The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal Playlist: Episode 60

Posted in Radio on May 28th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

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So this is episode 60 of the bi-weekly The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal. Yeah, I know the banner above still says ‘Radio.’ I think it still gets the point across and I haven’t had time to make a new banner. In any case, I never would’ve guessed that I’d still be doing this thing for well over two years at this point. I don’t remember the date of the first episode, but I started keeping track of playlists at episode 06 and that was Dec. 2018. Was a pretty good show, too.

I’m not really doing anything special for the ‘anniversary,’ such as it is. But the show kind of works in stages, pushing into some progressive and/or psychedelic black metal before diving into heavy Americana, melancholia and doom and ultimately rounding out with SÂVER, whose 19-minute “Dimensions Lost, Obscured by Aeons” was too perfect a capper not to include. It’s something a little different than the usual heavy rock or psych or doom fare, but still tangential. Oh, and The Pecan puts a guest appearance in for the voice tracks. Always nice when he shows up.

Thanks for listening and/or reading. As always, I hope you enjoy.

The Obelisk Show airs 5PM Eastern today on the Gimme app or at http://gimmemetal.com

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 05.28.21

Vouna Hightest Mountain Atropos
Archaeopteris Visions Chaotiques Visions Chaotiques d’un Songe Halluncine
Deathspell Omega Renegade Ashes The Furnaces of Palingenesia
VT1
Olson, Van Cleef, Williams The Cool Mule Unleash the Hoof’s Revenge
All Them Witches See You Next Fall Nothing as the Ideal
Earth An inquest Concerning Teeth Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method
Crippled Black Phoenix In the Night Ellengaest
Convocation Portal Closed Ashes Coalesce
VT2
Enslaved As Fire Swept Clean the Earth Below the Lights
Sur Austru Ucenicii din Hârtop I Obâr?ie
Oranssi Pazuzu Tyhjyyden sakramentti Mestarin kynsi
Glacial Tomb Worldsflesh Worldsflesh
VT3
SÂVER Dimensions Lost, Obscured by Aeons Emerald

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is June 11 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

london-news-etching-1854-newcastle-upon-tyne

[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.

ukmedsnorx.com/zopiclone
ukmedsnorx.com/zolpidem

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

Notes: To say nothing of the honorable mentions that follow the rest of the list below, immediately we see the problem of so-many-albums-not-enough-space. People talk about a top 50 as ridiculous, like there’s no way you can like that much music. Bullshit. I agonized over how to fit Sun Crow on this list because their Quest for Oblivion felt like it deserved to be here. Ditto that for Arcadian Child. And the achievements of bands like Kadavar, 1000mods and Switchblade Jesus and Insect Ark in breaking the boundaries of their own aesthetics deserve every accolade they can get, and likewise those who progressed in their sound like Cortez, Shadow Witch, Lord Fowl, Hymn, Foot, Black Rainbows, Deathwhite and IAH. Add to that the debuts from Atramentus, Dirt Woman, Jointhugger, Acid Mess and Sergio Ch.’s Soldati, and you’ve got a batch of 20 records — some born of this year’s malaise, some working in spite of it — that vary in sound but are working to push their respective styles to new places one way or the other.

30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

There was no shortage of anticipation for what L.A. cultists High Priestess would do to follow their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), and the three-piece did not disappoint, instead gave a ritual mass that included the 17-minute concept piece “Invocation” alongside infectious and ethereal melodies like “The Hourglass.” And now that the circle’s been cast? Seems like they can do anything.

29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Oct. 12.

High-powered cosmic metal from Finland pulling apart heavy psychedelia on an atomic level with an urgency that speaks of youth, progress and an ingrained need for exploration? Sign me up. A lot of bands on this list put out their first album this year. There are few for whom my hopes are as high as they are for Polymoon. If you haven’t yet heard Caterpillars of Creation, do.

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

Of the sundry horrors 2020 wrought, a new album from long-running Toronto three-piece Sons of Otis was an unexpected positive, and their ultra-spaced, murky riffs on their first studio album since 2012’s Seismic (review here, also here) launched like a slow-motion escape pod of righteous doom (s)tonality. There will never be another Sons of Otis. Be thankful for everything you get from them.

27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

Organ, Mellotron, sitar, acoustic and electric guitars, various percussion elements, and of course the inimitable fragility in Craig Williamson‘s voice itself — the ingredients for Lamp of the Universe‘s Dead Shrine were familiar enough for those familiar with the one-man outfit running more than two decades, but the lush acid folk created remains a standout the world over. Dead Shrine was a much-needed gift of peace and meditation.

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

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

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

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

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

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

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

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

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

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

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

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

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

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

Ahab, Live Prey
Amenra, Mass VI Live
Arcadian Child, From Far, for the Wild (Live in Linz)
Author and Punisher, Live 2020 B.C.
Cherry Choke, Raising Salzburg Rockhouse
Dead Meadow, Live at Roadburn 2011
Dirty Streets, Rough and Tumble
Electric Moon, Live at Freak Valley Festival 2019
Kadavar, Studio Live Session Vol. 1
King Buffalo, Live at Freak Valley
Monte Luna, Mind Control Broadcast
Orange Goblin, Rough & Ready: Live and Loud
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, Lantlôs, 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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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal Playlist: Episode 49

Posted in Radio on December 23rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

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I was kicking around the idea of not doing a year-end list for 2020. Honestly, between this episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal and the last one, that pretty much covers my picks, and who the hell cares about what order they’re in? It’s December and everyone and their brother has a list out. Do we really need another one? I’m doing a Quarterly Review right now, covering more music. To me, that seems like a more righteous cause.

Of course, I’ll probably end up doing a list anyway next week, but in the meantime, if you’re looking for a soundtrack to your in-quarantine holiday experience, the second half of the ‘Some of the Best of 2020’ spectacular should do well in getting you through the evening. I’m to understand we’ll be breaking travel protocols myself, so if I get the plague that is even as we speak ravaging my homeland, at least I will have deserved it. Firelung and whatnot.

Thanks for listening and reading. New art coming soon.

The Obelisk Show airs 5PM Eastern today on the Gimme app or at http://gimmemetal.com

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 12.25.20

Elephant Tree Bird Habits
Pallbearer Vengeance & Ruination Forgotten Days
Tony Reed Might Just Funeral Suit
Grayceon This Bed MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES
All Them Witches 41 Nothing as the Ideal
VT
Brant Bjork Cleaning out the Ashtray Brant Bjork
Soldati From Skulls Doom Nacional
Backwoods Payback God Smack VA – Alice in Chains Dirt: Redux
High Priestess The Hourglass Casting the Circle
Curse the Son Black Box Warning Excruciation
Elder Halcyon Omens
Black Rainbows Master Rocket Power Blast Cosmic Ritual Supertrip
Dirt Woman Fades to Greed The Glass Cliff
Polymoon Silver Moon Caterpillars of Creation
Enslaved Distant Seasons Utgard
Cinder Well Fallen No Summer
Geezer Drowning on Empty Groovy
Ruff Majik Lead Pills and Thrills The Devil’s Cattle

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is Jan. 8 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

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Stream Review: Enslaved, Utgard – The Journey Within

Posted in Reviews on October 2nd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

enslaved

One day ahead of its release date — which is today for those of you not confined in a temporal loop — Enslaved‘s 15th full-length, Utgard (review here), received an airing as the final installment of what was billed as the Norwegian progressive black metallers’ ‘Cinematic Summer Tour.’ Such as it was — and it was more “cinematic” than it was “tour,” of course owing to circumstances outside the band’s control — the tour consisted of three filmed shows. A fan-picked setlist titled ‘Chronicles of the Northbound’ (review here) was streamed at the end of July. A set playing 2003’s Below the Lights in full followed, and finally, the album to which it all was leading, Utgard, got its due. Sort of.

As new album celebrations go, Utgard – The Journey Within was somewhat brief. The press info for the stream used the language, “they’ll be performing several tracks [from Utgard] for the first time ever,” so I wasn’t necessarily expecting them to play the entire record front to back, though that might’ve been feasible, time-wise; it’s 44 minutes long and the whole stream here ended up being 45. But the performance itself, which true to the others was impeccably directed and shot — foggy at the start, but dramatic with a hooded and spoken intro and professional lights, sound and editing; very much a concert film, complete with title cards before each song — ran about 23 minutes and featured just four songs in “Jettegryta,” “Homebound,” “Urjotun” and “Flight of Thought and Memory.”

enslaved 2

Look. I ain’t complaining. The stuff sounded great. I think I liked the balance of the mix in “Homebound” between the keys and guitars even better than on the album, and I got a new appreciation for how much bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson actually sings clean on “Jettegryta” alongside keyboardist Håkon Vinje, never mind VinjeKjellson and drummer Iver Sandøy coming together to all sing on “Flight of Thought and Memory.” The krautrock aspects of “Urjotun” came through all the more in the “live” setting, and with the LP fresh in mind, I felt fortunate to be as close as that to actually experiencing the material on stage. And it was free. Bands out there are charging fans far more and delivering far less.

They did justice to what they played, but album opener “Fires in the Dark,” “Sequence,” “Storms of Utgard” and the rousing finale “Distant Seasons” felt missing — especially the opener and the closer. Even if the band hadn’t wanted to delve further into the atmospheric parts of “Fires in the Dark” or the spoken LP-centerpiece “Utgardr,” there was plenty more to work from. Maybe they didn’t want to give everything away ahead of the actual release. Maybe between the pandemic and the sundry other manifestations of chaos this brutal year has wrought the band hasn’t even had the opportunity to get the other songs ready for the stage. Certainly possible. Maybe they figured by the third streaming show everyone would be tired of them? I don’t know.

Iver Sandøy

But either way, Enslaved have 15 records, so it’s not like they couldn’t have filled out the set if they chose to do so. As it was, they wrapped up playing and the camera followed as they adjourned upstairs for some conversation (in Norwegian) and cake and champagne to celebrate the release. KjellsonVinje, Sandøy, guitarists Ivar Bjørnson and Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal all shook hands and tossed back some wine, and then the camera cut to Bjørnson on his own, who revealed the band were planning something for the winter solstice — Dec. 20 — and thanked everyone for their support. After that, they capped with encore airings of “The Crossing” from the Below the Lights stream and “Fenris” from 1994’s Frost as played in ‘Chronicles of the Northbound.’

Welcome enough, if a little anticlimactic despite the news-drop that they’ve got something else in the works. It was hard not to come away from ‘Utgard – The Journey Within’ wanting more, and now that I say that outright, perhaps that was the idea all along. Less of a celebration of the release than a teaser, maybe. Highlighting the tracks that have been released as singles — “Jettegryta,” “Homebound” and “Urjotun” all have videos out (posted here) — and giving just a glimpse of a deeper dive into the album with “Flight of Thought and Memory.” If that’s what they were going for, then fair enough. One way or the other, it’s hard not to long for the day Enslaved can be experienced live again in a concert setting — 2021? 2022? ever? — and the vital force of their stage presence and command of their creativity was reaffirmed. Was it ever in doubt? Nope, but like I said, I ain’t complaining.

enslaved handshakes

I watched this with my son, The Pecan, who turns three next month. He knows “quiet songs” and “loud songs” and generally prefers the latter when we’re driving, and he’s interested in seeing guitars and drums on tv and whatnot. My wife, The Patient Mrs., was teaching a college class in other room, working remotely. I changed a poopy diaper during “Urjotun” and he played with trucks for a while as he will these days when blowing off what used to be afternoon naptime. The point of telling you this? It goes to the running theme of life-reorganization that one has found without the actual going-to-a-show ritual.

Perhaps the crucial insight that there’s a big difference between putting something on the television and entering a venue to see a band live isn’t particularly deep, but if anything, the advent of streaming shows like this and the multitudes now happening from around the world demonstrate how important to the core of people’s being creativity is and needs to be. If you’re passionate about something, you find a way. It’s not easy, and always ideal, and sometimes it doesn’t turn out to be what you thought it was going to be when you started. Welcome to existence. But you find a way. This is the way for now. Fine.

Enslaved are participating in a follow-up Q&A session at 2PM Eastern today on their YouTube channel, linked below. Utgard is available now on Nuclear Blast.

Thanks for reading.

Enslaved, ‘Utagard – The Journey Within’ limited-time stream

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Album Review: Enslaved, Utgard

Posted in Reviews on September 29th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

enslaved utgard

Few bands last. Fewer still last while maintaining their commitment to creative progression, and Bergen, Norway’s Enslaved have pushed themselves forward once again with Utgard in broad-reaching and exciting ways. The album is their sixth to be delivered through Nuclear Blast, and as the band approach their 30th anniversary in 2021, they seem to enter an entirely new era of their sound, more boldly engaging with the krautrock and prog influences they’ve touted for years and bringing them into their long-established extreme metal context.

The founding duo of bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson and guitarist/sometimes backing vocalist Ivar Bjørnson, along with Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, who joined in 2002, have set the band on a trajectory over the course of their career, and Utgard — which runs nine songs and 44 minutes, making it the shortest full-length they’ve put out since 1998’s Blodhemn — is a fitting next step along their path. At the same time, from the choral vocals that start opener “Fires in the Dark” and running through the additional percussion in “Jettegryta,” the almost poppy melody in the hook of “Sequence” offset delightfully by Kjellson‘s rasp, the darkened space rock thrust of “Homebound” and the galloping culmination to which it leads, on and on across the clearly-delineated two sides of the LP, Utgard also sees Enslaved more committed to embodying “progressive black metal” as an ideal than they would ever have seemed to be, and it toys with the balance between the progressive and the charred with grace and an electrifying sense of creativity.

On 2017’s E (review here), the group introduced keyboardist Håkon Vinje, and in taking up the clean-vocal role formerly occupied by Herbrand Larsen, Vinje soared. He does so again throughout Utgard, but Enslaved have made another pivotal change in personnel, bidding farewell to drummer Cato Bekkevold after 15 years and bringing aboard Iver Sandøy, who also adds clean vocals to complement those of Vinje. Sandøy — who has worked with Ivar Bjørnson in other projects like his Skuggsjá collaboration with Einar Selvik — is also a noted producer in Bergen and has engineered on Enslaved albums going back a decade to 2010’s Axioma Ethica Odini (review here), but again, by bringing him into the band as well as having him helm the recording, it is one more way in which Enslaved are adjusting the balance of what they do in order to discover new breadth in their aesthetic.

As the “new guys,” Vinje and Sandøy make formidable contributions to Utgard‘s songs, and from the lushness in the momentary atmospheric break of “Sequence” and the harmonies that follow to the unabashed kraut-ness of the electronica fusion at the outset of side B’s “Urjotun,” they are crucial in Enslaved‘s success across the record’s span.

It is worth underscoring that, even with the shifts in lineup that recent years have brought, and with the movement toward prog in their sound, Utgard is still very much an Enslaved record. Kjellson stakes his claim to the forefront early following the Viking chants at the outset of “Fires in the Dark” — one imagines them playing that song in open air to stirring effect to begin a set at the 2020 Fire in the Mountains festival in Wyoming, which Bjørnson was to have curated — and themes of heritage, mythology, and even the symbolism of the crow in Truls Espedal‘s cover art feel like a part of the longer narrative the band has been conveying at some level for nearly the last 20 years.

enslaved

What Utgard shows, however, is just how vast the idea of being “an Enslaved record” can be nearly 30 years into the band’s career. The droning, spoken-word semi-title-track “Utgardr” carries an experimental feel that builds into “Urjotun” and reminds of Bjørnson‘s Bardspec project, and just two songs later, the furious double-kick and harsh vocals in the verse of “Flight of Thought and Memory” offer one of Utgard‘s most pummeling moments. That’s soon offset by Vinje‘s extended chorus, but the point and the contrast holds true, and even as they move toward that highlight cut’s crescendo, they do so with exacting propulsion, leading to a quieter finish and silence ahead of “Storms of Utgard” and the finale “Distant Seasons,” the former marked out by its straight-ahead structural approach as well as its tambourine and the latter something of a hidden gem that seals the band’s ultimate triumph in a mere four and a half minutes.

“Distant Seasons” finishes not so much summarizing Enslaved‘s achievements across the preceding tracks, but using them as a preface to go even further into a wash of melody and thereby leave their listenership with the clear message that the journey — that undertaken by the band and joined by the audience — isn’t over yet. And indeed, it might not be. The ideal Enslaved are chasing on Utgard is not a static target. It is an evolving notion of creativity, and as much as these songs are able to do in setting themselves as a landmark, “Distant Seasons” leaves one assured that Enslaved have yet more exploring to do.

The advent of Vinje in the band was a significant distinguishing factor of E from recent predecessors like 2015’s In Times (review here) and 2012’s Riitiir (review here), as he bolstered the tenets of their sound and helped bring new ideas to the fore. Sandøy, as a drummer, backing vocalist and presence in the production, would seem to have no less of an effect throughout Utgard, and as a result, continue to sound refreshed. It would be hyperbole to say they come across like a new band — because, come on, it’s their 15th record; also one wouldn’t want to belittle either their experience as songwriters or the overarching nature of their progression — but as resonant and masterful as Utgard is, it’s also brimming with possibilities for how the new ideas it presents might flourish in works to come.

Few bands last. Fewer still last while growing. Almost nobody can look back on 30 years of breaking ground and still leave a listener with the notion that the best may be yet to come. Enslaved have been around long enough that their audience can pick and choose favorite albums from along the way, but Utgard is a singular accomplishment, and thinking of the band as a life’s work for Kjellson and Bjørnson, all the more worthy of that designation. Recommended.

Enslaved, “Urjotun” official video

Enslaved, “Jettegryta” official video

Enslaved, “Homebound” official video

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Enslaved Change Date for Utgard – The Journey Within Streaming Event

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 18th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

enslaved

I’m listening to the new Enslaved album for the first time as I write this and they’re barely three minutes into it before they reaffirm both the brutality and the progressivism at heart on their sound. Seriously, I’m on track one and they sound like they wilfully constructed the lineup to bring the most out of this material. I’m impatient to hear more even as I’m hearing it.

The band has rescheduled the final date of their virtual tour to Oct. 1, the day before the album comes out on Nuclear Blast. Fair enough. They’ll play songs from the record to herald its arrival. Whatever dudes, just take my money.

Check out the preview video with bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson and the prominently displayed vinyl of the second Lennon-Claypool Delirium album. That record ruled.

From the PR wire:

ENSLAVED VIRTUAL TOUR UPDATE

ENSLAVED ANNOUNCE NEW DATE FOR SUMMER BREEZE ‘UTGARD – THE JOURNEY WITHIN’ RELEASE EVENT + LIVE Q&A

NEW ALBUM, UTGARD, OUT OCTOBER 2ND

RELEASE EVENT: OCTOBER 1ST @ 11AM PT/2PM ET
Q&A: OCTOBER 2ND @ 11AM PT/2PM ET

Enslaved are preparing for the final act of their Cinematic Summer Tour – now due to take place on Thursday 1st of October at 7pm BST / 8pm CEST. This virtual release event ‘Utgard – The Journey Within’ is named after their upcoming studio album Utgard (out on the 2nd of October), from which they’ll be performing several tracks for the first time ever.

The show is a collaboration with respected Dinkelsbühl, Germany metal festival Summer Breeze who have been long-time friends and supporters of the band. The performance will be presented by Louder alongside their sister sites Prog and Metal Hammer, who will also be hosting an exclusive Facebook Q&A with the band the following day also at 7pm BST / 8pm CEST – the day Utgard is revealed to the world.

Enslaved launched an exclusive merchandise range to accompany the Cinematic Summer Tour, with designs viewable below inc. more information. To give everyone the chance to be part of this completely novum in music, all three shows will be free of charge, however Enslaved have launched a donation link if fans wish to make a contribution towards the costs of putting the shows on.
Donation link: paypal.me/enslavedofficial

Purchase exclusive Cinematic Summer Tour merch here:
US store enslaved.aisamerch.com / EU store enslaved.aisamerch.de

For this forward-thinking concept, ENSLAVED joined forces with three festivals, to present fans with three different shows:

July 30th – in cooperation with Roadburn, the tour launched with a “Chronicles Of The Northbound” show.
August 20th – this second show was a “Below The Lights” set, presented by Beyond The Gates festival.
October 1st – the band will end their virtual tour at Summer Breeze festival with a presentation of some new songs, for their release event “Utgard – The Journey Within“. Presented by Louder.

Enslaved is:
Ivar Bjørnson – guitar
Grutle Kjellson – vocals/bass
Ice Dale – guitar
Håkon Vinje – keys/vocals
Iver Sandøy – drums

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Enslaved Post “Urjotun” Video

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

enslaved urjotun

It does not take Enslaved all that long to upend decades of listener expectation with the latest single from the upcoming Utgard LP, which is set to release on Oct. 2. That’s one month from tomorrow, and as we move into the period of time whereby it begins to cause me physical pain that I’ve not yet heard the album in its entirety, “Urjotun” does precious little to quell the yearning. The Norwegian progressive black metallers wholeheartedly embrace their krautrock side in the four-minute track — even before reading the press release below, my first thought when I heard the initial keyboard line was “Kraftwerk” — and with lyrics about the cosmic birth of gods, it’s a fittingly weirded-out and somehow-grand backdrop for what plays through.

You’ll note in the image above that the crow that has featured in other recent Enslaved videos “Homebound” (posted here) and “Jettegryta” (posted here) — as well as on the cover of Utgard itself — makes an appearance, and “Urjotun” is further enhanced by the artwork of one Kim Holm, with whom it has been my absolute pleasure to work in the past at Roadburn in the Netherlands. Dude is maddeningly talented and his art fits smoothly the atmosphere of this track. I may have missed posting it before, but I wanted to make sure to put the tracklisting for Utgard here as well, because now that there are three songs out from the record — the band will also play it live in a streamed show on Sept. 30 — it’s a little more possible to get a sense of the shape of the whole release. I’m intensely curious as to what “Urjotun” leads to in “Flight of Thought and Memory” and “Storms of Utgard,” but then, I’m intensely curious pretty much as to the entire album.

Clip follows here, along with preorder links and more info from the PR wire.

Enjoy:

Enslaved, “Urjotun” official video

From the new ENSLAVED album ‘UTGARD’, out on October 2nd: https://nblast.de/Enslaved-Utgard. Subscribe to Nuclear Blast YouTube: http://nblast.de/NBytb / Subscribe to Enslaved YouTube: http://bit.ly/subs-enslavd-yt

Norway’s premier progressive black metallers Enslaved have today released third single ‘Urjotun’ from their upcoming studio album Utgard – out October 2nd via Nuclear Blast. The single, one of their most experimental yet, is accompanied by a psychedelic video detailing dark visions and a journey to the outer reaches of the subconscious.

Vocalist Grutle Kjellson commented:
“The lyrical idea for Urjotun had been spinning around in the chaos in the back of my head for quite a while, when Ivar sent me the riff-demo last autumn. I knew instantly that this was it, the very soundtrack of the rise of the primeval giant, the Urjotun! Our mutual love and fascination for that early krautrock scene and for bands like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, finally fully ascended in an Enslaved song, almost 30 years after we picked up those legendary kraut-albums. It’s funny, that in Germany they referred to this kind of music as “Kosmische Musik”, cosmic music! And, that is exactly what this song is about; cosmic chaos. On top of this, director David Hall, made a perfect projection and visualization of our troubled minds”

Produced and Directed by David Hall
Illustrations by Den Unge Herr Holm
Actor: Kelsey Watkinson

Utgard tracklisting:
1. Fires In The Dark
2. Jettegryta
3. Sequence
4. Homebound
5. Utgardr
6. Urjotun
7. Flight Of Thought And Memory
8. Storms Of Utgard
9. Distant Seasons

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Stream Review: Enslaved, ‘Chronicles of the Northbound,’ 07.30.20

Posted in Reviews on July 31st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

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I kind of rolled my eyes last month when Norwegian progressive black metallers Enslaved announced their ‘Cinematic Summer Tour,’ but from the sweeping ambient camera shots that launched the proceedings of the Roadburn-presented ‘Chronicles of the Northbound’ hour-long set to the sense of ceremony with which they wrapped up “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” chanting over acoustic guitar, the emphasis indeed was on a cinematic feel. Visually and aurally, this was a produced affair — far from the rawness that some live streams shoot for — much more of a concert film. They may have played the songs live, but it was a live stream premiere rather than a live show happening at the moment it aired, though as the long-running Bergen, Norway, five-piece tore through the fan-selected setlist, it was hard not to be blown away anyhow by the force of the show they put on.

One has to think it helps that drummer Iver Sandøy is a noted music producer in terms of the sound captured. Bassist/founder Grutle Kjellson‘s telltale rasp came through with a studio-quality fullness that was a close match to some of what Enslaved have done on their albums, and in addition to apparently being the kind of percussionist who can tear into blastbeats on “Fenris” from 1994’s sophomore outing, Frost, Sandøy — who joined the band in 2018 — periodically added harmonies to the clean vocals of keyboardist Håkon Vinje, who made his debut enslavedwith Enslaved on 2017’s E (review here) and only sounded more integrated in the band on the older material here. Vinje and Sandøy quickly brought a marked sense of presence to “Ethica Odini” from 2010’s Axioma Ethica Odini (review here) at the start of the set, and Vinje‘s and Kjellson‘s subsequent handling of the chorus to “Roots of the Mountain” was likewise a soaring early highlight that preceded the more dug-in vibes of “Fenris” and “793 (Slaget om Lindisfarne),” the latter epic taken from 1997’s Eld.

The live chat on the YouTube feed, which gives one an odd sense of togetherness while watching something like this, blew up at that point. People had been well on board with “Fenris” and the organ that kept it in line with the more recent, progressive fare surrounding, but when “793” hit, there was a palpable sense of digitally-expressed joy and copious exclamation points. Well earned on the band’s part, twisting through the various stretches of that track before bringing things back to ground with the landmark title-cut of 2004’s Isa; the song that made black metal swing and the album that set Enslaved on the proggier path they’ve spent the last 16 years marching. The placement of its hook after the more expansive “793” was a clever way to snag wandering or otherwise hypnotized attentions, and the keys running alongside the guitars of Ivar Bjørnson and Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal sounded incredible. Really. I took notes of the setlist while watching, and next to “Isa” I wrote: “keys sound incredible.” I stand by it.

It was a little bit of a bummer not to hear anything off the forthcoming Utgard album that Nuclear Blast will release on Oct. 2 — they’ve put out videos thus far for “Homebound” (posted here) and “Jettegryta” (posted here) — and having asked to hear the record in advance and been shut down for not being cool enough, twice as much so. Still, Enslaved will wrap the cinematic tour with a full performance of the album on Sept. 30 co-presented by the Summer Breeze Festival, so they’ll take care of it one way or the other, and I found no argument with the fan-picked songs they played. “The Watcher,” which caps 2008’s Vertebrae, is one of few pieces that could hope to follow “Isa” and not stand in its shadow in terms of chorus grandiosity, and as they tore through it — again with Vinje making his presence felt — and shifted into “Death in the Eyes of Dawn,” I suddenly realized just how quickly the stated hour of the set was proceeding.

Taken from 2012’s Riitiir (review here), “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” enabled the band to express many of the strengths of their current incarnation. After the memorable “Isa” and “The Watcher,” “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” unfolded with a more progressive feel, still keeping extremity at its core, but allowing room for Sandøy to return on harmonies with Vinje, and finding Isdal moving to acoustic for the Viking-folk finish already noted. Along the way, the various turns and executions were sharply brought to bear and the band as a whole handled the song with the poise of the established masters they are. In reality, one could hardly have expected less. I could’ve done with more shots of Sandøy at work, but that might just be curiosity as well to see what “the new guy” is up to behind the kit. The final setlist:

“Ethica Odini”
“Roots of the Mountain”
“Fenris”
“793 (Slaget om Lindisfarne)”
“Isa”
“The Watcher”
“Death in the Eyes of Dawn”

Though the presentation style was something of a surprise, the manner in which Enslaved proceeded through that set brought a live enslaved pretend tourshow’s intensity to such outright professional smoothness, making for a showcase worthy of the scope of 20-plus years the band wound up covering. For those seeking a rawer take from Enslaved, I might suggest their 2017 offering, Roadburn Live (review here), recorded in 2015 when Bjørnson curated alongside Wardruna‘s Einar Selvik. That was Enslaved‘s first official live release, and it was before either Vinje or Sandøy were in the band — between the two of them, they simply bring the melodic reach to a new level — but I wouldn’t be surprised either if this ‘Chronicles of the Northbound’ set showed up as a live album either, or a BluRay/video download or some such kind of A/V outing. While the quality of the product was outstanding for a live stream, frankly, to have it end there seems like a waste of material, even with the special merch they’ve made available.

As one looks forward to the arrival of Utgard this Fall, and mourns the actual-touring Enslaved won’t get to do to herald its coming, the start of their cinematic tour was a refresher on just how far the band has pushed their sound and their live chemistry and how — as they approach 30 years from their founding by Bjørnson and Kjellson in 1991 — they only continue to grow and evolve.

Enslaved‘s cinematic tour continues on Aug. 20 playing Below the Lights in full as presented by Beyond the Gates Festival, and wraps with the aforementioned Sept. 30 rendition of Utgard presented by Summer Breeze. I’ll hope to have more on Utgard closer to the release, and thanks for reading in the meantime.

Enslaved, ‘Chronicles of the Northbound’ live stream (limited time only)

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