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 ‚ÄúStardust and Diamond Eyes‚ÄĚ 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 Bj√łrnson (guitar/sometimes vocals), as well as longtime lead guitarist¬†Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal backed up the change from 2017‚Äôs¬†E¬†(review here) that brought in new keyboardist/vocalist¬†Hakon Vinje with the incorporation of drummer Iver Sand√ły, 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 ~ L√ĖSS
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, Athr√ļ 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
√ėresund 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 ‚Äď 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, Lantl√īs, 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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Deathwhite Post Lyric Video for “Among Us”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 1st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

deathwhite

This is exactly what I needed exactly when I needed it. I’m completely serious. Not only was I thinking about how badass this record was just the other day and hadn’t had a chance to put it on again yet, but I feel like Deathwhite‘s Grave Image (review here) perfectly encapsulates the restless and wrenching melancholy of this year so far. “Among Us” is one of the record’s many deceptively catchy tracks, and it just hits that perfect spot somewhere between Anathema and Paradise Lost for me where melody is priority but there isn’t a corresponding sacrifice of impact for that. It’s like if Katatonia had never developed that keyboard fetish. As we move into the second half of this wretched 2020, I still consider Grave Image — the Pittsburgh-based band’s second offering for Season of Mist behind 2018’s For a Black Tomorrow (review here), about which I felt much the same — one of its best albums.

Further, I know that for whatever reason, whenever I write about something even vaguely informed by death-doom as Deathwhite are, it tends to get a pretty barren response. Well, fine. If I’m 100 percent honest, I’m not posting this video today for you. I’m doing it for me. And I’m not hitting play on the Bandcamp stream of Grave Image because I have to out of some perceived obligation, or because I told PR I’d write about the album, or because it was on my fucking calendar — it wasn’t — but here it is. The video showed up just when I needed it and I’m posting it because it’s something I genuinely enjoy. There. That’s it.

The link in the PR wire info takes you to where you can buy the record through a bunch of digital/physical outlets. One of those portal things. Buy the album or don’t. Give a shit about it or don’t. Even as I listen to it now for the first time in a couple months, I’m swept up in it, so whatever you want to do fine. This is all the impetus I needed and I got it.

Here’s the video:

Deathwhite, “Among Us” official lyric video

Enigmatic dark metal outfit DEATHWHITE has shared a brand new video for the song “Among Us.” The video was made by Guilherme Henriques.

DEATHWHITE comments: “As we are often wont to do, many of the songs on ‘Grave Image’ were revised and tinkered with until we were satisfied, but no song received a bigger overhaul than ‘Among Us.’ The song’s original tempo was half of its current state; it was doomy, perhaps excessively so. Common sense ultimately prevailed and we were able to not only speed the song up (a term we should use loosely in this context) but also work in a somewhat basic chorus by our standards. The song itself has a fairly simple message: Ignorance, falsehoods and gaslighting are not to be tolerated. Unfortunately, these people are still ‘among us,’ spreading their untruths and grievances in very public and far-reaching forums. May it all fall on deaf ears.”

“Among Us” is taken from the band’s latest album, ‘Grave Image,’ which was released earlier this year. ‘Grave Image’ can be streamed/downloaded/ordered at THIS LOCATION.

Deathwhite, Grave Image (2020)

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 27

Posted in Radio on January 31st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

As I sit and type this, I just recorded (on my phone, because professionalism!) the voice tracks for this episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio, and in the first of them I tried and probably failed to explain that the show’s moving. Instead of every other week on Friday at 1PM Eastern (which it is now), it’s going to be every week, Friday 5PM Eastern. New episodes will still be every other week, but it’s a dedicated spot to The Obelisk Show and that’s that. The Sunday replays will still air. Bullet points:

– Starting Feb. 14.
– Airing every week, Friday 5PM, plus Sundays at 7PM
– New episodes every other week
– Listen to The Obelisk Show at Gimmeradio.com or on the app.
– Thank you

Probably should’ve written that out before I tried explaining it off the cuff on the show itself. So it goes.

There’s a ton of killer, killer, killer new music in this episode, so, you know, business as usual. I know I’m biased. Anyone who says they’re not is playing pretend. I was glad to include new¬†Goblinsmoker here, which I haven’t had the chance to write about yet, as well as¬†Insect Ark,¬†The River,¬†Grandpa Jack and¬†Godthrymm. Look out for a full stream of the¬†OZO¬†record next Tuesday, if you like what you hear in the title-cut.

Which, of course, I hope you do.

The Obelisk Show airs 1PM Eastern today at http://gimmeradio.com

Thanks if you check it out.

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 01.31.20

Lowrider Red River Refractions*
Elephant Tree Sails Habits*
Brant Bjork Jungle in the Sound Brant Bjork*
Big Scenic Nowhere Glim Visions Beyond Horizon*
BREAK
Orbiter Bone to Earth The Deluge*
Sleepwulf Misty Mountain Misty Mountain*
Grandpa Jack Imitation Trash Can Boogie*
Dirt Woman Lady of the Dunes The Glass Cliff*
BREAK
Goblinsmoker Let Them Rot A Throne in Haze, a World Ablaze*
Insect Ark Philae The Vanishing*
The River Vessels Vessels into White Tides*
Deathwhite Further From Salvation Grave Image*
Godthrymm The Sea as My Grave Reflections*
BREAK
SEA Dust Impermanence*
OZO Saturn Saturn*

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is Feb. 14. Thanks for listening if you do.

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Deathwhite, Grave Image: Funereal Portraits

Posted in Reviews on January 27th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

deathwhite grave image

Pittsburgh robe-clad four-piece Deathwhite have heretofore managed to keep their identities secret. A few initials have floated around — DW, AM, LM, and so on — but after forming in 2012 and issuing two independent EPs in 2014’s Ethereal and 2015’s Solitary Martyr, then signing to Season of Mist¬†ahead of their 2018 debut album,¬†For a Black Tomorrow¬†(review here), the fact that they’ve managed to hold actual names back from public consciousness is fairly impressive in a day and age where immediate access is the norm. One suspects, listening to¬†Grave Image, the all-the-more-accomplished follow-up to¬†For a Black Tomorrow, that¬†Deathwhite as a collective view this as an aesthetic choice.

That is, it’s not necessarily a choice made to drum up a faux-rocker mystique so much as an extension of their sound and general presentation. This makes the fact that their material on songs like “Further From Salvation” and “A Servant” is so emotive and personal-seeming something of an irony, but perhaps this too is the idea. Their anonymity forces the listener to focus not on individual players or elements, but on the entirety of their craft, which is deep, purposeful and a cross achievement in style and substance, bringing the emotional severity of European-style death-doom to the fore with an ever-present sense of melody that refuses to lose its grip.

In the early “In Eclipse” as well as the title-track a short time later, one is reminded of mid-period¬†Katatonia or¬†My Dying Bride, or even the odd-Americans-out in Novembers Doom¬†— the specific moment when that league of bands gave up largely gave up guttural death growls but still had an audience expecting them. Some from-the-ether whispers in the verses of the otherwise gorgeous “In Eclipse” are about as close as Deathwhite comes to abrasive vocals — and that’s probably close enough to scare off the squares — but like the decision to hold back their names, the restraint they show in not breaking out in roars across the weighted sprawl and midpoint breakdown intensity, albeit fleeting, of “Among Us” or the subsequent chugs of “Words of Dead Men” are emblematic of the sense of mission behind Grave Image¬†overall.¬†Deathwhite¬†have a bleak vision and¬†Grave Image is the latest and to-date most vivid incarnation of it.

They are by no means the first to marry beauty and darkness in metal, but what stands out in¬†Grave Image even in relation to its predecessor is the factor of songwriting. Deathwhite have managed the feat of making atmosphere and expressiveness work in conjunction with memorable, dare-one-say catchy, material. Their choruses are stuck-in-the-head fodder for later revisits, and though of course there’s a contemplative feeling to the style as would be demanded in the first place by the tenets of genre, the one does not detract from the other.

Rather, from the outset of “Funeral Ground,” “In Eclipse” and “Further From Salvation,”¬†Deathwhite¬†never lose sight of the fact that they’re playing¬†songs, writing¬†songs, in a traditional style. Their arrangements are by no means lacking complexity or dumbed down in order to be more broadly accessible — it would be incorrect to say otherwise — but they are engaging their audience in these tracks one way or another, and that feeds into rather than pulls back from their overarching purpose and intent with¬†Grave Image. A fine line trod skillfully and surely.

deathwhite

“Grave Image” itself and “Among Us” would seem to be the final pieces of the first vinyl side, which puts “Words of Dead Men” as an impact-laced side B opener, but even the 48-minute runtime of the proceedings speaks to the workings of a different era, not the classic LP form that’s dominated so much of underground music, but the linear presentation of compact discs in the 1990s, and sure enough,¬†Grave Image is best taken in this manner — front to back without even a break in the middle for a side flip. To pretend most who take it on won’t be doing so digitally is folly anyhow, but that works to¬†Deathwhite‘s advantage as the second half of¬†Grave Image¬†progresses, pushing deeper into the open-feeling stretches and quiet/loud trades and lyrical pleading, “open up my eyes” of “No Horizon” and comparative rush at the outset and later keyboard-choral bridge of “Plague of Virtue.” Is it wrong to hope¬†Deathwhite‘s third album incorporates strings somewhere in its proceedings?¬† If it is, I don’t want to be right.

The longing is palpable in “A Servant” but not overwrought in a dramatic sense, and amid a wash of guitar and understated percussive accomplishment, the penultimate of the total 10 tracks presents a bookend with the highlight opening salvo that began the record, with six-and-a-half-minute finale “Return to Silence” following suit, taking instrumentally soft-edged verses, guitar that’s outright pretty, and setting it/them against more intense bursts in the chorus, “Return to silence/Return to dust/Return to stillness/Return to us.”

A final, cold dropoff is sudden when it arrives, but beautiful, and of course it seems all the more appropriate that “Return to Silence” should close Grave Image, since the song itself leads to the silence at the end of the album, which also becomes an encompassing factor in¬†play for¬†Deathwhite, as well as indicative of their engrossing, multifaceted attention to detail. It is that, ultimately, which allows them to deliver the songs as fluidly as they do, but it’s worth noting that the behind-the-scenes work and thought so clearly put into¬†Grave Image does not at all pull focus away from the songwriting itself, which I’ll reiterate is among the album’s greatest strengths, along with its melodic delivery, aesthetic awareness and willingness to bring its audience into its sphere via craft.

As¬†Deathwhite make the¬†conventions of style function to their own ends throughout¬†Grave Image, it is easy to lose sight of the achievement if only because of the resonance of the material is so affecting emotionally, but that in itself is a triumph of the intent behind its construction. Dark in spirit,¬†Grave Image nonetheless soars, and its success in doing so is a testament to¬†Deathwhite‘s driving vision. Whoever they are, they’ve created something special.

Deathwhite, Grave Image (2020)

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Deathwhite Post “Funeral Ground” Video From New Album Grave Image

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 16th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

deathwhite

I have been spending some significant time with Deathwhite‘s second long-player, Grave Image, since hosting the premiere of the first single from it last month. That song was “Further From Salvation” (posted here) and proved to be a deceptively catchy grim joy of darkened melodicism, taking cues from death-doom instrumentally while refusing to give itself over entirely to that breed of the sonically extreme. The just-under-five-minute “Funeral Ground” is the album opener and follows a similar atmospheric course while serving the dual purpose of leading the listener along the vine-covered path that runs deeper into the record itself. There are some growl-ish backing vocals in a call and response in the chorus of “Funeral Ground,” but that’s about as far as Grave Image goes in that direction, which is consistent as well with 2017’s For a Black Tomorrow (review here). Gracefully, it captures that spirit regardless.

Very purposefully, I’m¬†not listening to¬†Grave Image as I write this post, since I want to give the album a proper review sometimes before its Jan. 31 release through¬†Season of Mist. But thus far, it has become my winter’s soundtrack, suiting well these grey days and the rain that would formerly be snow, somehow all the more mournful given the context of that change in temperature. It’s not as cold as it used to be in December, but it’s no less dark, figuratively or literally. Though it’s still more than a month to go before it comes out,¬†Grave Image is suiting that mood well.

See? There I am writing about the album and it’s not even on. Sometimes it’s hard to stop myself.

The “Funeral Ground” video was filmed alternately it would seem in the woods of Pennsylvania and somewhere in the vicinity of a fog machine. Both fair enough, as far as locales go. You’ll find the clip below, followed by more background and the album preorder link, courtesy of the PR wire.

Enjoy:

Deathwhite, “Funeral Ground” official video

Enigmatic dark metal collective DEATHWHITE premiere the morbid music video for their brand new song, “Funeral Ground.” The track is taken from the band’s upcoming full-length, ‘Grave Image,’ which is due on January 31, 2020.

DEATHWHITE comments: “We were quite elated upon seeing J√©r√īme Comentale’s cover art design for ‘Grave Image.’ With that mind, we wanted to find some way to tie it into a video, which we did for “Funeral Ground”. It is not obvious at first, but, rest assured, it is there. We had the good fortune of shooting during a brisk autumn day in the natural outdoors, something that we feel only added to the song’s overall atmosphere, which treads some new – no pun intended – ground for us. Due credit to our resident jack-of-all-trades Shane Mayer, who lent his considerable time and energy to the video’s creation.”

‘Grave Image’ can be pre-ordered in various formats HERE.

‚ÄėGrave Image‚Äô Track List:
1. Funeral Ground (05:05)
2. In Eclipse (04:46)
3. Further from Salvation (04:56)
4. Grave Image (04:50)
5. Among Us (04:11)
6. Words of Dead Men (03:56)
7. No Horizon (05:29)
8. Plague of Virtue (04:14)
9. A Servant (04:43)
10. Return to Silence (06:38)
Total Length: 48:48

Line-up: The band does not provide line-up information.

Deathwhite, “Further from Salvation”

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Deathwhite Premiere “Further From Salvation”; Grave Image out Jan. 31 on Season of Mist

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on November 13th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

deathwhite

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but winter is coming. As I sit and write this in the middle of the pre-dawn night, it’s single-digits cold in what’s been hyperbolized as an Arctic deathfreeze or some such. The moon is full through the trees outside my window and the wind sounds biting and harsh even from the delusional comfort of indoors. It is going to be a long, dark several months ahead, and the melancholia of Deathwhite would seem to be ready for it. Following up their debut, For a Black Tomorrow (review here) — independently issued in 2017 and picked up early last year by Season of Mist — the anonymous Pittsburgh-based outfit will offer the bleak emotionalism of their second long-player, Grave Image, on Jan. 31, 2020.

“Further from Salvation” is the first audio to come from Grave Image, and despite the grimness of its atmosphere, I’m thrilled to host the premiere of it. With recording done in Pittsburgh and Florida and mastering in Sweden, it represents a range deathwhite grave imageof histories from the unheralded Midwestern death-doom pioneering of¬†Novembers Doom to the Sunshine State’s sonic extremity — something that comes through in the drumming here as well — and of course the European legacy of depressive melodic heaviness, as expressed through bands like¬†Katatonia,¬†Paradise Lost,¬†Anathema and¬†My Dying Bride. This sense of drama can be felt in “Further from Salvation” in the whispered vocals of the verse and the morose theme being conveyed, the loss of one’s name, the pursuit of knowledge under penalty of death, and as they did on their debut,¬†Deathwhite bring it forth on “Further from Salvation” with conviction and aesthetic loyalty that is as genuine in its identity as in its homage.

I’ve yet to hear the entirety of¬†Grave Image, but the band speaks to an added sense of severity in their presentation, and I think that is apparent in this track, which is one of a total 10 on the album, the stark and frigid artwork for which could hardly be more suited to the swaying and sad melodycraft and the sense of longing being conveyed.

Rather than prattle on, I’ll turn you over to the song itself and let the copious PR wire background do the rest of the talking while I listen through again and wait for the sun to come up, which it will sooner or later despite the current encompassing darkness.

Grave Image preorders are here: https://smarturl.it/DeathwhiteGraveImage

Enjoy the track:

Deathwhite, “Further from Salvation” official track premiere

Deathwhite on “Further from Salvation”:

“‘Further from Salvation’ was the first song we wrote for ‘Grave Image.’ It gave us the confidence and direction to move forward in a similar direction for the rest of the album, whereby we decided to place more emphasis on heaviness and melody. ‘Further from Salvation’ is also unique for its drum break in the middle portion of the song, something we are imminently proud of. The song itself is reflective of the regular back-and-forth of the human psyche, where inner peace and turmoil is sometimes a mirage of one’s own doing. There is, of course, no parallel to peace of mind, as difficult as it is to achieve.”

The fallible nature of mankind is reflected through its actions and words. Once an absolute, truth is now fluid, twisted and contorted to suit the often-short-sighted needs of those who now suffer the indignation of willful ignorance. Paired with the stench of hypocrisy and unrelenting depletion of the earth’s resources, and the state of the world could not appear graver. It is under this grey cloud that enigmatic dark metal collective DEATHWHITE created their second full-length studio album, Grave Image.

Grave Image was recorded during April and May 2019 at Cerebral Audio Productions with producer/engineer Shane Mayer; vocal tracking took place at Erik Rutan‚Äôs (Hate Eternal, Morbid Angel) Mana Recording under the supervision of engineer Art Paiz. The album was mastered by the incomparable Dan Swan√∂ (Bloodbath, Edge of Sanity, Nightingale) at Unisound, and, as with the band‚Äôs previous two efforts, the artwork and design were handled by J√©r√īme Comentale, whose visuals are crucial to DEATHWHITE‚Äôs overall aesthetic.

Written over the span of 18 months, Grave Image is a largely heavier and more orchestrated body of work than its 2018 For a Black Tomorrow predecessor. The album is driven by clean, emotive vocals, an increasingly rare commodity in a metal scene so committed to harsher styles of singing. This embrace and execution of such vocals are one of the defining traits of the ten songs found therein, which also offer a wall of guitars flanked by a constant stream of melodies, the direct result of the band adding a second guitarist in 2018.

Since its 2012 formation, DEATHWHITE has remained committed to playing dark metal while remaining anonymous. The band is the utter representation of ‚Äúthe whole is greater than the sum of its parts‚ÄĚ adage ‚ÄĒ its members are from disparate backgrounds and are once again spread out across the United States. However, DEATHWHITE remains a vehicle for its members to create new music and convey their unflinching sense of despair as the human race continues its rapid descent to the bottom.

‚ÄúWe consider ourselves to be quite privileged to have DEATHWHITE in our lives,‚ÄĚ concludes the band. ‚ÄúWith that in mind, Grave Image represents the months of hard work that went into its creation. It is our hope it will resonate long after we‚Äôve outlived our usefulness. If nothing else, we hope it will find a home with those who share a similar frame of mind as us.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄėGrave Image‚Äô Track List:
1. Funeral Ground (05:05)
2. In Eclipse (04:46)
3. Further from Salvation (04:56)
4. Grave Image (04:50)
5. Among Us (04:11)
6. Words of Dead Men (03:56)
7. No Horizon (05:29)
8. Plague of Virtue (04:14)
9. A Servant (04:43)
10. Return to Silence (06:38)
Total Length: 48:48

Line-up: The band does not provide line-up information.

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Deathwhite Begin Recording New Album Grave Image

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

deathwhite

Now a four-piece, Pittsburgh melodic doom metallers Deathwhite have announced they’ve begun recording their second album, to be titled Grave Image and released through Season of Mist. The same imprint stood behind their early-2018 debut, For a Black Tomorrow (review here), which offered an American interpretation of the kind of emotive doom proffered by the likes of Katatonia or Alternative 4-era Anathema. It was a full-length that I think flew under a lot of people’s radar, but as a fan of the style was something that hit a chord with me, and I’ll look forward to hearing what they come out with having returned to Cerebral Audio Productions to lay down the instrumental tracks while vocals will be done at Mana Recording in Tampa, Florida. Nice vacation, and I wonder if that means Erik Rutan (Hate Eternal) will be at the helm. Could be interesting.

The band made the announcement of work being done in short and sweet fashion via a social media post. I’ve also included the stream of the first LP below in case you’d like a refresher.

Have at it:

deathwhite cheat sheet

DEATHWHITE Enters Studio To Record New Album, ‚ÄėGrave Image‚Äô

It is with great pleasure to share we are currently in the throes of recording our second full-length album, ‚ÄúGrave Image.‚ÄĚ The album will be released in the not-terribly-distant future via Season of Mist.

Cerebral Audio Productions’ Shane Mayer is once again overseeing the sessions; vocals will be tracked at Mana Recording in Tampa, Florida. And, much to our delight, the esteemed Dan Swano will handle mastering.

We are now a quartet, having added a second guitar player. Such an addition, along with new twists and turns in the songwriting process, make ‚ÄúGrave Image‚ÄĚ an effort we are imminently proud of. We look forward to sharing more details as matters unfold. Until then‚Ķ

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Deathwhite, For a Black Tomorrow (2018)

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Deathwhite, For a Black Tomorrow

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 22nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

deathwhite for a black tomorrow

[Click pay above to stream Deathwhite’s For a Black Tomorrow in its entirety. Album is out Feb. 23 via Season of Mist with preorders available here.]

Going by what your ears tell you, you’d have to be forgiven for guessing wrong at mood-metal three-piece Deathwhite‘s base of operations. Sweden? Nope. The UK? Nope. Poland? Nope. Romania? Nope. Some frigid former Soviet Bloc nation with little scene to speak of but plenty of passion and sadness to spare? Wrong-o, chief. The correct answer is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Steel City. The trio choose to remain anonymous under their hooded robes — I’ve seen AM and LM listed as a partial lineup, so maybe there’s a pair of brothers in there, but maybe not — but when it comes to their debut album for Season of Mist, the nine-song/43-minute For a Black Tomorrow, their intention couldn’t be clearer. The mission of the album, front to back, is to pay homage to the greats of melancholic metal. Perhaps Katatonia, and in particular the Last Fair Deal Gone Down era of that Swedish outfit’s work, most of all, but definitely the oeuvre of the so-called ‘Peaceville Three’ — My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost and Anathema — as well.

Saying that might lead one to believe there are death-doom elements at play throughout For a Black Tomorrow, or that the band engages a rawness of production¬†√† la those groups’ transformative works in the early ’90s — a specific aspect I’d argue just about no one has been able to accurately recreate — but no.¬†Deathwhite take on the atmospheric, emotional, and melodcally ranging side of these bands’works, and while tracks like the later “Death and the Master” offer some shouts and heavier thrust, and amid one of the album’s strongest hooks, the earlier “just Remember” proffers a riff with a sharper bite than that of, say, opener “The Grace of the Dark,” which unfolds at the beginning of¬†Deathwhite‘s first album with a patience that immediately puts the band in command of both the aesthetic and the outward-moving progression of the LP itself. In other words, there’s an awful lot about what they want to do that¬†Deathwhite have already figured out.

The band has two prior EPs in 2014’s¬†Ethereal¬†and 2015’s¬†Solitary Martyr, but while I obviously have no confirmation to back me up, I’d more likely credit their cohesiveness as regards overall mission to members’ prior experience in other outfits. Do I know that? Nope. But¬†though¬†Deathwhite have been together for upwards of six years, there are still parts of¬†For a Black Tomorrow that speak to pedigree beyond this band itself. The fluidity with which “The Grace of the Dark” unfurls atop double kick drums, building tension in its verse to release in the chorus, or how the subsequent “Contrition” picks up with a more urgent and metallic chug topped with a plotted but classy lead that fades out of the mix just as the first verse begins, the band galloping forward for the duration into the depressive acoustic/full-breadth tone trades that take place in “Poisoned,” a swapping out of layers masterfully handled by producer¬†Shane Mayer that only make the fullness of tone in the subsequent “Just Remember” all the more resonant.

That song, along with the following centerpiece “Eden,” might be the emotional and aesthetic crux of¬†For a Black Tomorrow — i.e., the moments at which¬†Deathwhite‘s tribute is most readily paid to their influences. Once again, that’s primarily directed toward¬†Katatonia, but there are darker impulses at work as well, in the guitar and bass tones, though the vocals and the pacing assure that the prevailing vibe is emotionally downtrodden in just such a specific way. It’s also gorgeous — especially “Eden” — so another manner in which¬†Deathwhite seem to nod to their stylistic forebears is finding beauty amid the darkness of their making and not forgetting to highlight the one alongside the other. That, ultimately, is a major factor in what separates this kind of doom from its more workmanlike, traditionalist contemporaries.

deathwhite

It’s not until they come around to sixth track “Dreaming the Inverse” that¬†Deathwhite cross over the five-minute mark. One could argue this shows a monotony of structure, but that’s simply not the case — rather, it’s an efficiency of songcraft from which the trio begin to branch out as¬†For a Black Tomorrow progresses toward its finale title-track. After “Eden,” “Dreaming the Inverse” (5:01) brings turns between double-kick gallop and quieter, brooding verses, the sudden moves between one and the other a familiar tactic and not entirely dissimilar from what¬†Deathwhite already brought to “Poisoned,” though heavier on the whole and more soulful vocally. That vocal soul sets up the primary impression that “Death and the Master” will make over the course of its six and a half minutes, as a rawer shout — still melodic, but the delivery changes, to be sure — emerges to top the fuller push of the band behind it.

As one of the most engrossing moments of¬†For a Black Tomorrow, “Death and the Master” takes on a declarative vibe that could be derived from¬†Primordial at least in part or perhaps unintentionally, but it’s a powerful standout either way, and though an interlude of some sort might’ve worked well to separate the two, “Death and the Master” still doesn’t necessarily overshadow “Prison of Thought,” which follows, the two songs rather acting as complements as the latter revives shifts from hard-driving distortion and acousti-poetics, settling by its finish on a raucous but still very much controlled payoff. “For a Black Tomorrow” itself rounds out, the band quickly dropping a lyrical reference to¬†Anathema‘s “Shroud of False” from¬†Alternative 4, and moving through a return to the shorter songcraft of earlier pieces, but with something of a looser feel as the guitar leads the way through. There’s still a tension in the chug, but open-ringouts remind of the patience in “The Grace of the Dark,” and the vocal harmonies that top the final section before the fadeout in the song’s second half are nothing less than beautiful. One could hardly ask for a more appropriate ending.

What¬†Deathwhite present on their debut album is a powerful showcase of aesthetic. They prove readily in these tracks that they know what they want to sound like, know where they’re coming from in terms of influence and style, and know how they want to bring that to fruition in their own work. As the question was eventually put to the likes of¬†Anathema,¬†Katatonia,¬†Paradise Lost and¬†My Dying Bride, sooner or later,¬†Deathwhite will have to¬†answer how they’ll be able to take these elements and craft something more individualized from them — that is, something to distinguish them from their forebears in the subgenre — but that is perhaps best left to time and the natural development of the group over their next however-many releases. As regards¬†For a Black Tomorrow, it speaks with resonance to a certain depression of spirit and though¬†Deathwhite may seem a novelty at first for the simple fact of their surprising geographic locale, there’s nothing in these nine songs that feels like a put-on or a less than genuine expression on its own level.

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