The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

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[PLEASE NOTE: These are not the results of the year-end poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t contributed your list to the cause yet, please do so here.]

Invariably, the ultimate measure of 2020 will be in lives and livelihoods lost around the world. I have nothing to add to the discourse of the COVID-19 pandemic that others haven’t said in more articulate and precise language. Suffice it to note that 2020 was the year that the very concept of “unprecedented” itself became trite.

One does not have to look far to find positives amid the devastation. Creativity continues to flourish. Art cannot be killed. Even locked away from each other in quarantine, artists will continue to reach out, to collaborate, to fulfill the human need for expression that has driven the species since cave drawings and will no doubt be the ruins we leave behind us when we’re gone.

In underground music, it was simply overwhelming. And though I’ll admit it was hard at times to listen to music and divorce it from the larger context of what was happening in the world — it was there like a background buzz — this year reinforced how necessary music is, not only as an escape or a source of income for those who make/promote it, but as an integral component of life and community. Absences have been keenly felt.

I won’t try to sate you with platitudes, to say “things will get better.” Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. One year turning to the next does not fix broken systems and it does not cure raging plagues. It’s just a number. Arbitrary except as a convenient marker for things like this, births, deaths, and so on. Bookkeeping.

Before I turn you over to the lists: Please be kind in the comments if you choose to leave one. To me. To other people. To yourself. These lists are culled from my listening preference and what I consider of critical importance. But I’m one person. If there’s something you feel has been left out, say so. I ask you only to do so in a spirit of friendship rather than argument. Thank you in advance.

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Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

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

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30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Find out the pros of hiring the best follow siteing service and how it can help you achieve your goals. Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

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29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

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28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by Os Homework Help.Buy custom essay papers.Custom Dissertation Writing Services Gumtree.Buy custom written papers Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

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27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

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26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

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

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

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

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

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

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

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

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

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

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

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

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

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

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

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

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

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

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

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

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

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

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

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

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

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

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

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

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

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

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

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

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

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

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

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

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

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

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

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

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

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

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

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

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

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

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

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

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

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

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

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

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

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

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

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

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

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

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

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

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead to 2021

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

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

Thank You

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

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

More to come.

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Dwaal Sign to Napalm Events for European Booking

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 13th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Theirs is one of 2020’s most punishing debut albums to-date, and it seems only like Dwaal are interested in bringing their Gospel of the Vile (review here) to the masses. After issuing the album — which you can stream below — at the end of last month through Dark Essence Records, it seems the band were happened upon by a representative of Napalm Records‘ booking wing, and snapped up accordingly on the merit of a live performance. I guess that’s pretty much the ideal, so kudos to the band. It seems safe to assume you can expect to see them on the road with some Napalm Records bands in Europe any day now, provided, you know, government lockdowns and all that kind of stuff.

But hey, if you’re looking for a soundtrack to the plague-ocalypse, these six very-calm-looking Norwegians would like to have a word:

dwaal

NAPALM EVENTS Signs Norwegian Sludge/Doom Band DWAAL!

NAPALM EVENTS is very proud to add Sludge/Doom/Post-Metal steamroller DWAAL from Oslo, Norway, to the Napalm Events artist roster! NAPALM EVENTS’ booking agent Thorsten Harm witnessed their powerful live performance at by:Larm Festival in Oslo two weeks ago and was hooked immediately!

Thorsten Harm comments:

“More or less I joined their show incidentally – and I wasn’t prepared for them at all, DWAAL hit me hard! Their slow and heavy wall of sound and the outstanding vocals of their singer Bjørnar on top of it literally blew me away, totally unexpected. This metal outfit is super talented and delivers a unique blend of heavy, atmospheric Sludge/Doom/Post-Metal with a terrific Black Metal topping, big time!”

DWAAL released their killer debut album Gospel of the Vile through Dark Essence Records on 28th February 2020.

DWAAL is looking forward what’s ahead of them and comments:

“After years looming in the shadows of the local underground scene, DWAAL is getting ready to move out of the basement and experience the world. We’ve just released our debut album Gospel of the Vile, an effort that has taken a very long time to complete. The reviews have been amazing, even humbling to read. Now we’re stepping up our live activity, and we’re extremely delighted to announce our commitment to NAPALM EVENTS and our shared future. Hope to see as many of you as possible in as many locations as possible, in the not too distant future!”

DWAAL are:
Bjørnar Kristiansen – vocals
Rikke Karlsen – guitar
Eigil Dragvik – guitar
Stian Hammer – bass
Siri Vestby – synth
Anders Johnsen – drums

http://facebook.com/dwaaldoom/
http://instagram.com/dwaaldoom/
https://dwaaldoom.bandcamp.com/
https://dwaal.no/
http://www.facebook.com/darkessencerecords
https://www.instagram.com/karisma_darkessence/
http://karismarecords.bandcamp.com/
https://www.darkessencerecords.no/
https://www.facebook.com/napalmevents/

Dwaal, Gospel of the Vile (2020)

Dwaal, “Like Rats” official video

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 29

Posted in Radio on March 6th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

Everything here is new. All of it. I didn’t do a classic track or anything like that. Just straight up new music. This playlist originally started coming together before I did the last episode, and I wound up scrapping it and going with the Reed Mullin tribute instead. Certainly no regrets there, but it’s not like I didn’t want to play new Candlemass, so here it is a couple weeks later.

So everything is new. Some of it is instrumental. Cegvera, Kanaan, Saturno Grooves and Kungens Män at least, and if I think a full two-hour show with 13 songs might be the fewest I’ve ever done, which means that, on average, these are the longest songs. Whatever. I thought the show hit a good flow with some rocking stuff early in new Geezer and the Maryland doom of Galactic Cross, gets super-heavy for a minute and then trips out, but whatever. If you don’t agree, don’t listen I guess. I don’t get ratings figures or anything, but I don’t imagine I’m busting the doors down at Gimme Radio every Friday at 5PM.  I know that’s drive-time, but do the ancient ways of broadcast timeslots still apply when people are using apps to hear it? Rest assured, I have no idea.

Either way, thanks if you can listen. Sorry to be a bother if you can’t. If you want to look at this is as a list of bands I think you should check out, then fine. I ain’t trying to sell anyone anything, but of course appreciate your support.

The Obelisk Show airs 5PM Eastern today at http://gimmeradio.com

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 03.06.20

Geezer Dig Groovy*
Galactic Cross Spellbound Galactic Cross*
Candlemass The Pendulum The Pendulum*
DOOL Sulfur & Starlight Summerland*
BREAK
Cegvera Red Swarm Beyond The Sixth Glare*
Dwaal Like Rats Gospel of the Vile*
Voidlurker Rotten Seed Industrial Nightmare*
Ryte Monoilth Ryte*
BREAK
Kanaan Seemingly Changeless Stars Odense Sessions*
Saturno Grooves Forever Zero Cosmic Echoes*
Foot Green Embers The Balance of Nature Shifted*
Humulus Hajra The Deep*
BREAK
Kungens Män Trappmusik Trappmusik*

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is March 20 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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Dwaal Premiere “Like Rats” Video; Gospel of the Vile Due March 6

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 6th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

dwaal

Oslo-based six-piece post-doom outfit Dwaal will issue their debut full-length, Gospel of the Vile, on March 6 through Dark Essence Records, and it is a record that immediately repositions the listener to suit its own purposes. With a strong tonal wash, overlaid vocal and synthesizer melody, “Ascent” unfolds basically as an intro for the first six minutes of the album. The track is perhaps wrongly titled for not being called “Immersion,” but it’s hard to hold that against it, particularly when it’s intended as a bookend with 16-minute closer “Descent.” What it doesn’t do, however, is prepare the listener for some of the shifts presented in “Like Rats” and the four cuts that follow, mostly notably the massive nod that ensues and the undercurrent of classic emotive death-doom that permeates. Guttural growls and lyrical introspection take hold across the second track and with an ultra-slow progression, Dwaal find a niche between styles, thoughtful on multiple levels of its execution and nigh on lush at times in how it’s produced, but still with a feeling of raw humanity coming through in those vocals and the sheer lumber of the rhythm.

Tonal largesse and rhythmic lurch are essential throughout Gospel of the Vile, but as Dwaal — who appeared at Høstsabbat in 2018 (review here) and released their debut EP, Darben, in 2017 — roll out these massive, crawling grooves, the emotional crux in the guitar and vocals is no less crucial, and neither is the sense of atmosphere. With an especially memorable guitar figure that emerges just before two minutes into its total 13:50, the title-track brings these different sides together well in such a way as to build off what seemed to be separate in “Ascent” and “Like Rats” between the ambience on one side and the extremity on another. The band flourish over their longer-form presentation, with the growls returning to highlight severity in transition from more standard shouting, and after a contemplative stretch, “Gospel of the Vile” offers some of the most humongous plod on the record that shares its name, finishing with fading amp noise into the Amenra-style tension at the start of “Obsidian Heart Burns,” which builds up over the first two minutes or so into a gruesome unfurling, willfully harsh and biting even as it maintains a deceptive patience.

dwaal gospel of the vile

That patience pays off in the midsection of the song, which layers airy guitar overtop all the crushing tone and churn, and, as the title line is delivered, sets up a righteous explosion back into the max-weight impact. Brutal. The penultimate “The Whispering One” is the shortest inclusion besides “Ascent” at just under seven minutes, but uses that time to unleash a distinctively dramatic vision of doom, a wash that isn’t at all chaotic or fast but permeated by some high-pitched frequency in its second half — is that synth? effects noise? — that adds an almost subliminal feeling of alarm or panic. It starts at 4:33. Keep an ear out. I’m not even sure if it’s supposed to be there or if it’s some glitch in the stream I was given, but it’s curious either way. It does not stop “The Whispering One” from easing smoothly into the quiet opening of “Descent,” which again, at 16:26, is something of an album unto itself, or at very least a summary and expansion on what the rest of Gospel of the Vile has to offer. The floating guitar lines, the deathly growling, throaty shouts and emotional crux both quiet and extreme come through even before the piece is halfway through, and just before eight minutes in, cleaner vocals return in fitting answer to those at the record’s outset.

They’re swallowed up soon enough by the encompassing darkness, but even as the last five minutes of “Descent” play out in slow-stomp and a subtly-constructed payoff wash of noise, the message remains that Dwaal have yet perhaps to reveal the full breadth of their sound. Obviously conscious of the presentation of their craft, I’d expect purposeful growth their next time out — that is, they sound like a band who will want to move forward from release to release, and Gospel of the Vile would essentially be the starting point of that, the prior EP notwithstanding — but the impact and ambience they bring to this six-songer isn’t to be undervalued in its own right. Still, as they move forward and refine their sound and lyrical perspective, one hopes the heft and rawness can be maintained within their subsequent work, whatever form it might take, since they do so much to make this debut hit as hard as it does.

If you’re sensitive to flashing lights and general visual chaos, watch out for the “Like Rats” video below — you might want to avert your eyes or just listen to the song and look at something else — but otherwise, dig in and enjoy. Album is out March 6.

PR wire-type info follows:

Dwaal, “Like Rats” official video premiere

From the upcoming album “Gospel Of The Vile”, to be released on Dark Essence Records on March 6th 2020

Single and album covers both made by Anders Johnsen. Video by Eigil Dragvik. Band photos by Endre Lohne.

“Like Rats” is the second single from the upcoming album Gospel Of The Vile.

Gospel of the Vile is the first full length album from this six-headed monster from Oslo, Norway, following their self-released EP Darben (2017). The music is definitely rooted in Doom Metal, bearing also clear inspiration from Post-rock, traditional Metal and the ambience of Black Metal – Resulting in a massive sound, with moments of both brutality and beauty.

The concept of the album is depicting humanity’s embracing of its inner darkness and the decline into a more primal state, with songs like “Gospel of the Vile” and “Obsidian Heart Burns” at the center of the lyrical universe. Gospel of the Vile is an album that challenges you to endure its every movement.

Dwaal is:
Bjørnar Kristiansen – Vocals
Eigil Dragvik – Guitar & Backing vocals
Rikke Karlsen – Guitar
Stian Hammer – Bass
Siri Vestby – Synth
Anders Johnsen – Drums

Dwaal on Thee Facebooks

Dwaal on Instagram

Dwaal on Bandcamp

Dwaal website

Dark Essence Records on Thee Facebooks

Dark Essence Records on Instagram

Dark Essence Records on Bandcamp

Dark Essence Records website

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Live Review: Høstsabbat 2018 Night Two in Oslo, Norway, 10.06.18

Posted in Reviews on October 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

hostsabbat 2018 poster

I knew this was going to be a quick trip, but now that I’m sitting on the other end of Høstsabbat 2018 it feels even quicker than it did on paper. Today was — church pun totally intended — little short of immaculate. It picked up from the energy and personality of yesterday’s show and directed the personalities of each stage in a different way. Upstairs on the altar, it was rock and psych for most of the night, while downstairs in the Crypt, it dug deep into post-metal. Then, for the final two acts, they pulled a total swap. Just when you think you’ve caught the pattern: no dice.

Slept hard after posting that last review and stopped at the organic market on my way back to the Kulturkirken Jakob and picked up a little natural-rubber frog for The Pecan back home, then hit the venue to check in. I should note: Coffee was had. In bulk. I didn’t count cups, but I wouldn’t have been able to keep track anyhow. I know I put down two or three before Taiga Woods were finished opening the day in the basement, and I stopped in for more several times along the way after that. Big quality of life improvement.

I’m not sure how else to say it — today was a special day. I am not young, and I have been to many shows in my time. That’s not bragging; I’ve by no means seen the most shows. But I’ve seen a few. And a day like this doesn’t come along all that often. I know already I’ll be looking back on my time here fondly. I haven’t even left the hotel to go to the airport yet, and frankly I’m already feeling nostalgic.

Thank you for reading. This is how it went:

hostsabbat art

Taiga Woods

Taiga Woods (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Rockin’ start to the proceedings. Oslo’s own Taiga Woods tapped into a traditional style of desert heavy, showing shades of Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age early on, but working their way toward their own identity in style and presence. Most of what they played came from their 2017 self-titled debut, though it’s worth noting that it would seem guitarist/vocalist Erik Skundberg has undergone a total revamp of the band in the 13 months since that LP was released, bringing on board drummer Jonatan Eikum as well as guitarist Jøran Normann, who played upstairs yesterday as a member of Lonely Kamel, and bassist Ole Ulvik Rokseth, who opened the Crypt yesterday as part of SÂVER. Familiar faces or no, that’s not a minor change when it’s three-fourths of the lineup. But as refreshing as it was to see an act get down to the ’90s roots of modern-style heavy rock, they lacked nothing for chemistry between them, and the new song “Step Up” fit well ahead the catchy “Slow Burning” as they made their way toward finishing with “The Great Machine.” I didn’t see CDs for sale, which only says to me they’re ready for someone to step up and put that record out either before or in conjunction with a new one to come.

Elephant Tree

Elephant Tree (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Maybe once — maybe — at a festival like this, I’ll see something that makes me pull the plugs out of my ears. Elephant Tree were that band at Høstsabbat. Kind of hard not to feel like the universe was doing me favors, lining up them, Asteroid and Electric Moon one into the next on the upstairs stage. The London three-piece were freshly arrived off a tour with Mothership and Stoned Jesus, and they sounded like it. I was lucky enough to see them in their hometown this past May (review here), and of course the context was different them play on an actual church altar in a room with a ceiling at least three stories high, but even so, they were locked in like a band who’ve been touring, and while they were joking around and guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley and bassist/vocalist Peter Holland were ragging on drummer Sam Hart for forgetting to get a beer before they took stage — someone brought him one — they were utterly locked in through “Dawn,” “Surma” and “Aphotic Blues” from their 2016 self-titled debut (review here). The harmonies between Townley and Holland were dead on, and they only showed progression in that regard with two new songs that carried the tentative titles “Wasted” and “Bella” before they closed out with a slowed-down cover of Black Sabbath‘s “Paranoid.” Because of the tempo, I actually thought they might dip into the Type O Negative version, but they ultimately stayed loyal at least in structure to the original. To call them a highlight of the trip would be underselling it viciously. A blast all the way through. They played Psycho Las Vegas last year, but I hope their next album brings them to the US for a full tour. They sounded ready and well up to the task.

Dwaal

Dwaal (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I knew nothing about Dwaal going into their set, and sometimes I like that. Also based in Oslo, they packed their five-piece lineup into the basement stage such that bassist Stian spent a decent portion of the set playing at least half behind a concrete support pillar. Metal. Actually, post-metal, and sludge, and doom, but fittingly atmospheric for an evening that would be headlined by Amenra. Their debut EP, Darben, came out last year comprised of two extended cuts — I’d call it a full-length since it topped 30 minutes, but why argue? — and they’ve reportedly got an album in the works, and while I don’t know if the bulk of what they played was new or older, their aggression and their level of crushing riffing were obviously a far cry from both Elephant Tree and Taiga Woods, but they marked the beginning point of a second thread running throughout the evening, which comprised more ambient and aggro post-whatnottery in contrast to the more rock-minded or psychedelic fare. Either way, the room knew them more than I did and they had heads banging and nodding in front of the “stage” — that’s not to say “the spot on the floor where the rug was” — and on the side as well, which was closed yesterday and opened today presumably to accommodate a broader flux of attendees. It was full for Dwaal, and reasonably so.

Asteroid

Asteroid (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Such boogie. Such warmth. I mean, come on. All other things in the universe being equal — especially money — the chance to see Asteroid alone would’ve justified this trip. I made my way up early to the Chapel stage, to make sure I got a spot up front to see them, and was rewarded with a set that gracefully spanned all three of their albums to-date and found them jamming out psychedelic heavy blues with a naturalism that was present not only in the individual tones and voices of guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse and bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson, or the swing and shuffle in Jimmi Kohlscheen‘s drumming, but in the sonic conversation between the the three of them. That might be the most classic aspect of the Örebro trio’s sound, and it’s something that comes across on their records as well — their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here), 2010’s II (review here) and 2016’s return from hiatus, III (review here) — but of course, to see it in the moment as it’s happening, to see them make the easy shift between “Garden” and “Disappear” or to have them turn to the riffy “Speaking to the Sea” from the first album ahead of “Mr. Strange” from the latest one, it was all the more powerful of an impression made. I hear tell there’s new material in the works; songs coming together for the next record and plans to tour ahead of hitting the studio. As Asteroid have been off and on the better part of the last five years, it only bodes well to know they’re thinking ahead for good things to come. They only make the world a better place for existing, and the more they do that, the merrier.

The Moth Gatherer

The Moth Gatherer (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Back downstairs for more post-metallic volume assault. Sweden’s The Moth Gatherer in some ways picked up where Dwaal left off, but traded in some of the rawness of their Crypt-stage predecessors for an even-more atmospheric take. They had an EP out last year called The Comfortable Low, but their latest full-length was 2015’s The Earth is the Sky (review here), and their more post-rock-based style sat well with the crowd downstairs that was packed to capacity with a line outside waiting to get in as other people made their way out. A very thoughtful, progressive sound nonetheless had its share of claustrophobia, which was all the more fitting given the basement where they played, and watching them, it was evident just how righteously Høstsabbat had managed to capture not just a “club show” experience with its smaller stage, but more like a house show. To low light and periodically bludgeoning intensity, The Moth Gatherer filled that Crypt with sound as much as people, and they were a band I’d probably never have the chance to see anywhere else, so I felt all the more fortunate for the chance to do so here, in that small room where the walls seemed so ready to cave in at a moment’s notice. The thread that started with Dwaal and continued with The Moth Gatherer would pick up again with Amenra at the end, but there was still more rock to be had first.

Electric Moon

Electric Moon (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Before the German instrumentalist space/psych jammers got started, they shared a hug on the side of the stage, and then guitarist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt got on mic and wished everyone a pleasant flight. With the core trio of the band made all the more lush owing to guest synth from Burt Rocket (SEID) at the center of the stage, that trip took off quickly and didn’t bother to look back at ground below. Schmidt and bassist/sometimes-vocalist “Komet Lulu” Neudeck were rejoined by original drummer Pablo Carneval about a year ago, and their adventures only seemed to take them farther and farther out as their set went on, washes of guitar and synth floating up to the high ceiling while the bass and drums held together a fluidity of groove that showed the band for the masters of the form — such as it is a “form” with a sound so utterly molten — that they are. I’ve been lucky enough to catch them at Roadburn in years past (review here) and with their members in various projects, as the band’s pedigree runs through acts like Zone Six and Weltraumstaunen, Krautzone, etc., but to see Electric Moon on stage is something unto itself. They’re never overly showy in terms of thrashing about or anything, but the experience of their sonic exploration comes through vividly as they play, and that suits the laid back feel of the resultant material itself perfectly. They did not in any way fail to invite the audience along on what indeed turned out to be a pleasurable, radiant-in-the-sense-of-light journey.

Brutus

Brutus (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I did not see nearly enough of Brutus. They were killer, and they were killing, and I did not see nearly enough of them doing it. To be fair to myself, I’d probably say the same if I’d managed to watch their full set, but the Norwegian traditionalist heavy rockers headlined in the Crypt, and they had the basement of Kulturkirken Jakob so jammed with bodies that for the first time in the whole weekend, I felt the press of the crowd almost knock me over up front. And even if I do at some point in my life get to see Brutus again, chances are, it won’t be in the kind of situation where I’m in danger of tripping over the stage monitors on the floor because of the push of people behind me, so I relished the opportunity while I could. And Brutus — clearly hometown heroes of boozy riff-purveyance — were a thrill to behold in that headlining spot. They could’ve played upstairs easily, I’m sure, but despite their sonic discrepancy with The Moth Gatherer and Dwall directly before, they made that basement into a party all the way, and while I knew that in just a little while, Amenra were going to close out the festival on a much darker note, the chance to see Brutus play, and to play in a place that small, wasn’t to be overlooked. I didn’t see enough of it, but I’m grateful for what I did catch, because that’s not an opportunity that will come along often, if it ever does again at all.

Amenra

Amenra (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The Belgian post-metal kingpins have toured the US more than a couple of times at this point, I believe most recently as support for the wallop duo of Neurosis and Converge — their also on the former’s label, Neurot Recordings — but I’m still not sure America really appreciates just how huge Amenra are in Europe. They’re gods here. I knew that from seeing them at Roadburn in 2016, but the intervening years have only seen them all the more don a headliner role. They would seem to have taken the post-metal crown that once belonged to Cult of Luna, and while I’ll admit I could in no way match my fellow fest-goers’ sense of worship when it came time for them to go on, there’s absolutely nothing one can take away either from their intensity or their obvious dedication to how they present themselves. I don’t know if it would be possible to find a more fitting locale for Amenra to play than in a church with cathedral ceilings of height enough for their projections to be shown massively to the assembled congregation, but even if you discount all of that, and ignore the we-play-in-the-dark-until-the-strobes-hit lighting and the fact that frontman Colin H. van Eeckhout doesn’t face the audience until the last song, if then, they’re still a formidable presence live, and there would’ve been nowhere else to put them on the Høstsabbat bill if they weren’t at the top of it. I’m not 100 percent sure I’m ready to call myself a full-on convert to the “church of ra,” as they put it, but I definitely didn’t have any trouble seeing the appeal of their dogma. And I reserve the right to become a total fanboy at some later date.

I left out of Kulturkirken Jakob into the chilly Oslo air without my hoodie on. Just wanted to feel that cold as it was rather than shy away from it. Something about the sensory experience on my bare neck and forearms seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s coming up on three in the morning CET and my flight is at nine-something, so I won’t get to see a lot of the city on this trip. Maybe that was my way of taking as much of it in as I could.

When I got back around the block to the Anker Hotel, I messaged Johannes from Asteroid. We had talked earlier in the day about doing an interview for “The Obelisk Show” on Gimme Radio, and it didn’t happen at the venue, but I thought if they were around the hotel maybe it could work. Was worth a shot, anyhow. Robin was asleep, but I chatted in the hotel bar with Johannes and Jimmi, and that was a blast. I spoke with Elephant Tree earlier in the day as well, and with Ole Helstad and Jens Storaker, who run the fest, so I think I’ll probably just dedicate a whole episode to having been here. I think I have a few weeks before I get there, but I’ll keep you posted.

I haven’t sorted any pics yet from tonight, so need to do that, but I’m not sleepy yet, so hopefully my brain won’t come crashing down before I have to leave for the airport. Help me, last tiny drops of adrenaline.

My eyelids are getting heavy just thinking about it.

I can’t possibly thank you enough for reading if you have.

Thank you.

Thank you so much to Jens and to Ole for having me back here. Thank you to The Patient Mrs. and to Cate Wright for taking on my Pecan duties in my absence. Thank you to my mother and my sister for their undying support. My only hope is they know how grateful I am for it. Thanks to Falk-Hagen Bernshausen for always being so great to run into at fests, to Andrea who I met here, to Kai, who is an institution unto himself, to Pete, Jack and Sam from Elephant Tree, to Robin, Johannes and Jimmi from Asteroid, to Sula Bassana, Martin from Domkraft, Jens Heide, Lex and everyone else I spoke to over the last two days who said hi. It’s hugely appreciated and humbling. People say nice things. It feels good. Thank you.

Alright. On to photos, and then to shower, and then to airport. I doubt I’ll have it in me to post again before I’m back home, and don’t look for much on Monday, but really, one more time, thank you. So much. I don’t even get it, how lucky I am. My soul feels restored for having been here.

Thank you for that.

Pics after the jump.

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