Quarterly Review: High on Fire, Ruff Majik, Merlin, Workshed, E-L-R, Sibyl, Golden Legacy, Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Burden Limbs, El Supremo

Posted in Reviews on October 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Another day, another batch of 10 reviews on the march to 50 by the end of the week. Will we make it? Yeah, probably. I mean, I think there was once when I had to skip a day or something but even then I made up for it and there’s never been an instance where the Quarterly Review fell apart. The one quarter I decided to nix it (was it last year?) I made up for it by doing 100 reviews instead of 50 the next time out, so we got there eventually. It being Tuesday, the end of the week looks far off, but indeed we’ll ge there eventually, and there’s a lot of good music between now and then, so let’s hit it.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

High on Fire, Bat Salad

high on fire bat salad

A limited vinyl EP released as part of Record Store Day 2019, High on Fire‘s Bat Salad comprises three songs: an original instrumental and two covers, one of Celtic Frost and one of Bad Brains. And I won’t take away from the “Rat Salad” Sabbath-does-blues-jazz-jam-except-it’s-HighonFire-so-it-sounds-nasty-as-hell spirit of “Bat Salad” at all, but the real highlight here is hearing Matt Pike‘s gravel-throated vocals take on “Into Crypts of Rays.” Celtic Frost have always been a central factor in what High on Fire were doing stylistically, so to have the band take them on directly seems long in the making. They approach Bad Brains‘ “Don’t Bother Me” with due reverence as well, careening through an intense three-minute burst of energy with the grit and underlying precision one has come to expect from these singular masters. Soon enough, bands will be covering High on Fire with the same spirit of fan homage. Doubly notable for being founding drummer Des Kensel‘s last recorded appearance alongside Pike and bassist Jeff Matz in the band.

High on Fire on Thee Facebooks

eOne Heavy on Thee Facebooks

 

Ruff Majik, Tårn

ruff majik tarn

Guitarist/vocalist Johni Holiday, bassist Jimmy Glass and drummer Ben Manchino return with Tårn, Ruff Majik‘s second album on a quick turnaround from their 2018 debut, Seasons (review here). Aligned with Lay Bare Recordings for the vinyl release, the deceptively quick and even more deceptively complex seven-track/36-minute offering finds Ruff Majik digging into dirt-caked tonality and classically punkish sneer in Holiday‘s vocals. There are moments where they sound like Queens of the Stone Age (“Speed Hippie”) and moments where they sound like Black Flag (parts of opener “Schizophrenic”), but as a roller like “Heretically Happy” or the earlier post-Zeppelin stoner sneak of “Gloom & Tomb” show, Ruff Majik are perhaps most interested in sounding like themselves. They’re gleeful as they toy with doomed vibes on closer “Seasoning the Witch,” and the seven-minute “I’ll Dig the Grave” earlier thrills with changes drawn together by a pervasive and righteous groove. With Tårn, Ruff Majik have found their wavelength, and it suits them.

Ruff Majik on Thee Facebooks

Lay Bare Recordings website

 

Merlin, The Mortal

merlin the mortal

Be it heretofore established that sax-laced Kansas City psych-doomers Merlin don’t give a fuck. They don’t give a fuck what you expect, they don’t give a fuck what everyone else is doing, they don’t give a fuck if they meme the crap out of their own band. They’ve got their thing and they’re doing it. And you know what? They’re right. The Mortal is their fifth full-length in six years, following as a sequel to early-2018’s The Wizard (review here), and with flourish galore in arrangements of organ, sax, flute, percussion, accordion, trumpet, etc., alongside the foundation of songcraft that comes through the guitar, bass, drums and always-theatrical vocals of Jordan Knorr, the band recount tales along a dark-magical mystery tour of gorgeously flowing and still-weighted psychedelic plunder. They have become a buried treasure of weirdo/geek rock, and whether it’s the peaceful drift of “Ashen Lake” or the cacophonous heavy riffing of “Basilisk,” the stage-setting prog of “Towerfall” or the consuming swell that carries out the apex of closer “The Mortal Suite” — King Crimson chase and all — Merlin‘s work has never sounded so masterful. Will there be a third installment in the tale? Nothing quite like a trilogy.

Merlin on Thee Facebooks

The Company BigCartel store

 

Workshed, Workshed

workshed workshed

They’ve since added a third party in bassist Helen Storer (Fireball Ministry, among others), but Workshed‘s self-titled Rise Above Records debut LP was recorded as the duo of guitarist/vocalist Adam Lehan and drummer Mark Wharton. More than a quarter-century ago, both Lehan and Wharton played on Cathedral‘s pivotal first two albums, but in Workshed, and certainly there are some shades of doom on a stomper like “Anthropophobic” here, but the bulk of Workshed‘s nine-song/47-minute first offering is given to post-Entombed buzzsaw noise sludge, riffs crunched one into the next in an aggro, punk-rooted fashion that rife with a sense of willful punishment that comes through in sheer impact from front to back. Vocals call to mind Tom G. Warrior immediately and are suited to the social commentary of “If This is How it Is” and “This City Has Fallen,” while the grueling march of “A Spirit in Exile” leaves room for some atmosphere to eek through, which it does. They trash out in centerpiece “On Sticks of Wood” and chug their into a last fade on closer “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way,” but by then they’ve long since made their statement and left a trail of destruction behind them. Would they have been signed to Rise Above without the Cathedral connection? Probably not. Does the album earn their place? Absolutely.

Workshed on Thee Facebooks

Rise Above Records website

 

E-L-R, Mænad

e-l-r maenad

With their first full-length, Mænad, Swiss post-metallers E-L-R cart a gorgeous and textured course through patient and progressive songweaving that lends itself to hypnosis through its churning rhythm as much as its overarching melodies seem to evoke other worlds. It is not without its sense of challenge and certainly plenty heavy in its tone and groove — at least where it wants to be — but it’s also rich and provides a level of depth to its mix that should have others in the genre asking how they did it. A transitional drone at the end of “Devotee” brings about the 10-minute “Above the Mountains There is Light” and a long contemplation begins, working from the ground up on a pilgrim’s path to the eventual payoff. The resonance there is something unto itself, but even as “Ambrosia,” “Lunar Nights” and “The Wild Shore” find the stylistic footing that opener “Glancing Limbs” and “Devotee” seemed to hint at earlier, E-L-R maintain both an ambient sprawl and a consuming sense of passion that makes their work here all the more thrilling. This is a debut, following only a single 2018 demo that had two of the same tracks. What that tells me is look out for this band, because this kind of potential doesn’t come along every day and when it does, you want to be there for the follow-up. The impeccable taste of Prophecy Productions pays dividends once again.

E-L-R on Thee Facebooks

Prophecy Productions website

 

Sibyl, The Magic Isn’t Real

sibyl the magic isn't real

Otherworldly doom rock marked by echoing vocals oozing out from deep in the mix and gotta-hear-it bass tone complemented by choice riffage and a fervent thud in the drums, even if the aesthetic of Richmond’s Sibyl is familiar enough, there’s plenty to dig about their debut EP — what one might’ve called a “demo” in eras past — The Magic Isn’t Real. The stylistic elephant in the room is RVA’s own Windhand, but Sibyl take a more psychedelic path to heavy oblivion, and with four tracks in the range of four to five minutes, The Magic Isn’t Real comes across as well focused in its songwriting despite the ethereal touches in the actual sound. Cool vibe, and as they work some noisy shuffle into “Spinning Webs,” they show themselves as being less restricted than otherwise might be the case if they were purely committed to doomed drudgery. I’ll give bonus points as well for naming the penultimate track “Sexpionage,” just on principle, but it’s in stretches like the subdued creeper opening of “Blood Moon” and the engrossing, still-somehow-moving wash of “Pendulums” that Sibyl really showcase their intention.

Sibyl on Thee Facebooks

Sibyl on Bandcamp

 

Golden Legacy, Golden Legacy II

golden legacy golden legacy ii

London heavy noise duo Golden Legacy offer five tracks and 23 minutes of anti-genre, adrenaline rock to follow-up their 2016 self-titled EP. There’s a strong undercurrent of modern punk and indie to their sound, which is what gets them the “anti-genre” consideration, but it’s the energy of their delivery carrying them one way or the other as they drive through the harsh snare of “Cut and Crash” following the chunkier tone of opener “Moon” and just before centerpiece “Dirty Mouth” finds its way into grunge-style howling beastliness. Comprised of drummer/vocalist Lorena Cachito and guitarist Yanni Georgiou, the two-piece find winning momentum in “Salvation,” while closer “Thirsty” opens with a mellow drum progression gradually joined by the guitar and builds into more progressive and dramatic movement, casting off some of the rawness of the songs before it in favor of more complex fare. It still manages to soar at the end, though, and that seems to be what counts. They might be rawer now than they’ll eventually turn out, but that suits most of what they’re doing in adding to the emotionality on display in Cachito‘s vocals.

Golden Legacy on Thee Facebooks

Golden Legacy on Bandcamp

 

Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Coven of the Ultra-Riff

saint karloff devils witches coven of the ultra-riff

Alright, look. I don’t even think I have the full thing, but whatever. Saint Karloff and Devil’s Witches came together to release the Coven of the Ultra-Riff split — it can be so hard to find the right coven for your family; have you considered the Ultra-Riff? — and they each play an original track and then they cover each other’s songs and then Saint Karloff introduce the progression of “Supervixen (Electric Return)” and Devil’s Witches take up the mantle and run with it on “Supervixen (Acoustic Return),” so yeah, it’s pretty awesome and kind of all over the place but whatever. Get your head around it and get on board with whatever version you can grab. Vinyl came out through Majestic Mountain Records and tapes were through Stoner Witch Records and I’m fairly certain it’s all sold out already and probably stupid expensive on Discogs, but do what you need to do, because this is what Sabbath worship in the year 2019 is supposed to sound like. It’s bombed out of its gourd and has long since dropped out of life. It’s exactly where and what it wants to be.

Saint Karloff on Thee Facebooks

Devil’s Witches on Thee Facebooks

Majestic Mountain Records BigCartel store

Stoner Witch Records BigCartel store

 

Burden Limbs, There is No Escape

burden limbs there is no escape

I’m not going to pretend to have the grounding in post-hardcore to toss off the influences under which Burden Limbs are working, but to listen to the blast of noise in “How Many Times Must I Reset” and the near-industrial wash of noise they conjure in the subsequent “Hypochondriac,” it’s clear they’re working under one influence anyway. There is No Escape (released through Glasshouse Records) runs 24 minutes and carries four songs, but in that time the band around founding figurehead and guitarist/vocalist Chad Murray manage to challenge themselves and the listener alike to keep up with their turns and emotional resonance. Murray is joined by two bassists, another guitarist, keyboards/synth and drums, so yes, there’s something of a busy feel to it, but even echoing cavernous as they are, the vocals seem to draw the songs together around a central presence and add a human core to the proceedings that only makes them all the more affecting as would seem to be the intent.

Burden Limbs on Thee Facebooks

Glasshouse Records on Bandcamp

 

El Supremo, Clarity Through Distortion

El Supremo Clarity Through Distortion

Sometimes these things take a while, but El Supremo was formed by now-ex-Egypt bassist Chad Heille has a solo-project and released a self-titled demo in 2008, to which Clarity Through Distortion is the follow-up full-length. Now joined by guitarist Neil Stein (also ex-Egypt, and who also played some on the demo) and organist Chris Gould as well as bassist Cam Dewald who came aboard after the album’s completion, the instrumentalist full-band incarnation of El Supremo waste no time diving into dead-on tonal and riffy righteousness, taking classic heavy cues and running with them in modern production richness, sounding clear but natural as a jam like “Moanin’ & Groanin'” turns into a shuffler as it moves into its second half, or the mellow sway of the 14-minute “Supercell” at last runs head-on into the lumbering motion that will carry it through to the end. I don’t know how much clarity — at least of the existential sort I think they mean in the title — they might’ve found by the time the bluesy “Lotus Throne” rolls over into the shreddy “Outro” that caps, but if the method is distortion, they’ve certainly got that part down.

El Supremo on Thee Facebooks

El Supremo on Bandcamp

 

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Friday Full-Length: Egypt, Egypt EP

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 6th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

 

First issued in 2005 by the band themselves, Egypt‘s four-song self-titled demo was picked up first by Lyderhorn Records in 2007 and then by MeteorCity for release as a debut EP (review here) in 2009. That latter version, coming at a time when the label was under new ownership and revamping its lineup with bands like Freedom Hawk, Elder, Leeches of Lore, Olde Growth, WhiteBuzz and New Keepers of the Water Towers, seemed to find an audience that has stayed consistently loyal to it over the last decade, and Egypt, who had already disbanded, wound up getting back together as a result. A reboot! Oh what a difference distribution can make.

Egypt formed circa 2003 in Fargo, North Dakota, and as the trio of bassist/vocalist Aaron Esterby, guitarist Ryan Grahn and drummer Chad Heille, they’d embark on their debut EP very much as an initial demo. In fact, the only things that really make it an EP at all are the quality of Heille‘s 2004 recording/mix/master and the fact that it was later released as one. Otherwise, the four-track 31-minute outing could just as easily be called a demo and left at that — while we’re at it, you could also call it a full-length if you wanted to; it’s long enough and there’s nothing in particular lacking to hold it back from being an LP. At least nothing lacking by accident. There is one pervasive lack that defines in no small part the release as a whole: the lack of bullshit. You’ll find none in catchy, on-that-wah bass of opener “Valley of the Kings,” the massive-sounding “Queen of All Time (Red Giant),” the smoky stoner blues roll of “Dirty Witch” or the fuzzy jam-out in “Touch Ground.” Tone and groove, verses and choruses — Egypt‘s Egypt took the approach of slowing down and revamping classic heavy rock swagger as a languid, flowing thing, not necessarily prone to jams in the finished product, as even “Touch Ground” touched ground eventually, but representative of the take of a new generation of heavy rock playing off that which MeteorCity helped define in the post-Kyuss mid- and late-’90s. Each riff, rumble and crash was made to count for maximum impact, and in a changing rock underground marked by the rise of take-it-with-you social media listening experiences and word of mouth, Egypt thrived at a time when, effectively, they were already dead. Put it in your ‘Go Figure’ file; I know you have one.

The shortest song on Egypt‘s Egypt is “Dirty Witch” at 7:27. That, “Touch Ground” and “Valley of the Kings” all hover around seven and a half minutes, while “Queen of All Time (Red Giant)” tops nine. Why that matters is it means each track has enough time to establish its own presence. The songs aren’t just about building up to a hook or an instrumental exploration, they’re a place to dwell, at least for a time. To be sure, “Valley of the Kings” has its chorus, but it’s also got its fuzz-caked gradual unfolding, a stick-click leading into the egypt egyptwah-bass bounce and the flowing vibe that Egypt keep holy throughout the entire release. What was the *new* stoner rock at the time did not lack for self-awareness, but there’s consistently something organic about the listening experience of Egypt‘s self-titled, which was less sludgy than some of their later output would become and proffered a kind of heavy blues that ran concurrent to the work of an act like Texas three-piece Wo Fat with whom Egypt would share the Cyclopean Riffs (review here) split in 2013.

A sometimes gruff character in Esterby‘s vocals was offset by the warmth of the guitar and bass tone surrounding and even in “Queen of All Time (Red Giant),” where the band married together Sleep-style riffing with a vintage-heavy mentality, engaging a hugeness of nod neither to be understated nor discounted. The ’70s flair came forward more on “Dirty Witch,” with its classic rock misogyny playing off notions of Deep Sabbath (or would it be Black Purple?) might’ve been, and “Touch Ground” dug into a more patient motion that made its impact all the more vital upon its arrival after a long, mellow intro. The short version? Egypt killed it. They absolutely did. What was their demo did more in terms of sound than a lot of first records, and did so with an overarching natural feel that became central to its whole character. It was like they plugged in, hit record, and went for it, threw a bird on the cover and were done. It’s never that simple in real life, of course, but especially when the finished product continues to sound so good even a decade/decade-plus later, it’s nice every once in a while to pretend otherwise. If you want to call that escapism, so be it.

The aforementioned Cyclopean Riffs split with Wo Fat came out just a couple months after Egypt‘s return from the abyss/debut album with guitarist Neil Stein, Become the Sun (review here), and that began a run that would find the band increasing their reach domestically and abroad for the next five years until they called it quits in 2018. During that time they were consistently productive, following Become the Sun with the split as well as two more LPs in 2015’s Endless Flight (review here) and 2017’s Cracks and Lines (review here), which showed them continuing to grow in terms of style without letting go of the central heft that that seemed always to be so essential to their process. A cover of Thin Lizzy‘s “Suicide” would be the capstone included on Glory or Death Records‘ tribute compilation, and since the second breakup, Heille and Stein have gone back to their prior instrumental outfit, El Supremo, which Heille founded in 2008, to issue the debut album, Clarity Through Distortion, this summer.

One tries never to say never in rock and roll in any situation, but whether or not the second Egypt disbanding will hold, I honestly couldn’t say. They managed to put out three killer records and made it to Europe in 2015, touring with Tombstones and playing Freak Valley Festival, so if they were the type to tick off boxes, they certainly ticked off a few good ones, but on the other hand, Cracks and Lines seemed to leave a few things unsaid, so I don’t know. Whatever happens in the future, the band never seemed to forget the initial impact their self-titled had in getting them going again. They’ve reissued it a couple times and have CDs available through Bandcamp for a whopping $5, presumably while they last. Which reminds me…

As always, I hope you enjoy.

To answer your next question, yes, I really did just buy that CD. I know I have the MeteorCity version and I may or may not have the original CD-R from the band, but screw it, the price was right and it’s early so impulse control is low.

Kind of an up and down week, but whatever. I ate a lot of garlic, I hung out with The Pecan, watched some baseball. The Patient Mrs. started her new job. This weekend is Nebula, Sasquatch, Mirror Queen and Geezer at the Saint Vitus Bar and the show’s going to be so good I’m actually kind of nervous for it. I’ll have a review up Monday, but hell’s bells, how am I supposed to even talk about something like that? “Duh, bands are awesome,” for like 1,500 words. What a wreck. If I have a brain left, I’ll see what I can do.

Also a couple premieres next week, from V, Alunah, Fire Down Below, and reviews of Monolord and High Fighter. An interview with Lori from Acid King that’s scheduled for tomorrow that was originally supposed to happen on Wednesday, which was The Patient Mrs.’ first day of classes, which meant I was on toddler-duty full-on and therefore by 2PM ready to bash my brain into the wall and very much not ready to give due attention to the 20th anniversary of Busse Woods. I love that record. I’d rather not fuck up the interview, if I can avoid it. Fortunately, Lori was kind enough to reschedule.

Look for the audio of that to come. I don’t know if anyone actually listens to those things — should I maybe break them up into parts? — but they’re fun to do. I like talking to people about their work, I just don’t have the will 15 years later to transcribe that conversation, nor the money to pay someone else to do it. That’s also time I could be reviewing something, and the hours of my day are limited and precious. I’d rather be writing about a record than misquoting someone talking about one. Call me crazy.

So anyway, more streaming interviews, I guess. Parker Griggs from Radio Moscow has a new band that I think I’ll be talking to him about, and I’ve floated Alunah and Heavy Temple as future possibilities. I wouldn’t mind hitting up Monolord either, frankly. Or Ufomammut, if I could make it happen.

I also need to write a piece about the art showings at Høstsabbat sometime in the next week or so that I have no idea yet how I’m going to frame. These things are complicated in my head sometimes. I’ll get there. Will I get there before I do the Lowrider PostWax liner notes or the Acrimony liner notes I need to do? I don’t know. I’m trying my best.

Alright, I’m gonna go read for a couple minutes before The Pecan wakes up and sets about dismantling the world around him, one choking hazard at a time. Please have a great and safe weekend, and please check out the forum and radio stream and get a t-shirt from Dropout if you haven’t yet.

The Obelisk Forum

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El Supremo Announce Clarity Through Distortion Due This Month; Live Debut Imminent

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

Based in Fargo, North Dakota, the four-piece El Supremo are getting set to issue what’s being considered their full-length debut, Clarity Through Distortion, this month. It will be the outfit’s first outing since 11 years ago, when they released a self-titled demo that featured drummer Chad Heille handling all the instruments himself, one-man-band style. He and guitarist Neal Stein would join Egypt a couple years later, and that put El Supremo on the backburner, but with that group having called it quits last year, the project has been revived as a stage-ready four-piece.

To that end, the new incarnation of El Supremo will make their live debut on June 17 supporting Year of the Cobra at The Aquarium. Details on the show are on Thee Facebooks, and the band provided the following via the PR wire:

El Supremo Clarity Through Distortion

El Supremo is an instrumental rock band based in Fargo, ND. The band has recently completed a new album entitled Clarity Through Distortion, set for release in June of 2019. This new record features Chad Heille on drums and bass, Neal Stein on guitar, and Chris Gould on organ/keys. Live bass duties are handled by Cameron Dewald, who also plays in death metal band Gorgatron with Neal Stein. The band’s sound ranges from psychedelic and melodic to crushingly heavy and doomy. Influences rooted in classic rock, stoner rock, and old-school metal.

El Supremo was originally formed as a one-man project with Chad Heille playing all the instruments and handling recording/production. A self-titled full-length demo was released in 2008, with Tom Canning and Neal Stein contributing guitar solos to the recording.

Chad and Neal went on to play in the band Egypt from 2012 to 2018. During that time, Egypt released three full-length records, a split LP, made numerous compilation appearances, reissued their first demo and toured 16 different countries playing several notable festivals with some of the most important bands in the stoner/doom/rock/metal underground scene.

After Egypt split, it was decided to revive the El Supremo name and a new record was written and recorded in the latter half of 2018. While the band prepares for the release of Clarity Through Distortion, material for another batch of tunes is already in the works.

El Supremo is:
Chad Heille – drums
Neal Stein – guitar
Chris Gould – keys
Cam Dewald – bass

https://www.facebook.com/elsupremofuzz/
https://elsupremo.bandcamp.com/

El Supremo, El Supremo (2008)

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Egypt, Cracks and Lines: Expanding the Known

Posted in Reviews on October 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

egypt cracks and lines

When North Dakotan trio Egypt issued their second full-length in 2015, already there were stirrings of a companion-piece tracked at the same time that was coming soon. Not that they didn’t say plenty with Endless Flight (review here) itself, which was a delight in tone and groove and its general approach to songcraft — I said at the time that it was immediately recognizable as Egypt‘s own, and I very much stand by that. That there would be more material to come drawn from those recording sessions was an exciting prospect. The trio of bassist/vocalist Aaron Esterby, guitarist/recording engineer Neal Stein and drummer/cover artist Chad Heille had never sounded so fluid, and one knew from the wait between Egypt‘s original demo, released in 2009 via MeteorCity as a self-titled EP (review here) and 2013’s Become the Sun (review here), that Egypt records don’t come along every day, so hey, the more the merrier.

As it turns out, Cracks and Lines is less of a companion-piece or Endless Flight than one might expect — at least in the sense of being more of the same. Instead, with Stein at the helm recording, mixing and mastering, the three-piece course through five tracks and 38 minutes that greatly expand the scope of who Egypt are and what they do as a band, finding a stylistic foothold in a blend of their trademark bluesy sludge on songs like “Final Heist” and the 11-minute rolling title-cut, while elsewhere delving into melancholy psychedelia on “Dirge” or tripping out in a spacious, Hammond-infused jam on 13-minute closer “What Lights this Ocean.” Oh, and for good measure? There’s a KISS cover. They do “Watchin’ You” from 1974’s Hotter than Hell and have no trouble making it their own.

All of this, and especially the languid finish of “What Lights this Ocean” has the effect of broadening Egypt‘s overall reach. Yeah, in their more straightforward nodding moments, on “Watchin’ You” or the apex of “Cracks and Lines,” they still nod toward the likes of Weedeater with Esterby‘s dry-throated shouts and one-time splitmates Wo Fat — with whom they issued Cyclopean Riffs (review here) in 2013 — but that expectation in no way accounts for putting the melodic, calm and wistful “Dirge” as the three-minute centerpiece of the offering, with its subtle swirl of backward guitar and clean-sung verses. Nor does it jibe with “What Lights this Ocean” on the whole, which, while it draws from elements Egpyt have put to use in the past, represents a marked shift in focus toward psych-blues that stands as a realignment from anything they’ve done before. Even “Final Heist,” which at just under seven minutes long one might argue is intended as a familiar lead-in for listeners before the band gets to their more ranging fare, plays to a more patient feel in its rollout, saving a weighted boogie for its final third as the payoff for the slow nod preceding.

egypt

Again, not necessarily unheard of from Egypt, but done in a new way. It’s interesting to think of these songs as having been put to tape at the same time as Endless Flight, if indeed that’s how it worked out, because the band clearly then took the glut of material and sculpted two different outings from it — one that affirmed the direction of their debut and built on the accomplishments there, and this one, which pushes into newer territory altogether. Without knowing the circumstances of the recording, it would be almost too easy to read progression into this material — the sense of Egypt continuing to move forward from Endless Flight, when the reality is that what they accomplish with Cracks and Lines isn’t growing beyond its predecessor, it’s completing the picture of how much they’ve grown since the debut. The mind boggles.

The most important bottom line, of course, is that it works. From “Final Heist” through the early bounce of “Cracks and Lines,” into the melodic drift of “Dirge,” the stage-ready swing of “Watchin’ You” and the final, liquefied wanderings of “What Lights this Ocean” — on which Andrew Steinberg sits in for the aforementioned Hammond contribution, much bolstering the ending of the full-length as a whole — Cracks and Lines succeeds in delivering the impression of Egypt as a richer band in their presentation than one knew they could be before, while maintaining a loose, natural feel throughout. As it was finally put together to coincide with a summer 2017 European tour, Cracks and Lines might be thought of along similar lines to Geezer‘s Psychoriffadelia (review here), with which the New York heavy psych-blues rockers similarly jammed their way into more expansive terrain, but however one might want to frame them, these five tracks showcase a side of Egypt not previously heard in this way.

One can’t help but wonder if on their next outing, the Fargoans might try to bring these stylistic maneuvers together with the more forward sludge rock that typified Endless Flight, essentially combining the vibes of the two albums as a logical next step forward for their sound. If anything, Cracks and Lines makes it harder — though also more fun — to speculate what might be next for Egypt, but either way, the underlying message here is that while one might have come out of Endless Flight feeling like the total scope of the band had shown itself and that the task before them was then to set about refining that scope on a third album through songwriting and general level of performance, production, etc. — that, in other words, their course was set — they’ve instead shifted their narrative with a sonic left turn and given themselves a broader palette to draw from as they move toward what might be a more satisfying long-term development. So while Cracks and Lines complicates guessing who Egypt want to be as a band, it excites in demonstrating just how unsettled that issue still is and that there remains plenty of exploring to do.

Egypt, Cracks and Lines (2017)

Egypt on Thee Facebooks

Egypt on Bandcamp

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Egypt Announce Cracks and Lines Preorders Available; July Euro Tour Confirmed

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 29th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

egypt

Egypt head back to Europe in July for a tour that rounds out with slots at Stoned from the Underground in Germany and Red Smoke in Poland, and by the time they go, the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece will have issued their new album, Cracks and Lines. You might recall the band posted the 11-minute title-track of the record back in March — though one didn’t know at the time it shared its name with the record; very sneaky — to give a substantial tease to the follow-up to 2015’s Endless Flight (review here) and reassure their broadening listenership that their bluesy sludge rock remains well intact moving into their next release.

Good to know and good to hear. I’d already been looking forward to the rest of the album, and if you’re in a similar mindset, they’ve got preorders up now through their Bandcamp and have posted the album art and tracklist. Though “Cracks and Lines” itself was 11 minutes long, I’m thinking the rest of the offering might be pretty short since they refer to it as an “EP/LP.” Either way, new Egypt and I’ll take it.

They were also recently confirmed for Glory or Death Records‘ upcoming Thin Lizzy tribute (info here), so plenty going on. Here’s info from their social medias:

egypt cracks and lines

Egypt – Cracks and Lines

The digital and CD preorders of our new EP/LP/album “Cracks and Lines” are now live on bandcamp. The release date is set for 6/20 for the digital/CD. Physical CDs should be in our hands on or before the release date. If a delay occurs we will let everyone know. Vinyl will be coming, but a bit down the road. Check it out. Cheers.

Tracklisting:
1. Final Heist
2. Cracks and Lines
3. Dirge
4. Watchin’ You
5. What Lights This Ocean

Here are our 2017 European tour dates. We’re super stoked to be heading back over to Europe this Summer. Check it. Presented by Total Volume & Eclipse Productions!

1-jul Rare Guitar – Münster DE
2-jul Le Garage – Liege BE
3-jul Le Glazart – Paris FR
4-jul Le Ferraileur – Nantes FR
5-jul OFF
6-jul Coq D´Or – Olten CH
7-jul Dome of Rock Festival – Salzburg AT
8-jul KVLT – Budapest HU
9-jul EXIT festival – Novi Sad RS
10-jul Club Daos – Timisoara RO
11-jul Elektropionir – Belgrade RS
12-jul Vintage Industrial Bar – Zagreb HR
13-jul Das Bach – Vienna AT
14-jul Club 007 – Prague CZ
15-jul Stoned From the Underground Fest – Erfurt DE
16-jul Red Smoke Festival – Pleszew PL

EGYPT is:
Aaron Esterby – Bass/Vocals
Chad Heille – Drums
Neal Stein – Guitar

https://www.facebook.com/events/1506362106083449/
https://www.facebook.com/egyptband/
https://egypt1.bandcamp.com/

Egypt, Cracks and Lines (2017)

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Egypt Announce July European Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

egypt

Go back if you will through the last couple years of this site’s archive of posts about Fargo, North Dakota, sludge rockers Egypt (dig in if you dare) and you’ll probably find the running theme of their being included in two kinds of lists — most anticipated albums and best albums of the year. Their most recent outing, late-late-late 2015’s Endless Flight (review here), was both, and I’ve basically been waiting for them to follow that up since they released it, so the thread continues.

Another kind of post common for Egypt? European tour dates. They made a trip to Europe last year in Spring to play Desertfest and the by-now-veterans will head back this summer for slots at Dome of Rock, EXIT FestivalStoned from the Underground and Red Smoke, as well as club shows between. All this as eagerness mounts for their next album, the coming of which they heralded last month by unveiling a rough version of the new track “Cracks and Lines” (posted here) that found their crusty vibes and rolling grooves well intact, not that there was any doubt.

I don’t know how much new material they’ll be playing on this run or what exactly the status is of the recording for the next LP, but Egypt are definitely “between records” at this point, so if you ever thought of catching a sneak peak at some new material from them, this would seem to be a prime chance.

Dates follow:

egypt tour poster

Egypt – 2017 European Tour

Hello. Here are our 2017 European tour dates. We’re super stoked to be heading back over to Europe this Summer. Check it.

1-jul Rare Guitar – Münster DE
2-jul Le Garage – Liege BE
3-jul Glazart – Paris FR
4-jul Le Ferraileur – Nantes FR
5-jul OFF
6-jul Coq D´Or – Olten CH
7-jul Dome of Rock Festival – Salzburg AT
8-jul KVLT – Budapest HU
9-jul EXIT festival – Novi Sad RS
10-jul Club Daos – Timisoara RO
11-jul Elektropionir – Belgrade RS
12-jul Vintage Industrial Bar – Zagreb HR
13-jul Das Bach – Vienna AT
14-jul Club 007 – Prague CZ
15-jul Stoned From the Underground Fest – Erfurt DE
16-jul Red Smoke Festival – Pleszew PL

https://www.facebook.com/Egypt-Doom-220951734668136/
https://egypt1.bandcamp.com/

Egypt, “Cracks and Lines”

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Egypt Post “Cracks and Lines”; New Album Coming Soon

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on March 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

egypt

However many tracks it might turn out to have on it, it’s a safe bet that North Dakota heavy rockers Egypt are unveiling a substantial portion of their next album in making public the 11 minutes of “Cracks and Lines.” Even in its unmastered form as heard below, the track is a stomper, with the steady snare of drummer Chad Heille punctuating the sleek, classic-minded slow-motion boogie from guitarist Neal Stein and the raspy vocals of bassist Aaron Esterby. The same three-piece issued their last outing, Endless Flight (review here), at the very tail end of 2015 — I counted it in my Top 30 of 2016, for whatever that’s worth — and proffered much tonal density, but I’m digging the spacier vibe that “Cracks and Lines” digs into as it moves past the halfway point.

We’re still well in the Sabbathian playbook, but a little drift in the guitar and vocal chillout sounds right on to my ears, especially with Esterby‘s bass bouncing along at the bottom of that echoing cavern. As a first impression for whatever the next record might be called — don’t know yet; will let you know when I do — it’s a positive one, and I guess ahead of a Spring or Summer 2017 release, which is still a ways off, they don’t need it to be anything more than that necessarily. Dudes’ nod is just about always welcome by me, and after speculating that we’d hear from them in 2017, I’m glad to hear that coming to fruition. Sooner the better.

Look for more to come as we get closer to the album release, and I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in the near future the trio announced another round of European touring. They’ve been racking up frequent flier miles over the Atlantic the last couple years, so it wouldn’t be out of character, but they also recently put word out that they’ll appear at the Red Smoke fest in Poland this July. Could it be an album-release tour in the summer? Would make an awful lot of sense, but we’ll see when we get there.

Esterby had a few words to say about the impending full-length and other whathaveyou, and you’ll find that under “Cracks and Lines,” which is on the YouTube player below.

Dig it:

Egypt, “Cracks and Lines” unmastered audio

I think that I said a while back that the new record was done and was being mixed and all that stuff. Well, I was wrong at the time I said that. Turns out there was more work to do. Now I can say with certainty that the new album is finished and will be going to mastering next week. We’re excited, nervous, stoked, concerned, and many other things for you guys to hear it. It’s always painful to let go…haha. But, now is the time.

We’ve never been very good at promoting stuff. We’re kind of a DIY type outfit so there is very little fanfare when it comes to announcements. We’ll be sharing a tracklist and other important odds and ends very soon. In the meantime, here is a song from the new record. It’s not mastered and it’s a youtube rip, so be gentle. If you have 11 minutes to spare give it a listen. Hope you guys dig it. We’ll talk soon. Cheers.

We are extremely excited to announce that we will be playing Red Smoke Festival in Poland on July 16th. Killer lineup so far. We’re beyond stoked to be a part of it.

Egypt on Thee Facebooks

Egypt on Bandcamp

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2016

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 30

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.

I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.

Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.

The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.

This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.

Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.

I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:

30. Talmud Beach, Chief

talmud beach chief

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.

29. Comet Control, Center of the Maze

comet control center of the maze

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 22.

Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.

28. Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids attack sci-fi or die

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 17.

There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.

27. Beelzefuzz, The Righteous Bloom

beelzefuzz the righteous bloom

Released by Restricted Release and The Church Within. Reviewed Aug. 2.

A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.

26. Foghound, The World Unseen

foghound the world unseen

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed July 6.

Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.

25a. Egypt, Endless Flight

egypt endless flight

Released by Doomentia Records. Reviewed Dec. 11, 2015.

Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.

25. 1000mods, Repeated Exposure To…

1000mods repeated exposure to

Released by Ouga Booga and the Mighty Oug Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 20.

There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.

24. Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy

black rainbows stellar prophecy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 11.

Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.

23. Borracho, Atacama

borracho atacama

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Nov. 14.

Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.

22. The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again

the golden grass coming back again

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed April 26.

Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.

21. Curse the Son, Isolator

curse the son isolator

Released by Snake Charmer Coalition and The Company Records. Reviewed March 1.

For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.

20. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires

neurosis fires within fires

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 21.

I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, NeurosisFires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.

19. Conan, Revengeance

conan revengeance

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 19.

Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.

18. Baby Woodrose, Freedom

baby woodrose freedom

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Aug. 18.

Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.

17. Geezer, Geezer

geezer geezer

Released by Ripple Music and STB Records. Reviewed Nov. 10.

I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.

16. EYE, Vision and the Ageless Light

eye vision and the ageless light

Released by The Laser’s Edge. Reviewed Nov. 17.

Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.

15. Fatso Jetson, Idle Hands

fatso jetson idle hands

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.

14. Hexvessel, When We are Death

hexvessel when we are death

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Feb. 5.

Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.

13. Zun, Burial Sunrise

zun burial sunrise

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Feb. 16.

Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.

12. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree

elephant tree elephant tree

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Jan. 29.

One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.

11. Mos Generator, Abyssinia

mos generator abyssinia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed July 12.

If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.

10. Slomatics, Future Echo Returns

slomatics future echo returns

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed June 29.

In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.

9. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh

wo fat midnight cometh

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 21.

After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.

8. King Buffalo, Orion

king buffalo orion

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed July 29.

Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.

7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know

wight love is not only what you know

Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.

German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.

6. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 18.

A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.

5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil

brant bjork tao of the devil

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 15.

Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in KyussFu ManchuCheVista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.

4. Asteroid, III

asteroid iii

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed Oct. 21.

What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.

3. Gozu, Revival

gozu revival

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 19.

Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.

2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)

mars red sky apex iii praise for the burning soul

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.

1. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages

subrosa for this we fought the battle of ages

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Aug. 26.

Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.

The Next 20

Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:

31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll

From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.

Honorable Mentions

Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:

Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
Spidergawd, III
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment

And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:

Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.

Thank You

In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.

If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.

One more time: Thank you.

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