The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

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[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.

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Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

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

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

30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

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

29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Oct. 12.

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

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

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

27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

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

26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

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

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

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

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

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

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

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

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

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

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

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

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

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

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

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

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

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

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

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

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

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

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

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

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

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

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

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

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

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

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

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

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

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

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

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

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

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

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

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

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

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

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

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

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

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

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

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

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

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

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

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

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

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

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

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

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

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

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

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

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead to 2021

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

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

Thank You

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

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

More to come.

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Quarterly Review: Celestial Season, Wren, Sumokem, Oginalii, Völur, Wedge, SpellBook, Old Blood, Jahbulong, Heavy Trip

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

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

The end of the week for the Quarterly Review is a special time, even if this particular QR will continue into next Monday and Tuesday. Also apparently today is Xmas? Okay. Whatever, I’ve got writing to do. I hope you’re safe and not, say, traveling out of state to see family against the urging of the CDC. That would be incredibly irresponsible, etc. etc. that’s what I’m doing. Don’t get me started.

However you celebrate or don’t, be safe. Music will help.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Celestial Season, The Secret Teachings

celestial season the secret teachings

Like many of the original death-doom set, Dutch masters Celestial Season gave up the style during their original run, departing toward heavy rock after 1995’s Solar Lovers. At an hour’s run spread across 13 tracks including ambient guitar and violin/cello interludes, The Secret Teachings has no time for such flighty fare. Reunited with original vocalist Stefan Ruiters and bassist Lucas van Slegtenhorst, the band return in grand fashion for their first full-length in 20 years, and songs like “Long Forlorn Tears” and “Salt of the Earth” conjure all the expert-grade morose plod one could possibly ask, as each side of the 2LP begins with its own intro and sets its own mood, from the almost-hopeful wistfulness of opener/longest track (immediate points) “The Secret Teachings of All Ages” at the start to the birdsong-laced “Beneath the Temple Mount” that leads the way into “A Veil of Silence” and “Red Water” at the finish, the latter a Type O Negative cover that fits well after the crescendo of the song before it.

Celestial Season on Thee Facebooks

Burning World Records website

 

Wren, Groundswells

wren groundswells

The gift Wren make to post-metal is that even in their quietest stretches, they maintain tension. And sure, the Londoners’ second LP, Groundswells — also stylized all-caps: GROUNDSWELLS — has in “Murmur” its “Stones From the Sky” moment as all works of the genre seemingly must, but the six-cut/44-minute follow-up to 2017’s Auburn Rule (discussed here) casts a scope less about pretense or ambition than largesse and heft, and that serves it well, be it in the shorter “Crossed Out Species” or longer pieces like the opener “Chrome” and the penultimate “Subterranean Messiah,” which injects some melodic vocals into the proceedings and airy string-inclusive prog amid all the surrounding crush. All well and good, but it’s hard to deny the sheer assault of the doomed apex in closer “The Throes,” and you’ll pardon me if I don’t try. Ambience through volume, catharsis through volume, volume all things.

Wren on Thee Facebooks

Gizeh Records website

 

Sumokem, Prajnaparadha

sumokem prajnaparadha

With strength of performance to fall back on and progressive realization in their songwriting, Little Rock, Arkansas’ Sumokem would seem to come of age on their third long-player, Prajnaparadha, answering the flourish of 2017’s The Guardian of Yosemite (discussed here) with an even more confident stylistic sprawl and an abiding patience that extends even to the album’s most intense moments. Not at all a minor undertaking in dynamic or its run of five long songs following the intro “Prologue,” Prajnaparadha manages not to be dizzying mostly because of the grace with which it’s crafted, tied together by ace guitar work and a propensity for soaring in order to complement and sometimes willfully contrast the tonal weight. When the growls show up in “Fakir” and carry into “Khizer,” Sumokem seem to push the record to its final level, and making that journey with them is richly satisfying.

Sumokem on Thee Facebooks

Cursed Tongue Records webstore

 

Oginalii, Pendulum

Oginalii Pendulum

Psychedelia comes poison-tipped with brooding post-grunge atmospheres as Oginalii‘s Pendulum swings this way and that between “Scapegoat” and “Black Hole” and “Pillars” and “Veils” across its too short 24 minutes. The Nashvillainous four-piece explore an inner darkness perfect for these long months of forced-introspection, and though calling something pandemic-appropriate has become a tired compliment to give, the underlying rhythmic restlessness of “Scapegoat” and the crying out overtop, the fuzzy burst of “Veils” and the interweaving drums and guitar noise behind the recited semi-sung poetry of “Pillars” serve the soundtrack cause nonetheless, to say nothing of the two-minute minimalist echoing stretch of “Black Hole” or the oh-okay-it’s-indie-post-rock-but-oh-wait-what-the-hell-now-it’s-furious closer “Stripped the Screw.” Anger suits Oginalii as it comes through here, not in tired chestbeating but in spacious craft that manages to sound intense even in its languid reach. Pretty fucking cool, if you ask me.

Oginalii on Thee Facebooks

Devil in the Woods on Bandcamp

 

Völur, Death Cult

Völur death cult

Toronto’s Völur offer their third album, Death Cult, in cooperation with Prophecy Productions, and it comes in four string-laced tracks that waste little time in pushing genre limits, bringing folk influences in among doom, blackened metallurgy and more ethereal touches. Arrangements of violin, viola, cello, double-bass, keys, and the shared vocals of Laura Bates and Lucas Gadke (the latter also of Blood Ceremony) give a suitably arthouse feel to the proceedings rounded out by the drums and percussion of Justin Ruppel, and it’s far from unearned as the four songs play out across 37 minutes, “Dead Moon” veering into lumbering death-doom in its apex ahead of the jazz-into-choral-into-drone-into-freer-jazz-into-progressive-black-metal of the 11-minute “Freyjan Death Cult,” subsequent closer “Reverend Queen” leaving behind the chaos in its last few minutes for an epilogue of mournful strings and drums; a dirge both unrepentantly beautiful and still in keeping with the atmospheric weight throughout. Bands like this — rare — make other bands better.

Volur on Thee Facebooks

Volur at Prophecy Productions

 

Wedge, Like No Tomorrow

wedge like no tomorrow

Bursting with enough energy to make one miss live music, Wedge‘s third album, Like No Tomorrow, transcends vintage-ism in its production if not its overall mindset, bringing clarity to Deep Purple organ-tics on opener “Computer” while keeping the lyrics purposefully modern. Bass leads the way in “Playing a Role” and the spirit is boogie fuzz until the jam hits and, yeah, they make it easy to go along for the ride. “Blood Red Wine” has arena-rock melody down pat while centerpiece and likely side A closer “Across the Water” at last lets itself go to that place, following the guitar until the surge that brings in “Queen of the Night” indulges purer proto-metal impulses, still accomplished in its harmonized chorus amid the charge. Is that the guitar solo in “U’n’I” panning left to right I hear? I certainly hope so. The shortest cut on Like No Tomorrow feels like it’s in a hurry to leave behind a verse, and sets up the surprisingly modestly paced “At the Speed of Life,” which is lent a cinematic feel by the organ and layered choral vocals that bolsters yet another strong hook, while the nine-minute “Soldier” is bluesier but still sounds like it could be the live incarnation of any of these tracks depending on where a given jam takes Wedge on any given night. Here’s hoping, anyhow.

Wedge on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

SpellBook, Magick and Mischief

SpellBook Magick and Mischief

About a year and a half after issuing Otherworldly (review here), their third album under the moniker Witch Hazel, the dukes of York, PA, are back with a new name and a refreshed sound. As SpellBook, vocalist Nate Tyson, guitarist Andy Craven, bassist Seibert Lowe and drummer Nicholas Zinn push through two vinyl sides of classic heavy f’n metal, less concerned with doom than they were but still saving a bit of roll for the longer centerpiece “Not Long for This World” and the airy, dramatic closer “Dead Detectives.” Elsewhere, “Black Shadow” brings a horns-at-the-ready chorus, “Motorcade” reminds that the power of Judas Priest was always in the basslines (that’s right, I said it), and “Ominous Skies” brims with the vitality of the new band that SpellBook are, even as it benefits from the confidence born of these players’ prior experience together.

SpellBook on Thee Facebooks

Cruz Del Sur Music website

 

Old Blood, Acid Doom

old blood acid doom

Kudos to L.A.’s Old Blood for at least making the classification part easy when it comes to their debut album, conveniently titled Acid Doom, though that category hardly accounts for, say, the piano stretch of second cut “Bridge to Nowhere,” or the heavy rock theatricality in “Heavy Water” or the horn sounds of “Slothgod” a few songs later, but I suppose one has to start somewhere, and ‘acid doom’ is fair enough when it comes to accounting for the sleekery in the vocals of Lynx, the weight of the riffs of C. Gunner, the roll of bassist Octopus and drummer Diesel and the classic-style organ work of J.F. Stone. But if Old Blood want to unfurl something deceptively complex and stylistically intricate on their debut, that’s certainly cool as far as I’m concerned. Production is a strong presence throughout in a way that pulls a bit from what the impact of the songs might be on stage (remember stages?), but the songwriting is there, and Lynx‘s voice is a noteworthy presence of its own. I’m not sure where they’ll end up sound-wise, but at the same time, Acid Doom comes across like nothing else in the batch of 70 records I’m doing for this Quarterly Review, and that in itself I find admirable.

Old Blood on Thee Facebooks

Metal Assault Records on Bandcamp

DHU Records webstore

 

Jahbulong, Eclectic Poison Tones

JAHBULONG ECLECTIC POISON TONES

Just because you know the big riff is going to kick in about a minute into opening track “Under the Influence of the Fool” on Jahbulong‘s tarot-inflected stoner doom four-songer Eclectic Poison Tones doesn’t make it any less satisfying when it happens. The deep-rolling three-piece from Verona make their full-length debut with the 45-minute offering through Go Down Records, and the lurching continues in “The Tower of the Broken Bones” and “The Eclipse of the Empress,” which is the only cut under 10 minutes long but still keeps the slow-motion Sabbath rolling into the 15-minute closer “The Eremite Tired Out (Sweed Dreams)” (sic), which plays off some loud/quiet changes fluidly without interrupting the nod that’s so central to the entirety of the album. Look. These guys know the gods they’re worshiping — Sleep, Black Sabbath, Electric Wizard maybe, etc. — and they’re not trying to get away with saying they invented any of this. If you can’t get down with 45 minutes of slower-than-slow grooves, maybe you’re in the wrong microgenre. For me, it’s the lack of pretense that makes it.

Jahbulong on Thee Facebooks

Go Down Records website

 

Heavy Trip, Heavy Trip

heavy trip heavy trip

Heavy Trip. Four songs. Two sides. Three dudes. Instrumental. Accurately named. Yeah, you’ve heard this story before, but screw it. They start out nice and spacious on “Hand of Shroom” and they finish with high-speed boogie in the 13-minute “Treespinner,” and all in between Heavy Trip make it nothing less than a joy to go along wherever it is they’re headed. The Vancouver three-piece make earlier Earthless something of an elephant in the room as regards influences, but the unhurried groove in second cut “Lunar Throne” is a distinguishing factor, and even as “Mind Leaf” incorporates a bit more shove, it does so with enough righteousness to carry through. As a debut, Heavy Trip‘s Heavy Trip might come across more San Diego than Vancouver, but screw it. Dudes got jams like Xmas hams, and the chemistry they bring in holding listener attention with tempo changes throughout here speaks to a progressive edge burgeoning in their sound.

Heavy Trip on Thee Facebooks

Burning World Records on Bandcamp

 

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Apostle of Solitude Announce New Album for Spring 2021

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 19th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

More background than details in the below, but take it to heart one way or the other that there will be a new Apostle of Solitude record out next year. The Indianapolis doomers join an increasingly crowded field of those with post-2020 plans, but you’ll note there’s no real mention of concrete touring notions or anything like that. We don’t even have a name for a record or confirmation that it’s done/mixed/mastered, so there’s a ways to go one assumes before things like cover art and songs start showing up.

But if you needed something today to be stoked about, this should qualify, and if it doesn’t, the band’s 2018 LP, From Gold to Ash (review here), is streaming at the bottom of the post, and once you revisit that, you’ll be stoked anyway, so there you go.

That record, incidentally, has been on my phone since I first heard it. I change shit on my phone all the time depending on what I need to be hearing in a given week. Very few albums last there for anything close to a stretch. It’s one more sign among many that it was a special record that I remain basically unwilling to part with it even as I look forward to what they’ve got coming next.

From the PR wire:

apostle of solitude

Apostle of Solitude – Spring 2021!

Formed in 2004 by vocalist-guitarist Chuck Brown (The Gates of Slumber) with heavy hitter Corey Webb on drums, Apostle of Solitude released their debut ‘Sincerest Misery’(via Eyes Like Snow) in 2008 and the follow-up ‘Last Sunrise’ in 2010 (via Profound Lore as well as Eyes Like Snow) before adding vocalist-guitarist Steve Janiak (Devil to Pay) in 2011 and then Mike Naish (Shroud of Vulture, Astral Mass) in 2015. The band released their epic third album ‘Of Woe and Wounds’ for Cruz Del Sur Music in 2014, followed by multiple tours across the US and triumphant 2016 European tour.

Apostle of Solitude’s most recent album, 2018’s “From Gold To Ash”, was widely heralded by fans and critics alike as both the band’s best work to date, and a defining moment in American doom metal. Largely defined by the heartfelt and emotive dual vocals of Brown and Janiak, ‘From Gold To Ash’ covers a wide spectrum of heavy, from raging instrumentals to introspective guitar duos, monolithic doom riffs and reflective, melodic heartache. In support of that album, the band embarked on a southern US tour (with labelmates Pale Divine), their second European tour (including the Hammer of Doom festival at the revered Posthalle Wurzburg in Germany, and headlining the Doom Over Vienna festival in Austria), a special performance at the Maryland Doom festival, and a handful of Midwest US dates.

While 2020 saw a worldwide pandemic that dramatically altered many aspects of life around the globe, the band waited, and then implemented appropriate safety measures in order to continue writing their next album. This, the band’s fifth full length (and yet to be titled) album, is set to be released spring of 2021, again on Italy’s Cruz Del Sur Music, and available on CD, vinyl LP, and digital formats. As a nod to the tradition set by the band’s prior works, the album is set to be recorded at Russian Recording in Bloomington, IN with studio mastermind Mike Bridavsky behind the board. Following the release of the album, and once the world is safe to do so, Apostle of Solitude plans to tour again domestically and abroad in support of the new album.

APOSTLE OF SOLITUDE is:
Corey Webb – drums
Chuck Brown – guitars, vocals
Steve Janiak – guitars, vocals
Mike Naish – bass

www.facebook.com/apostleofsolitude
https://www.instagram.com/apostleofsolitude/
apostleofsolitude.com
www.cruzdelsurmusic.com
cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com
www.facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic

Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash (2018)

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Sonja Sign to Cruz Del Sur; Loud Arriver Out Next Year

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 6th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Philly trad metal-style heavy rockers — or is it heavy rock-style trad metallers? — Sonja have signed to Cruz Del Sur Music to issue their debut long-player in the New Year. Titled Loud Arriver, the album will have been preceded only by the 2018 two-songer demo, Nylon Nights/Wanting Me Dead, issued by Creep Records. And I don’t know of those songs will make the record, but I’m certainly not hearing anything in them that wouldn’t make sense.

Interesting to read that the band have roots in more extreme fare. As Philadelphia has kind of become a hotbed of newer-school underground heavy metal, rock and psych, there have been a number of acts emerging whose pasts found them digging into more aggro influences — Ecstatic Vision come to mind first — but whatever works, frankly. Sonja obviously have their house order, otherwise I don’t think a label like Cruz Del Sur comes knocking in the first place.

Info from the PR wire:

sonja loud arriver

Philadelphia Rockers SONJA Sign With Cruz Del Sur Music

Cruz Del Sur Music is proud to announce the signing of Philadelphia rockers SONJA. The label will release the band’s first full-length studio album, Loud Arriver, in early 2021.

SONJA formed in 2014 when vocalist/guitarist Melissa Moore and drummer Grzesiek Czapla started to look for new musical avenues beyond their extreme black, death, grind and thrash backgrounds. Instead of entrusting an outsider with the vocalist position, Moore took it upon herself to learn how to sing. Along the way, the band added bassist Ben Brand, completing a lineup that is rife with musical diversity with influences stretching from classic and doom metal, all the way to Goth and post-punk.

In 2018, SONJA released the Nylon Nights / Wanting Me Dead demo, a hook-laden display of metal that was immediately lauded for its catchiness and heaviness. The demo caught the interest of Cruz Del Sur Music.

“We immediately got a good feeling and it was obvious that we were dealing with a label that was about the music above all,” says Moore. “Despite our past bands, we had never toured with SONJA and didn’t have an official release, so Cruz Del Sur to be able to ‘discover’ us meant something. A very sick label found Sonja based on our songs only, and that’s the kind of omen we respect.”

“From day one this band has had a strong vision, and we consider it our duty to serve that vision,” she continues. “As a result, we take a long time to make sure that what we are crafting is totally on point. It’s a cohesive sound and we prioritize hooks above all. Real heavy metal fire has to be there in every song along with sensual dark rhythms. No one shows up to the dojo with a full song and says ‘play this.’ We write the music together in the same room. This is a band about songwriting and the songs are bigger than anything else about us.”

Speaking of songwriting, Loud Arriver will feature eight songs of “beautiful, dark, mighty and wicked” heavy metal and is the product of a tandem recording process with the music being recorded by Daniel Kishbaugh and the vocals being recorded by Arthur Rizk in Philadelphia at Creep Recording Studio. As 2020 starts to draw to a close, Moore and her bandmates leave with some words of encouragement for 2021:

“Whatever is going on in the world, whether it be death and misery, or MORE death and misery, SONJA will accompany you to the end.”

Artwork by Karmazid!

facebook.com/Sonjabooking
instagram.com/sonjaphilly
sonjaband.bandcamp.com/releases
cruzdelsurmusic.com
facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic
cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com

Sonja, Nylon Nights/Wanting Me Dead (2018)

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Grendel’s Sÿster Sign to Cruz Del Sur Music

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 17th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Stuttgart, Germany, three-piece Grendel’s Sÿster make a good fit on on Cruz Del Sur Music, bringing together folk and classic metal on their 2019 Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz — which, yes, has 16 tracks — in a way that recalls the more power-driven moments of their newfound labelmates in Slough Feg, but is perhaps even more in the post-Skyclad pantheon of folk metal, though, as the label points out in the announcement of signing the band, they neither play to the trope of using folk instruments nor sing about beer. I’m all for varied arrangements depending on the context, but listening to Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz, it’s pretty clear what Cruz Del Sur are talking about when it comes to metal. They’re talking about Korpiklaani, Fintroll and the like. This is a different kind of folk metal.

The vinyl is out Sept. 25 and the preorders are up. That’s probably what you need to know.

So here you go:

GRENDEL’S SŸSTER

German Epic Folk Metallers GRENDEL’S SŸSTER Join Cruz Del Sur Music

Cruz Del Sur Music is proud to welcome Stuttgart, Germany epic folk metallers GRENDEL’S SŸSTER. The label will re-release the band’s 2019 “Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz” EP in September.

GRENDEL’S SŸSTER – “Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz” LP
RELEASE DATE: SEPT 25, 2020
FORMAT: GATEFOLD LP, INSERT & DOWNLOAD CODE
PRE-ORDER: https://tinyurl.com/yd4ps37x

Re-release of German trio Grendel’s Sÿster’s Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz EP — a collection of German and English-sung folk metal that’s eclectic and epic!

A seamless blend of classic metal and pure folk from this emerging German power trio!

“Follow the atmosphere.” It is a simple guideline for Grendel’s Sÿster guitarist and primary songwriter Tobi when composing. He often finds himself pulling all-nighters, aided and abetted by black tea and a daylight lamp to ensure the mood is just right. All he needs is a tiny fragment of a melody with a numinous quality and eventually, a new Grendel’s Sÿster song is born.

Music as unique as Grendel’s Sÿster requires a special touch — they marry metal, folk and acid rock in such a manner that it would appear the band has been together for decades, when, in reality, they came together in 2015 after a series of impromptu jam sessions tucked away in the Vosges Mountains region in France. The 2016 Night Sea Journey/Sayings of the High One single was their first release, followed by 2018’s Orphic Gold Leaves/Orphische Goldblättchen EP. Their 2019 Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz EP is what caught the attention of Cruz Del Sur Music, leading to its proper reissue this September.

Grendel’s Sÿster’s inimitable style owes as much to their wide range of influences (from early Blind Guardian, Warlord and Lordian Guard, to artists such as Svanevit, Triakel and Planxty, all the way to classical and renaissance music) as it does the chemistry within the band.

What separates Grendel’s Syster from other folk metal bands is that they don’t rely on traditional folk instrumentation. In fact, there’s not a trace of it on the LP. Instead, the band’s reliance on atmosphere, melody and compositional breadth is what helps them get their point across.

To go one step further, the topics on Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz are mostly about history, mythology and folklore, avoiding many of the pitfalls of the current folk metal style. (No drinking songs to be found!)

The EP’s cover art is from Dutch painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema, depicting an anecdote from the Historia Augusta, which is a collection of Roman biographies written in Latin. And, as if to further display Grendel’s Sÿster’s special quality, Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz features both a German and English version of the EP in one package.

Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz is more than just the organic marriage of metal and folk. It’s an EP without boundaries, both bold and captivating at once.

https://grendelssyster.bandcamp.com/
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Grendel’s Sÿster, Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz EP (2019)

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Apostle of Solitude Post “My Heart is Leaving Here” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 13th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

apostle of solitude my heart is leaving here

Well, okay. Last time Apostle of Solitude posted a video — about a month and a half ago, if that — it was for the track “Grey Farewell” (posted here) from 2018’s From Gold to Ash (review here), and I guess because I was feeling all clever and I like reading into things what may or may not actually be there, I said it was the band’s way of saying goodbye to that album while beginning to undertake the process of putting together their next one, which is set to be recorded this Fall.

So obviously there would be another video after that, right? There would almost have to be.

The two clips are also basically opposites. “Grey Farewell” was a quarantine video, with the four members of Apostle of Solitude recording their individual parts at home during the COVID-19 lockdown — which, make no fucking mistake, should still be going on every bit as intensely as it was in April — whereas “My Heart is Leaving Here” is live footage. Obviously archival, it pulls scenes not only from the band’s home turn at Black Circle Brewing in Indianapolis, but from their last European tour, which included stops in France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and indeed, more Germany. Germany loves its doom. We already knew that.

Am I bummed that I said they were done with From Gold to Ash and then along comes “My Heart is Leaving Here” just a couple weeks later? Shit no. I’m happy to have an excuse today to listen to Apostle of Solitude and one more chance to tell you to hear that album if you didn’t yet and that you should be looking forward to the next one half as much as I am, which is a great deal to be certain. Like a lot. I don’t want to say an unhealthy amount, but yeah.

Enjoy the video, and I mean that as an imperative:

Apostle of Solitude, “My Heart is Leaving Here” official video

Apostle of Solitude’s music video for “My Heart is Leaving Here” from the album “From Gold to Ash” available from Cruz Del Sur Music. https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com

Filmed by Jason Rich
Additional footage by Melissa Watt
Edits: S. Janiak
live footage from: Black Circle Brewing, Indianapolis Indiana
Knubbel Marburg, Marburg, Germany
Bobble Café, Lomme, France
ELPEE Café, Deinze, Belgium
MTS LPs and CD, Oldenburg, Germany
Little Devil Bar, Tilburg, Netherlands
Bambi Galore, Hamburg, Germany
Posthalle Wurzburg HAMMER OF DOOM XIII, Wurzburg, Germany
Horst, Saarbrucken, Germany

Recorded by Mike Bridavsky at Russian Recording, Bloomington, IN
Mixed by Mike Bridavsky
Mastered by Collin Jordan at The Boiler Room Chicago, Il

APOSTLE OF SOLITUDE is:
Corey Webb – drums
Chuck Brown – guitars, vocals
Steve Janiak – guitars, vocals
Mike Naish – bass

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Quarterly Review: Witchcraft, The Wizar’d, Sail, Frank Sabbath, Scream of the Butterfly, Slow Draw, Baleful Creed, Surya Kris Peters, Slow Phase, Rocky Mtn Roller

Posted in Reviews on July 8th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the-obelisk-qr-summer-2020

Day Three is always special when it comes to Quarterly Reviews because it’s where we hit and pass the halfway point on the way to covering 50 albums by Friday. This edition hasn’t been unpleasant at all — I’ve screened this stuff pretty hard, so I feel well prepared — but it still requires some doing to make it all come together. Basically a week’s worth. Ha.

If you haven’t found anything yet that speaks to you, I hope that changes either today, tomorrow or Friday.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Witchcraft, Black Metal

witchcraft black metal

Four years ago, Witchcraft frontman/founder Magnus Pelander released a solo album under his own name called Time (review here) as a quick complement to the band’s own 2016 offering, Nucleus (review here). Pelander‘s Time was his first solo outing since a 2010 four-song EP that, for a long time, seemed like a one-off. Now, with Black Metal, Witchcraft strips down to its barest essentials — Pelander‘s voice and guitar — and he is the only performer on the seven-track/33-minute LP. Style-wise, it’s mostly sad, intimate folk, as Pelander begins with “Elegantly Expressed Depression” and tells the stories of “A Boy and a Girl,” “Sad People,” and even the key-inclusive “Sad Dog” before “Take Him Away” closes out with a bluesy guitar figure that features twice but is surrounded by a space that seems to use silence as much as music as a tool of its downer presentation. The title, obviously tongue-in-cheek, is clearly nonetheless a reference to depression, and while Pelander‘s performance is gorgeous and honest, it’s also very clearly held down by a massive emotional weight. So too, then, is the album.

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Nuclear Blast webstore

 

The Wizar’d, Subterranean Exile

the wizar'd subterranean exile

Making their debut on Cruz Del Sur Music, Australia’s The Wizar’d return from the doomliest of gutters with Subterranean Exile, opening the album with the title-track’s take on capital-‘c’ Classic doom and the pre-NWOBHM-ism of Pagan Altar, Witchfinder General, and, duh, Black Sabbath. In just 35 minutes, the four-piece make the most of their raw but epic vibes, using the means of the masters to showcase their own songwriting. This is doom metal at its most traditional, with two guitars intertwining riffs and leads on “Master of the Night” and the catchy “Long Live the Dead,” but there’s a dungeon-style spirit to the solo in that track — or maybe that’s just build off of the prior interlude “Ecstatic Visions Held Within the Monastic Tower” — that sets up the speedier run of “Evil in My Heart” ahead of the seven-minute finale “Dark Fortress.” As one might hope, they cap with due lumber and ceremony befitting an LP so thoroughly, so entirely doomed, and while perhaps it will be seven years before they do another full-length, it doesn’t matter. The Wizar’d stopped time a long time ago.

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Cruz Del Sur Music website

 

Sail, Mannequin

Sail Mannequin

A follow-up to their later-2019 single “Starve,” the three-song Mannequin release from UK progressive metallers Sail is essentially a single as well. It begins with the ‘regular’ version of the track, which careens through its sub-five minutes with a standout hook and the dual melodic vocals of guitarists Tim Kazer and Charlie Dowzell. This is followed by “Mannequin [Synthwave Remix],” which lives up to its name, and brings bassist Kynan Scott to the fore on synth, replacing the drums of Tom Coles with electronic beats and the guitars with keyboards. The chorus works remarkably well. As fluidly as “Mannequin” fed into the subsequent remix, so too does “Mannequin [Synthwave Remix]” move directly into “Mannequin [Director’s Cut],” which ranges past the seven-minute mark and comes across rawer than the opening version. Clearly Sail knew they could get some mileage out of “Mannequin,” and they weren’t wrong. They make the most of the 16-minute occasion and keep listeners guessing where they might be headed coming off of 2017’s Slumbersong LP. Easy win.

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Sail on Bandcamp

 

Frank Sabbath, Compendium

Frank Sabbath Compendium

They’re not kidding with that title. Frank Sabbath‘s Compendium covers four years of studio work — basic improvisations done in 2016 plus overdubs over time — and the resulting freakout is over an hour and a half long. Its 14 component pieces run a gamut of psychedelic meandering, loud, quiet, fast, slow, spacey, earthy, whatever you’re looking for, there’s time for it all. The French trio were plenty weird already on 2017’s Are You Waiting? (review here), but the scales are tipped here in the extended “La Petite Course à Vélo” (11:16) and “Bermuda Cruise” (17:21) alone, never mind on the Middle Eastern surf of “Le Coucous” or the hopping bass and wah of “Gallus Crackus” and “L’Oeufou.” The band has issued live material in the past, and whatever they do, it’s pretty jammy, but Compendium specifically highlights this aspect of their sound, shoving it in front of the listener and daring them to take it on. If you’re mind’s not open, it might be by the time you’re done.

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Frank Sabbath on Bandcamp

 

Scream of the Butterfly, Birth Death Repeat

scream of the butterfly birth death repeat

Scream of the Butterfly made a raucous debut in with 2017’s Ignition (review here), and Birth Death Repeat stays the course of bringing Hammond organ to the proceedings of melodically arranged ’90s-style heavy rock, resulting in a cross-decade feel marked by sharp tones and consistency of craft that’s evident in the taut executions of “The Devil is by My Side” and “Higher Place” before the more moderately-paced “Desert Song” takes hold and thickens out the tones accordingly. ‘Desert,’ as it were, is certainly an influence throughout, as the opener’s main riff feels Kyuss-derived and the later “Driven” has a fervent energy behind it as well. The latter is well-placed following the ballad “Soul Giver,” the mellower title-track interlude, and the funky but not nearly as propulsive “Turned to Stone.” They’ll soon close out with the bluesy “I’ve Seen it Coming,” but before they do, “Room Without Walls” brings some marked solo shred and a grungier riff that scuffs up the band’s collective boot nicely, emphasizing that the record itself is less mundane than it might at first appear or the title might lead one to believe.

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Slow Draw, Gallo

Slow Draw Gallo

From minimalist drone to experimental folk, Slow Draw‘s Gallo sets a wide-open context for itself from the outset, a quick voice clip and the churning drone of “Phase 2” leading into the relatively straightforward “No Words” — to which there are, naturally, lyrics. Comprised solely of Mark Kitchens, also known for drumming in the duo Stone Machine Electric, Slow Draw might be called an experimentalist vehicle, but that doesn’t make Gallo any less satisfying. “No Words” and “Falling Far” and the just-acoustic-and-voice closer “End to That” serve as landmarks along the way, touching ground periodically as pieces like the strumming “Harvey’s Chair” and the droned-out “Industrial Aged” play off each other and “Angelo” — homage to Badalamenti, perhaps — the minimal “A Conflict” and “Tumoil” [sic] and “Playground” tip the balance to one side or another, the penultimate krautdrone of “Phase 1” unveiling perhaps what further manipulation turned into “Phase 2” earlier in the proceedings. At 33 minutes, Gallo feels careful not to overstay its welcome, and it doesn’t.

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Baleful Creed, The Lowdown

baleful creed the lowdown

Belfast’s Baleful Creed present a crisp 10 tracks of well-composed, straightforward, doom-tinged heavy rock and roll — they call it ‘doom blues boogie,’ and fair enough — with their third long-player, The Lowdown. They’re not pretending to be anything they’re not and offering their sounds to the listener not in some grand statement of aesthetic accomplishment, and not as a showcase of whatever amps they purchased to make their sound, but instead simply for what they are: songs. Crafted, honed, thought-out and brought to bear with vitality and purpose to give the band the best representation possible. Front-to-back, The Lowdown sounds not necessarily overthought, but professional enough to be called “cared about,” and whether it’s the memorable opening with “Mr. Grim” or the ’90s C.O.C. idolatry of “Tramalamapam” or the strong ending salvo of “End Game,” with its inclusion of piano, the mostly-subdued but swaggering “Line of Trouble” and the organ-topped closer “Southgate of Heaven,” Baleful Creed never veer too far from the central purpose of their priority on songwriting, and neither do they need to.

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Surya Kris Peters, O Jardim Sagrado

Surya Kris Peters O Jardim Sagrado

Though he’s still best known as the frontman of Samsara Blues Experiment, Christian Peters — aka Surya Kris Peters — has become a prolific solo artist as well. The vinyl-ready eight songs/37 minutes of O Jardim Sagrado meet him in his element, bringing together psychedelia, drone and synthesizer/keyboard effects to convey various moods and ideas. As with most of the work done under the Surya Kris moniker, he doesn’t add vocals, but the album wants nothing for expression just the same, whether it’s the Bouzouki on “Endless Green” or the guest contribution of voice from Monika Saint-Oktobre on the encompassing 11-minute title-track, which would be perfect for a dance hall if dance halls were also religious ceremonies. Experiments and explorations like “Celestial Bolero” and “Saudade” bring electric guitar leads and Mellotron-laced wistfulness, respectively, while after the title-cut, the proggy techno of “Blue Nebula” gives way to what might otherwise be a boogie riff on closer “Southern Sunrise.” Peters always seems to find a way to catch the listener off guard. Maybe himself too.

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Slow Phase, Slow Phase

slow phase slow phase

A strong if raw debut from Oakland three-piece Slow Phase, this 39-minute eight-tracker presents straight-ahead classic American heavy rock and roll in the style of acts like a less garage The Brought Low, a looser-knit Sasquatch or any number of bands operating under the Ripple Music banner. Less burly than some, more punk than others, the power trio includes guitarist Dmitri Mavra of Skunk, as well as vocalist/bassist Anthony Pulsipher of Spidermeow and vocalist/drummer Richard Stuverud, the rhythm section adding to the blues spirit and spiraling manic jangle of “Blood Circle.” Opener “Starlight” was previously issued as a teaser single for the album, and stands up to its position here, with the eponymous “Slow Phase” backing its strength of hook. “Psychedelic Man” meanders in its lead section, as it should, and the catchy “Silver Fuzz” sets up the riotous “Midnight Sun” and “No Time” to lead into the electric piano of “Let’s Do it Again (For the First Time),” which I’d kind of take as a goof were it not for the righteous jam that finishes it, referencing “Highway Star” during its fadeout. Some organizing to do, but they obviously know what they’re shooting for.

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Rocky Mtn Roller, Rocky Mtn Roller

rocky mtn roller rocky mtn roller

This band might actually be more cohesive than they want to be. A double-guitar four-piece from Asheville, North Carolina, with a connection to cult heroes Lecherous Gaze via six-stringer Zach Blackwell — joined in the band by guitarist Ruby Roberts, bassist Luke Whitlatch and drummer Alex Cabrera — they’re playing to a certain notion of brashness as an ideal, but while the vocals have a drunk-fuckall stoner edge, the construction of the songs underlying is unremittingly sound on this initial EP. “Monster” opens with a welcome hook and “When I’m a Pile” sounds classic-tinged enough to be a heavy ’70s nod, but isn’t so easily placed to a specific band as to be called derivative. The longest of the four cuts at 5:30, “Bald Faced Hornet” boasts some sting in its snare sound, but the Southern heavy push at its core makes those dueling solos in the second half all the more appropriate, and closing out, “She Ran Off with the Dealer” has both charm and Thin Lizzy groove, which would basically be enough on their own to get me on board. A brazen and blazing candidate for Tee Pee Records‘ digital annex, if someone else doesn’t snag them first.

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Quarterly Review: Horisont, Ahab, Rrrags, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Earthbong, Rito Verdugo, Death the Leveller, Marrowfields, Dätcha Mandala, Numidia

Posted in Reviews on July 7th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the-obelisk-qr-summer-2020

Well, I’m starting an hour later than I did yesterday, so that’s maybe not the most encouraging beginning I could think of, but screw it, I’m here, got music on, got fingers on keys, so I guess we’re underway. Yesterday was remarkably easy, even by Quarterly Review standards. I’ve been doing this long enough at this point — five-plus years — that I approach it with a reasonable amount of confidence it’ll get done barring some unforeseen disaster.

But yesterday was a breeze. What does today hold? In the words of Mrs. Wagner from fourth grade homeroom, “see me after.”

Ready, set, go.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Horisont, Sudden Death

horisont sudden death

With a hefty dose of piano up front and keys throughout, Gothenburg traditionalist heavy rockers Horisont push retro-ism into full-on arena status. Moving past some of the sci-fi aspects of 2017’s About Time, Sudden Death comprises 13 tracks and an hour’s runtime, so rest assured, there’s room for everything, including the sax on “Into the Night,” the circa-’77 rock drama in the midsection of the eight-minute “Archeopteryx in Flight,” and the comparatively straightforward seeming bounce of “Sail On.” With cocaine-era production style, Sudden Death is beyond the earlier-’70s vintage mindset of the band’s earliest work, and songs like “Standing Here” and the penultimate proto-metaller “Reign of Madness” stake a claim on the later era, but the post-Queen melody of “Revolution” at the outset and the acoustic swing in “Free Riding” that follows set a lighthearted tone, and as always seems to be the case with Horisont, there’s nothing that comes across as more important than the songwriting.

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Century Media website

 

Ahab, Live Prey

ahab live prey

Scourge of the seven seas that German nautically-themed funeral doomers Ahab are, Live Prey is their first live album and it finds them some five years removed from their last studio LP, The Boats of the Glen Carrig (review here). For a band who in the past has worked at a steady three-year pace, maybe it was time for something, anything to make its way to public ears. Fair enough, and in five tracks and 63 minutes, Live Prey spans all the way back to 2006’s Call of the Wretched Sea with “Ahab’s Oath” and presents all but two of that debut’s songs, beginning with the trilogy “Below the Sun,” “The Pacific” and “Old Thunder” and switching the order of “Ahab’s Oath” and “The Hunt” from how they originally appeared on the first record to end with the foreboding sounds of waves rolling accompanied by minimal keyboards. It’s massively heavy, of course — so was Call of the Wretched Sea — and whatever their reason for not including any other album’s material, at least they’ve included anything.

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Napalm Records website

 

Rrrags, High Protein

rrrags high protein

Let’s assume the title High Protein might refer to the fact that Dutch/Belgian power trio Rrrags have ‘trimmed the fat’ from the eight songs that comprise their 33-minute sophomore LP. It’s easy enough to believe listening to a cut like “Messin'” or the subsequent “Sad Sanity,” which between the two of them are about as long as the 5:14 opener “The Fridge” just before. But while High Protein has movers and groovers galore in those tracks and the fuzzier “Sugarcube” — the tone of which might remind that guitarist Ron Van Herpen is in Astrosoniq — the stomping “Demons Dancing” and the strutter “Hellfire,” there’s live-DeepPurple-style breadth on the eight-minute “Dark is the Day” and closer “Window” bookends “The Fridge” in length while mellowing out and giving drummer/vocalist Rob Martin a rest (he’s earned it by then) while bassist Rob Zim and Van Herpen carry the finale. If thinking of it as a sleeper hit helps you get on board, so be it, but Rrrags‘ second album is of unmitigated class and straight-up killer performance. It is not one to be overlooked.

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Lay Bare Recordings website

 

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Viscerals

pigs pigs pigs pigs pigs pigs pigs viscerals

There’s stoner roll and doomed crash in “New Body,” drone-laced spoken-word experimentalism in “Blood and Butter,” and post-punk angular whathaveyou as “Halloween Bolson” plays out its nine-minute stretch, but Viscerals — the third or fourth Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs album, depending on what you count — seems to be at its most satisfying in blowout freak-psych moments like opener “Reducer” and “Rubbernecker,” which follows, while the kinda-metal of “World Crust”‘s central riff stumbles willfully and teases coming apart before circling back, and “Crazy in Blood” and closer “Hell’s Teeth” are more straight-up heavy rock. It’s a fairly wide arc the UK outfit spread from one end of the record to the other — and they’re brash enough to pull it off, to be sure — but with the hype machine so fervently behind them, I have a hard time knowing whether I’m actually just left flat by the record itself or all the hyperbole-set-on-fire that’s surrounded the band for the last couple years. Viscerals gets to the heart of the matter, sure enough, but then what?

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Rocket Recordings on Bandcamp

 

Earthbong, Bong Rites

Earthbong Bong Rites

Kiel, Germany’s Earthbong answer the stoner-sludge extremity of their 2018 debut, One Earth One Bong (review here), with, well, more stoner-sludge extremity. What, you thought they’d go prog? Forget it. You get three songs. Opener “Goddamn High” and “Weedcult Today” top 15 minutes each, and closer “Monk’s Blood” hits half an hour. Do the quick math yourself on that and you’ll understand just how much Earthbong have been looking forward to bashing you over the head with riffs. “Weedcult Today” is more agonizingly slow than “Goddamn High,” at least at the beginning, but it builds up and rolls into a pace that, come to think of it, is still probably slower than most, and of course “Monk’s Blood” is an epic undertaking right up to its last five minutes of noise. It could’ve been an album on its own. But seriously, if you think Earthbong give a shit, you’re way off base. This is tone, riff and weed worship and everything else is at best a secondary concern. Spend an hour at mass and see if you don’t come out converted.

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Earthbong on Bandcamp

 

Rito Verdugo, Post-Primatus

rito verdugo post-primatus

No doubt that at some future time shortly after the entire world has moved on from the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be a glut of releases comprised of material written during the lockdown. Peruvian four-piece Rito Verdugo are ahead of the game, then, with their Post-Primatus four-song EP. Issued digitally as the name-your-price follow-up to their also-name-your-price 2018 debut, Cosmos, it sets a 14-minute run from its shortest cut to its longest, shifting from the trippy “Misterio” into fuzz rockers “Monte Gorila” (which distills Earthless vibes to just over three minutes) and “Lo Subnormal” en route to the rawer garage psychedelia of “Inhumación,” which replaces its vocals with stretches of lead guitar that do more than just fill the spaces verses might otherwise be and instead add to the breadth of the release as a whole. Safe to assume Rito Verdugo didn’t plan on spending any amount of time this year staying home to avoid getting a plague, but at least they were able to use the time productively to give listeners a quick sample of where they’re at sound-wise coming off the first album. Whenever and however it shows up, I’ll look forward to what they do next.

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Rito Verdugo on Bandcamp

 

Death the Leveller, II

Death the Leveller II

Signed to Cruz Del Sur Music as part of that label’s expanding foray into traditionalist doom (see also: Pale Divine, The Wizar’d, Apostle of Solitude, etc.), Dublin’s Death the Leveller present an emotionally driven four tracks on their 38-minute label debut, the counterintuitively titled II. Listed as their first full-length, it’s about the same length as their debut “EP,” 2017’s I, but more important is the comfort and patience the band shows with working in longer-form material, opener “The Hunt Eternal,” “The Golden Bough” and closer “The Crossing” making an impression at over nine minutes apiece — “The Golden Bough” tops 12 — while “So They May Face the Sun” runs a mere 7:37 and is perhaps the most unhurried of the bunch, playing out with a cinematic sweep of guitar melody and another showcase for the significant presence of frontman Denis Dowling, who’s high in the mix at times but earns that forward position with a suitably standout performance across the record’s span.

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Cruz Del Sur Music website

 

Marrowfields, Metamorphoses

marrowfields metamorphoses

It isn’t surprising to learn that the members of Fall River, Massachusetts, five-piece Marrowfields come from something of an array of underground styles, some of them pushing into more extreme terrain, because the five songs of their debut full-length, Metamorphoses, do likewise. With founding guitarist/main-songwriter Brandon Green at the helm as producer as well, there’s a suitably inward-looking feel to the material, but coinciding with its rich atmospheres are flashes of blastbeats, death metal chug, double-kick and backing growls behind the cleaner melodic vocals that keep Marrowfields distinct from entirely traditionalist doom. It is a niche into which they fit well on this first long-player, and across the five songs/52 minutes of Metamorphoses, they indeed shapeshift between genre elements in order to best serve the purposes of the material, calling to mind Argus in the progressive early stretch of centerpiece “Birth of the Liberator” while tapping Paradise Lost chug and ambience before the blasts kick in on closer “Dragged to the World Below.” Will be interesting to see which way their — or Green‘s, as it were — focus ultimately lies, but there isn’t one aesthetic nuance misused here.

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Black Lion Records on Bandcamp

 

Dätcha Mandala, Hara

datcha mandala hara

Dätcha Mandala present a strong opening salvo of rockers on Hara, their second album for MRS Red Sound, before turning over to all-out tambourine-and-harp blues on “Missing Blues.” From there, they could go basically anywhere they want, and they do, leading with piano on “Morning Song,” doing wrist-cramp-chug-into-disco-hop in “Sick Machine” and meeting hand-percussion with space rocking vibes on “Moha.” They’ve already come a long way from the somewhat misleading ’70s heavy of opener “Stick it Out,” “Mother God” and “Who You Are,” but the sonic turns that continue with the harder-edged “Eht Bup,” the ’70s balladry of “Tit’s,” an unabashed bit o’ twang on “On the Road” and full-on fuzz into a noise freakout on closer “Pavot.” Just what the hell is going on with Hara? Anything Dätcha Mandala so desire, it would seem. They have the energy to back it up, but if you see them labeled as any one microgenre or another, keep in mind that inevitably that’s only part of the story and the whole thing is much weirder than they might be letting on. No complaints with that.

Dätcha Mandala on Thee Facebooks

MRS Red Sound

 

Numidia, Numidia

Numidia Numidia

If you’ve got voices in your band that can harmonize like guitarists James Draper, Shane Linfoot and Mike Zoias, I’m not entirely sure what would lead you to start your debut record with a four-minute instrumental, but one way or another, Sydney, Australia’s Numidia — completed by bassist/keyboardist Alex Raffaelli and drummer Nathan McMahon — find worthy manners in which to spend their time. Their first collection takes an exploratory approach to progressive heavy rock, seeming to feel its way through components strung together effectively while staying centered around the guitars. Yes, three of them. Psychedelia plays a strong role in later pieces “Red Hymn” and the folky “Te Waka,” but if the eponymous “Numidia” is a mission statement on the part of the five-piece, it’s one cast in a prog mentality pushed forward with poise to suit. Side A capper “A Million Martyrs” would seem to draw the different sides together, but it’s no minor task for it to do so, and there’s little sign in these songs that Numidia won’t grow more expansive as time goes on.

Numidia on Thee Facebooks

Nasoni Records website

 

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