The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

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

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

Invariably, the ultimate measure of 2020 will be in lives and livelihoods lost around the world. I have nothing to add to the discourse of the COVID-19 pandemic that others haven’t said in more articulate and precise language. Suffice it to note that 2020 was the year that the very concept of “unprecedented” itself became trite.

One does not have to look far to find positives amid the devastation. Creativity continues to flourish. Art cannot be killed. Even locked away from each other in quarantine, artists will continue to reach out, to collaborate, to fulfill the human need for expression that has driven the species since cave drawings and will no doubt be the ruins we leave behind us when we’re gone.

In underground music, it was simply overwhelming. And though I’ll admit it was hard at times to listen to music and divorce it from the larger context of what was happening in the world — it was there like a background buzz — this year reinforced how necessary music is, not only as an escape or a source of income for those who make/promote it, but as an integral component of life and community. Absences have been keenly felt.

I won’t try to sate you with platitudes, to say “things will get better.” Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. One year turning to the next does not fix broken systems and it does not cure raging plagues. It’s just a number. Arbitrary except as a convenient marker for things like this, births, deaths, and so on. Bookkeeping.

Before I turn you over to the lists: Please be kind in the comments if you choose to leave one. To me. To other people. To yourself. These lists are culled from my listening preference and what I consider of critical importance. But I’m one person. If there’s something you feel has been left out, say so. I ask you only to do so in a spirit of friendship rather than argument. Thank you in advance.

ukmedsnorx.com/zopiclone
ukmedsnorx.com/zolpidem

Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

50. Sun Crow, Quest for Oblivion
49. Atramentus, Stygian
48. Arcadian Child, Protopsycho
47. Fuzz, III
46. Jointhugger, I Am No One
45. Dirt Woman, The Glass Cliff
44. Switchblade Jesus, Death Hymns
43. Foot, The Balance of Nature Shifted
42. Hymn, Breach Us
41. IAH, III
40. Lord Fowl, Glorious Babylon
39. Acid Mess, Sangre de Otros Mundos
38. 1000mods, Youth of Dissent
37. Deathwhite, Grave Image
36. Soldati, Doom Nacional
35. Cortez, Sell the Future
34. Kadavar, The Isolation Tapes
33. Black Rainbows, Cosmic Ritual Supertrip
32. Shadow Witch, Under the Shadow of a Witch
31. Insect Ark, The Vanishing

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

30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

There was no shortage of anticipation for what L.A. cultists High Priestess would do to follow their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), and the three-piece did not disappoint, instead gave a ritual mass that included the 17-minute concept piece “Invocation” alongside infectious and ethereal melodies like “The Hourglass.” And now that the circle’s been cast? Seems like they can do anything.

29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Oct. 12.

High-powered cosmic metal from Finland pulling apart heavy psychedelia on an atomic level with an urgency that speaks of youth, progress and an ingrained need for exploration? Sign me up. A lot of bands on this list put out their first album this year. There are few for whom my hopes are as high as they are for Polymoon. If you haven’t yet heard Caterpillars of Creation, do.

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

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

27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

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

26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

The debut album from Colorado’s BleakHeart collected pieces united by melody and overarching atmosphere, positioned stylistically somewhere around heavygaze or heavy post-rock, but feeling less limited to genre bounds than some others working in a similar sphere. As a first outing, it brought a promise of things to come even as the depths of its mix seemed to swallow the listener entirely, equal parts serving claustrophobia and escapism.

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

There is not enough space here to properly commend Pale Divine founding guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener on how much he opened up the band by bringing in his and drummer Darin McCloskey‘s former Beelzefuzz bandmate Dana Ortt on shared guitar, vocal and songwriting duties. Completed by Ron “Fezz” McGinnis on bass/vocals, Pale Divine are a refreshed and ready powerhouse of American traditional doom.

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

One is going to have to get used to the idea of Uncle Woe residing in the places between, I think. An inward-looking cosmic doom that’s likewise morose and reaching, opaque and translucent, Phantomescence could be almost troubling in its feeling of off-kilter expression. Yet that’s exactly what multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Rain Fice was going for. Thriving on contradiction, exploratory, and individualized. Start from doom, move outward.

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

Released by Off the Record Label. Reviewed Oct. 15.

I don’t feel like I’m cool enough to offer any substantive comment on what Chicago’s REZN do, but their sax-laced heavy psychedelia comes across warm and is invitingly languid while still delivered with a sense of energy and purpose. It rolls and you want to roll with it, so you do. They were clearly hurt by not being able to tour this year, as were audiences for not seeing them. Call them neo-stoner metal or whatever you want, these songs deserve to be played live.

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

A revamped lineup for South African desert-ish heavy rockers Ruff Majik brought producer Evert Snyman in as co-conspirator with frontman/principal songwriter Johni Holiday, and found the former trio working as a five-piece with a broader sound underscored by an electric sense of purpose and willingness to push themselves to places they hadn’t gone before. Their third record, it seemed as well to be a new beginning, and they met the challenge head-on.

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

The underheralded children of rolling fuzz riffage, Connecticut’s Curse the Son found new depths of emotion to bring to Excruciation — and I do mean “depths.” Dark times for dark times. Fueled by personal hardship, turmoil, motorcycle accidents and a pervasive sense of struggle, the LP was nonetheless a triumph of their songwriting and brought new melodic character to their established largesse of tone. Your loss if you missed it.

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

Business as usual in ferocious heavy/speed rock from The Atomic Bitchwax on Scorpio — and that was only reassuring since the band’s eighth full-length marked the first since the departure of guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and his replacing with Garrett Sweeny, a bandmate of founding bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik and drummer Bob Pantella in Monster Magnet. They barely stopped to cool their heels and yet still managed to be catchy as hell. How do they do it? Jersey Magic.

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

Such pervasive melancholy could only be derived from Irish folk, and so it was on Cinder Well‘s No Summer, which managed to move between singer-songwriter minimalism from Amelia Baker and arrangements of deceptive and purposeful intricacy. Wherever it went, from traditional songs “Wandering Boy” and “The Cuckoo” to originals like “Fallen” and the nine-minute “Our Lady’s,” it was equal parts gorgeous and sad and resonant. It remains so, despite the fleeting season.

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

Their fourth album and first since crossing the decade-mark since their inception, Pallbearer‘s Forgotten Days wasn’t just heavy, emotional or big-sounding; it was the most their-own of anything they’ve done. It felt exactly like the record they wanted it to be, and reconfirmed that the generation of listeners being introduced to doom by their music is going to be just fine if they follow the cues laid out for them here.

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

Released by Stolen Body and Vicious Circle Records. Reviewed March 26.

Less a reinvention of space rock than a kick in its ass, Slift‘s Ummon pushed well past the line of manageability at 72 minutes and reveled in that. The French outfit were greeted as liberators when they released the album, and with the way the respect has been maintained in the months since they’ve given themselves a high standard to meet, but there’s only promise to be heard as you get lost in the nebular wash of this sprawling 2LP. They’ll have two more records out before this one’s fully digested.

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

The first album in half a decade from long-established UK death-doom forebears My Dying Bride found vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe coping with his daughter’s cancer diagnosis and translating that into the morose poetry for which the band is so well known and with which they’ve been so influential. My Dying Bride has never wanted for sincerity, but to call them affecting here would be underselling the quality of their craft and the heart they put into it. Follow-up EP is already out with extra non-album tracks.

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

Denmark’s Causa Sui may be on a mission to unite jazz and heavy psychedelia — and blessings on them for that — but the mellow jammy vibes they conjured on Szabodelico only emphasized how much it’s the character of what they do and the chemistry they’ve brought as bandmates that has allowed them to branch thusly in terms of aesthetic. It was the kind of album you wanted to put on again even before it was over, and its sweet instrumentals felt born to a greater timeline than a single year can encompass.

14. All Souls, Songs for the End of the World

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

I’m not a punk rocker, but All Souls make me wish I was. Their emotive and engaged heavy rock looks out as much as in on Songs for the End of the World — their second LP behind a 2018 self-titled debut (review here) — but it’s undeniably punk in its foundation, and what the four-piece of Antonio Aguilar and Meg Castellanos (both ex-Totimoshi), Erik Trammell (Black Elk) and Tony Tornay (Fatso Jetson) have put together builds on that in exciting, inventive and individualized ways, while staying nonetheless true to its roots.

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

Five years after their debut album, Rocket Science (review here), Boston four-piece Kind return with Mental Nudge. And despite the different situations in which it finds the band’s members — bassist Tom Corino is now ex-Rozamov, drummer Matt Couto now ex-Elder — the group’s focus remains on carving memorable, mostly structured tracks out of ethereal heavy psychedelia, guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, etc.) and vocalist Craig Riggs (RoadsawSasquatch, etc.) adding space and melody to the crunching, driving grooves.

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

Founded by vocalist Farida Lemouchi (ex-The Devil’s Blood) and guitarist Oeds Beydals (ex-Death Alley, also ex-The Devil’s Blood) and commissioned as a project for Roadburn Festival 2019 (review here), Molassess are inextricably tied to Lemouchi‘s groundbreaking former outfit and its tragic ending, but the musical branching out into darkened progressive textures on Through the Hollow isn’t to be understated. It was an album that pushed past the past, not overlooking it, but finding new ways of moving forward in life and sound.

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

While of course the Mos Generator frontman is no stranger to writing or recording on his own, Funeral Suit was Tony Reed‘s debut as a solo artist and it carried his progressive stamp in melody and arrangement. It was not just a guitarist playing acoustic instead of electric, and it was not a manifestation of self-indulgence. Whether it was reworking a Mos Generator song like “Lonely One Kenobi” or pursuing a new piece like the title-track or “Waterbirth,” Reed found balance between personal and audience, evoking traditional songsmithing even as he reminded listeners of his dual role as a producer.

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

Spectacular showing from Kingston kingpins Geezer with Groovy as their first offering for Heavy Psych Sounds. Led by guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington, the three-piece brought material that flowed with the organic feel of jams despite being structured and catchy songs. In pieces like “Dead Soul Scroll” and “Drowning on Empty,” they melded stonerized groove with what felt like genuine emotional expression, and “Dig” and “Groovy” still managed to be a heavy fuzz-blues party. And they still had room at the end to jam out on “Slide Mountain” and “Black Owl.” It was nothing but a win, rising to the occasion on every level.

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

So Bob Balch from Fu Manchu and Gary Arce from Yawning Man have a band. They get Tony Reed from Mos Generator on board. Mario Lalli from Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson comes and goes. Nick Oliveri comes and goes. Bill Stinson from Yawning Man plays drums. Alain Johannes sits in on vocals. Reed does a bunch of vocals; his kid does a track too. Per Wiberg from Spiritual Beggars, Opeth, Candlemass, etc., lends some keys. What do you call such a thing? Who cares? You call yourself lucky it exists. They called the record Vision Beyond Horizon. Can’t wait to find out what they call the next one.

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed April 27.

Omens marked a new beginning for Elder as the band pushed deeper into the realm of progressive rock and beyond their weightier beginnings. The arrival of Georg Edert (also Gaffa Ghandi) on drums in place of Matt Couto shifted the band’s dynamic in a number of ways, providing not a swinging anchor for the rhythm section necessarily, but another avenue of prog fluidity. Bassist Jack Donovan brought a steady presence in the low end as guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo and guitarist/keyboardist Mike Risberg embarked on new melodic explorations while staying loyal to the band’s established penchant for sweeping changes. Omens may live up to its name as a sign of things to come, but either way, it was a strong display of the band’s will to pursue new ideas and methods.

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

First words that come to mind here: “eminently listenable.” With seven tracks and 36 minutes, Reverie may not have taken up much of your afternoon… once. But by the time you gave it its proper respect and listened through three times in a row, the situation was somewhat different. The Lafayette, Louisiana, four-piece gracefully brought together structured songwriting with proggier leanings and were able to bring together rampaging hooks like “Trace the Omen” and “Manifest,” casting a sense of sonic hugeness without forgetting to add either melody or personality along with that. The band — who here welcomed bassist Thorn Letulle alongside guitarist/vocalist James Marshall, guitarist Shadi Omar Al-Khansa and drummer Thomas Colley — have worked quickly and evolved with a sense of urgency. Is Reverie the goal or another step on that path?

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

Vocalist/cellist Jackie Perez Gratz (interview here), guitarist Max Doyle and drummer Zack Farwell comprise Grayceon, and with their fifth record, the band looks around thematically at environmental devastation through the lens of record-breaking California wildfires from their vantage point in the Bay Area. Even as the world shifted priorities (at least most of it did) to yet another global crisis in the COVID-19 pandemic, genre-melting-pot songs like “Diablo Wind,” “The Lucky Ones,” and “This Bed” reminded of the horrors humanity has wrought on its battered home, and still managed to find hope and serenity in “And Shine On” and “Rock Steady,” a closing duo that shifted to a more personal discussion of family and one’s hope for a better future for and by the next generation. 2020 had plenty of horror. At least we got a new Grayceon record out of it.

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

When Sho’Nuff asked Bruce Leroy “who’s the master?,” dude should’ve said Brant Bjork. It would’ve been a confusing end to Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, but ultimately more accurate, as Brant Bjork‘s homegrown kung fu was unfuckwithable as ever on the album that shares his name. After two decades of solo releases in one form or another, Bjork is not just a pivotal figurehead for desert rock, he’s a defining presence, as well as one of its most treasured practitioners. Brant Bjork, the album, brought initial waves of funk in “Jungle in the Sound,” explored weedy worship in “Mary (You’re Such a Lady)” and toyed with religious dogma in offsetting that with “Jesus Was a Bluesman” while still tossing primo hooks in “Duke of Dynamite” and “Shitkickin’ Now” ahead of the more open “Stardust and Diamond Eyes” and the acoustic closer “Been So Long.” With Bjork recording all the instruments himself, a due feeling of intimacy resulted, and yet he still found a way to make it rock. How could it be otherwise?

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

Why do I feel the immediate need to defend this pick? I’m not sure. Norway’s Enslaved are an institution, not just of black metal, but of bringing an ideology of creative growth to that style that often willfully resists it. They are iconoclastic even unto their own work. Utgard was released as the band stood on the precipice of 30 years together and yet it stood as their most forward-looking offering yet, as co-founders Grutle Kjellson (bass/vocals) and Ivar Bjørnson (guitar/sometimes vocals), as well as longtime lead guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal backed up the change from 2017’s E (review here) that brought in new keyboardist/vocalist Hakon Vinje with the incorporation of drummer Iver Sandøy, who doubles as a vocalist (and triples as a producer). The “new blood” made all the difference on Utgard, allowing Enslaved to piece together new ranges of melody in their work and offset instrumental shifts into and out of krautrock-derived progressions. Simply the work of a band outdoing itself from a band who does so at nearly every opportunity.

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten and Ripple Music. Reviewed Dec. 3, 2019.

Every year I allow myself one addendum pick, and this is it. We Are was on last year’s list because it was digitally released, but the vinyl came out this year and it received its North American release this year as well, so it seemed only right to acknowledge that. So here it is in its proper place.

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

All-Them-Witches-Nothing-as-the-Ideal

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

This is a band controlling their own narrative. Instead of Nothing as the Ideal being ‘the one they made as a three-piece,’ the Nashville outfit decided to make it ‘the one they recorded at Abbey Road.’ Were they thinking of it on those terms? Yeah, likely not, but it goes to demonstrate all the same just how much of themselves All Them Witches put into what they do musically, since not only are they continuing to refine and define and undefine their approach, but they’re setting the terms on which they do it. Each of their records has been a response to the one prior, but that conversation has never been so direct as to make them predictable. So what are they chasing? Apparently nothing. I’m not entirely sure I buy that as a complete answer, but I am sure I love these songs and the experiments with tape loops and other sounds that fill these spaces. Whatever they do next — or even if nothing — their run has been incredible and exciting and one only hopes their influence continues to spread over the next however many years.

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

There was a high standard set by Elephant Tree‘s 2016 self-titled debut (review here), but their second LP, Habits, surpassed even the loftiest of expectations. With vocals centered around harmonies from guitarist Jack Townley and bassist Peter Holland, the former trio completed by drummer Sam Hart brought in guitarist/keyboardist John Slattery (also sometimes vocals), and the resultant breadth gave the material on Habits spaciousness beyond even what the first album promised. Drifting, rolling, unflinchingly melodic and somehow present even in its own escapism, Habits was not just an early highlight for a rough 2020, but a comforting presence throughout, and the further one dug into tracks like “Sails,” “Exit the Soul,” “Faceless,” “Wasted” and the acoustic “The Fall Chorus,” the more there was to find — let alone “Bird,” which I’ll happily put against anything else one might propose for song of the year. As their former UK label crumbled, Habits emerged unscathed and Elephant Tree‘s future continues to shine with ever more hope for things to come. Being able to say that about anything feels like a relief.

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

Twenty years ago, Sweden’s Lowrider put out what would become a heavy rock landmark in their 2000 debut, Ode to Io (reissue review here). A follow-up years in the making even after the band got back together to play Desertfest in London (review here) and Berlin in 2013, Refractions first saw limited release in 2019 as part of Blues Funeral‘s PostWax series (discussed here), but its proper arrival was in early 2020, and there was really no looking back after that. It wasn’t just the novelty of a new Lowrider album that made Refractions such a joy, but the manner in which the band went about its work. There was no pretending that 20 years didn’t happen. There was no attempt to recapture the bottled lightning that was the first record, and Lowrider did not sound like a band “making a comeback” rife with expectations and fan-service. Refractions acknowledged the legacy of Ode to Io, sure enough, but as a step toward adding to it in meaningful and engaging ways. The songs — “Red River,” “Ode to Ganymede,” “Sernanders Krog,” “Ol’ Mule Pepe,” “Sun Devil/M87” and the 11-minute finale “Pipe Rider” — were fashioned without pretense and came across as the organic output of a band with nothing to prove to anyone but themselves. They made it their own. In a wretched year, Lowrider shined.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

Yeah, okay. There are a lot of these, so buckle in. Last year I just threw out a list of bands. This year I’m a little more organized, so here are bands and records alphabetically.

Across Tundras, LOESS ~ LÖSS
Across Tundras, The Last Days of a Silver Rush
Alain Johannes, Hum
Arboretum, Let it All In
Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin, Stygian Bough Vol. 1
Black Helium, The Wholly Other
Boris, No
Brimstone Coven, The Woes of a Mortal Earth
CB3, Aeons
Celestial Season, The Secret Teachings
Crippled Black Phoenix, Ellengæst
Cruthu, Athrú Crutha
Domo, Domonautas Vol. 2
DOOL, Summerland
Dopelord, Sign of the Devil
Dwaal, Gospel of the Vile
Elder Druid, Golgotha
Ellis Munk Ensemble, San Diego Sessions
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, May Our Chambers Be Full
EMBR, 1823
Familiars, All in Good Time
Forlesen, Hierophant Violent
Galactic Cross, Galactic Cross
The Heavy Eyes, Love Like Machines
Hum, Inlet
Human Impact, Human Impact
Humulus, The Deep
Jupiterian, Protosapien
Kariti, Covered Mirrors
Khan, Monsoons
Kingnomad, Sagan Om Ryden
King Witch, Body of Light
Kryptograf, Kryptograf
Light Pillars, Light Pillars
Lord Buffalo, Tohu Wa Bohu
Lord Loud, Timid Beast
Lotus Thief, Oresteia
Malsten, The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill
Mindcrawler, Lost Orbiter
Motorpsycho, The All is One
Mountain Tamer, Psychosis Ritual
Mr. Bison, Seaward
Mrs. Piss, Self-Surgery
Mugstar, GRAFT
Murcielago, Casualties
Oranssi Pazuzu, Mestarin Kynsi
Paradise Lost, Obsidian
Parahelio, Surge Evelia Surge
The Pilgrim, …From the Earth to the Sky and Back
Pretty Lightning, Jangle Bowls
Psychlona, Venus Skytrip
Puta Volcano, AMMA
Ritual King, Ritual King
River Cult, Chilling Effect
Rrrags, High Protein
Shores of Null, Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying)
Sigiriya, Maiden – Mother – Crone
Six Organs of Admittance, Companion Rises
16, Dream Squasher
Slomosa, Slomosa
Somnus Throne, Somnus Throne
Steve Von Till, No Wilderness Deep Enough
Stone Machine Electric, The Inexplicable Vibrations of Frequencies Within the Cosmic Netherworld
Sumac, May You Be Held
Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Red Tide
Temple of Void, The World That Was
The Kings of Frog Island, VI
Tia Carrera, Tried and True
Turtle Skull, Monoliths
Uffe Lorenzen, Magisk Realisme
Ulcerate, Stare Into Death and Be Still
Vessel of Light, Last Ride
Vestal Claret, Vestal Claret
Vinnum Sabbathi, Of Dimensions and Theories
Wight, Spank the World
Wino, Forever Gone
Yatra, All is Lost
Yuri Gagarin, The Outskirts of Reality

By no means is that list exhaustive. And to look at stuff like Psychlona, Oranssi Pazuzu, Wight, Wino, Puta Volcano, Kingnomad, Ellis Munk Ensemble, Paradise Lost, Alain Johannes, Arbouretum, Uffe Lorenzen, Tia Carrera — on and on and on — I can definitely see where arguments are to be made for records that should’ve been in the list proper. I can only go with what feels right to me at the time.

Together with the top 50, this makes over 110 albums in the best of 2020. If you find yourself needing something to hang your hat on, be glad you’re alive to witness this much excellent music coming out.

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

Atramentus, Stygian
Bethmoora, Thresholds
BleakHeart, Dream Griever
Crystal Spiders, Molt
Dirt Woman, The Glass Cliff
Dwaal, Gospel of the Vile
Electric Feat, Electric Feat
Familiars, All in Good Time
Galactic Cross, Galactic Cross
Human Impact, Human Impact
Jointhugger, I Am No One
Light Pillars, Light Pillars
Love Gang, Dead Man’s Game
Malsten, The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill
Might, Might
Mindcrawler, Lost Orbiter
Mrs. Piss, Self-Surgery
Parahelio, Surge Evelia Surge
Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation
Ritual King, Ritual King
SEA, Impermanence
Slomosa, Slomosa
Soldati, Doom Nacional
Somnus Throne, Somnus Throne
SpellBook, Magick & Mischief
Spirit Mother, Cadets
Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Red Tide
The Crooked Whispers, Satanic Melodies
White Dog, White Dog

Notes: I sparred with myself every step of the way here. The last couple years I’ve tried to give the top-debut spot to not just a new band, but a new presence. Green Lung, King Buffalo, etc. Molassess, with members from The Devil’s Blood, Death Alley and Astrosoniq, isn’t exactly that. So what do I do? Do I go with something newer like Polymoon, Dirt Woman, BleakHeart, SEA, White Dog or The Crooked Whispers, or something with more established players like Molassess, Soldati, or even Light Pillars?

In the end, what made the difference was not just how brilliant the songs on Molassess’ Through the Hollow, but how honestly the band confronted the legacy they were up against. The songs had a familiar haunting presence, but they were also moving ahead to somewhere new. It was that blend of old and new ideas, and the resonant feeling of emotional catharsis — as well as the sheer immersion that took place while listening — that ultimately made the decision. Turns out I just couldn’t escape it.

And why not a list? Because this feels woefully inadequate as it is. I reviewed over 250 records this year one way or another — and that’s a conservative estimate — but a lot gets lost in the shuffle and somehow it just seemed wrong this time around to call something the 13th best first record of the year. I wanted to highlight the special achievement that was the Molassess album, but really, all of these records kicked my ass one way or the other.

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

Big Scenic Nowhere, Lavender Blues
Coma Wall, Ursa Minor
Conan/Deadsmoke, Doom Sessions Vol. 1
Fu Manchu, Fu30 Pt. 1
Grandpa Jack, Trash Can Boogie
Howling Giant/Sergeant Thunderhoof, Masamune/Muramasa (split)
Oginalii, Pendulum
Kings Destroy, Floods
Lament Cityscape, The Old Wet
Limousine Beach, Stealin’ Wine +2
Merlock, That Which Speaks
Monte Luna, Mind Control Broadcast
Mos Generator/Di’Aul, Split
Pimmit Hills, Heathens & Prophets
Rito Verdugo, Post-Primatus
Rocky Mtn Roller, Rocky Mtn Roller
Spaceslug, Leftovers
10,000 Years, 10,000 Years
The White Swan, Nocturnal Transmission
Thunderbird Divine, The Hand of Man
Witchcraft, Black Metal

Notes: If you were wondering why King Buffalo’s Dead Star (review here) wasn’t on the big list, this is why. It was pitched to me as an EP and that’s how I’m classifying it. I’m taking the out. Is it an EP? Not really, but neither is it a full-length album, given its experimental nature and focus around its extended two-part title-track. Whatever it was, it was the best that-thing, and this is the category where such things go.

Again, tough choices after King Buffalo. Thunderbird Divine’s EP was wonderfully funk-blasted and woefully short (new album, please). The newly-issued Spaceslug EP branches out their sound in fascinating ways as a result of the lockdown. Witchcraft’s acoustic EP, Coma Wall’s EP and Big Scenic Nowhere’s EP all signaled good things to come, and Howling Giant’s split with Sergeant Thunderhoof was a highlight of the most recent Quarterly Review. There really isn’t a bummer on the list there, from the bitter psych of Oginalii to the industrial metal of Lament Cityscape, the unadulterated riffery of Merlock to the live-captured rawness of Monte Luna.

So again, why no list? Same answer. I want to highlight the progression King Buffalo made in their sound and leave room open elsewhere for things I missed. Please let me know what in the comments. Cordially.

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

Ahab, Live Prey
Amenra, Mass VI Live
Arcadian Child, From Far, for the Wild (Live in Linz)
Author and Punisher, Live 2020 B.C.
Cherry Choke, Raising Salzburg Rockhouse
Dead Meadow, Live at Roadburn 2011
Dirty Streets, Rough and Tumble
Electric Moon, Live at Freak Valley Festival 2019
Kadavar, Studio Live Session Vol. 1
King Buffalo, Live at Freak Valley
Monte Luna, Mind Control Broadcast
Orange Goblin, Rough & Ready: Live and Loud
Øresund Space Collective, Sonic Rock Solstice 2019
Pelican, Live at the Grog Shop
SEA, Live at ONCE
Sumac, St Vitus 09/07/2018
Sun Blood Stories, (a)Live and Alone at Visual Arts Collective
Temple Fang, Live at Merleyn
YOB, Pickathon 2019 – Live From the Galaxy Barn

Notes: In this wretched year (mostly) void of live music, marked by canceled tours and festivals, the live album arguably played a more central role than it ever has, whether it was a band trying to keep momentum up following or leading into a studio release, taking advantage of the emergence of the Bandcamp Friday phenomenon or just trying to maintain some connection to their fans and the process of taking a stage. Or even playing in a room together. Or not a room. Anything. What was once a tossoff, maybe an afterthought companion piece became an essential worker of the listening experience.

You might accuse desert rock progenitors Yawning Man of playing to their base with Live at Giant Rock (featured here), and if so, fine. At no point in the last 50 years has that base more needed playing-to. And in the absence of shows, being able to hear (and watch, in the case of the accompanying video) Yawning Man go out to the landscape that spawned them and engage with their music was a beautiful moment of reconciliation. An exhale for the converted that didn’t fill one with empty promises of better tomorrows or tours to come, but served to remind what’s so worth preserving about the spirit of live music in the first place. The fact that anything can happen. A replaced note here, a tuning change there — these things can make not just an evening, but memories that go beyond shows, tours, to touch our lives.

There were a ton of live records this year. Some were benefits for worthy causes between saving venues, Black Lives Matter, voting rights organizations, and so on. And whether these were new performances from captured livestreams (Monte Luna, Kadavar) or older gigs that had been sitting around waiting for release at some point (Sumac, Dead Meadow), this, very much, was that point, and these live offerings kept burning a fire that felt at times very much in danger of being extinguished.

Looking Ahead to 2021

A list of bands. Some confirmed releases, some not. Here goes:

Dread Sovereign, Sasquatch, Year of Taurus, Apostle of Solitude, Weedpecker, Borracho, Love Gang, Jointhugger, Demon Head, Iron Man, Greenleaf, Samsara Blues Experiment, The Mammathus, Evert Snyman, Wo Fat, Conclave, Here Lies Man, Kabbalah, Komatsu, Hour of 13, Wedge, Amenra, La Chinga, Spidergawd, Wolves in the Throne Room, Vokonis, Freedom Hawk, Masters of Reality, ZOM, Eyehategod, Sanhedrin, Green Lung, The Mountain King, Albatross Overdrive, Elder, King Buffalo, Sunnata, Howling Giant, SAVER, Conan, Slomatics, Ruff Majik, Kind, Mos Generator, Yawning Sons, Lantlôs, Brant Bjork, Spiral Grave, Crystal Spiders, Lightning Born, Samavayo, Wovenhand, Merlock, Comet Control, The Age of Truth, Eight Bells, BlackWater Holylight, DVNE, Monte Luna.

Thank You

You’ve read enough, so I will do my best to keep this mercifully short. Thank you so much for reading — whether you still are or not — and thank you for being a part of the ongoing project that is The Obelisk. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have such incredible support throughout not just this year, but all the years of the site’s existence. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you most of all to The Patient Mrs. for her indulgence in letting me get this done. I’m am amazed forever.

More to come.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ripple Music and Vegas Rock Revolution Release The Revolution Lives! Benefit Compilation

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 21st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

I don’t know how much cash a name-your-price comp is bringing in ultimately, but the not-cynical part of me wants to think supporting bands is still something humans are interested in doing, so here’s another way to do that. And if you name your price and your price is nothing, that’s not me trying to guilt you. Over 800,000 people filed for first-time unemployment insurance last month in the US. England has super-covid. Shit is tough everywhere and for everyone. There’s a reason it’s name-your-price and not $35.

As for critical observation, here’s one: John Gist does good work, Ripple Music does good work and these bands do good work. Stay tuned for more heavy hitting insights on the next episode. Make sure you like and subscribe.

All of the following comes from Bandcamp:

va ripple vrr the revolution lives

The Revolution Lives ***A Benefit for the Bands!***

In this day of the coronavirus-enforced shutdown of live shows, Ripple and Vegas Rock Revolution wanted to join forces to rejoice about all the great live music we’ve experienced. Based in Vegas, John Gist, running VRR has created a heavy underground scene where none existed! From his infamous Planet Desert Rock weekends to his numerous shows at Danny Koker’s Count’s Vamp’d, the Beauty Bar, and Bunkhouse Saloon among others, VRR has brought tons of Ripple bands to Vegas to rock the hell outta the desert.

So, now let’s celebrate. Think of this compilation as a virtual show… holding space until the real ones can resume.

Dig into this free comp, made just for you, summarizing all the Ripple family that has journeyed to the desert to play for VRR. Gist himself chose this tracklist and the incomparable Kyrre Bjurling provided the stellar art.

Although the album is “pay what you want” any proceeds raised for the purchase of this compilation will go to help out all the bands that have missed out on being able to perform live shows.

Dig in, and let’s unite when this is over to rock the hell out once again!

Tracklisting:
1. Brutal Winds – Freedom Hawk 04:54
2. Oklahoma Black Magic – The Watchers 04:29
3. Nothing to Lose – Void Vator 03:43
4. Chopper Wired – War Cloud 03:34
5. City Nights – Mothership 05:22
6. Lonely One Kenobi – Mos Generator 05:06
7. Into the Shredder – Ape Machine 03:56
8. Ain’t Trying to Go Down Slow – Shotgun Sawyer 03:16
9. Sun and Mist – Salem’s Bend 05:16
10. Hour Glass – High Priestess 06:46
11. Isolation – Wino 04:12
12. Three Minutes to Midnight – Wo Fat 06:20
13. Fathoms – Horseburner 08:12
14. Sunshine of Your Love – Blackwulf 03:38
15. The Grace of Time – Mr Bison 07:22
16. Light of Day – The Hazytones 03:56
17. Hypnotized – Red Desert 04:17
18. Fog of Whores – Cortez 04:55
19. Cactus Highways – Red Mesa 03:09
20. Better Off Alone – Fuzz Evil 04:42
21. Low Tide – Chiefs 03:48

https://www.facebook.com/vegasrockrevolution/
https://www.instagram.com/vegasrockrevolution/
https://vegasrockrevolution.com/

https://www.facebook.com/theripplemusic/
https://www.instagram.com/ripplemusic/
https://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com/
http://www.ripple-music.com/

VA, Ripple/VRR: The Revolution Lives (2020)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday Full-Length: Cortez, Thunder in a Forgotten Town

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 18th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Cortez Thunder in a Forgotten Town

Proof positive that Cortez didn’t just end up a kickass heavy rock band, but in fact they started that way. Of course, the Boston five-piece were a much different band 13 years ago when they made their debut with the Thunder in a Forgotten Town EP in 2007. I remember (vaguely) the release piqued my interest because they were an American band releasing through a European label — Belgium’s Buzzville Records — which didn’t happen nearly as often in those days, and once I got a copy, I would’ve had to work hard not to dig it. Six songs, righteous hooks, classic vibe brought to modern production — the band worked with Marc Schleicher (then of Quintaine Americana, also Antler, later of Infernal Overdrive) at New Alliance Audio — and I never quite understood how they never got signed to Small Stone Records, as did Boston forerunners-of-riff Roadsaw, but they wound up just fine regardless.

Though the core of their sound and approach was intact, Cortez were a much different band in 2007 than they are now. Only two of the five players on Thunder in a Forgotten Town are still with the group in guitarist Scott O’Dowd and bassist/backing vocalist Jay Furlo. The nascent version of the band was rounded out by guitarist Tony D’Agostino, drummer Jeremy Hemond (who was also in Roadsaw) and vocalist Curtis Caswell, and though one can recognize roots in C.O.C.-style riffing in a song like “Stone the Bastards” — with its call-and-response gang shouts bringing in members of The Humanoids, We’re All Gonna Die and Cocked ‘n’ Loaded — the momentum built up over the course of that song and the outing as a whole belongs to Cortez even more in hindsight now than it did when they it out, by which I mean it’s become a crucial aspect of their sound in general, capturing that feeling of unhurried shove. Carefully composed songs that still push you through them at what feels like a hey-man-come-on-I’m-not-hurting-anybody escorted-out pace.

All business? Not quite, but close. Mostly business. Opener “The High Life” — its fuzzy launch riff telling you much of what you need to know, especially when the solo kicks in to lead into the verse — sets the proceedings off with no time wasted. Cortez are through the first verse and headed toward the chorus by the time the first minute is up, and then another quick lead and they’re back to the verse to start the cycle again in the next minute. They break for a longer solo but keep the central rhythm playing out underneath, then back to the verse and chorus, more soloing over a moderate tempo kick, then a couple ending lines and it’s done in a little over four minutes. Plain old heavy rock and roll. Not innovative in terms of structure, but it lets you know right off the bat that Cortez know what they’re doing, and Thunder in a Forgotten Town does nothing to dissuade one from that opinion from that point on. Kicking ass, chewing bubblegum, and so on.

The first five songs are within about a minute of each other length-wise, but still arranged from shortest to longest ahead of the nine-minute closer “Floodwater Rising.” “What Have You Done?” picks up where the opener left off with a strong hook and changes the break structure a bit with vocals getting a moment in a second-half quiet section, but the mood is well similar enough to be consistent. Melody fleshes out further in “The Ocean,” and reveals itself to be the essential component of Cortez‘s work that it’s become in the years since, even as the riffs pattern themselves in a steady roll, they become the backdrop of a layered-vocal arrangement that is sneakily effective in putting itself in the listener’s head. C.O.C. might be a reference point there as well as in “Stone the Bastards” still to come, but the modus is hardly limited to them, and as Thunder in a Forgotten Town demonstrates across its span, the band’s intention was never so much to reinvent the wheel as to make it spin in their own direction.

They do precisely that through “Lost Control” and “Stone the Bastards,” continuing to broaden the sphere of what they’ve set out while staying rooted in songwriting and mid-tempo push. It’s chug in “Lost Control” and group participation in “Stone the Bastards” as the band use their first outing to essentially work as a demo in showing off what they’re about, but perhaps “Floodwater Rising” — still the longest song despite ending after six of its total nine minutes, giving over the rest to residual noise — is the most indicative of the band Cortez would become, with a comfort switching paces and an underlying aggression of purpose that has only come more forward over time.

Thunder in a Forgotten Town, at 34 minutes, is listed as an EP, and it would be five years and a few lineup changes before their 2012 self-titled debut (review here) surfaced on Bilocation Records — to be followed by 2012’s The Depths Below (review here), 2014’s split with Borracho, 2018’s split with Wasted Theory (review here) and this Fall’s Sell the Future (review here) — but I’ll say it’s actually more of a debut album in its flow and construction. One could make the argument I suppose that it’s a demo as well, and I kind of alluded to that above, but there’s a level of craft that needs to be taken into account, and as it has all throughout Cortez‘s tenure, that makes all the difference. They are a different band now than they were then, as I said, but there’s no question that what they’ve been able to build across their now-three LPs has been built on the foundation Thunder in a Forgotten Town laid out, despite the shifts in personnel around Furlo and O’Dowd.

Album or EP, it seems ripe enough for a reissue at this point, even though it’s obviously readily available streaming-wise, as seen above. They still have CDs too, but I don’t know if Thunder in a Forgotten Town has ever been released on vinyl, and certainly it’s easy enough to imagine in red and black swirl wax to suit the cover art. Say, 300 copies? Alright, press it. That’s how it works, right?

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Fuck it. Thanks for reading.

Did you enter the year-end poll yet?

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

The Obelisk merch

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Cortez Premiere “Look at You” Video; Sell the Future out Oct. 22

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on August 20th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

cortez

Boston heavy rockers Cortez release their new album, Sell the Future, on Oct. 22 through Ripple Music. Preorders are up at the link below, and the long-player — their third — follows three years behind 2017’s The Depths Below (review here), which is the shortest stretch between offerings of the band’s 13-years-so-far career, and all the more so considering the 2018 split with Wasted Theory (review here) that marked their arrival on RippleCortez have never been a full-time, in-the-van-for-weeks kind of band. Most of their shows have been regional to New England or the Eastern Seaboard, and though their first EP, 2007’s Thunder in a Forgotten Town, was put out by Belgium’s Buzzville Records, they are and have always primarily been a Boston band in terms of the traditions they follow in melody and drive and the underlying edge of aggression that has emerged in their material. Or as vocalist Matt Harrington puts it in the opening line of “Vanishing Point,” “Born into a place of cutthroats and of the insane.”

I had the pleasure some months ago of writing the bio for Sell the Future. Not the first I’ve done for Cortez, I think, and hopefully not the last. According to my email dates, I turned in the draft to guitarist Scott O’Dowd on March 15, 2020, at 6:44AM, which might explain the somewhat foreboding tone of the thing as the US was just in the beginning throes of its COVID-19 lockdown. One suspects Sell the Future would have been released sooner than the Fall had that lockdown not taken place, but then, well, blah blah blah. Ultimately what matters is the record itself, which brings together eight Mad Oak-recorded tracks that, beginning right from the outset with “No Escape,” careen along the line between heavy rock and heavy metal, Harrington‘s soulful vocals — he gives the best performance here I’ve ever heard from him — backed by bassist Jay Furlo (plus some gang shouts) as guitarists Scott O’Dowd and Alasdair Swan rip into leads and chunky riffs with a vitality that’s all the more punctuated with the let’s-just-get-this-cowbell-out-of-the-way-now drumming of Alexei Rodriguez. It quickly becomes apparent that Cortez are about to go on a tear, and the 42-minute offering does that and more, be it in speeders like “No Escape,” “Look at You,” Deceivers” and the penultimate “Vanishing Point,” or more mediated pieces like the title-track, “Faulty Authors,” or the seven-minute finale “Beyond.”

Uniting the material of course is the production, which is as crisp, full and unremittingly professional as one expects when one sees the words “Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studio” accompany a release. Dude is a brand you can trust. On a somewhat more subtle level, though, the songs are brought together by a socially conscious thematic that comes across in the lyrics front-to-back. Harrington isn’t naming names, exactly, but neither is he looking around him and ignoring the gross inequalities of the age in which we live. The title Sell the Future itself does Cortez Sell the Future Timur Khabirovmore than simply hint at this, and along with the classic heavy rock methodology the band employs, the pointedly metal riff that launches side B with “Deceivers” and the chug that ensues is met by a critique of capitalist greed that puts it about as straightforward as possible in saying outright, “Why don’t you understand/Can’t trust the businessman,” reminding just a touch of some of C.O.C.‘s more discourse-fueled moments but pushing farther in letting the whole record speak to a variety of issues.

It’s something of a turn on the part of the band — though certainly one could position the three-part saga that consumed the middle of The Depths Below as a metaphor — but the renewed focus fits well alongside the shove of their grooves and the largesse of more lumbering moments like “Sell the Future,” with its seeming lyrical nod to the “gathering” in Sabbath‘s “Sign of the Southern Cross,” or even side B’s “Sharpen the Spear,” which isn’t by any means slow, but still boasts the more spacious feel lent to the title-cut or “Beyond”; a sonic element one might liken to post-thrash Metallica were The Black Album not an eternal thorn in the side of allegedly “true” metal. Cortez, as they will, use it to their advantage.

And aside from the band laying claim to this particular niche of semi-aggro melodic heavy, it’s worth noting that they do so with a consistency in songwriting that is undeniably their own. They’re not in a rush. Even cuts like “Look at You,” which are by no means bloated, can run five minutes long and feature a host of solos and other movements aside from the verses and choruses, and likewise, “Vanishing Point,” which is the shortest inclusion at just over four minutes, spends the entirety of minutes two-to-three trading between guitar leads. Really, it’s on the dot, one minute. They finish in harmony and the verse picks back up. But Cortez have always been a guitar-driven band, and from their 2012 self-titled debut (review here) onward, their project has been about refining their craft along those lines. Sell the Future is the farthest they’ve yet pushed themselves in doing that — if you doubt it, “Beyond” should silence any counterargument with its near-YOB subdued opening and unfolding build and melodic breadth that brings in the recognizable voice of Jess Collins from Set Fire (also ex-Mellow Bravo) to back Harrington and finishes after its apex by allowing itself a genuine moment of comedown to cap the record.

It may or may not be fair to consider Cortez a well kept secret three albums in. Perhaps “underrated” is more like it, and they’re certainly that. Even in such a crowded sphere as that of heavy rock, they prove there’s a place for something that’s less about genre trickery than nuance and a well-honed individualism of approach. Each Cortez release has been a step forward from the one before it, and each one — in part because they’ve generally taken a while to show up one after the other, whatever stopgaps have surfaced along the way — has been a thing to appreciate for aficionados of both traditional and forward thinking heavy rock and roll. Sell the Future is not only no exception to these ideas, it is their epitome, and unquestionably the finest work Cortez have done to-date.

My pleasure to host the video premiere for “Look at You” below. Under that you’ll find the preorder link and the bio I wrote (short and sweet) for the album. Thanks for reading.

And enjoy:

Cortez, “Look at You” official video premiere

Album preorder: https://ripplemusic.bigcartel.com/product/cortez-sell-the-future-deluxe-vinyl-editions

BIO:

The future is fast, the future is sharp, and the future has already been sold, baby, so you missed your shot. Better luck next time.

Boston heavy rockers Cortez have always embodied an underdog spirit, from their 2007 debut EP, Thunder in a Forgotten Town, through their 2012 self-titled debut LP and 2017’s The Depths Below, but they’ve never sounded as supercharged as they do on Sell the Future.

With the precision of heavy metal, the soul of classic rock, and the unbridled attitude of a band who care less about your expectations than they do about writing kick-ass, drive-fast, dynamic, hugely-grooved, hugely melodic and expansive tunes, Cortez arrive at their third album with a well-earned sense of freedom in their approach. It isn’t about what style they play or the genre niche you want to fit them in — it’s about the crawling sleek of Sell the Future’s title-track, the crash of drums in “Sharpen the Spear” and the urgency of songs like opener “No Escape” and “Look at You.”

Sell the Future is a record of and for turbulent times, but its working themes aren’t so pointed as to sound already dated in the fast-moving, unending “No Escape”-is-right news cycle the universe seems to inhabit. As much as the band have come into their own operating as the five-piece of vocalist Matt Harrington, guitarists Scott O’Dowd and Alasdair Swan, bassist/backing vocalist Jay Furlo and drummer Alexei Rodriguez, their dedication to classic, timeless rock and roll songwriting is unflinching.

After taking part in Ripple Music’s The Second Coming of Heavy split series in 2018, Cortez have pushed themselves even further with Sell the Future, finding a passion and instrumental fury that comes through regardless of tempo and makes their songs all the more memorable. Whatever the days ahead might bring, Cortez stand ready.

Cortez website

Cortez on Instagram

Cortez on Thee Facebooks

Cortez on Bandcamp

Ripple Music on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Instagram

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

Ripple Music website

Tags: , , , , ,

Days of Rona: Matthew Harrington of Cortez

Posted in Features on April 29th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The statistics of COVID-19 change with every news cycle, and with growing numbers, stay-at-home isolation and a near-universal disruption to society on a global scale, it is ever more important to consider the human aspect of this coronavirus. Amid the sad surrealism of living through social distancing, quarantines and bans on gatherings of groups of any size, creative professionals — artists, musicians, promoters, club owners, techs, producers, and more — are seeing an effect like nothing witnessed in the last century, and as humanity as a whole deals with this calamity, some perspective on who, what, where, when and how we’re all getting through is a needed reminder of why we’re doing so in the first place.

Thus, Days of Rona, in some attempt to help document the state of things as they are now, both so help can be asked for and given where needed, and so that when this is over it can be remembered.

Thanks to all who participate. To read all the Days of Rona coverage, click here. — JJ Koczan

cortez matt harrington

Days of Rona: Matthew Harrington of Cortez (Boston, Massachusetts)

How are you dealing with this crisis as a band? Have you had to rework plans at all? How is everyone’s health so far?

We’re all healthy, thankfully, and we’re all concerned about and focused on our people staying healthy as well. We’ve got an album+ ready to go. Can’t wait for people to hear it. Can’t wait to play shows again with our friends, and play songs from that album. Speaking personally, I miss my homies and I want to write and play music again in my practice space as soon as humanly possible, but I’m incredibly thankful to have a job and a support system right now most of all.

What are the quarantine/isolation rules where you are?

In Boston, we are basically shut down, and Massachusetts as a whole is closed until at least May 4th now. Schools, restaurants/bars/clubs, and all non-essential businesses are closed or working from home until at least that date. Most people, it seems, are doing their best to limit close interactions with others, but I am endlessly baffled at the amount of people who also still don’t seem to be getting it. We haven’t hit the expected peak yet, and I expect the situation to evolve further.

How have you seen the virus affecting the community around you and in music?

I look at my friends in the restaurant/venue, recording, booking, and much broader service industry world and just feel gutted. We have no real social safety net in the United States, and a lot of people don’t have the luxury of having a cushion.

Layoffs, furloughs, and “work reductions” are becoming more common as the days go on, and this is something that directly affects all of us, in music and in life. The reality is that there are a lot of people out there that are going to take a long time to recover from this.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything?

We’re all in this together, and we all need to do our best to safely take care of our neighbors, friends, and families. Stay healthy, stay connected, stay safe, and stay the fuck home.

http://www.cortezboston.com
http://www.instagram.com/cortezboston
http://www.facebook.com/cortezboston
http://cortezboston.bandcamp.com

Tags: , , ,

Days of Rona: Scott O’Dowd of Cortez

Posted in Features on April 6th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The statistics of COVID-19 change with every news cycle, and with growing numbers, stay-at-home isolation and a near-universal disruption to society on a global scale, it is ever more important to consider the human aspect of this coronavirus. Amid the sad surrealism of living through social distancing, quarantines and bans on gatherings of groups of any size, creative professionals — artists, musicians, promoters, club owners, techs, producers, and more — are seeing an effect like nothing witnessed in the last century, and as humanity as a whole deals with this calamity, some perspective on who, what, where, when and how we’re all getting through is a needed reminder of why we’re doing so in the first place.

Thus, Days of Rona, in some attempt to help document the state of things as they are now, both so help can be asked for and given where needed, and so that when this is over it can be remembered.

Thanks to all who participate. To read all the Days of Rona coverage, click here. — JJ Koczan

cortez scott odowd

Days of Rona: Scott O’Dowd of Cortez (Boston, Massachusetts)

How are you dealing with this crisis as a band? Have you had to rework plans at all? How is everyone’s health so far?

We have been finishing up artwork for our new album that we recorded in the fall with Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios. As far as playing shows, we’ve definitely had to cancel a few, and likely more as this pandemic continues. Cortez as a band has decided to suspend rehearsal for the time being as well, three of the members have children, and it just doesn’t seem like a good idea to risk getting together to rehearse in light of the current situation. Everyone is healthy at the current moment.

What are the quarantine/isolation rules where you are?

In Massachusetts, the governor issued a stay-at-home advisory for non-essential personnel as well as limiting public gatherings to groups of 10 or less. The have also closed bars/restaurants except for take out. It’s pretty eerie exactly how quiet the city of Boston and surrounding areas have been, compared to normal.

How have you seen the virus affecting the community around you and in music?

As for the community, most people seem to be taking this seriously as expected. Most seem to be following the social distancing guidelines and wearing masks and/or gloves in grocery stores, etc. It has obviously affected the ability to be social but people seem to be finding ways to adapt. Whether through FaceTime, or phone calls, or video chats.

Locally there have been Facebook groups / pages where local musicians have been doing live streams from their homes or rehearsal spaces.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything?

We as a band, are approaching this like most folks, waiting it out and trying to stay safe. It’s going to feel really nice to get together in a room and play some music when this is all over! I have a sneaking suspicion that we will have a ton of new albums to listen to once this passes as everyone suddenly has a lot of time on their hands.

http://www.cortezboston.com
http://www.instagram.com/cortezboston
http://www.facebook.com/cortezboston
http://cortezboston.bandcamp.com

Tags: , , ,

Cortez Enter Studio to Record New Album

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 13th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

I’m not trying to be a smartass or anything here, but three years between Cortez releases would be pretty good. The Boston heavy rockers issued The Depths Below (review here), in 2017, some five years after their 2012 self-titled debut (review here), and that followed five years after their 2007 first EP, Thunder in a Forgotten Town. Especially as they also had the split out last year with the now-defunct Wasted Theory (review here) as part of Ripple Music‘s The Second Coming of Heavy series, trimming that divide between full-lengths down to the three years from 2017-2020 is right on. It’ll be interesting to hear how momentum plays into what they do with the record.

Actually, scratch that. It’ll just be interesting to hear the record — period. Cortez‘s Boston-born heavy rock methodology is time-tested and headbang-secure, and The Depths Below was as solid as the bricks of Faneuil Hall. Not broken, not in needing of fixing: what Windows 95 once referred to as “plug and play.” Dudes do not screw around.

Accordingly, they’re working with Benny Grotto at Mad Oak. Because that’s what you do.

Here’s their announcement:

cortez

Boston Heavy Rockers Cortez Begin Recording New Album

Boston heavy rockers CORTEZ have entered Mad Oak Studios in Allston, MA to begin recording the follow up to their 2017 album “The Depths Below.” The band is once again recording with Benny Grotto (WORSHIPPER, SCISSORFIGHT, GOZU) manning the board. This will be the first recording to feature the current lineup:

Matt Harrington – vocals
Scott O’Dowd – guitar
Alasdair Swan – guitar
Jay Furlo – bass
Alexei Rodriguez – drums

Speaking about the material the band states, “We couldn’t be more excited; our new material is at once different and yet quintessentially Cortez. We are thrilled to be working with Benny Grotto again, as he totally gets what we are trying to achieve sonically. We can’t wait for everyone hear the songs.”

Cortez are laying low on the live front to concentrate on recording, but currently have one show scheduled:

Friday, September 27 at Lucky 13 in Brooklyn, NY with Vessel Of Light, Eternal Black, and Clothesline.

http://www.cortezboston.com
http://www.instagram.com/cortezboston
http://www.facebook.com/cortezboston
http://cortezboston.bandcamp.com

Cortez, The Depths Below (2017)

Tags: , ,

New England Stoner and Doom Fest II: More Lineup Announcements; Pre-Party Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 5th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

new england stoner doom festival 2019 art

It’s time to talk about the real potential of the New England Stoner and Doom Fest. No, I don’t mean the lineup. That’s awesome. You know it and I know it. I’m talking about the acronym. That’s always huge for a festival. How is it abbreviated? Think MDDF or SHoD or any of the DFs spread around the universe. These things matter.

I’ve seen NESDF tossed around for New England Stoner and Doom Fest, and that’s cool, but it’s missing the opportunity. You could have a festival abbreviated NES! Who the hell wouldn’t buy that t-shirt? I hereby cast my vote in the imaginary referendum on festival abbreviations for New England Stoner and Doom Fest to henceforth and forthwith and withhence be known as NES fest. Second the motion?

There’s reportedly one more band to be added and reportedly several in the running for that slot, so this might not be the final update before May 3-5 gets here and NES fest kicks off (see me using the acronym already?), and the lineup for a pre-party at 33 Golden St. in New London has been announced as well, which will be headlined by Fox 45, so, you know, more of a good thing and all that.

The full lineup as has been revealed follows. Note the Wretch reunion. NES fest!

New England Stoner & Doom Fest II

The New England Stoner and Doom Festival will make its return in 2019 on May 3,4, and 5 at Altones in Jewett City, CT.

Earthride
Brimstone Coven
Wretch
Kings Destroy
+1 TBA
Foghound
Pale Divine
Vessel of Light
Spiral Grave
Solace
Black Road
Curse the Son
Shadow Witch
Hell Camino
Clamfight
Eternal Black
Thunderbird Divine
Stonecutters
When the Deadbolt Breaks
Mourn the Light
Entierro
Bone Church
Buzzard Canyon
The Age of Truth
Void King
Horseburner
Scuzzy Yeti
Witchkiss
Cortez
Benthic Realm
Faith in Jane
Conclave
Set Fire
3 Parts Dead
Insano Vision
Old Earth Analog
Pinto Graham
The Stone Eye
Sentinel Hell

Pre-party @ 33 Golden St.:
Fox 45
VRSA
Dark Ritual
Owl Maker
Feed the Beast

www.newenglandstoneranddoomfest.com
https://www.facebook.com/events/1613285008788252/
https://www.facebook.com/NewEnglandStonerAndDoomFest/
https://www.saltoftheearthrecords.com/

Wretch, Bastards Born (2017)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,