Live Review: Magnetic Eye Records Day of Doom in Brooklyn, 11.02.19

Posted in Reviews on November 2nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

magnetic eye records day of doom poster

Before the Show

Well, don’t tell anybody, but the dude sitting at the end of the bar DJ’ing is me. Actually, come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I don’t care if you tell anybody. At this point, I know most of the seven or eight people in this room right now. But I made a playlist, edited it together so it all plays as one track, and it’s three hours long — like the old podcasts, including a really long song or two along the way — but that’s going, so as far as I’m concerned, sitting here on my laptop is why they asked me to come early. The rest is kind of just waiting around, so at least this way I can look like I’m doing something.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing the review while the show is happening — I’m not committing to posting any of it live, since I’ve never done photos on this machine before when I’m actually in a hurry — but it’s 15-minute breaks between bands, DAY OF DOOM SCHEDULEso it’s going to depend on how I can time it either way. The important thing? That I stress out about it. Obviously.

And oh yeah, I included Earthride on my playlist specifically with the Saint Vitus Bar in mind, because they often play them between bands. My nod to the room. No one cares, but I wouldn’t expect otherwise, so there it is.

This is the Magnetic Eye Records Day of Doom, a nine-band label showcase that will go from at least now — coming on 1:30 — to 10:30 tonight, so yes, a full day of doom, as it were. At very least, if today had a quota of heavy, I suspect it’ll be filled by the end of it and then some.

But we enter now the sit-tight portion of the afternoon, so that’s my plan. Will check in with more either during or after it’s all over.

During the Show

These Beasts

these beasts (photo by jj koczan)

One would not accuse Magnetic Eye Records of easing into the day with These Beasts. Rather, the Chicago three-piece are at this very moment bludgeoning a Vitus Bar live room with an ultra-aggro, thickened noise rock that’s only sense of letting up is in letting up on the letup. By which I mean there is none. It’s somewhat awkward to be sitting here while they’re playing and admit I don’t know their self-titled LP, released earlier this year, but they’re showing me the error of my ways in pummeling fashion. Can hear punk roots coming through amid the intertwining screams and shouts, but there’s a definite heft to the tone and some vocal echo adds atmosphere to go with all that heads-down force. But there’s plenty of that too and it’s the sheer physicality of what they’re playing that’s letting them pull in such an early crowd. To wit, I’m one of like three people in the back bar right now and I’m about to head back in. Clearly they’re doing something right in there.

Leather Lung

Leather Lung (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It’s been weeks, not months, not years — more than days, though — since I last saw Boston’s Leather Lung. Last time? Dudes brought stoner-sludge chicanery to Ode to Doom in Manhattan (review here). This time? The location has changed, but the mission not so much. Vocalist Mike Vickers has had the cast taken off his arm and judging by his onstage mosh-shuffle, all seems to be in good working order, so that’s my official medical checkup, but beyond that, they’re bringing a groove that’s plenty fresh in my memory; sludge played from the heart via the crotch that makes no bones about where it’s coming from — Boston — and no bones about its affection for all manner of inebriating. Their groove has this toughguy edge to it that I can’t quite put my finger on and couldn’t last time either, but I don’t think these dudes want to fight so much as they want to get fucked up and play riffs. Like I said, the mission hasn’t changed much since I last saw them. I’ll check back on them in a bit and hope for no more busted limbs from them or anyone else in attendance, for that matter. “It’s all fun and games, until,” and so on.

High Priest

High Priest (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Chicago’s High Priest issued their Sanctum EP (review here) earlier this year and it was kind of a sleeper, but they were high (pun like 25 percent intended) among my list of anticipated acts for the day. Nothing too complex, but they roll out big-time riffs and dig into some hazy vibes and especially after the nasty nasty nastiness that was These Beasts and Leather Lung back to back, they’re a chance to show off some of the stylistic breadth on Magnetic Eye‘s roster. The kind of label as likely to redux Pink Floyd as Helmet, you know. They’d be a fitting complement to a tour with Elephant Tree, if we’re doing label pairings, but I guess probably there needs to be an album out before one starts nailing down dates. We’re in November now, so kind of fair to look back on some of the year’s highlights, and seeing High Priest live for the first time is a reminder of just how much I dug those tunes this past Spring. I’m apparently learning stuff all over the place today. Fun and educational! They also finished by dissolving into a total wash of noise that was affecting and psychedelic in kind. A pleasure to watch. Can’t say it plainer than that.

Caustic Casanova

Caustic Casanova (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Of the nine bands on this bill, I’m pretty sure Caustic Casanova win the prize for having the most recent release. Their new record, God How I Envy the Deaf, came out on Oct. 18 as their first through Magnetic Eye and they’re playing Vitus Bar as a precursor to hitting the road on the next of their seemingly endless string of tours. This is also the first time I’m seeing them as the four-piece of drummer/vocalist Stefanie Zaenker, bassist/vocalist Francis Beringer, and guitarists Andrew Yonki and Jake Kimberley, the last of whom is a new recruit. For a band on the road as much as they are, I have to imagine finding someone to mesh with wasn’t easy — Caustic Casanova‘s particular take on melodic heavy rock is a big-time beneficiary of the chemistry they’ve built through touring — but they did it, and the match extends to onstage energy, to be sure. How many bands could cover “Wicked World” and make it sound believable? Caustic Casanova played it like they wrote it, and their original material was no less vital. I’ll make it easy: this is a band you should see. They make it even easier by touring their collective ass off, but even if they didn’t, they’d be worth the effort of showing up when possible. Magnetic Eye made a good-ass pickup when they signed them.

Ghastly Sound

Ghastly Sound (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Rivaling Caustic Casanova in the running for most-recent-outing is Vermont trio Ghastly Sound, whose debut full-length, Have a Nice Day, dropped like a sarcastic anvil in September. This was my first time seeing the three-piece, but it’s worth noting they primo position on the bill they’ve received, and I’ll admit that because of that alone, my expectations were high before they went on. Is this the part where I say the band slaughtered those expectations outright, blah blah blah dominance, blah blah blah heavy band destroys minds reaps souls and all the rest? Well, my mind feels pretty destroyed and if I ever had a soul — nope — it’s long gone, but yeah, they delivered in a big spot, taking crossover-style hardcore and leaving the guitar at home, adding melody through vocal effects and reviving a bit of the aggression from earlier in the day. The way they were set up on the Saint Vitus Bar stage made me think there was a guitarist somewhere missing in the building, but nope, and it turned out they didn’t need one, though one hesitates to say such things on a day that has featured thus far and will continue to feature so much choice riffing. A little — or a lot, as in this case — of rumble goes a long way. Also with the shouting and the being really loud. No question the pressure was on, and I know their record was a while in coming, but if I didn’t know they’d just released their debut, I’d say they’d been around much longer.

Horsehunter

Horsehunter (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Okay. Putting together a nine-band bill? Pretty impressive. Doing so and bringing in bands from the UK and Europe? Even more impressive. Doing so and bringing a band from Australia? And that band is Horsehunter? Who I don’t think are really even together at this point? Yeah, that’s some next level shit. The Aus megasludge four-piece put out their self-titled second album (discussed here) and swansong earlier this year — like, earlier than September — and had already been busted up for two years. Should they be broken up? No, they should not. Even if one could manage to put aside the context of seeing them play even just for 45 minutes as being a total once-in-a-lifetime experience, a group of the Melbourne four-piece’s destructive potential should continue to exist. If they were the only band playing today, it would still be a Day of Doom, and in volume and viscosity alike, they’re on a plane of their own amid this lineup. I don’t know what the future might hold for them, as members have already moved onto different projects, but I have to think that if a band is willing to get together and travel to the other side of the planet to play essentially a one-off gig, they’d have to feel motivated to maybe follow that up with something? Or maybe this would be a pinnacle anyway? I don’t know. Either way, it’s clearly a special moment for all involved parties — those in attendance, those playing, and the Magnetic Eye crew, who believed in them enough to release the record even though they were done — and I’m lucky to have been here for it. Biggest big rock finish of the day as well, so bonus points there, as if they needed them.

Domkraft

Domkraft (Photo by JJ Koczan)

This is my second time seeing Sweden’s Domkraft after being fortunate enough to catch them about 13 months ago in Oslo, Norway, at Høstsabbat (review here). They were at that point heralding the release of their second album, Flood (review here), and as they got ready to go on just now I thought back fondly to the positive impression they made that day, blending noise rock, sludge and an almost post-metallic kind of ambience. That’s a fun little narrative, right? Sure it is. Lost in that, however, is the rhythmic undulation of that nod, but man, when they decide to lock that in — and they don’t always, because they’re not a do-one-thing kind of band — they are hypnotic. They had their work cut out for them in following Horsehunter, as anyone would, but guitarist Martin Widholm, bassist/vocalist Martin Wegeland and drummer Anders Dahlgren captured a feeling of spaciousness that seemed to take all the crush of the mighty performance before them and taffy-pull it into a headier, spacier reach, still deeply weighted, still giving that feeling of surrounding you while you’re standing there in front of it, but at the same time extending outward beyond you, beyond the room — maybe just beyond, period. They’ve been to the States before, having played Psycho Las Vegas, and I guess you could count the show they did last night in Jersey with Solace too, but they feel like a band who are really stepping into themselves, and the identity they’re finding as a part of that process suits them. I’m already looking forward to their next record, and far be it from me to tell you how to live your life, but you probably should be too.

Summoner

Summoner (Photo by JJ Koczan)

If you know anything about Magnetic Eye Records, or label founder Mike Vitali (also Black Electric, Ironweed, ex-Greatdayforup, etc.), it’s probably that the label frickin’ loves Boston’s Summoner. I’ve seen them live a handful of times over the years, certainly dug the crap out of 2017’s Beyond the Realms of Light (review here) as I have their material since their days a decade ago operating as Riff Cannon — a name they quickly outgrew and were smart enough to realize it, even though it was a cool moniker to have — and it’s hard to argue. I knew accordingly what to expect going into their set, at least to a degree, but with the recent change that brought Worshipper‘s Dave Jarvis to the lineup on drums — I’m not sure if it’s a permanent or temporary thing; dude was sitting next to me like 15 minutes ago, I should’ve asked — there was an added sense of intrigue to seeing them for what was the first time in a while anyway. However, part of knowing what Summoner do is knowing they do it pro-shop, and as their slot found them positioned right before Elephant Tree at the end of the show, they had an occasion to rise to and they rose to it accordingly, Jarvis sliding right in alongside bassist/vocalist Chris Johnson and guitarists A.J. Peters and Joe Richner, on familiar material while still bringing some of his own swing to it. You won’t hear me disparage the work of Summoner as they were, but if they’re indeed pressing on in this configuration, they’ll be just fine. When Johnson stops smiling on stage, I’ll worry. Didn’t happen at Day of Doom, even after the strap of his bass broke and he had to finish the song with it resting on his knee. That was like two songs in, maybe? No loss of momentum. Pro-shop, front to back.

Elephant Tree

Elephant Tree (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Elephant Tree‘s second full-length, which will actually be released by Holy Roar Records at least in the UK — I admit there might be some regional deal worked out with Magnetic Eye that I don’t know about — is reportedly in the mastering stage. At least, that’s what they told me and I’m not sure what would be their motive for lying about it. Last I heard were a couple rough mixes, but that was a while ago, and I’m all-the-way-serious when I tell you that I can’t think of another record that’s been announced for 2020 that I’m anticipating more. The Londoners’ 2016 self-titled debut (review here) has lost none of its appeal for the subsequent three years — just ask Sister Rainbow, who flew from the UK for this show basically just to see them for what I understand is at least the 48th time — and with the progression I heard evident in their performance (again) at Høstsabbat 2018 (review here) and those rough versions, yeah, I feel justified in my high hopes. It wouldn’t have made sense for them to come to Brooklyn and play only new stuff, but as noted, even the cuts from their self-titled were welcome. The fact that even after such a full show they were given a complete hour for their set should tell you something, and basically it should tell you they’re a band just waiting for your loyalty. See them 49 times? Well, I’m up to at least three now and I feel like that’s barely worth calling a start. Also of note, they’re a four-piece now, with John Slattery on guitar and keys and vocals joining the trio of guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley, bassist/vocalist Peter Holland (of the green strings) and drummer Sam Hart, so that’s all the more of an occasion for their primo stage banter. They’ve just hit into “Aphotic Blues,” if you’ll excuse me… Yeah, that’s an earplugs-out moment not to be missed. And to have them then follow it by bringing album-engineer/multi-instrumentalist/vocalist/he’s-kinda-in-the-band-but-not-really-anymore-except-I-guess-sometimes-like-tonight Riley “The Wizard” MacIntyre on stage first to scream like mad, then to take over Townley‘s guitar for “Wither” only highlighted how incredible this day has been. What a trip. It’s not over. I mean, it’s mostly over, but they’ve got about 10 minutes left, so I’m going to stow the computer and get back to what’s important and get up front for the end, which is where it feels like I should be.

After the Show

Just past 12:30AM. I left the Saint Vitus Bar at I guess around 10:45PM and got back here a little bit ago, cursing the name of the tech giant whose mappery failed yet again to take into account Lincoln Tunnel traffic in its calculations. Next time, I take the FDR unless it’s visibly on fire.

Elephant Tree finished with their slowed-down take on Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” which given the Brooklyn setting found Holland’s gruffer vocal reminding all the more of Peter Steele from Type O Negative (green strings may have been a factor there as well), and followed that with a new song called “Bird,” the harmonies of which are particularly gorgeous and lush seeming. Mike Vitali Magnetic Eye Records (Photo by JJ Koczan)I can’t wait to hear that album.

Basically I’m keying down from the show, and there was a lot of show to key up. Kind of striking how even the bands whose sounds had common elements were able to stand themselves apart. That was true the whole time. And I stayed the whole time. And I wound up running the playlist the whole time as well, at least until Elephant Tree were done. So I guess that’s a thing. I DJed the show. Wasn’t planned, but I was plugged in and using my laptop anyway, so there you have it. I dug the tunes, anyway. Hopefully I wasn’t the only one.

Thanks to Mike Vitali and to Jadd Shickler for having me on board for that and for putting the thing together generally. This was a pretty astounding feat when it comes to coordination, and those efforts on their behalf were deeply appreciated. Vitali got on stage before Horsehunter went on to thank everybody and it was plain to see it was an emotional night for him as well. It would have to be, frankly.

Thanks to the bands, to everyone who said hi and/or nice things, and thanks to you for reading. Most of all, thanks to The Patient Mrs., who made my being there possible, and who makes pretty much everything that’s possible possible.

Now off to bed.

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Magnetic Eye Records Announces Label Showcase with Horsehunter, Elephant Tree, Domkraft, Summoner & More

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 12th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Clearly, Magnetic Eye Records is not into half-measures. Any label can put together a tribute. When Magnetic Eye does it, it’s two sprawling collections of bands playing homage to landmark albums and artists’ greatest hits. Any label can put together a showcase. When Magnetic Eye does it, they fly in three international acts, from Australia, the UK and Sweden, to round out the bill. Do you have any idea how insane that is?

It’s quite insane.

They’ve got a Kickstarter up now, as they will, and as rewards for backers they’re letting you preorder which set you’d like to have the recorded version of, because of course they’re also recording the sets. Seriously?

To do otherwise would be a half-measure.

They’re calling it ‘The Day of Doom,’ and in addition to HorsehunterElephant Tree, and Domkraft, they’ll have SummonerLeather LungGhastly SoundHigh PriestCaustic Casanova and These Beasts on the bill. Nine bands at the Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn on Nov. 2.

Quite insane. Just enough to work:

magnetic eye showcase banner

MAGNETIC EYE RECORDS presents its first ever live label showcase at the legendary Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn this November 2nd!

Check out the Kickstarter to help us make the Day of Doom truly epic and get in on the exclusive live album releases from MER’s flagship bands.

Sure, it’s summer right now, but have you looked around? Seas are rising, animal populations are shrinking, Scott Stapp has a new album, dogs and cats are living together… it’s mass hysteria.

Not the types to fly in the face of impending Armageddon, Magnetic Eye thought we’d expedite the end times by officially declaring our own DAY OF DOOM on November 2nd of this year as the date of our first-ever live label showcase.

Where?

The Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, New York. Where the hell else?

Who?

No less than nine crushing Magnetic Eye roster bands, headlined by our four flagship acts that have helped shape and define the core of the MER sound:

Summoner
Horsehunter
Domkraft
Elephant Tree

What does this mean for you?

Two things:

1. If you’re anywhere near the New York area (or even if you’re not), you’re going to want to make the pilgrimage to this show. With our biggest and heaviest acts flying in from all over the world, it’s probably no stretch to say we have no idea when or if this will ever happen again. Tickets will be on sale soon directly via the Saint Vitus Bar, and we’ll of course let you know where to get them.

2. Whether you can make this incredible convergence in person or not, you can share in the experience. Magnetic Eye will be recording the four headline bands at Day of Doom for an exclusive set of live album releases, and you can support helping get the bands here for the event and reserve your live records now by jumping on board the Kickstarter for the project at this location.

Look, we’d love to have all of you there with us. But we know it’s not possible for some to make the trip, and we understand. Hell, it wasn’t possible for most of us to attend Woodstock, but at least we have the soundtrack, right?

Check out our Kickstarter now to lock down your exclusive editions of Elephant Tree, Domkraft, Summoner and Horsehunter Live at the Day of Doom New York. It’s going to be absolutely unforgettable. And thanks to these records, you’ll always remember.

http://store.merhq.com
http://magneticeyerecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/MagneticEyeRecords

Leather Lung, Lonesome, On’ry & Evil (2019)

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Domkraft Added to The Planet of Doom Animated Feature

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Steady progress continues on director Tim Granda‘s animated feature, The Planet of Doom. With an expected 2020 release date, the film has added Sweden’s Domkraft to its already impressive array of contributors. The trio join the ranks of Ufomammut, Space Witch, Wo Fat, Mos Generator, Slomatics, Vokonis and others, and do so on the heels of being confirmed for a PostWax release as part of Blues Funeral Recordings‘ subscription vinyl service, and their 2018 sophomore outing, Flood (review here), which found them broadening their sound in a way that sought not so much to bridge the gap between psychedelia and heavy noise rock as smash the imaginary wall that might otherwise divide those styles.

Also, smash a bunch of other stuff. Lots of smashing. Smashy smashy.

No confirmation yet from The Planet of Doom as regards the artist with whom they’ll be paired — each chapter of the movie has a different band and artist; because if you’re going to do something, make it a logistical nightmare — but I’ll keep an ear out and let you know what/if/when I hear. Until then, their participation was announced thusly:

domkraft the planet of doom

We’re stoked to announce that the band Domkraft has joined us on our trip to The Planet of Doom!

The Swedish trio whose name combines the Swedish “DOM” for judgement and “KRAFT” for power, blasts forth towering dirges of annihilating doom, mindbending psychedelia, and hypnotic minimalism.

Wielding a soundscape of obeliskian riff-majesty, DOMKRAFT discharge layer upon layer of crushing fury, weaving through the wormhole punctures of spacetime in defiance of beginnings and endings.

From Loop to Sleep, Sabbath to Neu!, Hawkwind to Neurosis, and Swans to Spacemen 3, the DOMKRAFT sound is an unsettling mix of grinding riffs, blistering power, and inexorable motion.

Domkraft is:
Martin Widholm – Guitar
Martin Wegeland – Bass & Vocals
Anders Dahlgren – Drums

http://www.theplanetofdoom.com/
https://www.facebook.com/theplanetofdoom
https://instagram.com/theplanetofdoom
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7133084/
http://rifflodge.storenvy.com/

Domkraft, “The Watchers” official video

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The Top 20 of 2018 Year-End Poll — RESULTS!

Posted in Features on January 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

derp

If you’re reading this, congratulations on making it all the way through the existential rollercoaster that was 2018.

I hope you celebrated that year’s end and this year’s beginning in riotous fashion if that’s your thing, and if you’re more the stay-at-home-and-don’t-break-stuff type, I hope that was fun too.

Over the last month, best-of lists have been collected from all around the world and as we move into 2019, it’s time to do the results of the Year-End Poll for 2018.

What a year. As I look back on the lists submitted, of course I can’t help but think how absolutely incredible 2018 was for music. With the world crumbling around, creativity surged, and the quality of output was off the charts. I published my own list last week and was quickly inundated with stuff I forgot or that I missed owing to being robbed earlier this year — I guess I didn’t even realize until the post went up just how much that screwed me — and I’m sure there’s more still out there from what everyone turned in. It’s infinite. It keeps going. Trends change. Sounds change. People change. Creativity flourishes.

But I think if you’re reading this, you know why we’re here. We wound up with somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 discrete releases submitted. That’s more than five for every day of the year. And they came from 547 people, which is amazing. Accordingly, there should be plenty here to keep you busy for a while.

Not exactly suspenseful as to which was the album of the year, but it’s still interesting to see where stuff landed. Just to remind, there are two lists, one of the raw votes, and one in which a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. Thanks as always to Slevin for the help in setting up the back end functionality and compilation scripts.

Let’s go:

Top 20 of 2018 — Weighted Results

sleep the sciences

1. Sleep, The Sciences (1,087 points)
2. YOB, Our Raw Heart (721)
3. High on Fire, Electric Messiah (478)
4. Earthless, Black Heaven (413)
5. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain (408)
6. Windhand, Eternal Return (387)
7. All Them Witches, ATW (373)
8. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland (354)
9. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions (323)
10. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe (315)
11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers (285)
12. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II (274)
13. Graveyard, Peace (225)
14. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman (222)
15. Weedpecker, III (212)
16. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown (197)
17. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker (189)
18. Conan, Existential Void Guardian (188)
19. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark (167)
20. ASG, Survive Sunrise (164)

Honorable Mention:
Messa, Feast for Water (150)
Gozu, Equilibrium (148)
Judas Priest, Firepower (148)
Naxatras, III (148)
Forming the Void, Rift (146)

I’m not saying everyone had to love the Sleep record, but there’s no way it wasn’t the biggest underground heavy release of the year. That top spot was established the first day the poll went up and while YOB caught up as both neared 100 votes, there was no doubt how it would ultimately shake out. It was pretty clear early on what people were passionate about, but there are some interesting differences between the raw vote and the weighted results even high on the list, as you’ll see below.

Top 20 of 2018 — Raw Votes

sleep the sciences

1. Sleep, The Sciences (263 votes)
2. YOB, Our Raw Heart (185)
3. High on Fire, Electric Messiah (141)
4. Windhand, Eternal Return (115)
5. Earthless, Black Heaven (109)
6. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain (102)
7. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland (101)
8. All Them Witches, ATW (95)
8. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions (95)
9. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe (93)
10. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers (77)
10. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II (77)
11. Graveyard, Peace (69)
12. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman (67)
13. Weedpecker, III (63)
14. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker (57)
14. Conan, Existential Void Guardian (57)
15. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown (54)
16. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark (50)
17. ASG, Survive Sunrise (48)
18. Gozu, Equilibrium (46)
19. Forming the Void, Rift (45)
20. Judas Priest, Firepower (43)
20. Khemmis, Bloodletting (43)
20. Mos Generator, Shadowlands (43)
20. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back (43)

Honorable Mention:
Messa, Feast for Water (41)
Domkraft, Flood (40)
Naxatras, III (40)
Thou, Magus (40)

Everything else got fewer than 40 raw votes. Why cap it at 40? I don’t know. Good a place as any. And when a top 20 has 26 releases on it, I don’t imagine there will be too many complaints about not enough stuff being included. One can hope, anyhow. You can see the difference between Sleep and everyone else here as well, a pretty precipitous drop after both them and YOB, and YOB and High on Fire — the top three being well ahead of everyone else in terms of general agreement.

The ‘Respect the Hustle’ Award

Somewhere around the middle of the month, I noticed a massive surge of votes for a band called Entropía and their debut album, Invisible. A bunch of people with lists of 20 just including Entropía. I’ve included them below, you can see them. I didn’t know what was up, whether it was the band spamming the vote or what, so I sent them a message. Turns out they had sent the link to their email list and asked for votes, and that’s how they all got in. Well, okay.

They wound up with well over 750 raw votes (to remind, Sleep got 263), and it didn’t feel representative to have them be album of the year, but hey, I respect the hustle, so they get the award accordingly. Nicely done, folks. I’ve been doing Year-End Polls since like 2010 and that’s never happened before. Their totals were 2,367 points and 777 votes.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading. Whether this is the only post you’ve seen this year or you click ‘Like’ on everything that comes across your Facebook feed, your support is tremendously appreciated. This is the only post that will go up today, but we’ll be back to business as usual tomorrow, and in the meantime, you’ll find everybody’s list included after the jump.

All the best for 2019.

Read more »

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the-top-30-of-2018

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2018 to that, please do.

It just wouldn’t be a year if it wasn’t completely overwhelming, right?

2018 has certainly met that standard and then some. The swath of output, whether it’s a new generation adopting and adapting established methods or out and out reinventing the stylistic wheel and then pushing it uphill on a seemingly endless barrage of tours, has been staggering, and it’s still happening. There’s a little more than a week to go in the year. You think a band isn’t putting something out today? Of course they are. It’s every day. It’s all the time.

But this year wasn’t just about quantity either. I think one of my biggest struggles in writing about albums in 2018 — and with the last Quarterly Review and various premieres and video posts that were basically album reviews in disguise, let’s estimate we’re somewhere past 300 records reviewed one way or another — was in conveying just how killer so much of the stuff coming through was. How many times can you say the word “awesome?” Well, I’m sure we’ll see it a few more times before this list is over, so there you go.

I say something like this every time I do a list, but please keep in mind these are my picks and I’m one person. But I am a person. I know there’s the whole internet-anonymity thing, but I assure you, I’m a human being (more of a cave troll, really) typing these words. I’m all for everyone sharing their own picks in the comments, and all for passionate advocating, but please, let’s keep it civil and respectful. These things can spiral out of control quickly, but let’s remember that we’re all human beings and worth of basic courtesy, even if some of us are dead wrong about a good many things. You should definitely punch nazis, though.

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

[UPDATE: You’ll notice the inclusion of an ’18a.’ I had Stoned Jesus in my notes as number 18 initially and they got dropped as I was adjusting things along the way. I’ve added them back in, but it didn’t seem fair to bump everyone else down after the post had already been published. That was the best I could come up with for a solution. If you’re pissed about one more killer record being added, please feel free to email me and tell me all about it.]

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Chicago’s The Skull had no small task before them in following up their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) — let alone living up to their pedigree — but their second album demonstrated a creative growth that sacrificed nothing of memorability when it came to songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “All that Remains (Is True).” They got down to work and got the job done, which is what a working band does. 2018 was by any measure a fantastic year for doom, and The Skull were a big part of why.

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

The Dec. 2017 murder of Rev. Jim Forrester was tragic. No other way to say it. Foghound, who were in the midst of making Awaken to Destroy at the time, put together an album that not only features Forrester‘s last recorded performance, but pays respect to his memory while the wound is still raw and manages to kick ass all the while. It’s a record that can’t ever be divorced from its circumstances — just can’t — and so it can be a heavy listen in more than just its tones, but it’s basically Foghound proving they’re unstoppable. And so they are.

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

Who among us here today is not a sucker for Orange Goblin? Come forward an be judged. I mean, really. Nine records deep, the London sceneforgers are nothing less than an institution, beloved by boozehounds, riffhounds, doomhounds, and really, a wide variety of hounds the world over. Also dudes. With its essential title-track hook and highlight cuts in “Ghosts of the Primitives” and “Burn the Ships” — or, you know, any of them — they added to one of heavy’s most unshakable legacies with an album as furious as it is welcoming to its generations-spanning fanbase.

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

fu manchu clone of the universe
Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed Feb. 15.

There are two kinds of people in this world, and they’re both Fu Manchu fans. Clone of the Universe turned heads with a guest appearance from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson on the 18-minute side-B-consuming “Il Mostro Atomico,” but really to focus on that instead of “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” etc., is only seeing half the point of the album in the first place. The long-running lords of fuzz hit a new stride with 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), and Clone of the Universe was in every way a worthy successor.

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain
Released by Svart Records. Reviewed May 16.

It was an unenviable task before Witch Mountain in replacing vocalist Uta Plotkin, but founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson found the right voice in Kayla Dixon and solidified the lineup with her and bassist Justin Brown enough to make a declarative statement in Witch Mountain‘s self-titled LP. That’s the story of it. They pulled it off. Met with what was unquestionably a bummer circumstance, they pushed through and moved their sound forward through a new beginning — and not their first one. Watch out when their next record hits.

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Richmond, Virginia, doomers Windhand‘s second collaboration with producer Jack Endino produced a marked and purposeful expansion of their sound, encompassing classic grunge influences and a heavy psychedelic swirl that added color their previously-greyscale sonic haze. Resonant in tone and emotionalism, Eternal Return readjusted Windhand‘s trajectory in such a manner that, where one might’ve thought they knew where the band were headed in terms of their progression, they’ve made themselves a less predictable outfit on the whole. For that alone, it’s a triumph. Then you have the songs.

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

I don’t even want to admit how long I was waiting for Sun Voyager‘s first long-player to show up, but when it finally did, the New York trio did not disappoint. Catchy, energetic, fuzzed-out tunes with driving rhythms and a heavy psych flourish, they tapped into shoegaze and desert vibes without losing any sense of themselves in the process, and if the extra wait was so they could be so remarkably coherent in their expression on their full-length, then I wouldn’t want it to have shown up any sooner. An easy pick to stand among 2018’s best debut albums. Now to wait for the next one.

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

It should tell you something that after working quickly to produce three albums, Louisiana’s Forming the Void are still defined by their potential. If I had my druthers, I’d put the recent Ripple signees on tour for the bulk of 2019, across the US and in Europe for festivals and support-slot club shows, really give them an opportunity to hammer out who they are as a band and then hit the studio for LP four. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but they’d only be doing the universe a favor by kicking into that gear. As it stands, their progression is palpable in their material and they stand absolutely ready for whatever the next level might be for them.

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

Released by BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed June 29.

Aside from the speed at which Spaceslug have turned around offerings — with Eye the Tide following 2017’s Mountains and Reminiscence EP (review here) and Time Travel Dilemma (review here) full-length and their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here) — the Polish outfit have undertaken significant progression in their sound, moving from pure heavy psychedelic warmth to incorporating elements out of extreme metal as they did on Eye the Tide. Adding to the latest record’s accomplishment is the smoothness with which they brought seemingly opposing sides together, only adding depth to an approach already worthy of oceanic comparison.

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

Conan Existential Void Guardian
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Conan‘s reign of terror has been unfolding for more than a decade now, and each of their albums has become a kind of step along a path of incremental growth. Consider the melody creeping into the shouts of founding guitarist Jon Davis, or the emergence of bassist Chris Fielding as a vocal presence alongside, the two sharing a frontman role more than ever before while welcoming drummer Johnny King to the fold of destructive tonality and doomly extremism. Existential Void Guardian may end up just being another stomp-print on their way to the next thing, but it affirmed the fact that as much as Conan grow each time out, their central violence continues to hold sway.

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

PALE DIVINE S/T
Released by Shadow Kingdom Records. Reviewed Nov. 21.

Look. A new Pale Divine record doesn’t come along every day, so yeah, their self-titled was probably going to be on my list one way or the other, but it definitely helps that not only was it their first outing in six years since 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here), but it had the songs to live up to a half-decade-plus of anticipation. It marked the first studio appearance from bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis alongside guitarist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey — now both of Beelzefuzz as well — and made a strong argument for how much Pale Divine deserve more than 20 years on from their initial demo to be considered classic American doom.

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands
Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed May 11.

The return and rise to prominence of Washington pure heavy rockers Mos Generator might be the underground’s feelgood story of the decade, but it hasn’t by any means been easily won. In addition to rebuilding the band however many albums ago, guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed has put in innumerable hours on tour and worked to actually develop the group creatively in addition to in terms of stage presence. This is shown throughout some of the classic prog elements making their way onto Shadowlands, and perhaps some of the collection’s moodier aspects are born of the aforementioned road time as well. Hard for that kind of thing not to be a slog after a while, but at least they have killer tunes to play.

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

The only safe bet about Stoned Jesus‘ fourth long-player, Pilgrims, was that it was going to sound different than the third. That 2015 outing, The Harvest (review here), preceded the band touring to celebrate the fifth anniversary and after-the-fact success of 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but Pilgrims defied narrative in that instead of incorporating elements from the second record in more of a heavy psych or jam sound, Stoned Jesus instead showcased a tighter, more sureheaded sense of craft than they’ve ever displayed before, and arrived on Napalm Records with a collection of songs that demonstrated the growth and sense of creative will that drives them. While one can take a look at their moniker and think immediately they know what’s coming, Stoned Jesus have made themselves one of the least predictable bands in heavy rock.

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

“Pirate Smile.” “Lines.” “Whatever.” “It Ain’t Right.” “Threes.” “Cinderella.” “Generals.” “Big Enough.” “Alone.” “Lucky. Mike Cummings, Jessica Baker, Erik Larson. Every player, every song, every minute. If you want to know what heart-on-sleeve sounds like, it fucking sounds like Backwoods Payback. In their line from hardcore punk to grunge to heavy rock, they encompass experiences and emotionalism that are both shown in raw form throughout Future Slum, and build all the while on the chemistry they set out in developing with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), when they welcomed Larson to the lineup on drums and revitalized their mission. Also worth noting, they were the best live band I saw this year. Anywhere.

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

No question the excitement of C.O.C. putting out their first record with frontman Pepper Keenan involved since 2005’s In the Arms of God was one of this year’s top stories in heavy. And No Cross No Crown tapped directly into the spirit of 1994’s Deliverance (discussed here) and 1996’s Wiseblood (discussed here) in terms of direction, while updating the band’s style with a four-part 2LP in mind. In some ways, it’ll be their next album that really gives listeners a sense of where they’re at and where they might be headed, but as welcome returns go, having Keenan alongside Mike DeanWoody Weatherman and Reed Mullin is in no way to be understated, and neither is the quality of their output together, then and now.

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It is no simple feat to hypnotize an audience and convey serenity while at the same time holding attention with songcraft, so that the listener isn’t actually so much unconscious as malleable of mood and spirit in such a direction as the band suggests. Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to become experts at this, and their third full-length fosters tonal warmth and jammy progressions with an overarching naturalism that finds them so committed to analog recording that one can buy direct transfers of the tape master of III. Some acts take classic-style practices as an aesthetic choice. With Naxatras, it seems to be the stuff of life, yet their sound is only vibrant and human in a way that, at least one hopes, is even more representative of the future than the past.

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

It was time for Clutch to make a change in producers, and the Maryland overlords of groove seemed to know it. Known as a live band, they went with Vance Powell, who’s known a live band producer. The results on Book of Bad Decisions might not have been so earth-shatteringly different from 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here), which was the too-soon follow-up to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — both helmed by Machine — but the inimitable four-piece indeed succeeded in capturing the electricity of their stage performance and, as ever, treated fans to a collection of songs bearing Clutch‘s unmistakable hallmarks of quirky lyrics, funky rhythms and heavy roll. They may always be a live band, but Clutch‘s studio work is in no way to be discounted, ever, as this record reaffirmed. Plus, crab cakes.

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

After 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), I wasn’t sure Ancestors were going to put out another record. They kicked around word of one for a while, but it wasn’t until the end of last year that it really seemed to congeal into a possibility. And by then, who the hell knew what they might get up to on a full-length? With Suspended in Reflections, in some says, they picked up where they left off in terms of finding a niche for themselves in progressive and melodic heavy, but I think the time showed in the poise of their execution and the control of the material. Suspended in Reflections can’t help but be six years more mature than its predecessor, and that suits its contemplative feel. In tracks like “Gone,” and “The Warm Glow,” they tempered their expansive sound with an efficiency that can only be had with time.

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

The narrative here was hard to beat. Matt Pike spending an album cycle talking about Lemmy Kilmister and paying homage to his dirt-rock forebear and the gods of old? It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Electric Messiah was the third collaboration between High on Fire and producer Kurt Ballou behind 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), and while it seemed after the last record that the formula might be getting stale, the band only sounded more and more lethal throughout the latest offering. Even putting aside their contributions to underground heavy, they’ve become one of the most essential metal bands of their generation. Metal, period. Doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re talking about it. If you’re listening to High on Fire, you know it. Usually because you’ve just been decapitated.

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

You know, if you take the time to separate Yawning Man from their 30-plus-year history and their legacy as one of the foundational acts of what later became desert rock, and you listen to The Revolt Against Tired Noises, you’re still left with basically a dream of an album. Mostly instrumental, as is their wont, they nonetheless had bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) sing this time around on a version of the previously-unreleased “Catamaran,” which Kyuss covered once upon a whenever although Yawning Man had never officially put it to tape. But really, that and all other novelty aside, guitarist Gary Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are a chemistry unto themselves. I don’t know if they’ll ever be as huge as they should be, but every bit of acclaim they get, they’ve earned, and if The Revolt Against Tired Noises helps them get it, all the more so.

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

Swedish heavy rock mavens Greenleaf have become an entirely different band than they once were. No longer a Dozer side-project from guitarist Tommi Holappa with a rotating cast of players, they’re a solidified, road-tested, powerhouse unit, and Hear the Rivers bleeds soul as a result. Holappa, frontman Arvid Hällagård, bassist Hans Fröhlich and drummer Sebastian Olsson sound like they’re absolutely on fire in the album’s tracks, and far from being staid or formulaic as one might expect a sixth long-player to be, Hear the Rivers built on what the band accomplished with 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) and came across as all the more vital and nearly frenetic in their energy. I won’t say Greenleaf has seen their last lineup change, because one never knows, but the band as they are today is the realization of potential I don’t think even Greenleaf knew was there.

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 4.

Five records deep into a career into its second decade, Gozu haven’t had a miss yet. Admittedly, some of their early work can seem formative considering where they are now, but still. And after the 2016 rager, Revival (review here), to have the band return to the same studio — Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where strides producer Dean Baltulonis — for the follow-up allows for the four-piece to directly show how their sound has grown more encompassing in the last couple years. And it has. Equilibrium is a rich and varied listen that holds true to Gozu‘s well-established penchant for soulful vibes and crunching, hard-hitting riffs and groove, but while it shares the directness of approach with Revival, it makes moves that a band could only make moving from one record to the next. I expect nothing less their next time out as well, because a decade later, that’s Gozu‘s proven track record.

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

monster magnet mindfucker
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 23.

The battle for the best album title of 2018 ended early when New Jersey everything-rockers Monster Magnet announced the release of Mindfucker. And what else to call a Monster Magnet LP at this point? They’ve stopped writing to genre. They’re driven by the creative mania of frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf, and they’ve seen psychedelic expanses and commercial success the likes of which would serve the tenure of four lesser bands. What’s left to do but whatever the hell you want? So that’s what Monster Magnet are doing. It just so happens that while they’re doing it, they’re still basically outclassing the entirety of the former planet earth as songwriters. As Monster Magnet fan in 2018, there was nothing more I could’ve asked than what Mindfucker delivered. And if you’re still trying to get your brain around it however many months later, you’re not alone. I think that’s the idea.

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Best doom album of 2018. The combination of craft and passion behind the delivery. The way the dark tones fed into the emotions so clearly on display and sheer presence of it in listening to songs like “Keeping the Lighthouse,” “Ruination by Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here.” Apostle of Solitude never seem to be the highest profile band out there, but their work seems never to be anything less than outstanding, and I refuse to accept them as anything less than among the most pivotal American acts out there making traditional doom. And not just making it, but making it their own, with a sense of new pursuits and individualism that extends to playing style as well as atmosphere. I know doom isn’t exactly in short supply these days — figuratively or literally — but if you miss out on what Apostle of Solitude are doing with it, you’ll only regret it later. I’ll say it one more time: Best doom album of 2018.

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

holy grove ii
Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 31.

Every now and again, anticipating the crap of an album really pays off, and such was the case with Holy Grove II, the Ripple Music debut from the Portland outfit whose 2016 self-titled (review here) seemed like such a herald of excellence to come while also, you know, being killer. Holy Grove II brought the four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis to entirely new levels of composition and execution. In songs like “Blade Born,” the shorter, sharper “Aurora,” the patiently rolling “Valley of the Mystics,” “Solaris” and closer “Cosmos,” which boasted a not-really-necessary-but-definitely-welcome guest vocal appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt, — and oh wait, that’s all of the tracks — Holy Grove entered a different echelon. Anticipation will likewise be high for Holy Grove III, but it’ll be hard to complain with this record to keep company in the meantime.

6. All Them Witches, ATW

all them witches atw
Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Over five All Them Witches albums, the Nashville four-piece have gone from a nascent heavy Americana jam band to one of the most distinct acts in the US underground. Their development in sound is chemistry-driven, so it was a risk when the founding trio of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) and drummer Robby Staebler welcomed new keyboardist Jonathan Draper into the lineup to take the place of Allan van Cleave. Amid a more naturalist production than that of 2017’s Sleeping Through the War (review here), the revamped four-piece flourished in terms of songwriting and conveying their stage-born sonic personae. From the gleeful fuckery of opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” to the memorable moodiness of “Diamond” and the back-end jam “Harvest Feast” en route to the stretched-out end of “Rob’s Dream,” All Them Witches essentially confirmed they could do whatever they wanted and make it work.

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

yob our raw heart
Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed June 7.

Actually, if you want a sample of YOB‘s raw heart, the place to go is probably 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), but whatever the Eugene, Oregon, shapers of cosmic doom might’ve lacked in titular accuracy on their eighth long-player, they made up for in a new, statesman-like posture. Their approach was mature, hammered out to a professionalism working completely on its own terms, and they never sounded so sure of who they are as a band or as confident of their direction. In extended cuts “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and “Our Raw Heart,” they explored new and progressive textures and melodies, and managed to reaffirm their core aspects while finding room for conveying emotion that came across as nothing but ultimately sincere. They have been and still are one of a kind, and as they continue to move forward, they remain a band that makes one feel lucky to be alive to witness their work. Our Raw Heart was perhaps more refined than it let on, but the heart was there for sure, as always.

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t a fan of the (relatively) harder-hitting approach Brant Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band took on 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), but Mankind Woman brought in some more of his soul influences, and whether it was the subtly subversive funk of “Chocolatize” and “Brand New Old Times” or the callout “1968” and laid back vibes of the title-track and “Swagger and Sway,” Bjork — working with guitarist Bubba DuPree on songwriting and production — offered a definitive look at what has made his 20-year solo career so special and demonstrates not only his longevity and his legacy, but his will to continue to progress as an artist honing his craft. His discography is well populated by now to be sure, but Mankind Woman represents a turn from the last couple records, and if it’s in any way portentous of things to come, it bodes well. Bjork is right at home nestled into classic-style grooves, and his legacy as one of the principal architects of desert rock is continually reaffirmed.

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

They’ve been great, not just good, for a long time now, and as forerunners of the San Diego heavy scene, they’re godfathers to an up and coming generation of bands taking their influence — let alone acts from the rest of the world — but Black Heaven is a special moment for them because of its departure. No, it wasn’t not the first time guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sang on an Earthless recording, but it did represent a tip of the balance in that direction for the band on a studio full-length, and that resulted in a special moment. Album opener “Gifted by the Wind” was one of the best songs I heard this year, and while “End to End” and the all-thrust “Volt Rush” affirmed that more traditional songwriting was well within the grasp of Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, they still found space for a sprawling jam or two, keeping their claim on the instrumentalism that’s (largely) fueled their tenure to date. Earthless don’t want for acclaim, but every bit of it is earned, and while their primary impact has always been live, Black Heaven saw them construct a traditional-style LP that still bore the hallmarks of their collective personality. It was the best of all worlds.

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

king buffalo longing to be the mountain
Self-released/released by Stickman Records. Reviewed Sept. 27.

In the dark early hours of 2018, the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson issued the Repeater EP (review here) as a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), so Longing to Be the Mountain didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but even with Repeater preceding its arrival, I don’t think anyone necessary expected King Buffalo‘s second album to have such a scope or to be so engrossing with it. In its melody, patience, atmosphere and heft, it was an absolute joy to behold. Its songs were memorable at the same time they were far-reaching, and while Orion was already my pick for the best debut of 2016, Longing to Be the Mountain realized even more potential than that record had hinted toward. It could be intimate or majestic at its whim, and its dynamic set an individual characterization of heavy psychedelia and blues-style sprawl that the band wholly owned. With production by Ben McLeod of All Them Witches behind them, they worked to serve notice of a progression undertaken the results of which are already staggering and still seem to be looking ahead to the next stage, literally and figuratively. One of the principal standards I use in constructing this list every year is what I listen to most. That’s this record.

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

Obviously, right? To some extent, when Sleep surprise-announced on April 19 they’d release their first album in 15 years the next day, and then did, they took ownership of 2018. Even with records still to come at that point from YOB and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike‘s own High on Fire, there was no way that when the end of the year came around, it wasn’t going to be defined by the advent of a new Sleep record. And even if it sucked, it would probably still be Album of the Year, but fortunately, as Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om) and drummer Jason Roeder (also Neurosis) took their long-running stage reunion to the studio, they brought material that highlighted the best elements from all players. Pike‘s wild soloing, Cisneros‘ meditative vocals and Roeder‘s intricate but smooth style of roll all came together in older pieces like “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Sonic Titan” and newer highlights “Giza Butler” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” and aside from the excitement at their existence, they showed the mastery of form that Sleep had been demonstrating live since 2009 and which they hinted toward in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here). A new Sleep full-length was something long-discussed, long-rumored and long-considered, but when it finally happened, I think the results vaporized expectation in a way no one could’ve anticipated. There’s a reason Sleep are Sleep. Having The Sciences as a reminder of that brought about the defining moment of 2018.

The Next 20

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a Top 30 at all if it didn’t go to 50. Don’t try to make sense of it, just look at the records.

31. Atavismo, Valdeinfierno
32. Grayceon, IV
33. Clamfight, III
34. Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique
35. Megaton Leviathan, Mage
36. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland
37. Arcadian Child, Superfonica
38. Freedom Hawk, Beast Remains
39. The Machine, Faceshift
40. Messa, Feast for Water
41. Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium
42. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Science Fiction
43. Domkraft, Flood
44. Träden, Träden
45. Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
46. Samavayo, Vatan
47. Foehammer, Second Sight
48. Bongripper, Terminal
49. Mansion, First Death of the Lutheran
50. Sunnata, Outlands
51. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Come and Chutney

Believe me when I tell you, I sweated over this section more than I did the actual top 30. Mansion should be higher. So should Chubby Thunderous, though something in me thought they might like being #50 on a list of 30. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Clamfight, Black Rainbows, Foehammer, Seedy Jeezus, Messa, Domkraft. All of these were fucking awesome. And there are more (we’ll get there). Eventually numbers add up. I won’t say a bad word about any of these. That’s it.

Honorable Mention

This section always winds up expanded as other people point out things I missed and so on, but here’s what I’ve got in the immediate, alphabetically:

  • Alms, Act One
  • Ape Machine, Darker Seas
  • Belzebong, Light the Dankness
  • Black Moon Circle, Psychedelic Spacelord
  • Blackwater Holylight, Blackwater Holylight
  • Bong, Thought and Existence
  • Carpet, About Rooms and Elephants
  • Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery
  • Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree
  • Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need
  • Death Alley, Superbia
  • Drug Cult, Drug Cult
  • Dunbarrow, II
  • Electric Citizen, Helltown
  • Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn
  • Evoken, Hypnagogia
  • Funeral Horse, Psalms for the Mourning
  • Fuzz Evil, High on You
  • Graven, Heirs of Discord
  • Graveyard, Peace
  • Green Dragon, Green Dragon
  • Green Druid, Ashen Blood
  • Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing
  • High Priestess, High Priestess
  • Horehound, Holocene
  • IAH, II
  • JIRM, Surge ex Monumentis
  • Killer Boogie, Acid Cream
  • Lonely Kamel, Death’s Head Hawkmoth
  • MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure
  • Moab, Trough
  • Mountain Dust, Seven Storms
  • Mouth, Floating
  • Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence
  • T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid
  • Onségen Ensemble, Duel
  • Orango, Evergreen
  • Owl, Nights in Distortion
  • Pushy, Hard Wish
  • Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground/Meditation
  • River Cult, Halcyon Daze
  • Rotor, Sechs
  • Somali Yacht Club, The Sea
  • Sumac, Love in Shadow
  • Sundrifter, Visitations
  • Svvamp, Svvamp II
  • Thou, Magus
  • Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse
  • Weedpecker, III

Special Note

Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to include these in the list proper because they’re not really underground releases, but there were two more records I especially wanted to highlight for their quality:

  • Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
  • Judas Priest, Firepower

Best Short Release of the Year

Normally I’d do this as a separate post, but as a result of being robbed earlier this year, I feel like my list is woefully incomplete. If you have any demos, EPs, splits, singles, etc., to add to it, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Still, the top pick was clear:

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Rarely do two bands work in such coherent tandem to their mutual benefit. Here are a few other essential short releases for 2018, alphabetically:

  • All Them Witches, Lost and Found
  • Alunah, Amber & Gold
  • Canyon, Mk II
  • Demon Head, The Resistence
  • Destroyer of Light, Hopeless
  • Ecstatic Vision, Under the Influence
  • Godmaker & Somnuri, Split
  • Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul
  • King Buffalo, Repeater
  • Minsk & Zatokrev, Split
  • Sleep, Leagues Beneath
  • Stonus, Lunar Eclipse
  • Sundecay, Gale

Looking Forward

A good many albums have already been announced or hinted at for 2019. I in no way claim this to be a complete roundup of what’s coming, but here’s what I have in my notes so far, in absolutely no order:

Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Cities of Mars, Heavy Temple, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan (LP), Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Om.

Okay, That’s It

Yeah, no, I’m serious. List is done. Everybody go back to your lives. Your families miss you.

Really though, while this is by no means my last post of 2018, I can’t let it pass without saying thank you so much to everyone for checking out the site this year, or for just digging into this, or for sending me music, or hitting me up on social media, sharing a link, anything. Thank you. Thank you. I could never have imagined when it started out where it would be now. Or that I’d still be doing it. Your support means more to me than I can say, and I thank you so much for being a part of this with me.

So thanks.

If you have something to add to the list, please do so by leaving a comment below, but keep in mind as well the above note requesting civility. Please don’t make me feel stupid because I forgot your favorite record. I forgot a lot of people’s favorite records. I’m one dude. I’m doing my best.

And please keep in mind if you’ve got a list together that the Year-End Poll is open and results will be out Jan. 1.

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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Esbjerg Fuzztival 2019: The Machine to Headline, BlackWater HolyLight, Alastor, Psychlona, Domkraft, High Reeper, Saint Karloff and Thunderwhip Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 12th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

esbjerg fuzztival 2019 banner

A slew of lineup adds from Esbjerg Fuzztival 2019, which has said that The Machine will headline, playing Denmark for perhaps the first time in their more than 10 years together. The Netherlands-based trio will take the stage at Huset Esbjerg with their new lineup that includes bassist Chris Both, who recently played his first show with the band stepping into the role. The fest has further filled out its two-day lineup with the likes of Alastor and Domkraft from Sweden — the latter of whom seem like they’re going to be kind of all over the place next year — as well as Saint Karloff from Norway, High Reeper from the States and many more.

Seems like they’re taking advantage of some bands being on tour at that time for the busy Spring fest schedule — one imagines that BlackWater HolyLight, the latest of these additions, will be on the road supporting their 2018 self-titled debut on RidingEasy, which is one of the year’s best — but it seems to be an awesome conglomeration that, again, I have no idea why they asked me to be involved with presenting. You know I’d be posting about it anyway.

But here we are anyhow. Tickets are on sale now and limited.

Announcements from the fest’s social media follow:

esbjerg fuzztival 2019 poster

We are STOKED to announce The Machine will headline Fuzztival in 2019! No introduction needed! We screamed like teenage girls when they agreed to stop by! First time in Denmark, too! (Fact check?)

Please note: The Machine will be filling in for Spelljammer, who unfortunately had to cancel their appearance at Fuzztival.

We have been graced with the presence of the daughters of fuzz. Blackwater Holylight confirmed for Fuzztival 2019!

Let the mojo rise! Psychlona added to the bill! Having just released their vinyl on the danish label Cursed Tongue Records they have set out to prove there’s a desert in ye olde England! The groove is real!

Next on the bill: Domkraft. Wielding a mindbending soundscape of obeliskian riff-majesty, Domkraft discharge layer upon layer of crushing fury, weaving through the wormhole punctures of spacetime.

Fuzztival are proud to present Alastor! Get your occult doom on!

Northern stoners Saint Karloff will be taking the riffs to a whole new stage, with local legends ThunderWhip bringing the old school doom! Ramping up to a great fest!

https://www.facebook.com/esbjergfuzztival/
https://www.facebook.com/events/880111745513014/

The Machine, Rehearsal Video Dec. 2018

BlackWater HolyLight, BlackWater HolyLight (2018)

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Domkraft Premiere “The Watchers” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 7th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

domkraft

Nothing like pulling an all-nighter if you’ve got to get something done, and that would seem to be how Swedish riffslingers Domkraft made their new video for “The Watchers” from their newly-issued second album, Flood (review here). An all-nighter guerrilla-style all the better. The story goes that the Swedish three-piece and their director, Peder Bergstrand made their way into an amphitheater in Stockholm — looks like Ralambshovparken, if my in-depth knowledge of the Swedish park system is anything to go by; they should do their next one in the skate park — and set up overnight to film at dawn. They don’t seem to have actually played the track live, which you can tell because of the lack of a generator behind the amps, but drummer Anders Dahlgren is still railing pretty hard on his cymbals, and even in syncing to a full-volume playback of the song, reportedly complaints were filed by the neighbors, whose domiciles you can see through the plantlife in the video.

Of course, Dahlgren, guitarist Martin Widholm, bassist/vocalist Martin Wegeland and Bergstrand — known as well for his recent graphic work for Crippled Black Phoenix and for being in Lowrider — would have been long gone by the time the constabulary arrived, and they split with the ultra-widescreen “The Watchers” in tow. Edited together in rhythmic lockstep with the song itself, the muted colors of “The Watchers” speak to the depths of tone brought to bear by Domkraft as well. What the video serves to further emphasize, though — and I’ll admit this is something more about the track than the actual clip — is how fluidly Domkraft blend a progressive style of songwriting with their tone-fueled atmosphere. That’s true throughout Flood — which is out on Blues Funeral Recordings following 2016’s The End of Electricity (review here) on Magnetic Eye — but like the single it is, “The Watchers” distills that impression to its most essential components.

The video of course sets its own vibe with the lighting at dawn and Bergstrand‘s camera work, and it’s my pleasure to host the premiere today. My suggestion is to go fullscreen on it and enjoy. And keep an eye out for new stuff from Domkraft in 2019. I have it on good authority there’s something in the works.

PR wire info follows:

Domkraft, “The Watchers” official video premiere

A dystopian take on Pink Floyd’s “Live at Pompeii,” the video for The Watchers was shot illegally by director and fellow Swede Peder Bergstrand, also singer/bassist of seminal stoner rock outfit Lowrider.

At dusk, band and filmmaker snuck into an old amphitheater in Stockholm and set up their amps and gear. As the first rays of the 5am sunrise hit, Domkraft let rip and played at full volume to the empty amphitheater.

To capture that epic Pompeii vibe and get the desired grit, Peder filmed it on a vintage Russian movie camera with an anamorphic lens. With their completely unauthorized footage secure, the foursome packed up and bolted into the morning before the almost certain arrival of the law.

Domkraft “Flood” is the first release on Blues Funeral Recordings, but it’s the band’s second album to date, with their debut “The End of Electricity” ending up on numerous year-end top lists in 2016.

Domkraft also appears on The Wall [Redux] alongside The Melvins, Pallbearer, Mark Lanegan, and Scott Reeder.

They’re also part of the forthcoming PostWax project in 2019, a lavish limited edition record record series that includes new music from Elder, Spotlights, and Lowrider. Domkraft’s PostWax release will feature several new recordings including a 13-minute monster with guest vocals from Mark Lanegan, Lea from Besvarjelsen and Marty from Slomatics.

Domkraft on Bandcamp

Domkraft on Thee Facebooks

Domkraft on Instagram

Blues Funeral Recordings on Thee Facebooks

Blues Funeral Recordings on Bandcamp

Blues Funeral Recordings website

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PostWax: Vinyl Subscription Service Beats Crowdfunding Goal; New Music from Elder, Lowrider and Others

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

I don’t get a mention in the press release or anything — hey, we can’t all be Peder Bergstrand or Mark Lanegan — but if you check the Kickstarter page for PostWax, you’ll see my name among those involved with the project. Rumor has it I’ll be contributing old-timey-style liner notes to the exclusive LP releases with likewise exclusive new music from the likes of Elder, Domkraft, Lowrider, Besvarjelsen, Spotlights and others. Seven records total in the first year and then more beyond that to come. Fucking staggering. And I’ve talked to project head Jadd Shickler, who founded MeteorCity once upon a time, currently helms Blues Funeral Recordings and does work besides for both Magnetic Eye Records and Ripple Music, about some of the packaging and design ideas he and Bergstrand have been kicking around and it’s whatever the next step beyond top of the line is. It moves the line.

I’m excited and humbled to be involved in the small way I am. Already looking forward to stressing out about the first deadline. You know the old liner notes that came with jazz records and stuff? Like that.

A press release came down announcing the thing, but even by then the Kickstarter goal was met. If you want a more direct payment option, they’ve got installment plans posted on Blues Funeral website, and I’m not gonna tell you it’s the holiday season, gift-giving, etc., but in the Great Material Continuum, there’s always room for limited vinyl. Here’s the info, and of course, expect more to come on it:

postwax logo

ELDER, SPOTLIGHTS, DOMKRAFT (feat. MARK LANEGAN) and LOWRIDER to release new records on the curated subscription series PostWax in 2019

Ultra-exclusive project offers boundary-pushing one-offs from hand-picked heavy/stoner/doom/psych notables; Kickstarter campaign under way now

This week, Blues Funeral Recordings launched a Kickstarter for their groundbreaking new vinyl subscription project PostWax, a series of limited edition records with jaw-dropping artwork and next-level design for fans of stoner/doom/heavy/psych metal.

Smashing their initial goal within 36 hours of going live, the Kickstarter continues until December 9th.

Before joining Magnetic Eye Records in 2016, original MeteorCity founder Jadd Shickler was already contemplating a return to the music industry.

MeteorCity had put out seminal releases from Nebula, Unida (with John Garcia of Kyuss), Spirit Caravan, The Atomic Bitchwax, Dozer, The Obsessed, Truckfighters, Lowrider and Solace, all under Shickler’s guidance.

After selling MeteorCity in 2008, he took a few years away from the business before the stoner/doom underground started calling to him again. But, in thinking about returning, he wanted to try something besides a traditional label model.

Envisioning what he’d want as a fan himself, Shickler conceived the idea of a curated series of records, one-off releases from an array of heavy/stoner/doom bands both notable and unknown, delivered exclusively as a subscription at regular intervals throughout the year.

The records would be crafted to appeal equally to both diehard fans of the style and dedicated collectors, with interconnecting cover art and groundbreaking design recalling archival comic book sleeves.

Two years later, and the idea has taken shape in the form of PostWax, now enveloped within new label Blues Funeral Recordings and pushed to ambitious heights with the addition of world-class creative Peder Bergstrand to the team.

In assembling the first year of PostWax releases, the goal was to pull together a dizzying cross-section of phenomenal recognizable bands and impressive newcomers, such that subscribers could reliably sit back and wait, confident that everything coming their way throughout the year would hit that sonic sweet spot.

PostWax year one will include exclusive new releases from Brooklyn metalgazers SPOTLIGHTS, apocalyptic doomsters DOMKRAFT with a guest appearance by MARK LANEGAN, and desert rock progenitors LOWRIDER, among others, with 7 records total set to land during 2019.

The series kicks off in February with all-new music from ELDER.

For their release, Elder made a stop in the midst of a European tour last month, entering a Berlin studio for three days of focused jamming to channel the mid-tour high. Their goal was to explore a different side of the band through a change of scenery, with lots of psychedelic ideas flowing and no experiment too weird to try. The result is something very different than the band has ever done, a perfect way to launch something as unique as PostWax.

Notably, the PostWax project also has a humanitarian component, with a portion of profits being donated to support youth music education. From the Kickstarter description:

“In an era when music and arts programs are being increasingly eliminated by school budget cuts and kids are learning about music from Kidzbop and Tik Tok, we want to help make sure kids still have the chance to learn how to play and write real rock music on real instruments.

With that in mind, a chunk of the profits generated by PostWax will be donated to support youth music education programs. There’s nothing extra you need to spend or do, just know that part of the cost of your subscription will go toward this important cause that we really believe in.”

The Kickstarter for PostWax can be found here, with plenty of details about the project to outline what subscribers can expect.

Multi-payment subscription options are also being offered via the label at bluesfuneral.com/, and more details will be revealed in the coming days.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bluesfuneral/postwax-a-curated-heavy-music-vinyl-subscription-s
https://www.facebook.com/bluesfuneral/
bluesfuneral.com

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