The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Singles, EPs, Splits and Demos of 2014

Posted in Features on December 23rd, 2014 by JJ Koczan

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Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll. That’s still going on. Please feel free to submit your list.

I did this last year mostly as a result of not having somewhere to put Elder‘s Spires Burn/Release EP in 2012, but it went pretty well, so I thought we’d do another round for 2014. The 2013 list covered demos, singles, EPs and splits — basically everything that’s not a full-length album — and the same rules apply here. It’s a pretty basic idea, but it makes sense to me to consider short releases apart from full-lengths because very often they’re trying to accomplish different things.

For example, if an album is trying to tell a story or describe a central theme, either blatantly in its lyrics or atmospherically through the music itself, a demo might just be the work of a band trying to feel their way into their sound. It doesn’t strike me as fair to judge the two on the same standard. Likewise, if a band releases a single, should that really be judged alongside an hour-long release? Granted, some bands’ singles actually are an hour long, but that’s another category entirely. “The ‘Dopesmoker’ Awards” will be handed out at another date.

No, not really. At least not this year.

If you didn’t see the full-albums Top 30 of 2014, please feel free to check it out and think of this and the year-end podcast as companion pieces, albeit both a little more casual. Let’s get to it:

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The Top 20 Short Releases of 2014

1. Sleep, The Clarity
2. Fatso Jetson/Herba Mate, Early Shapes
3. All Them Witches, Effervescent
4. Cortez/Borracho, Split 7″
5. Naam/White Hills/Black Rainbows/The Flying Eyes, 4-Way Split
6. Heavy Temple, Heavy Temple
7. Death Alley, Over Under/Dead Man’s Bones 7”
8. Geezer, Live! Full Tilt Boogie
9. The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues, The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues
10. Demon Head, Demo 2014
11. Gold & Silver, Azurite and Malachite
12. The Proselyte, Our Vessel’s in Need
13. Hull, Legend of the Swamp Goat
14. Lamp of the Universe/Krautzone, Split
15. The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic, Through the Dark Matter
16. The Heavy Co., Uno Dose
17. Wren, Wren
18. He Whose Ox is Gored, Rumors 7”
19. Lewis and the Strange Magics, Demo
20. Godhunter/Secrets of the Sky, Gh/0st:s
21. Lord, Alive in Golgotha

Some honorable mentions to the Young Hunter/Ohioan split tape (the Young Hunter portion of which was included last year, otherwise it would probably be number two on this list), Inter Arma‘s The Cavern 40-minute single-song EP/LP, Harvest Bell‘s debut EP, Goya and Wounded Giant‘s split, Fuzz Evil and Chiefs‘ split, Cruthu‘s demo, Disenchanter‘s second EP, the White Dynomite/Hey Zeus split 7″, Humo del Cairo‘s EP, The Golden Grass‘ Realisations EP, Dune‘s ProgenitorGodflesh‘s comeback EP, and Blackwitch Pudding‘s reinterpretations/covers EP, Covered in Pudding.

A couple notes: The Sleep single was a given. I don’t think anything could’ve topped it one way or another, even if I hadn’t listened to it 100 times since its release in July as part of the Adult Swim Singles Series. In any case, there was no debate about where to place it. You might notice on the other end the list goes to 21. I thought that being the element of chaos suited Lord well, and since I’m not entirely sure their Alive in Golgotha EP has been officially released, they warranted inclusion just in case.

One thing that struck me in putting this list together was the amount of splits included. You’ll notice Fatso Jetson and Herba Mate‘s Early Shapes right in behind Sleep. That one was an utter joy, as far as I’m concerned, and made me wish both of them would get on putting out full-lengths as soon as possible. Not far behind is Cortez and Borracho‘s split single, which had killer tracks from both bands, and the Naam/White Hills/Black Rainbows/The Flying Eyes split from Heavy Psych Sounds that, even with four bands involved, managed to keep a flowing atmosphere front to back, which was impressive enough in and of itself, never mind the individual contributions of those four acts, which were also top quality. The Krautzone/Lamp of the Universe split also provided a considerable psych blissout, and Godhunter‘s split/collaboration with Secrets of the Sky earned extra points for its adventurous spirit and the payoff its risk-taking brought to bear.

Like their Lightning at the Door LP, All Them Witches‘ Effervescent 25-minute jam figured heavily in my 2014 listening habits, as did Heavy Temple‘s self-titled debut EP. Dutch garage/heavy punkers Death Alley earned spins with their debut 7″, a lack of pretense in melding proto-thrash and heavy rock impulses allowing them to quickly find a niche that one hopes they continue to develop. Their debut single, along with Demon Head‘s Demo 2014 (and, indeed, that band’s follow-up single) and the Lewis and the Strange Magics demo were an allay to concerns retro-minded rock might be stagnating.

Geezer featured on the Short Releases list last year as well. I wasn’t sure what to do with their Gage 12″, since it was released in 2013 as an EP and 2014 as an LP, but either way, their Live! Full Tilt Boogie tape effortlessly recalled classic blues rock performances and demonstrated the fluid chemistry at work in the New York trio, I hope it’s not the last live release they do. Along similar bluesy lines, The Heavy Co.‘s Uno Dose found the Hoosier three-piece dipping into heavy jams more than their last full-length, and if that’s the direction they’re headed, you won’t hear me argue. Hailing from Sweden and arriving as an offshoot of Asteroid, the single-song EP from The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues had more than a touch of heavy blues to it too, and made me look forward to that project’s development from here on out.

There’s little I’m going to complain about less than hearing Ed Mundell bust out Miles Davis-inspired solos, so yeah, The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic‘s Through the Dark Matter EP gets a nod. Impressive guitar work ran a current through Boston duo Gold & Silver‘s debut EP, Azurite and Malachite, but the proggy feel was what ultimately sold me on the two extended instrumentals included there, whereas with fellow Beantowners The Proselyte, it was the catchy songwriting and variety they showed in just four tracks. The He Whose Ox is Gored 7″ was likewise modern and satisfyingly weighted, though obviously shorter, and last but not at all least, the progressive sludge of Wren‘s self-titled EP seemed to fly under a lot of people’s radar but was a markedly individual take on a well established form that portended of good things to come.

As with everything, I’m sure there’s something in this mix that I forgot. If you’ve got a call you want to make on something, please let loose in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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Heavy Temple, Heavy Temple: Alpha and Omega

Posted in Reviews on August 4th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

It’s a cavernous and mystical sound that Heavy Temple have conjured for their self-titled debut EP. After impressing with a single for “Unholy Communion” last year — that song is also presented third of the extended three cuts on Heavy Temple and is out as a cassingle via Sarlacc Productions — the Philadelphia outfit were picked up by Germany’s Ván Records for the vinyl and digipak CD issue of this more complete first outing, and it’s an endorsement of no small consequence, Ván having long since proved the mettle of its tastes via picking up cult-minded acts like Year of the Goat and The Devil’s BloodHeavy Temple — here a trio but now a duo with bassist/vocalist Elyse “High Priestess Nighthawk” Mitchell as the sole remaining founder — present a more laid back style of grooving than either of those two, but remain plenty heavy nonetheless across “Dirty Ghost” (8:17), “Legendary Conversations with Ants” (7:31) and the aforementioned “Unholy Communion” (13:15) and offer atmosphere to match the intermittent full-thrust tonal heft. They are, in fact, notably cohesive  in their approach, and particularly for their first time out, Heavy Temple seem to arrive with a firm notion of their intent, what they want to sound like and how they want to achieve it. Mitchell‘s voice is dynamic and her approach shifts smoothly between “Dirty Ghost” and “Legendary Conversations with Ants” before delivering its most powerful performance on the closer, and in guitarist Shawn “Rattlesnake” Rambles and drummer Andy “Bearadactyl” Martin (also of Maple Forum alums Clamfight), she had a formidable complement with which to establish the range heard in these songs.

About those songs: They are spacious, psychedelic, heavy and they manage to avoid much of the cult rock cliché while proving both immersive and memorable over the course of Heavy Temple‘s 29-minute span. Working together as a debut EP, they more than succeed in giving the band’s audience a sense of what Heavy Temple want to do moving forward, and whether it’s the quiet doom blues in “Legendary Conversations with Ants” that gives way to a slow-motion effects-drenched freakout led by Rambles‘ guitar or the jammy bliss that emerges at the end of “Unholy Communion,” they retain their hold of the proceedings and excellently showcase the potential for what the band might or might have become going forward. “Dirty Ghost” commences with an otherworldly volume swell — minimal, quiet — before gradually unfolding itself with Martin‘s drums and Mitchell‘s bass and vocals, and it’s not until well past the halfway point of its eight-minute run that it finally explodes into full-on psych-grunge heft, like if someone wanted to turn peak-era Soundgarden production into a religion. That patience becomes a central element as Heavy Temple plays out, and the trio are just as likely to ride out a loud part as a quiet one, not shying either from crafting a void or filling it with distortion. The malleability of Mitchell‘s voice between the sultry croon in the first minutes of “Dirty Ghost” and the rawer shouting at the apex of “Unholy Communion” — the EP flowing smoothly between the two; something else that bodes well for a full-length — is another major asset working in their favor, and the stoner-mass of “Legendary Conversations with Ants,” while apparently more worldly in its lyric than the title might have you believe, executes a subtle linear build that ends with some classic doom riffing that bleeds right into the start of “Unholy Communion,” the whole release tying together seamlessly.

The first couple minutes of “Unholy Communion” are dedicated to building up tension, but at about 2:50, the song opens up and begins a payoff that will carry it through its midpoint, where it breaks to minimal ambience to set the stage for the EP’s final build and ultimate heavy psych payoff, Rambles‘ soloing meshing with layers of effects swirl that still keep enough room in the mix to sound human-made, though by then all three sound completely engrossed in the stirring concoction, even as they emerge from it for the big-riff finish and last-second string epilogue. Whatever Heavy Temple do from here is bound to be vastly different. I don’t know whether Mitchell intends to form a new trio or keep the band as a two-piece — she’s currently joined by drummer Saint Columbidae — but in any case, the change from the guitar, bass/vocals and drums lineup here is sure to manifest itself in subsequent output, even if her songwriting remains at the core. With that in mind, Heavy Temple may or may not be telling of the band’s future, and one would wonder about releasing it at all but for the fact that when a label like Ván comes calling, you answer. If this EP is to be Heavy Temple‘s beginning point, it starts them with a tumult marked by material of striking quality. It’s a familiar enough story for bands working under a principle songwriter, and if that’s to be the tale of Heavy Temple, the hope is they can find consistency in the chaos. Taken on its own merits, however, Heavy Temple is among the best short releases I’ve heard so far this year, and if it can serve as even the most rudimentary standard of quality from which the band can expand their sound, then they’re going to be just fine. Point is, even just in Mitchell‘s performance there’s potential here and a lot of it. How she handles that and what she does with it the next time out will be a big tell in terms of Heavy Temple‘s longer-term prospects, and either way, it seems likely that their sophomore studio outing will be as much a debut as this one. A live release in the interim would go a long way in giving a look at where Heavy Temple are headed.

Heavy Temple, Heavy Temple (2014)

Heavy Temple on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Temple on Bandcamp

Ván Records

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