

It’s been too damn long since the last time I saw Lo-Pan, but that’s something I’ll rectify at least twice as they head out in support of their new album, Subtle, due through Aqulamb on May 17. They’ll be at Maryland Doom Fest in June and then touring with Corrosion of Conformity and Crowbar in July/August. See you at Starland Ballroom, gents. Speaking of “been a long time…”

Anyhoozle, I’ve got Subtle slated for review on May 9 currently. Might move it depending on what comes along, but that’s where we’re at now, and so I’ll hold off getting too deep into the record, but the clip for opening track “Ten Days” tells a good portion of the Lo-Pan story. They have gone, and they go. Rain, sleet and snow. Their tour history is exhausting even to consider, let alone what’s ahead of them in heralding Subtle, but they are a live band to be sure. I won’t take away from their studio work at all, because golly their records kick ass up to and including the new one, but if you’ve ever caught them at a show, you know what I mean. They have a force to their delivery that is among the most potent I’ve caught in at least the last decade.

In addition to the shows below, they’ve also been announced for Up in Smoke and Keep it Low in Europe this October, so I expect more tour dates will be forthcoming, as those fests in Switzerland and Germany, respectively, run on consecutive weekends. I wouldn’t rule them out for Desertfest Belgium, which is Oct. 18-20 this year, either, but nothing has been announced. We’ll see. Either way they’ll be back over there in the Fall, and I don’t imagine the stint this summer with C.O.C. will be their only round of US touring either. Still the West Coast to hit, maybe in Winter or next Spring, depending on their timing. You never really know.

Until the announcement comes down the PR wire. Then you know.

But “Ten Days,” in addition to having a fervent thud and a brainmelter of a hook, captures a lot of the on-the-beat live energy Lo-Pan bring to Subtle. I’m a fan of the band and I won’t pretend otherwise either here or in the review to come, but even with what little objectivity I can muster, I’ll say that it’s righteous and they know it.

Clap your hands.

And enjoy:

Lo-Pan, “Ten Days” official video

The first single from respected hard rock band Lo-Pan’s new album “Subtle”, due May 17th via Aqualamb. Pre-order the new full-length LP now at http://aqualamb.bandcamp.com

“‘Ten Days” is a song about my ability to thrive just about anywhere with little or no preparation,” vocalist Jeff Martin says. “I have always felt that if you can survive 10 days of any uncomfortable situation, you can adapt, and adjust, and persevere. This song is a sort of reminder for me to follow through on my own bluster in that way. I talk a lot of shit. And sometimes I need to force myself to walk it like I talk it.”

This May, Lo-Pan will perform live as one of the featured acts at the 2019 Stoned and Dusted Festival, set for May 25-26 in the Southern California Mojave Desert. At the special gathering, Lo-Pan will share the stage with Black Mountain, Brant Bjork, King Buffalo, Yawning Man, Melvins and more. For full details, visit this location.

In additional news, Lo-Pan has announced a summer North American tour with Corrosion of Conformity and Crowbar. Set to launch on July 26 in Poughkeepsie, NY, the month long tour will criss-cross the country, running through August 25 in Providence, RI.

Lo-Pan tour dates:

May 26 Joshua Tree, CA Stoned and Dusted Festival
June 21 Frederick, MD Maryland Doom Fest

Lo-Pan w/ Corrosion of Conformity & Crowbar:
July 26 Poughkeepsie, NY The Chance
July 27 Syracuse, NY Westcott Theater
July 29 Kitchener, ON Dallas Nightclub
July 31 Louisville, KY Mercury Ballroom
August 1 Grand Rapids, MI Elevation
August 2 Milwaukee, WI The Rave II
August 5 Indianapolis, IN Deluxe at Old National Centre
August 6 Sauget, IL Pop’s
August 7 Omaha, NE Slowdown
August 10 Boulder, CO Fox Theatre
August 11 Grand Junction, CO Mesa Theater
August 13 Boise, ID Knitting Factory Concert House
August 14 Salt Lake City, UT The Complex
August 16 Tucson, AZ Encore
August 17 Albuquerque, NM Sunshine Theater
August 19 Austin, TX Come and Take It Live
August 21 Jacksonville , FL 1904 Music Hall
August 22 Jacksonville, NC The Tarheel
August 23 Virginia Beach, VA Elevation 27
August 24 Sayreville, NJ Starland Ballroom
August 25 Providence, RI Fete Music Hall

LO-PAN is:
Jeff Martin – vocals
Skot Thompson – bass
Jesse Bartz – drums
Chris Thompson – guitar

Lo-Pan website

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Aqualamb Records website

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Quarterly Review: 11PARANOIAS, Robot Lords of Tokyo, The Riven, High Reeper, Brujas del Sol, Dead Witches, Automaton, Llord, Sweet Jonny, Warp

Posted in Reviews on March 20th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-spring-2019

Day three. Cruisin’. Oh, another 10 reviews to write? Yeah, no problem. I’m on it.

Okay, maybe a little less that and a little more be banging my head against the wall of sound, but the point is we — you and I — move forward anyhow. The Quarterly Review continues today with the third batch, which at the end will bring us to the halfway point, 30 of the total 60 records done, and that always feels like an occasion. Also helps that it’s a pretty good batch of stuff, so let’s not waste time with formalities, right?

Quarterly Review #21-30:

11PARANOIAS, Asterismal

11paranoias asterismal

It’s a freakout, but not the good kind. More like a panic attack happening in slow motion on another dimensional plane. The masters of murk, 11PARANOIAS return through their own Ritual Productions imprint with Asterismal, collecting/conjuring upwards of nine tracks and 73 minutes of material depending on in which format one encounters it. The core of the outing is the six-song/45-minute vinyl edition, and that’s plenty fucked enough, to be honest, as bassist/vocalist Adam Richardson (Ramesses), guitarist Mike Vest (Bong) and drummer Nathan Perrier (ex-Capricorns) unfurl a grim psychedelic fog across songs like opener “Loss Portal” and tap into The Heads-style swirl on “Bloodless Crush” only to turn it malevolent in the process. The 12-minute “Quantitative Immortalities” finds Vest in the forward position as it summarizes the stretch of doom, psych, and bizarre atmosphere that’s utterly 11PARANOIAS‘ own, and that’s before you get into the experimental and sometimes caustic work on the CD/digital-only “Acoustic Mirror” (10:35) and “Acoustic Mirror II” (15:08), which both rise from minimalist bass to become a willful test of endurance only a select few will pass. All the better.

11PARANOIAS on Thee Facebooks

Ritual Productions website

 

Robot Lords of Tokyo, Rise Robot Rise

Robot Lords of Tokyo Rise Robot Rise

Was there ever any doubt Robot Lords of Tokyo could do it on their own? Not if you ever listened to Robot Lords of Tokyo, there wasn’t. The Columbus, Ohio-based outfit built a reputation in the earlier part of the decade by bringing guests onto their records, but their new EP and first outing in half a decade, Rise Robot Rise, features five songs of just the band itself, with founders Rick Ritzler (drums) and Paul Jones (vocals) joined by bassist Joe Viers and guitarists Steve Theado and Beau VanBibber. Their last outing was the 2013 full-length Virtue and Vice (review here), but they seem in “In the Shadows” and “Looking for the Sun” to come into their own with Jones bringing a John Bush-type edge to the hook of “Looking for the Sun” and echoing out a bit on centerpiece “Hell Camino,” which boasts not the band’s first nod to Clutch. With opener “In the Shadows” setting the tone for an undercurrent of metal, “My Aching Eyes” and “Terminus” pay that off without losing their rock edge and thereby highlight just how much force has always been in the core lineup to start with.

Robot Lords of Tokyo on Thee Facebooks

Robot Lords of Tokyo at CDBaby

 

The Riven, The Riven

The Riven The Riven

Issued by The Sign Records, the self-titled debut from Sweden’s The Riven (also discussed here) hones in on classic heavy rock but never actually quite tips all the way into vintage-ism. It sounds like a minor distinction until you put the record on and hear the acoustic guitar lines deep in the mix of “Far Beyond” or the echoing vocal layers in the second half of the later “Fortune Teller” and realize that The Riven are outright refusing to sacrifice audio fidelity for aesthetic. There’s no shortage of shuffle to be had, rest assured, but The Riven are less concerned with aping traditionalism than updating it, and while they’re not the first to do so, the fact that on their first record they’re already working to put their stamp on the established genre parameters bodes well, as does the bluesy float of “I Remember” and the mellow vibing early in “Finnish Woods.”

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The Sign Records on Bandcamp

 

High Reeper, Higher Reeper

high reeper higher reeper

Philadelphia exports High Reeper offer their second full-length through Heavy Psych Sounds in Higher Reeper, upping the stakes from their 2017 self-titled debut (review here) in more than just title. In the intervening two years, the five-piece have toured extensively, and it shows in the pacing and general craft of the eight songs/38 minutes here, from the perfectly-timed nod at the end of “Buried Alive” to the face-slap proto-trash riff that starts the subsequent “Bring the Dead,” from the mountaintop echoes of “Obsidian Peaks” (note the “Hole in the Sky” riff rearing its head) to the howling roll through “Plague Hag” and into six-minute closer “Barbarian,” as High Reeper hone elements of doom to go with their biker rock sleaze. Stellar guitar is a running theme beginning with opener “Eternal Leviathan,” and Higher Reeper quickly proves that if you thought the debut had potential, you were right.

High Reeper on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Brujas del Sol, II

brujas del sol ii

if the 6:40 album opener “Teenage Hitchhiker” from Brujas del Sol‘s Kozmik Artifactz-delivered II makes anything plain, it’s that the songs that follow on the seven-track/43-minute outing are going to pay attention to texture. Still about half-instrumental, the Columbus, Ohio, four-piece veer from that modus with “Sisterlace,” the New Wave-y “Fringe of Senility,” the delightfully dream-toned “White Lights,” and the final Floydian section of closer “Spiritus,” adding vocals for the first time and leaving one wondering what took them so long. Nonetheless, the winding lines and later subtly furious drums of “Sea Rage” and the scorching leads of the penultimate “Polara” bring the proggy mindset of the band that much more forward, and if II is transitional, well, it was going to be anyway, because a band like this never stops growing or challenging themselves. They certainly do here, and the results are an accomplishment more than worth continuing to build upon.

Brujas del Sol on Thee Facebooks

Kozmik Artifactz website

 

Dead Witches, The Final Exorcism

dead witches the final exorcism

The centerpiece of Dead Witches‘ sophomore album, The Final Exorcism, is a play on ’60s psych-garage-folk that asks “When Do the Dead See the Sun?,” and the rest of the LP that surrounds provides the answer: The sun isn’t showing up anytime soon, for the dead or otherwise. After issuing their first full-length, Ouija (discussed here), in 2017, the multinational horror-cinema doomers brought aboard vocalist Soozi Chameleone alongside drummer Mark Greening (Ramesses, ex-Electric Wizard), bassist Carl Geary and guitarist Oliver Irongiant, and one might be tempted to think of The Final Exorcism as a kind of second debut were it not for the fact that it’s so cohesive in its approach. With Greening‘s swinging march at the foundation, cuts like the title-track and “The Church by the Sea” stomp out thick-toned and grainy organic creep, plundering through the cacophonous “Lay Demon” en route to the abyssal plod of “Fear the Priest” at the end, fearsome in purpose and realization and hopefully not at all “final.” Like any good horror franchise, there’s always room for another sequel.

Dead Witches on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Automaton, TALOS

automaton talos

It was hard to know where Automaton were headed after they remixed their debut EP, Echoes of Mount Ida (review here), and released it in LP format with two additional tracks. The original version was raw and weighted, the remix spacious and psychedelic. With TALOS, their first proper long-player (on Sound Effect Records), they answer the question with seven songs/48 minutes of expansive and richly atmospheric post-metal, seeming to take from all sides and shift their focus between crushing with dense tones on 11-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “Trapped in Darkness,” as well as the frantically drummed “Automaton Marching,” “The Punisher” or the end stage of “Talos Awakens” and honing more of a varied and atmospheric approach throughout the sample-laced “Giant of Steel,” the drifting “Submerged Again” and the minimalist acoustic-led closer “Epilogue,” all the while donning both an overarching concept and a new level of production value to bolster their presentation. It is a significant step forward on multiple fronts.

Automaton website

Sound Effect Records website

 

Llord, Cumbria

llord cumbria

Raging and experimental, the rumble-laden Barcelona duo Llord make their full-length debut on Féretro Records with Cumbria, which culls together five punishing-but-still-atmospheric tracks of plod and drive as bassist Aris and drummer David share vocal duties and bludgeoning responsibilities alike. Ill-intentioned from the get-go with the two-minute “Adtrita Sententia,” Cumbria unfurls its 29-minute run like a descent into low-end madness, varying speed and the amount of samples involved and bringing in some guest gralla on “Brega” and closer “Kendal/Crewe,” but finding itself in a consistent tonal mire all the same, shouts reverberating upward from it as through trying to claw their way up during the collapse of earth beneath their feet. It is brutal — an extreme vision of atmospheric sludge that makes the concept of a guitar riffing overtop seem like an indulgence that would only dull the impact of the proceedings as they are, which is formidable.

Llord on Bandcamp

Féretro Records on Bandcamp

 

Sweet Jonny, Sweet Jonny

sweet jonny sweet jonny

I can’t claim to be an expert on the ways of Britpunk classic or modern, but UK swagger-purveyors Sweet Jonny weave a heaping dose of snearing attitude into their self-titled, self-release debut album’s 12 tracks, and it comes set up next to a garage rock fuckall that isn’t necessarily contradicted by the actual tightness of the songwriting, given the context in which they’re working. “American Psycho,” well, that’s about American Psycho. “Sick in the Summer?” Well, guess that could be taken multiple ways, but somebody’s sick in any case. You see where this is going, but Sweet Jonny bring character and addled-punk charm to their storytelling lyrics and barebones arrangements of fucked-up guitar, bass and drums. I don’t know what the punkers are into these days, but the vibe here is rude in the classic sense and they bring a good time feel to “Superpunch” and “It Matters Not” — which stretches past the four-minute mark(!) — so what the hell? I’m up for something different.

Sweet Jonny on Thee Facebooks

Sweet Jonny website

 

Warp, Warp

warp warp

If the approval stamp of Nasoni Records isn’t enough to get you on board — and it should be, frankly — the Sabbathian lowercase-‘g’ ghost rock Warp proffer on their self-titled debut is bound to turn heads among the converted. The Tel Aviv-based outfit tear through eight tracks in a crisp, bitingly fuzzed 28 minutes, taking on classic boogie and doom alike before they’re even through opener “Wretched.” They get bonus points for calling their noise interlude “‘Confusion Will Be My Epitaph’ Will Be My Epitaph,’ as well as for the shuffle of “Gone Man” that precedes it and the stomp of “Intoxication” that comes after, the latter a rhythmic complement to the central progression of second cut “Into My Life,” which only departs that snare-snare-snare to soar for a dual-layered solo. Hard not to dig the space-punk edge of “Hey Little Rich Boy II” and the throttled-back stoner nod of closer “Enter the Void,” which is done in under five minutes and still finds room for the album’s best stop-and-crash. Fucking a.

Warp on Bandcamp

Nasoni Records webstore

 

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