The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

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

Notes: To say nothing of the honorable mentions that follow the rest of the list below, immediately we see the problem of so-many-albums-not-enough-space. People talk about a top 50 as ridiculous, like there’s no way you can like that much music. Bullshit. I agonized over how to fit Sun Crow on this list because their Quest for Oblivion felt like it deserved to be here. Ditto that for Arcadian Child. And the achievements of bands like Kadavar, 1000mods and Switchblade Jesus and Insect Ark in breaking the boundaries of their own aesthetics deserve every accolade they can get, and likewise those who progressed in their sound like Cortez, Shadow Witch, Lord Fowl, Hymn, Foot, Black Rainbows, Deathwhite and IAH. Add to that the debuts from Atramentus, Dirt Woman, Jointhugger, Acid Mess and Sergio Ch.’s Soldati, and you’ve got a batch of 20 records — some born of this year’s malaise, some working in spite of it — that vary in sound but are working to push their respective styles to new places one way or the other.

30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

There was no shortage of anticipation for what L.A. cultists High Priestess would do to follow their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), and the three-piece did not disappoint, instead gave a ritual mass that included the 17-minute concept piece “Invocation” alongside infectious and ethereal melodies like “The Hourglass.” And now that the circle’s been cast? Seems like they can do anything.

29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Oct. 12.

High-powered cosmic metal from Finland pulling apart heavy psychedelia on an atomic level with an urgency that speaks of youth, progress and an ingrained need for exploration? Sign me up. A lot of bands on this list put out their first album this year. There are few for whom my hopes are as high as they are for Polymoon. If you haven’t yet heard Caterpillars of Creation, do.

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

Of the sundry horrors 2020 wrought, a new album from long-running Toronto three-piece Sons of Otis was an unexpected positive, and their ultra-spaced, murky riffs on their first studio album since 2012’s Seismic (review here, also here) launched like a slow-motion escape pod of righteous doom (s)tonality. There will never be another Sons of Otis. Be thankful for everything you get from them.

27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

Organ, Mellotron, sitar, acoustic and electric guitars, various percussion elements, and of course the inimitable fragility in Craig Williamson‘s voice itself — the ingredients for Lamp of the Universe‘s Dead Shrine were familiar enough for those familiar with the one-man outfit running more than two decades, but the lush acid folk created remains a standout the world over. Dead Shrine was a much-needed gift of peace and meditation.

26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

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

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

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

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

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

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

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

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

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

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

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

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

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

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

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

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

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

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

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

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

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

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

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

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

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

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

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

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

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

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

When Sho’Nuff asked Bruce Leroy “who’s the master?,” dude should’ve said Brant Bjork. It would’ve been a confusing end to Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, but ultimately more accurate, as Brant Bjork‘s homegrown kung fu was unfuckwithable as ever on the album that shares his name. After two decades of solo releases in one form or another, Bjork is not just a pivotal figurehead for desert rock, he’s a defining presence, as well as one of its most treasured practitioners. Brant Bjork, the album, brought initial waves of funk in “Jungle in the Sound,” explored weedy worship in “Mary (You’re Such a Lady)” and toyed with religious dogma in offsetting that with “Jesus Was a Bluesman” while still tossing primo hooks in “Duke of Dynamite” and “Shitkickin’ Now” ahead of the more open “Stardust and Diamond Eyes” and the acoustic closer “Been So Long.” With Bjork recording all the instruments himself, a due feeling of intimacy resulted, and yet he still found a way to make it rock. How could it be otherwise?

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

Why do I feel the immediate need to defend this pick? I’m not sure. Norway’s Enslaved are an institution, not just of black metal, but of bringing an ideology of creative growth to that style that often willfully resists it. They are iconoclastic even unto their own work. Utgard was released as the band stood on the precipice of 30 years together and yet it stood as their most forward-looking offering yet, as co-founders Grutle Kjellson (bass/vocals) and Ivar Bjørnson (guitar/sometimes vocals), as well as longtime lead guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal backed up the change from 2017’s E (review here) that brought in new keyboardist/vocalist Hakon Vinje with the incorporation of drummer Iver Sandøy, who doubles as a vocalist (and triples as a producer). The “new blood” made all the difference on Utgard, allowing Enslaved to piece together new ranges of melody in their work and offset instrumental shifts into and out of krautrock-derived progressions. Simply the work of a band outdoing itself from a band who does so at nearly every opportunity.

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten and Ripple Music. Reviewed Dec. 3, 2019.

Every year I allow myself one addendum pick, and this is it. We Are was on last year’s list because it was digitally released, but the vinyl came out this year and it received its North American release this year as well, so it seemed only right to acknowledge that. So here it is in its proper place.

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

All-Them-Witches-Nothing-as-the-Ideal

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

This is a band controlling their own narrative. Instead of Nothing as the Ideal being ‘the one they made as a three-piece,’ the Nashville outfit decided to make it ‘the one they recorded at Abbey Road.’ Were they thinking of it on those terms? Yeah, likely not, but it goes to demonstrate all the same just how much of themselves All Them Witches put into what they do musically, since not only are they continuing to refine and define and undefine their approach, but they’re setting the terms on which they do it. Each of their records has been a response to the one prior, but that conversation has never been so direct as to make them predictable. So what are they chasing? Apparently nothing. I’m not entirely sure I buy that as a complete answer, but I am sure I love these songs and the experiments with tape loops and other sounds that fill these spaces. Whatever they do next — or even if nothing — their run has been incredible and exciting and one only hopes their influence continues to spread over the next however many years.

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

There was a high standard set by Elephant Tree‘s 2016 self-titled debut (review here), but their second LP, Habits, surpassed even the loftiest of expectations. With vocals centered around harmonies from guitarist Jack Townley and bassist Peter Holland, the former trio completed by drummer Sam Hart brought in guitarist/keyboardist John Slattery (also sometimes vocals), and the resultant breadth gave the material on Habits spaciousness beyond even what the first album promised. Drifting, rolling, unflinchingly melodic and somehow present even in its own escapism, Habits was not just an early highlight for a rough 2020, but a comforting presence throughout, and the further one dug into tracks like “Sails,” “Exit the Soul,” “Faceless,” “Wasted” and the acoustic “The Fall Chorus,” the more there was to find — let alone “Bird,” which I’ll happily put against anything else one might propose for song of the year. As their former UK label crumbled, Habits emerged unscathed and Elephant Tree‘s future continues to shine with ever more hope for things to come. Being able to say that about anything feels like a relief.

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

Twenty years ago, Sweden’s Lowrider put out what would become a heavy rock landmark in their 2000 debut, Ode to Io (reissue review here). A follow-up years in the making even after the band got back together to play Desertfest in London (review here) and Berlin in 2013, Refractions first saw limited release in 2019 as part of Blues Funeral‘s PostWax series (discussed here), but its proper arrival was in early 2020, and there was really no looking back after that. It wasn’t just the novelty of a new Lowrider album that made Refractions such a joy, but the manner in which the band went about its work. There was no pretending that 20 years didn’t happen. There was no attempt to recapture the bottled lightning that was the first record, and Lowrider did not sound like a band “making a comeback” rife with expectations and fan-service. Refractions acknowledged the legacy of Ode to Io, sure enough, but as a step toward adding to it in meaningful and engaging ways. The songs — “Red River,” “Ode to Ganymede,” “Sernanders Krog,” “Ol’ Mule Pepe,” “Sun Devil/M87” and the 11-minute finale “Pipe Rider” — were fashioned without pretense and came across as the organic output of a band with nothing to prove to anyone but themselves. They made it their own. In a wretched year, Lowrider shined.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

Yeah, okay. There are a lot of these, so buckle in. Last year I just threw out a list of bands. This year I’m a little more organized, so here are bands and records alphabetically.

Across Tundras, LOESS ~ LÖSS
Across Tundras, The Last Days of a Silver Rush
Alain Johannes, Hum
Arboretum, Let it All In
Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin, Stygian Bough Vol. 1
Black Helium, The Wholly Other
Boris, No
Brimstone Coven, The Woes of a Mortal Earth
CB3, Aeons
Celestial Season, The Secret Teachings
Crippled Black Phoenix, Ellengæst
Cruthu, Athrú Crutha
Domo, Domonautas Vol. 2
DOOL, Summerland
Dopelord, Sign of the Devil
Dwaal, Gospel of the Vile
Elder Druid, Golgotha
Ellis Munk Ensemble, San Diego Sessions
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, May Our Chambers Be Full
EMBR, 1823
Familiars, All in Good Time
Forlesen, Hierophant Violent
Galactic Cross, Galactic Cross
The Heavy Eyes, Love Like Machines
Hum, Inlet
Human Impact, Human Impact
Humulus, The Deep
Jupiterian, Protosapien
Kariti, Covered Mirrors
Khan, Monsoons
Kingnomad, Sagan Om Ryden
King Witch, Body of Light
Kryptograf, Kryptograf
Light Pillars, Light Pillars
Lord Buffalo, Tohu Wa Bohu
Lord Loud, Timid Beast
Lotus Thief, Oresteia
Malsten, The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill
Mindcrawler, Lost Orbiter
Motorpsycho, The All is One
Mountain Tamer, Psychosis Ritual
Mr. Bison, Seaward
Mrs. Piss, Self-Surgery
Mugstar, GRAFT
Murcielago, Casualties
Oranssi Pazuzu, Mestarin Kynsi
Paradise Lost, Obsidian
Parahelio, Surge Evelia Surge
The Pilgrim, …From the Earth to the Sky and Back
Pretty Lightning, Jangle Bowls
Psychlona, Venus Skytrip
Puta Volcano, AMMA
Ritual King, Ritual King
River Cult, Chilling Effect
Rrrags, High Protein
Shores of Null, Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying)
Sigiriya, Maiden – Mother – Crone
Six Organs of Admittance, Companion Rises
16, Dream Squasher
Slomosa, Slomosa
Somnus Throne, Somnus Throne
Steve Von Till, No Wilderness Deep Enough
Stone Machine Electric, The Inexplicable Vibrations of Frequencies Within the Cosmic Netherworld
Sumac, May You Be Held
Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Red Tide
Temple of Void, The World That Was
The Kings of Frog Island, VI
Tia Carrera, Tried and True
Turtle Skull, Monoliths
Uffe Lorenzen, Magisk Realisme
Ulcerate, Stare Into Death and Be Still
Vessel of Light, Last Ride
Vestal Claret, Vestal Claret
Vinnum Sabbathi, Of Dimensions and Theories
Wight, Spank the World
Wino, Forever Gone
Yatra, All is Lost
Yuri Gagarin, The Outskirts of Reality

By no means is that list exhaustive. And to look at stuff like Psychlona, Oranssi Pazuzu, Wight, Wino, Puta Volcano, Kingnomad, Ellis Munk Ensemble, Paradise Lost, Alain Johannes, Arbouretum, Uffe Lorenzen, Tia Carrera — on and on and on — I can definitely see where arguments are to be made for records that should’ve been in the list proper. I can only go with what feels right to me at the time.

Together with the top 50, this makes over 110 albums in the best of 2020. If you find yourself needing something to hang your hat on, be glad you’re alive to witness this much excellent music coming out.

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

Atramentus, Stygian
Bethmoora, Thresholds
BleakHeart, Dream Griever
Crystal Spiders, Molt
Dirt Woman, The Glass Cliff
Dwaal, Gospel of the Vile
Electric Feat, Electric Feat
Familiars, All in Good Time
Galactic Cross, Galactic Cross
Human Impact, Human Impact
Jointhugger, I Am No One
Light Pillars, Light Pillars
Love Gang, Dead Man’s Game
Malsten, The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill
Might, Might
Mindcrawler, Lost Orbiter
Mrs. Piss, Self-Surgery
Parahelio, Surge Evelia Surge
Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation
Ritual King, Ritual King
SEA, Impermanence
Slomosa, Slomosa
Soldati, Doom Nacional
Somnus Throne, Somnus Throne
SpellBook, Magick & Mischief
Spirit Mother, Cadets
Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Red Tide
The Crooked Whispers, Satanic Melodies
White Dog, White Dog

Notes: I sparred with myself every step of the way here. The last couple years I’ve tried to give the top-debut spot to not just a new band, but a new presence. Green Lung, King Buffalo, etc. Molassess, with members from The Devil’s Blood, Death Alley and Astrosoniq, isn’t exactly that. So what do I do? Do I go with something newer like Polymoon, Dirt Woman, BleakHeart, SEA, White Dog or The Crooked Whispers, or something with more established players like Molassess, Soldati, or even Light Pillars?

In the end, what made the difference was not just how brilliant the songs on Molassess’ Through the Hollow, but how honestly the band confronted the legacy they were up against. The songs had a familiar haunting presence, but they were also moving ahead to somewhere new. It was that blend of old and new ideas, and the resonant feeling of emotional catharsis — as well as the sheer immersion that took place while listening — that ultimately made the decision. Turns out I just couldn’t escape it.

And why not a list? Because this feels woefully inadequate as it is. I reviewed over 250 records this year one way or another — and that’s a conservative estimate — but a lot gets lost in the shuffle and somehow it just seemed wrong this time around to call something the 13th best first record of the year. I wanted to highlight the special achievement that was the Molassess album, but really, all of these records kicked my ass one way or the other.

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

Big Scenic Nowhere, Lavender Blues
Coma Wall, Ursa Minor
Conan/Deadsmoke, Doom Sessions Vol. 1
Fu Manchu, Fu30 Pt. 1
Grandpa Jack, Trash Can Boogie
Howling Giant/Sergeant Thunderhoof, Masamune/Muramasa (split)
Oginalii, Pendulum
Kings Destroy, Floods
Lament Cityscape, The Old Wet
Limousine Beach, Stealin’ Wine +2
Merlock, That Which Speaks
Monte Luna, Mind Control Broadcast
Mos Generator/Di’Aul, Split
Pimmit Hills, Heathens & Prophets
Rito Verdugo, Post-Primatus
Rocky Mtn Roller, Rocky Mtn Roller
Spaceslug, Leftovers
10,000 Years, 10,000 Years
The White Swan, Nocturnal Transmission
Thunderbird Divine, The Hand of Man
Witchcraft, Black Metal

Notes: If you were wondering why King Buffalo’s Dead Star (review here) wasn’t on the big list, this is why. It was pitched to me as an EP and that’s how I’m classifying it. I’m taking the out. Is it an EP? Not really, but neither is it a full-length album, given its experimental nature and focus around its extended two-part title-track. Whatever it was, it was the best that-thing, and this is the category where such things go.

Again, tough choices after King Buffalo. Thunderbird Divine’s EP was wonderfully funk-blasted and woefully short (new album, please). The newly-issued Spaceslug EP branches out their sound in fascinating ways as a result of the lockdown. Witchcraft’s acoustic EP, Coma Wall’s EP and Big Scenic Nowhere’s EP all signaled good things to come, and Howling Giant’s split with Sergeant Thunderhoof was a highlight of the most recent Quarterly Review. There really isn’t a bummer on the list there, from the bitter psych of Oginalii to the industrial metal of Lament Cityscape, the unadulterated riffery of Merlock to the live-captured rawness of Monte Luna.

So again, why no list? Same answer. I want to highlight the progression King Buffalo made in their sound and leave room open elsewhere for things I missed. Please let me know what in the comments. Cordially.

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

Ahab, Live Prey
Amenra, Mass VI Live
Arcadian Child, From Far, for the Wild (Live in Linz)
Author and Punisher, Live 2020 B.C.
Cherry Choke, Raising Salzburg Rockhouse
Dead Meadow, Live at Roadburn 2011
Dirty Streets, Rough and Tumble
Electric Moon, Live at Freak Valley Festival 2019
Kadavar, Studio Live Session Vol. 1
King Buffalo, Live at Freak Valley
Monte Luna, Mind Control Broadcast
Orange Goblin, Rough & Ready: Live and Loud
Øresund Space Collective, Sonic Rock Solstice 2019
Pelican, Live at the Grog Shop
SEA, Live at ONCE
Sumac, St Vitus 09/07/2018
Sun Blood Stories, (a)Live and Alone at Visual Arts Collective
Temple Fang, Live at Merleyn
YOB, Pickathon 2019 – Live From the Galaxy Barn

Notes: In this wretched year (mostly) void of live music, marked by canceled tours and festivals, the live album arguably played a more central role than it ever has, whether it was a band trying to keep momentum up following or leading into a studio release, taking advantage of the emergence of the Bandcamp Friday phenomenon or just trying to maintain some connection to their fans and the process of taking a stage. Or even playing in a room together. Or not a room. Anything. What was once a tossoff, maybe an afterthought companion piece became an essential worker of the listening experience.

You might accuse desert rock progenitors Yawning Man of playing to their base with Live at Giant Rock (featured here), and if so, fine. At no point in the last 50 years has that base more needed playing-to. And in the absence of shows, being able to hear (and watch, in the case of the accompanying video) Yawning Man go out to the landscape that spawned them and engage with their music was a beautiful moment of reconciliation. An exhale for the converted that didn’t fill one with empty promises of better tomorrows or tours to come, but served to remind what’s so worth preserving about the spirit of live music in the first place. The fact that anything can happen. A replaced note here, a tuning change there — these things can make not just an evening, but memories that go beyond shows, tours, to touch our lives.

There were a ton of live records this year. Some were benefits for worthy causes between saving venues, Black Lives Matter, voting rights organizations, and so on. And whether these were new performances from captured livestreams (Monte Luna, Kadavar) or older gigs that had been sitting around waiting for release at some point (Sumac, Dead Meadow), this, very much, was that point, and these live offerings kept burning a fire that felt at times very much in danger of being extinguished.

Looking Ahead to 2021

A list of bands. Some confirmed releases, some not. Here goes:

Dread Sovereign, Sasquatch, Year of Taurus, Apostle of Solitude, Weedpecker, Borracho, Love Gang, Jointhugger, Demon Head, Iron Man, Greenleaf, Samsara Blues Experiment, The Mammathus, Evert Snyman, Wo Fat, Conclave, Here Lies Man, Kabbalah, Komatsu, Hour of 13, Wedge, Amenra, La Chinga, Spidergawd, Wolves in the Throne Room, Vokonis, Freedom Hawk, Masters of Reality, ZOM, Eyehategod, Sanhedrin, Green Lung, The Mountain King, Albatross Overdrive, Elder, King Buffalo, Sunnata, Howling Giant, SAVER, Conan, Slomatics, Ruff Majik, Kind, Mos Generator, Yawning Sons, Lantlôs, Brant Bjork, Spiral Grave, Crystal Spiders, Lightning Born, Samavayo, Wovenhand, Merlock, Comet Control, The Age of Truth, Eight Bells, BlackWater Holylight, DVNE, Monte Luna.

Thank You

You’ve read enough, so I will do my best to keep this mercifully short. Thank you so much for reading — whether you still are or not — and thank you for being a part of the ongoing project that is The Obelisk. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have such incredible support throughout not just this year, but all the years of the site’s existence. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you most of all to The Patient Mrs. for her indulgence in letting me get this done. I’m am amazed forever.

More to come.

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King Buffalo Postpone Tours; Writing New Material

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 25th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Is it surprising that King Buffalo have pushed their 2020 tours off until next year? No. The US broke a new record in COVID-19 cases yesterday, hitting nearly 37,000 new reported in a single. fucking. day. Aside from being disgraceful, that just means that traveling in this country right now is taking your life in your hands. Maybe you’ll be fine, maybe not. True, we roll the dice every time we leave the house anyway — never know when that piano’s gonna fall on your head — but there are factors of relative dangers to take into account. States will be relocked-down by the time the band would hit the road anyway. That seems inevitable, though the staggering amount of irresponsibility displayed thus far in terms of the governmental response makes anything possible, I suppose.

Mostly fucking death is what it makes possible.

King Buffalo released their righteously forward-thinking Dead Star EP (review here) earlier this Spring, and made the most of their time in lockdown with their four Quarantine Sessions videos, all of which I’ve posted below, because if you take the rest of your day and watch King Buffalo jam out, that’s probably a good way to spend that time.

Here’s the latest from the band:

King Buffalo

Hey Friends,

We wanted to give everyone an update on what’s happening. As many of you might have guessed, it’s looking likely we will be postponing the majority of our shows until 2021. In this scenario shows would start up in January and continue from there. As soon as we have more details we will let you know. If your situation allows, please hold onto your tickets.

Since we recorded the Quarantine Sessions, we’ve been writing A LOT. We actually had to stop ourselves because we amassed almost 24 hours of jam sessions. Suffice to say, we will have material for multiple LPs in the coming future.

You’ve been keeping us busy by buying merch from our big cartel and bandcamp. We can’t thank you enough for your support! This will go to good use for future releases. We’ll be announcing something in the next couple months.

Lastly what ideas/comments do you guys have? Besides new material what would guys like to see? Let us know! Please take care of each other and stay safe. We will have more news for you soon.

-KB

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King Buffalo, Dead Star (Quarantine Sessions)

King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain (Quarantine Sessions)

King Buffalo, Repeater (Quarantine Sessions)

King Buffalo, Orion (Quarantine Sessions)

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Days of Rona: Sean McVay of King Buffalo

Posted in Features on April 15th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

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

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

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

King Buffalo sean mcvay

Days of Rona: Sean McVay of King Buffalo (Rochester, New York)

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

People from all over are getting hit really hard by this, and we’re certainly no exception to that. We had multiple tours set up coinciding with the release of our newest EP. So far we’ve had to postpone our entire spring tour, and are crossing our fingers that we’ll be able to keep our summer and fall dates. Thankfully, each of us and our families is currently safe and healthy.

What are the quarantine/isolation rules where you are?

Here in Rochester, NY all workers that are not “essential” are required to work from home. All schools are closed, and all bars/restaurants are closed to the public (but can remain open for takeout/delivery). Any “non-essential” gathering of any kind is banned. Recently, the city started closing public playgrounds and basketball/tennis courts as well.

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

In my neighborhood I’ve noticed more people in their yards playing with their kids and pets. It’s been nice to see people trying to stay positive and make the best of everything while still being responsible and social distancing, but there’s definitely still a bit of stress and uncertainty in the air. As far as the local arts community goes things are certainly more worrisome. Many artists also work in the food and beverage industry, so they’re being hit extra hard, and venues are obviously in a really rough situation. In a general sense, it’s been really nice to see the influx of live-streamed performances and overall flood of artistic content throughout the internet. Its awesome to see people trying to support each other where they can in spite of our government’s completely inept and inadequate response to all of this.

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

First and foremost we want everyone to remain safe and healthy. We want everyone to make sure to take this virus seriously, and to do their part to help slow this thing down. We’re all in this together, and we all need to look out for one another. As far as King Buffalo goes… In an effort to make up for having to postpone our spring tour we filmed some live performances in our secluded practice space, and will be releasing them very soon. We have some other ideas cooking as well so keep an ear out. Best wishes to everyone and their families.

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Review & Full Stream: King Buffalo, Dead Star EP

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 17th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

King Buffalo Dead Star

[Click play above to stream King Buffalo’s Dead Star in full. It’s out this week and available to preorder from the band. Their Spring tour is in the process of being rescheduled due to pandemic. Read their statement here.]

Dead Star is anything but. What’s billed as the fourth King Buffalo EP is actually a sneaky third full-length from the Rochester, New York, three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson, clocking in at 35-plus minutes long and marked out by an expansive, creative and spacious flow that willfully builds on the accomplishments of the band’s past while bringing them to new places in terms of sound and arrangements.

From the outset, the sprawl in their sound that came to such satisfying fruition on 2018’s sophomore LP, Longing to Be the Mountain (review here) — which was the best record put out that year not by a band called Sleep — is pushed further, as the 16:21 opener and longest track (immediate points) “Red Star Pt. 1 & 2” embarks on an extended, from-silence-up linear build through its first part only to find itself nearly 12 minutes in as Donaldson‘s drums begin to gallop through its second part and McVay‘s vocals take on more of an urgent delivery suited to the space rocking thrust surrounding.

Underscored with reliable, underrated, secret-weapon-type low-end from Reynolds and fleshed out with undulations of synth and/or effects, it is King Buffalo on a cosmic grandstand in a way they simply never have been. Even their Jan. 2018 EP Repeater (review here), which opened with its 13-minute title-track, didn’t dare explore the regions of far-out that “Red Star Pt. 1 & 2” claims as the trio’s own, and certainly the heavy-psych-blues of 2016’s debut LP, Orion (review here), or the 2015 split with Sweden’s Lé Betre (review here) and the 2013 demo (review here) that preceded it only hinted at the barriers of sound the band would soon enough be breaking.

The latter piece of “Red Star Pt. 1 & 2” is immediate in classic space rock tradition, but still consistent with the slower psychedelic unfolding over the 11-plus minutes that it grew from, and when it crashes, it does so in righteous fashion, a slowdown-into-nod landing heavy and letting go into about a minute of cast-aloft noise and effects drift on a long fade.

If that was it, then sure, Dead Star would be an EP, but the progressive guitar piece “Echo of a Waning Star” — much shorter and just over three minutes long — picks up with a quieter melody of its own that comes to life at about halfway through. Beginning with plucked start-stop notes that stay consistent even as the full tonality and drums kick in circa 1:30 and then come back to the fore after that wave recedes, fleshed out with soft-hit toms and keys, the track is perhaps most reminiscent indeed of an echo — an atmospheric impression rather than a fully structured statement of its own, something intended to set a mood and feel not only hypnotic with that guitar line repeating.

But the complement that follows with the arrival of “Ecliptic” is cinematic in a way King Buffalo have never attempted to be, with McVay taking on the task of setting a four-minute John Carpenter or Goblin-style bed of ’70s prog synthesizer, complete with an underlying pulse of a beat. Entirely instrumental, it is a clear experiment for the band — a way for them to grasp for something new in their sound as they’ve done on EPs in the past — but with the addition of what seems to be a fluidly-mixed wave of distorted guitar (it’s hard to tell after a certain point), there’s a way forward for them in terms of future integration of these elements with their already established modus.

King Buffalo

That is, they’re not just throwing “Ecliptic” in without giving it some context; they’re hinting at what might be things to come as their evolution continues on their next full-length, whether you want to call it their third or fourth, after this. Sampled television or radio static — which used to actually be a thing, you know — underscores the point of interaction with soundtrack media and serves as a transition into the tense guitar line that opens “Eta Carinae.” Also proggier and more exacting in its central riff than some of King Buffalo‘s past work, it is in the Reynolds‘ bass that one most finds the groove holding sway even as Donaldson‘s snare provides steady pops along the way.

A subtle line of synth signals a change to a winding transition and the band are soon enough underway on a still-precise, plotted jam, with a lead and instrumental stretch bringing about a section of chug and the return of McVay‘s vocals, soon enough opening to a stretch of tension-release guitar soloing, but ending ultimately on that chugging riff, accompanied by a touch of synth before a sudden stop.

The title-track, which presses the words together to present as “DeadStar,” is a sweetly melodic four-minute piece based around acoustic guitar that still manages to bring all the pieces of the EP into one shared space, whether it’s the cosmic psych, the spaciousness, the weight of tone — which, yes, shows up — the synth and the vocal melody. McVay‘s presence as a frontman here is undeniable and perhaps a corresponding narrative along with the stylistic development of King Buffalo as a whole, but it’s important to note that the group remains balanced, and “DeadStar” shows this as well as it moves fluidly into its second and third minute, Reynolds smoothing out what might otherwise be stark shifts and Donaldson on the bell of his ride cymbal.

That King Buffalo should not only be toying with their aesthetic in these ways, but also finding solid footing as they do so probably shouldn’t be a surprise to listeners who’ve been exposed in the past to their songwriting, but it remains impressive all the same and it speaks to the quality of their work that seven years on from their demo, with multiple domestic and international tours behind and likely ahead of them — not to mention the specter of an always-pivotal third LP (if this isn’t it) looming on the horizon — that their potential should still resonate so vividly.

I’m a fan of their work, so if you need your grain of salt, take it, but I’ll bottom line this for you as best I can: King Buffalo are a special band. They’ve yet to put out a release that did not significantly bolster their reach, and their progression is met likewise by melodic growth and a consistency of songcraft that make their output all the more a joy to hear. They make it easy to open your mind and embrace new ideas, and if Dead Star is an EP, then it seems damn unlikely 2020 will see a better one.

King Buffalo BigCartel store

King Buffalo website

King Buffalo on Thee Facebooks

King Buffalo on Instagram

Stickman Records website

Stickman Records on Thee Facebooks

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King Buffalo Post 2019 Live Bootlegs; Tour Starts March 19

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 10th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Ahead of kicking off a round of touring with The Sword, King Buffalo have posted an 18-show bootleg collection for free public consumption. As I recall watching their performance as it happened at Freak Valley 2019 — I was at Maryland Doom Fest at the time, but with the time difference it worked — and being stunned by it on multiple levels, I immediately went there first. Needless to say, it holds up.

All the links are posted on their website direct to a Google Drive file, so you can stream or download from there as you will. King Buffalo will release their new EP, Dead Star, on March 20, and I hear tell that it might be streaming here a couple days before. Because the truth is King Buffalo are probably too cool for this site at this point, but they either don’t know it yet or are too nice to tell me to screw off when I asked. I’ll take it in any case, keeping my expectations reasonable as regards whatever they do next. One doesn’t want to take advantage.

Some calendar jumbling to do, but I’m hoping to catch them on this run at some point:

King Buffalo

We’ve just added 18 shows from 2019 to our Bootleg Series! Download them all for FREE at kingbuffalo.com/bootlegs.

Come be a part of our Bootlegs for 2020…
?3/19 Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground?
?3/20 Boston, MA @ Great Scott?
?3/21 New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge?
?3/26 Lansing, MI @ Mac’s Bar?
?3/27 Milwaukee, WI @ Colectivo?
?3/28 Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St. Entry?
?3/29 Winnipeg, MB @ Park Theatre?
?3/31 Calgary, AB @ Palomino?
?4/2 Vancouver, BC @ Fox Cabaret?
?4/3 Seattle, WA @ Barboza?
?4/4 Seattle, WA @ Barboza?
?4/5 Portland, OR @ Lola’s Room?
?4/7 San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill?
?4/8 Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo?
?4/10 Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge?
?4/11 Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge?
?4/13 Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room?
?4/14 St Louis, MO @ Duck Room?
?4/15 Louisville, KY @ Zanzabar?
?4/16 Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Tavern?
?4/17 Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Café?
?4/18 Syracuse, NY @ Funk N Waffles?
?5/9 Springfield, MO @ Mother’s Brewing?
?5/14 Northampton, MA @ The Parlor Room?
?5/15 Hamden, CT @ Space Ballroom?
?6/5 Toronto, ON @ Velvet Underground?
?6/11 Grand Rapids, MI @ Elevation +?
?6/12 Madison, WI @ Majestic Theatre +?
?6/13 Indianapolis, IN @ Vogue +?
?6/25 Buffalo, NY @ Mohawk Place +?
?6/26 Ashbury Park, NJ @ Wonder Bar?
?6/27 Baltimore, MD @ Metro Gallery?
?7/1 Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle +?
?+ w/ The Sword

King Buffalo is:
Sean McVay – Guitar, Vocals, & Synth
Dan Reynolds – Bass & Synth
Scott Donaldson – Drums & Percussion

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King Buffalo, “Red Star Pt. 2” official video

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King Buffalo Announce Dead Star EP and Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 21st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

King Buffalo

When King Buffalo put out their early-2018 EP Repeater (review here) ahead of their second full-length, Longing to Be the Mountain (review here), it was an opportunity for the Rochester trio to explore new ideas and adventure into what at the time was new sonic terrain for the band. To try new things and introduce their audience to the same. It smoothed the transition between 2016’s Orion (review here) and the follow-up LP, and complemented both works.

Their new “short release,” Dead Star, is more substantial. As in, it’s 36 minutes long. From where I sit, that’s an album one way or the other, and certainly the flow of its six tracks bears that out as well. But the function is similar to Repeater in that King Buffalo once again embrace their creative drive in an open and exciting way. The six songs of Dead Star are thrillingly progressive, taking on aspects of synth and new textures and atmospheres that enrich the band’s core melodies and grooves so as to broaden their scope and make them all the more engrossing. Beginning with the 16-minute pair “Dead Star Pt. 1 & 2,” and running through the finale closing track, Dead Star works to push the boundaries of expectation of what King Buffalo can accomplish as a band, and thereby accomplishes them as well.

Preorders go up later this week, and they’ve got tour dates and a track streaming as of next week. Official release of Dead Star is March 20 and I’m hoping to have more to come as we get closer to then.

In the meantime, here’s a press release I kind of wrote:

King Buffalo Announce their 4th EP “Dead Star” and 2020 Tour Dates

King Buffalo will release their fourth EP, Dead Star, on March 20. The widely-hailed progressive heavy rock trio from Western New York will stream the single “Eta Carinae” Jan. 28 from the six-song, 36-minute release now via Bandcamp with preorders available at kingbuffalo.bigcartel.com on Jan. 24. Extensive tour dates will follow.

Their most brazenly experimental offering to-date, Dead Star will self-release throughout North America and see European issue via Stickman Records.

Self-recorded in late 2019 and early 2020 by guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson, Dead Star continues to push King Buffalo’s psychedelic aspects deep into the cosmic ether, and basks in elements of ambient drone, space rock, prog, mantra-style heavy and synthesizer soundtracking, as well as the bluesy, classic riffing and creative urgency that has underscored their particular style since their 2013 demo and 2016 debut album, Orion. A depth of mix comes courtesy of Grant Husselman, while Bernie Matthews mastered.

“In the early stages of Dead Star, we made the decision to make a strong commitment to experimentation,” explains guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay. “From exploring different time signatures, tunings and textures, to tweaking the song writing processes themselves. We’re extremely proud of these recordings, and feel it’s some of our most ambitious work yet.”

King Buffalo’s discography includes two full-length albums, Orion (2016) and Longing to Be the Mountain (2018), as well as three prior EPs – 2013’s Demo, a 12” split with Le Bétre in 2015, and 2018’s Repeater.

Dead Star continues the risk-taking that fueled Repeater, honoring the core dynamic of King Buffalo as a band while boldly introducing new ideas and sides of their sound to their audience.

Recent years have found King Buffalo touring throughout North America and Europe, with highlight festival performances, support slots and headlining shows, and they bring that experience to the songwriting of Dead Star’s six tracks, be it the sprawling two-part leadoff “Red Star Pt. 1 & 2” or the John Carpenter-esque instrumental “Ecliptic” ahead of the chug-and-crash-prone “Eta Carinae.” All the while King Buffalo maintain a flow and atmosphere that has served as a hallmark of their approach.

“These six songs deviate and expand on horizons that we as King Buffalo haven’t yet reached,” says drummer Scott Donaldson, who also handled the graphic layout of Dead Star with Ryan T. Hancock’s striking cover art. “It’s extremely exciting to make something familiar, but unlike anything we’ve previously done. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it.”

Vinyl Details:

Test Press – Limited to 20, hand numbered, and ship mid-February. Includes a download code of the Deluxe version, poly bag, a signed “thank you” from the band with wax seal, an exclusive poster and hand numbered insert.

Deluxe Edition – Limited to 250 units and pressed to 12″ Black and White Vinyl. The Deluxe Edition includes a polybag, a hand numbered insert, and audio commentary by the band. A One-Time Only pressing. They’ll be shipped as soon as mid-March.

Standard Edition – Limited to 750 units and pressed to 12″ Bone White Vinyl. They include a polybag and download code.

Written and recorded by King Buffalo in Rochester, NY at the Main Street Armory in December of 2019 & January 2020.

All arrangements by King Buffalo (c) 2019
Produced & Engineered by Sean McVay
Mixed by Grant Husselman
Mastered by Bernie Matthews
Artwork by Ryan T Hancock
Fonts by Mike Turzanski
Layout by Scott Donaldson

Dead Star Track list:
Red Star Pt. 1
Red Star Pt. 2
Echo of a Waning Star
Ecliptic
Eta Carinae
Dead Star

Tour Dates:
1/31 Montreal, QC @ Le Ministere
2/1 Ottawa, ON @ Dominion Tavern
3/19 Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground
3/20 Boston, MA @ Great Scott
3/21 New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
3/26 Lansing, MI @ Mac’s Bar
3/27 Milwaukee, WI @ Colectivo
3/28 Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St. Entry
3/29 Winnipeg, MB @ Park Theatre
3/31 Calgary, AB @ Palomino
4/2 Vancouver, BC @ Fox Cabaret
4/3 Seattle, WA @ Barboza
4/5 Portland, OR @ Lola’s Room
4/7 San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
4/8 Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo
4/10 Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
4/11 Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
4/13 Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room
4/14 St Louis, MO @ Duck Room
4/15 Louisville, KY @ Zanzabar
4/16 Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Tavern
4/17 Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Café
4/18 Syracuse, NY @ Funk N Waffles

King Buffalo is:
Sean McVay – Guitar, Vocals, & Synth
Dan Reynolds – Bass & Synth
Scott Donaldson – Drums & Percussion

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King Buffalo, Longing to be the Mountain (2018)

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