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.

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

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30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

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29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

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28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

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27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

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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 (Roadsaw, Sasquatch, 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, EllengĂŚst
Cruthu, AthrĂş 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 SilvĂĽkra 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 SilvĂĽkra 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, LantlĂ´s, 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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Writing About Music During a Pandemic

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 30th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

sars-cov-19

Mostly, I just feel stupid. Like I’m walking around with blinders on. Here I am, combing through my emails in the morning. Drinking a coffee. The act of feigning relevance feels even sillier than usual. So what? I’m supposed to pretend there’s nothing bigger happening in the universe than some band releasing an album? Some tour putting itself off until next year? What the fuck is next year going to look like? What the fuck is tomorrow going to look like?

I feel like I haven’t slept for more than two hours at a clip for the last three months, should I really be concerned with whatever it is waiting to be reviewed for tomorrow? My throat hurts. Should I have a panic attack about it, or should I go drink some water and remember that it’s also allergy season?

My position is one of privilege. I am untouched by racial discrimination, and so it’s not like I’m out there marching with or without a mask on, forsaking social distancing because COVID-19 might kill you in a week or two but a cop might kill you today. I’m in my house, and my nerves are frayed not because I have to go to work, but because my kid is whining he wants blackberries for breakfast and I need to go to the grocery store.

And the people at the store don’t wear masks anymore. And frankly, I don’t believe those fuckers ever washed their hands in the first place, never mind did it all special because if they didn’t their lungs would catch fire. This moment in which we reside is so, so, so fucked that actual human beings are deciding to ignore the advice of health officials for political reasons. I shit you not, the guy who lives down the street told me yesterday in all seriousness that he thinks Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff cooked up the coronavirus with the Chinese to try and undermine Donald Trump’s base of support. “Obviously didn’t work,” I told him.

Are you fucking kidding me? This is life?

I’ve whined about missing live music already, so I’ll spare you that, but doing this has gotten to the point where it feels weak. Like there are more important things I can and should be doing with my time. And I don’t just mean protesting. I should be raising my son, right now, not to be a racist dickweed. I should be cleaning the house, checking in on my mother, checking in on my wife’s mother, checking in on my wife, offering her support for her work THAT ACTUALLY SUPPORTS US FINANCIALLY and instead, I’m here at my keyboard formatting record label links for a news story about some release that I probably won’t even get to hear, let alone have time to review or, heaven forbid, actually appreciate. What is the point?

In the 11-plus years that I’ve run this site, I’ve never felt like it’s an empty venture as much as I do now. I’m not saying I’m going to stop — I couldn’t if I wanted to — but I can’t ignore the fact that there are those out there for whom the stakes are so incredibly much higher than they are for me. Music matters. Of course music matters. But nobody’s dying if I don’t do a track premiere. There are writers out there providing strength and vision. I’m putting up press releases. It feels like a cop-out. Feels cheap. Useless on a whole new level.

Whether it’s COVID-19 or the ongoing movement for civil rights happening across the US, the hugeness of right now looms overhead every time I open my computer, everytime I obsessively reload the news on my phone, and while I’ve in the past prided myself on putting my head down and getting to work, I’m not sure who or what the work is helping. Me? Is it making my life better? How and why?

I feel useless. Old. Sad. Like I’m waiting for a normalcy to return that isn’t coming back, and even if it did, what would that serve? Did I really just ask for a press pass to a Candlemass live stream?

Imagine the Titanic sinking, the band playing on. Do they really need someone there to review the show? Because that’s me. I’m that guy. That’s who I am.

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God Damn I Miss Festivals

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 23rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

roadburn 2018 (Photo by Niels Vinck)

By now, I could normally expect to be neck-deep in news about the upcoming Fall festival season. Never mind that last weekend I’d have been at Maryland Doom Fest or the week before that I would’ve traveled to Germany for Freak Valley only about two months after my annual pilgrimage to the Netherlands for Roadburn Festival; my inbox and social media feed should be overflowing with updates, whether it’s Psycho Las Vegas unveiling whatever remainders or updates to its bill for August or the regular batch of European festivals — Keep it Low, Desertfest Belgium, Up in Smoke, Høstsabbat, and so on — unveiling their lineups one, two or three bands at a time.

Most of those are canceled. I’m keeping my fingers crossed at hitting Oslo in October for Høstsabbat, then maybe Stockholm for Truckfighters’ Fuzz Fest in November, but who the hell knows if European countries will even be letting potentially contagious Americans in their borders by then. I know if I was an agent working the arrivals at some EU airport I’d be asking US passport holders if they injected their bleach today. With how much America’s alliances have deteriorated over the last few years, who the hell is going to give US travelers the benefit of the doubt? Why take the risk?

But even apart from even the potentiality of going to one or more of these festivals in the course of the year that 2020 might’ve been, I miss posting about festivals. It’s not for lack of potential content — I still can’t keep up with news or reviews. But just the events themselves. SonicBlast in Portugal. Esbjerg Fuzztival — which is now scheduled for the beginning of September, just sold out and is still adding bands — in Denmark. The annual return of Colour Haze to Keep it Low in Munich. I miss seeing the tour routings take shape with successive weekend stops. The regulars showing up here and there, while maybe new bands from the US go abroad for the first time, like Geezer did for Freak Valley a few years ago, or like Forming the Void were set to do this Spring.

I know live music isn’t gone forever, and that in Europe, groups are starting to schedule events even in more than just the moving-this-2020-thing-to-2021 fashion, but not only do I miss live music, I miss the idea of live music. I’m trying not to get my hopes up for Maryland Doom Fest this October but it’s hard. I miss daydreaming about Duna Jam, or about Desertfest in London and Berlin — or New York, for that matter. This year I was going to melt my own brain with mushrooms at Psycho Las Vegas just to see what happened when I subsequently set fingers to keyboard. Stoned and Dusted. Monolith on the Mesa. Stoned From the Underground. Lake on Fire. Sonic Whip. Even Hellfest and those bigger ones that throw an occasional bone or stage up for heavy stuff. Is Muddy Roots going to happen in September in Tennessee? Is anything?

I miss losing myself in the thought of traveling to a place outside the norm of my day-to-day and seeing a special moment while it’s happening. The streams some bands are doing are cool. They give me something to write about. And I know the world has bigger concerns between America’s semi-reckoning with its ongoing systemic racism and the aforementioned pandemic, but everything feels that much harder without even that mental escape. God damn I miss festivals.

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Days of Rona: Mattia Mazzeo of AyahuascA and Black Gremlin

Posted in Features on June 8th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the varied responses of publics and governments worldwide, and the disruption to lives and livelihoods has reached a scale that is unprecedented. Whatever the month or the month after or the future itself brings, more than one generation will bear the mark of having lived through this time, and art, artists, and those who provide the support system to help uphold them have all been affected.

In continuing the Days of Rona feature, it remains pivotal to give a varied human perspective on these events and these responses. It is important to remind ourselves that whether someone is devastated or untouched, sick or well, we are all thinking, feeling people with lives we want to live again, whatever renewed shape they might take from this point onward. We all have to embrace a new normal. What will that be and how will we get there?

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

Mattia Mazzeo AyahuascA Black Gremlin

Days of Rona: Mattia Mazzeo of AyahuascA and Black Gremlin (Collecchio, Italy)

How have you been you dealing with this crisis as a band? As an individual? What effect has it had on your plans or creative processes?

First of all, thank you for getting in touch with me. I was in Naples for a show with Black Gremlin (action rock band) a few days before the lockdown (a few places were already locked in the north of Italy) and we were already worried about our near future. With AyahuascA has been the same, the lockdown started on the same day we were supposed to play in Rome, and then all the shows we booked have been canceled including Crystal Mountain Festival which was a great show for us with a lot of great bands (Kadavar, Giobia, Monkey3 any many more). So a lot of hard work vanished into thin air, we were booking two tours with both bands (Black Gremlin and AyahuascA) for November/December but now there are too many uncertainties to book shows, so we decided to focus on new material for the next album. As an individual, I started to write a lot of new stuff, especially for AyahuascA. On this side I’m quite satisfied, isolation helped me to take a trip inside of me, I tried to turn this situation into something positive for me and I knew it could be a good time to write new riffs and lyrics. Everything has changed overnight, all of us started writing new songs on our own at home and now we have enough material for at least two albums and I’m really excited about that, I can’t wait to start to work on it with my bandmates in our rehearsal room, since writing albums is the most intense and beautiful part of the work for me.

How do you feel about the public response to the outbreak where you are? From the government response to the people around you, what have you seen and heard from others?

Well, Italy was hit hard by the virus, I was afraid especially the first month (my father also took a light form of the virus). Remembering the first weeks of lockdown is like entering in a separate dimension, a very strange moment in the life of all of us. I think there was a lot of fear in general, the media bombed us with numbers of dead and infected people every day. Personally I have sometimes avoided reading the news, not to get too discouraged. Speaking of our government’s response, I think managing something of this magnitude is really difficult. Some members of the government have shown themselves to be ridiculous individuals, without culture and sense of duty. I also believe that others have done more or less what has to be done. But the perception that I have about it is deviated by an aberrant amount of news, fake news, etc. I think this was the main problem of this situation: the almost total impossibility of having a clear idea of what was going on. But on the other hand, I don’t think it could have been otherwise.

What do you think of how the music community specifically has responded? How do you feel during this time? Are you inspired? Discouraged? Bored? Any and all of it?

I think the music community answered well, our balconies were full of musicians who played for the neighborhoods as you may have noticed hahaha. Apart from this, in Italy, there is no real support for those who work in the music business (I am not only talking about musicians, but about promoters, club managers and other figures). Since the lockdown started, new realities have emerged to protect those who work with music and this could be a good starting point for our future. Despite this, I am really worried about many small clubs that have given us fantastic concerts in the last years. I hope that they will be able to resist in this moment of extreme restrictions and start again asap. Personally, I can’t wait to get back on stage. Now it is unthinkable to organize a punk concert with these restrictions(just to name a couple: everyone must be seated with masks and well-spaced, you can not serve drinks), but maybe it is possible to organize some psychedelic or ritual band and enjoy the show in a different way, taking advantage of the distances. Social distancing has a different impact on everyone of us. Surely this new reality is asking us to look within us, whoever has the strength to do so could come out really changed and more “centered” than before. I think great albums can come out of that. I see this period as a call to arms towards our sensitivity, the perception of what we call our world.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything? What is your new normal? What have you learned from this experience, about yourself, your band, or anything?

If you have the opportunity to support the bands you love, do it. Buy albums and share the music you love to keep your passion alive, whether you are a musician or a listener. To the bands, on the other hand, I say that this is the best time to dedicate yourself to writing new music and get out of this stronger than before. I believe that from now on the keyword will be “adaptation”, but I believe it is also a good time to create new realities, new projects.

https://www.facebook.com/ayahuasca25/
https://ayahuascatheband.bandcamp.com/
https://www.instagram.com/ayahuascatheband/
https://www.facebook.com/blackgremlinofficialpage/
https://blackgremlin.bandcamp.com/
https://www.instagram.com/blackgremlin_rocknroll/

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Days of Rona: Melissa Pinion of Stygian Crown

Posted in Features on June 4th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the varied responses of publics and governments worldwide, and the disruption to lives and livelihoods has reached a scale that is unprecedented. Whatever the month or the month after or the future itself brings, more than one generation will bear the mark of having lived through this time, and art, artists, and those who provide the support system to help uphold them have all been affected.

In continuing the Days of Rona feature, it remains pivotal to give a varied human perspective on these events and these responses. It is important to remind ourselves that whether someone is devastated or untouched, sick or well, we are all thinking, feeling people with lives we want to live again, whatever renewed shape they might take from this point onward. We all have to embrace a new normal. What will that be and how will we get there?

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

stygian crown melissa

Days of Rona: Melissa Pinion of Stygian Crown (Los Angeles, California)

How have you been you dealing with this crisis as a band? As an individual? What effect has it had on your plans or creative processes?

We all live in areas that are under lockdown, so we can’t rehearse as a group. Numerous shows and festivals we were scheduled to play have been canceled or postponed as a result of the pandemic. However, we have been keeping up our chops so we can come out strong when venues begin to reopen. This downtime has given us the chance to begin developing riffs, basic song structures and lyrics for a follow-up album.

How do you feel about the public response to the outbreak where you are? From the government response to the people around you, what have you seen and heard from others?

It’s hard to say without actually seeing the inside of hospitals, but based on statistics, it appears that the stay-at-home orders are actually working at the moment and our healthcare sector is handling our cases without having to turn away anyone else with critical needs. The initial panic that we saw in mid-March has vanished, and in its place has appeared an anticipation for the world around us to get back to “normal.” The problem is, no one really knows what that means.

What do you think of how the music community specifically has responded? How do you feel during this time? Are you inspired? Discouraged? Bored? Any and all of it?

There are two sides to this. Obviously, we feel badly for all the bands whose primary source of income comes from touring. Countless support staff in the entertainment industry have lost their jobs too. What many artists have done in the wake of this crisis is turned a negative situation into something positive. All of the live-streaming performances have been inspiring to see. And the money being raised by these artists for various causes shows us that listeners really care about the bands they follow.

Additionally, Germany’s “Keep It True” festival compiled hours and hours of past footage and presented it on YouTube to give fans something to enjoy on the weekend the festival was supposed to take place. We hope this positive vibe continues when the virus gets under control.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything? What is your new normal? What have you learned from this experience, about yourself, your band, or anything?

Stygian Crown will release its debut album amid a pandemic, but our passion to create and perform will not be stopped by the coronavirus. And with the support of the metal community, we’ll be back with a vengeance before you know it!

facebook.com/stygiancrown/
cruzdelsurmusic.com
cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com/

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Days of Rona: Giorgio Trombino of Elevators to the Grateful Sky, Assumption, Sixcircles and Dolore

Posted in Features on June 4th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the varied responses of publics and governments worldwide, and the disruption to lives and livelihoods has reached a scale that is unprecedented. Whatever the month or the month after or the future itself brings, more than one generation will bear the mark of having lived through this time, and art, artists, and those who provide the support system to help uphold them have all been affected.

In continuing the Days of Rona feature, it remains pivotal to give a varied human perspective on these events and these responses. It is important to remind ourselves that whether someone is devastated or untouched, sick or well, we are all thinking, feeling people with lives we want to live again, whatever renewed shape they might take from this point onward. We all have to embrace a new normal. What will that be and how will we get there?

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

elevators to the grateful sky Giorgio Trombino

Days of Rona: Giorgio Trombino of Elevators to the Grateful Sky, Assumption, Sixcircles and Dolore (Palermo, Italy)

How have you been you dealing with this crisis as a band? As an individual? What effect has it had on your plans or creative processes?

We had scheduled our final pre-album rehearsals when the lockdown kicked in. Everything was already in the pipeline but now all plans have been postponed to who-knows-when. That being said, Assumption has always been a long-distance band since we all live in different places, basically three in Northern Italy and one in Slovenia. I mean, our regular band life is already about getting to meet just for specifically planned occasions, so we know the hassle. We would love to stick together much more than we are allowed to and not just for playing and recording. On a personal level, lockdown was ok and I’ve tried to make most out of it. I even managed to move to a new house with my girlfriend as we had like a special permit to carry the furniture, drive back and forth and so on. I have been reading, watching movies and writing new music the rest of the time.

How do you feel about the public response to the outbreak where you are? From the government response to the people around you, what have you seen and heard from others?

Situations differ a lot from region to region. Northern regions like Lombardia and Piemonte are still facing the toughest tasks, whereas both major islands and southern Italy in general have seen slightly better times. Veneto, the region I currently live in, has received much praise and is now regarded as a national model in contagion management in spite of the idiotic and extremely unstable discourses of regional President Luca Zaia. It seems like he basically did all he could to try and dismantle this region’s efficient healthcare system during the last few years but in the end he took all of his staff’s credit for the good results. I mean, what else would you expect from someone whose political party (Lega, formerly Lega Nord) is one of the most arrogant, self-righteous and repulsive right wing piles of shit ever in this country? As for the people I know and love, a good percentage of them was freaking out at home. I decided to choose just a few pieces of daily information I felt essential, switched off the rest of the panic-inducing media and focused on other stuff. I, for one, am really grateful for how things turned out for my family and me.

What do you think of how the music community specifically has responded? How do you feel during this time? Are you inspired? Discouraged? Bored? Any and all of it?

First it seemed like house streaming and people doing stuff live on Facebook were the answer. I stand with what Nick Cave said about them in early April, I think most of that stuff is plain self-indulgence. Live music is mostly a social thing, there’s no way a surrogate experience can ever avoid being boring and feel adulterated. I have written tons of music for almost all of my projects, worked on commercial tunes for advertisement, home demoed 90 percent of a future Sixcircles album did a lot of stuff that I always wanted to focus on and I have been waking up each morning wanting to do more and go to places I hadn’t been musically before. You know, Moody Blues once said thinking is the best way to travel. For what concerns the broader music community, I know many people in the live music world that are struggling to survive and some drive-in gig isn’t simply enough to change things. I can only wish for a speedy twist in the plot for people dealing with this.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything? What is your new normal? What have you learned from this experience, about yourself, your band, or anything?

A disproportionate event such as the one we’re all going through now offers a whole array of free lessons to be learned. Biggest one is that all things must pass. Inhabitants of the privileged sector of the planet are now familiar with a redefined concept of “personal restriction” to some extent. Covid has pulled the best and worst out of everyone and hung a huge question mark over our heads. Franco Maresco, a Sicilian director whose art I admire, has recently said in an interview that mankind won’t learn much from the pandemics, just like many times before. I partly share this vision and feel like covid is a portion of a bigger dysfunctional picture anyway. I’m essentially hoping for best and preparing for worst. I can say I felt nauseauted by the trendy optimist logorrhoea that flooded the Italian web when everybody started writing, painting, drawing the phrase “ce la faremo” (“we will make it”) on whatever available surface. After all, Turgenev once stated that there are situations, however touching, from which one nevertheless wants to escape… as for Assumption, the band is made of people I love. We will simply carry on and do our stuff whenever it’s possible again.

https://www.facebook.com/assumptiondoom/
https://assumption.bandcamp.com/
https://www.instagram.com/assumption_band/
https://www.facebook.com/sixcirclesband/
https://phonosphera.bandcamp.com/album/sixcircles-new-belief/
https://www.facebook.com/ElevatorstotheGratefulSky/
https://elevatorstothegratefulsky.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/doloremeanspain/
https://dolore1.bandcamp.com/

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Days of Rona: Jose Maldonado of 3 Wheeler Band

Posted in Features on June 3rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the varied responses of publics and governments worldwide, and the disruption to lives and livelihoods has reached a scale that is unprecedented. Whatever the month or the month after or the future itself brings, more than one generation will bear the mark of having lived through this time, and art, artists, and those who provide the support system to help uphold them have all been affected.

In continuing the Days of Rona feature, it remains pivotal to give a varied human perspective on these events and these responses. It is important to remind ourselves that whether someone is devastated or untouched, sick or well, we are all thinking, feeling people with lives we want to live again, whatever renewed shape they might take from this point onward. We all have to embrace a new normal. What will that be and how will we get there?

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

3 wheeler band jose maldonado

Days of Rona: Jose Maldonado of 3 Wheeler Band (Monterrey, Mexico)

How have you been you dealing with this crisis as a band? As an individual? What effect has it had on your plans or creative processes?

As a band we have been really close using video calls and social media to connect, uploading some old tracks on Bandcamp and recently went back to rehearsal but only 2 of us, so it’s kind of hard right now to be all 3 of us in the same room jammin’ some tunes.

As an individual, I’ve been taking care of my Family, staying in touch with Friends and Family via video calls and I’m very fortunate to be able to work from home, so just trying to keep my mind busy.

On band plans, this coming August we are going to turn 10 years as a band and we were planning the anniversary gig and this covid crap hit us hard, so that’s on standby right now but we have uploaded music to our Bandcamp and are talking about making a video. Regarding the creative process this lockdown has helped us in working on some riffs for new tracks so we have been busy doing that. We try to stay positive about all of this and eager to get back on stage and have a good time.

How do you feel about the public response to the outbreak where you are? From the government response to the people around you, what have you seen and heard from others?

I live in Monterrey, Mexico, an industrial city northeast of the country (a two-hour drive from Texas). At first people were kind of freaking out and being really afraid of the virus and nobody was going out for anything except groceries and basics. Now, two and a half months later, people are tired of staying indoors, local government closed the Heineken brewery which makes, of course, Heineken but also Tecate beer and the people just freaked out, panic beer shopping until we ran out of beer. The brewery remains closed and currently there is no beer in the city and folks are just losing it. Besides, local and federal government communications are not clear and people are starting to go out a bit more. We hear similar stuff happening in Texas, so we are taking care of each other but we had enough of the lock down really.

What do you think of how the music community specifically has responded? How do you feel during this time? Are you inspired? Discouraged? Bored? Any and all of it?

The local music scene has responded great by doing a lot of online collaboration through videos and creating songs from the distance so yeah, the local scene has been busy, very creative and active on social media. And inspired? Yes, we and other band friends have been doing our homework, my side band Artesano de Piedra also uploaded unreleased tracks to Bandcamp, members of 3 Wheeler Band, Moonwatcher and Tres Cabrones created a new acoustic venture named Moon Dweller Trio and some other friends are taking advantage of the time they have on their hands to be creative. So we’re good, we all will come back stronger.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything? What is your new normal? What have you learned from this experience, about yourself, your band, or anything?

As a band 3 Wheeler Band will continue to work on new riffs and turn them into new tracks, we will be busy doing that and staying in touch with Friends/Fans and placing some CDs out for distribution in the States, so stay tuned for that.

Regarding our situation as a City and Country, we basically are not doing that bad regarding the virus, some government agencies are tricking numbers and giving out fake info. If you have Friends and Family in Mexico reach out to them and ask them directly, do not fall for the info shown in the media, they are just creating panic and fear.

Personally, just take care of you and yours. Do not lose touch with Friends, use technology to connect with them and don’t fall for the news in the media. Try to stay positive as much as you can. We will get through this and heavy music and live music will be back stronger than ever. And if you are enjoying some cold beer send some our way! Salud!

https://www.facebook.com/3WheelerBand/
https://www.instagram.com/3wheelerband/
https://3wheelerband.bandcamp.com/

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Review & Lyric Video Premiere: Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on June 3rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

[Click play above to see the premiere of Pale Divine’s lyric video for ‘Saints of Fire.’ Consequence of Time is out June 26 and available to preorder from Cruz Del Sur: CD preorder, LP preorder w/ poster & download, digital release June 19.]

Even among American traditionalist doom — which as a whole is underrated — there aren’t many who reach the same echelons in that regard as Pale Divine. Also their debut release for Cruz Del Sur Music, Consequence of Time is their sixth full-length, and as it arrives just two years after 2018’s self-titled LP (review here), it also marks the quickest time differential the Chesapeake-region group — Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware — have ever had between two offerings. Pale Divine, the record, was notable for marking the first appearance of Ron “Fezz” McGinnis on bass and backing vocals, who brought the five-string acumen he’d demonstrated in Admiral Browning and countless others to the classic-style rolling riffs and searing leads of guitarist Greg Diener (also vocals) and the ever-steady, never-flashy, always-efficient drumming of Darin McCloskey. On the eight-song/42-minute Consequence of Time, there is another significant change in the band’s makeup.

Even as they were releasing the self-titled, Pale Divine announced the addition of Dana Ortt on guitar and vocals alongside Diener, a shift that was essentially a merging between Pale Divine and the Ortt-led Beelzefuzz, in which Diener and McCloskey had both been members. The end result is that between Diener, Ortt and McGinnis, Pale Divine now have three vocalists capable of carrying a song on their own, whether it’s Diener‘s metal-tinged proclamations, Ortt‘s bizarro-prog otherworldliness, complemented by his nuance of guitar tone, or McGinnis with his lower register bluesy take. Unsurprisingly, Consequence of Time is easily the most diverse album Pale Divine have ever made, and perhaps also the richest in terms of its general approach, since the influences especially of its two guitarists are readily on display, whether it’s in the Beelzefuzzian chug and dreamstate lumber of “Phantasmagoria” or in Diener‘s veritable clinic on how to shred a solo and still give a sense of soul in the process.

It bears underscoring just how significant of a turn Consequence of Time is for Pale Divine. The band mark their 25th anniversary in 2020, having begun with McCloskey and Diener in 1995 before releasing their first demo a couple years later. It seems to me not just a marked change in terms of the band’s sound that welcoming Ortt has enacted, but a genuinely admirable openness on the part of Diener. Yes, there’s “sharing the spotlight,” as much as such a thing exists in a genre where one might be inclined in the first sentence of a review to point out how underrated it is, but more than that, to have the ability after some 20 years of having the band as a vehicle for his songwriting to be able to adjust the entire process in such a way is staggering.

pale divine

Ortt doesn’t just sing backup on Consequence of Time, and he makes a mark in terms of the overall style of riffs and tones as well on songs like “Broken Martyr,” “Satan in Starlight,” and even the Diener-led opener “Tyrants/Pawns (Easy Prey).” It’s a rare band and a rare player who would allow that kind of shift to take place at any point, let alone after 20 years, and Pale Divine are unquestionably stronger for it. The patience in the 10-minute unfolding of the 10-minute title-track alone is proof of the subtle level on which the change can be felt, a melding of purpose between what Beelzefuzz were by their finish and the roots-doom mindset that Pale Divine have always portrayed so well.

Perhaps it’s sharing vocal duties that has allowed Diener‘s guitar to shine all the more, but his leads soar throughout Consequence of Time in striking fashion, and with McGinnis‘ bass and McCloskey‘s drums behind, there’s never any risk of the band losing their trajectory whatsoever. As the title-track approaches the halfway mark, Diener and Ortt share vocals against a stark and largely quiet backdrop ahead of the next classic metal lead (it might be Ortt‘s, I can’t be sure), but that moment sums up the incredible, throw-the-doors-open spirit of Consequence of Time. Ortt takes the fore later, and Diener rejoins and the two guitars lock purposes in solos and riffs to close out, but in that moment, not only the change of the band’s sound, but the creative spirit that drove that change are palpable. The risk and the reward both are right there for the listener to absorb.

The subsequent closing pair “No Escape” and “Saints of Fire” would seem to be an epilogue of sorts, or at least a movement unto themselves after the title-track, but their purpose isn’t lost for existing in the shadow of the 10-minute cut preceding. In the speedy “No Escape,” Diener fronts, and they trade for “Saints of Fire,” and it’s a last-minute showcase of the multifaceted nature of who Pale Divine are in 2020 and what they can accomplish as a group in this new form. “No Escape” gallops in brash form and is probably the most fun I’ve ever heard Pale Divine have on a record, and “Saints of Fire” pushes in its second half into a quirky dark gorgeousness that feels like pure inheritance from Beelzefuzz put to righteous use. Pale Divine, the power-trio turned four-piece after 20-some years, march their way out of Consequence of Time and into an unknowable future as a stronger, more versatile and more vibrant unit.

The band they were is still very much present in their sound, and they remain as sonically committed to doom as they’ve ever been, but the foundation of influence has expanded and their craft is all the more affecting and progressive for it. Between the quick turnaround, the new label and the new construction, Pale Divine move into their second quarter-century with an almost impossible feeling of potential, and one can only look forward to what they might yet accomplish as they move on from here. 25 years on and reaching new heights. That is a special band, and yes, vastly underrated. They may stay that way and they may not, but one way or the other, Consequence of Time will stand as one of 2020’s foremost offerings in doom, and deservedly so.

Pale Divine on Thee Facebooks

Pale Divine website

Cruz del Sur Music website

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