Ripplefest Texas 2024 Completes Lineup

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 8th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

This is one of the best lineups I’ve seen for a US-based heavy fest in the 15-plus years I’ve been running this site. I don’t know what else to say about it, honestly. For the fact that Ripplefest Texas is bringing Dozer over alone, let alone any of the other Euro acts involved who have, say, been to North America in the last 20-plus years, it’s astonishing. And not just bigger bands like Dozer and Truckfighters or Mars Red Sky and Belzebong, but Domkraft and Kal-El, bands you know if you’re into this thing but that haven’t been around as long and aren’t as ‘huge’ in the whatever sense that applies in underground music.

And it’s not like they’re skimping on within-US geography either. Of course the desert is well represented, and Texas has a significant presence as it invariably would, but with Gozu and Leather Lung headed out from Boston, Borracho traveling from D.C., Temple of the Fuzz Witch from Michigan, Robots of the Ancient World from Portland, Oregon, and so on, they’ve got all the corners and between pretty well covered. La Chinga coming from Canada. Demons My Friends giving Mexico a nod. It is extensive.

And quality. I don’t know that I’ll be there to see it, but I’d imagine that for most who get to be, it’ll be the stuff of legend. Congrats to Ryan Garney and Lick of My Spoon for bringing it into the world, and safe travels to all involved:

Ripplefest Texas 2024 poster sq

Here it is! The lineup for RippleFest Texas and the amazing art by Simon Berndt @1horsetown 🤘🔥❤️

We still have a few surprises left but this roster is stacked! Don’t miss your chance to see the world’s best heavy music at the largest family reunion of the year. Plus this is the ONLY premier festival that has absolutely ZERO OVERLAPPING so you can see every second of every band! Get your tickets now and we will see you in September!

Tier 2 tickets are almost sold out and the price increases on Monday so get your tickets now:



Plus the best light show in the business by @themadalchemistliquidliteshow

Mars Red Sky, Live at Rock in Bourlon 2023

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

Desertfest New York 2024 Makes First Lineup Announcement Dozer, Acid King, Green Lung, Russian Circles & More to Play

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 21st, 2024 by JJ Koczan

desertfest nyc 2024 banner

The message here is clear: Desertfest is all-in on New York. Begun in 2019 and resurfacing in 2022 at a new venue, The Knockdown Center, somewhere in the nebulous border region between Brooklyn and Queens, and a corresponding pre-show at the Saint Vitus Bar, which one hopes will reopen well in advance of this September, Desertfest New York 2024 is vivid in taking it to the next level.

It’s nothing less than a generational event to bring Dozer from Sweden to NYC (they toured the US circa 2000, I’m pretty sure), and for that alone, Desertfest earns your weekend ticket price today. Never mind that at the same time they’re celebrating legends like Dozer and Acid King, they’re also extending their reach to up and coming bands. Green Lung will play — gotta be the main stage, right? isn’t their sound too big for anything else? maybe outside at night? — coming over from the UK to do so, and West Coast outfits KadabraAbrams, Deathchant (who at this point I count as a secret being a little too well kept) and Hippie Death Cult complement well Acid King near the top of the bill, where you’ll also find instrumentalists Russian Circles, presumably a headliner, and fair enough. Oh yeah, and Truckfighters just in case anyone gets tired and needs a bit of a cardio pick-me-up.

Guhts from New York, Domkraft from Sweden, Belzebong from Poland and an awaited appearance from Boston’s Gozu round out this initial announcement, with more to come. It’s on my calendar. You might think about putting it on yours as well:


Desertfest NYC announces Russian Circles, Acid King, Green Lung, Truckfighters, Dozer & more for its 2024 lineup.

For their return to the Knockdown Center this September, Desertfest NYC has unveiled its first artists set to take the stage for their fourth edition, announcing post-metal giants RUSSIAN CIRCLES as their first headliner. Joining them will be California stoner metal legends ACID KING and London occult metal sensations GREEN LUNG, making their US debut. After they were unable to perform at DF 2022, the festival is thrilled to finally be hosting them stateside.

Swedish rockers and long-time Desertfest friends TRUCKFIGHTERS will return for their first New York performance in four years, along with fellow countrymen and stoner devotees DOZER.

Joining the party will be Poland’s instrumental ‘dudes’ BELZEBONG, Swedish psychedelic hypnotizers DOMKRAFT, and a healthy dose of rock n roll arrives courtesy of Los Angeles quartet, DEATHCHANT and Boston mainstays GOZU.

Elsewhere we’ll be treated to some psychedelic swagger from Pacific Northwesterners KADABRA and HIPPE DEATH CULT, and some heavy gazin’ with Denver’s ABRAMS and NY locals GUHTS.

Desertfest New York 2024 will take place September 12th – 14th. 3-Day Festival Passes (incl. pre-party access) and 2-Day Festival passes are available now via &

Dozer, “Big Sky Theory” live in Adelaide, Australia, Nov. 2023

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

The Best of 2023 Year-End Poll — RESULTS!

Posted in Features on January 2nd, 2024 by JJ Koczan


We have arrived at the beginning of a new year, and it is accordingly time for the results of the 2023 Year-End Poll. I don’t know what 2024 will hold, but if I had to hazard a general guess, I’d say probably a bunch of cool-ass music? Just going by the last however-many years, mind you. Underground heavy rock, in new and established artists and bands, is flourishing now, on multiple continents and across multiple generations. Still waiting to see more 25-and-unders, but youth wants to play fast. It’s how punk rock happens.

But whether you’d obliterate yourself against a wall of bong-hued tone-age or spaghettify your brain in a cosmic impulse wash, your back was covered in 2023, as individual bands and whole styles continued a forward progression toward ends it’s not possible yet to know. A big part of the story for me is and just-about-is-always the interplay between newer and older bands — who puts out what, who tours with whom, etc. — but on pushing sound into different stylistic grounds alone, 2023 was a headspinner.

I could go on here, but there’s a lot to do. Here are the rules for the thing:

As ever (and I mean that, since this part is cut and pasted from last year), two polls were posted. Raw votes and points. For reference, here are the same rules that I’ve been cut and pasting for however long: You submit your list of up to 20 favorites. Anything from the start of 2020 to the finish is eligible. 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.

And here’s the thing:

Top 20 of 2023 — Weighted Results

Acid King Beyond Vision

1. Acid King, Beyond Vision (438 points)
2. Dozer, Drifting in the Endless Void (410)
3. Howling Giant, Glass Future (360)
4. Green Lung, This Heathen Land (355)
5. Domkraft, Sonic Moons (267)
6. Baroness, Stone (214)
7. REZN, Solace (211)
8. Church of Misery, Born Under a Mad Sign (207)
9. Hippie Death Cult, Helichrysum (182)
10. Dopelord, Songs for Satan (178)
11. Graveyard, 6 (150)
12. Ritual King, The Infinite Mirror (150)
13. Black Rainbows, Superskull (146)
14. Mutoid Man, Mutants (144)
15. Saint Karloff, Paleolithic War Crimes (127)
16. Hail the Void,
Memento Mori (122)
17. REZN & Vinnum Sabbathi, Silent Future (120)
18. King Potenaz, Goat Rider (119)
19. Fire Down Below, Low Desert Surf Club (117)
20. Mondo Drag, Through the Hourglass (105)

Honorable Mention:

Restless Spirit, Swan Valley Heights, Kind, Desert Storm, Gozu, Bongzilla, Khan, Kanaan, Margarita Witch Cult, Kadabra and Spirit Adrift were the next bands on the list. Queens of the Stone Age were there as well, spelled 75 different ways across different lists.


Not much to argue with. No ties. I’ve gotten used every year to there being one or two ties in each list, and it’s kind of a way for me to sneak in a couple extra releases here and there, but not for the points tally this year. Remember, this awards points based on where people rank a given record, and Acid King were pretty unanimously the top pick throughout the month. They took the top spot and were given a challenge both by Dozer and Howling Giant at various stages, but it was clear Beyond Vision would come out on top. Obviously I agree as well.

I’m glad to see up and coming bands — Howling Giant, Green Lung, Domkraft, Hippie Death Cult, Ritual King, Saint Karloff, Hail the Void, REZN, Fire Down Below — taking up so much real estate on the list alongside the returning Dozer and familiar names like Acid King, Baroness and Church of Misery. Look for some of these to become headliners in the next few years, and the records they put out in 2023 will be part of why. And thank you for taking the time to send a list if you did.

Top 20 of 2023 — Raw Votes

Dozer Drifting in the Endless Void

1. Dozer, Drifting in the Endless Void (108 votes)
2. Acid King, Beyond Vision (104)
3. Howling Giant, Glass Future (93)
4. Green Lung, This Heathen Land (91)
5. Domkraft, Sonic Moons (74)
6. REZN, Solace (59)
7. Church of Misery, Born Under a Mad Sign (58)
8. Baroness, Stone (55)
9. Dopelord, Songs for Satan (51)
10. Hippie Death Cult, Helichrysum (48)
11. Black Rainbows, Superskull (47)
12. Ritual King, The Infinite Mirror (43)
13. Graveyard, 6 (40)
13. Mutoid Man, Mutants (40)
13. Saint Karloff, Paleolithic War Crimes (40)
14. Fire Down Below, Low Desert Surf Club (35)
14. Kind, Close Encounters (35)
15. Mondo Drag, Through the Hourglass (33)
16. Hail the Void, Memento Mori (31)
17. Margarita Witch Cult, Margarita Witch Cult (30)
18. Gozu, Remedy (29)
19. Bongzilla, Dab City (28)
20. Swan Valley Heights, Terminal Forest (28)

Honorable Mention:

Tidal Wave, Khan, Kanaan, Kadabra, Acid Magus, Slomatics, Borracho, Dead Feathers, Kadabra, Blood Ceremony, Desert Storm and REZN & Vinnum Sabbathi were close here.


This is the first time in the however-many years I’ve been doing this poll — I think I started asking people for favorites in 2010? — that the ranked submissions and raw votes tallies don’t match in the top spot. That is to say, what happened here is that Dozer got more votes than Acid King, but enough people had Acid King in or near their top spot that it ranked higher than Dozer on the other list. That’s a new one. Both bands are legends. Take your pick, call it album of the year and embrace the utter lack of argument you’re likely to get.

The same applies about up and comers here, and I dig the spread of styles across the list, though we’re definitely in heavy rock territory with that top five. It’s encouraging how universal the Howling Giant record turned out to be, and Domkraft’s strong showing is indicative of how much that Swedish trio got very much right in their sound this year. Look out for Hail the Void and Margarita Witch Cult over the next few years, as their next releases will tell the tale of who they are as bands, and I’ll say the same for Saint Karloff and Ritual King as well. That Ritual King album was a gem. I’m glad to see it here.

Hard to ignore the influence of Jadd Shickler here. Dozer, Acid King, Howling Giant, Domkraft, Dopelord, REZN & Vinnum Sabbathi and Restless Spirit were all Blues Funeral Recordings and Magnetic Eye Records releases, and those names are everywhere. It was a landmark year for both labels in which Shickler is directly involved.

Thank you. That’s the last thing I want to say. Thanks to you for reading, to The Patient Mrs. for staying married to me, to Slevin for making this thing, and to everybody who puts out and promotes this music that helps make days worth getting through. We keep going. Help each other. Thank you.

After the jump you’ll find the lists that were turned in. Thanks again to everyone who took part here and shared the link throughout December. Happy New Year and new music to come.

Read more »

Tags: , , , , ,

The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2023 — Year in Review

Posted in Features on December 18th, 2023 by JJ Koczan


[PLEASE NOTE: These are not the results of the year-end poll, which ends in January. If you haven’t contributed your picks yet, please do so here.]

It is encouraging in the extreme to see heavy music, as both concept and practical reality, growing more diverse. For all its rebellious airs, rock and roll has always been predominantly white and male, and its heavy underground form is no different. But for any artform to survive let alone evolve, it has to be open to new ideas and perspectives, and I firmly believe that the underground is becoming a more inclusive community. It has a distance to go that can only be measured in light years, but progress is progress.

2023 was a stunner from the start, with early highlights that stuck around and were joined by more as the months progressed. And while we’re speaking about it in past tense and it’s wrap-up time and so on, there are still new releases coming out every day and week. All over the planet, the heavy underground represents a vibrant subculture, rife with creativity and purpose, speaking inside genre and out, and all the time looking to grow artistically and in terms of listenership. As a result, the work being released holds itself to a high standard.

And yes, that’s true even if it’s about bongs.

Actually, that such willful primitivism is taking place at the same as doom forays into goth, psych forays into mania and tone-worshipping stoner rock seems intent to both double-down on simplicity while expanding into increasingly progressive territory is emblematic of that very standard and the diversity among practitioners of these styles in the current and up and coming generation.

One could go on here, speculate on future directions and so forth, but frankly there isn’t time just now. The list you see below is mine. I made it. It’s informed by my listening habits — what I had on most — by what I see as the greatest level of achievement by the band in question, and in some cases by critical import. It’s a weird mix, but let’s face it, you don’t care. The bottom line is all I’m claiming to represent here is myself and this site.

Accordingly, as with every year, I’ll ask you to please be mindful of the feelings and opinions and others if and as you proffer your own. I love comments here, I love discussions on this post most of any throughout any year, every year, but that can’t happen if somebody’s being a jerk, so don’t. If you disagree with me or someone else, I don’t care if you have a 40-page treatise on your opinion or if you just don’t dig a thing, but if you’re seeing these words, it is our responsibility to each other to be respectful and kind.

Beyond that, in advance of what’s about to unfurl below, please know that I thank you for reading.

**NOTE**: If you’re looking for something specific, try a text search.

The Top 60 Albums of 2023

For the last two years (2022 and 2021, linked for reference), I’ve done my own list as a countdown from 60, and since it feels both like way too much, over-the-top, totally unnecessary, and like a completely inadequate sampling of what was worth hearing this year, I guess it’s the way to go once again. Right now is the first of three times I’ll encourage you not to skip this list.

This is the second. Here we go:

60. Codex Serafini, The Imprecation of Anima (review here)
59. Strider, Midnight Zen (review here)
58. Black Helium, Um (review here)
57. Humulus, Flowers of Death (review here)
56. Fuzz Evil, New Blood (review here)
55. Blood Lightning, Blood Lightning (review here)
54. Rotor, Sieben (review here)
53. Cleõphüzz, Mystic Vulture (review here)
52. Black Sky Giant, Primigenian (review here)
51. Khan, Creatures (discussed here)
50. Slumbering Sun, The Ever-Living Fire (review here)
49. Massive Hassle, Number One (review here)
48. Búho Ermitaño, Implosiones (review here)
47. Black Moon Circle, Leave the Ghost Behind (review here)
46. Oldest Sea, A Birdsong, a Ghost (review here)
45. Edena Gardens, Dens (discussed here)
44. Merlock, Onward Strides Colossus (review here)
43. Obelyskkh, The Ultimate Grace of God (review here)
42. Lord Mountain, The Oath (review here)
41. Dorthia Cottrell, Death Folk Country (review here)
40. Yawning Balch, Volume One / Volume Two (reviews here and here)
39. The Golden Grass, Life is Much Stranger (review here)
38. Somnuri, Desiderium (review here)
37. Haurun, Wilting Within (review here)
36. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Aion (review here)
35. Stinking Lizaveta, Anthems and Phantoms (review here)
34. Black Rainbows, Superskull (review here)
33. Polymoon, Chrysalis (review here)
32. Fuzz Sagrado, Luz e Sombra (review here)
31. Yawning Man, Long Walk of the Navajo (review here)


This is the third time I’m telling you not to skip this list. Linking to more on these is new. I haven’t done that before for this part of the list, but I hope it helps if you want to dig in.

That Khan stands out to me as needing to be higher given the quality of the work itself, but I got there late. But if you sent this into the year-end poll as your top 30, I feel like you wouldn’t be ‘wrong’ with some of the showings here, whether that’s the blinding shimmerprog of Polymoon, Merlock’s axe-swing sludge or Dorthia Cottrell of Windhand’s acoustic-based solo work.

Strong debut full-lengths from Haurun, Oldest Sea, Boston supergroup Blood Lightning, Cleõphüzz who already broke up, the aforementioned Merlock, mega-weirdos Codex Serafini, Slumbering Sun (kin to Monte Luna and Destroyer of Light), Church of the Cosmic Skull offshoot Massive Hassle, Turkish heavy rockers Strider and Californian metal traditionalists Lord Mountain. Established outfits like Yawning Man, Stinking Lizaveta, Cottrell, Black Rainbows, The Golden Grass, and Rotor continue to explore new avenues of their sound.

In the meantime, the respective progressions displayed by the likes of Black Helium, Fuzz Sagrado, Somnuri and Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, the e’er-listenable Fuzz Evil and Argentinian instrumentalists Black Sky Giant offered thrills anticipated and not. Humulus bringing in Stefan Koglek from Colour Haze was a nice touch, and though I haven’t even reviewed it yet, the third and maybe-last Edena Gardens LP completes that collaborative trilogy with members of Causa Sui and Papir as fluidly as one could ask, which is only saying something because of the personnel involved.

There are a ton of others I wanted to put on this list, but numbers are cruel and if I get into decimals or fractions or something like that I’m going to end up huddled in a ball crying. But please know that because something’s not here doesn’t mean it sucked even just in my own opinion or whatever. At the end of the list come the honorable mentions and rarely have they been so honorable.

30. Moodoom, Desde el Bosque

Moodoom Desde el Bosque

Self-released. Reviewed April 13.

Buenos Aires trio Moodoom nailed a classic, ’70s-style Sabbathian blues rock with a non-cornball vintage feel better than anyone else I heard who tried in 2023. Their Desde el Bosque didn’t top half an hour, but you can almost feel the heat from the tubes of the amplifiers behind it, and it’s such an organic flow that it’s undeniable as an LP. Dig that creeper riff in “El Ente,” man. Proh. Toh. Doom.

29. Negative Reaction, Zero Minus Infinity
Negative Reaction Zero Minus Infinity

Self-released. Reviewed Nov. 27.

The eighth full-length in a career that goes back 33 years, Zero Minus Infinity is the second Negative Reaction album since guitarist/vocalist Kenny Bones moved himself and the band from Long Island to West Virginia and revamped the lineup, and it’s a beast. It’d be here for “I’ll Have Another” alone with that crush of distortion and Bones raw-throating “It’s you I need,” on repeat, perhaps to alcohol, but that’s just one example of the disaffected delights on offer from the kings of anxiety sludge.

28. Kanaan, Downpour

Kanaan Downpour

Released by Jansen Records. Reviewed May 12.

Downpour is one of two 2023 outings from upstart progressive Norwegian instrumentalists Kanaan, as they answered its Spring release with the jammy Diversions Vol. 2: Enter the Astral Plane. Any way you go, composed or improvised, this is a band with a special chemistry. In addition to the nodder highlight “Amazon,” which brought a collaboration with Hedwig Mollestad and the dense boogie riff-push of “Black Time Fuzz” at the start, they proceeded on an evolutionary path that looks now like it will go as long as they do. For now, in its urgency and space both, Downpour is a pinnacle achievement. How long that lasts depends on what comes next.

27. Mathew’s Hidden Museum, Mathew’s Hidden Museum

mathew's hidden museum self titled

Released by Interstellar Smoke Records. Reviewed Feb. 3.

Some records make a world. Mathew Bethancourt of Josiah, Cherry Choke, etc., put at least a solar system into the self-titled debut from his solo-project Mathew’s Hidden Museum. Melding lysergic experimentalism and off-kilter vibing with classic boogie, acoustic grunge, the piano quirk of “Golden” and more, it drew lines connecting disparate ideas and ended up making its own kind of sense, with depth enough in its layers that when I close out a week with it half a decade from now (inshallah), I’ll probably still be talking about it. Go get swallowed.

26. Borracho, Blurring the Lines of Reality

borracho blurring the lines of reality

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Aug. 17.

Recorded in Winter 2021/2022, Borracho‘s Blurring the Lines of Reality carried its where-did-we-go-wrong head-scratching sensibility into 2023, where to be sure it remained relevant. The Washington D.C. riffer trio know who they are and what they’re about, and their songwriting, groove and total lack of pretense continue to satisfy five records later even as the band pushes themselves further in structure and craft. And if you’d hold the social comment of their lyrics against them, first, grow up, second, your loss. Give me that smooth jam at the end of “Burning the Goddess” every time.

25. Khanate, To Be Cruel

Khanate To Be Cruel

Released by Sacred Bones Records. Reviewed July 19.

It was a total shock when superlatively-filth-encrusted sludgers Khanate not only returned with the surprise release of their first LP in 14 years, but that they pulled off such a remarkable change of style, abandoning their former miseries in favor of a more upbeat, uptempo outlook and poppier structures. What’s that you say? That didn’t happen? The record was just so completely, engrossingly wretched that my unconscious mind actually replaced it with something more palatable because Khanate stretch the limits of what punishment human beings can absorb in sound? Well fucking right on. That sounds like Khanate.

24. Saint Karloff, Paleolithic War Crimes

Saint Karloff Paleolithic War Crimes

Released by Majestic Mountain Records. Reviewed April 18.

Oslo-based doom rockers Saint Karloff harnessed an energy that 25 years ago or so propelled the very beginnings of modern Scandinavian heavy rock and roll, and they did it as a duo paying tribute to bassist Ole Sletner as well. Rife with familiar genre elements, stoner riffing, and band-in-room vibes, and even a little cosmic prog in closer “Supralux Voyager,” Paleolithic War Crimes had its emotional crux in its celebration of song and style, and so became the successful rebound after a terrible loss. If you call yourself a fan of heavy rock, chances are there’s something for you in it.

23. Child, Soul Murder

child soul murder

Self-released. Reviewed March 6.

Though they released the single-song I EP (review here) in 2018, the severely-titled Soul Murder is their first full-length since late-2016’s Blueside (review here). It puts the heavy blues frontmanship of guitarist/vocalist Mathias Northway at the fore as he, bassist Danny Smith and drummer Michael Lowe offer the most live-sounding studio effort I heard this year. Even if you go beyond the songwriting, the soul in the performances, the emotionalism and the believability of their blues, the classic warmth in their tones, the epic oil painting from Nick Keller that adorns its cover, you still have vitality (yes, even in slow parts) and the instrumental conversation happening between the members of the band. The degree of that alone warrants inclusion here.

22. Enslaved, Heimdal

Enslaved Heimdal

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

It can be a challenge to keep up with the ongoing progression of Bergen, Norway, progressive black metal innovators Enslaved, but these 32 years on from their founding it remains worth the effort. Heimdal followed tumultuous but busy years for the band, who mostly supported 2020’s Utgard (review here) digitally for obvious reasons, and was perhaps that much freer in its experimentation as a result of the period of less live activity. However they got to the keyboard part sticking out of “Congelia,” it is only fortunate that they did, since certainly in another couple decades the rest of us might actually be on Enslaved‘s wavelength, and we’ll be glad for it. Until then, they outclass just about everyone’s everything across the board. One of the world’s best bands, outdoing themselves as ever.

21. Mondo Drag, Through the Hourglass

mondo drag through the hourglass

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Oct. 19.

Mondo Drag‘s fourth album was also their first in eight years, and with it the Oakland outfit put the lie to the stereotype that prog music is staid. Indeed, the crux of Through the Hourglass came with the passing of founding keyboardist/vocalist John Gamiño mother, in whose honor the Days of Our Lives reference in the title was made. That personal exploration of loss became a classic melancholy progressive psychedelic rocK, bolstered by a partially revamped lineup that includes bassist Conor Riley (Birth, ex-Astra) and drummer Jimmy Perez alongside the established character in the guitars of Nolan Girard and Jake Sheley (both also founding members). Likewise beautiful and sad, songs like “Passages” and “Death in Spring” resonated with the universal experience of mourning as filtered through a rich breadth of influences, memorable movements and entrancing melody. One hopes it was a comfort to Gamiño as surely it has been to others.

20. Slomatics, Strontium Fields

Slomatics Strontium Fields

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed Aug. 29.

With shorter, tightly composed songs, Northern Ireland trio Slomatics managed to make the most atmospheric record of their career to-date. Their seventh LP, it used its time in songs like “Time Capture” and “Zodiac Arts Lab” to underscore the melody that’s been in their sound all the while but has never as much been the focus when set next to the abiding crush of David Majury and Chris Couzens‘ guitars, and though he’s behind the kit, drummer/vocalist Marty Harvey seemed all the more a frontman as his voice soared when called upon to do so. Of course, there was still plenty of time in the 36-minute run for Slomatics‘ crushall in “Wooden Satellites,” “I, Neanderthal,” later in “Voidians,” and so on, but it’s clear their range and reach have grown and their gradual evolution has brought a new level of complexity to their approach. If they keep this up, they risk feeling compelled to stop calling themselves Neanderthals, and while that would be a bummer, one very much hopes they keep it up anyway.

19. Dead Shrine, The Eightfold Path

Dead Shrine the eightfold path

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Feb. 23.

A new solo incarnation of Hamilton, New Zealand’s Craig Williamson — who is best known for his other one-man operation, Lamp of the Universe — the full-band-style heavy roller riffs throughout Dead Shrine‘s The Eightfold Path scratched what must have been a pretty fervent itch for heavy groove, classic swing, and fuzz, fuzz, fuzz, which cuts like “The Formless Soul,” “As Pharaohs Rise,” and side-ending self-jammers “Enshrined” and “Incantation’s Call” fortunately also have a mix spacious enough to hold. Williamson has rocked plenty since the turn of the century when he was in the heavy rock trio Datura, and around 2010 when he had the trio Arc of Ascent going. That band and this one have a lot in common, but Williamson has proven his most sustainable and seemingly preferred way of working is solo, and as one, Dead Shrine stands alongside Lamp of the Universe (wait for it…) in a way that feels like it could be longer term, even as Williamson seemed to blur the lines between the two sides on Lamp of the Universe‘s own 2023 outing…

19a. Lamp of the Universe, Kaleidoscope Mind

Lamp of the Universe Kaleidoscope Mind

Released by Sound Effect Records. Reviewed Dec. 4.

Although they’re certainly distinct enough to be separate from each other at this point, Dead Shrine and Lamp of the Universe obviously share a lot in common and it felt right to pair them like this. Every year I give myself one ‘#a’ pick, so this is it for 2023 and I’ll just use it to say how incredibly vast Lamp of the Universe has become. While remaining loyal to its beginnings in acid folk and meditative psychedelia, Williamson‘s multi-instrumentalism, the scope of his production, and the absolute care he puts into the project have brought it beyond what reasonable expectations might’ve been. And in part, by that I mean Kaleidoscope Mind rocks. That wah solo in “Golden Dawn?” The blowout drums behind nine-minute opener “Ritual of Innerlight?” Goodness gracious, yes. Even “Immortal Rites,” which is about as close as Williamson gets to Lamp‘s beginnings here, has evolved. But it’s also still the same thing in the root. I don’t know. If you don’t stretch reality to get there, try again later. The most honest thing I can say about it is I feel lucky to be a fan.

18. Sherpa, Land of Corals

sherpa land of corals

Released by Subsound Records. Reviewed Nov. 29.

It was the feeling that at any given point they might just go anywhere that made Sherpa‘s Land of Corals a surprise as the Italian practitioners of the psychedelic arts have thrown open the doors of both perception and microgenre and come across as thoroughly willful in their krautrock-minded ethereality, and just because the listener doesn’t know what might be next doesn’t mean the band aren’t working with a plan regardless. The follow-up to 2018’s Tigris and Euphrates (review here), the six-song/39-minute collection seemed to be fearless in what it took on, and though much of it was less serene than either of their first two outings, the divergences and the complexities in mood, ambience and arrangement render Land of Corals unto itself. Are we post-heavy here? Maybe. Still heavy as the drums behind “High Walls” show, however, though Sherpa‘s take on what that means and how that manifests is no less individualized than anything else in these tracks. Not something everyone is going to get — I’m not convinced I get it myself at this point — but an act whose creativity has yet to get its due.

17. Gozu, Remedy


Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed May 18.

The Boston riff factory known as Gozu have only gotten more vicious, more pointed with time, and yet, tucked at the end of their 2023 outing, Remedy, which has them as veterans at 14 years’ tenure, are “Ash” and “The Handler” and it just goes from sweet to sweeter. Yeah, it’s a ripper into its blood with “CLDZ,” “Tom Cruise Control,” and GozuMarc Gaffney (vocals/guitar), Doug Sherman (guitar), Joe Grotto (bass) and Seth Botos (drums), working with producer Dean Baltulonis for a threepeat — have a brand of melody in Gaffney‘s vocals that’s all their own, and fast or slow, loud or quiet, ’80s movie reference or ’70s movie reference, Gozu have been around long enough to know what they’re about. But, after 2018’s Equilibrium (review here) and 2016’s Revival (review here), Remedy feels one step heavier. Revival was a great sharpening of sound. Equilibrium brought refinement to that. Remedy comes across with a little of a sense of letting go, of the band digging in where it’s more about what they can do together than the response it’ll get afterward. It suits them.

16. The Machine, Wave Cannon

The Machine Wave Cannon

Released by Majestic Mountain Records. Reviewed Feb. 14.

Oh, The Machine. Seven records deep and still in your 30s. That’s the advantage of starting early, which the Netherlands-based trio most definitely did. Wave Cannon, accordingly, is both masterful in its conjurations of warm heavy psychedelic fuzz, and energetic in its delivery, with founding guitarist/vocalist David Eering bid welcome to bassist Chris Both and farewell to original drummer Davy Boogaard. And where 2018’s Faceshift (review here) tipped a balance in their style toward more of a punker push, Wave Cannon led off with “Reversion” and seemed all the more purposeful in its mature heavy psychedelic delve for that. It could be Wave Cannon will be the blueprint for a settled-in aesthetic the trio now more than ever driven by Eering, or it could be the beginning of a whole new evolution of sound from the revamped three-piece recommitted to trippy sounds and warm nod. Either way, it’s not that often you talk about a band’s forward potential after seven full-lengths, so The Machine are in a pretty special place circa 2023 and Wave Cannon, whatever it leads to, is a special moment of transition captured.

15. REZN, Solace

Rezn solace

Self-released. Reviewed March 7.

Similar to how trees live in an experience of time separate from ours and the way an earth year is laughably tiny set against the scale of the universe, Chicago heavy psych rockers REZN seem to operate on their own temporal wavelength throughout their fourth album, Solace. Able to crush at will, as at the end of “Possession,” or the early going of “Stasis,” in the trades of “Reversal,” et al, Solace found REZN more confident in their dives through melody and atmosphere than even they were on 2020’s Chaotic Divine (review here), they created a space and dimensionality of sound that belongs solely to them in the style. Quieter stretches in “Webbed Roots” enthralled with their depth, and the ethereal vocals brought human presence while furthering the smoke-swirls and incense mystique. On their own terms, and yes, very much at their own pace, REZN have made themselves one of America’s most essential heavy psych bands, and Solace — joined in 2023 by REZN‘s collaboration with Mexico’s Vinnum Sabbathi, Silent Future (discussed here) — crowns their to-date discography.

14. Church of Misery, Born Under a Mad Sign

Church of Misery Born Under a Mad Sign

Released by Rise Above Records. Reviewed June 23.

I’m not saying I think it’s cool to write songs about serial killers, but if you’re going to listen to a Church of Misery release almost 30 years after bassist Tatsu Mikami started the band, chances are you know their stated theme is nothing if not consistent. Born Under a Mad Sign delivered on its promise of memorable doom riffs, and as the songwriter and figurehead for arguably Japan’s most influential doom export, Mikami acted as ringmaster while returning vocalist Kazuhiro Asaeda brought mapcap intensity (and fun) to the grooves fostered through Yukito Okazaki‘s guitar, Tatsu‘s bass and Toshiaki Umemura‘s swinging drums. As ever, loyalty and reverence to Black Sabbath are at the core of Church of Misery‘s everything, and in that sphere, there are very, very few humans walking the planet who can do the thing as well as Tatsu. Like, maybe four going on five. As such, regardless of the subject matter (something I can say because I don’t know anyone who’s been murdered) and some eight years after their preceding long-player, Church of Misery are essential as the vehicle for that.

13. Kind, Close Encounters

kind close encounters

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Aug. 9.

I’m not sure if in 2015 when Boston’s Kind released their first album, Rocket Science (review here), anyone would have guessed there would even be a third full-length from them, let alone one that so much typifies the personality the band has built for itself. Comprised of the otherwise-plenty-busy lineup of vocalist Craig Riggs (also Sasquatch‘s drummer and so constantly touring), guitarist Darryl Shepherd (ex-MilligramBlackwolfgoatTest Meat, scores of others), bassist Tom Corino (Rozamov) and drummer Matt Couto (Aural Hallucinations, ex-Elder), Kind have found a sound that is separate from what its component members have done on their own, and become a genuinely more-than-sum-of-parts grouping. Whether it’s the rush of “Power Grab” or the way the rhythm of “What it is to Be Free” seemed to gain so much extra punch, or “Massive” at the record’s center earning its name in tone and swing alike. The “whoa baby come on” at 1:56 into that song is of course the reason Close Encounters made this list, but rest assured that across the span Kind are at what is a thus-far peak of their powers.

12. Iron Jinn, Iron Jinn

iron jinn iron jinn

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed April 3.

Stay with me here, because as you scroll further down this post, you’re going to see that Iron Jinn‘s hour-long 2LP first offering, declaratively-titled Iron Jinn, is my pick for debut album of 2023. Born out of an initial onstage collaboration at Roadburn 2018 (review here), the Arnheim, Netherlands-based four-piece brings together guitarist/vocalists Oeds Beydals (Molassess, ex-Death Alley, ex-The Devil’s Blood) and Wout Kemkens (Shaking Godspeed) with the labyrinth-constructing rhythm section of bassist Gerben Bielderman (Pronk, etc.) and drummer Bob Hogenelst, and from the late pointed lead lines of “Truth is Your Dagger” acting in duly jabbing fashion to the heady ambient drama of “Bread and Games” and the dark-prog atmospheres fleshed out as a backdrop to the melodies of “Soft Healers” and “Blood Moon Horizon,” the all-corners turns of “Lick it or Kick It,” on and on and on, the album resounds with both scope and ambition. What the long-term story of this project will be, I have no idea, but Iron Jinn is a record that brings new ideas to a sphere that very much needs them, and if there’s any luck, it will prove influential in the coming years.

11. Green Lung, This Heathen Land

green lung this heathen land

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Nov. 3.

Let the record show that when tasked with the biggest moment of their career to this point, Green Lung absolutely stepped up to meet it. This Heathen Land, as their first full-length with Nuclear Blast‘s backing (and third overall), will be the point of introduction for what will gradually become the bulk of their audience, and in its occult lyrics, sweeping, unironic, all-in grandiosity, weight of tone and craft of hooks, it tells you everything you need to know about why and how Green Lung got to where they are (save perhaps touring). Their task from here will be to find and refine the balance between metal and rock in their sound, but for a band whose clear intention from the outset was to take on the world to bring themselves to a point where they’re arguably doing so at least as regards the heavy underground is an accomplishment in itself. Then you get to songs like “Maxine (Witch Queen)” and the over-the-top finale “Oceans of Time,” and if you can let yourself have a little fun every now and again with your doom and witches and whatnot, this one was just about irresistible.

10. Dopelord, Songs for Satan

Dopelord Songs for Satan

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Dec. 11.

The album that boldly asked if it needed to be a wizard to earn your love, the fifth long-player from volume/tone/devil-worshiping (and perhaps in that order) Polish doomcrafters Dopelord was not at all the first heavy record to use Satan as a political statement — specifically in this case about social oppression in their home country and the political power of the catholic church there — but they wielded their rebel-angel argument with already-in-your-head songs like “Night of the Witch,” “The Chosen One,” “One Billion Skulls,” “Evil Spell” and the upped nastiness of “Worms,” in other words each and every of the non-intro/outro tracks, with emergent mastery and a plod that was as clear and infectious a call to praise as I heard in 2023, no less for its melodicism than its heft or the crispness of its delivery, the guttural rasps of “Worms” aside, which swapped in vitriol at just the right time. Songs for Satan was a new level for Dopelord‘s approach and as much an epistemological fuckoff to fundamentalism as it was consuming nod, and there was none more righteous in their cause. At the risk of saying the quiet part loud, dudes are going to be copping riffs from it for years.

9. Domkraft, Sonic Moons

Domkraft Sonic Moons

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Returning with their fourth long-player, Swedish trio Domkraft have found the style they’ve been working toward all along. As with some of the others on this list, it’s not that Sonic Moons was such a radical departure. It wasn’t. They worked with the same production team that helmed their 2022 Ascend/Descend (review here) split with Slomatics as well as 2021’s Seeds (discussed here). Björn Atldax‘s cover art was on point and in keeping with their visual aesthetic. But there’s a spaciousness on Sonic Moons in “Downpour” and amid the intensity of crash in “Stellar Winds,” and their sound has grown to become dynamic enough that as nine-minute leadoff “Whispers” pushed through its crescendo it seemed to get more and more physically forceful as part of the process. Couple that with assured writing and performances from bassist/vocalist Martin Wegeland, guitarist Martin Widholm and drummer Anders Dahlgren, and Domkraft honed in on an evolved cosmic noise rock and were unafraid to incorporate elements of psychedelia, space and classic stoner riffing into a definitive statement of their purpose.

8. Stoned Jesus, Father Light

stoned jesus father light

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 2.

Ukrainian progressive heavy rockers Stoned Jesus released a career album this year. Did you catch it? Restricted from touring as their home country continues to struggle against a Russian invasion that’s been ongoing for, well, a decade, but more intensely for the better part of the last two years, Stoned Jesus offered something different across each of Father Light‘s six tracks. From the catchy strums of “CON” to the only-timely-but-written-earlier “Thoughts and Prayers” and the you-want-riff-here’s-your-riff 11-minute neckroll of “Season of the Witch,” they proved once again to be a more diverse and thoughtful act than they’re almost ever given credit for being. Expanded stylistically from 2018’s Pilgrims (review here), Stoned Jesus — guitarist/vocalist Igor Sydorenko, bassist/backing vocalist Sergii Sliusar and drummer Dmytro Zinchenko — toyed with retroism on “Thoughts and Prayers” while the late solo in “Get What You Deserve” underscores the sentiment in that climate-change-themed finisher, all the while standing astride their own material, solid, confident, still looking forward. It’s the world that’s the problem, not the band.

7. Kadabra, Umbra

Kadabra Umbra

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 6.

First of all, I stand by the review. To expand on that (and the review itself was expanded on here), it was the songwriting that kept me coming back to the second album from Washington trio Kadabra, who progressed on all fronts from their already-impressive 2021 debut, Ultra (review here). They made hooks like “The Serpent” and “The Devil” feel like landmarks in a record-long horror feature that’s told as much in riffs as lyrics, but at the same time there’s nothing fancy happening in terms of sound. Some organ in “Mountain Tamer,” plenty of fuzz throughout, and the songs. It’s the songs. The songs. The fucking songs. That uplift in “Midnight Hour.” The feeling of oh-shit-we’ve-arrived in “The Serpent.” Playing toward some of Uncle Acid‘s lyrical creep with tight-knit grooves and sharp turns, Umbra not only showed the preceding LP wasn’t a fluke, it conveyed mood and atmosphere without giving up momentum or structure, and every move it made, from the shimmer opening “White Willows” to the last strains underscoring the chorus of “The Serpent” in the concluding acoustic reprise “The Serpent II,” Kadabra‘s sophomore outing communed with genre with a perspective becoming increasingly its own. And again, the songs.

6. Dozer, Drifting in the Endless Void

Dozer Drifting in the Endless Void

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed April 20.

There was a while there where I honestly didn’t think Dozer were ever going to do another record, so Drifting in the Endless Void is a life event as far as I’m concerned. The trailblazing Swedish heavy rockers have been playing live periodically for the last decade, and word has been kicking around of studio work, new songs following what was until this year their most recent album in 2008’s Beyond Colossal (featured here), but to actually have such a thing manifest and take the form it did made it a reinvigoration of Dozer‘s sound and what seemed to be a chance to try both new and old methods of working. In the raging “Ex-Human, Now Beast” and the breadth of “Missing 13,” Dozer reminded older heads. and showed a generation that’s come up since, why they’ve had the influence they have over the last quarter-century, including in their absence. Realize you’re lucky to be on the planet with it.

5. Mars Red Sky, Dawn of the Dusk

Mars Red Sky Dawn of the Dusk

Released by Vicious Circle Records and Mrs Red Sound. Reviewed Dec. 7.

A fifth full-length brought fresh ideas and new perspectives to the established progressive, melodic heavy psychedelic rock methodology of Bordeaux’s Mars Red Sky, who’ve greeted their maturity as a band with creative openness rather than stagnation. To be sure, guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — each crucial to the group as they are — have plenty of recognizable aspects for longtime fans. Indeed, their signature blend of warm but remarkably heavy tonality and floating melodic vocals remains unflinching, but what they do with it has changed. And that’s not just set up for mentioning the Queen of the Meadow collaboration either (more below), glorious as Helen Ferguson‘s contributions to “Maps of Inferno” are (she’s also on the closing reprise “Heavenly Bodies”), or that Jimmmy takes a lead vocal on “The Final Round.” You can hear the progression in “Break Even,” in the expanses of “Carnival Man,” that groove in “Slow Attack,” and even the spaciousness around the lurch of “A Choir of Ghosts.” Fast or slow, loud or quiet, even the interludes here shine with a sense of purpose, and if e’er forward is to be the course of Mars Red Sky for hopefully a long time to come, so much the better.

4. Sandrider, Enveletration

Sandrider Enveletration

Released by Satanik Royalty Records. Reviewed March 1.

I will not mince words. This has been a difficult, taxing year for me personally and emotionally, and anytime I felt like I wanted to beat my head into the wall — which has been A LOT — Seattle bringers of chicanery-laced heavy punk-metal Sandrider were ready to go along for the ride. Working as ever with producer Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Isis, a small city’s worth of others), guitarist/vocalist Jon Weisnewski (who also released a killer record this year with his experimental grind/weirdo project Nuclear Dudes; don’t skip), bassist/vocalist Jesse Roberts and drummer Nat Damm wound at mostly high speed through energy summoned from a place I’ve clearly never been with songs that, while they were smashing all your favorite everything to tiny bits, left a memorable impression behind as bruises in the shape of themselves and ended up with enough bounce so that cuts like “Alia,” “Weasel” (the delivery of, “Here comes the mouth/Look at all its teeth”) the their-version-of-epic-and-that’s-pretty-epic “Ixion,” “Circles,” “Grouper,” the title-track, were fun in doing so. It’s their fourth record and I don’t know if there are a ton of surprises, but I sure was happy when it came along and kicked so much ass in such a specific and, for me, helpful way. A catharsis record, but don’t take that to mean it’s just angry. There’s a lot of humor here as well and the songs are a blast. Hard to imagine this isn’t what Sandrider had in mind when they set out over a decade ago.

3. Ruff Majik, Elektrik Ram

ruff majik elektrik ram

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed April 27.

A breakthrough in craft and style, and immaculate in its turns, tight-but-not-choked arrangements, and willingness to go and be in unexpected spaces, Elektrik Ram was for South African heavy rockers Ruff Majik — comprised of guitarist/vocalist Johni Holiday, bassist Jimmy Glass, guitarist/backing vocalist Cowboy Bez and drummer Steven Bosman — a rare realization of potential. I said as much in the review. Not every band gets to make a record like this. From the charge of its title-track and “Hillbilly Fight Song” and the unspeakable catchiness that begins there and threads throughout the stylistic shifts of “She’s Still a Goth,” “Cement Brain,” “Delirium Tremors” — on the 15th anniversary reissue, maybe bring the triangle down in the mix? (kidding; it’s painful and should be) — and into the broader grooves of its ending section with “A Song About Drugs (With a Clever Title),” “Shangrilah Inc.” and the raw-emotive “Chemically Humanized,” which when set against the oh-look-I-just-beat-your-ass thematic of “Hillbilly Fight Song” feels duly brought low. This is a great — yes, great — album, and I don’t think I listened to anything as much this year as I listened to it. They’ve already started work on their next LP, reportedly, and I worry it’s soon, but with the kind of control over their approach that they demonstrate here, there’s really no choice but to trust they know what they’re doing, since that is so much the underlying message in the material, even if its lyrical themes were by and large much darker.

2. Howling Giant, Glass Future

Howling Giant Glass Future

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

It wasn’t exactly a secret that Howling Giant had momentum and progression on their side. They’ve toured hard the last couple years, offered the instrumental Alteration EP (review here) in 2021 following their oh-shit-these-guys-are-for-real split with Sergeant ThunderhoofMasamune/Muramasa (review here), and back to their debut LP, 2019’s The Space Between Worlds (review here), and have worked so diligently to engage their audience that a sense of reachout has become part of their sound. You knew that when they next set themselves to making a long-player, there was a real chance for them to sculpt something special, but Glass Future was still a surprise. Unflinching in its construction, mixed for brightness as well as weight, and cutting through that with clearly-schooled harmonies between guitarist Tom Polzine, drummer Zach Wheeler and bassist Sebastian “Seabass” Baltes to give a pop-ish sensibility to progressive sounds that in other hands would serve far more self-indulgent ends. Received as a whole work with its timely endtimes lyrical foundation, it exuded welcome in the hooks of “Siren Song,” “Hawk in a Hurricane,” “Glass Future,” “Sunken City,” “Juggernaut” and the periodic slowdowns through “Aluminum Crown,” “Tempest, and the Liar’s Gateway” and the closer “There’s Time Now,” which called back to the Twilight Zone reference (Simpsons did it) in intro “Hourglass” while fleshing out a brilliantly melodic comedown for the human species. As with the finest of any year’s releases, it will hold its relevance far past the coming January, and for Howling Giant, it sets them on a path of fresh ideas and expansive sound, filtered through a cohesive process to be the engaging good-time apocalypse they’ve become. Glass Future makes Howling Giant one of America’s most essential heavy rock bands and figureheads for a generation still on the rise.

2023 Album of the Year

1. Acid King, Beyond Vision

Acid King Beyond Vision

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed March 23.

There was never another choice, and not much choice to start with. The manner in which founding guitarist/vocalist Lori S. revamped her band, bringing in bassist/synthesist Bryce Shelton (Nik Turner’s Hawkwind) and drummer Jason Willer (Jello Biafra’s Guantanamo School of Medicine) as the rhythm section supporting the band’s trademark rolling fuzz, and collaborating with Black Cobra‘s Jason Landrian, who added guitar and synth to the tracks, was an expansion and redirection of sound that simply wasn’t anticipated from a band closing in on three decades of activity. But after 2015’s still-undervalued Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere (discussed herereview here), saw Lori and her then-lineup explore more heavy psychedelic sounds, Beyond Vision expanded on that with atmospheres never before conjured by any incarnation of Acid King, and Billy Anderson‘s production, as ever, allowed for scope and claustrophobia to exist in the same aural space. Hypnotic in the riffs of year-highlight “Mind’s Eye” and its penultimate title-track, Beyond Vision freely incorporated an influence from Author and Punisher into the slow plods of “Electro Magnetic” and the huge-in-a-new-way-for-them “90 Seconds,” tripped out easy on the roundly immersive opener “One Light Second Away” and galloped to a (again, surprisingly) rousing finish in “Color Trails.” A band you thought was a known quantity, whose sound you thought was set, showing that creativity doesn’t have to stop just because you have an established sound or are known for doing one thing. Acid King are still Acid King on Beyond Vision, but the boldness with which the album is realized and the sheer bravery of taking the risks it takes in pushing beyond (oh!) what were the parameters of Acid King‘s trailblazing, mellow-psych-informed stoner riffing — always possible it would fall flat in ways it obviously very much doesn’t — came together on a level that was simply unmatched in 2023. Acid King have perhaps never been more royal, more regal as they unfurl these seven cosmic triumphs, but somehow underneath they’re still punk rock. One way or the other, that the on-paper concept of Beyond Vision — all the changes, growth, shifts — winds up secondary to the strength and listening experience of the songs themselves makes it undeniable as the album of the year. It was a no-doubter.

The Top 60 Albums of 2023: Honorable Mention

I could very easily do another top 60 with these, and then some. Alphabetically:

1782, Abanamat, Acid Magus, Ahab, Albinö Rhino, Ananda Mida, Astral Sleep, Bell Witch, Benthic Realm, Bismut, Black Helium, Black Rainbows, Blood Ceremony, Blood Lightning, Bong Corleone, Bongzilla, Bridge Farmers, Cavern Deep, Cleõphüzz, Cloud Catcher, Clouds Taste Satanic, Danava, Darsombra, Dead Feathers, Deadpeach, Delco Detention, Desert Storm, Dommengang, Doom Lab, Dr. Space, Earthbong, Ecstatic Vision, David Eugene Edwards, End of Hope, Avi C. Engel, Fin del Mundo, Fire Down Below, The Fizz Fuzz, Formula 400, Fuzz Evil, Gévaudan, Ghorot, Giöbia, Godflesh, Godsleep, Graveyard, The Gray Goo, Green Yeti, Hail the Void, Haurun, Healthyliving, Hexvessel, Hope Hole, Humulus, IAH, Iron Void, JAAW, Jack Harlon & the Dead Crows, Katatonia, La Chinga, Lamassu, Larman Clamor, L’Ira del Baccano, Love Gang, Lucid Void, Maggot Heart, The Magpie, Mammatus, Mammoth Caravan, Mansion, Margarita Witch Cult, Masheena, Melody Fields, Melt Motif, Merlock, Minnesota Pete Campbell, Mizmor, Moon Coven, Moonstone, Morag Tong, Morass of Molasses, Morne, The Moth, Mountain of Misery, Mouth, Mudness, Mud Spencer, Los Mundos, Mutoid Man, Natskygge, Nebula Drag, Nuclear Dudes, Obelyskkh, Conny Ochs, Øresund Space Collective, Orsak:Oslo, Patriarchs in Black, Plainride, Primordial, Restless Spirit, Ritual King, The River, Robots of the Ancient World, Rocky’s Pride & Joy, Royal Thunder, Runway, Sadus The Smoking Community, SÂVER, Seum, Siena Root, Slowenya, Smokey Mirror, Evert Snyman, Sonic Moon, Sorcia, Spidergawd, Spotlights, Surya Kris Peters, Swan Valley Heights, These Beasts, Thousand Vision Mist, Thunder Horse, Tidal Wave, Tortuga, Travo, Treedeon, Trevor’s Head, Unsafe Space Garden, Vlimmer, Warp, Westing, Wet Cactus, Witch Ripper, WyndRider, Yakuza, Zone Six, and apparently frickin’ everything that Dr. Space touches.


Certainly a landmark year for Blues Funeral and Magnetic Eye, while Ripple Music, Heavy Psych Sounds, Small Stone, Kozmik Artifactz, Napalm, Sound Effect, Spinda, Mongrel Records and Exile on Mainstream fostered a deeply admirable swath of sounds. If you’re not following these however you do your following — email lists, social media, Bandcamp, etc. — I suggest in a spirit of friendship that you consider doing so.

A couple thoughts before we wrap the big list. First, I harbor no delusions that it’s complete. There always are and always will be records that slip by me. I’m one person running this site. I’ll never be able to hear everything, appreciate everything I do hear to the utmost as everyone else might, or even want to. This is my list, my listening habits for the year and what I thought were 2023’s best full-length releases. If you’d put more in it than that, go look at the headline again. It’s a list. I take it seriously, of course, but if you had Swan Valley Heights or Godflesh or La Chinga at number three on your list — all of which are totally valid picks, just like the rest — and I didn’t, that’s okay.

In fact, it’s beautiful, but it doesn’t always come out that way in the discussion. I’m asking as I do every year to please keep opinions and conversations civil in their presentation. I know arguing on the internet is fun but I’d rather not have the drama and rest assured, I take it all personally.

So, about the honorable mentions: where do you even start? While the balance of the main list, the top 60, is toward established and even veteran acts, it’s encouraging to see so many up and coming groups forcing their way into consideration. From the ambient evocations of Orsak:Oslo to Sorcia’s thick sludge and Melt Motif’s sultry industrializations, Mountain of Misery branching off from Spaceslug, outfits like IAH and Swan Valley Heights finding new maturity, Mammoth Caravan bring aggro edge to huge tones, Healthyliving, Merlock, Morag Tong, Godsleep, These Beasts, Margarita Witch Cult, Warp, Earthbong, Abanamat, Runway, WyndRider, Trevor’s Head, Fire Down Below, High Priest, Nebula Drag, The Magpie, Love Gang, Jack Harlon and others, a slew of impressive debuts and second albums, the generational evolution of sound is ongoing, vibrant, bands establishing themselves and claiming their aesthetic place and respective audiences as we speak. I would urgently encourage you to engage with these artists now, both for immediate satisfaction and as investment in the shape of heavy music to come, which they will make.

The bottom line is this: I believe deeply in the power of art to affect your life, to make it richer, fuller, better. There are mornings when The Obelisk is the reason I’m getting out of bed, and I thank you for reading, for being a part of this. I’ll say more later. We still have a ways to go.

Debut Album of the Year 2023

Iron Jinn, Iron Jinn

iron jinn iron jinn

Other notable debuts (alphabetical):

Altered States, Survival
Astral Hand, Lords of Data
Benthic Realm, Vessel
Blood Lightning, Blood Lightning
Bog Monkey, Hollow
Bong Corleoone, Bong Corleone
Cleõphüzz, Dune Altar
Codex Serafini, The Imprecation of Anima
Daevar, Delirious Rights
Dead Shrine, The Eightfold Path
Deer Lord, Dark Matter Pt. 1
Dread Witch, Tower of the Severed Serpent
Ego Planet, Ego Planet
Embargo, High Seas
From the Ages, II
Fuzzy Grapes, Volume 1
Haurun, Wilting Within
Hibernaut, Ingress
HIGH LEAF, Vision Quest
High Priest, Invocation
Inherus, Beholden
JAAW, Supercluster
The Keening, Little Bird
King Potenaz, Goat Rider
Lord Mountain, The Oath
Margarita Witch Cult, Margarita Witch Cult
Massive Hassle, Massive Hassle
Mammoth Caravan, Ice Cold Oblivion
Medicine Horse, Medicine Horse
Merlock, Onward Strides Colossus
Milana, Milvus
Mountain of Misery, In Roundness
Ockra, Gratitude
Oldest Sea, A Birdsong, a Ghost
Pyre Fyre, Pyre Fyre
Runway, Runway
Slow Wake, Falling Fathoms
Strider, Midnight Zen
WyndRider, WyndRider
Slumbering Sun, The Ever-Living Fire
Sonic Moon, Return Without Any Memory
Tō Yō, Stray Birds From the Far East
Tribunal, The Weight of Remembrance
Weite, Assemblage


Tell your friends. I think what I like most about that glut of names just above is that there’s a full spectrum of sounds there. Yeah, it’s all under an umbrella of expanded-definition heavy, but that’s the point too. A creative boom is happening that’s seeing the post-Gen X and the earlier end of the Millennials making room for newer acts with new ideas and perspectives.

Why did I pick Iron Jinn as debut of the year, when there was obviously so much otherwise to choose from? Easy. It was the most its own thing out of any of these releases. I love Dead Shrine, Blood Lightning’s intensity speaks to my brain in a way not everything can, Margarita Witch Cult have been building buzz all year. Oldest Sea’s debut is a melancholic declaration of arrival. I was not short on choices, and I’ll probably keep adding to this list as the next week or so goes on.

Dark, heavy, progressive in its approach and complex enough that I still feel like I’m getting to know it, Iron Jinn‘s self-titled so much brimmed with purpose that it seemed to go beyond a first record. My hope, honestly, is that Oeds Beydals and Wout Kemkens spend the next 30 years or so refining that collaboration and exploring where it can go, because if this is the starting point, it’s got enough to it to be the beginning of a lifetime’s exploring. One never knows how things will work out when songwriters work together, but clearly Iron Jinn drew from the strengths of all its members. Records like this, on the unlikely occasion they happen at all, don’t happen by accident.

And yes, Iron Jinn are a new band not necessarily comprised of inexperienced players, but most bands start from members of other bands. Blood Lightning, Slumbering Sun, Weite, Mountain of Misery, JAAW, Ego Planet, Massive Hassle, all the way back up to Benthic Realm and Altered States. New bands, new sounds, new ideas all coming to the fore. Couple that with acts like WyndRider, Daevar, Lord Mountain, Hibernaut, Oldest Sea, Mammoth Caravan, Sonic Moon, Tō Yō, Medicine Horse, High Priest and others here whose members haven’t necessarily appeared in an Obelisk year-end post before, and you get a more complete picture of the churning magma that is the potential for the heavy underground over the rest of the 2020s and hopefully beyond.

Short Release of the Year 2023

Mars Red Sky & Queen of the Meadow, Mars Red Sky & Queen of the Meadow

Mars Red Sky & Queen of the Meadow Mars Red Sky & Queen of the Meadow

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, Singles, etc.

Aawks, Luna EP
Aawks & Aiwass, The Eastern Scrolls Split LP
Apollo80 & Dimartis, Reverberations Vol. 1: Tales of Dust and Winds Split LP
Beastwars, Tyranny of Distance EP
Black Glow, Black Glow EP
Bloodsports, Bloodsports EP
Book of Wyrms, Storm Warning Single
Borracho, Kozmic Safari Single
The Bridesmaid, Come on People Now Smile on Your Brother
Burning Sister, Get Your Head Right EP
Cervus, Shifting Sands
Familiars, Keep the Good Times Rolling EP
The Freqs, Poacher
Grin, Black Nothingness EP
Guided Meditation Doomjazz, Expect EP
High Desert Queen & Blue Heron, Turned to Stone Ch. 8: The Wake Split LP
The Holy Nothing, Volume I: A Profound and Nameless Fear EP
Iress, Solace EP
Josiah, rehctaW EP
Kal-El, Moon People EP
Kombynat Robotron & DUNDDW, Split LP
Lammping, Better Know Better EP
Monolord, It’s All the Same EP
Mordor Truckers, Nowhere
Nerver & Chat Pile, Brothers in Christ Split
Night Fishing, Live Bait EP
Oxblood Forge, Cult of Oblivion
Zack Oakley, Demon Run / Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter EP
Severed Satellites, Aphelion EP
Space Queen, Nebula EP
Speck & Interkosmos, Split LP
Stöner, Boogie to Baja EP
Suspiriorium, Suspiriorum EP
Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships, Destination Ceres Station: Reefersleep EP
Ufomammut, Crookhead EP
Vokonis, Exist Within Light EP
Weedevil & Electric Cult, Cult of Devil Sounds Split LP
The Whims of the Great Magnet, Same New Single


In keeping with their history of releasing EPs ahead of their LPs, Mars Red Sky this Spring offered the Mars Red Sky & Queen of the Meadow short outing as a preface to Dawn of the Dusk (number five on the big list), but with just three songs it became one of the releases I listened to most this year. I had “Maps of Inferno” on repeat to a degree that was kind of embarrassing to me even in front of family, and since the EP was basically that, the companion “Out at Large,” which isn’t on the full-length, and an edit that cuts out most of the trippy midsection of “Maps of Inferno” so that it all the more hammers groove into your head in what drummer Matgaz very kindly explained to me was 4/4 timing with three extra beats. Good luck following along to his kick on what seems like such a straightforward nod. What a band. I’m not doing a separate section for it, but “Maps of Inferno” was also hands-down my song of the year.

You can see above, it’s a pretty broad mix, both of release types, of new and older acts, and of styles. I’ve been hailing Vokonis’ better-future queer prog-doom on the regular, and Josiah, Monolord and Ufomammut’s EPs were nothing if not listenable. I dug the first outing from Suspiriorum (mems. Destroyer of Light and more) and hope they continue to flesh out their cult-horror ambience, and Severed Satellites’ (mems. Sixty Watt Shaman, etc.) jams set just right in their Marylander groove. Lammping will likely be on some list of mine until they break up — I’m hooked — and Zack Oakley’s funk also resonated. From the warm heavy psych of Cervus to The Bridesmaid’s all-in-on-far-out experimentalism, a victory lap from Stöner after two quality LPs and the High Desert Queen and Blue Heron split that’s another landmark in Ripple’s ongoing ‘Turned to Stone’ series, it’s been a good year if you’re willing to be distracted bouncing from one thing immediately to the next, which apparently I am.

It’s no coincidence Aawks are on the list twice, and I haven’t reviewed that Black Glow EP yet (it’s in the next Quarterly Review), but it’s a gem as well. Also very interested to see where The Freqs go as a new voice in heavy rock from Boston, and Night Fishing (mems. Abrams) feel like they’re just starting to find what they’re looking for, but this year was also their first and second releases, so they’re on their way. Grin’s assault was furious, and Beastwars always tick that box as well. I continue to dig the vibe of Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships and look forward to more from them, and same goes for both DUNDDW and Bloodsports here, as well as both Apollo80 and Dimartis on that split. Burning Sister took advantage of an opportunity to expand on their sound, and their take on Mudhoney’s “When Tomorrow Comes” was overflowing with love for the source material. If you can’t get behind a band being fans, I’m not sure what we’re doing here.

Because a ‘short release’ can be so much, I won’t call this list complete. If you have a single you loved, or an EP or split or anything else of the sort, and you don’t see it above, please just leave a comment. Maybe I left off something crucial. Maybe you can put me onto something awesome I didn’t hear. I’ll take it either way, and only ask again please be kind.

Live Album of the Year

Ecstatic Vision, Live at Duna Jam

Ecstatic Vision Live at Duna Jam

Other notable live albums:

The Atomic Bitchwax, Live at Freak Valley
Causa Sui, Loppen 2021
Dool, Visions of Summerland
Duel, Live at Hellfest
Edena Gardens, Live Momentum
King Buffalo, Live at Burning Man
Messa, Live at Roadburn
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Live in NY
Rainbows Are Free, Heavy Petal Music
Sacri Monti, Live at Sonic Whip
Temple Fang, Live at Freak Valley
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Slaughter on First Avenue
Villagers of Ioannina City, Through Space and Time


This isn’t a huge list, but it’s burners front to back, and in that regard there’s little in the heavy underground, certainly toward the maddened-space-psych end of it, that can touch Ecstatic Vision’s intense performance ethic. If they’re not yet, I firmly believe the Philadelphia outfit led by guitarist/vocalist Doug Sabolick (also guitar for Author & Punisher) are on their way to having their reputation as a live band precede them, and Live at Duna Jam is further evidence that it should. Issued through Heavy Psych Sounds, it both captured the four-piece’s ultra-dead-on cosmic blast, but it paired that with the theatre-of-the-mind romance of Duna Jam itself; the best-kept-secret-in-heavy week-long unofficial festival held each year in Sardinia is the ultimate escapist daydream. That combination was just too powerful to ignore.

King Buffalo’s surprise Live at Burning Man release will do well to hold over till their next full-length, and I’ll just tell you flat out that no home should be without Causa Sui’s Loppen 2021. Uncle Acid’s first live outing was somewhat obligatory but welcome, and Messa’s Live at Roadburn celebrated the emergence of that genre-blending Italian unit as one of the most essential up and coming bands in Europe. They also made their first appearance on North American shores this year. One suspects it won’t be their last.

I’ll be very much anticipating what’s next from Sacri Monti, Duel, Causa Sui (of course), Temple Fang and actually the rest on this list, which leads us to…

Looking Ahead to 2024

You’re almost there. Just keep going. Special thanks to the folks in The Obelisk Collective on Facebook for the help on rounding up this hopefully-alphabetized list of names:

10,000 Years, Acid Mammoth, Apostle of Solitude, Big Scenic Nowhere, Bismarck, Blue Heron, Castle Rat, Coogans Bluff, Crystal Spiders, Curse the Son, Deer Creek, DVNE, Foot, Full Earth, Fu Manchu, Greenleaf, Hashtronaut, Heavy Temple, High on Fire, Horseburner, Iota, Ironrat, King Buffalo, Kungens Män, Lamassu, Mammoth Caravan, Mammoth Volume, Maragda, Mario Lalli & The Rubber Snake Charmers, Monarch, Monkey3, Moura, My Diligence, The Obsessed, Orange Goblin, Psychlona, Red Mesa, Rhino, Ruff Majik, Sacri Monti, Sasquatch, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Slift, Slomosa, Spirit Mother, Stonebride, Troy the Band, Ufomammut, Unida, Vitskär Süden, Vokonis, Weedpecker, and just because they should probably be on this list every year until a new record comes out if one ever actually does: Om.

If you’ve got names here too, the more the merrier, comment button is below.


This has not been a minor undertaking, whether or not you count the fact that I started keeping notes for 2023 in 2022, just like right now I’ve already got notes going for 2024. It never stops. But every year, I feel like this is among the most important things this site puts out and I use these lists all the time for reference, looking back on what was happening where and when, what came out when, etc. I hope you also find something useful here. I don’t have an exact count, but just by estimate there are at least somewhere between 200-300 bands talked above above. It’s a lot. It’s overwhelming. But I hope you can find something that sounds like it’s speaking directly to you, because I know that I have several times over. Any one of my top five picks I consider an ‘album of the year,’ if that’s a decent place to start.

Thank you to The Patient Mrs. for her support, love and inexplicable willingness to put up with my crap. Right this second, she is keeping our daughter hooked into a going-late morning loaf in bed I think specifically until I get up from the couch, go in the other room, and declare I’m about to start The Pecan’s breakfast, which I probably should’ve done like an hour ago. I am luckier than I am able most days to realize, and I’m working on that, and it is the beauty and flat-out amazing nature of the two people with whom I share our home that is the reason why it’s worth that effort.

I’m sure I said as much above, but I believe in art. I believe in creativity. I believe these things are a path to fulfillment that lives without them do not experience. There are ups and downs to everything, and any glorious creative individual is just as likely to be their own worst critic, but isn’t that still worth it too? Don’t we move forward anyway, because what’s the other choice?

I thank you for reading a lot. I’ll do it again now: Thanks for reading. Your support is the reason this site is still here. It’s why it’s worth it to me to take hours from days stretched across the better part of a week (I actually finished early, thanks again to The Patient Mrs.) to do this in the first place, let alone entertain the notion of doing so again next December and on into some unknown measure of perpetuity.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. If you’re seeing these words, I wish you and yours the best of everything for fucking ever, and cannot begin to tell you how much I value your time and willingness to spend it here.

Taking tomorrow off, but after that, we go as ever: onward.

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

Ripplefest Texas 2024: Dates and First Bands Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 25th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

This past weekend was Ripplefest Texas, and I gotta say, even having gone to a fest last friggin’ week, I was looking hard at that lineup and thinking to myself it’d be awfully nice to see a whole bunch of West Coast acts I don’t normally see. Maybe next year.

Wait, who’s thinking about next year when the festival is barely done? They are. Ripplefest Texas 2024 is bringing over Dozer and Mars Red Sky — oh I hope they tour together — and will have The Skull-offshoot Legions of Doom, Boston’s GozuThe Heavy Eyes, High Desert QueenBone ChurchBlue HeronDemons My Friends and, as you might guess looking at the packed lineup that was assembled for this year’s event, many more to come.

Honestly, you had me at either Dozer or Mars Red Sky, but the appeal here goes well beyond those, and in a US festival sphere reeling without a major summer event or two this year it’s gotten pretty used to having around, Ripplefest seems to be stepping in at least to give the heavy rock end of the underground somewhere to flourish. I’ll be interested to see in the next two or three years how it will continue to grow, but also just for next year. I’d imagine there’s a whole bunch of people who’ve already made their travel plans to get to Austin. Can’t say I really blame you.

More to come as we get closer to a year from now, obviously, but they’re throwing down. Pretty sure those earlybird tickets are gone:

ripplefest texas 2024 first poster



and many many more!

Only 100 Early bird tickets available so get yours now!

Dozer, “Rising” live at Desertfest Berlin 2023

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

Dispatch from SonicBlast 2023: Day Three

Posted in Features, Reviews on August 13th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

SonicBlast Fest 2023 day 3 sq

08.12.23 – Sat. – Fest site

Before show

Found a shady spot and got here in time to catch some of Earthless’ soundcheck. The haze of yesterday and mist/rain of last night have been replaced by a bit of wind and blue skies clear enough to see neighborhoods on Mars. It is a little cooler than yesterday, about which I will not complain. If it holds till tonight, I’ll be glad I have my wizard flannel.

To get here today I took the beach route, rather than going by the river as Church of the Cosmic Skull once advised, and the waves looked like something off a wall calendar. They sell shirts here that say “beach and riffs,” and I’ll tip myThe beach in Portugal goofy wide-brimmed hat to whoever decided to roll that out. Marketing making the world go around.

I’ve done a fair amount of writing the last couple days, which has felt good, seen wonderful people and heard great music at consuming volumes, which as far as I’m concerned is the stuff of life. Traveling alone can feel weird sometimes — like anything — but the truth is that once I get where I’m going, I’m never alone except when I want to be, to work or sleep, and so on. It’s been busy, and I think it’ll be a few days home before I really process any of it beyond the initial impressions conveyed in the notes I’ve been taking as it’s taken place — check in Friday — but I feel good about the work and the experience, and I’m glad I came.

This is the last day, and I expect by six or The main stages at SonicBlast 2023seven this evening my head will start to move back into travel-mode thinking about getting on the plane tomorrow — the airport in Porto is beautiful, as it would invariably be — and I don’t know if I’ll get to write again before I’m back in the US. Accordingly, thank you again to Ricardo, Thelma and all here at SonicBlast. I have been treated better than I probably needed to be, and am on awe of the passion and drive that has built this festival up to what it is over the last 11 years. As I listen to Kanaan line-checking before they open the day on the third stage — that’s four-for-four on kickoffs, if you’re keeping score — and look over the now-empty-but-soon-to-be-slammed main stage(s) area, it’s a little surreal, but as realities go, I’m happy to dwell in it while I can. Thank you for reading. Thanks to the bands and everyone I’ve spoken to or hung out with. Thanks to my family and obviously, thanks to Wendy, through whom all things are possible.

Getting close now. I can feel it. Here’s the day:


Kanaan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Noting from the stage that it was their first time in Portugal, Norwegian instrumentalist trio Kanaan did not look back after a 15-or-so-minute delayed start owing to a fence blowing over outside as doors were supposed to open. So yes, the wind is a factor. Or at least it was until they put the fence back up and Kanaan came out to lock into the hypnojazz of “Downpour” from the 2022 album of the same name (review here), bass, guitar and drums coming together, seeming to each split its own direction, meeting up later on as one might with friends, only with riffs instead. This was my second time seeing them. The first was Høstsabbat last Fall in Oslo, which is about as different a setting as you can get from SonicBlast, and it’s to the band’s credit that their sound holds up to either context. Maybe it was the sun, or the wind, or the last-day blues, but the spacey, patient unfolding of “Pink Riff” felt extra resonant, as did the synth-laced fuzz that followed to underscore the upward launch in progress. Working against gravity, they rode that groove for a while and did a few orbital laps in circles and twists of rhythm, and resolved in a noisy freakout before coalescing again around the guitar, but the message was clear and the controls were set to ‘far out.’ If they were bummed at cutting their set short, they didn’t show it as they finished with “Return to the Tundrasphere,” having saved the thickest nod for last. Right on. I’ll take seeing them at any opportunity. Wound up chatting with them later on and let it spill that I thought they were onto something really special and they talked about some of their plans for future records. This is a band with the potential to be very good for a long time. A band that can grow with its players. Fingers crossed.

Black Rainbows

Black Rainbows (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Space hippies of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your dayjobs! I’d been looking forward to Black Rainbows, as they always seem to find a line between more straightforward heavy rock, classic cosmodelia, and hooks, hooks, hooks, and wouldn’t you know, that’s precisely what they delivered to open the main stage. They covered MC5’s “Black to Comm” and gave it due urgency, and with their new album, Superskull (review here), relatively fresh in mind, I dug the crap out of it. I think they get overshadowed in a weird way by the work founding guitarist/vocalist Gabriele Fiori does in running the Heavy Psych Sounds label/booking company, but god damn, if you actually listen to their records, they’re spot on heavy psych rock, taking some of the energy and enthusiasm that I forever associate with the Italian underground and making it theirs through performance and a strong stylistic foundation. I dig this band, is what I’m saying. If you haven’t been introduced, hit up the latest album and work your way back to the desert idolatry of their earliest stuff and I sincerely doubt you’ll regret it. They’re like a one-stop shop for everything you could ask modern stoner rock to be, while also being able to occasionally blow it out or loose a riff like “Grindstone,” and hold another level of thrust in reserve for a multi-tiered finish. First band on the big stage and people were already dancing. This place is amazing, this band way undervalued.

Spirit Mother

Spirit Mother (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The only reason I wasn’t absolutely blindsided by how heavy Sprit Mother’s thud landed in-person was because of being fortunate enough to premiere their “Dead Cells/Locust” two-songer last month. Both those songs were aired, and it was likewise a pleasure to hear their rawer, more all-in sensibility extended to tracks from their 2020 debut, Cadets (review here). They played as a double-guitar, double-violin five-piece. One violin? Well that’s interesting. Outside the heavy norm. Respect to that, especially since the songs are good. Two? That’s downright individual. Maybe by their fourth record they’ll be doling out fuzz accompanied by a string quartet — and I’m not trying to be a smartass; I think that’d rule — but the takeaway is that the Los Angeles band are growing. Growing heavier, growing in depth and texture, and looking for ways to distinguish themselves. They’re on their way. This tour and the upcoming US run with Hippie Death Cult will help, but there’s nothing they should be doing that they’re not already doing. I’ll look forward to remembering seeing them here for the first time, including that laugh shared by the band and the front row when guitarist/vocalist Armand Lance attempted to throw his bandana out to the crowd but it hit a wall of wind and didn’t travel more than a meter before landing unceremoniously in the photo pit. Sometimes it’s the little things.


Earthless (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It’s safe by now to call Earthless legends, right? A fully-earned reputation two decades running that precedes them by miles, the quintessential heavy trio released Night Parade of 100 Demons (review here) in January, and even though I knew what was coming, it was hard not to feel physically overwhelmed as they built up the characteristically extended, vinyl-side-consuming title-track to its full breadth. And I saw them like a month and a half ago. Shit, I heard their soundcheck today! Nonetheless, when guitarist/sometimes-vocalist Isaiah Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba dug in, you had no real choice but to bodily sense it. Sure, it’s been loud all weekend, but with Earthless it’s never quite just about any one thing — even Mitchell’s guitar, which feels like sacrilege to say somehow — but about the full combination of all of it working at a scale that belongs solely to the band. Maybe that’s how you get to be legendary to start with. There’s just something intangible there, and as much as it feels like they’re plunging headfirst into the unknown, you always know that they’re in control, hand-on-the-wheel, and so forth. As spacey as they got at SonicBlast, that was still true, and while I’m not so far removed from my last exposure, it’s a testament to the power of what they do that they could be so affecting. Rest assured, I went back after refilling my water bottle and taking a minute to write this, in more than enough time to catch the burner ending, the next outbound excursion, and the staple cover of The Groundhogs’ “Cherry Red” that capped the set.

A Place to Bury Strangers

A Place to Bury Strangers (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Today I learned that the dude from A Place to Bury Strangers — multi-instrumentalist/live guitarist and vocalist Oliver Ackermann — really hates his guitar. Before the first song was done, he’d launched it in the air multiple times and let it hit the stage, swung it over his shoulder like he was trying to split wood, and run the strings along the front edge of the stage. Then he tuned up, which I think might’ve been my favorite part. I haven’t seen them before, but by all accounts that’s kind of how it goes. Not arguing. True to their New York roots, their sound is a kind of no-wave indie noise punk, but without atmosphere, but trying to crawl out of its own skin anyhow. Restless movement in the bass of John Fedowitz and drummer Sandra Fedowitz was fitting company for all that fucked up amp-noise wash, and I don’t know if Thurston Moore is still hanging around today — let’s figure probably not, but you never know — but it’s easy to imagine him smiling, wherever he may be. Intermittently caustic, light on accessibility and thick on fuckall, they sounded the way my brain feels when I think about the climate crisis, and soon enough, Ackermann left the stage to bring the shenanigans directly to the people out front, but he and maybe Sandra (?) got back up eventually and hit it on the next song, leaving half the crowd slackjawed and a whole other portion smiling knowingly. I guess they’re not really my thing sound-wise, otherwise I might have driven into NYC from Jersey to see them at some point in the last 20 years, but you have to appreciate the expression and the sheer physical effort in it. And the fact that they played after Earthless. I’m glad nobody got hurt, with the exception of that guitar, which, admirably, somehow made it through the whole set, Ackermann handing it behind the drum kit to free his hands so he could swing one of the stage strobes around by the cable — you know, like you do — before taking it back to finish the song, getting a couple more high-arc tosses in in the meantime. There was more as Fedowitz came out from the kit to the front of the stage for vocal duties, bringing the floor tom and snare along and playing while standing up. I have to think you get the point. A spectacle.


Eyehategod (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I don’t know how long it’s been since I saw Eyehategod, and in the spirit of the band, I don’t really give a shit. The New Orleans sludge originators — they didn’t do it on their own, but there’s sludgers the world over who should be calling them Uncle — came out and jammed for a couple minutes before the set actually started, and from there it was feedback abrasion, raw-throated gnash from vocalist Mike IX Williams, the somehow-bouncing riffs of Jimmy Bower and bassist Gary Mader’s tonal density like the dirt from which their mud is made, while drummer Aaron Hill — who’s been in the band a decade now — managed to make it go. I was off them for a few years, but they’ve stood up to the years with middle fingers ever raised, and I can’t think of another band who can come across as both completely professional and unhinged at the same time, as when Williams started the faux-prayer “dear god, please forgive us,” before seeming to think better of the whole idea and end with a quick “fuck you” as the next song slammed in. In a crowd with this many people, it was most likely somebody’s first Eyehategod show, and while I’m no expert on the subject, when I think of Eyehategod, I think of precisely the kind of omnidirectional aggro disaffection they tore into. “How many people have to go to work tomorrow?” Some hands. I have to think more would be up if tomorrow was Monday. Right into “Every Thing, Every Day.” They’re a band who’ve been underestimated for over 30 years, and much more than most, they make it believable that they don’t care. And probably by now they don’t, if they ever did. That, plus riffs.


Imarhan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Today’s Tuareg contingent, Imarhan come from Algeria and followed suit in rhythmic style and resultant danceability from Bombino and Etran de L’Aïr, both of whom also had the crowd moving yesterday and the day before, which is starting to feel like a very, very long time ago. Whatever focus might be on the guitar, Imarhan kept the theme running of bass I could happily spend an evening listening to, as well as clearing the slate after the aural violence of Eyehategod and the actual violence of A Place to Bury Strangers to transition into the evening ahead. I know little about Tuareg culture or the plight of the people who are part of it, but the music as an outlet for that reinforces the communicative nature of art, and the more Imarhan jammed, the more they got their point across. Their latest album is called Aboogi, and the connection between desert rock and, well, desert rock, should be plain to anyone who encounters it. Mellow, warm boogie gave over to sweet psych instrumental melody, spirals of engaging guitar noodling, vocals and hand-percussion going right along, as if they wouldn’t, and the flow held. In America, everything is political and everything is race, and I’d be more than happy to go on about the long history of white producers “discovering” and recording music from around the world, from Lead Belly to Bombino — aesthetic colonialism — and I noted in reading up that Aboogi was recorded by Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, but this isn’t the time or place for that rant. I’m not looking to be misunderstood, and frankly, the music felt more about erasing lines than drawing them. Probably that makes me chickenshit. A privilege afforded by my own culture. As the sundown act for the final day of SonicBlast 2023, Imarhan invited all to dance, and many took them up on it.

The Black Angels

The Black Angels (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’ve dabbled in the work of Austin psych rockers The Black Angels, but not much more than that. Most of what I know is people like them and they’re well regarded critically. Big mags that go to SXSW write about them, though that’s hardly their fault. There were times when it seemed like the kick drum was the only thing keeping the whole set from turning into a puddle of goo, but obviously that’s on purpose, and with the keys and the two guitars, bass, more keys, multiple vocalists, one drummer — more two-drummer psych bands now! — all seeming to go at once, they were full in sound and heavier live than I would have expected them to be, which I guess is a compliment since they also had that languid sway speaking to some notion of coolness that is timeless if you believe the Baby Boomers invented time or that anyone in mainstream culture knows psych rock still exists, or cares, for that matter. You could call it indie crossover if you want — it’s the internet; the stakes couldn’t be lower — but they were plenty lysergic, and parts felt like a grown-up version of what Spirit Mother were up to this afternoon, rockin’ out in Reverb City. But the crowd knew them more than I did and they put out a record last year called Wilderness of Mirrors that was probably genius and if I bothered to listen would change my life, so there you go. I guess they left me a little cold, but I’ll take that on myself since I’m both waiting for Dozer and half thinking about packing and flying out tomorrow. Did I say “last day blues” yet? Fair enough. Throbbing, they were.

Church of Misery

Church of Misery (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It would be fun to put together a list of the best riff writers of all time — I’m not going to; no fun — but any such endeavor would be bullshit without the inclusion of Tatsu Mikami from Church of Misery. The low-slung founding bassist of Japan’s leading doom rock export has been through entire lineups of singers, guitarists and drummers, but the guitar of Yukito Okazaki, the drums of Toshiaki Umemura and returning vocalist Kazuhiro Asaeda marked themselves out as a version of Church of Misery to see, making the case strongly on this year’s Born Under a Mad Sign (review here) for showing up. Certainly Church of Misery fucking did. And oh, when that bass tone hit, I could feel it like a rumbly in my tumbly and all of a sudden I didn’t care if the lyrics were about the dude feeding his cat, it was that groove that had me. They were on fire. Kazuhiro waving his hands around swimming through the fog of the riffs — also the actual fog — absolutely nailing “Born to Raise Hell,” and Yukito might be a generation younger but he also might be the best guitarist I’ve seen with this band, and by this time in my life I’ve seen a few. For a new incarnation of the band, everybody owned the material, Toshiaki with the oh-so-essential swing to make that doom boogie, and Tatsu on the far side of the stage, an absolute master at this thing he does. As the photographers were getting kicked out of the pit — not complaining; that time/song limit is useful every now and again to keep you in check and handling your shit — I put my body in front of the P.A., just for a second, so I could feel it in my bones. Incredible how a band so obsessed with mass murder can be so life-affirming. I’m glad they’re back, and I’m lucky to have seen this version of the band. They finished with “Beltway Sniper” and “Freeway Madness Boogie,” both from the new record, and the place went off like the songs were 20 years old. It was a celebration.


Dozer (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Life affords you very few — none to date, in my case — to get on stage and watch while Dozer are playing. Did I dare? It was now or never. And as experience-making as that was, I’m glad I went out front again in time to see Arvid from Greenleaf come out for a guest spot on “Rings of Saturn.” I’d heard before they went on that was going to happen, and it was quick but great, no less because they followed it with “Supersoul” and man, I just went nuts. It was so great. So great. Chills the entire time, not even exaggerating. Well maybe a little bit fucking hell give me a break Dozer were so god damned amazing I was headbanging in the photo pit. Maybe the pics will suck. Who cares? Arvid back out: “this is Monster Truck. That big thing that pushes stuff.” A bit of standup “Always eat spinach.” My friend, I have been trying for three days to find some to no avail. If you got the hookup don’t hold out. Yes, I saw Dozer last December. Again, who cares? If I saw them yesterday this would’ve still been incredible. Shit, I DID see Greenleaf yesterday. Unreal. Culmination of the weekend. “Born a Legend.” Existential high point I feel like I’ve been chasing for the last two and a half years. The payoff for my pandemic. Sebastian Olsson on drums. Holy shit. Fredrik Nordin’s vocals coming through those giant speakers. That shout. Those riffs. Johan Rockner’s bass not only keeping up with Tommi Holappa’s twists and punches and shred but doing so with a singular immediacy. Dozer is the band who taught me heavy rock could be explosive, propulsive, volcanic, and still beautiful. They went to their first album in 15 years, Drifting in the Endless Void (review here), to close out with “Missing 13,” Olsson knocking over a cymbal and Arvid picking it up en route to Dozer riding that riff and Holappa soloing away. There was some mic feedback toward the end, but it didn’t matter. I stopped writing. I stopped worrying. I put my phone down and banged my fucking head and threw my fist in the air, and for a few gorgeous minutes I hope I never forget that’s what life was.


Lunavieja (Photo by JJ Koczan)

An occult epilogue to my evening and my SonicBlast, Lunavieja had skulls, reeds, incense and centuries of Iberian heathenism to draw from, and with a sound that was vibrant and a theatricality unlike anything else I’ve seen this weekend, they built an atmosphere of malevolent, writhing doom, psychedelic post-metal, some rock, and meditative, dark folk. I said a few goodbyes and made my way out during their set, stopped up on the boardwalk to sit on a little bench there in the mostly dark — the town is right there, so there is ambient light — and look at the stars and listen to the music and the waves together. “Beach and riffs,” right? It wasn’t planned, and it was only a few minutes, maybe five, but just stopping, sitting for a breath, it was like taking a huge drink of water. I was already on my way out mentally and physicality — got my ride to the airport tomorrow confirmed and everything — so this was just about being there, putting myself in that moment, to be, just to be, in that place one more time. Lunavieja’s grim mass behind, the anticipation of returning to my family ahead, I allowed for the appreciation of being in the middle, not existing in either world yet. Not thinking about the travel, the writing, the to-do list that awaits. I doubt Lunavieja will ever know they were a part of that, that they helped make it happen in a weird kind of way — ‘weird’ suiting them quite well, generally — but they were. It meant something to me. I learned a lot here. They were a part of that, too.

Thank you. If your eyes are on these words, thank you. The list of names is so long. Everybody I spoke to, everyone who came up and said hi, the fucking Sasquatch guys shouting me out, being onstage while Dozer are playing. Meeting Berto, seeing Claire after a decade, hanging out with Dr. Space, chatting music with Daniel and Bruno in the photo pit, taking pictures of bands, pictures with people, trying to cram as many memories into my head as I possibly could because I’m just so god damned lucky to be here. The flight, the nerves. It was all worth it, easily. For Dozer alone, never mind Acid King, Ruff Majik, Greenleaf, Kanaan, Church of Misery, Spirit Mother, Temple Fang, Naxatras (now I get to say I’ve seen Naxatras forever!), Weedpecker, Kadavar, all the way back to Plastic Woods, the first band at the pre-show, absolutely schooling me on where I was and what it meant to be here. Thank you. Thank you for reading. Thank you Ricardo and Telma. Thank you for inviting me, for welcoming me, for the music and the place. The reality of what you’ve built is so much more than just the beach and riffs. Thank you.

I fly out tomorrow evening, 6PM-ish. I don’t know that I will or won’t write again before then, so one more time, thank you for reading, thanks to Wendy, The Pecan, my mother, my sister. I don’t know that I’ll be invited back to SonicBlast again, and that’s not what matters. What matters is how fortunate I was to be here at all. Thank you. Thank you.

More photos after the ‘read more’ jump.

Read more »

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

Former Man’s Ruin Artists Pay Tribute to Frank Kozik

Posted in Features on May 15th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Some of the best heavy rock records of all time were released through Man’s Ruin Records. We’re talking about pivotal, genre-defining releases that continue to resonate some 20-plus years later, which in rock and roll time is an eternity. Some bands are still active and contributing, and some have left it behind, but in light of the sudden passing last week of artist and label-founder Frank Kozik, it felt right to take a look at that portion of his life he spent fostering bands and some of the impact that music has had on, at this point, two subsequent generations of heavy.

I’ve told this story before, but maybe in 2004, I was at SXSW in Austin, Texas, meandering off 6th St. in order to find a show happening in a record store. Went under the highway bridge and all that to get to Snake Eyes Vinyl. I don’t think it’s there anymore, but at the time they were hosting bands as part of the whole SXSW thing. They moved bins and so on to make room for amps, or had artists play outside; I sat on a hill and saw Kylesa on the back of a trailer on a sunny afternoon; Drunk Horse and Saviours shared the ‘stage’ inside, etc.

The narrative in my head is that I was waiting for either Drunk Horse or Saviours — I honestly don’t remember — to go on, did some shopping in the interim, and stumbled on a motherlode of Man’s Ruin CDs. Some I had, many I didn’t, but with the label defunct two years prior, the stuff was already becoming rare and, on eBay, not cheap. I grabbed a stack that was no fewer than 10 discs — including Drunk Horse — and made my way to the counter to pay, only to find out that they belonged to Becca, the woman who ran the store. She was visibly sad to be parting with them.

I said that it was okay, I would give them a good home and take care of them. And I did. I still have them the better part of two decades later. It tells you the kind of connections that listeners made to the music that Kozik put out that, even when she had decided to sell them in her shop, it was hard to let go of those albums. Kozik’s work with Man’s Ruin was special, and the heavy underground has worked on a label-as-hub model since, whether it’s imprints like Small Stone, Ripple Music, Heavy Psych Sounds, and so on. Not only is Kozik’s output through Man’s Ruin still relevant aurally and visually, but it continues to shape the structure of heavy rock’s promotional and distribution apparatus. One does not generally think of a small business as influential.

Yet here we are. Some of the below was hoisted from social media, and some folks I hit up direct or through PR, but through it all, the spirit of thankfulness is palpable, and I’ll add my thanks to that, because there’s no way I’d be sitting here writing this sentence right now if not for Frank Kozik and Man’s Ruin Records. Heavy music owes him a debt it can never repay.

Thanks to all who took part in this, and thanks as always for reading.

man's ruin records cat logo

Lori S. from Acid King:

Wow (#128558#)(#128546#). Um…. Don’t know what to say . Man’s Ruin and Frank were a huge part of my life and always will be . Thank you for releasing our records creating a scene that didn’t exist and for the endless amount of cool artwork that will be on planet earth way longer than all of us R.I.P.

Sometime like, 94-96 I went to visit my friend, Tim Moss in San Francisco. While running around we stopped at Man’s Ruin where he introduced me to Frank Kozik and Frank being the nice guy that he is, let me grab a bunch of posters. I was freaking out. His label opened my ears to so many bands who later would become family. His art has always been a part of my life. Below is one of the prints he let me take and it was the very first piece of art we hung at Jackalope. Oh shit and then that amazing Man’s Ruin fest at the Troubadour w/ Scott Carlson, Lori Joseph, Rich Hay, Scott Reeder and lord can only remember who else (#128514#). Thanks for everything, Frank. Rest easy.

Fatso Jetson:

Our music and art scene has lost a true godfather, Frank Kozik believed in the unique music from our desert and was responsible for some of the most influential recordings, all were released on his Man’s Ruin label. From Kyuss to Queens of the Stone Age, Brant Bjork, the Jack Saints, Desert Sessions….the list goes on and on. We are so grateful and honored to be part of his history. Thank you Frank …Fatso sends love to you and your family brother. God Speed.

Brant Bjork (Kyuss, Ché, Fu Manchu, solo):

I was having dinner with Frank Kozik one night in SF and he asked me if it was true that I was going to record a solo record. I said yes. He said he wanted to put it out. The result was Jalamanta. That was in 1999 and it was my first solo release. I had no idea then I’d still be releasing solo records 24 years later. Thank you Frank for believing in me and all the other artists and bands you believed in. It takes one to know one. Frank was, still is and will always be… a true artist. ❤️BB

Eddie Glass of Nebula:

Frank was such a cool dude and played a legendary part in the scene when it was coming up. It was so cool being on his label because he would design the covers and the Sun Creature EP came out perfectly. He will be dearly missed.

Amanda Topaz from Begotten:

Frank Kozik was a friend at a time in my life when it was really hard to be my friend. His unexpected death makes me incredibly sad an my thoughts are with his wife Sharon. Although I Haven’t seen him in twenty years I am so grateful for his generosity. I don’t think cats now realize the extent of what he gave us because now the Spotify AI Algorithm picks out what you listen to every day, AI makes your music videos for you, for all I know AI is generating your riffs for you too. But back then in New York, finishing up music school where I was lucky enough to have one of Coltrane’s bass players as a teacher – and he would tell us – We can teach you how to play the music but you have to understand that it’s the soul of our generation – we created it in the streets and in the clubs -. Imagine then as a lost child hearing THE MELVINS for the first time – this sound from the Bay Area all the way across the country – for the first time at 1 in the morning from some cd bought in an underground record shop in a back alley with a group of friends. Or the desert sessions. Or Acid King / Kyuss / Nebula/ High on Fire. It was life-changing. This was the sound of OUR generation. Kozik handed it to us on a Man’s Ruin platter. Didn’t make a dime off it – he supported the company with poster and art sales as far as I know. And he was nice enough to give our big ugly maroon 89 Chevy van the name, “La Guappa”.

Lou Gorra of Solarized (also Halfway to Gone):

Frank was a brilliant artist. We all know that. I was so incredibly humbled when one of my favorite artists of all time signed my dopey little band to one of the coolest labels of the twentieth century. My time making records for Man’s Ruin was short lived, but the memories I made during that time will remain with me for the rest of life. I’m so incredibly sad that there will be no more new Kozik art for the world to love, but I’m tearfully grateful that my music can be referenced in his monolithic legacy, even in the most minuscule way. Thank you Frank. RIP

Darryl Shepard (ex-Roadsaw, currently Kind, etc.):

Seeing as how Craig and I were both in Roadsaw and we both play on this record, I feel this should be posted here as well: Not enough can be said about Frank Kozik. His artwork defined a subculture. His record label Man’s Ruin kickstarted the global stoner rock underground into high gear. The heavy underground rock scene would not exist the way it does now without his involvement. That is not hyperbole. Roadsaw was fortunate enough to release a 7” on Man’s Ruin. We went to his art studio in San Francisco while on tour and met him while he was screen printing the covers. We played the Bottom of the Hill that night and he personally dropped off the records at the club so we’d have some to sell. An absolute legend in the art and music worlds. R.I.P. Mr. Kozik. And thank you.

Sergio Ch. of Los Natas (currently Ararat, Soldati, solo, etc.):

Frank gave me the opportunity of my life. He believed in my work and shared it to the world. Got me into the big leagues just trusting some guys from Argentina and their love for music. I wouldn´t be standing where I am right now if not for is help, art and determination. I remember after recording album Ciudad de Brahman, back in San Francisco 1999, we piled into his truck and took a ride, just pumping the album’s mix cassette tape into the car’s player. He looked at me right into my eyes in a stop light and told me, almost breaking in tears, “Sergio, your music has spirit. Never give up. I am old and tired but you must keep doing what you do.” A few [years] later, Man’s Ruin Records announced their closeup and I got a huge UPS box right at my home in Argentina, including the one inch tapes from Natas’ Ciudad de Brahman album. along with a release rights letter from Frank. What a gentleman. Will miss you Boss, thanks and love foreva.

Erik Larson of Alabama Thunderpussy:

I didn’t know Frank Kozik as well as I would have liked to, but the fact that I knew him at all is nothing short of fantastic. When we met, I was just some Metal-Punk from Virginia, and yet the man showed me and Alabama Thunderpussy nothing but encouragement throughout the years we had a working relationship. I could always count on a no bullshit opinion from him. Frank didn’t seem to tolerate bullshit. His whole approach to Man’s Ruin Records seemed to be a testament to that viewpoint, and a ‘pay attention to what’s important right now’ attitude that kept things exciting, challenging and precarious all at once. I think it is safe to say Alabama Thunderpussy would never have achieved as much as we have, had it not been for that first opportunity Frank Kozik gave to us. I’m forever grateful to him for that.

Jim Hogan of Solarized (currently Defiance Engine):

When Frank Kozik ran Man’s Ruin Records, he helped our band, Solarized, more than any other label we ever dealt with. He offered a 50% profit split, made us store posters, and he made custom screened posters for when we toured. Eventually the label folded, but he helped hundreds of bands, and he and his crew released a whole lot of great albums. His poster art, his custom vinyl toys, and his record label were nothing short of amazing. He was the only guy we ever knew who got interviewed by Newsweek. He was an outstanding human being and he is truly a brother lost.

Reg Hogan of Solarized (currently Defiance Engine):

We send our heart felt condolences to Frank’s family and friends…Frank did more to elevate scene awareness, with his passion and love for the music, than most of the music industry. We are grateful he took a shine to our brand of Jersey swamp rock.

Arthur Seay of Unida:

Was an honor to have Frank release our Unida record ‘Coping with the Urban Coyote’, which really put us on the map and allowed us to tour Europe and caught the attention of the majors lol. He was a true artist, gifted, talented and crazy as fuck.

Jason Casanova of Tummler (currently Sasquatch):

Frank was the man. Not only for his art, but his vision for Man’s Ruin and the music scene that it created. I can’t thank him enough for giving my old band Tummler a shot at putting out a record back in the heyday. The smoking bunny will live on forever. RIP dude. You rule. – C

Johan Rockner of Dozer:

RIP Frank Kozik ❤️

He signed us back in ’98 and released our two first albums In the Tail of a Comet and Madre De Dios. He was one of those who believed in us, which we are forever thankful for. Without him Dozer would not be were we are. We met him in Stockholm at his exhibition “the Stockholm job”, a really cool and down to earth kind of guy.

Ben Ward of Orange Goblin:

Sad news this morning that the legendary artist Frank Kozik has passed away. Frank did some great artwork for Orange Goblin over the years and his label, Man’s Ruin Records, was responsible for some of the coolest releases in various genres from the mid to late ’90s. His artwork lives on forever and Frank will be remembered as a kind, funny, intelligent and humble man with a very unique style and he will be missed. Condolences to his family and friends. Thank you Frank, RIP.

Sons of Otis:

RIP Frank Kozik(#128128#) Mad visionary. The ONLY label that ever paid us.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Album Review: Dozer, Drifting in the Endless Void

Posted in Reviews on April 20th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Dozer Drifting in the Endless Void

Dozer return. A decade almost to the day after beginning a reunion at Desertfest in Berlin and London (review here) and having played festivals and select other dates all the while if not having fully resumed life as a touring band, and the better part of two years announcing the project as part of Blues Funeral Recordings‘ PostWax subscription vinyl series — for which, in the interest of full disclosure, I wrote/write the liner notes — after full catalogue reissues through Heavy Psych Sounds and years of will-they-won’t-they speculation on the part of their audience, Dozer offer the Karl Daniel Lidén-helmed seven songs/42 minutes of Drifting in the Endless Void as a decade-and-a-half-later follow-up to 2008’s Beyond Colossal (featured here, discussed here, 2009 interview here), and part of what’s so stunning about it is that it makes that ridiculous idea a reality. A ‘follow-up’ 15 years later. Imagine where you were 15 years ago, who you were. Do you think you could step back into being that person?

Of course, the narrative here is more complex. Dozer announced their hiatus in 2009, but haven’t been actually-gone for a long time, and as founding guitarist Tommi Holappa has spent the intervening years building his concurrent outfit Greenleaf into a full-time touring act — in some ways fulfilling the role that Dozer otherwise might and taking on a more modern heavy sound, where Greenleaf was once a classic ’70s-style heavy rock side-project — they’ve never been entirely absent from consideration, the prospect of a new album looming over their being added to one fest or another, here, there, or Germany. But the ease with which Holappa and fellow founding member, guitarist/vocalist Fredrik Nordin — whose voice is no less a part of what makes Dozer who they are than the riffs or bombastic style of a song like “Run, Mortals, Run!” here — bassist Johan Rockner and drummer Sebastian Olsson (also of Greenleaf) have apparently stepped back into being Dozer is striking.

Part of that is the collaboration with the aforementioned Lidén on production. The history between the two parties is significant and winding, with his having been in Demon Cleaner, with whom Dozer did splits early on, having played in Greenleaf and produced Dozer numerous times in the past, which is not to mention drumming on 2005’s Through the Eyes of Heathens (featured here; discussed here) and the demo collection released during their hiatus, Vultures (review herediscussed here) — that, by the way, is the short version of the association thread — but his work at the board of Studio Gröndal is essential to the sound of Drifting in the Endless Void, from the opening riff and ride cymbal taps, thuds and frenetic tension that launches the record with the seven-and-a-half-minute “Mutation/Transformation” to the fullness of the groove that ensues in the last build and don’t-want-to-let-go finish of bookending closer “Missing 13” (also the longest song at 8:35), the balance between spaciousness and crunch in the mix seeming to pick up where the band left off those years ago like nothing ever happened. Like, oh, turns out Dozer were right there the whole time. Here’s “Dust for Blood.”

That song, which caps side A and is a standout hook even among Dozer‘s various surging choruses in “Ex-Human, Now Beast,” “Mutation/Transformation” and the intentionally grandiose crescendo of centerpiece “Andromeda” still to come, is quintessential Dozer. With an energy that comes through the kick drum and a threat of aggression coinciding, it is atmospheric in the reach of its echo around Nordin‘s vocals (which were self-recorded) and immediate in Rockner‘s bassline in the verse with the guitar picking up for the somehow-swaggering chorus push. They toy with pace throughout, as “No Quarter Expected, No Quarter Given” moves into and through a relative frenzy in its second half and hits into a false stop before bursting back into its own chorus, “Andromeda” rides its melancholy groove so fluidly, and “Run, Mortals, Run!” — yes, there is a lot of punctuation in the song titles; don’t get hung up — finds consciousness and purpose within its intensity, guitar howling out like a siren at about three and a half minutes into the 6:44 before the loud/quiet trade and ending ensue, the four-piece clearheaded in following a plot while making a thrill of the going.

dozer (Photo by Mats Ek)

But if one feels in listening like they’re riding a car that’s hitting the bumps in the road on purpose, the adrenaline that courses throughout Drifting in the Endless Void is also a crucial part of Dozer‘s approach and has been at least since 2002’s Call it Conspiracy (discussed herealso discussed here); they write songs you can feel in your blood, and they’d seem to know it. At the same time, it’s not 2009, or 2013, and as this material was written between 2021 and 2022 (recorded in Spring a year ago), it’s a fresh look at who Dozer are today. These aren’t tracks that have been laying around since 2015, and accordingly, Drifting in the Endless Void benefits from not being overworked. Of course there’s a plan at work — it would be hard to follow the course charted by “No Quarter Expected, No Quarter Given” through its snare-stomp-punctuated ebbs and flows and argue otherwise — but part of what lets the album as an entirety live up to the near-impossible expectations upon it is the fact that it avoids the issue entirely. Dozer know who they are.

And that awareness extends to their ability to be sweeping in their largesse or intimate and subdued, or both if we’re talking about the “Everything will be okay” reassurances that become the apex of “Missing 13” at the record’s conclusion, but in that, Drifting in the Endless Void isn’t just Dozer doing an impression of what Dozer used to be, either in sound or substance. These songs reach farther, find new middle grounds between one extreme or the other, and define themselves in part by how they interact with each other — the transitions between “Andromeda” and “No Quarter Expected, No Quarter Given,” or the dead stop of “Ex-Human, Now Beast” and the bright clarion of guitar at the start of “Dust for Blood” create a flow that, while still a series of individual tracks, gives the album a whole-work feel — and to think that a band would release a sixth album 15 years after their fifth and have it sound the same is ludicrous anyway. Dozer have grown. Mutated and transformed? Maybe. I’m not sure they could’ve gone to the same kinds of places during their original run as they do in that first cut or what follows. But they’re still Dozer.

It would be hyperbole to say Drifting in the Endless Void was worth the wait as the ‘next thing’ from the band, but that’s kind of true as well. At very least, the album justifies the anticipation that’s greeted it and reaffirms just how not-done Dozer were when they went on hiatus. Calling it a heavy rock landmark for 2023 feels like underselling it. Calling it one of the year’s best records? Superfluous. It’s not a record about this year or the last 15 years or even about next year. It’s a testament to everything Dozer have done that has both stood the test of time and remained so decisively individualized that nobody has been able to come along and do it better. This band, doing this thing, in their way. Inimitable. There has only ever been one Dozer. Thank goodness they showed up here.

Dozer, Drifting in the Endless Void (2023)

Dozer, “Ex-Human, Now Beast” official video

Dozer, “Dust for Blood” official video

Dozer on Facebook

Dozer on Instagram

Dozer on Bandcamp

Dozer website

Blues Funeral Recordings on Facebook

Blues Funeral Recordings on Instagram

Blues Funeral Recordings on Bandcamp

Blues Funeral Recordings website

Tags: , , , , , ,