Friday Full-Length: The Gates of Slumber, …The Awakening

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 28th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Beginning next week, Indianapolis doomers The Gates of Slumber will embark on a European tour that, centered around and fostered by an appearance at Hell over Hammaburg in Germany, will touch down in six different countries across nine shows. It’s not the hugest tour the band have ever undertaken by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a special moment nonetheless as founding guitarist/vocalist Karl Simon (interview here) — who’s spent the last couple years developing the similarly-minded trio Wretch in part to spread The Gates of Slumber‘s legacy — revitalizes the band after splitting up in 2013. They go abroad with the express purpose of celebrating their 2004 debut, …The Awakening (originally released on Final Chapter Records), and joining Simon in the lineup is drummer Chuck Brown, who played on the album and went on to found Apostle of Solitude as vocalist/guitarist after its release, and bassist Steve Janiak, who’s been in Apostle of Solitude since about 2012 and who also fronts the wildly underrated Devil to Pay, also in vocals and guitar. The latter steps into an especially precarious position in the band, taking on the role once held by Jason McCash prior to his leaving the band in 2013 — causing the breakup — and subsequent death the next year.

The reunion tour and what it might lead to aside, …The Awakening hit 15 years old in 2019 and remains a work out of its own time. Not that there was no doom happening circa 2004 — indeed, The Gates of Slumber‘s “membership” in the ‘Circle of True Doom’ speaks to a community already crossing international borders — but they represented a new generation in direct engagement with some of the style’s most treasured traditions. You want to know how to doom? Cool. Go ahead and put on the opening track of …The Awakening, and once you’re past the howling wind, tolling bell and vague screams that consume the first minute-plus, sit back as SimonMcCash and Brown put together a handy tutorial on doing it right. Seriously. “The Awakening (Interpolating the Wrath of the Undead)” is a nine-minute clinic not only in what the album that in part shares its name has to offer, but really on the appeal of traditionalist doom on the whole. Its Sabbathian lurch is worn on-sleeve, and Simon‘s vocals are immediately downtrodden, the melody following the riff on a depressive spiral punctuated by the bell of Brown‘s ride cymbal evoking the introduction. The song grows slower and more tortured in its second half setting up the guitar solo that consumes both channels in Iommic layering, and then, as it approaches its last minute, the drums kick into a faster progression to thrash out as another, more ripping lead finishes off.

I won’t discount the 9:33 bookending closer “The Burial,”the gates of slumber the awakening or a speedster shuffle like “The Executioner,” the low-end-shoved chug of “Broken on the Wheel” or the plod and swing of “The Judge” and “The Jury,” respectively — this is essential doom and essentialist doom. It is doom the cuts through nuance and bullshit and proceeds to death. That is what it does from front to back. Wakes up on its last day, sees judge and jury, is tortured, executed and buried — done. But it’s in “The Awakening (Interpolating the Wrath of the Undead)” that The Gates of Slumber set the stage on which the drama that follows plays out, and they’re never so much consumed by the narrative as they are bringing to bear the sense of defeat of one who is powerless against their fate. Every dense-toned bassline from McCash and even the most uptempo of parts in “Broken on the Wheel” or “The Executioner” are prefaced by that last stretch in the leadoff cut. Perhaps only the penultimate bass-led interlude “Blessed Pathway to the Celestial Kingdom” stands apart in terms of aesthetic, but definitely not in mood, and …The Awakening remains unified in its purpose even as it transitions from alive to dead in that brief moment.

“The Burial,” then, is a glorious epilogue of a wasted life. You never find out what brings about the execution — “The Awakening (Interpolating the Wrath of the Undead)” references zombies and post-death horrors at the outset, but the nearest clue is in the lyrics to “The Jury,” with the lines, “You were guilty as the oaths were sworn. A felon to die upon the morn.” Whether we’re burying the undead alive or punishing some unknown treason or betrayal, does it really matter? The underlying point of …The Awakening is that existence is the punishment, and whatever situational extrapolation one might want to bring to the narrative across the songs, the same statement applies. There’s no getting away from it. No escape from that executioner’s blade. We’re all fucked. Doom on.

As much as one might look at a lineup of The Gates of Slumber with Karl SimonSteve Janiak and Chuck Brown and daydream of new material topped with morose three-part harmonies to fill the grueling spaces left by the band’s signature riffs, part of the appeal of …The Awakening — a big part of it — is its straightforwardness. It is hiding nothing, either about its origins, its influences, or its intentions. The band at the time were beginning an exploration that would gradually lead them away from doom as a central focus and toward a more epic metal style, as 2006’s Suffer No Guilt begat 2008’s Conqueror and 2009’s Hymns of Blood and Thunder (review here), but doom was always there, and when 2011’s The Wretch (review here) — from whence Simon‘s post-Gates band would later derive their name — surfaced in all its ultra-Saint Vitus-style misery, the feeling was that The Gates of Slumber‘s claim on the forefront of US doom had never been stronger or more resonant. When their 2013 EP, Stormcrow (review here), served as the final installment of their career, even more than a decade on from their start the primary loss seemed to be in their potential going unfulfilled.

The Church Within Records has — today, apparently — issued a live record called Live at Tempe Arizona, and The Gates of Slumber have been steadily posting rehearsal footage from a basement that should be well recognizable to anyone who follows along with similar videos from Apostle of Solitude. Wherever their reunion goes or doesn’t go after this tour, whether there’s another The Gates of Slumber album or tour or not, their legacy is cast in the quality and the sincerity of their doom. There are few bands who have been able to play to style while feeling as genuine and heartfelt as The Gates of Slumber do on …The Awakening, and that only makes the record all the more worthy of the homage they’re paying it.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Don’t even ask what’s on next week. I have a dentist appointment Thursday? I know that. But I don’t even know what I’m writing about for Monday. It’s in the notes, I’ll deal with it over the weekend. Lord Buffalo maybe? I don’t know. Whatever. I’ve been trying to sleep later with mixed results and this week sucked anyway. Kid’s good. Everyone’s healthy. Whatever else.

Fuck email. I just don’t have the energy to deal with that shit. I have 147 messages that I just have no idea what the fuck to do with. I want to put up an out of office and be like, “Sorry I’m dead.” Facebook Messenger. Are you fucking kidding me?

Oh, I’m gonna review Arbouretum next week. Well that’s a break. That’ll be good. No one will give a crap, but whatever. I reviewed My Dying Bride this week, no one gave a crap. Why would they. Band’s been around for 30 years, what the hell am I gonna say about them that hasn’t been said 100 times before? Duh they’re good at what they do. Review over. Took me 1,000 words to say that, pretentious nitwit that I am. Feigning relevance for 11 years and counting! I don’t care. I just keep doing it anyway. I need it.

I’m burnt out, man. Still more than a month to go until Roadburn and I’m feeling like that spiritual rejuvenation is needed. Lot of hills to climb before I get there.

Leap Day tomorrow. I’ll be watching baseball and trying to avoid looking at the computer, counting down the minutes until it’s time to heat up leftovers for dinner. Farmer’s market on Sunday maybe. Fine.

Last night, I got offered $100 to write a review for today. Someone trying to buy coverage. This is a person who, in the past, I’ve considered a friend. Trying to buy coverage from me. Obviously clueless as to how insulting that is. I did not, and now will not, write the review. How could I possibly?

That’s life.

So I’m out $100. Ha.

At least Picard is good.

Anyway. Great and safe weekend. Appreciate you reading. FRM.

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Wolftooth Announce Valhalla Release on Cursed Tongue, Ripple & Ice Fall Records

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 28th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

They’re keeping some info close to their (battle) vest, but with the announcement of the May 22 LP release of Wolftooth‘s second album, Valhalla, comes word that not only will Cursed Tongue Records be handling that vinyl, but that tapes will be done through new imprint Ice Fall Records, and indeed Ripple Music, which reissued the band’s 2018 self-titled debut (review here), will be on board as well for the CD. The multi-format approach covering all flanks is only fitting for a release so concerned with battles among the gods, and though they’re a ways out from unveiling a single, the tracklisting, or even the cover art, rest assured that all of these things are duly epic. If you don’t want to take my word for it, consider the quality of the label endorsements they’ve earned.

Preorders May 1, as the PR wire informs. Please expect more to come on this one:

wolftooth

RICHMOND, IN RIFF-WELDERS WOLTOOTH RE-SIGNS TO CURSED TONGUE RECORDS FOR A GLOBAL VINYL RELEASE OF THEIR SOPHOMORE ALBUM MAY 22 2020

Cursed Tongue Records is super pleased to announce the re-signing of Richmond, IN based riff-welding behemoth Wolftooth and look forward to release their sophomore album entitled ‘Valhalla’ on premium vinyl come May 2020. This release will be a joint venture between a glorious trinity of Cursed Tongue Records (vinyl), Ripple Music (CD/digital) and Ice Fall Records (Cassette Tape) that all have joint forces to bring forth a tangible testament to ‘Valhalla’.

On their sophomore album Wolftooth has truly upped the ante, expanded on their already tested and tied formula, added more layers of sound and variation in the song writing and overall musical execution. The production has improved markedly and the tracks oozes of the much attention that has gotten into capturing both detail, feel and vibe during the recording. As the band members themselves express it: “We started work on this album back in August 2019; it is our masterpiece haha.”

‘Valhalla’ is everything you would come to expect from a follow-up album to Wolftooth’s über popular self-titled debut album – and then some! And even more! Seriously we have been heavy-nodding, head-banging and fist pumping on a daily bases since these four hoosiers submitted their new stellar opus. God damn ‘Valhalla’ is great, oh yeah! As if there would ever be a more suiting set of rock hymns to accompany the Aesir Gods to their sacred halls at Asgard after having slain all giants (Jætter, ed.) at the battlefield it has to be ‘Valhalla.’

Wolftooth’s Valhalla’ album is out May 22 2020 on premium vinyl (Cursed Tongue Records), CD/digital (Ripple Music) and Cassette Tape (Ice Fall Records). Vinyl pre-orders open May 1!!

It is with much joy, that Cursed Tongue Records can roll out the red carpet and give this utterly blatant head-banging, neck-snapping, skull-cracking, fist-pumping HM, riff-rock fest a well-deserved vinyl treatment. We open the doors for the vinyl pre-order on May 1 with official vinyl release May 22 2020.

Time of Victory Is Nigh, a Warrior on His Horse Ascending, the Throne of Valhalla to Claim

Wolftooth is:
Chris Sullivan Guitar/ Vocals
Terry McDaniel Bass
Jeff Cole Guitar
Johnny Harrod Drums/Vocals

https://www.facebook.com/wolftoothmetal/
https://www.instagram.com/wolftooth_metal/
http://cursedtonguerecords.bigcartel.com/
https://www.facebook.com/CursedTongueRecords/
https://www.facebook.com/theripplemusic/
https://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com/
http://www.ripple-music.com/
https://www.facebook.com/icefallrecords/
https://icefallrecords.bigcartel.com/

Wolftooth, Wolftooth (2019)

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Faerie Ring Release Live at Bokeh Fundraiser for Australian Wildfires

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 29th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

There’s only so much burying of head in the sand/riffs one can do before acknowledging that the planet is quite literally on fire. Putting aside politics or the disgusting notion that these issues were made political in the first place, lands are burning, people and animals are dying and any and all predicted trajectories for the future do not indicate positive signs. The Avengers will not save us. Luke Skywalker will not save us. This is real life. Science is real life.

I am not the first person to say any of this or to note that if you and I don’t take care of each other, from daily kindness to crowdfunding, then we all burn and burn alone.

Indiana-based riffers Faerie Ring, who made an impressive debut last year with The Clearing (review here), today issue a live recording from a few weeks back, Live at Bokeh, in order to help raise funds for wildlife affected by the fires in Australia, which, hey look at that, are ongoing.

Entire species are dying. Today. And no, a recorded set from a recent heavy show is not the end-all answer to climate disaster. But it also isn’t nothing, which, to my shame, is what I’ve done to help at this point.

This is worth your money:

faerie ring live at bokeh

Faerie Ring – Live at Bokeh

Recorded live at Bokeh Lounge in Evansville Indiana Jan 4, 2020

*****All Proceeds with be going directly to the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park****

This recording was handed to us free after one of our performance at Bokeh out of the kindness of heart. Seems only right to do something good with it. As always thanks for listening and we love you.

If you would like to donate directly or check in on rehabilitation progress, go to:

www.gofundme.com/f/help-save-kangaroo-islands-koalas-and-wildlife

From KIWildlife:

Over the past few days we have started to see a large number of injured koalas, along with other native species heavily impacted by this event. We have been treating these victims as best we can to supply pain relief, antibiotics, treatment to wounds and basic husbandry requirements. We spent most of January 3rd building extra holding enclosures as well as defending the park from the immediate threat of the fire. We will continue to prepare more infrastructure to house the extra wildlife we expect to see over the coming weeks.

For those of you who would like to contribute we are asking for funds to help with veterinary costs, koala milk and supplements, extra holding/rehabilitation enclosures, as well as setting up a building to hold supplies to treat these animals.

Due to the recent tragic bushfires, the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park has received a lot of concerned phone calls and messages regarding the impacted wildlife from these fires.

We are working around the clock with a highly experienced, qualified and dedicated team of volunteers including qualified vets, vet nurses and wildlife carers to rescue, rehabilitate and care for all of the animals coming in from the bushfires.

On admittance to us, all efforts are made to rehydrate, treat and assess the wildlife by our vet care team. Many are being treated for severe burns with most burns being to their hands, feet and rumps.

We will continue to provide the best care possible for our injured wildlife, we expect due to significant habitat loss we will be building exhibits to hold the treated koalas until we can arrange release back into the wild for many of them.

Kangaroo Island is well known for its thriving koala population however over 150,000 hectares has been lost due to recent events, this will effect our koala population dramatically. We need to pull together to save this Australian icon.

Once conditions improve and we are granted access to fire ground, a qualified team will be going out to rescue wildlife caught in the fires and relocate those left without a food source or home.

credits
James Wallwork // Electric Guitars & Vocal
Kyle Hulgus // Electric Guitars
Alex Wallwork // 4 String Electric Bass Guitars
Joseph Rhew // Battery

Recorded live by John Kern with help from Steve Tyner of Black Cat Recording

Photo by Katelyn Knoll

http://www.facebook.com/FaerieRingBand/
http://www.instagram.com/faerie_ring
http://www.faeriering.bandcamp.com/
http://www.facebook.com/kingvolumerecords
http://www.kingvolumerecords.bandcamp.com
http://www.kingvolumerecords.limitedrun.com

Faerie Ring, The Clearing (2019)

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Devil to Pay Premiere “Tap Dancing on Your Grave” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 28th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

devil to pay

They say good literature teaches you how to read it. It’s true of music as well, and really just about well-made anything. Think of an opening track setting the mood for an album. “Tap Dancing on Your Grave” doesn’t lead off Devil to Pay‘s 2019 Ripple Music album Forever, Never or Whenever (review here), but it does set a mood just the same, and if you look at the first 20 seconds or so, you can get a picture to some degree of what to expect. The shots of ritual masks and low, brown-tones give a laid back vibe amid the chugging guitar, and as the central riff is laid out, the camera cuts from guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak to bassist Matt Stokes to guitarist Rob Hough to drummer Chad Prifogle, all of whom are nodding in time to that initial chug. Frankly, if you’re not doing the same — i.e. nodding in rhythm to the riff — by the time Prifogle kicks in at the end of those 20 seconds, you’ve already missed the point.

The song teaches you its vibe early. The video puts you where it wants you right at the outset. This is well made heavy rock and roll, and that has always been Devil to Pay‘s wheelhouse. It’s just what they do.

By my count, this is the eighth video premiere The Obelisk has hosted for the Indianapolis-based heavy rockers dating back to 2012. Eight premieres across eight years (and it’s early yet in 2020) might seem like a lot — consider that I’m not sure “video premieres” were really a thing much before 2012 and the tally puts them far in the lead among others recurring on the site — but I’ve never been anything but happy to get on board for another, because I’m a fan of the band exactly for the reason above, which, when you get to the heart of it, is really about impeccable songwriting. That’s what “Tap Dancing on Your Grave” has to teach you about Forever, Never or Whenever as a whole, and it’s a lesson well learned as the band rock out the track’s melodic hook amid the collection of masks, totems, and so on. It’s a lesson and a song worth internalizing, and as always, I hope you enjoy.

Here’s looking forward to premiere number nine:

Devil to Pay, “Tap Dancing on Your Grave” official video premiere

Devil to Pay’s music video for “Tap Dancing On Your Grave”.

from the album “Forever, Never or Whenever” on the Ripple Music label http://www.ripple-music.com

Filmed by J Rich Media October 2019 at The Inferno Room, Indianapolis, IN.

Edited by S Janiak.

Recorded & Mixed by Mike Bridavsky at Russian Recording, Bloomington IN 2019.
Mastered by T. Dallas Reed at HeavyHead Recording Co.

every action is a choice
louder than words they are your true voice
consider first how you’d behave
knowing they’ll be dancing on your grave

woah who doesn’t pay a toll?
not a soul, not a soul

Devil to Pay is:
Steve Janiak – guitars/vocals
Matt Stokes – bass
Chad Prifogle – drums
Rob Hough – guitars

Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever (2019)

Devil to Pay on Thee Facebooks

Devil to Pay BigCartel store

Devil to Pay website

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

Ripple Music on Thee Facebooks

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The Gates of Slumber Announce European Tour Dates Around Hell Over Hammaburg Appearance

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 23rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Ever since The Gates of Slumber first announced their reunion last April, the questions over whether they’d tour and, if so, just how much, have loomed. When I asked founding guitarist/vocalist about it a few days later in our interview, his response was a succinct, “if there is a demand we’ll play.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a demand, and accordingly, the reinvigorated three-piece of Simon, bassist Steve Janiak and drummer Chuck Brown (both of whom double as guitarist/vocalists in Apostle of Solitude, while the former now handles triple-duty fronting Devil to Pay) will do a round of EU shows around the slot at Hell Over Hammaburg that was the impetus behind the reunion in the first place. They’ll be in Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. And that’s news in itself, and awesome, but look at the god damn bands they’re playing with.

There are plenty of killer nights here, with Altar of Oblivion, Hazemaze, and other familiar names — let alone the fest itself in Hamburg — but look at that Berlin show. You mean I could see The Gates of Slumber playing a set of early material on a bill with Cardinals Folly, Leaden Fumes and friggin’ Lord Vicar? Someone needs to fly my ass to Berlin. Come on. That’s too good. We should all go.

I’m gonna splash cold water on my broke-ass face. You check out the dates:

the gates of slumber eu tour 2020

The Gates of Slumber 2020 European Dates

Recently-reunited Indianapolis doom metal trio The Gates of Slumber have announced additional tour dates around their upcoming appearance at Hell over Hammaburg 8. Guitarist / vocalist Karl Simon (also of Wretch) is joined by early-era TGOS drummer Chuck Brown (Apostle of Solitude) and Steve Janiak (Apostle of Solitude, Devil to Pay) on bass.

The band’s set will focus on material from the debut album “The Awakening” (2004) and subsequent EP, “Like a Plague Upon the Land” (2005) both of which featured Chuck Brown on drums. The album and EP are also slated to be reissued via Church Within Records in 2020.

The Gates of Slumber will share the stage with Lord Vicar, Altar of Oblivion, Haunt, Bellrope, Visigoth and more.

THE GATES OF SLUMBER “The Re-Awakening” 2020
Presented by Vibra Agency & The Church Within Records
04.03.2020 BEL – Brussels, Magasin 4, w Nornes, Loose License
05.03.2020 GER – Dortmund, Junkyard, w Hexer
06.03.2020 GER – Berlin, Zukunft, Lord Vicar, Cardinals Folly
07.03.2020 GER – Hamburg, Markthalle, Hell Over Hamburg 2020 w Haunt, Bellrope, Visigoth & more
08.03.2020 DNK – Copenhagen, Stengade, w Altar of Oblivion
09.03.2020 SWE – Gothenburg, Musikens Hus
10.03.2020 NOR – Oslo, Roverstaden, w Tempelheks III
11.03.2020 SWE – Stockholm Hus 7 w Black Soil, Hazemaze
13.03.2020 FIN – Helsinki, Rocks

https://www.facebook.com/thegatesofslumber/
http://www.slumberingsouls.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ChurchWithinRecords/
http://www.doom-dealer.de/

The Gates of Slumber, “Iron Hammer” rehearsal footage

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2019

Posted in Features on December 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk best of 2019

[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.]

Make no mistake, my friends. 2019 was the year it went off the rails.

Every 12-month period brings a lot of records, and they all seem overwhelming, but this was the first year I’ve ever felt quite so helpless when it came time to sit down and actually make my list. Of course, I keep running notes all year long, but even so, ordering everything, bringing it all together? What a mess.

I almost thought of breaking it down into smaller lists in addition to the big one, subgrouped by style. But then, where does doom end and sludge begin? What about psych and heavy rock? Should prog get its own list? And what the hell counts as prog?

In the end, that didn’t seem like it would be doing me any favors, so we’ll stick with the one big list and then others for debut releases and another for EPs, splits, demos and so on. You know, the usual.

Pretty sure I say this every year too, but it bears repeating: if you read any of the below — and thanks if you do — and have a response, be nice. If I’ve forgotten something — and yes, I have; I’m sure of it — that you think needs to be included, and you want to leave a comment that says so, please, by all means. But keep it civil. I know people are passionate about this stuff and so am I, but consider there are probably over 200 offerings covered here by the time you get through all the lists and honorable mentions, and I’m one person. I’m doing my best, and though I try not to, I tend to take being called a dumbass personally. So yeah, chill out and please be constructive in calling me a dumbass. Words matter.

A few hard choices here, most especially for album of the year. I was back and forth with each of the top three in the top spot for a good long while, and it might change again between now and when this post goes up. But it’s been that kind of year. In 2018, there was no question. It was Sleep all the way. The question was what came after that. This year has been different without that kind of duh, punch-in-the-face obvious pick. Relative parity isn’t a bad thing though.

Enough delay. The usual parameters apply. These are a combo of my personal listening habits and what I think are the most important records/achievements of the year, critical importance, etc.

Here we go:

The Top 50 Albums of 2019

#50-31

50. Hazemaze, Hymns of the Damned
49. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
48. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Grandmother
47. PH, Osiris Hayden
46. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
45. Abrahma, In Time for the Last Rays of Light
44. Uffe Lorenzen, Triprapport
43. Swallow the Sun, When a Shadow is Forced into the Light
42. Caustic Casanova, God How I Envy the Deaf
41. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Tre
40. SÂVER, They Came With Sunlight
39. Ogre, Thrice as Strong
38. Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension
37. Vokonis, Grasping Time
36. Sacri Monti, Waiting Room for the Magic Hour
35. Across Tundras, The Rugged Ranges of Curbs and Broken Minds
34. Duel, Valley of Shadows
33. Orodruin, Ruins of Eternity
32. Zaum, Divination
31. Inter Arma, Sulphur English

Notes: Honestly, if this had been the top 20 of the year, I’d still call 2019 a win. Aside from the fact that I somehow thought Caustic Casanova would enjoy coming in a number 42, the sheer quality of this stuff should tell you what kind of year 2019 was. Inter Arma’s Sulphur English was a significant achievement in genre melding, and Orodruin’s return after more than a decade since their last LP was a masterclass in doom worship. Debut albums from SÂVER and Thunderbird Divine and Lightning Born showed marked promise of things to come — and there’s more on them below as well — while Zaum’s, Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree’s and Lamp of the Universe’s meditations, Vokonis’ noise, Abrahma’s emotive progressivisim, Swallow the Sun’s melodic melancholy, Sacri Monti’s boogie, and whatever the hell PH were doing on Osiris Hayden remind just how much the word “heavy” can encompass. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Duel and Uffe Lorenzen and Hazemaze were musts here, and Ogre are perennial favorites whose work always brings a doomly grin. Don’t sleep on any of it.

30. Sun Blood Stories, Haunt Yourself

sun blood stories haunt yourself

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 6.

Until they put out a complementary follow-up record of such fare, one might’ve accused Idaho three-piece Sun Blood Stories of becoming less experimentalist/droned-out/noisy on Haunt Yourself, but they seem to have met their quota one way or the other with the Oct. 2019 advent of Static Sessions Vol. 1. Still, it’s melody, heavy post-rock/psychedelic drift and emotive soul that rule the day on the crushing and enriching Haunt Yourself, and no complaints from me on that.

29. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Everybody’s Going to Die

Church of the Cosmic Skull Everybodys Going to Die

Released by Septaphonic Records. Reviewed Dec. 10.

I don’t have to do anything more than read the name of the album to have the chorus of the title-track stuck in my head, and it’s a reminder that although the Nottingham troupe put so much into their progressive style and vocal harmonies and arrangements, and a more conceptual theme in the case of Everybody’s Going to Die — their answer to 2018’s excellent Science Fiction (review here) — their roots are in songcraft, and it’s the foundation of songcraft that lets them soar. Would be higher on the list if it weren’t so new.

28. Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

devil to pay forever never or whenever

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 4.

With their sixth album, Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay collect 10 tracks of unpretentious-almost-to-a-fault of straightforward heavy rock songwriting that continues to be woefully underappreciated. They have become utterly reliable in that regard — you know, to a certain extent, what’s coming — but the vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (also Apostle of Solitude) and some more metallic turns to the riffing give Forever, Never or Whenever a subtlety that holds up all the more on repeat visits. I don’t know if Devil to Pay will ever get their due, but suffice it to say, they’re due.

27. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds

howling giant the space between worlds

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Oct. 11.

If you’re of a certain age, you remember when the first Playstation came out and everyone looked around at their Nintendos and Segas like, “What the hell am I messing around with Mario Golf for? I could be playing Resident Evil!” That’s kind of what Howling Giant are as compared to “regular” rock bands. They’re the Playstation of heavy: that next progressive step forward carrying an inhuman amount of swagger and personality while still delivering a stepped-up product from their would-be peers. The scariest thing about The Space Between Worlds is it’s their first LP. One looks forward to the next generation.

26. Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

saint vitus saint vitus

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 19.

I know for a fact that bassist Pat Bruders and drummer Henry Vasquez had a hand in writing some of the material on Saint Vitus’ second self-titled LP, and yet the album so much bears the indelible mark of guitarist Dave Chandler that it’s hard not to think of it all as his. The album marked their first release with original singer Scott Reagers since 1995’s Die Healing (discussed here) and featured among their trademark low-tuned slog, an actual punk song, which showed the grinning glee that underlies all they do. Four decades on, Saint Vitus sound like they’re having fun. How is that not a win?

25. Ealdor Bealu, Spirit of the Lonely Places

ealdor bealu spirit of the lonely places

Self-released. Reviewed July 10.

Woodsy Rocky Mountain psychedelia abounded on Boise foursome Ealdor Bealu’s second full-length, and their blend of landscape meditations and grounded heavy progressive melodicism made Spirit of the Lonely Places as much about impact as about space, though of course the real joy was the experience of the entirety. Very much a sophomore album, it learned lessons from 2017’s Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain (review here) that one only hopes the band will continue to push forward in scope as they so gracefully did here.

24. Yatra, Death Ritual

yatra death ritual

Released through Grimoire Records. Discussed Nov. 13, 2018..

Though hard- and to-date quick-working Maryland trio Yatra have already moved on and are looking ahead to releasing their second album, Blood of the Night (review here), their Grimoire-delivered debut, Death Ritual, is impossible to ignore for the impact it had on reminding listeners of the impact that primeval extreme sludge can have. Another couple tours and some bigger label — Relapse, Prosthetic, eOne, Season of Mist, whoever — will decide they’re “ready,” whatever that means, and then sign them and I won’t be cool enough to do track premieres for them anymore, but as far as accolades go, Yatra earn whatever they get and Death Ritual stands among 2019’s most landmark debuts. They’ve already outdone it, but it’s a stunner just the same.

23. Ecstatic Vision, For the Masses

ecstatic vision for the masses

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 17.

Ecstatic Vision frontman Doug Sabolik has cast himself in the mold of Arthur Brown or Dave Wyndorf or probably seven or eight dudes who were in Hawkwind at some point as a manic-but-stoned space rock preacher with as he and his band behind him plunge headfirst-or-feetfirst-it-doesn’t-matter-because-your-body-is-an-illusion-man into the molten multicolor void. For the Masses. The ‘masses,’ such as they are, should be so lucky, but the double-meaning is the real tell for where the Philly unit are coming from. Their shows are the masses — gatherings of spirit and song to give praise to the willful expansion of mind. If you can’t get behind that, you might as well go get a job or something. This ain’t no lightweight party for squares and dabblers. This is a high-potency happening for werewolves on motorcycles and freaks of all stripes. Get weird stay weird. Ecstatic Vision are one mostly-mellow 15-minute “Spine of God”-style psych-epic away from perfection.

22. Beastwars, IV

beastwars iv

Released by Destroy Records. Reviewed June 27.

But for the circumstances that brought it about — i.e. Beastwars vocalist Matt Hyde’s cancer — the unexpected fourth installment in the Beastwars trilogy was nothing if not welcome. An grand-feeling sense of largesse was nothing new to the New Zealand four-piece, but after breaking up and getting back together to make the album, the grim sincerity with which they presented this exploration of mortality and betrayal by one’s own body was no less palpable than the undulating riffs that threatened, as ever, to consume all in their path. I don’t know their future plans in terms of continuing to write and/or record, but there are reports of touring beyond Aus/NZ for 2020, so one way or another, stay tuned for more from them. Whether or not they do anything else, IV was a triumph in spirit and execution.

21. Eternal Black, Slow Burn Suicide

eternal black slow burn suicide

Self-released. Reviewed June 7.

With the nine songs of Slow Burn Suicide, Brooklyn’s Eternal Black began to unveil the true depth of their project. Their 2017 debut, Bleed the Days (review here), was well received, and rightly so, but operated more in a straight-ahead doom sphere. The second outing, by contrast, delved into a particular vision of the style informed by the crunch of peak-era New York noise and crossover hardcore, and it succeeded not just because it did this, but because it did so around a conjuration of memorable riffs and tracks building on accomplishments carried over from its predecessor. Is this an awaited arrival of next-generation ‘New York doom’? Will theirs be a blueprint others will follow? It’s impossible to know now, and their next album will be telling either way, but the course they’ve set is significant.

20. Candlemass, The Door to Doom

candlemass the door to doom

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 22.

It may have been the Tony Iommi guest appearance that got Swedish doom legends Candlemass — the world’s earliest and foremost purveyors of doom both classic and epic — their recent Grammy nomination, but it was the long-overdue reunion with original vocalist Johan Längquist that made the album as a whole as powerful as it was. Pairing Längquist’s theatrical and vital approach with founding bassist Leif Edling’s second-to-none doomcraft, The Door to Doom was a catapult not to the bygone days of the band’s landmark debut, 1986’s Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, but an inspired look at not just what might’ve been had Längquist remained with the band longer, but what might still be if he does this time around. Candlemass have been through their share of singers, but as fresh as The Door to Doom sounded, it’s hard not to hope for something more than a one-off with he who got there first. The songs, the spirit, the sheer heart poured into Candlemass’ doom some 35 years past the band’s start only emphasizes how special they have always been.

19. Nebula, Holy Shit

nebula holy shit

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed June 13.

Anyone who might’ve predicted Nebula getting into the studio and making a new album was either in the room when it happened or talking out their ass. And speaking of, was Nebula’s Holy Shit named for the shock one might’ve felt at its existence, or the surprise at how good it actually sounded when you put it on? I don’t know. I probably won’t ever know. It was the best title I saw all year, but more than that, it was a Nebula record, fueled by the classic riffing and unmitigated desert punk soul of founding/guitarist Eddie Glass, whose absence from the heavy underground for the last decade left a void only too many others whiffed on filling. Holy Shit showed just how singular a player Glass was and is, and how much character there is in his style, particularly in solos, but also in rhythmic changes, and so on. I won’t discount the work of bassist Tom Davies and drummer Mike Amster in making Nebula what they are in this incarnation — they’re essential, obviously — but there’s simply no denying that presence at the band’s core.

18. Valley of the Sun, Old Gods

valley of the sun old gods

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed May 21.

This was a heavy rock record that had everything. Everything. It had songs, style, ups, down, purples, greens, ins, outs, all kinds of whathaveyou. Riffs forever. Valley of the Sun should keep their eyes on Sasquatch, because if they want it, that path is theirs. I know the Cincinnati outfit have had trouble keeping lineups together, but if they can hold onto one, and maybe after their next record start touring more, domestically and abroad — not at all a minor ask, I know — then people will catch on. Old Gods is evidence of the fact that they genuinely have something to offer, and frankly, it’s not at all the first such effective case they’ve made in their career. But they’ve never put anything out that wasn’t a step forward, and yet they’ve never lost sight of the roots of their initial inspiration. And they’ve never sacrificed the song for the riff, which so many do. They’ve only ever gotten better. Let Old Gods be a step toward them getting attention they’ve long since deserved.

17. Kadavar, For the Dead Travel Fast

Kadavar For the Dead Travel Fast

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 28.

In style and production, For the Dead Travel Fast is the most vintage-sounding offering Berlin trio Kadavar have made in over a half decade, yet neither is it looking backward wistfully toward 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) or giving up the modern clarity of 2017’s Rough Times (review here) or 2015’s Berlin (review here). Instead, it strikes a balance with a more sinister edge à la Uncle Acid in songs like “Children of the Night” and “Demons in My Mind” — both singles — and makes a home for itself between proto-metal and garage doom. Whatever genre tag you want to give it — and that might vary from track to track, mind you — it’s unmistakably Kadavar, with the signature hooks and memorable craftsmanship that have made them one of the decade’s most pivotal heavy bands. The real challenge at this point in their career is not to take for granted that Kadavar will produce material of such quality, because, frankly, that’s all they’ve ever done.

16. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Yn Ol I Annwn

mammoth weed wizard bastard yn ol i annwn

Released by New Heavy Sounds. Reviewed Feb. 7.

Welsh sci-fi cosmic doomers Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard billed Yn Ol I Annwn as the final installment of a trilogy that includes their two prior LPs, 2015’s Noeth Ac Anoeth (review here) and 2016’s Y Proffwyd Dwyll (review here), and while that may be true thematically, there’s also no question the third is a marked step forward from anything they’ve done before. They’re one foot out of the airlock and into space as their synth-laden longform riffing and melodies take them to places they’ve not yet gone, explorations of sight as much as sound, aural translation of colors humans aren’t gifted to see. Their songs across the 65-minute span unfold with the grace of a gravity spiral, pulling the listener deeper into the proceedings with each new phase that emerges until, what, obliteration? Stellar genesis? I’m not sure. They’ve reportedly got one more record to make and then they’re done. If that’s true, they’ll be missed then they’re gone.

15. Magic Circle, Departed Souls

magic circle departed souls

Released by 20 Buck Spin. Reviewed April 3.

They’ve found their way to die, and it’s upon an altar of classic metal and doom. And honestly, they make a pretty good case for it. Departed Souls is the third full-length from the Boston unit and their most stylistically realized work yet, with vocalist Brendan Radigan giving a standout performance alongside the guitars of Chris Corry and Renato Montenegro, the bass of Justin DeTore and Michael “Q” Quartulli’s drums, as the entire band taps into vibes from mid-’70s Black Sabbath and brings them to bear with an energy that is unlike anything in Magic Circle’s history. 2015’s Journey Blind (review here) brought in NWOBHM flash in the guitar work, sure enough, but Departed Souls doesn’t so much carry the torch of classic metal as it does use it to burn down the whole village and rebuild it in the five-piece’s image. From their doomed beginnings on their 2013 self-titled debut (review here) to now, they’re an act who’ve genuinely earned cult status. If you can find a backpatch, buy it.

14. Spaceslug, Reign of the Orion

Spaceslug Reign of the Orion cover

Released by BSFD Records. Reviewed Nov. 22.

Controversy! Drama! Well, probably not, but at very least some respectful disagreement on my part. You see, Poland’s Spaceslug have stated publicly that their latest release, the late-2019 surprise Reign of the Orion is an EP. Their albums regularly top 50 minutes, and at 36 minutes, I guess relative to that, you can see where they’re coming from. However, with the flow of these five songs and the ease with which they carry the listener from front-to-back through the listening experience, I’m sticking to my guns and calling Reign of the Orion an album. Sorry guys. True, it’s shorter than the other full-lengths, but it’s got everything you could ask an album to have in terms of how tracks like “Spacerunner” and the shouty “Half-Moon Burns” play into each other, and the fluidity of the outing on the whole is inarguable. An LP by any other name? Whatever you or they want to call it, there’s no question in my mind Reign of the Orion is one of 2019’s best records. If they insist on it being an EP, then it’s the best one of the year, but I still say it belongs in another category altogether, so here it is.

13. Green Lung, Woodland Rites

green lung woodland rites

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Jan. 28.

As hyper-crowded as London is with bands at this moment in history, there continue to be acts who sneak through with an individualized and intriguing perspective on doom and heavy rock, and Green Lung are a perfect example, learning from fellow Brits like Alunah and Elephant Tree and incorporating folk and forest goth vibes to their debut album, Woodland Rites. Laced with organ and stuck-in-the-head choruses like “Let the Devil In” and the creeper “Templar Dawn,” the record also pushed into drifting verses on “Into the Wild,” setting up future experimentation with atmospheric variety and genre manipulation. If part of any first album’s appeal is the potential it represents, Green Lung’s offers plenty, but wherever their subsequent course may or may not take them, their accomplishments here shouldn’t be overlooked. Woodland Rites is nothing less than the heavy rock debut album of the year, and though they emerge from a packed field, the work they do to stand themselves out already carries their mark and an apparent will toward progression. They’re on their way.

12. Lo-Pan, Subtle

lo-pan subtle

Released by Aqualamb Records. Reviewed May 9.

My head immediately goes to the hooks of “Ten Days” and “Ascension Day” and “Savage Heart,” but the up-down surges of guitar in “Old News/New Fire” and the midtempo soulfulness in “A Thousand Miles” are no less resonant when it comes to the actual listening experience of the fifth Lo-Pan LP. Subtle, when it came to living up to its name, as much wasn’t as it was. Flourishes of harmony in the vocals of Jeff Martin, the pops in Jesse Bartz’s snare punctuating and propelling in kind, turns in Scott Thompson’s bass work twisting around the guitar of Chris Thompson, a relative newcomer to the fold making his debut with the band and showing no apparent trouble fitting in. I don’t imagine Lo-Pan is an easy band to join, especially at this point. They thrive on personality clash and, through years of touring, have a chemistry they’ve built between them that comes through even on their recordings. Nonetheless, Subtle is their clearest, sharpest-edged work yet, and as tight as their songwriting has become, they still groove and groove mightily. They are a treasure of American heavy rock and roll. Believe it.

11. Roadsaw, Tinnitus the Night

roadsaw tinnitus the night

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 12.

While members of Roadsaw have spent the intervening years in projects like Kind, White Dynomite, Sasquatch and Murcielago, the Boston heavy rock kingpins have indeed been missed, and Tinnitus the Night works quickly to show why. It’s been well over 20 years since their first LP — hell, it’s been eight since they put out their 2011 self-titled (review here) — but their craft is at its own level, and Tinnitus the Night comes barreling through with “Shake” and “Along for the Ride” and “Final Phase” before opening up to broader fare on side B with “Find What You Need,” “Under the Devil’s Thumb” and “Midazolam” ahead of the subdued finale “Silence,” and the result is nothing less than a classic heavy rock LP structure as befitting what is itself a classic heavy rock LP. What’s Roadsaw’s future? I don’t know. It took them the better part of a decade to make this one happen, so take from that what you will, but to me, all it says is there’s even more reason to be grateful they got it done and out. To say the songs deserve that is putting it mildly.

10. Worshipper, Light in the Wire

worshipper light in the wire

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 24.

I’m not doing a ‘song of the year’ post, but if I was, Worshipper’s “Coming Through” might be it. The opening track from the Boston four-piece’s second album, Light in the Wire, marries classic pop drama in its melody with careening progressive riffing, and sets the tone for a record that is of both future and past, twistingly complex and yet immediately accessible, immersive as an entirety and still comprised of standout moments. These aren’t contradictions in Worshipper’s skillful hands, but the stuff of what’s already becoming their own take on rock. Tied together through melody, skillful rhythmic intricacy and solid structural foundations, “Light in the Wires,” “Visions from Beyond,” “Wither on the Vine” and others throughout post their own triumphs en route to enhancing the album as a whole, while “Nobody Else” and closer “Arise” underscore the emotive basis from which the perspective of the whole LP emanates. There are a lot of “next-gen” heavy rock bands out there weaving prog elements and traditional riffing together to some degree or other. Few, if any, can write a song like Worshipper can. I mean it. This band is something special.

9. Solace, The Brink

solace the brink

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Nov. 21.

What is there to say about Solace? A band who, nine years after revealing the expectation-slaughtering masterpiece A.D. (review here), return with three-fifths of a swapped-out lineup and simply do it again? This band is explosive. Really. Like, they might explode at any minute. It’s a miracle The Brink ever happened. I’ll be honest, I had my doubts. But Solace are a force like nothing else I’ve ever encountered in music. They take metallic aggression, hardcore’s sense of self-righteousness and heavy rock’s groove, set it all to a doomly swing and they play it in such a way as to leave you utterly dumbfounded by what you just experienced. Here’s a challenge though, for the band personally. From me to them. Do another one. Go ahead. Put out another album. You don’t even have to do it in 2020. Do it 2021. Write the songs and give me a no-holds-barred 45-minute LP of the tightest, meanest shit you’ve ever written. Because massive as the accomplishments are on The Brink, it’s the potential to build from them that resonates most here. So do it, guys. Step up and take advantage of the moment. Call me greedy if you want, I don’t care. Give me another Solace record. I dare you.

8. Brume, Rabbits

brume rabbits

Released by Doom Stew Records & DHU Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

Simply a case of a band wildly outdoing themselves. Easy story, yeah? In some ways, maybe, but the truth of what Brume achieve on Rabbits. Their second long-player behind 2017’s Rooster (review here), the five-track offering sees the San Francisco three-piece of vocalist/bassist Susie McMullan, guitarist/vocalist Jamie McCathie and drummer Jordan Perkins-Lewis working with producer Billy Anderson to bring theatricality and emotionalism together in a flowing post-heavy context that’s neither derivative nor working at cross purposes. Instead, it is a gorgeous and blooming undertaking across its 43-minute span, working in its own light/dark spectrum and bringing not just the sense of trapped fragility evoked by the cover art, but a corresponding sureness of intent to its ascendant heavy surges. Like Rooster before it, it is loaded with potential, but in “Scurry” and “Lament” and “Despondence” and “Blue Jay and “Autocrat’s Fool,” there’s a patience and command that absolutely does not waver. So yes, a band outdoing themselves. But so much more too.

7. Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal

mars red sky the task eternal

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Sept. 20.

This may forever be known as the Mars Red Sky album they wrote in a cave, but the Bordeaux three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matieu “Matgaz” Gazeau nonetheless plunged forward along the progressive course they charted back on 2014’s sophomore outing, Stranded in Arcadia (review here), and continued to manifest in 2016’s Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here). Their blend of melody and tonal heft has become a hallmark of their work to this stage in their career, but The Task Eternal continues to add a sense of breadth to the proceedings, giving their sound a full three-dimensional pull that feels tailor-made for headphones and is consuming in its entirety. With experiments in structure like the pairing of “Recast” and “Reacts,” and the rushing sweep of melody in “Hollow King,” Mars Red Sky’s latest is, as ever, their finest. Outdoing themselves would seem to be the task from which the record derives its title. Fine. Just keep going. Please.

6. Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 15.

Every time I think I understand where Kings Destroy want to go as a band, they pull the rug out. That’s what Fantasma Nera is. After their 2015 self-titled (review here) third LP seemed to declare them once and for all in a space between doom and noise rooted in their respective hardcore pasts, the Brooklynite five-piece hooked up with producer David Bottrill (Tool, etc.) and composed a rock album. A real live rock album! With progressive undertones in the guitar work and the most accomplished melodicism of their career, Kings Destroy put everything they had into making Fantasma Nera and one need look no further than the title-track to hear the result of that monumental effort. It is the realization of a band challenging themselves to go so far out of their comfort zone as to be only recognizable in the most rudimentary of ways, and to say it as plainly as I can, “Dead Before” on its own is enough of an accomplishment — and enough of a full-length, at all of 4:25 — to make this list on its own, whatever surrounds it. Song of the year. I’ll say every time I’m a Kings Destroy fan, but I’ve never been gladder to say it than I am in talking about Fantasma Nera.

5. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Dec. 3.

If you’re saying to yourself, “Ah come on, Colour Haze are always on the list when they put out records,” I have two answers. One, you’re right, and two, if you have a problem with that, blow it out your ass. The Munich forefathers of the European heavy psychedelic underground — yup — marked their 25th anniversary this year, and did so not just by putting out an album, but by putting out We Are, which introduces a full-fledged fourth member to what’s been a three-piece since 1998. Granted, it’s not the first time guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald have worked with organist/keyboardist/synthesist Jan Faszbender, but never has the presence of keys been so integral to their work, and never has the dynamic between players shifted in the way it does on tracks like “The Real” and “Life” and “I’m With You,” with keys fleshing out melodies and enriching the bass and guitar. Add to that the Spanish-style guitar on centerpiece “Material Drive” or the operatic flash in the penultimate “Be With Me,” and it’s one more example of one of the best bands on earth refusing to rest on their laurels. Which, as it happens, is why they’re one of the best bands on earth. So hell yes, they’re on all my lists. Fact is my lists are lucky to have them.

4. Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter

blackwater holylight veils of winter

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Sept. 26.

Like nothing else I heard in 2019, Veils of Winter had repeat listenability. It was the album that, most often, when I was choosing something I actually wanted to hear, I went back to time and again. Its dark, moody psychedelic and heavy vibe stands alone among the year’s releases, and is a stylistic milestone that one only hopes other artists will pick up on. Toying with pop melodies on tracks like “Death Realms” and bringing hypnosis and clarity in kind to the subtly traditionalist winding riff of “Moonlit” — would it have been out of place on the first Witchcraft LP? — the Portland, Oregon, five-piece worked on a speedy turnaround and squashed even the significant expectations I had after their self-titled debut (review here) last year. They’ve begun to tour, so I don’t know if another full-length is in the works for 2020, but their craft is enviable in its flow and their songs are shimmering in tone and cohesion alike. Given how bold a step forward Veils of Winter is, I hear nothing in their material to this point to make me think their momentum won’t continue to carry them forward. But, you know, if not, I’d also take about six or seven records just like this one. That’d be fine too. Whatever they want, really.

3. Slomatics, Canyons

Slomatics Canyons

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed May 15.

Belfast, Northern Ireland, three-piece Slomatics — guitarists David Marjury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/synthesist Marty Harvey — finished a narrative trilogy with 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here), and though the storyline was always vague throughout that and the preceding two offerings, the question of how they would proceed nonetheless hung over Canyons prior to its release. The answer is in the songs themselves. From the sci-fi majesty of lumbering, rolling groove in opener and longest track “Gears of Despair” — oh, they grind — through the mega-stomp of “Telemachus, My Son” and the righteously synth-laden wash that consumes “Mind Fortresses on Theia,” Slomatics bring together concept and execution with a readiness that highlights the fact of their 15th anniversary. They are mature in their approach, yes, but the fact is their approach is so much their own and so given to their particular mode of progression that it almost can’t help but feel fresh. How could something so utterly crushing also feel rejuvenating? As they plod through finale “Organic Caverns II” ending with more waves of synth and tectonic guitar — no bass, remember — they are as restorative as they are punishing, and they stand astride that duality with neither mercy nor pretense. Canyons, whether it’s setting up a new story, building from the old, or doing something completely different, stands on its own.

2. Year of the Cobra, Ash and Dust

year of the cobra ash and dust

Released by Prophecy Productions. Reviewed Oct. 24.

My anticipation for and expectations of Year of the Cobra’s second long-player were high most especially after 2017’s Burn Your Dead EP (review here), which along with the dead, set alight the notion that the Seattle duo of bassist/vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith and drummer Jon Barrysmith were simply a heavy/doom band. With elements of post-punk, psych wash, minimalist stretches and propulsive gallop, Ash and Dust cast itself out over an aesthetic range that set a new standard not just for Year of the Cobra, but for anyone who’d dare match them at their own game — and that list will grow with time, absolutely. As their first outing through Prophecy Productions, Ash and Dust threw itself into the very melting pot of its own ambition and emerged with songs that didn’t just bring together disparate ideas, but made them flourish and engage and challenge the listener while still proving consistent in tone and underlying groove. For a two-person, two-instrument outfit (not counting voice, though I should), they proved more malleable than many with more than twice the number of hands on deck, and pushed the notion of what heavy rock is and does forward without stopping to look back or ask for permission. They just did it, and maybe Ash and Dust is the aftermath of all that burning.

2019 Album of the Year

1. Monolord, No Comfort

monolord no comfort

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Look back over the course of this list, and you will find no shortage of bands and releases that surpassed the group in question’s past work. With Gothenburg, Sweden’s Monolord, it wasn’t just about No Comfort — their debut on Relapse, fourth full-length overall — being better than 2017’s Rust (review here), because that was pretty jolly gosh darn enjoyable, but about the band reaching a moment of transcendence to which Rust and all their prior work across 2015’s Vænir (review here) and 2014’s Empress Rising has been leading. With the six tracks of No Comfort, guitarist/vocalist Thomas Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and drummer Esben Willems not only overcome the influences that launched them — taking full ownership of their sound and defending that claim with the sheer quality of their songwriting — and they not only become as identifiable as those influences themselves, but they overcome themselves. No Comfort means no comfort. Monolord take the simplicity that once fueled their riffing, the willful primitivism of their earliest work, and with songs like “Larvae” and “The Bastard Son” and the closing title-track use it as the foundation it was apparently always intended to be. Monolord have toured plenty and certainly their studio output has shown an increasing complexity from one LP to the next, so progression isn’t unexpected, but the manner in which Monolord have executed that progression has been. Even on “The Last Leaf,” which is arguably the most straightforward fare on the album, one hears it as them rather than the manifestation of the acts that inspired them. The same holds for “Skywards” later on, and for the immersion that takes hold as the mournful “Alone Together” plays into “No Comfort” itself. Monolord take their place among the best bands on the planet, and deliver an Album of the Year for 2019 that, like the absolute best, will have an impact lasting much longer than any period of 12 months might convey.

The Top 50 Albums of 2019: Honorable Mention

You didn’t think we’d stop at 50, did you? Come on. You know me better than that. The fact is that the list itself, humongous as it is, is just the start of the tip of an iceberg attached to a glacier that’s somewhere on an entire planet constructed of ice.

Honorable mentions, you say? Yeah, a few. Here they are in no order whatsoever:

Lord Vicar, Goatess, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, Zone Six, Lykantropi, Earth, White Manna, Atala, Tia Carrera, Merlin, WEEED, Híbrido, Cities of Mars, Stone Machine Electric, Bretus, Blackwolfgoat, The Black Wizards, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Alunah, V, Pale Grey Lore, Leeds Point, Sons of Alpha Centauri, Spidergawd, Bus, Death Hawks, BBF, Vessel of Light, Crypt Trip, The Pilgrim, Uffe Lorenzen, Brant Bjork, Doomstress, Black Lung, Kandodo3, Monkey3, Bask, Horseburner, Zed, Bright Curse, Spillage, Sigils, Papir, Dune Sea, Destroyer of Light, Mastiff, Warp, Centrum, Varego, Lord Dying, Volcano, Saint Karloff, Firebreather, High Reeper, Bible of the Devil, Obsidian Sea, Torche, Motorpsycho, Sunn O))), Deadbird, Russian Circles, El Supremo, Pyramidal, Holy Serpent, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Demon Head, Red Beard Wall, Onhou, Kamchatka, Iguana, Arrowhead, The Whims of the Great Magnet, Serial Hawk, Scissorfight, Monte Luna, Lingua Ignota, Valborg, Sageness, Ruff Majik, The Giraffes, High Fighter, Comacozer, Burning Gloom, Swan Valley Heights, Mark Deutrom, Cable, AVER, Superlynx, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Old Mexico, Skraeckoedlan, Godsleep, Øresund Space Collective Meets Black Moon Circle.

Seems cruel to leave it to you to sort through those, but I’m tempted to do just that. You might notice some bigger names there in bands like Earth, Russian Circles, Torche and Sunn O))). Nothing against those bands, but I think we’re seeing a moment where a different group of artists are taking point in terms of innovating heavy styles across an entire swath of microgenres. Either way it’s not a slight that something is here instead of above. And of course, there are plenty of up and coming groups here as well, with Ruff Majik, Elizabeth Colour Wheel — who I’m sure would be a top 30 if I knew the record better than I do — Pale Grey Lore, Monte Luna, Papir, Destroyer of Light, The Munsens, No Man’s Valley, Skraeckoedlan, and so on, but hell’s bells, there’s already a list of 50 and I’m only one man. How high is the list supposed to go and still be a list?

Bottom line: Music is as endless as space and has as much beauty in it for those willing to hear. Do more digging.

The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2019

green lung woodland rites

1. Green Lung, Woodland Rites
2. Yatra, Death Ritual
3. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds
4. Thunderbird Divine, Magnasonic
5. SÂVER, They Came with Sunlight
6. Lightning Born, Lightning Born
7. Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Nocebo
8. The Pilgrim, Walking into the Forest
9. Sigils, You Build the Altar You Lit the Leaves
10. E-L-R, Maenad
11. Hey Zeus, X
12. Bellrope, You Must Relax
13. Asthma Castle, Mount Crushmore
14. Thronehammer, Usurper of Oaken Throne
15. Inner Altar, Vol. III
16. Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember
17. Hippie Death Cult, 111
18. Faerie Ring, The Clearing
19. Gone Cosmic, Sideways in Time
20. Haze Mage, Chronicles

Honorable Mention: Warp, Pelegrin, Lucy in Blue, Volcano, The Sabbathian, Red Eye Tales, Dune Sea, Dury Dava, Pharlee, Giant Dwarf, Ghost:Hello, Surya, Workshed, Children of the Sün, Burning Gloom, Temple of the Fuzz Witch.

Notes: As ever, I consider a band’s debut album something unique and separate from everything else they’ll ever do, and so worthy of highlighting in its own category. It’s a different standard in my mind, one that takes into account what a group might accomplish going forward as well as what they do on the record itself. Plus, putting out an album is hard. Getting two, three, four, five or more people to agree on anything is an accomplishment. Making a cohesive album? Come on. So yes. We see some crossover from the main list above, but I want to draw attention to Howling Giant, Thunderbird Divine and SÂVER particularly here. There’s a swath of genres represented and I feel like a couple of these releases — Sigils, Bellrope, Thronehammer, Inner Altar, Faerie Ring, Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember — didn’t get their due attention. It’s a busy year, I get it. But if you’re skimming through looking for stuff to check out, DON’T IGNORE THIS LIST. Aside from whatever line about the best of tomorrow you want to trot out, there’s important work being done by these acts today. As somebody who’s constantly behind the times, I urge you not to

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2019

geezer spiral fires

1. Geezer, Spiral Fires
2. Ufomammut, XX
3. All Them Witches, 1×1
4. Mount Saturn, Mount Saturn
5. Dopelord, Weedpecker, Major Kong & Spaceslug, 4-Way Split
6. Horehound, Weight
7. Molasses, Mourning Haze
8. Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Split
9. Here Lies Man, No Ground to Walk Upon
10. The Golden Grass, 100 Arrows
11. Mount Atlas, Mistress
12. Midas, Solid Gold Heavy Metal
13. Glory in the Shadows, Glory in the Shadows
14. Hot Breath, Hot Breath
15. Crystal Spiders, Demo
16. Red Wizard, Ogami
17. Thermic Boogie, Fracture
18. Pinto Graham, Dos
19. High Priest, Sanctum
20. Set Fire, Traya
21. Seedium, Awake

Honorable Mention: Love Gang & Smokey Mirror Split, Forebode, Land Mammal, Very Paranoia, Plague of Carcosa, Daal Dazed, Komodor, Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge Split, High on Fire, Mount Soma.

Notes: This is probably the least complete of the lists, because it’s the hardest category for me to keep up with. EPs, singles, demos, splits and basically anything else that isn’t an album, all lumped together. Still, I stand by the picks here, and I don’t think anyone who takes on any of them will regret doing so, whether it’s All Them Witches’ surprisingly weighted first single as a trio, Mount Saturn’s debut release, or Geezer’s cosmic jams. Felt a little like cheating putting Ufomammut on there, since technically XX wasn’t new material so much as reworked stuff captured live, but if you want to call me out on it, my own listening habits also factor in, and I’ve spent plenty of time with those reimagined tracks. But anyway, I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff that hasn’t been included here, so please feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll work accordingly.

Postwax

I haven’t felt comfortable with the idea of writing about it editorially, since I’ve been involved in discussions about it since before it came together and since I did the liner notes for each of the six releases (plus one to come), but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible work done on the Postwax vinyl subscription series by Blues Funeral Recordings. Label head Jadd Shickler and design specialist Peder Bergstrand (also of Lowrider) put together six offerings that came out in the span of this year and when you hold the LPs in your hand, you can feel the passion that went into making them, from the artists in question to those curating the series in the first place. I hear tell there’s going to be a Postwax Year Two, and I don’t know if I’ll be involved or not, but I’m proud of my miniscule part in the work that went into making these and wanted to bring them to your particular attention. They are something special for those who got to partake:

  • Elder, The Gold and Silver Sessions
  • Daxma, Ruins Upon Ruins
  • Besvärjelsen, Frost
  • Big Scenic Nowhere, Dying on the Mountain
  • Domkraft, Slow Fidelity
  • Lowrider, Refractions

And while we’re talking about projects I was proud to be involved with, I also did liner notes for Acrimony’s The Chronicles of Wode box set from Burning World Records and was honored to do so. Thanks to any and everyone in question for having me involved and dealing with me blowing past deadlines one after the next. It is humbling.

Looking Ahead to 2020

A few names and nothing more about what definitely is and/or might be in the works for next year. Woefully incomplete, so feel free to add to it:

1000mods, Wolves in the Throne Room, Deathwhite, Mondo Drag, Drug Cult, Ocean Chief, Soldati, Sergio Ch., Mitochondrial Sun, Geezer, Mirror Queen, Mondo Generator, The Otolith, Asteroid, Yatra, Vestal Claret, Farer, Ryte, Shadow Witch, Six Organs of Admittance, Naxatras, Wolftooth, Snail, Elder, Pale Divine, Grey Skies Fallen, Ruby the Hatchet, Yuri Gagarin, Sasquatch, Godthrymm, Wo Fat, Red Mesa, CB3, Onsegen Ensemble, Insect Ark, Acid Mammoth, Ritual King, Ulls, Om.

Thank You

Thank you for reading, and please, if you have a thought or something you want to share in the comments, please remember to be kind to each other. We are all human beings behind our phones and keyboards, and while we’ll disagree, often in some ways and some cases, a basic level of respect is always appreciated. At least by me.

I am not so deluded as to think anyone might still be reading, but I want it on record how much I appreciate you being a part of this site and a part of my experience in making it. I’ve been ruminating all year since marking the 10th anniversary back in January about how much The Obelisk has become a part of who I am, and it’s utterly essential to my every day. The way I continue to think about it — and myself, as it happens — is a work in progress, and that would not be possible without you. One more time. Thank you. Always. Always thank you. Thank you.

More to come.

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Wolftooth in the Studio for Second Album out Next Year

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 26th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

The self-titled debut (review here) from Indiana’s Wolftooth kind of bounced around after its initial 2018 release, picked up by Blackseed Records and then Cursed Tongue Records and Ripple Music for an eventual issue this past June. I mean, hey, I get it. The record’s a kind of riff metal paradise, with spot-on weighted tones that have just enough sharpness to their edge to keep moving when they want to — and yes, they want to for a decent portion of the time, but still allow the band to emphasize groove rather than charge — can’t it be both? yes! — when they see fit to do so. Top it off with solid songcraft and you’ve got the kind of winner that, yeah, three separate labels might indeed be interested in working with.

I’ll be derned curious to hear the four-piece’s follow-up when the time comes in 2020, not the least because the band’s update on the recording currently in progress includes word that, “Bigger riffs and bigger choruses were the focus on this new installment of Wolftooth songs.” I like big riffs and big choruses. The more the merrier. So yeah, sign me up. I don’t know if it’ll be out through Ripple/Cursed Tongue or what, but when I hear something I’ll let you know.

Here’s the rest of what they had to say:

wolftooth

Wolftooth – Recording Update

Wolftooth entered Led Fields Studio in Connersville, Indiana, with Jeremy Lovins at the helm the end of August 2019 to start the recording process of their sophomore full length album. The band has 10 new tracks and is the final stages of tracking at the time of this update. We expect to be finished by the end of December 2019 and the album out to the fans by summer 2020.

The songs themselves represent a more focused and polished Wolftooth. Fans can expect tracks that are full on rockers to tracks that are reminiscent of Wolftooths’ nwobhm roots. Bigger riffs and bigger choruses were the focus on this new installment of Wolftooth songs. The band feels that this is their best effort yet.

Wolftooth is:
Chris Sullivan Guitar/ Vocals
Terry McDaniel Bass
Jeff Cole Guitar
Johnny Harrod Drums/Vocals

https://www.facebook.com/wolftoothmetal/
https://www.instagram.com/wolftooth_metal/
https://www.facebook.com/theripplemusic/
https://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com/
http://www.ripple-music.com/

Wolftooth, Wolftooth (2019)

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Review & Full Album Stream: Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 4th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

devil to pay forever never or whenever

[Click play above to stream Devil to Pay’s Forever, Never or Whenever in full. Album is out Nov. 8 on Ripple Music with preorders here.]

Devil to Pay have come to chew bubblegum and play hooks. And while I don’t know the status of their Watermelon Bubble-Yum supply, they’ve definitely got enough hooks for everyone at the bank. The Indianapolis four-piece have riffed and riffed and riffed their way to a well-earned veteran status, and throughout the 10 tracks of Forever, Never or Whenever, which is their 44-minute sixth long-player — third for Ripple Music, behind 2016’s A Bend Through Space and Time (review here) and 2013’s Fate is Your Muse (review here) — they prove to be comfortable in their core processes while willing to expand their sound in some new ways, fleshing out aesthetic turns that might surprise some longtime followers and even just finding more ways to add character to their songs, whether it’s the mini-funk-jam on “Imminent Demise” or the moodier and more patient rollout of the earlier “The Cautionary Tale of Yen Sid,” a moody bit of philosophizing that serves as a reminder that guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak splits his time between Devil to Pay and doom outfit Apostle of Solitude (and now the reunited The Gates of Slumber as well).

Between that song — which may or may not actually be about Walt Disney and/or his fictional sorcerer representation throughout the Mickey Mouse canon — the subtle vocal layering in “Light Sentence” and the spacious echoes in the penultimate “The Pendulum,” Janiak, fellow guitarist Rob Hough, bassist Matt Stokes and drummer Chad Prifogle bring a fair amount of variety to Forever, Never or Whenever, and six albums deep into a tenure that covers the better part of the last 20 years, there’s just about no way it’s a coincidence. Rather, it’s Devil to Pay refusing to stagnate in terms of style and pushing themselves toward fresh-sounding avenues of expression even as they maintain the focus on songwriting that has carried them since their inception. At their heart, they’ve always been a band about the songs.

You’d think that would be every band, right? Why be a band who writes songs if you’re not going to be about writing the songs? Truth is there are plenty of reasons. Sometimes the song is an excuse to have a solo, or to jam, or it’s a stand-in for some broader message. All of those and a 100,000 more can potentially work, but with Devil to Pay, it’s always been the song itself that has come first. Their style has never been overly flashy, and one supposes it still isn’t, though neither would I call the production on Forever, Never or Whenenever flat. Instead, in the initial salvo of “Heave-Ho,” “The Devil’s Barking Up Your Tree” — which delightfully shares a similar staccato cadence to the second half of “I’m Tired” as performed by Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles —  “The Cautionary Tale of Yen Sid” and the driving fuzz of “Get on Down” shove the way through the album’s first half with due energy and a sense of the dynamic that Devil to Pay share on stage.

As it passes its midsection, “Get on Down” slows down and Janiak‘s vocals echo a bit, leading to a winding rhythm that builds its way toward a solo and a final few vocal lines. The presumed side A finale, “Tap Dancing on Your Grave,” is more melancholy as its title might suggest, and sees Hough and Janiak part ways on guitar, one holding down a steady chug while the other complements with a more open, winding line and some foreshadow of the percussive element in the (relatively brief) jam in the subsequent “Imminent Demise” is given. Very much in the spirit of classic heavy rock methodology, side B pushes further stylistically as songs expand on ideas presented in the earlier cuts — “Imminent Demise” taking the percussion aspect of “Tap Dancing on Your Grave” and running with it is perhaps the clearest example, but it’s true throughout in mood and arrangement. This too might be considered the band benefiting from their experience, at least on the most basic level of how they present the material, since their central philosophy remains intact wherever they might veer sound-wise. They’re always about the song.

devil to pay

Forever, Never or Whenever isn’t the first time Devil to Pay have offered variety in their craft, either. Indeed, in its structure, the album seems to be directly building off of what A Bend Through Space and Time brought together in terms of its general modus and range, but it does legitimately push farther. “Imminent Demise” leads to the tense verse and release chorus of “37 Trillion,” a song right in Devil to Pay‘s wheelhouse when it comes to structure and tone. The standout line, “Say you’re a bucket of blood,” would seem to remind of a human’s place in the universe, but the track is quick and doesn’t hang around long enough for much philosophizing. As noted, it’s in “Light Sentence” that the band once again dives into more brooding fare, with Janiak‘s croon answering itself at the end of verse lines, a far-back background layer adding to the atmosphere.

That’s a suitable transition into “The Pendulum,” which follows that path deeper into echoing reaches and an emergent metallic riffing in its second half, threatening to break out in a way it never lets itself do, instead shifting into the dual-leads and more fervent popping snare of “Anti-Gravity Depravity,” a title which hints at a more lighthearted spirit than either of the songs prior. Also the longest cut at 6:26, the closer indeed brings about another turn of vibe, but the track is hardly a goofball ending or anything like that. It calls back to some of the catchier songs early on without being a total redux, and effectively uses lead guitar to offset its deceptively nuanced chug, ending in a last build with Prifogle railing on his crash cymbals before a few last hits around a quick reprise of the track’s opening caps with a duly symmetrical spirit.

Whatever Devil to Pay might be or might do stylistically, they’re a heavy rock band, and an underrated one at that. They bring more character to the production of Forever, Never or Whenever than they’ve ever had before, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it suits them and enriches the material itself. Perhaps most fortunate of all, none of the growth of method the band have undertaken in the last five-plus years has pulled them away from the foundation of their songwriting. It is that which ultimately allows them to flourish as they do, and the ground beneath their feet is as solid as it could possibly be here. A balance of consistency and growth after more than 15 years together? I think maybe it’s time more people started paying attention to and learning lessons from this band.

Devil to Pay on Thee Facebooks

Devil to Pay BigCartel store

Devil to Pay website

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

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