The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

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

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30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by As a university student a time may come when you need to ask someone, ďCan you my review here?Ē When that time arrives reach out to us via phone, email, or our website. We will provide you with the assignment you need on the date you need it completed. Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

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29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

Released by customs and traditions of great britain essay Online Dissertation Charite Uk division and classification essay thesis 4th grade essay writing worksheets 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 Order dissertations and have one of the best custom College Assignment Onlines. We have experienced dissertation writers from every field Polymoon.¬†If you haven’t yet heard Marketing Research Paper Topics Services - Write My Dissertation. The delivery of dissertation is certainly not the end of story as for complex and detailed work, the word count of which is in thousands you are bound to get revisions. But our professional dissertation writing services does not raise the eyebrow if a document is returned with comments rather we ensure compliance accordingly Caterpillars of Creation, do.

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

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27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

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26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

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

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

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

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

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

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

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

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

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

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

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

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

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

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

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

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

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

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

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

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

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

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

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

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

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

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

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

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

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

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

When Sho’Nuff asked Bruce Leroy “who’s the master?,” dude should’ve said Brant Bjork. It would’ve been a confusing end to Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, but ultimately more accurate, as Brant Bjork‘s homegrown kung fu was unfuckwithable as ever on the album that shares his name. After two decades of solo releases in one form or another, Bjork is not just a pivotal figurehead for desert rock, he’s a defining presence, as well as one of its most treasured practitioners. Brant Bjork, the album, brought initial waves of funk in “Jungle in the Sound,” explored weedy worship in “Mary (You’re Such a Lady)” and toyed with religious dogma in offsetting that with “Jesus Was a Bluesman” while still tossing primo hooks in “Duke of Dynamite” and “Shitkickin’ Now” ahead of the more open ‚ÄúStardust and Diamond Eyes‚ÄĚ 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 Bj√łrnson (guitar/sometimes vocals), as well as longtime lead guitarist¬†Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal backed up the change from 2017‚Äôs¬†E¬†(review here) that brought in new keyboardist/vocalist¬†Hakon Vinje with the incorporation of drummer Iver Sand√ły, 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 ~ L√ĖSS
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, Athr√ļ 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
√ėresund 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 ‚Äď 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, Lantl√īs, 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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Days of Rona: Dana Schechter of Insect Ark

Posted in Features on April 27th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The statistics of COVID-19 change with every news cycle, and with growing numbers, stay-at-home isolation and a near-universal disruption to society on a global scale, it is ever more important to consider the human aspect of this coronavirus. Amid the sad surrealism of living through social distancing, quarantines and bans on gatherings of groups of any size, creative professionals — artists, musicians, promoters, club owners, techs, producers, and more — are seeing an effect like nothing witnessed in the last century, and as humanity as a whole deals with this calamity, some perspective on who, what, where, when and how we’re all getting through is a needed reminder of why we’re doing so in the first place.

Thus, Days of Rona, in some attempt to help document the state of things as they are now, both so help can be asked for and given where needed, and so that when this is over it can be remembered.

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

Insect Ark dana schecter (Photo by Chad Kelco)

Days of Rona: Dana Schechter of Insect Ark (Berlin, Germany)

How are you dealing with this crisis as a band? Have you had to rework plans at all? How is everyone’s health so far?

Luckily our health is good so far. Everything besides getting sick or caring for those who are seems relatively unimportant. I suppose we‚Äôre dealing the same as many bands — waiting to see how, if, and when things will fall back into place. Andy and I are across the world from each other right now — I‚Äôm in Berlin, he‚Äôs in Salt Lake City — and on a normal day we‚Äôre across the country anyway. We‚Äôll hopefully tour this Fall, but it‚Äôs too soon to say. Yes it sucks. Our new album came out just as the virus was hitting.

It‚Äôs hard for smaller bands to recover from something like this, since we left for the Europe tour on Feb 29 and had to pull the plug after four shows and go home. Getting Andy back to the US on short notice wasn‚Äôt easy, and I decided to stay in Berlin. A year of planning, ultimately with a massive loss of money/time… I haven‚Äôt really moped or licked my wounds re: how we‚Äôve been so unlucky, because all people everywhere are feeling the same. Of course it‚Äôs massively disappointing, at best. But so many people are struggling much harder than I am, harder than ever before, and it‚Äôs on a massive scale — I know that I am lucky, relatively speaking. No kids, no house or car payments, etc. I‚Äôve gotten by on almost nothing for a long time, so I can adapt to some extent.

What are the quarantine/isolation rules where you are?

Here in Berlin — at least so far [April 16] — it‚Äôs less strict than in other EU countries, like Italy, Greece or France, where you need a letter to leave the house or risk hefty fines by the police. Here, I can take a bike ride or walk, food shop, i.e., the basics. No public gatherings of any kind over two people. Keep six feet away from others when in public. People here are pretty compliant. I‚Äôm glad I‚Äôm not home (NYC) though, and it‚Äôs heartbreaking to watch the US struggling from afar. Some days it is beyond comprehension how we will all get past the challenges we are facing. And I‚Äôm utterly ashamed and furious at the USA‚Äôs reckless handling of the situation.

How have you seen the virus affecting the community around you and in music?

I‚Äôve been seeing many creative friends saying that they‚Äôre having trouble being creative or productive. Even with the sudden luxury of free time, it‚Äôs hard to feel motivated when the day has no shape and making plans is such a questionable pursuit. And of course there are the thousands of events and tours that were canceled or are being rescheduled. I was supposed to do three consecutive Swans tours starting next week, which have mostly been pushed to next year now. It‚Äôs like a full year of our lives is being chopped out and a black box fills the calendar for days and days and days. There is a massive amount of uncertainty and the whole ‚Äúbusiness model‚ÄĚ of touring and releasing albums feels extremely unstable and questionable right now.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything?

We will make it back somehow. We live on the margins anyway, so with any luck this will be just a waiting game. I hope we can all try to be grateful for what we have… hold onto the good memories to get us through, don‚Äôt lose hope, and vote the bastards out of office before they get us all killed.

http://www.insectark.com
http://www.facebook.com/InsectArk
http://www.instagram.com/insectark/
http://www.insectark.bandcamp.com
http://www.profoundlorerecords.com
http://www.facebook.com/profoundlorerecords
http://www.profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com

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Album Review: Insect Ark, The Vanishing

Posted in Reviews on March 3rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

insect ark the vanishing

At the core of Insect Ark is Brooklyn-based composer/multi-instrumentalist Dana Schechter, who is and has been the driving force and the creative spearhead of the instrumentalist project since its inception circa 2011. Over the subsequent years and across now-three full-lengths — the latest, The Vanishing (on Profound Lore), was preceded by 2018’s Marrow Hymns (discussed here) and ¬†2015‚Äôs¬†Portal/Well¬†(review here) — Schechter has brought to light a deeply progressive and at times decidedly grim vision of post-psychedelic heft. Her work has never sounded more encompassing than it does on¬†The Vanishing, which comprises six songs and runs 41 minutes and was recorded in New York by¬†Colin Marston (of¬†Behold… the Arctopus! and others), and it takes a decisive forward step in expressive from where Schechter was even two years ago. There are a thousand wax-poetry ways to put it, but primarily, what it comes down to is that it’s different.

And well it should be. Where¬†Portal/Well was a purely solo outing,¬†Schechter — whose pedigree includes past and present stints in Swans as well as groups like¬†M. Gira‘s¬†Angels of Light, the underrated Bee and Flower, etc. — subsequently brought in drummer¬†Ashley Spungin to facilitate touring.¬†Spungin contributed to¬†Marrow Hymns but has since been replaced by¬†Andy Patterson (formerly of¬†SubRosa, currently also in¬†The Otolith and¬†D√łne), who plays a significant role in the form that the pieces throughout¬†The Vanishing take. That is true when he’s there, as in the opener “Tectonic,” when a steady popping snare serves to underscore the low-end swell of¬†Schechter‘s bass and the accompanying synthesized/effects noise and guitar, and when he’s not there, as in the keyboard-experimental cinema drone of “Swollen Sun” or the prior the wistful and minimalist slide guitar echoes that launch “Danube,” duly evocative of water running as they are. Rest assured, a roll takes hold in “Danube” as well, about halfway into its seven-minute stretch, but it is ultimately in the fluidity of its atmosphere that the presumed side B opener makes its bulk of its impact, and indeed, it’s atmosphere that is most central to Insect Ark‘s third album as a whole.

There are almost two levels on which¬†The Vanishing¬†is functioning at any given time, and in that way, “Tectonic” sets up the course of what’s to come well. At the forefront of the mix is guitar — pedal steel? sometimes maybe — and bass and drums. Even the cymbal washes that populate the open spaces of the 10-minute closing title-track are meant to be forward in their impact; they’re leading the way gradually and patiently through a noise-laden drone-out and back to a more cohesive post-metallic progression that builds to the final apex of the record — so it goes. But beneath those elements, there’s another, broader and more experimentalist path that The Vanishing¬†takes, as¬†Schechter weaves in various noises and effects, synth, maybe-keyboard and who the hell knows what else, and in those details and the stretches where the one plays out virtually on top of the other that this incarnation of Insect Ark seem to be establishing the root of their approach.

Insect Ark (Photo by Chris Carlone)

The narrative (blessings and peace upon it) has it that¬†Schechter and¬†Patterson put these songs together quickly ahead of touring with¬†Oranssi Pazuzu last October, and if it’s the experience of playing them live that has helped them develop the multifaceted character they have, then the crashes and thuds and general crush of “Three Gates” would only seem to be better for it, even if one wouldn’t necessarily expect¬†Insect Ark to follow a similar directive next time out. You’ll note that in three records, Schechter‘s approach and/or collaborations have yet to settle. Whether or not¬†Patterson is a “permanent” member of her project — whatever logistical nightmares her being in New York and his being in Salt Lake City might inspire; the internet is a thing, but still — I have no idea. The only thing to go on is¬†The Vanishing itself, and for the apparent lack of time they had to put them together, the songs they’ve constructed don’t sound anything near rushed either in how they’re built or how they’re played — “Three Gates” and “Philae” and certainly follow “Tectonic” with a tension of their own, but it’s meant to be there — but on the most basic terms, the only thing evident in the¬†Schechter/Patterson creative partnership is potential. They are obviously working off each other’s strengths here.

That too might come from having put¬†The Vanishing together after getting off tour, but it’s part of the album’s personality just the same and thus part of the band’s. That said, a casual listener taking on¬†Insect Ark for the first time doesn’t necessarily need to know any of this. Who’s¬†Dana Schechter? Who’s¬†Andy Patterson? Who recorded? When? Where? Why? It is entirely possible to hear “Swollen Sun” or build of “Philae” and the repetitions of “Three Gates” and be wholly consumed by them purely on their merit as songs, and as The Vanishing¬†only pushes farther out as its moves toward that last crescendo in the title-track — which, yes, ends cold enough to be vanishing suddenly; the root bassline still reminiscent of a “Stones From the Sky” moment even though it caps at the end of a measure rather than within one — it is only more immersive as it goes, and the abiding darkness of the atmosphere is unrelenting.

It is not a record so much of-a-place as of-a-non-place, and so its title seems fitting on that level as well, but it is inherently of the moment in which it was made, and so while it may vanish for at least as long as it takes to put it on again, it nonetheless gracefully presents the what may or may not be the beginning stages of a new phase for¬†Insect Ark in terms of the general mission of the project. An key component of Schechter‘s work — and an appeal of it, frankly — to this point has been a lack of predictability for what might come next, and even should her collaboration with¬†Patterson continue, the same applies. A third record might commonly be where a given band executes the closest realization to-date of what they intended at their founding.¬†Insect Ark would seem to be the other kind of band, for whom the evolution is its own end. Whatever will or won’t follow,¬†The Vanishing is an essential means to that end.

Insect Ark, The Vanishing (2020)

Insect Ark website

Insect Ark on Thee Facebooks

Insect Ark on Bandcamp

Profound Lore Records website

Profound Lore Records on Thee Facebooks

Profound Lore Records on Bandcamp

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 27

Posted in Radio on January 31st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

As I sit and type this, I just recorded (on my phone, because professionalism!) the voice tracks for this episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio, and in the first of them I tried and probably failed to explain that the show’s moving. Instead of every other week on Friday at 1PM Eastern (which it is now), it’s going to be every week, Friday 5PM Eastern. New episodes will still be every other week, but it’s a dedicated spot to The Obelisk Show and that’s that. The Sunday replays will still air. Bullet points:

– Starting Feb. 14.
– Airing every week, Friday 5PM, plus Sundays at 7PM
– New episodes every other week
– Listen to The Obelisk Show at Gimmeradio.com or on the app.
– Thank you

Probably should’ve written that out before I tried explaining it off the cuff on the show itself. So it goes.

There’s a ton of killer, killer, killer new music in this episode, so, you know, business as usual. I know I’m biased. Anyone who says they’re not is playing pretend. I was glad to include new¬†Goblinsmoker here, which I haven’t had the chance to write about yet, as well as¬†Insect Ark,¬†The River,¬†Grandpa Jack and¬†Godthrymm. Look out for a full stream of the¬†OZO¬†record next Tuesday, if you like what you hear in the title-cut.

Which, of course, I hope you do.

The Obelisk Show airs 1PM Eastern today at http://gimmeradio.com

Thanks if you check it out.

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 01.31.20

Lowrider Red River Refractions*
Elephant Tree Sails Habits*
Brant Bjork Jungle in the Sound Brant Bjork*
Big Scenic Nowhere Glim Visions Beyond Horizon*
BREAK
Orbiter Bone to Earth The Deluge*
Sleepwulf Misty Mountain Misty Mountain*
Grandpa Jack Imitation Trash Can Boogie*
Dirt Woman Lady of the Dunes The Glass Cliff*
BREAK
Goblinsmoker Let Them Rot A Throne in Haze, a World Ablaze*
Insect Ark Philae The Vanishing*
The River Vessels Vessels into White Tides*
Deathwhite Further From Salvation Grave Image*
Godthrymm The Sea as My Grave Reflections*
BREAK
SEA Dust Impermanence*
OZO Saturn Saturn*

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is Feb. 14. Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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Insect Ark Announce Feb. 28 Release for The Vanishing; Stream “Tectonic”

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

insect ark

Maybe by the time Dana Schecter gets a MacArthur Genius Grant she’ll get her due in the heavy underground. I have to think that the tour she and seemingly-permanent-ish Insect Ark drummer Andy “Super-Nice Dude” Patterson undertook this Fall alongside Oranssi Pazuzu couldn’t have hurt their cause, at least not if the social media crowd shots I saw were anything to go by. The righteously-in-its-own-dimension 2018 offering, Marrow Hymns (discussed here), will get a follow-up in 2020’s The Vanishing, which is due out Feb. 28, and the label and two-piece are streaming the six-minute opening track “Tectonic” from the LP now, its atmosphere recalling dark post-rock while pushing through chamber echo and a weighted atmosphere manifested by the tones and slow-rolling drums. TLDR? I dig. Bodes well. I don’t think I’m cool enough to premiere a song from it, but golly I’d love to if such a thing were possible.

Expand your brain thusly:

insect ark the vanishing

INSECT ARK: Instrumental Psychedelic Doom Duo Completes Work On New Album, The Vanishing, Set For Release February 28th Through Profound Lore Records; New Track Streaming

INSECT ARK — currently made up of founder Dana Schechter (Swans) and Andy Patterson (ex SubRosa) — have been crafting uncomfortable soundscapes that feel both intimate and icy cold since 2011. Nightmarish horror film-like visions, outer space travel, and gritty noir textures were explored in their previous offerings — the much-praised Portal / Well (2015) and Marrow Hymns (2018) — but now, something far greater is coming. Prepare for The Vanishing.

Set for release next year via Profound Lore Records, the Colin Marston-engineered opus serves as INSECT ARK’s third, and most harrowing and punishing record to date. Though many of its segments veer off into mind-expanding outer realms, the interplay between the bass, lap steel guitar, synths, and drums represent a strong and defiant collection of songs that demand your exclusive attention forcefully. It’s heavier, darker, and denser than anything INSECT ARK has ever done, without losing any of the writing characteristics that have become synonymous with their personality, like the persistent coating of eerie psychedelia, the alien feel of the melodies, or the ominous dread they often exhale.

“The album’s title refers to a recurring daydream I had of disappearing completely – floating out to sea alone, and never being found,” offers Schechter of the themes driving the record. “On a much bigger level, it’s about the impermanence of life itself, trying to retain perspective of how small we really are.”

INSECT ARK’s The Vanishing will be released worldwide on CD, LP, and digital formats February 28th, 2020 with preorders to be unveiled next month.

The Vanishing Track Listing:
1. Tectonic
2. Three Gates
3. Philae
4. Danube
5. Swollen Sun
6. The Vanishing

A New York City-based multi-instrumentalist known for her collaborations with Swans (for whom she is now part of the main touring lineup), Angels Of Light, Gnaw, Zeal & Ardor, Wrekmeister Harmonies, and √Örabrot, as well as her own projects Bee And Flower and Gifthorse, Dana Schechter is now joined by former SubRosa drummer Andy Patterson, also known for his bands D√ėNE, the Otolith, INVADRS, and as owner/operator of Salt Lake City recording studio The Boar’s Nest. This partnership appears to have completely nailed the true essence of INSECT ARK. After a quick first meeting, within a period of two short months, Schechter and Patterson finished preparing all the new songs for The Vanishing, preceded by a full North American tour with Oranssi Pazuzu to get the new songs up to speed.

The intensity, determination, and dedication poured into the album is clearly audible, captured by the wizardry of engineer Colin Marston (Dysrhythmia, Krallice, Behold The Arctopus). The sound was steered in a visceral, organic direction; you feel enclosed within a living, pulsating, slithering organism. The album artwork, a stunning painting by French artist Sonia Merah, is in and of itself a work of art, but when paired with the sounds of The Vanishing, it becomes a truly haunting and mesmerizing vision of some terribly twisted alternate reality.

“Making music takes a lot out of me,” Schechter admits, and it’s hard not to understand why after listening to the tour de force that is INSECT ARK’s new album. “To pull it out of my heart and put it into the world can be emotionally difficult, since it comes from a complex place with so many facets like pain, belief, hope, anger, joy.”

http://www.insectark.com
http://www.facebook.com/InsectArk
http://www.instagram.com/insectark/
http://www.insectark.bandcamp.com
http://www.profoundlorerecords.com
http://www.facebook.com/profoundlorerecords
http://www.profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com

Insect Ark, “Tectonic”

Insect Ark, Marrow Hymns (2018)

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Insect Ark Announce Lineup Change; Touring with Oranssi Pazuzu

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 15th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

INSECT ARK

I seem to recall Insect Ark went on tour a couple years ago with Aluk Todolo, and was out before that with Aidan Baker and has toured with Locrian as well, so with the news that the Brooklynite outfit will join Oranssi Pazuzu for an East Coast run this Fall comes further confirmation that Dana Schechter has good taste. Schechter is once again the lone figure as well as the spearhead of the project, having parted ways recently with Ashley Spungin following the release last year of the well received Marrow Hymns (discussed here). A follow-up to that record is in the works, and it should be interesting to hear how Schechter being on her own again affects the sound. She’s never had any trouble harnessing a dynamic between minimalist ambience and outright crush, so yeah. One expects she’ll be fine.

Tour dates follow. These will be good shows:

oranssi pazuzu insect ark tour

INSECT ARK: Instrumental Noise/Doom Project Confirms North American Live Takeover Supporting Oranssi Pazuzu

Instrumental noise/doom project INSECT ARK will support Finland’s Oranssi Pazuzu on a North American fall tour. The journey will begin on October 10th in Chicago, Illinois and run through October 19th in Atlanta, Georgia with additional INSECT ARK performances to be announced in the weeks to come. See confirmed dates below.

INSECT ARK w/ Oranssi Pazuzu:
10/10/2019 Reggies – Chicago, IL
10/11/2019 El Club – Detroit, MI
10/12/2019 Velvet Underground – Toronto, ON
10/13/2019 Le Ritz – Montreal, QC
10/14/2019 Sonia – Boston, MA
10/15/2019 Le Poisson Rouge – New York, NY
10/16/2019 Underground Arts – Philadelphia, PA
10/17/2019 Metro Gallery – Baltimore, MD
10/18/2019 Kings – Raleigh, NC (late show)
10/19/2019 529 – Atlanta, GA

Formed in late 2011 in New York City, INSECT ARK is the solo project of Dana Schechter (bass, lap steel guitar, synthesizers). An alluring fusion of horror-?lm soundtracks, psychedelic doom, and atmospheric noise, INSECT ARK’s intensely visual music weaves interludes of fragile beauty with crushing passages of swirling doom, spinning like a backwards fever dream.

A busy 2018 included the release of a full-length LP Marrow Hymns on Profound Lore Records, European and North American tours, a recording residency at modular synth mecca EMS Stockholm, and fest appearances at Roadburn, Basilica Soundscape, Northwest Terror Fest, and more. Now in Summer 2019, the composing of a new album is almost complete with heavy touring in fall 2019 and spring 2020 for the US and Europe scheduled.

From its inception, INSECT ARK has been about creating music that transports, both physically, and psychologically. Schechter made three solo INSECT ARK records (Collapsar 7″, Long Arms 10″, Portal/Well LP). In 2015, drummer/analog electronics builder Ashley Spungin joined the project, and together they made 2018’s Marrow Hymns and toured extensively as a duo/band.

As of July 2019, INSECT ARK returns to the primary model of Schechter working as a solo artist, with live and studio collaborations on a per-project basis. Bridging the gap between experimentation and song form, a heavy focus is on composition, but INSECT ARK is still very much a live experience, with emphasis on live instrumentation of bass, lap steel, drums and synths, using intricate live analog looping techniques to achieve a monster “wall of sound” with only one or two people on stage.

A mind-bending animated video piece accompanies live shows – also made by Schechter, who works as a video artist in the film business – completing the experience to envelop and crush the senses.

http://www.insectark.com
http://www.facebook.com/InsectArk
http://www.insectark.bandcamp.com
http://www.profoundlorerecords.com
http://www.facebook.com/profoundlorerecords
http://www.profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com

Insect Ark, Marrow Hymns (2018)

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Insect Ark Post “Tarnish” Video; Touring East and West Coasts

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 8th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

insect ark (Photo by Rennie Elliot)

I was fortunate enough to watch a couple minutes of¬†Insect Ark at¬†Roadburn¬†earlier this year from way, way in the back of the¬†Cul de Sac venue in the Netherlands, and I ran into band founder/multi-instrumentalist¬†Dana Schechter¬†later on or the next day or whenever it was and told her, “Your band is fucking awesome.” Usually one tries to be reserved. I nonetheless stand by the statement.

Earlier this year,¬†Schechter, who handles lap steel, bass, synth, etc., and drummer/synth noisemaker¬†Ashley Spungin released the second¬†Insect Ark album,¬†Marrow Hymns, through¬†Profound Lore. It’s the first collaboration between the two players under the¬†Insect Ark banner — the first full-length, 2015’s¬†Portal/Well¬†(review here), was¬†Schechter alone — and through the¬†Earthly drone ramble of “In the Nest” to the practically-noise-rock “Skin Walker,” which follows and into the insect ark marrow hymnsminimalist, post-metallic reaches of “Slow Ray,” which has a proclivity for holding tension worthy of comparison to¬†Neurosis, it’s an evocative, inspirational outing that refuses genre convention in favor of its own strength of creative will. With the ambient introduction of “Thelema” setting a foreboding tone and “Arp 9” following with an immediate burst of bass/drum angularity of groove, there’s as much atmospheric as there is tonal heft, but with the layered-in lap steel, an airy high end seems to float through the places vocals might otherwise go.

Marrow Hymns can be crushing, but listening to¬†Spungin‘s tom work in “Sea Harps” and how it opens to a mid-level payoff in the cymbals before she and¬†Schechter lock in a march beneath swells of guitar, it’s not overdone, amp-worshiping claustrophobia. And though it’s clearly progressive in the sense of having thought behind it, it’s not overly cerebral and staid as some post-metal has a tendency to be. It’s titled correctly.¬†Marrow Hymns. It goes right to the bone and sings from what’s inside there. Some of it is gorgeous, some of it isn’t, but whatever it is, it’s honest, and as the drumless “Tarnish” moves into the patient and consuming highlight “Windless” and the drone-fight synth-barrage that is closer “Daath,”¬†Insect Ark only seem to be plunging even deeper into that visceral, often lonely reality.¬†Marrow Hymns is powerful. A living thing.

And all the more exciting because although they’ve been working together since 2015 it’s the first studio expression of¬†Insect Ark¬†as a duo. I wouldn’t at all expect them to make the same record twice, but it seems entirely likely that¬†Marrow Hymns, for its many accomplishments, will also serve as a stepping-off point to the next stage in¬†Insect Ark‘s ongoing progression. An outfit like this simply doesn’t stay still.

To a less figurative end of that,¬†Insect Ark will be on tour this month and into September, hitting the West Coast first followed by the East. Dates follow the “Tarnish” video below, courtesy of the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Insect Ark, “Tarnish” official video

New York/Portland instrumental duo, INSECT ARK, will bring their psalms to the live stage later this month on a North American tour en route to their performance at this year’s edition of Basilica Soundscape in Hudson, New York. The band will perform an all drone set August 11th in Salem, Oregon at Cemetary Soundscapes Fest before kicking of the first official leg of the tour with Belus August 15th in Olympia, Washington. The trek will run through August 19th in Los Angeles, California. The second leg of the trek begins August 29h in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and will find the band paired with Pandiscordian Necrogenesis through September 6th in Brooklyn, New York. See all confirmed dates below.

INSECT ARK released their Marrow Hymns full-length early this year via Profound Lore. An alluring fusion of horror-film soundtracks, psychedelic doom, and atmospheric noise, INSECT ARK’s intensely visual music weaves interludes of fragile beauty with crushing passages of swirling doom, spinning like a backwards fever dream.

INSECT ARK:
8/11/2018 Cemetary Soundscapes Fest @ The Burial Grounds – Salem, OR (drone set)
w/ Belus:
8/15/2018 Cryptatropa – Olympia, WA w/ Eye of Nix, Vouna
8/16/2018 Highline – Seattle, WA w/ Eye of Nix, Forest of Grey
8/17/2018 High Water Mark – Portland, OR w/ Jason W. Walton, Dark Numbers
8/18/2018 Golden Bull – Oakland, CA w/ Ails, Apprentice Destroyer
8/19/2018 The Resident – Los Angeles, CA w/ Graf Orlock, Toke
w/ Pandiscordian Necrogenesis:
8/29/2018 Kung Fu Necktie – Philadelphia, PA w/ Dopethrone, Crud, Hellrad
8/30/2018 Atlas Brew Works – Wash DC w/ Crowhurst, The Holy Circle
8/31/2018 Full Pint Wild Side – Pittsburgh, PA
9/01/2018 Intersection Fest 2018 – Toronto, CA (free/all ages)
9/03/2018 Casa Del Popolo – Montreal, CA w/ Echo Beach
9/04/2018 Paulys Hotel – Albany, NY w/ Foisy-Hardiman
9/05/2018 Obrien – Boston, MA w/ Sea, Greylock
9/06/2018 Saint Vitus – Brooklyn, NY w/ Queen Elephantine
9/14-16/2018 Basilica Soundscape Festival 2018 – Hudson, NY *INSECT ARK only

Residing on opposite coasts, the two halves of the INSECT ARK whole – comprised of Dana Schechter (bass, lap steel guitar, synthesizers) and Ashley Spungin (drums, synthesisers) – converged to record the album with engineer Ethan Donaldson at Mozart St Studios in Brooklyn, New York over the course of eighteen months.

Insect Ark, Marrow Hymns (2018)

Insect Ark website

Insect Ark on Thee Facebooks

Insect Ark on Bandcamp

Profound Lore Records website

Profound Lore Records on Thee Facebooks

Profound Lore Records on Bandcamp

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Roadburn 2018 Day One: Gifted by the Wind

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

roadburn 2018 banner

04.19.18 – 11:33PM CET – Thursday Night – Hotel Mercure Rm. 224

Long day. Great day. I saw more bands than I photographed, which was among my most essential goals for Roadburn 2018: Just watch music. Just enjoy it. Don’t sweat getting down the front. Don’t sweat anything. This is a good time.

That whole “not sweating” part? Pretty much impossible. It’s apparently Global Warming Week in the Netherlands, so while Waste of Space Orchestra — the first of the weekend’s two commissioned projects, with members involved from Finnish fest-veteran outfits Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising — were tearing the Main Hall to shreds with their avantdelic blackened swirl, outside the sun was shining brightly in a conceptual contrast that, to be perfectly honest, was almost too much to take. waste of space orchestra (Photo by JJ Koczan)Outside, the cafes of Weirdo Canyon were packed to the hilt with libation quaffers. Inside, the goal seemed to be who could be first to prove the human soul exists and then tear it apart.

Hyperbole, you say. Fucking a right. How’s this for hyperbole? Waste of Space Orchestra‘s set might have been some of the most forward-thinking music I’ve heard since BorisFlood. Maybe. I’d have to hear it recorded, which hopefully will happen in a Live at Roadburn-style context, if not an actual studio album — it seems to me the substance there is too great to be left as a one-time-thing-and-gone experience. The ebbs and flows from almost-nothing drones to full-intensity, dual-drummed madness set a scope worthy of its dream-based concept, and there did not seem to be a moment of it that departed from the central mission of exploration. The gorgeous derived from the hideous and vice versa. A laugh in the face of anyone’s expectations, my own included. A first “holy shit” moment for a span of days that promises many.

My brain already so much goo only kept from leaking out of my skull by my earplugs blocking the way, I galumphed in that American-with-a-sore-back kind of way over to Het Patronaat to watch Colorado’s Khemmis play their first European show ever. Imagine that. Your first show on the continent, and it’s at Roadburn. I hope anything else on the tour measures up, because they absolutely packed out the church, and the assembled congregation bid them much welcome once they got going following a moment of turns-out-this-isn’t-plugged-in technical difficulties. That is to say, the crowd knew them and knew their two albums, 2016’s Hunted (review here) and 2015’s Absolution (review here), so there was none of that awkward getting-to-know-you phase. Everyone dove right in.

In fact, that seemed to be the way it went all around, not just for Khemmis or even Waste of Space Orchestra. Sometimes it takes a day khemmis (Photo by JJ Koczan)or two for Roadburn to really dig in. Not this year. From the moment Sannhet started in the Green Room, the vibe was set. Whether they were inside watching the bands or standing in the open air having a smoke of this or that — did you know Europeans put tobacco in their joints? I’ve been coming to the Netherlands for a decade and that’s some shit I just found out today, which I guess tells you how concerned I am generally with the matter. Still, fascinating.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, the vibe. The vibe was right on. I don’t know if it was starting off the Main Stage with such a landmark performance, or the sense of gratitude that Khemmis had from the beginning of their set on, or just all these super-laid-back West Coast dudes walking around, but it was quick immersion in and about the 013 venue. The good times were immediate. The rooms were jammed right from the beginning, and in the best way possible, it felt way more like day three than day one. Again, I did my best to take it easy and just enjoy it, soak in everything I could.

That’s not to say there wasn’t a bit of back and forth to the evening. Plenty, actually, but I knew that Earthless were on my must-see list for the day. The forerunners of San Diego’s heavy rock boom are wrapping a European tour here supporting their new album, Black Heaven (review here). They had a decent portion of acolytes rocking out at the side of the stage, and guitarist¬†Isaiah Mitchell¬†casually noted that it had been 10 years since the first time they played¬†the fest, which of course resulted in the now-legendary LP,¬†Live at Roadburn¬†(discussed here).¬†He wished everyone a great weekend. My big question going into their Main Stage set was how their new material, specifically that with his vocals, would fit alongside the three-piece’s longform instrumentalism.

The answer couldn’t possibly be dumber:earthless 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan) It just does. It’s the same band. It absolutely works. After about 20 minutes of their set, and further, as they moved into “End to End” and “Gifted by the Wind,” I began to wonder exactly what the hell I thought was going to happen, like all of a sudden¬†Mitchell¬†would start singing and bassist¬†Mike Eginton and drummer¬†Mario Rubalcaba would stop and be like, “Dude, what’re you¬†doing?” in the middle of a song. It’s a big transition they’ve made with¬†Black Heaven, but they 100 percent pulled it off on the record, and they did likewise live. Once they started playing, there was no doubt. They absolutely owned the stage and owned the room, the dynamic between each member of the band and the others making all of them utterly essential to the whole; a classic power trio with boogie enough to move thousands. I know. I saw it happen.

And while we’re on the subject, bonus points to¬†Rubalcaba for wearing a t-shirt representing their tourmates¬†Comet Control, who play tomorrow at Cul de Sac and are my absolute must-see band for the day. Like, not staying the whole time for¬†Crowbar, missing¬†Supersonic Blues‘ covers set,¬†Panopticon and¬†Kikagaku Moyo to see them. That’s how fucking essential I consider that. I also hope to get my own shirt.

My intended next stop after¬†Earthless was¬†Insect Ark, at Cul de Sac. I ran back to the hotel room to throw water on my face and drop off the issues I’d snagged of¬†Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, but got back to the venue in Weirdo Canyon itself 20 minutes early and probably about 10 too late to get a spot down front. They went on and I stood in back nursing my regrets and my umpteenth espresso for the day that I picked up from the machine in the hotel lobby, then tweedledummed my way back to the Main Stage toearthless 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan) watch some of¬†Converge playing last November’s¬†The Dusk in Us.

I made it in time to catch the title-track, which frontman and¬†Roadburn¬†2018 curator¬†Jacob Bannon took a moment to explain was about depression and that if anyone “could relate,” the most important thing to do was survive. “Nothing is more important than you,” he said. I had to stop for minute as the song got going with its slow build and dramatic semi-spoken lyrics and realize that I’ve never felt that to be less true. I don’t begrudge¬†Bannon the sentiment, but yeah. Not a chance, bro.

Harder to argue with¬†Converge‘s on-stage delivery, though. They’ve been at it for nearly 30 years, and while I can’t claim to have seen them in 1990, the passion seems not to have dulled in the slightest. My stop in the Main Hall was temporary though, as I knew I wanted to head to the Green Room to catch¬†Ex Eye, about whom I’ve been hearing more or less since I got to Tilburg yesterday. And actually much longer than that.

Somewhat telling that I walked into the Green Room with more than half an hour to go before the New York-based four-piece took the stage — they were soundchecking at the time — and still couldn’t get a spot to take a semi-decent photo.¬†When they actually rolled in,¬†Ex Eye represented the league of hyperprog better than anyone I’ve seen in a good long while. Guitar, sax, Moog, drums — though no shortage of low end. Instrumental experimentation turning metal into jazz and jazz into metal in a way that would have¬†Cynic¬†blushing and¬†Colin Marston breaking out his Warr guitar to try and get in on the fun. Now I know what people who saw¬†Blind Idiot God in 1989 must’ve felt like.

And I guess by that I mean outclassed by a decade or two. I’d never heard¬†Ex Eye¬†before — look at me, trying new things! — and they were as opaque as they were breathtaking, but it was clear they were on their own wavelength.ex eye (Photo by JJ Koczan) Is extreme prog a thing? If it is or it isn’t, they are.

Having some time before¬†my last stop for the night, I popped up to the merch area to see what was what for shirts and CDs and the like. Part of my annual sojourn in the past has been catching up on¬†Nasoni Records releases by buying a host of CDs, but there were none to be had. I consoled myself with some treasures from¬†Svart —¬†Talmud Beach,¬†Garden of Worm,¬†Kimi K√§rki‘s solo record,¬†Hallatar — and an old compilation on¬†Hellhound that I’d never seen around before. Distros had a lot of vinyl, same as everywhere, and I usually allot myself one piece of it before the weekend is out. I may yet, but didn’t this time. I’m sure I’ll get there.

But as to that last stop for the day, it was¬†Mirror Queen back at the Cul de Sac. A bit of New York to wrap up a day that spanned even more broadly in terms of style than I could’ve planned had I actually circled names on the schedule. If I could end every night of this fest with some good old fashioned heavy rock and roll, I think I could only call it a win.¬†Mirror Queen brought exactly that: wholesome ’70s flavor with not an ounce of pretense to be found. They’d been on tour for a week alongside¬†Lonely Kamel and were tight enough to make one believe it, and they pulled a good crowd supporting their new single “Inviolate” (video premiere here) and last year’s full-length,¬†Verdigris (review here), which was likewise rife with classic heavy charm and a naturalist modern presentation.

Not my first time seeing them by any stretch, but in my experience there’s always a difference between seeing a band at¬†Roadburn and seeing them anywhere else. Plus, this was my first time watching them play with guitarist¬†Morgan McDaniel in the lineup alongside founding guitarist/vocalist¬†Kenny Sehgal, drummer¬†Jeremy O’Brien and bassist¬†James Corallo. I saw¬†McDaniel here a couple years back when he played bass in¬†The Golden Grass, but he can and did shred on lead guitar and it was a pleasure to watch. He fit right in that band in a way that made me hope he stays.

After taking pictures down front, I made my way to the back of the room for a mirror queen (Photo by JJ Koczan)bit to catch my breath prior to heading out. It had been, as I noted at the outset, a long, great day, but the get-back-to-the-hotel-and-start-writing-you-jerk itch was making itself felt, so I eventually departed the boogie proceedings and lumped it down Weirdo Canyon and back here, where I remain, somewhat stunned by the news that¬†Sleep are apparently releasing a previously-unannounced album tomorrow, on April 20. I would be very surprised if some clever venue DJ doesn’t have it playing somewhere here this weekend. What a way to end day one.

Up in the morning early to work on the ‘zine again, so I’ll leave it there for now. I’ve got some more pictures up after the jump if you get the chance to check them out. Thanks for reading either way. More to come.

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