Quarterly Review: Geezer, Spaceslug, Expo Seventy, Boss Keloid, Bong-Ra, Zebu, Los Disidentes del Sucio Motel, LáGoon, Maha Sohona, The Bad Sugar Rush

Posted in Reviews on July 13th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

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Oh my breaking heart as we move into day seven of the Summer 2021 Quarterly Review and I am reminded that the wages of hubris are feeling like a dumbass later. I was loading up my laptop on Saturday — so pleased with how ahead-of-the-game I was able to stay all last week — when the thing decided it was gonna give itself some time off one way or the other.

I dropped it for repair about 20 minutes before the guy I’ve come to trust was closing shop. He said he’d be in touch on Monday. Needless to say, I’m on my backup cheapie Chromebook, reviewing off Bandcamp streams, eagerly awaiting that call which I can only hope has come in by the time this is posted. I’ll keep you in the loop, of course, but putting together the reviews for yesterday? That was not pretty.

I expressly thank The Patient Mrs., through whom all things are possible.

Onward.

Quarterly Review #61-70:

Geezer, Solstice

Geezer Solstice

Geezer‘s ambition could hardly be clearer in their 17-minute “Solstice” jam. It was the Solstice — Winter 2020, to be specific — and the Kingston, New York, trio jammed. Guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington (who doesn’t sing on the track) added some dreamy synth after the fact, and the affect is all the more hypnotic for it. Harrington, bassist Richie Touseull and drummer Steve Markota are no strangers to exploratory fare, as they showed on 2020’s righteous Groovy (review here), and as a Bandcamp Friday-era stopgap offering, “Solstice” brings a sampling of who they are in the rehearsal space, willing to be heavy, willing to not, ready to go where the music leads them. If Geezer wanted to do a whole full-length like this, I wouldn’t fight them, so you most definitely will not find me arguing against a digital single either. With jams this tasty, you take what you can get.

Geezer on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Spaceslug, The Event Horizon

spaceslug the event horizon

Issued less as a stopgap, which a digital-only single might normally be, than as a response to the band having lost gear in a practice space flood, the 8:52 single-song outing The Event Horizon was recorded at the same time as Spaceslug‘s late 2020 EP The Leftovers (review here) and in a way acts to bridge the melancholy beyond-genre push of that release with the more weighted, spacious roll that has typified the Polish outfit’s work to-date — their latest full-length was 2019’s Reign of the Orion (review here), and they recently finished a new one. So perhaps “The Event Horizon,” with its hypnotically languid rhythm and concluding drift, is a stopgap after all, but between helping the band recoup their losses and thinking of what might be coming next, it’s an exciting if not-unalloyed listening experience, and the three-piece move deeper into a signature sound even as they continue to bring the definition of what that means to new places.

Spaceslug on Thee Facebooks

Spaceslug on Bandcamp

 

Expo Seventy, Evolution

Expo Seventy Evolution

Creating sometimes-scorching, droning psychedelic soundtracks to all your favorite classic sci-fi films that never existed, Kansas City’s Expo Seventy offer a call to worship for freaks and converted heads on their new album, Evolution. Still headed by guitarist James Wright as on late-2016’s America Here and Now Sessions (review here), the band offer new glories celestial and terrestrial instrumental chemistry throughout the six tracks (seven on the CD) of Evolution, lumbering away on “Echoes of Ether” only after floating in brass-section antigrav conditions on “The Slow Death of Tomorrow.” Can you hang? You’ll know one way or the other as the culminating duo “Second Vision, First Sight” and “First Vision, Second Sight” are done with you, having altered dimensions so thoroughly that the ethereal will either come to feel like home or you will simply have melted. In any case, lash yourself to it. Own that shit.

Expo Seventy on Facebook

Essence Music on Bandcamp

 

Boss Keloid, Family the Smiling Thrush

boss kelod family the smiling thrush

Peak-era Faith No More reborn in progressive heavy fuzz? What stoner rock might’ve been if it went to college instead of spending all that time hanging around talking about old cars? I don’t know where UK four-piece Boss Keloid ultimately stand on their admirable fifth LP, Family the Smiling Thrush — the follow-up to 2018’s also-well-received Melted on the Inch (review here) — but they most certainly stand on their own. Across seven tracks, the band careen, crash, lumber, rush and ponder — lyrics no less worth a close read than any other component — and from opener/longest track (immediate points) “Orang of Noyn” on, they make it abundantly clear that their style’s unpredictability is an asset, and that just because you might not know where they’re going next doesn’t mean they don’t. Melodic, complex and cerebral, there’s still a human presence here, a sense of a plan unfolding, that makes the album seem all the more masterful.

Boss Keloid on Facebook

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Bong-Ra, Antediluvian

BONG-RA Antediluvian

Though it’s ultimately less electric-kool-aid than endless-churning-abyss-with-psychdelic-saxophone-screaming-up-at-you-like-free-jazz-trapped-in-the-downward-tonal-spiral, Bong-Ra‘s four-tracker Antediluvian is duly experimentalist in being born out of the mind of Jason Köhnen, whose work on this project not only extends more than 20 years, but who has been a part of landmark Dutch outfits like Celestial Season, The Kilmanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble and The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, among scores of others. The procession on this full-length, originally released in 2018 through Svart Lava, is wild times indeed, but immersive despite feeling at times like a litmus for how much you can take, with Köhnen‘s bass/keys/etc. and Balazs Pandi‘s drums meeting with Colin Webster‘s saxophone and Chloe Herrington‘s bassoon, willfully plodding through long-ish form improv-seeming movements of atmospheric heft creation.

Jason Köhnen website

Tartarus Records store

 

Zebu, Reek of the Parvenu

zebu reek of the parvenu

A coherent and forceful debut full-length, Reek of the Parvenu quickly shows the metallic undercurrent from Athens-based four-piece Zebu on opener “The Setting Dust,” and pushes from there in groove metal fashion, taking some impulses from heavy rock but holding largely to a central aggressive stance and tension in the rhythm that is a backdrop even as the later “Nature of Failure” breaks from its chugging shove for a quieter stretch. That is to say, the next punch is always coming, and Zebu‘s blows are effectively delivered — looking at you, “Burden” — though some of the slower, sludgier cuts like “Our Shame” or the doomier finale “The City” bring a welcome atmosphere to go with the coinciding burl. I’m not sure if “People Under the Stairs” wants to kick my ass or crack a beer, but the songwriting is air tight and the thrashy threat only contributes to the immediacy of the release on the whole. They’re not screwing around.

Zebu on Facebook

Zebu on Bandcamp

 

Los Disidentes del Sucio Motel, Polaris

Los Disidentes Del Sucio Motel Polaris

It’s been 11 years since France’s Los Disidentes del Sucio Motel debuted with Soundtrack From the Motion Picture (review here), an engaging, kind of silly play on stoner rock and B-movie tropes. Beneath that, however, it was also a concept album, and the band — who now seem to prefer LDDSM for a moniker — still work from that foundation on their fourth full-length, Polaris. The difference scope and sonic maturity. Rife with vocal harmonies and progressive flourish, the 10-track answer to 2016’s Human Collapse (review here) smoothly shifts between the patient and the urgent, the intimate and the grand — and that’s in the first two minutes of “Blue Giant” alone — finding their way into a proggy post-heavy rock that’s too clearheaded to be psychedelic, but that balances the crunch of “Horizon” with a sense of the otherworldly just the same.

Los Disidentes del Sucio Motel on Facebook

Klonosphere Records website

 

LáGoon, Skullactic Visions

LáGoon skullactic visions

With their fourth long-player, guitarist/vocalist Anthony Gaglia and drummer Brady Maurer of Portland, Oregon’s LáGoon welcome bassist Kenny Combs to the fold and dive as a trio — their first three-piece outing was last year’s Father of Death EP — headfirst into murky riffing and heady heavy rock, made all the more spacious through cavern echo and the garage doom vocals Gaglia brings on the title-track, as well as the synth that surfaces on the subsequent interlude “Buried” and elsewhere throughout. The earlier “Beyond the Trees” is particularly bleak and otherworldly, but I won’t take away from the further-down procession of “Hill Bomb” and “The Slow Down” into “Final Ride,” the last of which closes out with scummer doom that’s familiar but distinct enough to be their own. There are moments on Skullactic Visions where, for as much as they could sound like Electric Wizard given the ingredients, I’m all the gladder they don’t.

LaGoon on Facebook

Interstellar Smoke Records webstore

Forbidden Place Records on Bandcamp

 

Maha Sohona, Endless Searcher

Maha Sohona endless searcher

Maha Sohona‘s second album comes some seven years after their self-titled debut, but who cares about time when you’ve got your headphones on and you’re surrounded by the richness of tone on offer throughout Endless Searcher‘s five rolling tracks? Heavy and laid back, the trio of guitarist/vocalist Johan Bernhardtson, bassist Thomas Hedlund and drummer David Lundsten finding some kinship with Polish three-piece Spaceslug in their post-Sungrazer blend of weight and flow, a jam like “Luftslot” nodding and conjuring depth even as it soars. Can’t argue with the quicker push of “A Black Star” or the purposefully straightforward “Scavengers” (where the title-line is delivered) but some of the mellow moments in opener “Leaves” and especially the building instrumental finisher “Orbit X” are even more satisfying for how effectively they move you place to place almost without your realizing it. I’ve got nothing for you if you can’t dig this vibe.

Maha Sohona on Facebook

Made of Stone Recordings on Bandcamp

 

The Bad Sugar Rush, Liar/Push Me

The Bad Sugar Rush Liar Push Me

Keen observers will recognize The Bad Sugar Rush vocalist René Hofmann from his work with Wight, but the work here alongside guitarist Josko Joke-Tovic, bassist Minyeong Fischer and drummer Peter Zettl is distinct from that other unit here, even as the Humble Pie-esque “Push Me” and semi-sleeze “Liar” both have some shade of funk to their procession. Both cuts circa four minutes makes for a suitable debut 7″ with respected purveyor H42 Records doing the honors, and the results are an encouragingly catchy display of what a first full-length might accomplish when and however such a thing emerges. There’s classic heavy rock as the foundation, but more than outright ’70s worship — though some of that too — it’s the organic feel of the songs that leaves an impression on the listener, though the background singers on “Push Me” don’t hurt in that regard, certainly. An auspicious and intriguind first showing.

The Bad Sugar Rush on Facebook

H42 Records website

 

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal Playlist: Episode 59

Posted in Radio on May 14th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

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Don’t tell anyone — or better yet, do! — but this show turned out pretty solid. I kind of put it together following a couple whims, things I’ve wanted to put in my own head, plus some of the recent Bandcamp Friday stuff — hello Spaceslug and Geezer — and things I’ve covered here recently in Tuna de Tierra and Worshipper and Carlton Melton, etc. Then I just wanted to hear the Shogun and LáGoon tracks for myself, and I’ve been meaning to cover that White Powder record more for weeks, and then I started thinking about songs that have “mountain” in the title and decided to do a whole block of those just for the hell of it, so that’s where we wound up. Mountain climbing.

But in addition to starting off with the maddeningly catchy “It’s Already Written” by Tau and the Drones of Praise — whose Roadburn Redux stream was posted here first thing this week — this one makes a few cool turns and flows and kind of breaks up nicely from one thing to the next, even as “Mountain” gets into “Mountain” into “Longing to Be the Mountain” and “Holy Mountain” and “I’m the Mountain.” This is the sort of thing I think is fun. That’s me. That’s who I am.

Anyway, 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 – 05.14.21

Tau and the Drones of Praise It’s Already Written Tau and the Drones of Praise
Carlton Melton Waylay Where This Leads
Spaceslug The Event Horizon The Event Horizon
VT
Worshipper Pictures of Home VA – Bow to Your Masters Vol. 2: Deep Purple
LáGoon Hill Bomb Skullactic Visions
White Powder Rula Jabreal Blue Dream
Shogun Delta Tetra
VT
Tuna de Tierra Mountain Tuna de Tierra
Colour Haze Mountain Colour Haze
King Buffalo Longing to Be the Mountain Longing to Be the Mountain
Sleep Holy Mountain Sleep’s Holy Mountain
Stoned Jesus I’m the Mountain Seven Thunders Roar
VT
Geezer Solstice Solstice

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is May 28 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Metal website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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Geezer Release 17-Minute “Solstice” Jam

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 7th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Who among you will complain at 17 minutes of Kingston, NY, trio Geezer jamming out? Who, I ask! Stand up and be counted. Or better yet, pull your head out of your ass and find something better to complain about. The three-piece are no strangers to improv-ing it up, and they’ve taken this tasty morsel of spontaneity, topped it with a bit of synth to make it extra classy, and put it up for all of one US dollar for Bandcamp Friday.

Apparently today’s the last Bandcamp Friday? I saw that somewhere on the internet. So I guess that website got vaccinated? That’s how it works, right? Whatever. If they keep up the smooth PR or not, it’s good to get while the getting’s good, and that means today. So get on it.

While you’re there, you can check out Geezer‘s take on “Mississippi Queen” that was released in homage to Leslie West of Mountain — hard to imagine some label or other isn’t working on a heavy rock tribute to him — as well as their 2020 album, Groovy (review here), which hell yes most certainly was that.

Don’t go into this thinking you’re getting an album-style production. It’s a rehearsal room jam. But do go into it ready to spend a buck. I actually bought it twice this morning.

Release info:

Geezer Solstice

Geezer – Solstice

We came together on the winter solstice of 2020 to have our final jam session of the year. We were happy to finally, if not symbolically, put the year behind us and we looked forward to better days. As always, we just plugged in, turned on the amps and pressed record. This is the music that found us.

Dig.

Released May 7, 2021.

Improvised jam from the Geezer rehearsal space that occurred on 12/21/2020. The synth tracks were added later.

Geezer are:
Pat Harrington – Guitar/Vocals
Richie Touseull – Bass
Steve Markota – Drums/Percussion

https://www.instagram.com/geezertown/
https://www.facebook.com/geezerNY/
http://geezertown.bandcamp.com/
heavypsychsoundsrecords.bandcamp.com
www.heavypsychsounds.com
https://www.facebook.com/HEAVYPSYCHSOUNDS/

Geezer, “Solstice”

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal Playlist: Episode 55

Posted in Radio on March 19th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

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I was putting the show together the other day — like everything else in the last two weeks, I had to push off doing so owing to family stuff — and when I was picking tracks, it just kind of occurred to me that I might as well do a whole show of Heavy Psych Sounds stuff. It was like, “Oh, I’ll play Bongzilla and those new Hippie Death Cult and Acid’s Trip tracks,” and then it was “Well I haven’t played any of the new Sonic Flower yet and that’s Tatsu from Church of Misery so that’s cool,” and then from there filling out an entire two hours’ worth of Heavy Psych Sounds stuff was shockingly easy.

New 16, 1782, Cosmic Reaper, Acid Mammoth, on and on, and some other awesome stuff that’s come out in the last couple years, and two hours later, it still only barely scratches the surface of what the Italian label has done. To wit, the catalog reissues from Doze and Nebula and Brant Bjork go unrepresented here. As does the last Yawning Man or the upcoming Yawning Sons, both of which I’ve played recently on the show. But yeah, there’s so much stuff to go through, I simply didn’t have room for it all, especially knowing that I wanted to end with the 19-minute track from Orgöne because that record is so weird and out there even in comparison to other stuff the label does.

I talk a bit here, mostly just to be like, “Duh that was awesome” about one song or another. Despite my verbal bumbling and constant “uh”-ness, I hope you enjoy the show.

Thanks for listening and/or reading.

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

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 03.19.21

Bongzilla Free the Weed Weedsconsin
Hippie Death Cult Red Meat Tricks Circle of Days
Acid’s Trip Faster, Chopper, Boogie! Strings of Soul
Sonic Flower Super Witch Rides Again
16 Death on Repeat Doom Sessions Vol. 3
VT
Black Rainbows Sacred Graal Cosmic Ritual Supertrip
Fatso Jetson Flesh Trap Blues Split with Farflung
Ecstatic Vision Grasping the Void For the Masses
Acid Mammoth Ivory Towers Caravan
Crypt Trip Hard Times Haze County
VT
Big Scenic Nowhere Tragic Motion Lines Vision Beyond Horizon
High Reeper Bring the Dead Higher Reeper
The Pilgrim Waiting for the Sun …From the Earth to the Sky and Back
Geezer Black Owl Groovy
Cosmic Reaper Hellion Cosmic Reaper
1782 The Chosen One From the Graveyard
VT
Orgöne Erstes Ritual Mos/Fet

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is April 2 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Metal website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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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

the obelisk show banner

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.

Gimme Metal website

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Interview & Full Album Stream: Pat Harrington of Geezer on Groovy and More

Posted in audiObelisk, Features on May 27th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

geezer

Shifting dynamics, readjusting priorities, moving forward, getting high and playing trippy shit. The way founding guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington talks about Geezer making their latest full-length, Groovy (review here) — also their debut on Heavy Psych Sounds; out digitally on Friday with physical to follow June 12; preorders here — it is as much purposeful and casual as the album itself. Tightened craft delivering immersive fuzz and languid heavy blues grooves, the record is nothing if not aptly named.

I was asked over the winter to write the bio for the album, and it was clear from the first listen both that it would be a highlight of 2020 — I think pushing back the release date as they have due to COVID-19 helps in that regard — and that Geezer had arrived at a special moment for the band, which is Harrinton alongside bassist Richie Touseull and drummer Steve Markota. I did end up writing that bio, which I’ll probably post around here at some point, but as I’ve already reviewed it and I’m too busy being honored with the chance to do the full-LP stream in addition to posting this interview, I’ll spare you this time around and just say that Groovy is what happens when a band starts out with an idea of what they want to do and then are willing to be guided by their own impulses into becoming what they’re meant to be. There’s a letting go and a holding on alike as a part of that process, but the results are inarguable. And, yes, groovy.

Please enjoy the album stream and the interview. Thanks for reading and thanks to Harrington for taking the time.

Geezer, Groovy Interview with Pat Harrington

So the record is Groovy and the lead track is “Dig.” How much was the intention to strip things down to their essentials this time around?

I guess it wasn’t really the intention, it may be more of a side-effect. The song “Dig” has been around for a few years. Dig and a few other songs on the album pre-date most of the material on the Spiral Fires EP. Somewhere along the way, we made the decision to put all the trippy weird stuff on the EP, which kind of set the more direct tone of Groovy, almost by accident.

Geezer has gotten progressively jammier on each release to this point, and Groovy seems to pull back from that a bit. Tell me about the songwriting this time around, your goals for the material and ideas you had coming off of Spiral Fires?

In addition to the reasons above, I think another big reason for the change is our drummer Steve. Unlike our previous drummers, who are very much into improvisation, Steve approaches writing and arranging in a much more deliberate manner. As we spent time developing ideas, this became part of our process. I think it’s fair to say that we brought each other a little out of our comfort zones. Richie and I kept pushing Steve into jammier territory that I don’t think he really explored before. At the same time, he made us more structured in how we put the songs together. There is still room for experimentation, but overall the songs took on a more defined feel.

Unlike other albums, we also had a concept together before all the songs were written. Once the Spiral Fires masters were handed in, we started to look at the songs we had, other ideas that were being developed, etc. Then one day it all clicked. We decided that we were going to focus on songs that were groovy as opposed to the heavier or trippy stuff. So then we should call the album Groovy, right? After that, everything kind of fell right into place.

Talk about your time in the studio for the album. At what point did you know you wanted keys on “Awake” and the title-track? Is that something you think you might explore more going forward?

The real story actually is about the time we spent BEFORE going into the studio. As we’ve already talked about, these songs are much more defined compared to most of our past work. The reason for that is we spent a long time developing the ideas and arrangements. We played most of the songs live. We gave the songs time to grow. We were very disciplined when it came to rehearsals. Everyone worked very hard at developing their parts. Richie and Steve worked especially hard to get all the grooves locked in, they became a machine! I cannot stress this enough, being in a band is HARD WORK and if you don’t take it seriously, it shows.

We spent two days recording most of the “basics”. We did it at Darkworld Studio, where we recorded the Spiral Fires EP. We had the same production team that we’ve pretty much had since the beginning. Everyone came prepared and acted professionally. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun as fuck, but all the preparation paid off. We recorded all these songs together. Standing in the same room. Feeling the kick drum. Connecting to each other. All the drums, bass, rhythm guitars and solos recorded at the same time (more or less). I’m proud to say, not every band can pull that off… we can.

The experimentation mostly came in after the fact. Steve spent weeks developing the percussion tracks (we threw tambourines around like we were AC/DC!). I also stretched out a bit with ambient guitar stuff, synth noise and acoustic guitar tracks. As you mentioned, our friend Jeff Mercel contributed keys to “Awake” and “Groovy: (Jeff also played on “Long Dull Knife” a few years back). We knew right away that we wanted some Hammond B3 type stuff on Groovy, it’s just that type of song. “Awake” has a very tight, syncopated feel to it and I thought some keys could add a softer melodic vibe to it. I was listening to a lot of Nebula at the time, I think I actually sent Jeff the song “So Low” as a reference, I think he nailed it! He really did go above and beyond and his contribution to the songs and album was immense… next level shit.

Some of the songs on Groovy have an almost escapist vibe, and then there are pieces like “Dead Soul Scroll” and “Drowning on Empty.” How comfortable are you with presenting an emotional side in lyrics in a way that’s kind of apart from the blues?

At this point, I think I’ve stripped away most insecurities I’ve had when it comes to songwriting. It took me a long time to figure out, but vulnerability in music is one of the things that people connect to the most. It’s about saying the things that people can’t (or won’t) say themselves. It gives them something to latch on to, a way to express or connect to feelings that they otherwise weren’t able to. The lyrics to both those songs are, in fact, about real personal things. I try and relay them in a way that is open to interpretation, tap into feelings without assigning them to situations. That way, people can relate them to whatever they themselves are going through. To me, that is what music is all about.

How did the Heavy Psych Sounds deal come about? What does it mean to you to be labelmates with acts like Brant Bjork and Nebula and Yawning Man?

The deal came about very fast actually. I’ve been a fan of the label for many years and I had somewhat of an internet friendship with Gabe. With the exception of the first record, this is the first time we’ve “shopped” a record and HPS was very much at the top of our list. I can’t remember how long he had the album, but I followed up with Gabe on a Thursday and by that Monday he was sending contracts. Above all else, I wanted to be on a label that treated us like a priority. Since day one, Gabe and his team have done that and continue to do so. For that, we are extremely grateful.

I am in no way trying to equate myself with these cats, but the fact is, my musical journey was very similar to the bands that were a part of the first generation of stoner rock (or whatever you want to call it). I’m the same age as a lot of these guys, our musical references are all very similar. I grew up on metal and hardcore, felt boxed in by the rules that inevitably popped up around those genres, just like those dudes. Iommi, Page and Hendrix were gods to me… so was Mike Dean and Jello Biafra… so was Chuck D and Duane Allman. Somehow when you distill all this down, a lot of us ended up just wanting to get high and play heavy trippy shit without all the hassle that mainstream music seems to impose.

Because of this, I look up to people like Brant Bjork, Nick Oliveri, Eddie Glass and Mario Lalli. Not only do I love their music, they helped a lot of us figure out a way to express ourselves without having to worry about all the genre politics of the time. To be on the same label as these bands, as well as bands like Black Rainbows, Duel, Gorilla and Ecstatic Vision, is an honor and a challenge. It’s an honor to be here, but we gotta prove that we belong. That is the challenge.

Will you return to Europe to tour for the album? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

There were all kinds of plans. This past weekend was supposed to HPS Fest in NYC which has been postponed indefinitely. We had quite a few shows set up for this summer to promote the record, they have all been postponed indefinitely as well. In addition, we were well on our way to booking a European Tour for the late fall and that too is no more. It’s a total bummer for sure, but in the grand scheme of things, these are mild inconveniences compared to the suffering that many are going through right now, so I do my best to try and stay positive.

On that note, there is some good news here in NY. Much of the state has been moved into “Phase 1” of re-opening and our region is on schedule to enter Phase 1 this week. There is still a long way to go, but after a seemingly endless stream of bad news over the last few months, these are all very welcoming signs. Stay strong everybody, take care of yourselves and each other and we may actually make it through this thing. It will still be a while before live music returns. When it does, we’ll be there. I got a new fuzz pedal for fuck sake, I need to crank that shit and rip a hole in the sky! Ya dig?

Geezer, Groovy (2020)

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Album Review: Geezer, Groovy

Posted in Reviews on May 18th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Geezer Groovy

They throw it down immediately. The question is right there, track one, in the hook: Can you dig it? While the lyrics that accompany that central question in the opener of Geezer‘s fifth full-length and first for Heavy Psych Sounds, titled simply Groovy, turn out to be something of a subtle screed against the greedy ravages of capitalism and an urging toward a more communal lifestyle — “We gotta stand and testify/We gotta live for today, yeah” — the question remains, “Can you dig it?”

Well, can you, punk?

If not, it’s not the band’s fault. Groovy is the finest work the Kingston, New York-based three-piece have yet issued, hands down. With guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington helming as producer with engineering and mixing by Matthew Cullen (assisted by David Daw and Robert Kelly) at Darkworld Studio, the eight-track/45-minute offering to the gods of groove arrives in with a two-sided LP structure that, in normal circumstances could be thought of like a mullet — business up front, party in the back. Except in this case, the business is the party too. So it’s party up front, party in the back, like if Cousin Itt were a record. A hairy undertaking, and one that wholly justifies a blacklight poster for the Ryan Williams cover art. Make it so.

Harrington as the founding member is joined by the returning rhythm section of Richie Touseull, who came aboard in 2015, and drummer/percussionist Steve Markota, who made his first appearance on early 2019’s Spiral Fires EP (review here), as well as Jeff Mercel, who contributes organ and other keys to midtempo side A closer “Awake” and the title-track that launches side B. The two sides of the album intertwine for sure, as the titular “Groovy” more than earns its tambourine with its ultra good-timey vibe and the earlier second cut “Atlas Electra” follows “Dig” with a more spacious preview of things to come on side B’s spacious cappers “Slide Mountain” and “Black Owl.” But there is a question of balance to both, and while Geezer have never shown so much range in terms of their dynamic between the tightness of their songwriting — “Groovy,” “Dig,” “Awake,” even the beginning stretch of “Atlas Electra” — neither have they shown such a propensity for purpose to their jamming.

That is to say, while both Spiral Fires and the preceding LP, 2017’s Psychoriffadelia (review here), went all-in on post-Wo Fat heavy blues jam exploration, Groovy redirects. Even its broadest, most open-feeling moments, which surely come in the nine-minute “Black Owl” as the three-piece slowly make their way into a long-fade oblivion of guitar effects, Groovy retains a sense of purpose in terms of substance and aesthetic. “Black Owl” jams out precisely because “Drowning on Empty” could have and didn’t, instead riding its fuzz-coated solo-topped crescendo of layered electric and acoustics, more tambourine and righteous bass to a finish exciting enough to mask the darker emotional undercurrent of its lyrics. Likewise, back on side A, “Dead Soul Scroll” highlights Touseull‘s bass tonality as the guitars trip out, essentially reversing the structure to put its somewhat moodier jam forward while the instrumental solidification hits right around the four-minute mark and carries through the rest of the song’s 5:31 as one of the record’s most satisfying payoffs.

geezer

By toying with structure in this way, adding arrangement details and nuance as they are — percussion elements like that tambourine or the cowbell in “Dig” are used with class and efficiency throughout — and adjusting their focus on songwriting, Geezer showcase the mastery of their sound even as they use that sound in ways they haven’t done to this degree before. One could cite “Dead Soul Scroll” as clear evidence of their progression, but really any track on Groovy makes the case, be it the ending drift in “Slide Mountain” that seems to end by asking, “Is everybody high enough?” (unless I’m hearing wrong), or the sleeper hook in “Awake” — “I’ve seen more than most/But not as much as many/When I’m feeling lost/Here you come to make me smile” — bolstered by the Mercel‘s well-mixed keys as it moves smoothly through its patient and well-controlled tempo; not slow, but no quicker paced than it needs to be.

But while Groovy goes deeper into emotionality than Geezer have been willing to go before — lines like those quoted above from “Awake” and others about drinking contribute to the coinciding depressive strain — the record is remains an upbeat affair in its overarching spirit. It almost has to. You can’t help but groove, what with the bounce-a-quarter shifts between its verses and choruses and the clarity with which it comes to fruition across the two sides, its stretch finally going in “Black Owl” willfully beyond the limits of its own point of no return. Influences remain — Wo Fat have already been mentioned, Brant Bjork is another — but with that has to comes the realization that Geezer have transcended the fervent stylization of their 2013 debut, Electrically Recorded Handmade Heavy Blues (discussed here), and found a path of their own within a sphere that encompasses not only those heavy blues, but psychedelia, classic rock, stoner groove and so on. More than ever on Groovy, they are singly identifiable. Harrington‘s gravelly vocals are a big part of that, but he also demonstrates a more melodic take than could be found either on Psychoriffadelia or their 2016 self-titled (review here), which until now had been the band’s highest achievement in songwriting.

There are two key lessons, takeaways, whatever-you-want-to-call-them, from Groovy. The first is that Geezer have found their way. And in fact, they’ve worked their way toward doing so. Each of their records has built on the last, and even their stopgaps have been effective in constructing the forward line of their progression. So while Groovy stands and testifies its own accomplishments, there’s nothing to say those can’t or won’t be surpassed. The second is that the balance in their sound is something no less fluid to them than their jams themselves. That is, with GroovyGeezer offer proof of dynamic and live chemistry, but their method for doing so does not hold that their next work will be staid or simply seeking to recapture the same feel. The next party might be even more wild, but as Harrington advises, it’s worth living in the present. This is a moment captured. A crucial one for them. One that is wholly theirs. Can you dig it?

Geezer, Groovy (2020)

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