The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

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

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30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Bibtex Thesis Master--Freelance Writer, Tim Marsolais, is available for Business Writing, Copywriting, Technical Writing and Web Content Writing. Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

There was no shortage of anticipation for what L.A. cultists Want to buy college essay but have no idea where to purchase it? You can buy college papers, http://www.nuotohydros.net/recreation-business-plan/, buy college essays, 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

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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 see here - Entrust your task to us and we will do our best for you top-ranked and cheap report to make easier your life No more fails with our high class essay services. Polymoon. If you haven’t yet heard How To Write Your Dissertation 5000 Word Posts. There's nothing here! Powered by Blogger Theme images by Michael Elkan. Samantha Ortz Visit profile Report Abuse Caterpillars of Creation, do.

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

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27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by written persuasive essays List Of Argumentative Research Paper Examples And Their Works research paper documentation essay basics Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

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26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

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

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

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

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

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

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

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

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

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

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

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

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

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

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

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

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

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

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

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

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

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

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

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

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

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

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

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

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

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

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

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

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

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

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

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

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

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

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

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

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

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

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

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

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

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

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

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

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

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

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

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

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

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

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

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

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

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

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

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

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead to 2021

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

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

Thank You

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

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

More to come.

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Review & Lyric Video Premiere: Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on June 3rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

[Click play above to see the premiere of Pale Divine’s lyric video for ‘Saints of Fire.’ Consequence of Time is out June 26 and available to preorder from Cruz Del Sur: CD preorder, LP preorder w/ poster & download, digital release June 19.]

Even among American traditionalist doom — which as a whole is underrated — there aren’t many who reach the same echelons in that regard as Pale Divine. Also their debut release for Cruz Del Sur Music, Consequence of Time is their sixth full-length, and as it arrives just two years after 2018’s self-titled LP (review here), it also marks the quickest time differential the Chesapeake-region group — Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware — have ever had between two offerings. Pale Divine, the record, was notable for marking the first appearance of Ron “Fezz” McGinnis on bass and backing vocals, who brought the five-string acumen he’d demonstrated in Admiral Browning and countless others to the classic-style rolling riffs and searing leads of guitarist Greg Diener (also vocals) and the ever-steady, never-flashy, always-efficient drumming of Darin McCloskey. On the eight-song/42-minute Consequence of Time, there is another significant change in the band’s makeup.

Even as they were releasing the self-titled, Pale Divine announced the addition of Dana Ortt on guitar and vocals alongside Diener, a shift that was essentially a merging between Pale Divine and the Ortt-led Beelzefuzz, in which Diener and McCloskey had both been members. The end result is that between Diener, Ortt and McGinnis, Pale Divine now have three vocalists capable of carrying a song on their own, whether it’s Diener‘s metal-tinged proclamations, Ortt‘s bizarro-prog otherworldliness, complemented by his nuance of guitar tone, or McGinnis with his lower register bluesy take. Unsurprisingly, Consequence of Time is easily the most diverse album Pale Divine have ever made, and perhaps also the richest in terms of its general approach, since the influences especially of its two guitarists are readily on display, whether it’s in the Beelzefuzzian chug and dreamstate lumber of “Phantasmagoria” or in Diener‘s veritable clinic on how to shred a solo and still give a sense of soul in the process.

It bears underscoring just how significant of a turn Consequence of Time is for Pale Divine. The band mark their 25th anniversary in 2020, having begun with McCloskey and Diener in 1995 before releasing their first demo a couple years later. It seems to me not just a marked change in terms of the band’s sound that welcoming Ortt has enacted, but a genuinely admirable openness on the part of Diener. Yes, there’s “sharing the spotlight,” as much as such a thing exists in a genre where one might be inclined in the first sentence of a review to point out how underrated it is, but more than that, to have the ability after some 20 years of having the band as a vehicle for his songwriting to be able to adjust the entire process in such a way is staggering.

pale divine

Ortt doesn’t just sing backup on Consequence of Time, and he makes a mark in terms of the overall style of riffs and tones as well on songs like “Broken Martyr,” “Satan in Starlight,” and even the Diener-led opener “Tyrants/Pawns (Easy Prey).” It’s a rare band and a rare player who would allow that kind of shift to take place at any point, let alone after 20 years, and Pale Divine are unquestionably stronger for it. The patience in the 10-minute unfolding of the 10-minute title-track alone is proof of the subtle level on which the change can be felt, a melding of purpose between what Beelzefuzz were by their finish and the roots-doom mindset that Pale Divine have always portrayed so well.

Perhaps it’s sharing vocal duties that has allowed Diener‘s guitar to shine all the more, but his leads soar throughout Consequence of Time in striking fashion, and with McGinnis‘ bass and McCloskey‘s drums behind, there’s never any risk of the band losing their trajectory whatsoever. As the title-track approaches the halfway mark, Diener and Ortt share vocals against a stark and largely quiet backdrop ahead of the next classic metal lead (it might be Ortt‘s, I can’t be sure), but that moment sums up the incredible, throw-the-doors-open spirit of Consequence of Time. Ortt takes the fore later, and Diener rejoins and the two guitars lock purposes in solos and riffs to close out, but in that moment, not only the change of the band’s sound, but the creative spirit that drove that change are palpable. The risk and the reward both are right there for the listener to absorb.

The subsequent closing pair “No Escape” and “Saints of Fire” would seem to be an epilogue of sorts, or at least a movement unto themselves after the title-track, but their purpose isn’t lost for existing in the shadow of the 10-minute cut preceding. In the speedy “No Escape,” Diener fronts, and they trade for “Saints of Fire,” and it’s a last-minute showcase of the multifaceted nature of who Pale Divine are in 2020 and what they can accomplish as a group in this new form. “No Escape” gallops in brash form and is probably the most fun I’ve ever heard Pale Divine have on a record, and “Saints of Fire” pushes in its second half into a quirky dark gorgeousness that feels like pure inheritance from Beelzefuzz put to righteous use. Pale Divine, the power-trio turned four-piece after 20-some years, march their way out of Consequence of Time and into an unknowable future as a stronger, more versatile and more vibrant unit.

The band they were is still very much present in their sound, and they remain as sonically committed to doom as they’ve ever been, but the foundation of influence has expanded and their craft is all the more affecting and progressive for it. Between the quick turnaround, the new label and the new construction, Pale Divine move into their second quarter-century with an almost impossible feeling of potential, and one can only look forward to what they might yet accomplish as they move on from here. 25 years on and reaching new heights. That is a special band, and yes, vastly underrated. They may stay that way and they may not, but one way or the other, Consequence of Time will stand as one of 2020’s foremost offerings in doom, and deservedly so.

Pale Divine on Thee Facebooks

Pale Divine website

Cruz del Sur Music website

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Days of Rona: Darin McCloskey of Pale Divine

Posted in Features on May 19th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the varied responses of publics and governments worldwide, and the disruption to lives and livelihoods has reached a scale that is unprecedented. Whatever the month or the month after or the future itself brings, more than one generation will bear the mark of having lived through this time, and art, artists, and those who provide the support system to help uphold them have all been affected.

In continuing the Days of Rona feature, it remains pivotal to give a varied human perspective on these events and these responses. It is important to remind ourselves that whether someone is devastated or untouched, sick or well, we are all thinking, feeling people with lives we want to live again, whatever renewed shape they might take from this point onward. We all have to embrace a new normal. What will that be and how will we get there?

Thanks to all who participate. To read all the Days of Rona coverage, click here. — JJ Koczan

pale divine darin mccloskey

Days of Rona: Darin McCloskey of Pale Divine (West Chester, Pennsylvania)

How have you been dealing with this crisis as a band? As an individual? What effect has it had on your plans or creative processes?

Well as a band, like many others it has us on hiatus; practice, gigs and writing as a group came to an abrupt halt. That being said we had just finished recording our new album ‘Consequence of Time’, and are currently positioning ourselves to introduce the album. We’re hoping that we can get out and play live here in the near future. As an individual I can honestly say that it hasn’t had that much of an effect on me personally. I’m a homebody and with an “essential worker status” my routine has primarily stayed intact. I really feel for the people whose life has been upended by the pandemic.

How do you feel about the public response to the outbreak where you are? From thegovernment response to the people around you, what have you seen and heard from others?

That’s a difficult question to answer. I think that the response should directly relate to the overall numbers of cases asymptomatic, symptomatic, deaths, age ranges and regions. Trouble with this is the numbers have been all over the place depending on the source. Pennsylvania recently had to reduce the death toll by a little over 200 due to corrections between probable and confirmed cases. I can understand that people fear the unknown, I just hope it doesn’t cripple us as a society. I would like everyone to enjoy living rather than concentrating on what could possibly kill you. I think a balance is what we all need…but that’s just me. You should be able to be concerned, take precautions but not let it consume you.

What do you think of how the music community specifically has responded? How do you feel during this time? Are you inspired? Discouraged? Bored? Any and all of it?

I think the music community shines in situations like these. Not only does it give them time for creativity, it also shines a light on their personable nature. I see bands reaching out, live streaming, simply talking about life in general. I’ve seen some drawing attention to people and establishments in need. I personally enjoy the time spent with my wife, my dogs and record collection. That being said it will be great playing live again and going to some concerts. Fingers crossed that it will be soon.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, orpersonally, or anything? What is your new normal? What have you learned from this experience, about yourself, your band, or anything?

I can’t complain about my situation, to do so would make light of the hardships so many are going through right now. As for “New Normal,” I truly hope that in the future this will be no one’s new normal. There needs to be precautions until we know the true scope of this virus. I just hope that we can soon move forward and enjoy life again. Life is to be lived, but for now stay safe and keep your eye on the prize.

https://www.facebook.com/serpentspath/
http://www.paledivineband.com/
cruzdelsurmusic.com
facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic
cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com

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Pale Divine Sign to Cruz Del Sur Music; Consequence of Time Due in May

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

I don’t mind telling you this is the one I’ve been waiting for. No doubt Cruz Del Sur have been on a trad doom and metal tear, from Ogre and Orodruin to Death the Leveller and Tower, but I’ve heard rumblings of Pale Divine joining those ranks for a few months now, and it’s well earned on the part of the Pennsylvania, etc., four-piece. The band will mark a quarter-century of existence in 2020 with the release of their new album, Consequence of Time in May, and as they follow-up 2018’s stellar self-titled (review here), they’ll also have their first offering not only through the new label home — where they’re all the more kin to Apostle of Solitude, Argus, etc. — but their first as a four-piece, having shortly welcomed guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt (now ex-Beelzefuzz) to the lineup after the release of the last record.

Mark this one a win. A genuine feel-good story for the month, and a genuine feel-doomed album to look forward to.

The PR wire makes it official:

pale divine

Cruz Del Sur Music is proud to announce the signing of Pennsylvania doom mainstays PALE DIVINE.

Founded in 1995, Pale Divine has made a name for itself with its time-honored and distinctive take on classic doom metal. Albums such as 2004’s “Eternity Revealed” and 2007’s “Cemetery Earth” cemented the band’s reputation as one of the best pure torchbearers of BLACK SABBATH and SAINT VITUS-styled doom.

PALE DIVINE — who comprise of vocalist/guitarist Greg Diener, guitarist Dana Ortt, bassist Ron Fezzy McGinnis and drummer Darin McCloskey — is currently hunkered down in the studio with producer Richard Whittaker recording their sixth studio album, “Consequence Of Time”, which will see the light of day in May 2020. The album’s artwork will be handled by Brian Tutlo, the man responsible for the eye-catching “Thunder Perfect Mind” and “Eternity Revealed” covers.

“It’s definitely a natural progression but maybe not in the way people might expect, which is one of the reasons we’re excited,” says McCloskey. “We have a new lineup now which includes Dana, whom Greg and I played with in BEELZEFUZZ. Dana has brought a new element to the band that blends perfectly with PALE DIVINE that has helped us take things to the next level.”

PALE DIVINE came to join Cruz Del Sur Music through a familiar face: WHILE HEAVEN WEPT leader Tom Phillips. The band originally crossed paths with Cruz Del Sur label head Enrico at the 2018 Hammer Of Doom festival in Germany, but it was Phillips who initiated the proper discussions. After that, according to McCloskey, it was a no-brainer to sign with Cruz Del Sur.

“We had heard great things about Cruz Del Sur from our friends in Argus and Apostle of Solitude so we were already familiar and very interested. We discussed things with Enrico and he offered us a great deal. Moving forward, we’re really excited to be part of the Cruz Del Sur Music roster. It feels like we’re part of a family now. This is where we belong.”

PALE DIVINE will be celebrating its 25th year as a band in 2020. McCloskey says the highlights have been numerous, starting with the bands they’ve played with and the people they’ve met over the years, as well as their first trip to Germany in 2005 playing alongside PLACE OF SKULLS and RISING DUST. “In many ways, it always sort of feels like we’re just starting out,” he says. “Every new experience, every new song and new album pretty much reinforces that. We still have a lot of music in us and a lot more to accomplish. It hardly seems like it’s been 25 years, in all honestly. Going overseas for the first time and playing for people who were fans of our music was pretty mind-blowing for us at the time…still is, really. Even our recent trip to Würzburg last year for Hammer Of Doom was an awesome experience as well. Certainly, the chemistry we have in our current lineup has been a big highlight and, of course, signing with Cruz Del Sur!”

Pale Divine is:
Greg Diener – vocals & guitar
Dana Ortt – guitar
Ron “Fezzy” McGinnis – bass & vocals
Darin McCloskey – drums

https://www.facebook.com/serpentspath/
http://www.paledivineband.com/
cruzdelsurmusic.com
facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic
cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com

Pale Divine, Pale Divine (2018)

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Review & Full Album Stream: Pale Divine, Pale Divine

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 21st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

PALE DIVINE S/T

[Click play above to stream Pale Divine’s self-titled album in full. It’s out Nov. 23 on Shadow Kingdom Records.]

The level of coincidence is somewhat astounding. Pennsylvania’s Pale Divine are well past the 20-year mark since forming in 1995. By now the stuff of Chesapeake regional legend, their first demo arrived in 1997 (was also reissued in 2008). Their fourth and otherwise most recent album, Painted Windows Black (review here), was released early in 2012, and a short time after it came out, founding drummer Darin McCloskey and guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener recruited Ron “Fezz” McGinnis to play bass. McGinnis, who’s known for his work in the mostly-instrumental Admiral Browning, as well as Bailjack, the more extreme Thonian Horde and a host of others, was not a minor pickup. In stage presence, tone and complement to Diener‘s vocals, McGinnis was a personality shift for the band that was far more significant than the phrase, “he’s their eighth bassist,” would lead one to believe.

Now, as Pale Divine make a definitive statement by issuing their fifth LP, an eight-track/46-minute self-titled, through Shadow Kingdom Records, the situation is oddly similar. Always a trio save for one stint around the time of their third album, 2007’s Cemetery Earth, Pale Divine‘s Pale Divine lands, gorgeous in tone and as downtrodden in spirit as it is righteous in its traditionalism, as heard on cuts like opener “Spinning Wheel” and the extended blues-informed pieces “So Low” and “Shades of Blue,” just as the trio welcomes Dana Ortt of Beelzefuzz — in which Diener and McCloskey both play, the latter as a founding member, the former as a pickup for their second record — on guitar. A self-titled has a tendency to be a clear signal on the part of a band saying “this is who we are.” And tracks like the rocking “Bleeding Soul” and the penultimate “Silver Tongues,” which has a bounce worthy of the band’s one-time contemporaries in Spirit Caravan, live up to that. But the timing. Pale Divine put out their fourth album and made a considerable change in their dynamic, and now with their fifth album they’ve done the same thing.

Does that make Pale Divine moot? In a word: no. The songs are the key. In the fullness of the record’s emotional heft and across-the-board sonic execution, the way it slides into classic doom because it is that very same classic doom, nodding at Trouble on “Chemical Decline” before just nodding, period, in the early going of the subsequent “So Low” — which in its second half also features a very long guitar solo, making it easy to remember on a linguistic level too — it’s still a process of Pale Divine defining who they are in a specific point in time. From the early signal of a changed mindset with McGinnis joining Diener on vocals for the Pentagram-informed apex of “Spinning Wheel” to the Sabbathian chug, compressed lead tone and sleek groove of “Curse the Shadows” of the also-dual-voiced “Curse the Shadows,” which dates back at least five years to a demo from 2013, Pale Divine emphasize the outside-of-time nature of trad doom even as they put their own stamp on the classic style with the force of Diener‘s vocals, the understated but always locked-in drumming of McCloskey and the flash in McGinnis‘ basslines — as heard in the later gallop on that same “Curse the Shadows” — as well as the fluidity of their songwriting.

pale divine

Pieces like “So Low,” which sources its lyrical depression from within and without, or “Bleeding Soul,” with its uptempo hook in the line, “A bleeding soul will find no rest,” or the initial showoff rumble of low end in “Shades of Blue” and the instantly familiar chorus there that follows as the eight-minute track unfolds, are resonant in their downer spirit and stately in their delivery. But one of the accusations often leveled at traditional doom is that it’s staid and dry in its delivery and that applies even less to Pale Divine than it ever has to Pale Divine‘s work before. With the flourish of Southern-style and progressive acoustic/electric guitar layers on closer “Ship of Fools” and the smoothness of their rhythmic and tempo shifts as shown in “Chemical Decline” and “So Low,” as well as Diener‘s vocal delivery across the release and what McGinnis brings in periodic complement to that, there’s nothing but a genuine soulfulness to Pale Divine‘s Pale Divine, and it’s not just boozy self-defeat, though there’s a bit of that also. “Silver Tongues,” “Shades of Blue,” “Spinning Wheel” have, to go with the subtle changes in approach between them, a sense of looking beyond oneself. Not like there isn’t plenty of doom to behold if you have the eyes to see it. Clearly Pale Divine do.

Okay, but then what? What’s the resolution? Well, one could argue there’s hope along with a resigned sensibility in the interwoven soloing on “Ship of Fools,” and positioned as that is at the end of the album — doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that a band who seem well set to hit the quarter-century mark would make a purposeful choice on a closer — with a long fadeout that caps the LP as a whole, it carries a kind of “keep marching” message. You trod on, because what else is there? Fair enough, but it seems on the whole that Pale Divine is less directly about examination and critique than it is the simple act of conveying the experience of living it. Consider the lyrics of “So Low,” with Diener seeming to recount on the page his own lack of inspiration and pervasive depression, the distancing of the self from one’s own existence. Maybe there’s an element of catharsis in the expression, but the songs don’t go so far as to portray that, nor could they, since if it’s there, it’s an after-effect. The point is that what Pale Divine are doing is, to an extent, what they’ve always done in bringing to life the tenets of classic American doom metal while retaining the central identity of who they are as individual players and as a group.

For that, Pale Divine could hardly be more relevant, regardless of the fact that the lineup has changed since it was recorded. Their dynamic may indeed shift with Ortt as a member alongside Diener, McCloskey and McGinnis, but that’s a question for live shows and however many years down the road when and if there’s another album, because who the hell knows what might happen now and then. Pale Divine‘s self-titled earns the name by being a sincere representation of who the band is in its moment, and while moments are inherently fleeting, the poise and maturity of their craft and the passion so rife in their delivery are essential components of what makes them who they are, who they’ve become over their years together. That’s always been in flux and it still will be, but in context, Pale Divine reminds of that too, and so all the more stands as the epitome of their persona.

Pale Divine on Thee Facebooks

Pale Divine website

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Shadow Kingdom Records on Bandcamp

Shadow Kingdom Records website

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Pale Divine Announce Addition of Dana Ortt on Guitar

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 23rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

pale divine

With the addition of Dana Ortt of Beelzefuzz on guitar in Pale Divine, that means that the two groups are three-fourths the same people. Only bassist Bert Hall, Jr. plays just in Beelzefuzz and only bassist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis plays just in Pale Divine. Guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener, drummer Darin McCloskey and now Ortt share duties in both bands. Palezefuzz? Beelzivine? Either way, it’s only good news for doom.

Pale Divine are, of course, about to put out a new album on Shadow Kingdom next month. And it rules. Self-titled, due out Nov. 23, which is just in time for them to celebrate with their appearance at Hammer of Doom XIII in Germany on Nov. 17, playing alongside Batushka, Coven, Unorthodox and others. They’re also at Days of Darkness in Baltimore at the end of this month, which is less travel but a shared stage with Bang, Satan’s Satyrs, Child Bite and more. Still quite a gig.

But the coolest part is they’ll go as a four-piece. Someone get video. And while the self-titled is killer and will be streamed here in full ahead of the release — check back in Nov. 20 — it’s hard not to look forward to what Pale Divine will do in this new incarnation. All hail Palezefuzz. Or Beelzivine. Again, either way.

Intrepid reporter that I am, I hit up Ortt for some comment when I saw the band’s announcement. You’ll find both below:

dana ortt

Pale Divine welcomes Dana Ortt

10/21/2018: We’d like to formally announce that Dana Ortt will now be a part of Pale Divine. We’ve been busy rehearsing for the past month and things have really taken shape perfectly. The addition of Dana has absolutely taken our material to new heights and we’re very excited for the next couple of shows with the new lineup!

Dana Ortt on joining Pale Divine:

It’s very cool to be playing with Darin, Greg and Fezz in Pale Divine! Darin, Greg and I have been playing in Beelzefuzz going on four years now, we rehearse and record in Greg’s studio setup at his house. Over time we’ve had some epic recording and jam sessions that have included playing Pale Divine material on occasion. Playing in Pale Divine for me is just like a natural extension of our Beelzefuzz jam sessions. We’ve discussed writing new Pale Divine songs with me singing with Greg but for the upcoming shows at Days Of Darkness and Hammer Of Doom I’ll be focusing on laying down a solid doomy rhythm guitar that is true to the vibe of the recorded songs. Darin, Greg, Bert and I are also currently working on tracking a new Beelzefuzz album that will be released with Church Within Records.

Pale Divine live:
Oct. 28 Baltimore MD Soundstage Days of Darkness Festival
Nov. 17 Wurzberg Germany Posthalle Hammer of Doom XIII

Pale Divine is:
Greg Diener – vocals & guitar
Dana Ortt – guitar
Ron “Fezzy” McGinnis – bass & vocals
Darin McCloskey – drums

https://www.facebook.com/serpentspath/
http://www.paledivineband.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ShadowKingdomRecords/
https://twitter.com/ShadowKingdom/
https://shadowkingdomrecords.bandcamp.com/
https://www.shadowkingdomrecords.com/

Pale Divine, “Spinning Wheel”

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Pale Divine Stream “Spinning Wheel”; Confirm Nov. Release for Self-Titled LP; Tour Starts July 20

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Okay, so the new Pale Divine song kicks ass. With guitarist Greg Diener and bassist Ron “Fezzy” McGinnis trading off vocal parts — including some well-placed and well-mixed backing screams — as well as an uptempo kick from drummer Darin McCloskey, “Spinning Wheel” makes it abundantly clear the long-running doom merchants are trying new things on their fifth long-player. Respected purveyor Shadow Kingdom Records unveiled the new track on the occasion of confirming a Nov. 23 release date for the self-titled outing, and the timing is excellent as it also precedes Pale Divine heading out on tour this month with fellow dug-in doomers Apostle of Solitude on an Obelisk-presented run through the Southeast and Midwest that keeps some excellent company along the way. You’d almost think these things were planned out ahead of time.

The point here is, if you’re the list-making type, save a spot on yours for the new Pale Divine. I’ve got a good feeling about it, and “Spinning Wheel” only reinforces that.

From the PR wire:

PALE DIVINE S/T

Pale Divine NEWS!

RELEASE DATES ARE FOR IN PHYSICAL STORES AND DIGITAL ONLY. The physical CDs, Vinyls, and Cassettes will come out and be available to purchase ONLINE before the in store release date. We’ll make further announcements when those will be available.

SKR159 – PALE DIVINE – Pale Divine (Digital) 11/23/2018
SKR159CD – PALE DIVINE – Pale Divine (CD) 11/23/2018 (or before)
SKR159LP – PALE DIVINE – Pale Divine (Vinyl) 11/23/2018 (or before)
SKR159CT – PALE DIVINE – Pale Divine (Cassette) 11/23/2018 (or before)

SHADOW KINGDOM RECORDS is proud to present PALE DIVINE’s highly anticipated fifth album, Pale Divine, on CD, vinyl LP, and cassette tape formats.

For nearly 25 years now, PALE DIVINE have been perfecting the proto-doom sound – rooted in the ’70s, particularly Pentagram and Ozzy-era Black Sabbath but also Sir Lord Baltimore, Leafhound, and even very early Judas Priest – but predating so many cloying pretenders ever since. Not for them is this just another trendy bandwagon to jump on; PALE DIVINE truly LIVE this music. The public’s tastes may be fickle, but diehards know and love the name PALE DIVINE. And for very good reason: albums like 2001’s Thunder Perfect Mind and 2004’s Eternity Revealed are considered classics of the genre, carrying the torch of ’80s forebears like Saint Vitus and Trouble, and keeping that flame burning whatever the cost.

And though it’s been six long years since PALE DIVINE’s last album, 2012’s SHADOW KINGDOM-released Painted Windows Black, the power-trio sound more energized than ever on Pale Divine. A veritable tour de force of everything that’s been brewing in the band’s cauldron lo these many years, Pale Divine explodes with thunder and swagger at every turn: from epic metal excursions to bluesy rockers, groove behemoths to graveyard laments, psychedelic swirl to straight-up crush, this album literally has it ALL! Naturally, actual honest-to-goodness songwriting takes center stage here, and PALE DIVINE possess the panache to pull it all of with style and grace, effortlessly and unselfconsciously so. At the forefront, as ever, are the always soulful vocals of guitarist Greg Diener, who brings pathos and poignancy to such heartrending topics as “Chemical Decline,” “Bleeding Soul,” “So Low,” and “Curse the Shadows.” Which is to say nothing of the production on Pale Divine, which has that rich warmth and as-true-as-it-gets analog sound that further underline the timelessness PALE DIVINE have made their stock-in-trade since the beginning.

The more things change, the more they stay the same sometimes, and there stands PALE DIVINE, tall and proud. In 2018, you’re not gonna find a better, more rockin’ and more pure DOOM album than Pale Divine!

Check out a NEW SINGLE on BANDCAMP!
https://shadowkingdomrecords.bandcamp.com/album/pale-divine

Apostle of Solitude & Pale Divine – 2018 How the West Was Doomed Tour

7/20 Lafayette LA – Freetown Boom Boom Room w Forming the Void & Doomstress
7/21 Houston TX – Dan Electro’s (1pm early show)
7/21 San Antonio TX – Faust Tavern
7/22 Austin TX – Beerland w Witchcryer
7/23 Dallas TX – Prophet Bar w Kin of Ettins, Space Ape & Stone Machine Electric
7/24 Fort Smith AR – Hero’s w RedWitch Johnny
7/25 Shreveport LA – Bear’s w 18th State
7/26 Memphis TN – Growlers w Admiral Longtooth
7/27 Indianapolis IN – State Street Pub w Desert Planet
7/28 Chicago IL – Reggie’s w deepspacepilots

Pale Divine is:
Greg Diener – vocals & guitar
Ron “Fezzy” McGinnis – bass & vocals
Darin McCloskey – drums

https://www.facebook.com/serpentspath/
http://www.paledivineband.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ShadowKingdomRecords/
https://twitter.com/ShadowKingdom/
https://shadowkingdomrecords.bandcamp.com/
https://www.shadowkingdomrecords.com/

Pale Divine, “Spinning Wheel”

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The Obelisk Presents: Apostle of Solitude & Pale Divine Tour Dates

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on June 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Earlier this year, Indianapolis four-piece Apostle of Solitude threw themselves into contention for the best doom release of 2018 with their fourth album, From Gold to Ash (review here), but before the year is out, one hopes, Pennsylvania-based trio Pale Divine will have their first long-player in more than half a decade released by Shadow Kingdom, and there’s little doubt it’ll have its own argument to make in that regard. If you want a preview of the head-to-head matchup that seems likely to at least make my December more difficult come year-end list time, the two bands will hit the road together next month for a tour of which I’m proud to count this site among the presenters. I know I’ve said this before, but pretty much anytime Apostle of Solitude do anything — video, new track, shows, whatever — I’m happy to be involved somehow. The company they’re keeping on this run only makes that truer.

You can dig the dates below, as well as copious linkage and album streams, because it’s good to be informed and all that kind of thing, but the point here is you should go see these bands. Especially if you haven’t, but even if you have. Apostle of Solitude are riding their best stuff to-date, and Pale Divine are heralding the release of a new record, and I don’t know if you knew this about them, but that’s not exactly something that happens every day.

Dates follow as put together by Hi-Wattage Booking:

pale divine apostle of solitude tour poster

Apostle of Solitude & Pale Divine – 2018 How the West Was Doomed Tour

7/20 Lafayette LA – Freetown Boom Boom Room w Forming the Void & Doomstress
7/21 Houston TX – Dan Electro’s (1pm early show)
7/21 San Antonio TX – Faust Tavern
7/22 Austin TX – Beerland w Witchcryer
7/23 Dallas TX – Prophet Bar w Kin of Ettins, Space Ape & Stone Machine Electric
7/24 Fort Smith AR – Hero’s w RedWitch Johnny
7/25 Shreveport LA – Bear’s w 18th State
7/26 Memphis TN – Growlers w Admiral Longtooth
7/27 Indianapolis IN – State Street Pub w Desert Planet
7/28 Chicago IL – Reggie’s w deepspacepilots

Apostle of Solitude is:
Corey Webb – drums
Chuck Brown – guitars, vocals
Steve Janiak – guitars, vocals
Mike Naish – bass

Pale Divine is:
Greg Diener – vocals & guitar
Ron “Fezzy” McGinnis – bass & vocals
Darin McCloskey – drums

www.facebook.com/apostleofsolitude
twitter.com/Chuck_solitude
apostleofsolitude.com
www.cruzdelsurmusic.com
cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com
www.facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic
twitter.com/CruzDelSurMusic

https://www.facebook.com/serpentspath/
http://www.paledivineband.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ShadowKingdomRecords/
https://twitter.com/ShadowKingdom/
https://shadowkingdomrecords.bandcamp.com/
https://www.shadowkingdomrecords.com/

Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash (2018)

Pale Divine, Painted Windows Black (2012)

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