Magnetic Eye Records Announces Back in Black Redux and The Best of AC/DC Tribute Lineups

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 22nd, 2021 by JJ Koczan

I’ll readily admit I’m not the biggest AC/DC fan in the world, but with an initial Kickstarter goal of four thousand dollars that, as of this post, is currently at well over four times that amount, why would Magnetic Eye Records ever stop putting out ‘Redux’ records? Clearly they’ve found a thing that works, lets them pull in an array of killer artists from around the world, and is only well supported by the fanbase. Shit, they got Udo Dirkschneider to be on a track with Howling Giant. That’s awesome. You just have to throw up your hands at the inevitable, I guess. ‘Redux’ forever.

Note Heavy Temple here, as well as Kryptograf, Solace and Earthride — any new recording from either of them is welcome — and Besvärjelsen too. Some from the Magnetic Eye roster, some Blues Funeral, some beyond. And Red Fang leading off with “Hells Bells.” Can you already hear that in your head? Of course you can.

The PR wire has the full lineup and more:

va acdc back in black redux

va the best of acdc redux

Magnetic Eye Records announce the complete track list of latest Redux Series installments “Back in Black [Redux]” and companion volume “Best of AC/DC”

Magnetic Eye Records have shattered their Kickstarter goal on their latest [Redux] series project dedicated to the AC/DC mega-classic “Back in Black” and its companion volume under the title “Best of AC/DC”. The target of 4,000 USD has been pledged more than four times over, and the campaign continues until July 25 at the following link:

www.kickstarter.com/projects/magneticeye/back-in-black-redux-best-of-ac-dc

The complete track listingss for both releases paying impassioned homage to AC/DC have also been revealed and feature exciting contributions from, among many others, RED FANG, SUPERSUCKERS, WHORES featuring MASTODON’s BILL KELLIHER, BOB BALCH (FU MANCHU) & TONY REED (MOS GENERATOR), and HOWLING GIANT collaborating with legendary former ACCEPT shouter UDO DIRKSCHNEIDER. Please see below for full details.

Jadd Shickler comments: “Our Redux releases have always been and will always be works of pure love and respect for truly amazing bands and albums, our way of celebrating classics and paying proper homage to the artists who’ve made some of the most meaningful music of our lives”, states the Magnetic Eye Records label director. “We take the overwhelming response as a sign of trust and support for the dedication that goes into the Redux series, and we’re thankful for the amazing response! Even with the industry-wide delays on vinyl production, we’ll be making our strongest efforts to deliver these albums into everyone’s hands before the end of 2021.”

Tracklist “Back in Black [Redux]
1. Hells Bells- Red Fang
2. Shoot to Thrill – Howling Giant feat. Udo Dirkschneider
3. What Do You Do for Money Honey – Supersuckers
4. Givin the Dog a Bone – Smoking Lightning
5. Let Me Put My Love into You – Heavy Temple feat. Valient Himself
6. Back in Black – Besvärjelsen
7. You Shook Me All Night Long – Jakethehawk feat. Patrick Waters
8. Have a Drink on Me – Whores feat. Bill Kelliher
9. Shake a Leg – Early Man
10. Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution – Earthride

Tracklist “Best of AC/DC”
1. Sin City – Witchskull
2. It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N Roll) – Kal-El
3. What’s Next to the Moon – Bob Balch & Tony Reed
4. Bad Boy Boogie – Kryptograf
5. Walk All Over You – Blue Heron
6. Overdose – Supersuckers
7. For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) – Riff Lord
8. Whole Lotta Rosie – Solace
9. If You Want Blood – Red Mesa
10. The Razors Edge – Ghost Ship Ritual
11. Dog Eat Dog – Caustic Casanova
12. High Voltage – Electric Frankenstein
13. Night Prowler – Domkraft

“Back in Black [Redux]” presents new takes on all ten cuts from AC/DC’s seminal seventh album. This was the first record to feature “new” singer Brian Johnson following the death of original larger-than-life frontman Bon Scott, and music historians agree that there was massive pressure on both the new singer and the band to deliver. Even so, nobody could have anticipated that they’d create one of the most important rock albums ever, and Magnetic Eye cannot wait for you to hear what many of your favorite bands from the stoner, doom, and riff-rock scene have done with some of the most iconic rock songs of all time.

Along with “Back in Black [Redux]”, we also present our “Best of AC/DC” companion album, a 2-LP extravaganza featuring 13 bands offering their renditions of all-time classics and deep cuts from across the AC/DC catalog. Featuring an array of absolute heavyweights and hungry up-and-comers from the heavy rock underground, we’ve got no doubt that fans of the riff-heavy will be stoked to experience these massive AC/DC interpretations unlike any they’ve heard before.

The Magnetic Eye [Redux] Series features hand-picked classic albums from across the history of rock and metal, re-imagined in their entirety from start to finish by bands we love. Hand-picked artists from throughout the rock and metal world each pick a track to make their own, bringing these milestone records into the new millennium with crushing heaviness and searing energy. To date, we’ve produced [Redux] versions of PINK FLYOD’s “The Wall”, HELMET’s “Meantime”, BLACK SABBATH’s “Vol. 4”, HENDRIX’s “Electric Ladyland”, and ALICE IN CHAINS’ “Dirt”, which have included artists like MATT PIKE, PALLBEARER, THE MELVINS, ALL THEM WITCHES, KHEMMIS, ASG, ZAKK WYLDE, MARK LANEGAN, SCOTT REEDER, and many more amazing artists.

Join us for our sixth foray into Redux territory as we pay proper respect to the Australian legends!

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Solace, “Whole Lotta Rosie”

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal Playlist: Episode 61

Posted in Radio on June 11th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

Stuff that’s been on my mind lately or came in recently and caught my fancy. Nothing really too tricky to how this one came together. Heavy Temple and All Souls are the two most recent interviews I’ve done, and the King Buffalo and Moon Coven and Vokonis and Whims of the Great Magnet are also things I’ve covered lately. Ditto Cavern Deep. Electric Moon I bought a shirt from the other day — they’re putting together a new comp of their studio work — and the Somnuri record continues to demolish.

Déhà and Seputus and Gateway are killer and more extreme, Slomatics are recording, the Wooden Veins record is out on The Vinyl Division and was a record I wanted to give more attention to, and yeah, as far as motivation goes, this is basically what’s been circling around in my head for the last two weeks. More than that in some cases.

Without waxing poetic, I guess that’s kind of the point of the show. Hear new music, share new music. It’s not the most ambitious goal I’ve undertaken, but not to put too fine a point on it, it is essentially the rule by which I govern everything I do here. Next episode has more of a united theme (I already turned the playlist in; look at me being ahead of the game for once), but I think this flows well just the same.

Thanks for listening and/or reading. 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 – 06.11.21

Moon Coven Bahgsu Nag Slumber Wood
The Whims of the Great Magnet Share My Sun Share My Sun
Vokonis Through the Depths Odyssey
VT
King Buffalo The Knocks The Burden of Restlessness
Slomatics Proto Hag Split with Ungraven
Seputus The Learned Response Phantom Indigo
Déhà Blackness in May Cruel Words
Gateway Slumbering Crevasses Flesh Reborn
VT
Acid Magus Wyrd Syster Wyrd Syster
Heavy Temple A Desert Through the Trees Lupi Amoris
All Souls You Just Can’t Win Songs for the End of the World
Somnuri In the Grey Nefarious Wave
Wooden Veins Thin Shades In Finitude
Cavern Deep Waterways Cavern Deep
VT
Electric Moon The Doomsday Machine The Doomsday Machine

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is June 25 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Metal website

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Video Interview: High Priestess Nighthawk of Heavy Temple on Making Lupi Amoris, Deleting Entire Albums, and Much More

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Features on June 1st, 2021 by JJ Koczan

heavy temple

Philadelphia-based hard fuzz trio Heavy Temple make an awaited debut on June 18 with Lupi Amoris (review here), a first full-length years and multiple lineups in the making. Settled hopefully on the lineup of founding bassist/vocalist High Priestess Nighthawk, guitarist Lord Paisley and drummer Baron Lycan, the band take the opportunity to turn folkloric admonishment into emotional and sexual agency in the theme of the record — something consistent with their take on Funkadelic‘s “Hit it and Quit It” (discussed here) from last year, come to think of it — and do so in the context of rampant groove, psychedelic flourish and complex but memorable songcraft. If you and I were hanging out, talking about albums, I’d probably say something like, “Hey, this record’s really cool. You should check it out.”

This interview’s pretty casual. I manage to keep my nerding out over the songs to a low-enough to only be mildly embarrassing, which I’m proud of, while Nighthawk herself recounts the long process by which Lupi Amoris was realized, self-recording, moving,heavy temple lupi amoris changing band members, changing songs accordingly, and on and on until, at last, Magnetic Eye will have the thing out and the band can move on to the new material already in progress. After 2016’s Chassit EP (review here) and their prior 2014 self-titled three-songer (review here), a quick turnaround to a second full-length would be welcome, but given the band’s history as a dedicated touring act in addition to everything else that’s come before this record’s arrival, one could hardly begrudge them wanting to celebrate this release on stage for a bit.

To that end, Heavy Temple headline this very weekend Philly’s Live on Front two-day outdoor fest. With Ruby the Hatchet as the corresponding second-night headliner and the likes of Slomo SapiensHigh Reeper and St. James and the Apostles on the bill, an hour-long set should provide a ready (and likewise awaited) opportunity for three-piece to showcase where they’re at. I asked Nighthawk about stepping on stage for the first time in over a year, as well as all the other stuff about the album, and yeah, it’ll probably be a good one. Hopefully the first of many.

It was Saturday afternoon. A band was recording downstairs at Chez Nighthawk and her roommate had houseguests. My kid was in the adjacent room screaming about who the hell knows what. So like I said, casual. In any case, if you get through the whole thing either watching or listening, I hope you enjoy.

Thanks for reading and/or watching.

Heavy Temple, Lupi Amoris Interview with High Priestess Nighthawk, May 29, 2021

Lupi Amoris is available to preorder now through Magnetic Eye Records ahead of the June 18 release. More info at the links.

Heavy Temple, Lupi Amoris (2021)

Heavy Temple on Facebook

Heavy Temple on Instagram

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Album Review: Heavy Temple, Lupi Amoris

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

heavy temple lupi amoris

It has been years of waiting leading to a debut album from Philadelphia’s Heavy Temple. They have since their dawning amassed a not-insignificant catalog of short releases — their self-titled EP (review here) in 2014 was followed by 2016’s Chassit EP (review here), and there was that same year’s take on Type O Negative‘s “Love You to Death” (discussed here) and last year’s P-Funk covers split with Wolf Blood benefitting Black Lives Matter (discussed here) — as well as a likewise not-insignificant amount of alumni. Founding bassist/vocalist High Priestess Nighthawk has overseen multiple full-lineup changes for the three-piece now comprised of herself, guitarist Lord Paisley and drummer Baron Lycan, and would seem to have hammered out the sound she envisioned for the band on the road rather than in the studio. Heavy Temple arrive at their first full-length with no shortage of anticipation and with years of touring behind them and performances as festivals far and wide, among them Psycho Las VegasShadow Woods, SXSW, going back to Eye of the Stoned Goat 2 (review here) in Delaware in 2013.

Lupi Amoris, which sees release through Magnetic Eye Records, is the beneficiary of this experience. Recorded by Will Spectre at Red Water Recordings (points for another Type O reference) and mastered by Dan Randall at Mammoth Sound with striking, symbol-laden cover art by Alex Reisfar, the five-song/33-minute offering follows a theme recasting the folktale Little Red Riding Hood — at least mostly; I’m not sure how opener “A Desert Through the Trees” ties into the narrative, but neither have I seen a lyric sheet — as a tale of feminine empowerment and realized sexual agency. Through “The Wolf,” “The Maiden,” “Isabella (with Unrelenting Fangs)” and “Howling of a Prothalamion” — the latter term refers to a wedding poem — and indeed the prior leadoff cut, Heavy Temple bring the payoff toward which they’ve been working for years. When they issued Chassit, I argued in favor of it being their debut LP for its flow and the complete-feeling sensibility underlying the songs. It was more than the sampling an EP designation implied. Listening to Lupi Amoris half a decade later, the difference is abundantly clear. In sound and style, in the substance and breadth of its songs, Lupi Amoris brings Heavy Temple to a new level entirely.

The imagine of “unrelenting fangs” is a standout, but not necessarily the whole of what Lupi Amoris has to offer. “A Desert Through the Trees” fades in smoothly and builds up quick with a post-Songs for the Deaf weighted-fuzz shuffle, slowing its roll to open wide in the verse before a winding transition that calls to mind half-speed The Atomic Bitchwax leads to the chorus. The song is spacious, vital, full and melodic. Layering of vocals adds further character, and in the second half’s guitar solo, Lord Paisley unfurls the soundscape-minded intent that becomes one of the record’s strengths, blending atmosphere and momentum atop the strong rhythmic foundation of the bass and drums. Much of the focus here will inevitably be on Nighthawk, who is a powerful and charismatic presence in the songs as well as the driving force behind the band, but the contributions of neither Paisley nor Lycan should be discounted when it comes to taking the proceedings as a whole. Everybody’s performance has stepped up, and if this is to be at last the permanent lineup of Heavy Temple — something no less awaited than the record — it would only be to the benefit of the group and their listenership alike. One must keep in mind that while Heavy Temple as a unit have been together since the end of 2012, this incarnation only came together in 2019. In some ways, they’re just getting started.

heavy temple

And given what they achieve throughout Lupi Amoris, that’s an even more exciting prospect. “A Desert Through the Trees” caps furiously as a preface for some of what the nine-minute “Isabella (with Unrelenting Fangs)” will offer later, and “The Wolf” fades in its wah-echoing guitar over the first minute-plus as an intro before the bass arrives to mark the beginning of the creeping groove that ultimately defines the track. It’s a righteous riff in the tradition thereof, and the vocals duly howl upward from the mix, flourish of harmony arriving late in the guitar but no less welcome for its arrival, the band showing a patience of craft that underlies their more forward aspects and only continues to serve them well as “The Wolf” surges its transition directly into the feedback-and-guitar-and-bass beginning of “The Maiden.” The centerpiece of Lupi Amoris might also house the record’s most scorching progressions, pushing, shoving, running all the while, and the vocals join the wash late to emphasize the point, capping cold with quick noise before “Isabella (with Unrelenting Fangs)” takes hold, a psychedelic guitar winding in to build upward toward the eventual marching verse.

Immediately the spirit is looser, the focus more on swing. The nod. And fair enough. At 4:14 into its total 9:30, the drums drop out for a moment and Heavy Temple begin a slower, more thoroughly and willfully doomed stretch. It’s another minute-plus before howling vocals — lower in the mix at first — arrive, but as the song moves past the six-minute mark, a chaos of crashes and vast-echo guitar crescendos and recedes. There’s a pause. And then the guitar goes backward and the drums go forward and they jam their way back into the central riff so long left behind and top it with dual-channel shred and end cacophonous as is their apparent wont, leaving only the key-laced “Howling of a Prothalamion” to close out. Those keyboards bookend the instrumental finale, which likewise offers bounce and gallop, ebb and flow enough to summarize the proceedings on its own while pushing outward from where the prior song’s apex left off. The ultimate moral of the story here is that whatever Heavy Temple do to follow Lupi Amoris, they’ve got their work cut out for them.

One hesitates to speculate on direction or forward intent. It may be another seven or eight years before there’s a follow-up to Lupi Amoris. Or it won’t. And their sound may push into the sinister outer reaches that “Howling of a Prothalamion” hints toward in some of its riffing, or their next outing might find them moving along another path entirely. Universe of infinite possibilities. Another record may never happen. What matters is that after years of hammering out who and what Heavy Temple are and stand for, the accomplishments of this first LP can’t be undone, and they not only justify the band’s wait-until-it’s-right approach, but make a dodged bullet of their possibly having done anything else. There’s a fair amount of year left, and again, universe of infinite possibilities, but this is the best debut album I’ve heard thus far into 2021. Recommended.

Heavy Temple, Lupi Amoris (2021)

Heavy Temple on Facebook

Heavy Temple on Instagram

Heavy Temple on Bandcamp

Magnetic Eye Records store

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Magnetic Eye Day of Doom Livestream Set for May 15

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 4th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

There isn’t one stinking band on here I don’t want to watch. I went down the whole list. Certainly Howling Giant have made themselves virtually available in this era of no in-person gigging, doing various streams and jams and so on, but even them too, I’m like, “Yeah, I’d watch them again.” That’s pretty much how I feel every week. But to see Domkraft, Heavy Temple and Somnuri all playing, each one with a new album either out (that’s you, Domkraft) or on the way is a boon, and that’s before you get to an unveiling for whatever shenanigans Caustic Casanova have been cooking up over the past year.

Yeah, I’m on board here. Of course I’ve got fond memories of Magnetic Eye‘s Nov. 2019 ‘Day of Doom’ showcase (review here), and if the label wanted at some point to bring these groups together on a stage, that’d be just fine. But while at this point it’s probably not even a question of me putting on jeans — I think those days are gone; I’ve only ever had like two pairs of jeans I ever liked anyhow — to go be in a place with people, there’s a definite appeal to dropping ass on the couch and putting this one on the ol’ wallmount for a bit of matinee-style afternoon delight.

Granted, if it was happening in Brooklyn, I’d drive there for it, and I know it’s not the same for performers, but even after shows start up again as they at some point invariably will, I don’t think livestreaming is going to completely disappear, and Magnetic Eye putting something like this together is a good example of how to do it moving forward.

That’s my take. It’s free to watch. Maybe they’ll do a live box set like last time. I better get some good screengrabs. Ha.

Info:

magnetic eye day of doom live stream

Magnetic Eye and Blues Funeral Recordings present a virtual Day of Doom, featuring:

Howling Giant
Caustic Casanova
Somnuri
Domkraft
Heavy Temple

HOW TO WATCH:

Each band will be broadcasting their set on their Facebook pages and all of them can also be watched in this event or on Magnetic Eye’s page.

Event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/523418811982271/

Set times announced soon.

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Heavy Temple, “The Maiden”

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Heavy Temple Set June 18 Release for Lupi Amoris; “The Maiden” Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 5th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

heavy temple

This is something to be excited about. I don’t think you need me to tell you that, but in case you do, I just did. Heavy Temple have been steadily working their way toward a full-length debut since well before their self-titled EP (review here) turned so many heads in 2014. In 2016, Chassit EP (review here) might’ve sufficed — sure sounded like an album to be, even at 28 minutes — but without that official “here you go this is an album” stamp, one tends to defer to whatever a band wants to call their own release.

Because of that, the impending Lupi Amoris feels even more like an event, since while Heavy Temple haven’t been at all absent — they’ve been through a couple lineups at this point, but a steady stream of short releases and live shows/fest appearances has kept their momentum going — they’ve specifically chosen this is as their moment to offer a first LP. June 18 is the release date, and preorders are up, as well as the streaming track “The Maiden,” which would seem to be an essential component of the narrative aspect of the songs.

I’ll hope to have more on this before it’s out. I haven’t heard the full thing yet, but it’s been one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

PR wire info follows:

heavy temple lupi amoris

HEAVY TEMPLE release first single ‘The Maiden’ and details of debut full-length “Lupi Amoris”

Preorder: http://lnk.spkr.media/heavy-temple-lupi-amoris

Release date: June 18

HEAVY TEMPLE crash forth like a roaring mastodon in a thunderstorm with their first official full-length, “Lupi Amoris,” and it has all the markings of a landmark record.

As progressive as BARONESS but unselfconscious, as heavy as FU MANCHU but more adventurous, this Philadelphia trio throw every lever in the riff-metal machine, yet also wield lyrical concepts that register on literary levels.

“Lupi Amoris” offers a one-way trip through wide-open spaces and deep forests. Its songs wind and deposit heavy flotsam like a mighty musical stream, pushing through swirling rapids, cutting through riff-mountains, and swelling with addictive grooves. Riding atop the sonic waves, singer and bass player High Priestess Nighthawk belts powerfully over the roaring din.

When HEAVY TEMPLE came into being on the 2012 winter solstice, the trio were after the pure fun and joy of playing heavy music, illustrated by each founding member’s chosen nom de guerre: High Priestess Nighthawk, Rattlesnake, and Bearadactyl.

At first playing shows locally in Philly, the band quickly gained an excellent live reputation, leading to tours alongside RUBY THE HATCHET, MOTHERSHIP, ROYAL THUNDER and CORROSION OF CONFORMITY. Invitations to notable festivals included The Maryland Doom Fest, Psycho Las Vegas, and Decibel Metal & Beer, among many others. It’s an impressive live showing made even more remarkable when considering that HEAVY TEMPLE have yet to release their debut full-length.

After their first self-released and self-titled EP “Heavy Temple” (2014) was picked up by esteemed German cult label Ván Records, the self-released single ” Love You To Death ” and sophomore EP “Chassit” followed in 2016. Second single “Key & Bone” arrived in 2018, and the split 7″ “From the Black Hole” with WOLFBLOOD materialized in 2020, but it took until 2021 for a full album to appear on the horizon at last. It speaks volumes about HEAVY TEMPLE’s talent and face-melting live impact that the invitations to attractive tours and prestigious festivals continued to roll in anyway.

Although HEAVY TEMPLE leverage all the trappings of traditionally male-oriented metal (to the point that their sound could proudly sport a full beard), the powerful presence of frontwoman and sole remaining founding member High Priestess Nighthawk merges their glorious heaviness with a strong thematic line of feminine strength.

“Lupi Amoris” is Latin for “Wolves of Love,” and takes strong inspiration from Angela Carter’s story “The Company of Wolves.” In it, the narrative of Red Riding Hood is flipped from a cautionary tale about the dangers of lust and desire, feelings young women were traditionally expected to stifle, to a story of female sexuality and power reclaimed. “Lupi Amoris” finds the Philly outfit aligning with a Red Riding Hood who is freed from the traditional bonds of what’s expected.

Proving that it’s quite possible to hammer out gargantuan stoner doom and still say something about life’s realities, HEAVY TEMPLE make a fierce and much-needed statement with “Lupi Amoris”, and at these volumes, the world is guaranteed to hear it.

Tracklist
1. A Desert through the Trees
2. The Wolf
3. The Maiden
4. Isabella (with Unrelenting Fangs)
5. Howling of a Prothalamion

Recorded & mixed by Will Spectre at Red Water Recordings
Mastered by Dan Randall at Mammoth Sound Mastering

Artwork by Alex Reisfar
Layout by Zach Thomas

Line-up
High Priestess Nighthawk – vocals, bass
Lord Paisley – guitar
Baron Lycan – drums

https://www.facebook.com/HeavyTemple/
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Heavy Temple, “The Maiden”

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Heavy Temple Sign to Magnetic Eye Records

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 27th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Philadelphia hard fuzz trio Heavy Temple have signed to Magnetic Eye Records to issue what’s being billed as their debut full-length this summer. The band took part last year in the Mutants of the Monster virtual festival and made summer groove by covering Funkadelic on a split with Wolf Blood (discussed here) that served as the follow-up to 2016’s Chassit EP (review here) as the group, led by founding bassist/vocalist High Priestess Nighthawk, proceeded to roll through multiple lineup changes. 2020 was to have found Heavy Temple featuring on a number of fests, from the Psycho Smokeout to New England Stoner and Doom to Monolith on the Mesa to Descendants of Crom, but then of course 2020 happened.

Nighthawk and Heavy Temple nonetheless took part in the various artists compilation Women of Doom (review here) with the highlight cut “Astral Hand,” taking on a more classic doom style for the song and adding intrigue for what the group’s full-length debut — to call it “awaited” is putting it lightly — might see them manifest.

A summer 2021 release is expected for the yet-untitled offering, as Magnetic Eye made sure to note while making the announcement via the social medias.

I was grateful to be tagged in the following post, and I’ll hope to have more on the record soon:

heavy temple

MAGNETIC EYE RECORDS – HEAVY TEMPLE

MASSIVE SIGNING NEWS

Magnetic Eye is unutterably stoked to announce that brain-melting doom/groove trio HEAVY TEMPLE have joined the roster! The Philadelphia three-piece, who made their mark with a slew festival slots at Psycho Las Vegas, Black Flags Over Brooklyn, The Obelisk All-Dayer, Decibel Metal and Beer, Maryland Doom Fest and DesertFest New York, and tours with COC, Ruby the Hatchet, Royal Thunder and Mothership, are preparing to release their first official full-length this summer.

Welcome to the titanic Heavy Temple, and get ready to have your minds blown by what this powerhouse outfit has coming!

https://www.facebook.com/HeavyTemple/
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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.

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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

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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