The Obelisk Questionnaire: Christopher Skowronski of Kings Destroy & Killing Time

Posted in Questionnaire on May 19th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Christopher Skowronski of Kings Destroy & Killing Time

The Obelisk Questionnaire is a series of open questions intended to give the answerer an opportunity to explore these ideas and stories from their life as deeply as they choose. Answers can be short or long, and that reveals something in itself, but the most important factor is honesty.

Based on the Proust Questionnaire, the goal over time is to show a diverse range of perspectives as those who take part bring their own points of view to answering the same questions. To see all The Obelisk Questionnaire posts, click here.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all who participate.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Christopher Skowronski of Kings Destroy & Killing Time

How do you define what you do and how did you come to do it?

I think it’s easiest and most accurate to say that I am simply a musician. Music has been the single most important thing in my life since I was a young kid, it’s what I think about most of the time, it’s what I spend the majority of my free time on. Beside playing and writing songs for the bands I play in now (and many others in the past), I have also produced, engineered, and mixed records with/for other bands. If a good song comes on the radio when I’m driving, I inadvertently play drums on the steering wheel and make my wife crazy. I suppose you could say in the broader sense that I am an “artist” and my medium is music, but that sounds a bit pretentious. So yeah, I’d define myself as a musician and what I do as just creating music. Pretty straight forward.

In terms of how I came to it, that is directly due to my family, particularly my older brother, Steven. I am the youngest of six children, and there was always a lot of old rock music playing in my house when I was a kid. My brother is ten years older than I am, and he was/is a musician. When I was very young—in the early to mid ’70s—he was a teenager listening to mostly classic rock. Sabbath, Kiss, Cheap Trick, etc. So that’s what I was listening to as a kid. He and his friends had a band, and they would play in my basement and do shows in our little backyard. (There is an old photo floating around of me sitting in on bongos during one of these backyard gigs!) In the later ’70s, he got into the first wave of punk, so then I got to listen to The Ramones, The Clash, the Sex Pistols, and then later lots of New Wave, like The Cars, Joe Jackson, etc. He kept playing in bands and started doing club gigs at places like the old Rising Sun in Yonkers and the Left Bank in Mount Vernon. By this time, there were drums and amps in the basement and guitars in his room. So, when he wasn’t around, I would sneak into his room and take out the guitar. (Sorry, Steve!) I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew it was cool! This was probably around the time I was 10, so, like, 1980.

As I moved into my young teens, he started getting heavily into The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and that kind of stuff. So then I got an education in all of those types of bands. At this point, I had also moved into discovering the New Wave of British Heavy Metal on my own, and became a massive Iron Maiden fan (Up the Irons!). That was kind of my first foray into music that hadn’t come to me directly from him. The punk stuff he had hipped me to also led to me discovering more of the hardcore punk stuff on my own. West Coast stuff like Black Flag and Suicidal Tendencies, some early New York and D.C. stuff. Most of it was music I discovered on my own through friends, though I have a distinct memory of the two of us in his car, driving my mom somewhere. We dropped her off, and as soon as she was out of the car, he said, “Time for some Misfits!” and cranked Walk Among Us. That was definitely the first time I’d heard them.

Anyway, when I was about 12 or 13, I saved up money from a paper route (remember those?) and bought my first guitar: a Harmony Flying V copy from the Montgomery Ward catalog. I was really into the Scorpions at the time, so the V was a no-brainer. I fucked around with it, having no real idea what I was doing. One day, I kept spinning Maiden’s “Flight of Icarus,” trying to figure out how to play it, but having no real clue what I was supposed to do. After picking up the needle about twenty times and making some god-awful random noise with my guitar, he came into my room, a little exasperated, and was like, “Let me just show you something.” He then taught me exactly one thing: How to play a barre chord. It was basically, “This is kind of all you need for now— figure out the rest on your own.” So I just kind of took it from there. I know this story makes it sound like he wasn’t super supportive of me playing, but my read on it was, I was the little brother, and he wanted to see if I was just fucking around with all of this or whether I was serious about it. Eventually, as I got better on my own, he would show me more things here and there, and I think he finally accepted that I was serious about it and was very supportive. To this day, I still send him demos of new songs I write, and he gives me feedback on them. So very long story short, my brother is the primary reason I became a musician. Eventually after playing in a bunch of garage bands, then I met the guys that I still play with now in Killing Time and KD, and became part of that second wave, late ’80s NYHC scene. Started playing in bands and playing shows. That was around 1988/89. Still best friends and playing with all of them today.

Describe your first musical memory.

Playing my oldest sister’s collection of Beatles 45’s. I’m a massive Beatles fan, and it can probably be traced back to that. I think that and the power pop that my brother turned me on to in the ’80s is why I still love really strong vocal melodies and harmonies, even in heavier music.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

I was just talking about this with a couple friends last night. In 1988, I saw AC/DC at the Nassau Coliseum. It was general admission for the floor, and I went with a good friend who was a serious AC/DC fan. The plan was, “We’re getting there early, we’re getting to the front of the line, and when they open, we are getting right up to the front of the stage.” So that’s what we did. Back then, when they opened general admission, you had to run full speed and kind of fight off all the others who had the same plan as you, but we pulled it off. All this is to say that I got to see AC/DC at their prime, pressed right up to the stage, directly in front of Angus’s Marshall stacks for nearly two hours. I was just getting absolutely blasted right in the face by his cranked rig. It was like a religious experience. Probably my fist taste of tinnitus too!

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

I’ve had a couple friends who have had pretty serious struggles with drugs, and have seen them do some really awful shit to me and others in the process. I think my test was learning that really loving and caring about someone isn’t quite enough in those situations. That lifelong friendship doesn’t mean shit to someone in the throes of serious addiction. You just have to learn to to let go to a certain extent. I do think love and support are still essential in a situation like that, but I learned that they aren’t enough, at least in my experience. So I guess that belief was tested and changed as a result.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

For me, it leads to just being fulfilled as a person and feeling like you are continuing to live and grow. That sounds like some self-help book bullshit, but life is a real beatdown most of the time. Just having something you love to do, that you continue learning things about, continue practicing, continue improving upon, is a great way to feel like you are doing something worthwhile with your time on the planet instead of just working to pay bills until you go toes up.

How do you define success?

Making something you are happy with and proud of. That’s it. Probably sounds kind of corny, but it’s true. Everything else good that might happen from what you do after that is just a bonus.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

I saw a woman commit suicide by jumping from the roof of a 12-floor apartment building. Wish I hadn’t seen that.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

An instrumental metal record. I did a little side-project over the last couple of years and put out an instrumental song, but it was more on the jamming, boogie-rock side. I’ve always wanted to write and record a really epic all-instrumental metal record. I actually started working on one near the start of the pandemic, but it turned into me just using some of the material for new Kings Destroy songs.

I’ve also done some visual stuff, like the video I made for “Fantasma Nera” last year. I am by no means a visual artist, and don’t claim to have any real talent for it, but I really enjoyed it, and would love to do more.

What do you believe is the most essential function of art?

To make you feel like there is something that separates you from the (other) animals. I think that works in terms of both for creating art and experiencing it.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

The New York Knicks finally being in the NBA playoffs again!

https://www.facebook.com/KingsDestroy/
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Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera (2019)

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Truckfighters Fuzz Festival #2: Kings Destroy and Steak Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 12th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Of course, all the many caveats of 2020 apply. But shit, Truckfighters are putting together a party and it’d be awful shame if for one reason or another (or another… or another…) it didn’t come together. You know what I’d give to see Lowrider and Asteroid on the same bill? I’d give airfare. With Truckfighters themselves at the top of the bill, I’m happy to see New York’s Kings Destroy added along with UK Desertscene forerunners Steak, and they join Firestone — I guess that means Oskar Cedermalm is pulling double-duty? — and Swan Valley Heights and Elden with more still reportedly to be announced.

If it happens, that’s a killer show. And while we’re thinking about it, I’d rather think positive, so here’s the announcement:

truckfighters fuzz festival 2

Truckfighters Fuzz festival announce two bands!

We are proud and happy to present our own fuzz festival!

After a sold out 1st edition in 2019 this will be the 2nd edition of our annual festival in our home country of Sweden. We hope for cold weather and and snow outside so we can go in and let the fuzz warm us up. Yeah this festival is all about the FUZZ.

After years of touring around the world we bring our favorite concept home to Sweden: a club festival dedicated to fuzz/stoner and heavy rock.

In the year of the Corona virus we expand to a two day festival. The virus will hopefully be long gone in November. There’ll be two stages, ca sixteen bands and of course a lot of fuzz…

STEAK [UK] and KINGS DESTROY [US] will be joining our fuzz filled party that takes place on Nov 20 + 21 at Debaser and Bar Brooklyn, Stockholm, Sweden. They will join previously announced TRUCKFIGHTERS, ASTEROID, LOWRIDER, FIRESTONE, SWAN VALLEY HEIGHTS, ELDEN – Many more bands will be added.

Confirmed acts so far are
TRUCKFIGHTERS (the fuzz planet)
LOWRIDER (swe)
ASTEROID (swe)
FIRESTONE (swe)
STEAK (UK)
KINGS DESTROY (USA)
SWAN VALLEY HEIGHTS (Ger)
ELDEN (swe)

*Live music from ca 6pm til midnight.
*Afterparty at Bar Brooklyn until 3am.

The Venue is located on the island of Södermalm, in Stockholm. This is a very nice area in the central parts of town.

Get there with subway or bus to ‘Hornstull’ station.

The festival has two stages, one big and one smaller. The smallest stage (Bar Brooklyn) has a limited space and can take up to 250 people standing. If you want to see a band in our smallest stage, come early! First come first served!
/ Truckfighters

As there was issues with the early bird ticket link we offer everyone who buys a ticket in June a 10EUR discount code at the Fuzzoramastore. Just e-mail a screenshot of your ticket to info@fuzzoramarecords.com

https://www.facebook.com/events/606699896853794/
http://www.truckfighters.com/festival/

Steak, “Living Like a Rat” official video

Kings Destroy, “Fantasma Nera” official video

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Video Premiere: Kings Destroy Make the Most of Quarantine with “Fantasma Nera” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 19th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

kings destroy

By now the ‘quarantine video’ is fast becoming a genre of its own, and one that will, when the planet has reopened to whatever new reality awaits our pitiful species — back to burning working class labor and fossil fuels we go, merrily cutting taxes and learning nothing — be a marker of this time and experience. It speaks to the simple need to create that, even isolated from each other, the members of bands can’t help but collaborate on projects like this new video from Kings Destroy. There are so many working on new material during this lockdown, and as we seem to be at least telling ourselves we’re through the worst of it — maybe we are, I don’t know — the baby-boom of records to come might indeed be another marker of COVID-19’s aftermath. So be it. In the meantime, locked in their homes in New York, Kings Destroy put together a clip for “Fantasma Nera” from their 2019 album of the same name (review here), which Svart delivered and you should’ve listened to if you didn’t. There’s time now, to paraphrase Burgess Meredith at the end of the world.

But whatever. The album’s fanatically melodic, and a boldly rock and roll reaction to the confrontationalism of their past work. More than anything, it was the record where they perhaps once and for all shrugged off the expectations of others and took the course they wanted to take. No two Kings Destroy releases have ever been the same — all the more reason to listen — so I wouldn’t count on them repeating this process next time, even should they return to work again with producer David Bottrill (ToolKing Crimson, etc.). But though I’m sure guitarists Carl Porcaro, who bursts into the room at one point in the video with his freshly-shaved head carrying his guitar like he’s on Smackdown, and Christopher Skowronski, who hates run-on sentences like this one and recently did a days of rona talking about his own plague experience, have been chipping away at new riffs and during their stuck-at-home time, the band as a whole aren’t probably there yet. It would probably help things along though if they could get in the same room. Remember when that used to happen?

And as the opening lyrics of the song say, “Remember when we were alive?/Neither do I.”

On that fun note, a few highlights: We see drummer Rob Sefcik‘s dog and child and he gives a good shrug in addition to a righteous performance on some pretend drums. At one point, vocalist Steve Murphy points at the camera. Bassist/backing vocalist Aaron Bumpus fades in with some ’80s metal effects on the harmonies and, later, enjoys a drink, as does much of the band. And of course, that Porcaro entrance. It’s a good one.

The video was edited by Skowronski and he offers some quick comment below, and the Bandcamp stream of Fantasma Nera is down there too. Have at it.

And please enjoy:

Kings Destroy, “Fantasma Nera” official video

Christopher Skowronski on “Fantasma Nera”:

“I was just looking for a project to keep me busy during the lockdown. I realized we never made a video for any song off of Fantasma Nera, so why not make one. Of course all of us being in isolation posed a problem. I also didn’t want to do one of those videos of a band playing “live” via Zoom or whatever. I mean, I’ve seen some cool ones, but it’s been done, and not all of us have the technology to pull that off anyway. So I just asked everyone to film themselves playing the song, as well as some footage of them in isolation doing whatever they chose. I got a ton of footage back from everyone, went through it, and cut it together. It wasn’t until I began making it that I realized the lyrics — especially the first few lines of the song — fit the overall situation so well. Anyway, it at least gave us all something creative to do.”


Fantasma Nera is out now on Svart Records: https://svartrecords.com/?s=kings+destroy

Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera (2019)

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Days of Rona: Christopher Skowronski of Kings Destroy & Killing Time

Posted in Features on April 13th, 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

kings destroy christopher skowronski

Days of Rona: Christopher Skowronski of Kings Destroy & Killing Time (Brooklyn, 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?

As far as health goes, I just got over my own brush with what was probably the virus. I didn’t mention it at all on any social media, so outside of my family and close friends, I haven’t let anyone know until now. I began feeling sick with a fever and dry cough on the evening of St. Patrick’s Day. I had some close contact with someone who had gotten pretty sick, so I was kind of expecting it. For a few days it just felt like a mild cold, but by the weekend, I was in bed for about 17 hours a day. I felt like I had been run over by a truck. My entire body ached, I was completely exhausted, and I had a fever that wouldn’t quit. I also lost my sense of smell and taste. By that point, they weren’t testing anyone in New York unless you were hospitalized, and since the system here in NYC was already being overwhelmed, they didn’t want you to go to the hospital unless it was an absolute emergency. So my doctor basically told me to ride it out at home unless I couldn’t breathe. It got a little dicey for a few days, but I slowly got better. At this point, I’m feeling pretty close to normal. As of today, it’s been three full weeks. I guess I got lucky.

Everyone else in Kings Destroy and Killing Time is okay health-wise so far. We all seem to be finding a way to deal and stay relatively sane. Some have been lucky enough to keep their day jobs; I and a couple others have been laid off.

Neither band is doing any practicing, and some plans changed. Kings Destroy was set to play a gig with Monster Magnet here in Brooklyn on March 20th, which obviously was cancelled. We were also working on some tour plans which had to be scuttled. Killing Time mostly plays one-off festivals and fly dates, but we had a New York show booked for early May that we had to postpone. We were talking about a possible European run, but that wasn’t going to happen until 2021 anyway, and hopefully, this will be a distant memory by then.

What are the quarantine/isolation rules where you are?

The rules here in NYC are all non-essential businesses are closed, unless work can be done from home. Restaurants can stay open, but take-out only. I guess there is loophole that dictates that a bar that serves any kind of food call stay open to sell take-out drinks, so some bars in my neighborhood are serving drinks to-go.

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

Overall, it’s definitely much quieter here in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, which is normally a pretty active neighborhood. You do see people out walking dogs and going to the grocery store, etc., but it’s nothing like normal. Also, I’d say about 9/10 are now wearing masks. It’s great that people are taking it seriously, but it makes for a creepy vibe for sure. And of course all this is set against the backdrop of what is happening in the hospitals here. New York is just getting hammered by this virus, and there is a palpable sense of anxiety.

As far as businesses are concerned, there are so many that are taking a huge hit and probably won’t survive. Some of the bars and restaurants are trying to hang on just doing the take-out thing, but many have just shuttered. It’s pretty bleak.

I think the reaction in the music scene has actually been pretty inspiring, for the most part. I know a lot of guys are taking the time to hunker down, write, and trade ideas with bandmates over the Interwebs. I certainly feel worst for the bands that had whole tours booked and ready to go. That’s just a gut-punch. Then there are all the sound people, bartenders, bookers, etc. who are out of work. Once you start thinking about all of it, it gets really depressing. But from everything I’ve seen online, everyone seems to be tackling it with humor, positivity, and creativity.

I joked on Facebook that this situation would probably bankrupt me, but at least my guitar chops would be sick. And that’s pretty much how it’s turning out. I had to file for unemployment for the first time in my life, but I have been playing more guitar than ever. I’ve sat in bed and played guitar for hours, which is not something you normally get to do on a regular basis. In a way, it is a luxury. I have already written and recorded a brand new song for a side-project I was working on before this all happened, and I’m building up a pretty impressive strategic stockpile of riffs. I’ve also been recording some videos of me teaching Kings Destroy songs which I’ve been posting to our Instagram. That’s actually been a lot of fun. In the end, I think this whole situation is going to make people a little more stoked when we’re all finally able to get out there and play. So in that sense, maybe it’ll turn out to have a small silver lining. At least I hope so.

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

As much as this situation sucks, I am incredibly lucky. I’m out of a day job, but my wife is still working. I had some gigs cancelled, but it isn’t my entire livelihood as it is for some bands and most venues. I know there are people out there that are truly in desperate times. But it’s going to pass one way or another. So I try to stay as positive as possible. I mean, when I started getting really sick, I was absolutely terrified. I’m just stoked to still be here.

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 26

Posted in Radio on January 3rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

Nothing says ‘welcome to a new year and new decade’ like playing a bunch of songs from the one that just ended, right? Right? I knew I should’ve gone into marketing.

Still, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the lack of how much ground was left uncovered by last month’s edition of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio. It was an awesome playlist, which I’ll gladly say as the guy who made it, but two hours is just two hours. I could’ve easily gone 10. Dedicating another show to the cause, even just with one a month, seemed like a worthy endeavor. And so it was.

As I write this I’m still waiting to cut voice tracks, but you’ll notice there are only two breaks. I didn’t want to take the extra couple minutes away from music, so I thought one for each hour of the show was fair. Ain’t nobody listening for my “duh, this record’s good” level of insight, and I refuse to fool myself into thinking otherwise. But some of this stuff — Uncle Woe, Stones of Babylon — is new to me. Those two were just sent my way in the last week or so, and they’ll both be covered in the Quarterly Review next week — at least I think they will; should check that list — so I thought to get them a look here as well would be cool. You’ll also notice Zone Six was reviewed this morning. Trying to keep current, at least with myself.

But in with those of course are more 2019 essentials, and I won’t list them twice when you can just read the below. All of these (the newer-to-me stuff notwithstanding) were included in the Best of 2019 feature, so I was thinking of this a little bit as a complement to that. Either way, I hope you dig it.

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

Thanks if you get to listen.

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 01.03.20

Stones of Babylon Hanging Gardens Hanging Gardens*
Church of the Cosmic Skull Everybody’s Going to Die Everybody’s Going to Die*
Year of the Cobra Into the Fray Ash & Dust
Beastwars Raise the Sword IV
Solace The Light is a Lie The Brink*
Kings Destroy Dead Before Fantasma Nera
SÂVER How They Envisioned Life They Came with Sunlight
BREAK
Green Lung Let the Devil In Woodland Rites
Magic Circle I’ve Found My Way to Die Departed Souls
Spaceslug Half-Moon Burns Reign of the Orion*
Valley of the Sun All We Are Old Gods
Worshipper Coming Through Light in the Wire
Hazemaze Lobotomy Hymns of the Damned*
Uffe Lorenzen If You Have Ghosts If You Have Ghosts
BREAK
Uncle Woe Push the Blood Back In Our Unworn Limbs
Zone Six Song for Richie Kozmik Koon

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every first Friday of the month at 1PM Eastern, with replays every Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next show is Feb. 7. Thanks for checking it out if you do.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2019

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

the obelisk best of 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we go:

The Top 50 Albums of 2019

#50-31

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

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

30. Sun Blood Stories, Haunt Yourself

sun blood stories haunt yourself

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 6.

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

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

Church of the Cosmic Skull Everybodys Going to Die

Released by Septaphonic Records. Reviewed Dec. 10.

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

28. Devil to Pay, Forever, Never or Whenever

devil to pay forever never or whenever

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 4.

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

27. Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds

howling giant the space between worlds

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Oct. 11.

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

26. Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

saint vitus saint vitus

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed March 19.

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

25. Ealdor Bealu, Spirit of the Lonely Places

ealdor bealu spirit of the lonely places

Self-released. Reviewed July 10.

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

24. Yatra, Death Ritual

yatra death ritual

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

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

23. Ecstatic Vision, For the Masses

ecstatic vision for the masses

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 17.

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

22. Beastwars, IV

beastwars iv

Released by Destroy Records. Reviewed June 27.

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

21. Eternal Black, Slow Burn Suicide

eternal black slow burn suicide

Self-released. Reviewed June 7.

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

20. Candlemass, The Door to Doom

candlemass the door to doom

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 22.

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

19. Nebula, Holy Shit

nebula holy shit

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed June 13.

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

18. Valley of the Sun, Old Gods

valley of the sun old gods

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed May 21.

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

17. Kadavar, For the Dead Travel Fast

Kadavar For the Dead Travel Fast

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 28.

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

16. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Yn Ol I Annwn

mammoth weed wizard bastard yn ol i annwn

Released by New Heavy Sounds. Reviewed Feb. 7.

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

15. Magic Circle, Departed Souls

magic circle departed souls

Released by 20 Buck Spin. Reviewed April 3.

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

14. Spaceslug, Reign of the Orion

Spaceslug Reign of the Orion cover

Released by BSFD Records. Reviewed Nov. 22.

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

13. Green Lung, Woodland Rites

green lung woodland rites

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Jan. 28.

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

12. Lo-Pan, Subtle

lo-pan subtle

Released by Aqualamb Records. Reviewed May 9.

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

11. Roadsaw, Tinnitus the Night

roadsaw tinnitus the night

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 12.

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

10. Worshipper, Light in the Wire

worshipper light in the wire

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 24.

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

9. Solace, The Brink

solace the brink

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Nov. 21.

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

8. Brume, Rabbits

brume rabbits

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

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

7. Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal

mars red sky the task eternal

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Sept. 20.

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

6. Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 15.

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

5. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Dec. 3.

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

4. Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter

blackwater holylight veils of winter

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Sept. 26.

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

3. Slomatics, Canyons

Slomatics Canyons

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed May 15.

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

2. Year of the Cobra, Ash and Dust

year of the cobra ash and dust

Released by Prophecy Productions. Reviewed Oct. 24.

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

2019 Album of the Year

1. Monolord, No Comfort

monolord no comfort

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

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

The Top 50 Albums of 2019: Honorable Mention

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

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

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

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

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

The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2019

green lung woodland rites

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

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

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

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2019

geezer spiral fires

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

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

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

Postwax

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

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

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

Looking Ahead to 2020

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

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

Thank You

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

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

More to come.

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Friday Full-Length: Kings Destroy, And the Rest Will Surely Perish

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 20th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Invariably, the narrative I put to any Kings Destroy release at this point is one of progression, of learning from what they’ve done in the past and pushing themselves to new places in songwriting and style. I’m a fan of the band as artists and as people, but this narrative has the advantage of being true. No two Kings Destroy albums sound the same, which is even more remarkable when you consider the first three of them had the same producer in Sanford Parker (he of Buried at Sea, Corrections House, War Crime Recordings and production work for YOB, the entire city of Chicago, and so on). For a band to have started out with this kind of ambition wouldn’t necessarily be strange. Acts come along all the time who say they want to grow and change over time. Those who manifest it as palpably as the Brooklynite five-piece have since the 2010 arrival of their first single, Old Yeller/Medusa (review here), are significantly more rare. For a thankfully short period of time, this site had a label wing called The Maple ForumKings Destroy‘s eight-track/44-minute debut full-length, And the Rest Will Surely Perish, was one of the very few releases that came out under that banner.

At the time, the band was comprised of vocalist Steve Murphy, guitarists Carl Porcaro and Chris Skowronski, bassist Ed Bocchino and drummer Rob Sefcik. They’d played together in various guises over the years, but PorcaroSkowronski and Murphy were probably most known for their contributions to New York hardcore in bands like Killing Time and Uppercut, while Sefcik served in Electric Frankenstein and the sludgy Begotten. I have no problem admitting my ignorance when it comes to the history and folklore of NYHC. It’s just not my scene. But when Kings Destroy reached out about that initial 7″ and followed it with And the Rest Will Surely Perish, it seemed clear to me their hearts were in what they were doing, and the songs and groove were there. I was on board.

It’s been a while since I’ve put the record on. Earlier this year, they released their fourth LP in Fantasma Nera (review here) on Svart Records, and that’s taken precedence. What stands out from And the Rest Will Surely Perish now is the tone, and the level of detail. I visited the studio in Hoboken, briefly, while they were working on the album, and if I knew then what I know today about a recording process, I might ask the good Mr. Parker and the guitarists how the hell they managed to conjure that tone. In “Planet XXY” it has all the crunch and impact of the best of New York noise rock, but thickened all the more by Bocchino‘s basslines, comes across as fluid in a rolling groove set forth by Sefcik‘s drums. The opening salvo of “The Mountie,”kings destroy and the rest will surely perish “Dusty Mummy” and “The Whittler” boasts some of the best and most memorable songcraft on the album, but listening back, the level of detail gives little hints at the progression of sound the band would soon enough undertake. Vocal layering in “Dusty Mummy,” the echoing swirl of guitar late in “The Mountie,” a quick flourish of harmony in the last lines of “The Whittler”; amid the forward-facing riffs and grooves and the overarching doomed stylization, these subtleties and others that emerge throughout side B in the post-Clutch swagger  at the start of “Stung” or the tempo shifts in “Two Tons” give And the Rest Will Surely Perish an identity that immediately stands it apart from being a work playing to genre. Right from the start, Kings Destroy never quite fit as just being a doom band — here’s an interesting question as a nonsequitor: what is New York doom? ask Eternal Black — whatever aspects of doom might’ve been at play. They have not grown easier to categorize over the subsequent nine years.

That debut single is revisited on And the Rest Will Surely Perish as Bocchino‘s punch-in-the-gut bassline begins “Medusa” at the start of the tracklisting’s B side, which languishes purposefully in its first half only to kick into a more active riff in its second, lulling the listener into a momentary trance with effects (another detail I’d forgotten) and before one or the other of the guitars snaps back to reality. The tension in that track, though I think even the band themselves would probably call it primitive if you could force them to sit and listen to it, was pretty emblematic of where Kings Destroy were coming from at the time. While the players involved had explored different styles together in other bands, there was a sense in “Medusa” — and likewise “Old Yeller,” positioned here as the closer — that Kings Destroy‘s natural impulse was to break out, to play faster, to give some release to the tension of the songs that they felt as much as they wanted the listener to feel it. Realization of that came in a live setting, where their inherent New York-style confrontationalism was more brought to bear.

Considering I had a (slight, tiny, minimal, not-really) hand in releasing it on CD in the first place — vinyl followed on the also-now-defunct Hydro-Phonic Records, who were so ahead of the deluxe-limited-LPs game that’s it’s sad they never got their due — it would feel self-serving to call And the Rest Will Surely Perish my favorite Kings Destroy album. Anyhow, my favorite KD record is always the next one. But no question these songs, which I hear in my head more as the live versions than the studio when I think of them, hold a special place in my heart, as does the band itself. Thinking of the fact that it will be a full 10 years since it came out next year, I can only hope there’s some kind of reissue in the works to get it back in print, which is precisely where it deserves to be.

As we round out 2019 and this decade and inherently reflect on the year and years that have been, I consider myself fortunate to have music and people like this in my life. Writing about this album — something I did plenty of at the time, but in more of a promotional context, which I enjoyed far less and is why I stopped the label — was my own little Xmas present to myself, but as always, I hope you enjoy too.

Thanks for reading.

Would you believe the raw nerve today had in only being Friday? What the hell? Some people. Or days. Pretty ballsy, in any case.

Alarm went off this morning at 4, as usual, and I shut it off and went back to sleep for another hour and 45 minutes, because, really, screw it. The Patient Mrs. went out last night to see the new Star Wars with my family, who are all big fans — I’m the black-sheep Trekkie contrarian of the family, but they’re still supportive — and I stayed home with the (then-sleeping) Pecan, ate dinner and read a book until I started to fall asleep on the couch. I read Lincoln in the Bardo last week. It made me want to write, which George Saunders always does. That’s a dangerous impulse to ignite for me. Nothing good comes of it, and I don’t just mean my lousy first drafts.

The week prior was a week. I don’t know. The Patient Mrs. said earlier this morning that it went fast. I’m not sure I agree 100 percent, but it went like weeks go. I spent a goodly portion thinking about my favorite albums of the year, and exactly none of it actually getting a post ready to list them. Whoops. That should make for a few interesting mornings coming up, but basically my plan is to put it all together between this afternoon and Tuesday, post it on Tuesday — yeah, I know it’s Xmas Eve; I don’t care — and then sit tight over the holiday, put up a couple odds and ends the rest of next week and then hit the year-end poll(s) the week after as well as bang out a Quarterly Review, though I might honestly delay that to start on Jan. 6, depending on how much is going on otherwise. I’ll know by the middle of next week how it’s going to go.

Either way, as this will be my last opportunity to say so before the actual thing, I hope you have an enjoyable and safe holiday. I’ve made my feelings on Xmas known, and I stand by them, but if you can get a couple quiet minutes to yourself when/if you need them, eat a good meal and see family, you could surely do worse. I don’t know. Maybe we’ll all get jetskis this year. I don’t want a jetski, but you know what I mean. I’m looking forward to giving The Pecan his first Mr. Potato Head and a stuffed Pete the Cat and a few other odds and ends.

But first, the weekend of putting together the Best of 2019 list. I’ll start with 30 and go from there. There’s a lot this year, but I guess that’s true every year, and when the list goes up, I’m almost always disappointed. It never looks as big on the page as the effort that goes into making it. That’s just the bottom line. I know that some people appreciate it and I’m deeply grateful for that — it’s why I do it, frankly — but woof, what a pain in the ass, from the pre-making fretting about it, to the actual doing, to the inherent “you forgot Whatever Band I Like Or Am In!” responses that always come through. Yeah. We’ll get it done though. Got a video premiere going up Monday, but then nothing else until the list goes up on Tuesday.

Alright. Great and safe weekend. Careful out there if the roads are icy.

FRM: Forum, Radio, Merch at MiBK.

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 19 (Maryland Doom Fest Special)

Posted in Radio on July 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

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Yeah, I know, Maryland Doom Fest 2019 was like a month ago. Quit livin’ in the past and all that. Well, this show was supposed to air July 5, so whatever. It got pushed back because apparently July 4 is some kind of holiday now — what.ever. — and it was kicked down the line to two weeks later with re-runs on in the interim. Did anyone notice? Did anyone care? I did. But I’m glad to have had the chance to pay homage to MDDF one way or the other, since it was such a killer time and boasted a lineup of so many good bands.

Of course I had to lead off with Beelzefuzz and Foghound, two staples of the Frederick diet, and the show unfolds from there with new stuff from Zed and Lo-Pan and Kings Destroy amid the likes of Devil to Pay and Earthride and Backwoods Payback and Greenbeard. I made sure to put Solace and Freedom Hawk and Horehound and Toke and Witchkiss in here because their sets were particularly righteous — not to mention Year of the Cobra! — and in addition to representing the headliners in Conan, Mothership and Earthride, I had to include WarHorse since their reunion set was something so particularly special and such a huge part of the festival.

For those who didn’t hear the show, Gimme Radio runs the ‘Gimme Brigade’ which you can sign up for. I think it’s $5 a month or something like that, but you get access to their full archive and help them with hosting costs, etc., so fair enough. If you got to hear this one, thanks. If not, the basic point of the thing was that Maryland Doom Fest 2019 kicked ass, which I sincerely hope also came across in the reviews.

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 07.19.19

Beelzefuzz All the Feeling Returns Beelzefuzz (2013)
Foghound Known Wolves Awaken to Destroy (2018)
Zed Chingus Volume*
Lo-Pan Savage Heart Subtle*
BREAK
Devil to Pay Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife Fate is Your Muse (2013)
Kings Destroy Yonkers Ceiling Collapse Fantasma Nera*
Earthride Vampire Circus Vampire Circus (2005)
Witchkiss Seer The Austere Curtains of Our Eyes (2018)
Year of the Cobra Cold Burn Your Dead (2017)
BREAK
Solace Khan (World of Fire) The Black Black (2007)
Backwoods Payback Whatever Future Slum (2018)
Toke Blackened Orange (2017)
Greenbeard WCCQ Onward, Pillager (2018)
Conan Battle in the Swamp Monnos (2012)
Apostle of Solitude Ruination Be Thy Name From Gold to Ash (2018)
The Age of Truth Come Back a God Threshold (2017)
BREAK
Horehound Dier’s Dirge Holocene (2018)
Freedom Hawk Danger Beast Remains (2018)
Mothership Midnight Express High Strangeness (2017)
Warhorse Lysergic Communion As Heaven Turns to Ash (2001)

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Friday at 1PM Eastern, with replays every Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next show is Aug. 2. Thanks for listening if you do.

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