Roadburn 2024: Notes From Day Three

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 21st, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Outside Koepelhal Roadburn 2024

In what I hope will be a defining moment of my day if not the rest of my year, I was sitting with Lee downstairs at the 013 for lunch — some greens and cheese; likewise simple and necessary — and I could feel my brain start to move to what I needed to be doing, some quick writing, starting this post, whatever. But I stopped. I reminded myself, out fucking loud, that I had the time to stay. And so I stayed.

That sounds like an small thing, and maybe it was when set against what the day would bring front to back. And I’m not gonna sit here and try to do some middle-aged-dude wellness philosophy here — neither the place nor the time, and frankly I can’t stand that shit you see on social media, vacuous endorsement of a capitalist idea of how to live; fodder for the tshirts they sell at Target — but as this homecoming has been emotional for me, I’m working not to run away from that.

I got through the writing, the minimal actual amount there was, and got to where I wanted to be well in time for when I wanted to be there. Go figure. Place in time.

Roadburn Saturday. Couch Slut on first at The Terminal, diving deep into avant sludge, noise, hardcore, grindcore and some spoken word over piano — Steve Blanco from Imperial Triumphant guesting — and trumpet, no less purposeful in the light jazz than the most slaughtering parts as they brought the released-yesterday You Could Do it Tonight album to life.

It was my first time seeing them — they’re from Brooklyn, so my only real excuse is I’ve never been cool — and there were times where it felt a bit like gazing at someone’s trauma through the sad and poetic storytelling of their songs, but Couch Slut’s aggressiveCouch Slut (Photo by JJ Koczan) confrontationalism was inner and outer, and they didn’t so much put these narratives on display as they did shove them up your nose like a covid test made of concrete.

The last song they played was longer — I hear that’ll happen with records — but I stuck it out through the intended challenge before stopping in at Hall of Fame to see the band put together by students from the Metal Factory music school. This is their second year featuring a group here, and, well, you want to support the kids. I very clearly was not alone in this thinking, as the room was wall-to-wall. The press of the crowd got to me quickly and I ducked out and back down to the 013 in plenty of time to stop in for a few minutes of Annelies Monseré as she opened the Next Stage with a pastoralia that felt folkish but experimental in its use of drone as more than just a backdrop to the four-part harmonies coming from the stage with the ‘band’ she led. Second flute of the weekend behind Tusmørke last night. Same room. Different context.

My next stop was the main stage for Kavus Torabi‘s commissioned piece, ‘Lion of the Lord’s Elect.’ I had no idea whatsoever what to expect from the set and won’t feign expertise on Torabi’s work through The Utopia Strong, Gong, The Holy Family, and so forth, but from melodic drone to two-drummer cacophony, with sax, bagpipes, synth, guitar, it felt like the construction of a psychedelic temple in that vast hall space. Never quite entirely still, never just about the wash, building up and receding back into its meditations — it was far removed from Couch Slut’s raw hurt and reality in general, a cosmic offering rife with float despite the double dose of kit percussion.

Like a lot of this Roadburn has been for me so far, ‘Lion of the Lord’s Elect’ was a chance to step outside of what I know or might chase down on my own. I’ll stop short of saying you have to step outside your comfort zone — remind yourself you don’t ‘have’ to do anything — but a willingness to take on somethingAnnelies Monsere (Photo by JJ Koczan) unknown is a big part of a commissioned project like this, which only happened because Roadburn made it happen. In its intricacies and overarching flow, proggy noodling and heavier push, it tugged at the limits of where space rock can generally go, and hell’s bells I’m glad I saw it. That hour went fast, and down to the last chime that finished, it was a master’s work. I watched the whole thing.

Feeling antsier today, which might just be fatigue, but still. After Kavus Torabi and co. ended, I moved downstairs to get water and then back up and around 013, looked in on Next Stage, nobody on, and decided to run back to the hotel for a few minutes, take a pill, brush my teeth — the salad/cheese combo had my mouth feeling fuzzy — and take my shoes off for a few minutes. Some of that was nerves for seeing The Keening, the Portland, Oregon, outfit led by Rebecca Vernon (ex-SubRosa) who would shortly perform their 2023 debut, Little Bird (review here) in full on the main stage. The lineup she’s assembled for the tour the band are about to undertake with Bell Witch — they’ll pick up in Spain on a couple days — includes Billy Anderson (too many to list for his production background, all the names tried to escape my brain at once, but he’s handled low end for Blessing the Hogs, High Tone Son of a Bitch and a slew of others) on bass and Nathan Carson of Witch Mountain on drums, as well as Andrea Morgan (Exulansis) on violin and vocals and Christy Cather (Ails, Ludicra) on guitar and some vocals, and if all that pedigree doesn’t do it for you, fine, the band stand on their own anyway.

The main stage has a lot to offer in terms of a flow from one act to the next, and reminds me a bit of years past in how a linear progression is set up throughout the day. That applies less to Kavus TorabiKavus Torabi (Photo by JJ Koczan) than to The Keening and the three acts that will follow them, but you can still find threads from one to the other, The Keening into Lankum, into Khanate and Blood Incantation. Or at least you can put a story to it that makes sense in sound. It’s not just one band piled on another. There’s thought, and heart, put into it.

I took pictures for two songs of The Keening and went up to the balcony for “Little Bird,” which Vernon dedicated to the people of Palestine, and the rest of the set. After a couple minutes I had to sort of force myself to put the camera down, put my phone away, repeat my various mantras about Freeburn this and that, living the thing instead of just covering it, etc., and I think I was probably better off for that. Little Bird, which has only grown on me since last year — and I liked it plenty when it was reviewed — culminates with “The Truth,” the studio version of which is 17 minutes long. No, I didn’t time it from the stage, but it was no less expansive in-person in its multi-movement unfolding and almost chaptered feel. Vernon’s voice is seething at times, the patterns of her lyrics rooted in ’90s post-hardcore emphatic repetition but so far removed from that thing as to be her own. I’d been looking forward to seeing them since I found out I’d be at Roadburn, and I’m not saying I wasn’t going to check out Khanate in a couple hours, but in many respects they were my priority of today and the fest overall. They did not disappoint, and Morgan nailed the operatics later in “The Truth,” making it all the more gorgeous and stirring. I hope the tour goes well, hope they do more.

Back and forth a bit in the break, but the truth is I was tired, found a corner, and stayed there, so it wasn’t much more than getting water. I ate a pack of almonds I brought from home and had tucked in my camera bag. I did a couple Hungarian lessons on my phone. I did not socialize. I The Keening (Photo by JJ Koczan)waited until about 15 minutes before Lankum went on, then went to the photo pit to do the thing. There’s always one lonely day at Roadburn. Should’ve been yesterday, was today.

Even Lankum’s line check was heavy, though, and it was mostly the four of them singing. That was a thing to dig, even if Irish folk ‘n’ drone isn’t exactly going to pull you out of your own head most of the time. I recognized “Go Dig My Grave” from last year’s False Lankum later in their set and I very obviously wasn’t alone in that. The main stage room was as full as I’d yet seen it — true I wasn’t in it at all on Thursday, when Chelsea Wolfe played, so if you want to just take that to mean “quite crowded indeed,” go ahead — and with arrangement dynamics that came through in vocals that moved into and out of four-part harmonies, found instruments swapped out between songs and persistent low end hum that I think came off the big drum in back that threatened to swallow melody and audience alike and I’m pretty sure was on purpose, Lankum harnessed traditionalism to suit the purposes of their craft, whether it was an original piece or not. When they left, the P.A. played Cinder Well’s “No Summer,” and that felt right.

Khanate were next.

It would not be my first time seeing Alan Dubin (O.L.D., Gnaw, etc.), Stephen O’Malley (SunnO))), Burning Witch, etc.), James Plotkin (O.L.D., Lotus Eaters, Atomsmasher, etc.) and Tim Wyskida (Blind Idiot God, Insect Ark, etc.) together on stage. One dark, deeply inebriated night two decades ago, I was in their presence as they played a Southern Lord showcase at SXSW that also featured Outlaw Order, Earthride (RIP Sherman), Place of Skulls and Graves at Sea.Lankum (Photo by JJ Koczan) Yes, I had to look up when it was. And no, I’m not telling you that to be cool. I’m not cool. I’m just old. But Khanate were my prevailing memory of that evening, the singular bleakness and scathe that they wrought, and while I’ve seen the component members of the band in other projects since, there was no question that their performing together under the Khanate banner for the first time in reportedly 19 years was one of the most crucial opportunities Roadburn 2024 provided. There’s a reason they were the first band announced for the fest. It was a big fucking deal.

Their surprise 2023 album, To Be Cruel (review here), underscored the aural black hole they’ve always been. It wasn’t about reinventing their approach so much as about being brave enough to try to make those awful sounds again. Understand: Khanate stand at the end point of music, extreme enough in their mission and end result that nothing but hyperbole can rightly apply. Save for O’Malley tuning between songs, they offered no moments of respite or safe pockets in which to dwell. No cathartic release. They stood close together on stage under stark spotlights. No video screen. Nothing to distract you from the punishment on offer. The only flourish around O’Malley’s glacial riffs and Plotkin’s coinciding rumble was the caustic feedback either of their own or of Dubin’s making with his sampler, noisebox, or whatever the fuck it was. No rescue came. No melody. No letup. “Kick a helpless thing,” and the crowd was the helpless thing. If it was arthouse, it was the moldy basement underneath that smells like rotting meat and no one knows why.

At the Hall of Fame, Full Earth would play nearly the entirety of their own set during Khanate’s. Not a conflict of note for most here, I would think. I did abscond up there to try to see them at least for a few minutes, but the line was out the door — classic Roadburn Khanate (Photo by JJ Koczan)indication that you’re not getting in — and yeah, I’ve got a pass, but I figured all was well, I was glad a whole bunch of other people would get to the show even if I didn’t, and hightailed it back to the 013. Gotta get your steps in. I’m pretty sure Khanate were still playing the same song when I got back. No summer here either. Lonely day at Roadburn? Fuck you, here’s shit-coated obliteration instead.

And maybe I was done when they were. A long, long time ago and talking about another band, I told a guy I knew that it wasn’t about the notes they were playing, or the notes they were not playing, but about the spaces in between. That’s truer of Khanate than it was of that other band, and with Khanate, even those tense, empty spaces feel like fingernails on the eyeballs. Thusly bled, I walked back down the row of bars around the corner from the 013 — it has a name, who can remember? — and watched humans having dance parties, talking with friends, drinking, laughing, living. Cognitive dissonance to the fact that the world just ended.

Or didn’t, since there’s still another day of Roadburn tomorrow. See you then, and thanks for reading in the meantime. More pics after the jump.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2023 — Year in Review

Posted in Features on December 18th, 2023 by JJ Koczan


[PLEASE NOTE: These are not the results of the year-end poll, which ends in January. If you haven’t contributed your picks yet, please do so here.]

It is encouraging in the extreme to see heavy music, as both concept and practical reality, growing more diverse. For all its rebellious airs, rock and roll has always been predominantly white and male, and its heavy underground form is no different. But for any artform to survive let alone evolve, it has to be open to new ideas and perspectives, and I firmly believe that the underground is becoming a more inclusive community. It has a distance to go that can only be measured in light years, but progress is progress.

2023 was a stunner from the start, with early highlights that stuck around and were joined by more as the months progressed. And while we’re speaking about it in past tense and it’s wrap-up time and so on, there are still new releases coming out every day and week. All over the planet, the heavy underground represents a vibrant subculture, rife with creativity and purpose, speaking inside genre and out, and all the time looking to grow artistically and in terms of listenership. As a result, the work being released holds itself to a high standard.

And yes, that’s true even if it’s about bongs.

Actually, that such willful primitivism is taking place at the same as doom forays into goth, psych forays into mania and tone-worshipping stoner rock seems intent to both double-down on simplicity while expanding into increasingly progressive territory is emblematic of that very standard and the diversity among practitioners of these styles in the current and up and coming generation.

One could go on here, speculate on future directions and so forth, but frankly there isn’t time just now. The list you see below is mine. I made it. It’s informed by my listening habits — what I had on most — by what I see as the greatest level of achievement by the band in question, and in some cases by critical import. It’s a weird mix, but let’s face it, you don’t care. The bottom line is all I’m claiming to represent here is myself and this site.

Accordingly, as with every year, I’ll ask you to please be mindful of the feelings and opinions and others if and as you proffer your own. I love comments here, I love discussions on this post most of any throughout any year, every year, but that can’t happen if somebody’s being a jerk, so don’t. If you disagree with me or someone else, I don’t care if you have a 40-page treatise on your opinion or if you just don’t dig a thing, but if you’re seeing these words, it is our responsibility to each other to be respectful and kind.

Beyond that, in advance of what’s about to unfurl below, please know that I thank you for reading.

**NOTE**: If you’re looking for something specific, try a text search.

The Top 60 Albums of 2023

For the last two years (2022 and 2021, linked for reference), I’ve done my own list as a countdown from 60, and since it feels both like way too much, over-the-top, totally unnecessary, and like a completely inadequate sampling of what was worth hearing this year, I guess it’s the way to go once again. Right now is the first of three times I’ll encourage you not to skip this list.

This is the second. Here we go:

60. Codex Serafini, The Imprecation of Anima (review here)
59. Strider, Midnight Zen (review here)
58. Black Helium, Um (review here)
57. Humulus, Flowers of Death (review here)
56. Fuzz Evil, New Blood (review here)
55. Blood Lightning, Blood Lightning (review here)
54. Rotor, Sieben (review here)
53. Cleõphüzz, Mystic Vulture (review here)
52. Black Sky Giant, Primigenian (review here)
51. Khan, Creatures (discussed here)
50. Slumbering Sun, The Ever-Living Fire (review here)
49. Massive Hassle, Number One (review here)
48. Búho Ermitaño, Implosiones (review here)
47. Black Moon Circle, Leave the Ghost Behind (review here)
46. Oldest Sea, A Birdsong, a Ghost (review here)
45. Edena Gardens, Dens (discussed here)
44. Merlock, Onward Strides Colossus (review here)
43. Obelyskkh, The Ultimate Grace of God (review here)
42. Lord Mountain, The Oath (review here)
41. Dorthia Cottrell, Death Folk Country (review here)
40. Yawning Balch, Volume One / Volume Two (reviews here and here)
39. The Golden Grass, Life is Much Stranger (review here)
38. Somnuri, Desiderium (review here)
37. Haurun, Wilting Within (review here)
36. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Aion (review here)
35. Stinking Lizaveta, Anthems and Phantoms (review here)
34. Black Rainbows, Superskull (review here)
33. Polymoon, Chrysalis (review here)
32. Fuzz Sagrado, Luz e Sombra (review here)
31. Yawning Man, Long Walk of the Navajo (review here)


This is the third time I’m telling you not to skip this list. Linking to more on these is new. I haven’t done that before for this part of the list, but I hope it helps if you want to dig in.

That Khan stands out to me as needing to be higher given the quality of the work itself, but I got there late. But if you sent this into the year-end poll as your top 30, I feel like you wouldn’t be ‘wrong’ with some of the showings here, whether that’s the blinding shimmerprog of Polymoon, Merlock’s axe-swing sludge or Dorthia Cottrell of Windhand’s acoustic-based solo work.

Strong debut full-lengths from Haurun, Oldest Sea, Boston supergroup Blood Lightning, Cleõphüzz who already broke up, the aforementioned Merlock, mega-weirdos Codex Serafini, Slumbering Sun (kin to Monte Luna and Destroyer of Light), Church of the Cosmic Skull offshoot Massive Hassle, Turkish heavy rockers Strider and Californian metal traditionalists Lord Mountain. Established outfits like Yawning Man, Stinking Lizaveta, Cottrell, Black Rainbows, The Golden Grass, and Rotor continue to explore new avenues of their sound.

In the meantime, the respective progressions displayed by the likes of Black Helium, Fuzz Sagrado, Somnuri and Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, the e’er-listenable Fuzz Evil and Argentinian instrumentalists Black Sky Giant offered thrills anticipated and not. Humulus bringing in Stefan Koglek from Colour Haze was a nice touch, and though I haven’t even reviewed it yet, the third and maybe-last Edena Gardens LP completes that collaborative trilogy with members of Causa Sui and Papir as fluidly as one could ask, which is only saying something because of the personnel involved.

There are a ton of others I wanted to put on this list, but numbers are cruel and if I get into decimals or fractions or something like that I’m going to end up huddled in a ball crying. But please know that because something’s not here doesn’t mean it sucked even just in my own opinion or whatever. At the end of the list come the honorable mentions and rarely have they been so honorable.

30. Moodoom, Desde el Bosque

Moodoom Desde el Bosque

Self-released. Reviewed April 13.

Buenos Aires trio Moodoom nailed a classic, ’70s-style Sabbathian blues rock with a non-cornball vintage feel better than anyone else I heard who tried in 2023. Their Desde el Bosque didn’t top half an hour, but you can almost feel the heat from the tubes of the amplifiers behind it, and it’s such an organic flow that it’s undeniable as an LP. Dig that creeper riff in “El Ente,” man. Proh. Toh. Doom.

29. Negative Reaction, Zero Minus Infinity
Negative Reaction Zero Minus Infinity

Self-released. Reviewed Nov. 27.

The eighth full-length in a career that goes back 33 years, Zero Minus Infinity is the second Negative Reaction album since guitarist/vocalist Kenny Bones moved himself and the band from Long Island to West Virginia and revamped the lineup, and it’s a beast. It’d be here for “I’ll Have Another” alone with that crush of distortion and Bones raw-throating “It’s you I need,” on repeat, perhaps to alcohol, but that’s just one example of the disaffected delights on offer from the kings of anxiety sludge.

28. Kanaan, Downpour

Kanaan Downpour

Released by Jansen Records. Reviewed May 12.

Downpour is one of two 2023 outings from upstart progressive Norwegian instrumentalists Kanaan, as they answered its Spring release with the jammy Diversions Vol. 2: Enter the Astral Plane. Any way you go, composed or improvised, this is a band with a special chemistry. In addition to the nodder highlight “Amazon,” which brought a collaboration with Hedwig Mollestad and the dense boogie riff-push of “Black Time Fuzz” at the start, they proceeded on an evolutionary path that looks now like it will go as long as they do. For now, in its urgency and space both, Downpour is a pinnacle achievement. How long that lasts depends on what comes next.

27. Mathew’s Hidden Museum, Mathew’s Hidden Museum

mathew's hidden museum self titled

Released by Interstellar Smoke Records. Reviewed Feb. 3.

Some records make a world. Mathew Bethancourt of Josiah, Cherry Choke, etc., put at least a solar system into the self-titled debut from his solo-project Mathew’s Hidden Museum. Melding lysergic experimentalism and off-kilter vibing with classic boogie, acoustic grunge, the piano quirk of “Golden” and more, it drew lines connecting disparate ideas and ended up making its own kind of sense, with depth enough in its layers that when I close out a week with it half a decade from now (inshallah), I’ll probably still be talking about it. Go get swallowed.

26. Borracho, Blurring the Lines of Reality

borracho blurring the lines of reality

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Aug. 17.

Recorded in Winter 2021/2022, Borracho‘s Blurring the Lines of Reality carried its where-did-we-go-wrong head-scratching sensibility into 2023, where to be sure it remained relevant. The Washington D.C. riffer trio know who they are and what they’re about, and their songwriting, groove and total lack of pretense continue to satisfy five records later even as the band pushes themselves further in structure and craft. And if you’d hold the social comment of their lyrics against them, first, grow up, second, your loss. Give me that smooth jam at the end of “Burning the Goddess” every time.

25. Khanate, To Be Cruel

Khanate To Be Cruel

Released by Sacred Bones Records. Reviewed July 19.

It was a total shock when superlatively-filth-encrusted sludgers Khanate not only returned with the surprise release of their first LP in 14 years, but that they pulled off such a remarkable change of style, abandoning their former miseries in favor of a more upbeat, uptempo outlook and poppier structures. What’s that you say? That didn’t happen? The record was just so completely, engrossingly wretched that my unconscious mind actually replaced it with something more palatable because Khanate stretch the limits of what punishment human beings can absorb in sound? Well fucking right on. That sounds like Khanate.

24. Saint Karloff, Paleolithic War Crimes

Saint Karloff Paleolithic War Crimes

Released by Majestic Mountain Records. Reviewed April 18.

Oslo-based doom rockers Saint Karloff harnessed an energy that 25 years ago or so propelled the very beginnings of modern Scandinavian heavy rock and roll, and they did it as a duo paying tribute to bassist Ole Sletner as well. Rife with familiar genre elements, stoner riffing, and band-in-room vibes, and even a little cosmic prog in closer “Supralux Voyager,” Paleolithic War Crimes had its emotional crux in its celebration of song and style, and so became the successful rebound after a terrible loss. If you call yourself a fan of heavy rock, chances are there’s something for you in it.

23. Child, Soul Murder

child soul murder

Self-released. Reviewed March 6.

Though they released the single-song I EP (review here) in 2018, the severely-titled Soul Murder is their first full-length since late-2016’s Blueside (review here). It puts the heavy blues frontmanship of guitarist/vocalist Mathias Northway at the fore as he, bassist Danny Smith and drummer Michael Lowe offer the most live-sounding studio effort I heard this year. Even if you go beyond the songwriting, the soul in the performances, the emotionalism and the believability of their blues, the classic warmth in their tones, the epic oil painting from Nick Keller that adorns its cover, you still have vitality (yes, even in slow parts) and the instrumental conversation happening between the members of the band. The degree of that alone warrants inclusion here.

22. Enslaved, Heimdal

Enslaved Heimdal

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

It can be a challenge to keep up with the ongoing progression of Bergen, Norway, progressive black metal innovators Enslaved, but these 32 years on from their founding it remains worth the effort. Heimdal followed tumultuous but busy years for the band, who mostly supported 2020’s Utgard (review here) digitally for obvious reasons, and was perhaps that much freer in its experimentation as a result of the period of less live activity. However they got to the keyboard part sticking out of “Congelia,” it is only fortunate that they did, since certainly in another couple decades the rest of us might actually be on Enslaved‘s wavelength, and we’ll be glad for it. Until then, they outclass just about everyone’s everything across the board. One of the world’s best bands, outdoing themselves as ever.

21. Mondo Drag, Through the Hourglass

mondo drag through the hourglass

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Oct. 19.

Mondo Drag‘s fourth album was also their first in eight years, and with it the Oakland outfit put the lie to the stereotype that prog music is staid. Indeed, the crux of Through the Hourglass came with the passing of founding keyboardist/vocalist John Gamiño mother, in whose honor the Days of Our Lives reference in the title was made. That personal exploration of loss became a classic melancholy progressive psychedelic rocK, bolstered by a partially revamped lineup that includes bassist Conor Riley (Birth, ex-Astra) and drummer Jimmy Perez alongside the established character in the guitars of Nolan Girard and Jake Sheley (both also founding members). Likewise beautiful and sad, songs like “Passages” and “Death in Spring” resonated with the universal experience of mourning as filtered through a rich breadth of influences, memorable movements and entrancing melody. One hopes it was a comfort to Gamiño as surely it has been to others.

20. Slomatics, Strontium Fields

Slomatics Strontium Fields

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed Aug. 29.

With shorter, tightly composed songs, Northern Ireland trio Slomatics managed to make the most atmospheric record of their career to-date. Their seventh LP, it used its time in songs like “Time Capture” and “Zodiac Arts Lab” to underscore the melody that’s been in their sound all the while but has never as much been the focus when set next to the abiding crush of David Majury and Chris Couzens‘ guitars, and though he’s behind the kit, drummer/vocalist Marty Harvey seemed all the more a frontman as his voice soared when called upon to do so. Of course, there was still plenty of time in the 36-minute run for Slomatics‘ crushall in “Wooden Satellites,” “I, Neanderthal,” later in “Voidians,” and so on, but it’s clear their range and reach have grown and their gradual evolution has brought a new level of complexity to their approach. If they keep this up, they risk feeling compelled to stop calling themselves Neanderthals, and while that would be a bummer, one very much hopes they keep it up anyway.

19. Dead Shrine, The Eightfold Path

Dead Shrine the eightfold path

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Feb. 23.

A new solo incarnation of Hamilton, New Zealand’s Craig Williamson — who is best known for his other one-man operation, Lamp of the Universe — the full-band-style heavy roller riffs throughout Dead Shrine‘s The Eightfold Path scratched what must have been a pretty fervent itch for heavy groove, classic swing, and fuzz, fuzz, fuzz, which cuts like “The Formless Soul,” “As Pharaohs Rise,” and side-ending self-jammers “Enshrined” and “Incantation’s Call” fortunately also have a mix spacious enough to hold. Williamson has rocked plenty since the turn of the century when he was in the heavy rock trio Datura, and around 2010 when he had the trio Arc of Ascent going. That band and this one have a lot in common, but Williamson has proven his most sustainable and seemingly preferred way of working is solo, and as one, Dead Shrine stands alongside Lamp of the Universe (wait for it…) in a way that feels like it could be longer term, even as Williamson seemed to blur the lines between the two sides on Lamp of the Universe‘s own 2023 outing…

19a. Lamp of the Universe, Kaleidoscope Mind

Lamp of the Universe Kaleidoscope Mind

Released by Sound Effect Records. Reviewed Dec. 4.

Although they’re certainly distinct enough to be separate from each other at this point, Dead Shrine and Lamp of the Universe obviously share a lot in common and it felt right to pair them like this. Every year I give myself one ‘#a’ pick, so this is it for 2023 and I’ll just use it to say how incredibly vast Lamp of the Universe has become. While remaining loyal to its beginnings in acid folk and meditative psychedelia, Williamson‘s multi-instrumentalism, the scope of his production, and the absolute care he puts into the project have brought it beyond what reasonable expectations might’ve been. And in part, by that I mean Kaleidoscope Mind rocks. That wah solo in “Golden Dawn?” The blowout drums behind nine-minute opener “Ritual of Innerlight?” Goodness gracious, yes. Even “Immortal Rites,” which is about as close as Williamson gets to Lamp‘s beginnings here, has evolved. But it’s also still the same thing in the root. I don’t know. If you don’t stretch reality to get there, try again later. The most honest thing I can say about it is I feel lucky to be a fan.

18. Sherpa, Land of Corals

sherpa land of corals

Released by Subsound Records. Reviewed Nov. 29.

It was the feeling that at any given point they might just go anywhere that made Sherpa‘s Land of Corals a surprise as the Italian practitioners of the psychedelic arts have thrown open the doors of both perception and microgenre and come across as thoroughly willful in their krautrock-minded ethereality, and just because the listener doesn’t know what might be next doesn’t mean the band aren’t working with a plan regardless. The follow-up to 2018’s Tigris and Euphrates (review here), the six-song/39-minute collection seemed to be fearless in what it took on, and though much of it was less serene than either of their first two outings, the divergences and the complexities in mood, ambience and arrangement render Land of Corals unto itself. Are we post-heavy here? Maybe. Still heavy as the drums behind “High Walls” show, however, though Sherpa‘s take on what that means and how that manifests is no less individualized than anything else in these tracks. Not something everyone is going to get — I’m not convinced I get it myself at this point — but an act whose creativity has yet to get its due.

17. Gozu, Remedy


Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed May 18.

The Boston riff factory known as Gozu have only gotten more vicious, more pointed with time, and yet, tucked at the end of their 2023 outing, Remedy, which has them as veterans at 14 years’ tenure, are “Ash” and “The Handler” and it just goes from sweet to sweeter. Yeah, it’s a ripper into its blood with “CLDZ,” “Tom Cruise Control,” and GozuMarc Gaffney (vocals/guitar), Doug Sherman (guitar), Joe Grotto (bass) and Seth Botos (drums), working with producer Dean Baltulonis for a threepeat — have a brand of melody in Gaffney‘s vocals that’s all their own, and fast or slow, loud or quiet, ’80s movie reference or ’70s movie reference, Gozu have been around long enough to know what they’re about. But, after 2018’s Equilibrium (review here) and 2016’s Revival (review here), Remedy feels one step heavier. Revival was a great sharpening of sound. Equilibrium brought refinement to that. Remedy comes across with a little of a sense of letting go, of the band digging in where it’s more about what they can do together than the response it’ll get afterward. It suits them.

16. The Machine, Wave Cannon

The Machine Wave Cannon

Released by Majestic Mountain Records. Reviewed Feb. 14.

Oh, The Machine. Seven records deep and still in your 30s. That’s the advantage of starting early, which the Netherlands-based trio most definitely did. Wave Cannon, accordingly, is both masterful in its conjurations of warm heavy psychedelic fuzz, and energetic in its delivery, with founding guitarist/vocalist David Eering bid welcome to bassist Chris Both and farewell to original drummer Davy Boogaard. And where 2018’s Faceshift (review here) tipped a balance in their style toward more of a punker push, Wave Cannon led off with “Reversion” and seemed all the more purposeful in its mature heavy psychedelic delve for that. It could be Wave Cannon will be the blueprint for a settled-in aesthetic the trio now more than ever driven by Eering, or it could be the beginning of a whole new evolution of sound from the revamped three-piece recommitted to trippy sounds and warm nod. Either way, it’s not that often you talk about a band’s forward potential after seven full-lengths, so The Machine are in a pretty special place circa 2023 and Wave Cannon, whatever it leads to, is a special moment of transition captured.

15. REZN, Solace

Rezn solace

Self-released. Reviewed March 7.

Similar to how trees live in an experience of time separate from ours and the way an earth year is laughably tiny set against the scale of the universe, Chicago heavy psych rockers REZN seem to operate on their own temporal wavelength throughout their fourth album, Solace. Able to crush at will, as at the end of “Possession,” or the early going of “Stasis,” in the trades of “Reversal,” et al, Solace found REZN more confident in their dives through melody and atmosphere than even they were on 2020’s Chaotic Divine (review here), they created a space and dimensionality of sound that belongs solely to them in the style. Quieter stretches in “Webbed Roots” enthralled with their depth, and the ethereal vocals brought human presence while furthering the smoke-swirls and incense mystique. On their own terms, and yes, very much at their own pace, REZN have made themselves one of America’s most essential heavy psych bands, and Solace — joined in 2023 by REZN‘s collaboration with Mexico’s Vinnum Sabbathi, Silent Future (discussed here) — crowns their to-date discography.

14. Church of Misery, Born Under a Mad Sign

Church of Misery Born Under a Mad Sign

Released by Rise Above Records. Reviewed June 23.

I’m not saying I think it’s cool to write songs about serial killers, but if you’re going to listen to a Church of Misery release almost 30 years after bassist Tatsu Mikami started the band, chances are you know their stated theme is nothing if not consistent. Born Under a Mad Sign delivered on its promise of memorable doom riffs, and as the songwriter and figurehead for arguably Japan’s most influential doom export, Mikami acted as ringmaster while returning vocalist Kazuhiro Asaeda brought mapcap intensity (and fun) to the grooves fostered through Yukito Okazaki‘s guitar, Tatsu‘s bass and Toshiaki Umemura‘s swinging drums. As ever, loyalty and reverence to Black Sabbath are at the core of Church of Misery‘s everything, and in that sphere, there are very, very few humans walking the planet who can do the thing as well as Tatsu. Like, maybe four going on five. As such, regardless of the subject matter (something I can say because I don’t know anyone who’s been murdered) and some eight years after their preceding long-player, Church of Misery are essential as the vehicle for that.

13. Kind, Close Encounters

kind close encounters

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Aug. 9.

I’m not sure if in 2015 when Boston’s Kind released their first album, Rocket Science (review here), anyone would have guessed there would even be a third full-length from them, let alone one that so much typifies the personality the band has built for itself. Comprised of the otherwise-plenty-busy lineup of vocalist Craig Riggs (also Sasquatch‘s drummer and so constantly touring), guitarist Darryl Shepherd (ex-MilligramBlackwolfgoatTest Meat, scores of others), bassist Tom Corino (Rozamov) and drummer Matt Couto (Aural Hallucinations, ex-Elder), Kind have found a sound that is separate from what its component members have done on their own, and become a genuinely more-than-sum-of-parts grouping. Whether it’s the rush of “Power Grab” or the way the rhythm of “What it is to Be Free” seemed to gain so much extra punch, or “Massive” at the record’s center earning its name in tone and swing alike. The “whoa baby come on” at 1:56 into that song is of course the reason Close Encounters made this list, but rest assured that across the span Kind are at what is a thus-far peak of their powers.

12. Iron Jinn, Iron Jinn

iron jinn iron jinn

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed April 3.

Stay with me here, because as you scroll further down this post, you’re going to see that Iron Jinn‘s hour-long 2LP first offering, declaratively-titled Iron Jinn, is my pick for debut album of 2023. Born out of an initial onstage collaboration at Roadburn 2018 (review here), the Arnheim, Netherlands-based four-piece brings together guitarist/vocalists Oeds Beydals (Molassess, ex-Death Alley, ex-The Devil’s Blood) and Wout Kemkens (Shaking Godspeed) with the labyrinth-constructing rhythm section of bassist Gerben Bielderman (Pronk, etc.) and drummer Bob Hogenelst, and from the late pointed lead lines of “Truth is Your Dagger” acting in duly jabbing fashion to the heady ambient drama of “Bread and Games” and the dark-prog atmospheres fleshed out as a backdrop to the melodies of “Soft Healers” and “Blood Moon Horizon,” the all-corners turns of “Lick it or Kick It,” on and on and on, the album resounds with both scope and ambition. What the long-term story of this project will be, I have no idea, but Iron Jinn is a record that brings new ideas to a sphere that very much needs them, and if there’s any luck, it will prove influential in the coming years.

11. Green Lung, This Heathen Land

green lung this heathen land

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Nov. 3.

Let the record show that when tasked with the biggest moment of their career to this point, Green Lung absolutely stepped up to meet it. This Heathen Land, as their first full-length with Nuclear Blast‘s backing (and third overall), will be the point of introduction for what will gradually become the bulk of their audience, and in its occult lyrics, sweeping, unironic, all-in grandiosity, weight of tone and craft of hooks, it tells you everything you need to know about why and how Green Lung got to where they are (save perhaps touring). Their task from here will be to find and refine the balance between metal and rock in their sound, but for a band whose clear intention from the outset was to take on the world to bring themselves to a point where they’re arguably doing so at least as regards the heavy underground is an accomplishment in itself. Then you get to songs like “Maxine (Witch Queen)” and the over-the-top finale “Oceans of Time,” and if you can let yourself have a little fun every now and again with your doom and witches and whatnot, this one was just about irresistible.

10. Dopelord, Songs for Satan

Dopelord Songs for Satan

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Dec. 11.

The album that boldly asked if it needed to be a wizard to earn your love, the fifth long-player from volume/tone/devil-worshiping (and perhaps in that order) Polish doomcrafters Dopelord was not at all the first heavy record to use Satan as a political statement — specifically in this case about social oppression in their home country and the political power of the catholic church there — but they wielded their rebel-angel argument with already-in-your-head songs like “Night of the Witch,” “The Chosen One,” “One Billion Skulls,” “Evil Spell” and the upped nastiness of “Worms,” in other words each and every of the non-intro/outro tracks, with emergent mastery and a plod that was as clear and infectious a call to praise as I heard in 2023, no less for its melodicism than its heft or the crispness of its delivery, the guttural rasps of “Worms” aside, which swapped in vitriol at just the right time. Songs for Satan was a new level for Dopelord‘s approach and as much an epistemological fuckoff to fundamentalism as it was consuming nod, and there was none more righteous in their cause. At the risk of saying the quiet part loud, dudes are going to be copping riffs from it for years.

9. Domkraft, Sonic Moons

Domkraft Sonic Moons

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Returning with their fourth long-player, Swedish trio Domkraft have found the style they’ve been working toward all along. As with some of the others on this list, it’s not that Sonic Moons was such a radical departure. It wasn’t. They worked with the same production team that helmed their 2022 Ascend/Descend (review here) split with Slomatics as well as 2021’s Seeds (discussed here). Björn Atldax‘s cover art was on point and in keeping with their visual aesthetic. But there’s a spaciousness on Sonic Moons in “Downpour” and amid the intensity of crash in “Stellar Winds,” and their sound has grown to become dynamic enough that as nine-minute leadoff “Whispers” pushed through its crescendo it seemed to get more and more physically forceful as part of the process. Couple that with assured writing and performances from bassist/vocalist Martin Wegeland, guitarist Martin Widholm and drummer Anders Dahlgren, and Domkraft honed in on an evolved cosmic noise rock and were unafraid to incorporate elements of psychedelia, space and classic stoner riffing into a definitive statement of their purpose.

8. Stoned Jesus, Father Light

stoned jesus father light

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 2.

Ukrainian progressive heavy rockers Stoned Jesus released a career album this year. Did you catch it? Restricted from touring as their home country continues to struggle against a Russian invasion that’s been ongoing for, well, a decade, but more intensely for the better part of the last two years, Stoned Jesus offered something different across each of Father Light‘s six tracks. From the catchy strums of “CON” to the only-timely-but-written-earlier “Thoughts and Prayers” and the you-want-riff-here’s-your-riff 11-minute neckroll of “Season of the Witch,” they proved once again to be a more diverse and thoughtful act than they’re almost ever given credit for being. Expanded stylistically from 2018’s Pilgrims (review here), Stoned Jesus — guitarist/vocalist Igor Sydorenko, bassist/backing vocalist Sergii Sliusar and drummer Dmytro Zinchenko — toyed with retroism on “Thoughts and Prayers” while the late solo in “Get What You Deserve” underscores the sentiment in that climate-change-themed finisher, all the while standing astride their own material, solid, confident, still looking forward. It’s the world that’s the problem, not the band.

7. Kadabra, Umbra

Kadabra Umbra

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 6.

First of all, I stand by the review. To expand on that (and the review itself was expanded on here), it was the songwriting that kept me coming back to the second album from Washington trio Kadabra, who progressed on all fronts from their already-impressive 2021 debut, Ultra (review here). They made hooks like “The Serpent” and “The Devil” feel like landmarks in a record-long horror feature that’s told as much in riffs as lyrics, but at the same time there’s nothing fancy happening in terms of sound. Some organ in “Mountain Tamer,” plenty of fuzz throughout, and the songs. It’s the songs. The songs. The fucking songs. That uplift in “Midnight Hour.” The feeling of oh-shit-we’ve-arrived in “The Serpent.” Playing toward some of Uncle Acid‘s lyrical creep with tight-knit grooves and sharp turns, Umbra not only showed the preceding LP wasn’t a fluke, it conveyed mood and atmosphere without giving up momentum or structure, and every move it made, from the shimmer opening “White Willows” to the last strains underscoring the chorus of “The Serpent” in the concluding acoustic reprise “The Serpent II,” Kadabra‘s sophomore outing communed with genre with a perspective becoming increasingly its own. And again, the songs.

6. Dozer, Drifting in the Endless Void

Dozer Drifting in the Endless Void

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed April 20.

There was a while there where I honestly didn’t think Dozer were ever going to do another record, so Drifting in the Endless Void is a life event as far as I’m concerned. The trailblazing Swedish heavy rockers have been playing live periodically for the last decade, and word has been kicking around of studio work, new songs following what was until this year their most recent album in 2008’s Beyond Colossal (featured here), but to actually have such a thing manifest and take the form it did made it a reinvigoration of Dozer‘s sound and what seemed to be a chance to try both new and old methods of working. In the raging “Ex-Human, Now Beast” and the breadth of “Missing 13,” Dozer reminded older heads. and showed a generation that’s come up since, why they’ve had the influence they have over the last quarter-century, including in their absence. Realize you’re lucky to be on the planet with it.

5. Mars Red Sky, Dawn of the Dusk

Mars Red Sky Dawn of the Dusk

Released by Vicious Circle Records and Mrs Red Sound. Reviewed Dec. 7.

A fifth full-length brought fresh ideas and new perspectives to the established progressive, melodic heavy psychedelic rock methodology of Bordeaux’s Mars Red Sky, who’ve greeted their maturity as a band with creative openness rather than stagnation. To be sure, guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — each crucial to the group as they are — have plenty of recognizable aspects for longtime fans. Indeed, their signature blend of warm but remarkably heavy tonality and floating melodic vocals remains unflinching, but what they do with it has changed. And that’s not just set up for mentioning the Queen of the Meadow collaboration either (more below), glorious as Helen Ferguson‘s contributions to “Maps of Inferno” are (she’s also on the closing reprise “Heavenly Bodies”), or that Jimmmy takes a lead vocal on “The Final Round.” You can hear the progression in “Break Even,” in the expanses of “Carnival Man,” that groove in “Slow Attack,” and even the spaciousness around the lurch of “A Choir of Ghosts.” Fast or slow, loud or quiet, even the interludes here shine with a sense of purpose, and if e’er forward is to be the course of Mars Red Sky for hopefully a long time to come, so much the better.

4. Sandrider, Enveletration

Sandrider Enveletration

Released by Satanik Royalty Records. Reviewed March 1.

I will not mince words. This has been a difficult, taxing year for me personally and emotionally, and anytime I felt like I wanted to beat my head into the wall — which has been A LOT — Seattle bringers of chicanery-laced heavy punk-metal Sandrider were ready to go along for the ride. Working as ever with producer Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Isis, a small city’s worth of others), guitarist/vocalist Jon Weisnewski (who also released a killer record this year with his experimental grind/weirdo project Nuclear Dudes; don’t skip), bassist/vocalist Jesse Roberts and drummer Nat Damm wound at mostly high speed through energy summoned from a place I’ve clearly never been with songs that, while they were smashing all your favorite everything to tiny bits, left a memorable impression behind as bruises in the shape of themselves and ended up with enough bounce so that cuts like “Alia,” “Weasel” (the delivery of, “Here comes the mouth/Look at all its teeth”) the their-version-of-epic-and-that’s-pretty-epic “Ixion,” “Circles,” “Grouper,” the title-track, were fun in doing so. It’s their fourth record and I don’t know if there are a ton of surprises, but I sure was happy when it came along and kicked so much ass in such a specific and, for me, helpful way. A catharsis record, but don’t take that to mean it’s just angry. There’s a lot of humor here as well and the songs are a blast. Hard to imagine this isn’t what Sandrider had in mind when they set out over a decade ago.

3. Ruff Majik, Elektrik Ram

ruff majik elektrik ram

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed April 27.

A breakthrough in craft and style, and immaculate in its turns, tight-but-not-choked arrangements, and willingness to go and be in unexpected spaces, Elektrik Ram was for South African heavy rockers Ruff Majik — comprised of guitarist/vocalist Johni Holiday, bassist Jimmy Glass, guitarist/backing vocalist Cowboy Bez and drummer Steven Bosman — a rare realization of potential. I said as much in the review. Not every band gets to make a record like this. From the charge of its title-track and “Hillbilly Fight Song” and the unspeakable catchiness that begins there and threads throughout the stylistic shifts of “She’s Still a Goth,” “Cement Brain,” “Delirium Tremors” — on the 15th anniversary reissue, maybe bring the triangle down in the mix? (kidding; it’s painful and should be) — and into the broader grooves of its ending section with “A Song About Drugs (With a Clever Title),” “Shangrilah Inc.” and the raw-emotive “Chemically Humanized,” which when set against the oh-look-I-just-beat-your-ass thematic of “Hillbilly Fight Song” feels duly brought low. This is a great — yes, great — album, and I don’t think I listened to anything as much this year as I listened to it. They’ve already started work on their next LP, reportedly, and I worry it’s soon, but with the kind of control over their approach that they demonstrate here, there’s really no choice but to trust they know what they’re doing, since that is so much the underlying message in the material, even if its lyrical themes were by and large much darker.

2. Howling Giant, Glass Future

Howling Giant Glass Future

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

It wasn’t exactly a secret that Howling Giant had momentum and progression on their side. They’ve toured hard the last couple years, offered the instrumental Alteration EP (review here) in 2021 following their oh-shit-these-guys-are-for-real split with Sergeant ThunderhoofMasamune/Muramasa (review here), and back to their debut LP, 2019’s The Space Between Worlds (review here), and have worked so diligently to engage their audience that a sense of reachout has become part of their sound. You knew that when they next set themselves to making a long-player, there was a real chance for them to sculpt something special, but Glass Future was still a surprise. Unflinching in its construction, mixed for brightness as well as weight, and cutting through that with clearly-schooled harmonies between guitarist Tom Polzine, drummer Zach Wheeler and bassist Sebastian “Seabass” Baltes to give a pop-ish sensibility to progressive sounds that in other hands would serve far more self-indulgent ends. Received as a whole work with its timely endtimes lyrical foundation, it exuded welcome in the hooks of “Siren Song,” “Hawk in a Hurricane,” “Glass Future,” “Sunken City,” “Juggernaut” and the periodic slowdowns through “Aluminum Crown,” “Tempest, and the Liar’s Gateway” and the closer “There’s Time Now,” which called back to the Twilight Zone reference (Simpsons did it) in intro “Hourglass” while fleshing out a brilliantly melodic comedown for the human species. As with the finest of any year’s releases, it will hold its relevance far past the coming January, and for Howling Giant, it sets them on a path of fresh ideas and expansive sound, filtered through a cohesive process to be the engaging good-time apocalypse they’ve become. Glass Future makes Howling Giant one of America’s most essential heavy rock bands and figureheads for a generation still on the rise.

2023 Album of the Year

1. Acid King, Beyond Vision

Acid King Beyond Vision

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed March 23.

There was never another choice, and not much choice to start with. The manner in which founding guitarist/vocalist Lori S. revamped her band, bringing in bassist/synthesist Bryce Shelton (Nik Turner’s Hawkwind) and drummer Jason Willer (Jello Biafra’s Guantanamo School of Medicine) as the rhythm section supporting the band’s trademark rolling fuzz, and collaborating with Black Cobra‘s Jason Landrian, who added guitar and synth to the tracks, was an expansion and redirection of sound that simply wasn’t anticipated from a band closing in on three decades of activity. But after 2015’s still-undervalued Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere (discussed herereview here), saw Lori and her then-lineup explore more heavy psychedelic sounds, Beyond Vision expanded on that with atmospheres never before conjured by any incarnation of Acid King, and Billy Anderson‘s production, as ever, allowed for scope and claustrophobia to exist in the same aural space. Hypnotic in the riffs of year-highlight “Mind’s Eye” and its penultimate title-track, Beyond Vision freely incorporated an influence from Author and Punisher into the slow plods of “Electro Magnetic” and the huge-in-a-new-way-for-them “90 Seconds,” tripped out easy on the roundly immersive opener “One Light Second Away” and galloped to a (again, surprisingly) rousing finish in “Color Trails.” A band you thought was a known quantity, whose sound you thought was set, showing that creativity doesn’t have to stop just because you have an established sound or are known for doing one thing. Acid King are still Acid King on Beyond Vision, but the boldness with which the album is realized and the sheer bravery of taking the risks it takes in pushing beyond (oh!) what were the parameters of Acid King‘s trailblazing, mellow-psych-informed stoner riffing — always possible it would fall flat in ways it obviously very much doesn’t — came together on a level that was simply unmatched in 2023. Acid King have perhaps never been more royal, more regal as they unfurl these seven cosmic triumphs, but somehow underneath they’re still punk rock. One way or the other, that the on-paper concept of Beyond Vision — all the changes, growth, shifts — winds up secondary to the strength and listening experience of the songs themselves makes it undeniable as the album of the year. It was a no-doubter.

The Top 60 Albums of 2023: Honorable Mention

I could very easily do another top 60 with these, and then some. Alphabetically:

1782, Abanamat, Acid Magus, Ahab, Albinö Rhino, Ananda Mida, Astral Sleep, Bell Witch, Benthic Realm, Bismut, Black Helium, Black Rainbows, Blood Ceremony, Blood Lightning, Bong Corleone, Bongzilla, Bridge Farmers, Cavern Deep, Cleõphüzz, Cloud Catcher, Clouds Taste Satanic, Danava, Darsombra, Dead Feathers, Deadpeach, Delco Detention, Desert Storm, Dommengang, Doom Lab, Dr. Space, Earthbong, Ecstatic Vision, David Eugene Edwards, End of Hope, Avi C. Engel, Fin del Mundo, Fire Down Below, The Fizz Fuzz, Formula 400, Fuzz Evil, Gévaudan, Ghorot, Giöbia, Godflesh, Godsleep, Graveyard, The Gray Goo, Green Yeti, Hail the Void, Haurun, Healthyliving, Hexvessel, Hope Hole, Humulus, IAH, Iron Void, JAAW, Jack Harlon & the Dead Crows, Katatonia, La Chinga, Lamassu, Larman Clamor, L’Ira del Baccano, Love Gang, Lucid Void, Maggot Heart, The Magpie, Mammatus, Mammoth Caravan, Mansion, Margarita Witch Cult, Masheena, Melody Fields, Melt Motif, Merlock, Minnesota Pete Campbell, Mizmor, Moon Coven, Moonstone, Morag Tong, Morass of Molasses, Morne, The Moth, Mountain of Misery, Mouth, Mudness, Mud Spencer, Los Mundos, Mutoid Man, Natskygge, Nebula Drag, Nuclear Dudes, Obelyskkh, Conny Ochs, Øresund Space Collective, Orsak:Oslo, Patriarchs in Black, Plainride, Primordial, Restless Spirit, Ritual King, The River, Robots of the Ancient World, Rocky’s Pride & Joy, Royal Thunder, Runway, Sadus The Smoking Community, SÂVER, Seum, Siena Root, Slowenya, Smokey Mirror, Evert Snyman, Sonic Moon, Sorcia, Spidergawd, Spotlights, Surya Kris Peters, Swan Valley Heights, These Beasts, Thousand Vision Mist, Thunder Horse, Tidal Wave, Tortuga, Travo, Treedeon, Trevor’s Head, Unsafe Space Garden, Vlimmer, Warp, Westing, Wet Cactus, Witch Ripper, WyndRider, Yakuza, Zone Six, and apparently frickin’ everything that Dr. Space touches.


Certainly a landmark year for Blues Funeral and Magnetic Eye, while Ripple Music, Heavy Psych Sounds, Small Stone, Kozmik Artifactz, Napalm, Sound Effect, Spinda, Mongrel Records and Exile on Mainstream fostered a deeply admirable swath of sounds. If you’re not following these however you do your following — email lists, social media, Bandcamp, etc. — I suggest in a spirit of friendship that you consider doing so.

A couple thoughts before we wrap the big list. First, I harbor no delusions that it’s complete. There always are and always will be records that slip by me. I’m one person running this site. I’ll never be able to hear everything, appreciate everything I do hear to the utmost as everyone else might, or even want to. This is my list, my listening habits for the year and what I thought were 2023’s best full-length releases. If you’d put more in it than that, go look at the headline again. It’s a list. I take it seriously, of course, but if you had Swan Valley Heights or Godflesh or La Chinga at number three on your list — all of which are totally valid picks, just like the rest — and I didn’t, that’s okay.

In fact, it’s beautiful, but it doesn’t always come out that way in the discussion. I’m asking as I do every year to please keep opinions and conversations civil in their presentation. I know arguing on the internet is fun but I’d rather not have the drama and rest assured, I take it all personally.

So, about the honorable mentions: where do you even start? While the balance of the main list, the top 60, is toward established and even veteran acts, it’s encouraging to see so many up and coming groups forcing their way into consideration. From the ambient evocations of Orsak:Oslo to Sorcia’s thick sludge and Melt Motif’s sultry industrializations, Mountain of Misery branching off from Spaceslug, outfits like IAH and Swan Valley Heights finding new maturity, Mammoth Caravan bring aggro edge to huge tones, Healthyliving, Merlock, Morag Tong, Godsleep, These Beasts, Margarita Witch Cult, Warp, Earthbong, Abanamat, Runway, WyndRider, Trevor’s Head, Fire Down Below, High Priest, Nebula Drag, The Magpie, Love Gang, Jack Harlon and others, a slew of impressive debuts and second albums, the generational evolution of sound is ongoing, vibrant, bands establishing themselves and claiming their aesthetic place and respective audiences as we speak. I would urgently encourage you to engage with these artists now, both for immediate satisfaction and as investment in the shape of heavy music to come, which they will make.

The bottom line is this: I believe deeply in the power of art to affect your life, to make it richer, fuller, better. There are mornings when The Obelisk is the reason I’m getting out of bed, and I thank you for reading, for being a part of this. I’ll say more later. We still have a ways to go.

Debut Album of the Year 2023

Iron Jinn, Iron Jinn

iron jinn iron jinn

Other notable debuts (alphabetical):

Altered States, Survival
Astral Hand, Lords of Data
Benthic Realm, Vessel
Blood Lightning, Blood Lightning
Bog Monkey, Hollow
Bong Corleoone, Bong Corleone
Cleõphüzz, Dune Altar
Codex Serafini, The Imprecation of Anima
Daevar, Delirious Rights
Dead Shrine, The Eightfold Path
Deer Lord, Dark Matter Pt. 1
Dread Witch, Tower of the Severed Serpent
Ego Planet, Ego Planet
Embargo, High Seas
From the Ages, II
Fuzzy Grapes, Volume 1
Haurun, Wilting Within
Hibernaut, Ingress
HIGH LEAF, Vision Quest
High Priest, Invocation
Inherus, Beholden
JAAW, Supercluster
The Keening, Little Bird
King Potenaz, Goat Rider
Lord Mountain, The Oath
Margarita Witch Cult, Margarita Witch Cult
Massive Hassle, Massive Hassle
Mammoth Caravan, Ice Cold Oblivion
Medicine Horse, Medicine Horse
Merlock, Onward Strides Colossus
Milana, Milvus
Mountain of Misery, In Roundness
Ockra, Gratitude
Oldest Sea, A Birdsong, a Ghost
Pyre Fyre, Pyre Fyre
Runway, Runway
Slow Wake, Falling Fathoms
Strider, Midnight Zen
WyndRider, WyndRider
Slumbering Sun, The Ever-Living Fire
Sonic Moon, Return Without Any Memory
Tō Yō, Stray Birds From the Far East
Tribunal, The Weight of Remembrance
Weite, Assemblage


Tell your friends. I think what I like most about that glut of names just above is that there’s a full spectrum of sounds there. Yeah, it’s all under an umbrella of expanded-definition heavy, but that’s the point too. A creative boom is happening that’s seeing the post-Gen X and the earlier end of the Millennials making room for newer acts with new ideas and perspectives.

Why did I pick Iron Jinn as debut of the year, when there was obviously so much otherwise to choose from? Easy. It was the most its own thing out of any of these releases. I love Dead Shrine, Blood Lightning’s intensity speaks to my brain in a way not everything can, Margarita Witch Cult have been building buzz all year. Oldest Sea’s debut is a melancholic declaration of arrival. I was not short on choices, and I’ll probably keep adding to this list as the next week or so goes on.

Dark, heavy, progressive in its approach and complex enough that I still feel like I’m getting to know it, Iron Jinn‘s self-titled so much brimmed with purpose that it seemed to go beyond a first record. My hope, honestly, is that Oeds Beydals and Wout Kemkens spend the next 30 years or so refining that collaboration and exploring where it can go, because if this is the starting point, it’s got enough to it to be the beginning of a lifetime’s exploring. One never knows how things will work out when songwriters work together, but clearly Iron Jinn drew from the strengths of all its members. Records like this, on the unlikely occasion they happen at all, don’t happen by accident.

And yes, Iron Jinn are a new band not necessarily comprised of inexperienced players, but most bands start from members of other bands. Blood Lightning, Slumbering Sun, Weite, Mountain of Misery, JAAW, Ego Planet, Massive Hassle, all the way back up to Benthic Realm and Altered States. New bands, new sounds, new ideas all coming to the fore. Couple that with acts like WyndRider, Daevar, Lord Mountain, Hibernaut, Oldest Sea, Mammoth Caravan, Sonic Moon, Tō Yō, Medicine Horse, High Priest and others here whose members haven’t necessarily appeared in an Obelisk year-end post before, and you get a more complete picture of the churning magma that is the potential for the heavy underground over the rest of the 2020s and hopefully beyond.

Short Release of the Year 2023

Mars Red Sky & Queen of the Meadow, Mars Red Sky & Queen of the Meadow

Mars Red Sky & Queen of the Meadow Mars Red Sky & Queen of the Meadow

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, Singles, etc.

Aawks, Luna EP
Aawks & Aiwass, The Eastern Scrolls Split LP
Apollo80 & Dimartis, Reverberations Vol. 1: Tales of Dust and Winds Split LP
Beastwars, Tyranny of Distance EP
Black Glow, Black Glow EP
Bloodsports, Bloodsports EP
Book of Wyrms, Storm Warning Single
Borracho, Kozmic Safari Single
The Bridesmaid, Come on People Now Smile on Your Brother
Burning Sister, Get Your Head Right EP
Cervus, Shifting Sands
Familiars, Keep the Good Times Rolling EP
The Freqs, Poacher
Grin, Black Nothingness EP
Guided Meditation Doomjazz, Expect EP
High Desert Queen & Blue Heron, Turned to Stone Ch. 8: The Wake Split LP
The Holy Nothing, Volume I: A Profound and Nameless Fear EP
Iress, Solace EP
Josiah, rehctaW EP
Kal-El, Moon People EP
Kombynat Robotron & DUNDDW, Split LP
Lammping, Better Know Better EP
Monolord, It’s All the Same EP
Mordor Truckers, Nowhere
Nerver & Chat Pile, Brothers in Christ Split
Night Fishing, Live Bait EP
Oxblood Forge, Cult of Oblivion
Zack Oakley, Demon Run / Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter EP
Severed Satellites, Aphelion EP
Space Queen, Nebula EP
Speck & Interkosmos, Split LP
Stöner, Boogie to Baja EP
Suspiriorium, Suspiriorum EP
Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships, Destination Ceres Station: Reefersleep EP
Ufomammut, Crookhead EP
Vokonis, Exist Within Light EP
Weedevil & Electric Cult, Cult of Devil Sounds Split LP
The Whims of the Great Magnet, Same New Single


In keeping with their history of releasing EPs ahead of their LPs, Mars Red Sky this Spring offered the Mars Red Sky & Queen of the Meadow short outing as a preface to Dawn of the Dusk (number five on the big list), but with just three songs it became one of the releases I listened to most this year. I had “Maps of Inferno” on repeat to a degree that was kind of embarrassing to me even in front of family, and since the EP was basically that, the companion “Out at Large,” which isn’t on the full-length, and an edit that cuts out most of the trippy midsection of “Maps of Inferno” so that it all the more hammers groove into your head in what drummer Matgaz very kindly explained to me was 4/4 timing with three extra beats. Good luck following along to his kick on what seems like such a straightforward nod. What a band. I’m not doing a separate section for it, but “Maps of Inferno” was also hands-down my song of the year.

You can see above, it’s a pretty broad mix, both of release types, of new and older acts, and of styles. I’ve been hailing Vokonis’ better-future queer prog-doom on the regular, and Josiah, Monolord and Ufomammut’s EPs were nothing if not listenable. I dug the first outing from Suspiriorum (mems. Destroyer of Light and more) and hope they continue to flesh out their cult-horror ambience, and Severed Satellites’ (mems. Sixty Watt Shaman, etc.) jams set just right in their Marylander groove. Lammping will likely be on some list of mine until they break up — I’m hooked — and Zack Oakley’s funk also resonated. From the warm heavy psych of Cervus to The Bridesmaid’s all-in-on-far-out experimentalism, a victory lap from Stöner after two quality LPs and the High Desert Queen and Blue Heron split that’s another landmark in Ripple’s ongoing ‘Turned to Stone’ series, it’s been a good year if you’re willing to be distracted bouncing from one thing immediately to the next, which apparently I am.

It’s no coincidence Aawks are on the list twice, and I haven’t reviewed that Black Glow EP yet (it’s in the next Quarterly Review), but it’s a gem as well. Also very interested to see where The Freqs go as a new voice in heavy rock from Boston, and Night Fishing (mems. Abrams) feel like they’re just starting to find what they’re looking for, but this year was also their first and second releases, so they’re on their way. Grin’s assault was furious, and Beastwars always tick that box as well. I continue to dig the vibe of Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships and look forward to more from them, and same goes for both DUNDDW and Bloodsports here, as well as both Apollo80 and Dimartis on that split. Burning Sister took advantage of an opportunity to expand on their sound, and their take on Mudhoney’s “When Tomorrow Comes” was overflowing with love for the source material. If you can’t get behind a band being fans, I’m not sure what we’re doing here.

Because a ‘short release’ can be so much, I won’t call this list complete. If you have a single you loved, or an EP or split or anything else of the sort, and you don’t see it above, please just leave a comment. Maybe I left off something crucial. Maybe you can put me onto something awesome I didn’t hear. I’ll take it either way, and only ask again please be kind.

Live Album of the Year

Ecstatic Vision, Live at Duna Jam

Ecstatic Vision Live at Duna Jam

Other notable live albums:

The Atomic Bitchwax, Live at Freak Valley
Causa Sui, Loppen 2021
Dool, Visions of Summerland
Duel, Live at Hellfest
Edena Gardens, Live Momentum
King Buffalo, Live at Burning Man
Messa, Live at Roadburn
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Live in NY
Rainbows Are Free, Heavy Petal Music
Sacri Monti, Live at Sonic Whip
Temple Fang, Live at Freak Valley
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Slaughter on First Avenue
Villagers of Ioannina City, Through Space and Time


This isn’t a huge list, but it’s burners front to back, and in that regard there’s little in the heavy underground, certainly toward the maddened-space-psych end of it, that can touch Ecstatic Vision’s intense performance ethic. If they’re not yet, I firmly believe the Philadelphia outfit led by guitarist/vocalist Doug Sabolick (also guitar for Author & Punisher) are on their way to having their reputation as a live band precede them, and Live at Duna Jam is further evidence that it should. Issued through Heavy Psych Sounds, it both captured the four-piece’s ultra-dead-on cosmic blast, but it paired that with the theatre-of-the-mind romance of Duna Jam itself; the best-kept-secret-in-heavy week-long unofficial festival held each year in Sardinia is the ultimate escapist daydream. That combination was just too powerful to ignore.

King Buffalo’s surprise Live at Burning Man release will do well to hold over till their next full-length, and I’ll just tell you flat out that no home should be without Causa Sui’s Loppen 2021. Uncle Acid’s first live outing was somewhat obligatory but welcome, and Messa’s Live at Roadburn celebrated the emergence of that genre-blending Italian unit as one of the most essential up and coming bands in Europe. They also made their first appearance on North American shores this year. One suspects it won’t be their last.

I’ll be very much anticipating what’s next from Sacri Monti, Duel, Causa Sui (of course), Temple Fang and actually the rest on this list, which leads us to…

Looking Ahead to 2024

You’re almost there. Just keep going. Special thanks to the folks in The Obelisk Collective on Facebook for the help on rounding up this hopefully-alphabetized list of names:

10,000 Years, Acid Mammoth, Apostle of Solitude, Big Scenic Nowhere, Bismarck, Blue Heron, Castle Rat, Coogans Bluff, Crystal Spiders, Curse the Son, Deer Creek, DVNE, Foot, Full Earth, Fu Manchu, Greenleaf, Hashtronaut, Heavy Temple, High on Fire, Horseburner, Iota, Ironrat, King Buffalo, Kungens Män, Lamassu, Mammoth Caravan, Mammoth Volume, Maragda, Mario Lalli & The Rubber Snake Charmers, Monarch, Monkey3, Moura, My Diligence, The Obsessed, Orange Goblin, Psychlona, Red Mesa, Rhino, Ruff Majik, Sacri Monti, Sasquatch, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Slift, Slomosa, Spirit Mother, Stonebride, Troy the Band, Ufomammut, Unida, Vitskär Süden, Vokonis, Weedpecker, and just because they should probably be on this list every year until a new record comes out if one ever actually does: Om.

If you’ve got names here too, the more the merrier, comment button is below.


This has not been a minor undertaking, whether or not you count the fact that I started keeping notes for 2023 in 2022, just like right now I’ve already got notes going for 2024. It never stops. But every year, I feel like this is among the most important things this site puts out and I use these lists all the time for reference, looking back on what was happening where and when, what came out when, etc. I hope you also find something useful here. I don’t have an exact count, but just by estimate there are at least somewhere between 200-300 bands talked above above. It’s a lot. It’s overwhelming. But I hope you can find something that sounds like it’s speaking directly to you, because I know that I have several times over. Any one of my top five picks I consider an ‘album of the year,’ if that’s a decent place to start.

Thank you to The Patient Mrs. for her support, love and inexplicable willingness to put up with my crap. Right this second, she is keeping our daughter hooked into a going-late morning loaf in bed I think specifically until I get up from the couch, go in the other room, and declare I’m about to start The Pecan’s breakfast, which I probably should’ve done like an hour ago. I am luckier than I am able most days to realize, and I’m working on that, and it is the beauty and flat-out amazing nature of the two people with whom I share our home that is the reason why it’s worth that effort.

I’m sure I said as much above, but I believe in art. I believe in creativity. I believe these things are a path to fulfillment that lives without them do not experience. There are ups and downs to everything, and any glorious creative individual is just as likely to be their own worst critic, but isn’t that still worth it too? Don’t we move forward anyway, because what’s the other choice?

I thank you for reading a lot. I’ll do it again now: Thanks for reading. Your support is the reason this site is still here. It’s why it’s worth it to me to take hours from days stretched across the better part of a week (I actually finished early, thanks again to The Patient Mrs.) to do this in the first place, let alone entertain the notion of doing so again next December and on into some unknown measure of perpetuity.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. If you’re seeing these words, I wish you and yours the best of everything for fucking ever, and cannot begin to tell you how much I value your time and willingness to spend it here.

Taking tomorrow off, but after that, we go as ever: onward.

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Khanate Announce Spring 2024 Live Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 10th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Okay. I mean, when Roadburn announced Khanate, it was billed as exclusive, but two additional shows in Copenhagen and Berlin isn’t exactly a six-week tour, so whatever. More live Khanate means more corrupted souls. Fair enough. [EDIT: It was the first show that Roadburn has, not exclusive. My mistake. — ed.]

The earth-spoiling extreme drone-sludge outfit darkened skies earlier this year with their first album in more than a decade, To Be Cruel (review here), thereby pissing over every bought-at-Target t-shirt with a saccharine positive message on it — “Good vibes all the time!” and so on — with a sort of hatefulness that can only be called signature, and their return to the stage is an organic outgrowth from that. I don’t think I’ll be at Roadburn — you may (not) be shocked to know festivals aren’t lining up to fly my irrelevant ass out to various locales — but I haven’t seen Khanate in a long, long time and if my psyche could handle it I think it might do me some good. Like electro shock treatment, but in reverse where it makes you more miserable. And that’s definitely something I need. Not enough feeling-bad-for-myself around here lately.

Come on, Khanate. Let’s go be wretched today:

Khanate (photo by Ebru Yildiz)




On the heels of their first confirmed performance in nearly two decades, as part of Roadburn 2024, Khanate have announced two additional shows; Copenhagen on April 22nd at Basement and Berlin on April 23rd at Berghain, giving fans further unique opportunities to experience the band live. Tickets for all shows can be purchased here

Alongside this announcement, Khanate shares a compilation of live footage, with clips taken from the Dead & Live Aktions DVD released in 2005.

Reissues of Khanate (2001) and Things Viral (2003) come via Sacred Bones on 1st December. Pre-orders for Khanate can be found here and Things Viral here. Capture & Release and Clean Hands Go Foul reissues are forthcoming.

Khanate, “Commuted” live

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Roadburn 2024 First Announcement: Khanate to Perform First Show Since 2009

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 3rd, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Yes, in fact the universe did collapse in on itself this past Spring when the long-defunct chasm of hate-filled drear that is Khanate returned from the spike-filled abyss in which one imagines they were perfectly comfortable in order to release their first record since 2009, the title-as-mission-statement To Be Cruel (review here), through Sacred Bones Records. The label — home to Zola Jesus, Thou, Boris, Marissa Nadler, Moon Duo, John Carpenter and David Lynch, among many others — has featured prominently in Roadburn lineups over recent years, so one might’ve anticipated Khanate making an appearance as well. That is, if one had anticipated Khanate making live appearances at all, which is something I genuinely didn’t expect them to do.

But, here we are, still picking up surgically removed teeth and bits of skin to reassemble ourselves in the wake of the album, and a Roadburn set has been announced. The band will also have physical reissues of their first two LPs — the self-titled and Things Viral (discussed here) out Dec. 1 on Sacred Bones. You’ll recall they originally came out on Southern Lord, which tells you Khanate have been very nasty for a very long time.

What to expect? Well, I recall seeing Khanate what was apparently the better part of two decades ago, and it’s a big universe, so let’s think for a second. You know that scene in Caddyshack where Rodney Dangerfield shouts, “Hey everybody we’re all gonna get laid!” and then the music starts and it’s a big party? Start with the opposite of that, add a supermassive black hole, and scratch your fingernails into your own face until you bleed. There you go. That’s Khanate live. Memento mori.

Here’s a picture of dudes and words from Roadburn on socials:

khanate (Photo by Ebru Yidiz)

Roadburn will host the long awaited live return of Khanate at the 2024 edition of the festival.

In the years since Khanate were last active there have been many heavy bands that followed in their footsteps. Some are able to emulate the abject bleakness, some capture the low-end rumble, a lot of them are undoubtedly extremely heavy. But none quite capture the grotesque combination of all three components quite like Khanate. We urge all worshippers of the low and the slow to brace for impact come April. This is going to be one for the history books.

“As a collective, Khanate has been silent during our dormancy, but now we will get loud; very loud. We’ll be returning to the stage, to explore tension and the elasticity of time – at Roadburn 2024. Get dead.” – Khanate

Roadburn 2024 will take place between April 18-21 in Tilburg, The Netherlands. 4-day tickets for Roadburn 2024 are now on sale. Other ticket options – including single day tickets and accommodation – will follow on November 3.

Khanate is Alan Dubin (vocals), Stephen O’Malley (guitar), James Plotkin (bass) and Tim Wyskida (drums). for more information. Photo by Ebru Yidiz.

Khanate, To Be Cruel (2023)

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Quarterly Review: Khanate, Space Queen, King Potenaz, Treedeon, Orsak:Oslo, Nuclear Dudes, Mycena, Bog Monkey, The Man Motels, Pyre Fyre

Posted in Reviews on July 19th, 2023 by JJ Koczan


Ah, a Quarterly Review Wednesday. Always a special occasion. Monday starts out with a daunting look at the task ahead. Tuesday is all digging in and just not trying to repeat myself too much. Wednesday, traditionally, is where we hit the halfway point. The top of the hill.

Not the case this time since I’ll have 10 records each written up next Monday and Tuesday, but crossing the midpoint of this week alone feels like an accomplishment and you’ll pardon me if I mark it as such. If you’re wondering how the rest of the week will go, tomorrow is all-business and Friday’s usually a party one way or the other. My head gets so in it by the middle of next week I’ll be surprised not to be doing this anymore. So it goes.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Khanate, To Be Cruel

Khanate To Be Cruel

Who among mortals could hope to capture the horrors of Khanate in simple words? The once-New York-based avant sludge ultragroup end a 14-year hiatus with To Be Cruel, a fourth album, comprising three songs running between 19-21 minutes each that breed superlative hatefulness. At once overwhelming and minimalist, with opener “Like a Poisoned Dog” placing the listener in a homemade basement dungeon with the sharp, disaffection-incarnate bark of Alan Dubin (also Gnaw) cutting through the weighted slog in the guitar of Stephen O’Malley (also SunnO))), et al), the bass of James Plotkin (more than one can count, and he probably also mastered your band’s record) and the noise free-jazz drumming of Tim Wyskida (Blind Idiot God, etc.), they retain the disturbing brilliance last heard from in 2009’s Clean Hands Go Foul (discussed here) and are no less caustic for the intervening years. “It Wants to Fly” is expansive and wretched death poetry set to drone doom, a ritual made of its own misery, and the concluding title-track goes quiet in its midsection as though to let every wrenching anguish have its own space in the song. There is no one like them, though many have tried to convey some of what apparently only Khanate can. As our plague-infested, world-burning, war-making, fear-driven species plunges further into this terrible century, Khanate is the soundtrack we earn. We are all complicit. All guilty.

Khanate on Facebook

Sacred Bones Records store


Space Queen, Nebula

Space Queen Nebula EP

Though plenty atmospheric besides, Vancouver heavy fuzz rockers Space Queen add atmosphere to their nine-song/26-minute Nebula EP through a series of four interludes: the a capella three-part harmonies of “Deluge,” the acoustic-strummed “Veil” and “Sun Interlude,” and the finishing manipulated space-command sample in “End Transmission” after the richly melodic doom rock of “Transmission/Lost Causemonaut.” That penultimate inclusion is the longest at 6:14 and tells a story in a way that feels informed by the three-piece of drummer/vocalist Karli MacIntosh, guitarist/vocalist Jenna Earle and bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Seah Maister‘s past in the folk outfit Sound of the Sun, but transposes its melodic sensibility into a heavier context. It and the prior garage-psych highlight “When it Gets Light” — a lighter initial electric strum that arrives in willful-seeming contrast to “Darkest Part” immediately preceding — depart from the more straight-ahead push of opener “Battle Cry” and the guitar-screamer “Demon Queen” separated from it by the first interlude. Where those two come across as working with Alice in Chains as a defining influence — something the folk elements don’t necessarily argue against — the Nebula EP grows broader as it moves through its brief course, and flows throughout with its veering into and out of songs and short pieces. This is Space Queen‘s second EP, and if they’re interested in making a full-length next, they sound ready.

Space Queen on Facebook

Space Queen on Bandcamp


King Potenaz, Goat Rider

king potenaz goat rider

Fasano, Italy’s King Potenaz debut on Argonauta Records with Goat Rider, which conjures raw fuzz, garage-doom atmospherics, and vocals that edge toward aggression and classic cave metal, early Venom or Celtic Frost having a role to play even alongside the transposition of Kyuss riffing taking place in the title-track, which follows “Among Ruins” and “Pyramids Planet,” both of which featured on the trio’s 2022 Demo 6:66, and which set a tone of riff-led revelry here with a sound that reminds of turn-of-the-century era stoner explorations, but grows richer as it moves into “Pazuzu (3:33)” — it’s actually 5:18 — with guest vocals from Sabilla and the quiet three-minute instrumental “Cosmic Voyager” planet-caravanning into the 51-minute album’s second half, where “Moriendoom (La Ballata di Ippolita Oderisi)” and the even doomier “Monolithic” dig into cultish vibes and set up the bleak shuffle of nine-minute closer “Dancing Plague,” departing from its central ’90s-heavy riff into a mellow-psych movement and then returning from that outward stretch to end. Even at its most familiar, Goat Rider finds some way to harness an individual edge, cleverly using the mix itself as an instrument to create the space in which the songs dwell. It may take a few listens to sink in, but there’s real potential in what they’re doing.

King Potenaz on Facebook

Argonauta Records store


Treedeon, New World Hoarder

Treedeon New World Hoarder

With the release of their third album, New World Hoarder, German art-sludgers Treedeon celebrate their first decade as a band. The combined vinyl-with-CD follows 2018’s Under the Manchineel (review here) and proffers raw cosmic doom in “Omega Time Bomb,” crossing the 10-minute line for the first time after the particularly-agonized opener “Nutcrème Superspreader” and before the title-track’s nodding riff brings bassist Yvonne Ducksworth to the fore vocally, trading off with guitarist Arne Heesch as drummer Andy Schünemann crashes cyclically behind. “New World Hoarder” gives over to side B opener “Viking Meditation Song,” which rolls like an evil-er version of Goatsnake, and “RHV1,” on which Heesch and Ducksworth share vocal duties, as they also do in 12-minute closer “Läderlappen” — a shouting duet in the first half feels long in arriving, but that’s how you know the album works — as the band cap with more massive chug following an interplay of melody and throatier fare. They’re right to ride that groove, as they’re right about so much else on the record. Like much of what Exile on Mainstream puts out, Treedeon are stylistically intricate and underrated in kind.

Treedeon on Facebook

Exile on Mainstream site


Orsak:Oslo, In Irons

Orsak Oslo In Irons

There are a couple different angles of approach one might take in hearing Orsak:Oslo‘s In Irons full-length. The Norway/Sweden-based instrumental troupe have been heretofore lumped in with heavy post-rock and ambient soundscaping, which is fair enough, but what they actually unveil in “068 The Swell” (premiered here), is a calming interpretation of space rock. With experimentalism on display in its late atmospheric drone comedown, “068 The Swell” moves directly into the more physical “079 Dutchman’s Wake (Part I),” the languid boogie feeling modern in presentation and classic in construction and the chemistry between the members of the band. The drums sit out much of the first half of “069 In What Way Are You Different,” giving a sense of stillness to the drone there, but the song embraces a bigger feel toward its finish, and that sets up the feedback intro to “078 The Mute (Part II),” which veers dreamily between amplifier drone and complementary melodic guitar flourish. Taking 17 minutes to do it, they close with “074 Hadal Blue,” which more broadly applies the space-chill of “068 The Swell” and emphasizes flow and organic changes from one part to the next. Immersive, it would be one to get lost in if it weren’t so satisfying to pay attention.

Orsak:Oslo on Facebook

Vinter Records website


Nuclear Dudes, Boss Blades

Nuclear Dudes Boss Blades

Fuck. Yes. As much grind as sludge as electronics-infused hardcore as it is furious, unadulterated noise, the 12-song/50-minute onslaught that is Boss Blades arrives via Modern Grievance at the behest of Jon Weisnewski, also of Sandrider, formerly of Akimbo. If Weisnewski‘s name alone and the fact that Matt Bayles mixed the self-recorded debut LP aren’t enough to pull you into the tornado of violence and maddening brood that opener “Boss Blades” uses to open — extra force provided by one of two guest vocal spots from Dave Verellen of Botch; the other is on “Lasers in the Jungle” later on — then perhaps the seven-minute semi-industrial march of “Obsolete Food” or the bruising intensity of “Poorly Made Pots” or the minute and a half of sample-topped drone psych in “Guitart,” the extreme prog metal of “Eat Meth” or “Manifest Piss Tape” will do the trick, or the nine-minute near-centerpiece “Many Knives” (which, if there’s a Genghis Tron influence here generally — and there might be — is more the last record than the older stuff) with its slow keyboard unfolding as a backdrop for Dust Moth‘s Irene Barber to make her own guest appearance, plenty of post-everything cacophony mounting by the end, grandiose and consuming. I could go on — every track is a new way to die — but suffice it to say that this is what my brain sounds like when my kid and my wife are talking to me about different things at the same time and it feels like my skull is on fire and I have an aneurysm and keel over. Good wins.

Nuclear Dudes on Instagram

Modern Grievance Records website


Mycena, Chapter 4

mycena chapter 4

Sometimes harsh but always free, 2022’s Chapter 4 from Croatian instrumentalist double-guitar five-piece Mycena — guitarists Marin Mitić and Pavle Bojanić, bassist Karlo Cmrk, drummer Igor Vidaković and synthesist/noisemaker Aleksandar Vrhovec — brings three tracks that are distinct unto themselves but listed as part of the same entirety, dubbed “Dissolution” and divided into “Dissolution Part 1” (17:49), “Dissolution Part 2” (3:03), and “Dissolution Part 3” (18:11), and it may well be that what’s being dissolved is the notion that rock and roll must be confined to verse/chorus structuring. Invariably, Earthless are a comparison point for longform instrumental heavy anything, and given the shred in “Dissolution Part 1” around five minutes deep and the torrent rockblast in the first half of “Dissolution Part 3” before it melts to near-silence and quietly noodles its way through its somehow-dub-informed last 11 or so minutes, building in presence but not actually blowing up to full volume as it caps. While totaling a manageable 39 minutes, Chapter 4 is a journey nonetheless, with a scope that comes through even in “Dissolution Part 2,” which may just be an interlude but still carries a steady rhythm that seems to reorient the band ahead of their diving into the extended final part, the band sounding natural in making changes that would undo acts with less chemistry.

Mycena on Facebook

Mycena on Bandcamp


Bog Monkey, Hollow

bog monkey hollow

Filthy tone. Just absolutely nasty. Atlanta’s Bog Monkey tracked Hollow, their self-released debut LP, with Jay Matheson at The Jam Room in South Carolina, and if they ever go anywhere else to try to capture their sound I’d have to ask why. With seven cuts totaling 33 minutes play-time and fuzz-sludge blowouts a-plenty in “Facemint,” the blastbeaten “Blister” and the heads-down largesse-minded shove-off-the-cliff that is “Slither” at a whopping 2:48, Hollow transposes Conan-style shouted vocals on brash, thickened heavy, the bass in “Tunnel” and forward-charging leadoff “Crow” with its thrash-riffing hook is the source of the heft, but it’s not alone. Spacious thanks to echoes on the vocals, Hollow crushes just the same, and as the trio plunder toward the eight-minute “Soma” at the end, growing intense quickly out of a calmer intro jam and slamming their message home circa 3:40 with crashes that break to bass and guitar noise to establish the nod around which the ending will be based, all you can really do is look forward to the bludgeoning to come and be glad when it arrives. Don’t be fooled by their generic name, or the silly stoner rock art (which I’m not knocking; it being silly is part of the point). Bog Monkey bring together different styles in a way that’s thoughtful and make songs that sound like they just rose out of the water to fucking obliterate you. So go on. Be obliterated.

Bog Monkey on Facebook

Bog Monkey on Bandcamp


The Man Motels, Dead Nature

The Man Motels Dead Nature EP

Punkish in its choruses like the title-track or opener “Sports,” the four-song Dead Nature EP from South Africa’s The Man Motels is the latest in a string of short releases and singles going back to their 2018 full-length, Quit Looking at Me!, and they temper the urgency of their speediest parts with grunge-style melody and instrumental twists. Bass and drums at the base of “Young Father” set up the sub-three-minute closer as purely punk, but sure enough the guitar kicks in coming out of the verse and one can hear the Nirvana effect before it drops out again. Whether it’s a common older-school hardcore influence, I don’t know, but “Sports” and “Young Father” remind of a rawer Fu Manchu with their focus on structure, but “The Fever” is heavier indie rock and culminates in a tonally satisfying apex before cutting back to the main riff that’s led the way for… oh, about three minutes or so. All told, The Man Motels are done in 15 minutes, but they pack a fair amount into that time and they named the release after its catchiest installment, so there. Maybe not the kind of thing I’d always reach for in my own listening habits, but I’m not about to rag on a band for being good at what they do or showcasing their material with the kind of energy The Man Motels put into Dead Nature.

The Man Motels on Facebook

Mongrel Records website


Pyre Fyre, Pyre Fyre

pyre fyre pyre fyre

With a couple short(er) outings to their credit, Bayonne, New Jersey, three-piece Pyre Fyre present seven songs in the 18 minutes of their self-titled, which just might be enough to make it a full-length. Hear me out. They start raw with “Hypnotize,” more of a song than an intro, punkish and the shortest piece at 1:22. From there, the Melvins meet Earthride on “Flood Zone” and the range of shenanigans is unveiled. Produced by drummer/noisemaker Mike Montemarano, with Dylan Wheeler on guitar, Dan Kirwan on bass and vocals from all three in its hithers and yons, it is a barebones sound across the board, but Pyre Fyre give a sense of digging in despite that, with the echo-laced “Wyld Ryde” doled out like garage thrash, while “Dungeon Duster/Ice Storm” sounds like it was recorded in two different sessions and maybe it was and screw you if that matters, “Don’t Drink the Water” hits the brakes and dooms out with stoner-drawl vocals later, “Arachnophobia” dips into a darker, somehow more metal, mood, and the fuzzy “Cordyceps” ends with swagger and noise alike in just under two and a half minutes. All of this is done without pretense, without the band pausing to celebrate themselves or what they just accomplished. They get in, kick ass, get out again. You don’t want to call it an album? Fine. I respectfully disagree, but we can still be friends. What, you thought because it was the internet I was going to tell you to screw off? Come on now.

Pyre Fyre on Instagram

Pyre Fyre on Bandcamp


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Khanate Release New Album To Be Cruel

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 19th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

I’m not sure there was ever a band who could make silence so agonizing. An unexpected return from Khanate, whose legacy among the most caustic of drone-doom acts does little to capture the misanthropic, curdled-blood poetry of their actual sound, brings three new tracks and an hour of distraught hermit gruel in the form of To Be Cruel, on Sacred Bones Records.

The songs sound like Khanate, which is both a general warning to humanity and the highest compliment I can think of to give them. Funny how it’s been since 2009 and their original configuration is only more a supergroup, with drummer Tim Wyskida having served in Blind Idiot God, in addition to vocalist Alan Dubin having formed Gnaw since Khanate’s dissolution after 2009’s Clean Hands Go Foul, guitarist Stephen O’Malley in Sunn O))), bassist James Plotkin mastering everybody’s everything, and so on. But as you take it on — and good luck with that — you should know this is not some haphazard assemblage or ‘comeback’ event, it’s Khanate, with all the scathe and skin-peeling that designation implies.

Streaming in full now and available on CD from Sacred Bones. Vinyl to follow. Here’s Bandcamp info and player, plus the announcement from the label:

Khanate To Be Cruel

KHANATE – To Be Cruel


We have been biting our tongue for months in anticipation of today’s mammoth announce: Khanate, the experimental doom outfit featuring members of Sunn O))), OLD, and Blind Idiot God, have returned after a self-imposed, fourteen year hiatus. The band surprise released their fifth album, To Be Cruel, overnight, with the 3-track, 60 minute album available to stream now! You can also pre-order the album on various physical formats including the Sacred Bones mail-order exclusive metallic bronze vinyl, while supplies last. The album comes out physically on June 30th, pre-order here!

The highly influential KHANATE (Alan Dubin, Stephen O’Malley, James Plotkin & Tim Wyskida) dimmed the lights fifteen years ago. Now it turns out those muted years were but a foreboding prelude to an abrupt awakening – the era of TO BE CRUEL. Three songs newly shining light on distinct, destitute, clinging terrors. Khanate’s slow dimensions have been amplified horrifically. Personal grievances have become generational vendettas.

Music composed & produced by Khanate

Lyrics by Alan Dubin

1. Like a Poisoned Dog 19:20
2. It Wants to Fly 21:43
3. To Be Cruel 20:09

Guitar & drums recorded at Orgone Studios, Woburn, UK by Jaime Gomez Arellano assisted by Christian Jameson.

Bass, vocals & percussion recorded at Thousand Caves Studio, Queens, NY by Colin Marston.

Synthesis recorded at Plotkinworks by James Plotkin.

Mixed at Circular Ruin Studio, Brooklyn, NY by Randall Dunn, James Plotkin & Stephen O’Malley.

Mastered at West Side Music, Cornwall on Hudson, NY by Alan Douches & James Plotkin.

Art direction by Stephen O’Malley

Painted film stills by Karl Lemieux

Portrait photography by Ebru Yildiz

Alan Dubin (Vocals)
Stephen O’Malley (Guitar, feedback)
James Plotkin (Bass guitar, synthesis)
Tim Wyskida (Drums, percussion)

Khanate, To Be Cruel (2023)

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Friday Full-Length: Khanate, Things Viral

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 23rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

If Khanate were still together today, you’d call them a supergroup. Hell, maybe they were a supergroup 15 years ago when they released their second album, Things Viral, on Southern Lord. Or maybe it’s this record’s sheer extremity that would make them so. Or maybe who gives a shit? Like about anything? Because it’s Khanate, and if there was ever anything that was going to completely level the playing field in terms of showing you how utterly meaningless everything you say and do — or have said or done, or will ever say and do — is, it’s this band. They are sonic nihilism brought to life.

Or death, since it’s hard not to listen to the original four tracks and unmanageable hour-long stretch of Things Viral and not find your mind awash in mental images of decay. With minimliast notes from guitarist Stephen O’Malley (of SunnO))) and many, many others), low-rumble from bassist James Plotkin (as in “mastered by,” which more than half the records your hear this year probably will have been), the scorched poetry of vocalist Alan Dubin (ex-OLD, currently of Gnaw) and accentuating thud of drummer Tim Wyskida (Blind Idiot God), Khanate were like nothing else even in the realm of drone. What was truly horrifying about their sound, what really haunted, was the contradiction in that what sounded so much like chaos in the second half of the 19-minute opener “Commuted” or its fuller-crushing 19-minute follow-up, “Fields,” could invariably not be chaos. Things Viral, which didn’t give away its title line until closer “Too Close Enough to Touch,” was methodical — premeditated. Not only because as the follow-up to Khanate‘s 2001 self-titled debut, the New York four-piece had an idea of where they were headed sound-wise, but even in its own crafting, it was thoughtfully constructed, brought to bear to be as aurally flaying as possible, and the abrasion conjured throughout its four tracks — the shortest of which, the penultimate “Dead” stands at 9:28 — was not a crime of passion. It was pure intent.

Given the bleakness, the immersiveness, the sheer swallow-you effect that Things Viral has even a decade and a half after its initial release, this is utterly staggering to realize. New bands get together every hour on the hour and say, “We’re going to be the heaviest thing in the world.” Most of the time it doesn’t work out. With Khanate, the mission seems to have been to haunt their listeners like some residue of trauma pushed into the subconscious. I think one of the most powerful moments on the album is in the ending of “Dead.” The final guitar ringout happens marked by a crash around the 8:30 mark and the last minute of the song is given to eerie whispering from Dubin and off-time drum hits from Wyskida that make for the most minimal and also the most terrifying moment on Things Viral as amps crackle in the background. The whole album’s use of empty space is something I’ve never heard matched in any form of doom or drone. Khanate were unafraid not only to create tension through spacing out the excruciatingly slow paces of “Commuted,” “Fields,” “Dead” and the abrasive, high-pitched scree of “Too Close Enough to Touch,” but over the course of the 59 minutes, there’s impact from emptiness as much as fullness, and the band proves no less extreme in this manner than they are in any (every) other.

Every bit worthy of hyperbole, Things Viral is the kind of record that might’ve proven more influential if there was any chance whatsoever anyone else could live up to its standard of malevolence and misanthropy. From the grueling hum and noise that starts “Commuted” — where the band just makes you wait for the punishment to begin — to the cacophonous final stretch of “Too Close Enough to Touch,” Khanate seemed to tap into an end point of pushing an idea as far as it could possibly go. It wasn’t about being dark, or being heavy at least in the way one traditionally thinks about either. But it was a conveyance of fear, paranoia, trust-betrayed, self-loathing and thoughtful violence that remains unmatched to this day. Khanate would of course go on to offer a number of other releases, from limited merch-table live outings to the 2005 Capture and Release EP to their third and final full-length, 2009’s Clean Hands Go Foul, and while I’m not about to take anything away from their swansong, which rounded out with the half-hour-long “Every God Damn Thing,” or that prior EP, Things Viral would continue to fester in the mind not only as a representation of the horrors of the age in which it was created — wars just beginning that still continue today; atrocities all around us large, small and bloody — but of the inward rotting we experience as a result of these things without even realizing it.

The version of Things Viral streaming above is Hydra Head‘s 2016 reissue. It has bonus tracks and swaps the running order a bit of the original core four songs, but it’s enough that you’ll get the point, to be sure.

I’d say I hope you enjoy, as is my custom, but that’s not really the idea here. Just absorb it, maybe close your eyes and see where its associations take you.

Good luck.

This week was a blur. Up early, pounding out this and that, trying to get as much done as possible while keeping appointments — I’m due at the dentist shortly — and trying to keep my head on tight while still undergoing this eating disorder treatment. Which is bullshit. I feel no healthier than I felt when I was starving myself and eating nothing but protein shakes. Don’t get me wrong, food is delicious — I ate like six oranges yesterday; it was fucking hilarious — but it’s a total waste of my time. My body aches all over. I’ve put on 50 pounds in like a month and much of that is water I’m retaining because who the hell knows why. My feet and legs are so swollen it hurts to walk. Miserable bastard then, miserable bastard now. I’d rather be hungry and dying. Do I mean that? If that’s the situation I was in before, then yes.

Nobody knows what the fuck “healthy” means anyway.

I’ve been overweight my whole life. Shit, I’m overweight now. My whole life. It’s affected my every single day. I feel eyes staring at me, people judging me like I just got back from the Wendy’s drive-thru or like I mainline Dunkin Donuts or some shit. I turn down bands who offer to send me t-shirts because I’m embarrassed to ask for a 2XL. It’s fucking miserable, and it’s been miserable for nearly the entirety of my 36-plus years on this planet. I mean that. Every fucking day. During this process, starving myself as I allegedly was, remaking my body, I was underweight for the first time in my life. Why can I be that? For a while? Why? Why can’t I do that? What if it kills me? Who’s not better off without me in their lives? The Patient Mrs.? The baby? My family? There’s no one around me to whom I’ve ever been anything but a burden. Even now. I don’t work. I don’t contribute. I wake up early and blog about music, shouting into an abyss — and yeah, it’s awfully nice when someone sends a nice comment or a note saying they appreciate that, but even that’s more like, “I found this band, awesome!” And yeah man, that band is awesome. I don’t feel like I helped that process of connection. I just fucking feel empty.

Except for all that fluid I’m retaining. Ha. Seriously, it’s so much that it’s pulling my skin taut on my calves and thighs. My shoes fit me again, so something must be improving, but still. Long way to go, I guess.

Which is what the nutritionist tells me. Long way to go. It takes time. It’s a process. It’s complicated. Go see this other doctor who’s going to draw more blood and agree with me because your doctor doesn’t.

I was better off before.

My sister had bariatric surgery maybe two years ago now. She’s killing it. I should’ve done that. Stupid.


Sorry. I guess that’s how you end up closing out a week with Khanate.

But hey, the first spring training games are on today, so it’s baseball time. Hopefully I’m back from the dentist to see it start. And I got to do a track premiere for the new Monster Magnet, which was awesome. So, you know, strikes and gutters. Some you win, some you lose.

Here’s what’s on tap for next week, subject to change as always:

Mon.: Messa review/video premiere; new Bismut video.
Tue.: Final installment of the Nebula interview/stream series, covering Dos EPs.
Wed.: Blackwater Holylight review/track premiere; Dandy Brown video.
Thu.: Sinistro track-by-track.
Fri.: Merlin review.

Jammed as it is but I’m sure more will come along as well, like all of a sudden today there was an announcement for the Psycho Las Vegas 2018 lineup. That’s how these things happen. One can only try to keep up as best as possible.

Have a great and safe weekend. If you need me I’ll be getting a crown put on, then watching baseball and cooking a spaghetti squash to go with pesto and chicken for dinner, because that’s how I do these days, apparently.

Please check out the forum and radio stream. And buy my book. I don’t think there are that many left.

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Frydee Khanate

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 12th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

Because things have been discouragingly slow around here this week, and because it’s pissing-rain miserable outside, I’ve decided to cap off the week with Khanate, who, during their time together, were likewise slow and miserable. Enjoy the above shortened version of “Dead” from the 2003 Things Viral album, complete with the visual accompaniment of a dude blowing his brains out.

Spring break has come not a moment too soon.

Thanks to the few and proud who did stop by the site this week, most notably the debaters going back and forth on the Moth Eater live review — for the record, I’m a fan — but also to everyone else who did and didn’t comment on the various happenings.

As alluded above, I’m on break next week from my writing program at Rutgers. I have school work to catch up on, but Monday I’ll be posting my interview with Bobby Liebling of Pentagram, so please, look forward to that. Also in the can and coming up in the next couple weeks are chats with Erik Larson about his new band Might Could, former Amorphis bassist Olli-Pekka “Oppu” Laine (he was in the band when they ruled) about his prog-death project Barren Earth and, conducted this very afternoon, a brief check-in with Matt Pike from High on Fire, who despite a crappy phone connection was as pleasant and accommodating as ever. There’ll be more, as well. There always is.

If you’re in Jersey this weekend, I’ll be throwing down tomorrow night (March 13) with my good friends in Clamfight and Rukut at The Saint in Asbury Park, and I’m sure we’d all love it if you stopped by.

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