Geezer, Spiral Fires EP: Light in Darkworld

Posted in Reviews on February 8th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

geezer spiral fires

If Geezer sound different on Spiral Fires, part of that is because they are. The Kingston, New York, trio have charted a marked progression over the last five-plus years, shifting from slide-guitar-prone heavy blues rock to a jammier take with a foundation in songcraft, unafraid to swagger into an ether of whiskey vapor and heavy enough to land on solid ground when they so choose. Guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington is the last remaining original member of the band, and on Spiral Fires, he and bassist Richie Touseull — who joined in 2015 ahead of the release of their 2016 self-titled LP (review here) — welcome new drummer Steve Markota to the fold. It’s worth noting that despite the turnover in personnel, Geezer have been able to remain steadily prolific over their time, and the four-song/25-minute Spiral Fires EP follows 2017’s Psychoriffadelia (review here), which only furthered the momentum built by the self-titled after 2015’s Gage (review here), bolstered as well by the band’s participation in Ripple Music‘s The Second Coming of Heavy split series (review here), 2014’s Live! Full-Tilt Boogie tape (review here) and sundry odds and ends going back to their 2013 debut, Electrically Recorded Handmade Heavy Blues.

Along with tours in the US and Europe, the continued stylistic growth evident in Geezer‘s studio work has made them a stronger, more confident band, as well as furthered the chemistry between Harrington and Touseull, who interact fluidly on the included jams throughout Spiral Fires. It may well be they’re testing the waters with Markota in the group ahead of either shows or more writing — something’s always next — but if that’s the case, then simply put, the dynamic works. Spiral Fires is Geezer‘s most out-there release to-date, and though it’s relatively brief — Geezer have always enjoyed an EP-style release; Gage was an EP originally — it flows smoothly throughout “Spiral Fires Part 1,” “Spiral Fires Part 2,” “Darkworld” and “Charley Reefer.” The latter two, which will no doubt comprise side B of the forthcoming Kozmik Artifactz vinyl, both geared more toward hooks, and particularly the closer has a bounce that stands among Geezer‘s sonic signatures, Harrington‘s tone always molasses-thick, but able to move nonetheless. They’re not strangers to boogie, and if that’s what a given listener is looking for, that’s where they’ll find it.

But even that is cosmically directed, and it demonstrates how much Geezer‘s reach has grown that they’re able to conjure such a molten vibe even over what’s ostensibly intended as a one-off recording session. The two parts of “Spiral Fires” of course run one into the next, but that transition is marked by a turn from dense riffing and more forward verses from Harrington to a mellow breadth topped with guest vocals. From roll to spread. It’s important to note that “Spiral Fires Part 1” begins with a wave of synth, since that has a subtle effect on the listener’s expectation that would be different, say, if the guitar or drums had led off. They tease a spacey course there and then make their way in that direction over the course of the nodding opener, cutting short the central riff at the end but still maintaining a direct tie to “Spiral Fires Part 2,” with Markota‘s drums setting the bed for some effects interplay as the track gets going.

geezer

Each side of Spiral Fires has a shorter song and a longer one, in that order, and “Spiral Fires Part 2” doesn’t quite hit the seven-minute mark as does “Charley Reefer” still to come, but it’s an open spirit just the same and while Touseull lays down a smooth bassline, Harrington winds lead guitar overtop where verses might otherwise be. They don’t feel missing, those verses, in no small part because Geezer are so assured in what they’re doing that they simply carry the listener along with them on this outward course. The vocals arrive after five and a half minutes into the total 6:57, so obviously not a focal point, but the quick appearance from Pam Grande (Grande) adds a psych-soul element that, if it’s a context Geezer want to continue to explore in their songwriting, well, that’d be just fine. Though it also begins with a quick splurge of effects, “Darkworld” is a marked shift in atmosphere, with the riff emerging from that initial wash and set to workmanlike punctuation by Markota‘s snare and the steady rumble of Touseull‘s low end. Its lyrics would seem to take on more of a straightforward social commentary position, and that’s fair enough for the more grounded path of the song as a whole.

“Open your eyes/Empty the cages/A new fire rages,” intones Harrington near the midpoint of the track, and the message of “Darkworld” is pretty clear without being overtly politicized or too much of the chaotic and polarized moment in which America is embroiled. All the while, the song moves forward efficiently as the only track under five minutes on Spiral Fires, the section where it might otherwise jam out — and indeed might live — instead keeping to a shorter repetitive course that devolves into swirl at the finish, letting “Charley Reefer” emerge from silence with a transitional keyboard line at the start soon joined by a guitar line reminiscent in its warmth of Colour Haze, and gradually easing its way into the verse riff. There’s some shuffle to “Charley Reefer,” as noted, and it shares a commonality of method with “Darkworld” in its verses and choruses, but at 7:38, it brings the two sides of Spiral Fires together and jams out from about minute-four onward, first building to a fervent wash and then drawing back to quiet and relatively minimal stretching.

All the pieces are still there — guitar, bass, drums, effects/synth — but the tension dissipates and Geezer draw down “Charley Reefer” with a live-feeling psychedelic devolution that ends cold sure enough but along the way serves as no less a reminder of the command the three-piece wield over their sound at this point. Even Markota in making his first appearance is able to bring a softer touch on drums to correspond with that finish, and it’s no less a satisfying moment than Geezer at their heaviest earlier in the track or back on side A for “Spiral Fires Part 1.” The question with an EP is always how indicative it might be of future output, and I don’t know to say for sure, but Spiral Fires fits in the line of their overarching development, and when it’s done, there’s little question left as to whether or not it’s the farthest outward they’ve yet pushed. As a fan of the band, I only want them to keep going.

Geezer, Spiral Fires (2019)

Geezer on Thee Facebooks

Geezer on Bandcamp

Kozmik Artifactz website

Kozmik Artifactz on Thee Facebooks

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Gone Cosmic to Release Sideways in Time April 9

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 30th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

gone cosmic

There’s no audio to go with this post. I even looked for some crappy YouTube clip of Calgary’s Gone Cosmic, who played their first show last May and are set to deliver their full-length debut, Sideways in Time, April 9 through Kozmik Artifactz. Nothing there either. So I guess you’re gonna have to take my word for it this time. I’ve heard the record. I probably wouldn’t post about it otherwise, though the cover art is plenty nifty, a Kozmik Artifactz release comes with a fair amount of trust behind it and the band has members of Chron Goblin involved, so okay, yeah, maybe I would post about it anyway.

But I don’t need to. I’ve heard the record. It’s right on, and once some audio does get out from ahead of the Springtime release, as audio invariably does in this track-premiere-minded universe, I have little doubt you’ll agree. But it’s early, so we’re not there yet. The galaxy wasn’t built in a day. You gotta be patient with this stuff sometimes.

In the interim, here’s that cover and a likewise nifty band bio, plus links where you can keep an eye out:

gone cosmic sideways in time

Gone Cosmic – Sideways in Time – April 9

Sideways In Time, the debut album from Gone Cosmic, was recorded in September 2018 at OCL Studios. Produced, recorded and mixed by Josh Rob Gwilliam, Sideways In Time is a diverse and ambitious first release navigating the celestial highs and primordial lows of gravity-defying anthems. Hypnotic psych-rock pulses meet electromagnetic solar-powered soul on feature tracks such as pummeller ‘Deadlock’, galactic trip ‘Misfit Wasted’, and interstellar odyssey ‘Faded Release’.

Championed by a soaring songstress Abbie Thurgood (The Torchettes), whose boldly evocative tones recall Skunk Anansie chanteuse Skin and Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, and accompanied by an agile and aggressive psych-rock outfit, composed of guitarist Devin “Darty” Purdy (Chron Goblin), bass player Brett Whittingham (Chron Goblin), percussionist Marcello Castronuovo (Witchstone), Gone Cosmic has carved out an expansive domain that stretches from sweltering Southern sludge pits to breath-stealing sonic spacewalks.

A blood (orange)-scented breeze that bows the trees, Gone Cosmic chases the infinite haze from the skies and puts it right back in your eyes. Groove-mining breakdowns become the stuff of legend as the four pieces’ floor-thudding tail kick and hellfire halo holler originates a whole that is far more potent than the sum of its individual elements. Meet your new astromancers, the phase-shifting and hard-rocking force that channels the empyreal sounds of heaven on Earth.

Tracklisting:
1. Dazed
2. Deadlock
3. Siren
4. Faded Release
5. Turbulent
6. Misfit Wasted
7. Bear The Weight
8. My Design

Gone Cosmic is:
Abbie Thurgood
Devin Purdy
Brett Whittingham
Marcello Castronuovo

https://www.facebook.com/gonecosmic/
https://www.instagram.com/gonecosmic/
https://gonecosmic.bandcamp.com
http://kozmik-artifactz.com/
https://www.facebook.com/kozmikartifactz

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Review & Track Premiere: Green Lung, Woodland Rites

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on January 28th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

green lung woodland rites

[Click play above to stream ‘Let the Devil In’ from Green Lung’s Woodland Rites. Album is out March 20 on Kozmik Artifactz.]

London’s Green Lung announced themselves with the 2017 single, Green Man Rising (review here), and have worked quickly since to distinguish their sound from the bulk of the UK’s nigh-on-saturated heavy underground. Through last year’s Free the Witch EP (review here) and now their Kozmik Artifactz-issued debut full-length, Woodland Rites, the five-piece unit have worked efficiently to develop a stylistic take drawing from classic rock and metal as well as nature-worshiping Britfolk, garage doom, goth rock, solo-era Ozzy, as well as contemporary countrymen standouts like Alunah, Elephant Tree and even Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, the latter of whose influence can be heard in the creative vocal arrangements of frontman Tom Templar.

With a steady stream of organ lines from John Wright alongside Scott Masson‘s guitar, Andrew Cave‘s bass and Matt Wiseman‘s drumming, Green Lung offer righteousness of performance and put songwriting first throughout and draw thematically from pagan-style horror films in the lyrical play between sex, nature and evil, but manage to avoid a trap of misogyny that most of those films didn’t, and as the opening salvo of “Woodland Rites” and “Let the Devil In” gets underway in picking up from the intro “Initiation” — the beginning quiet guitar of which proves crucial in setting the atmosphere for what follows — the point of view of the lyrics remains more about ritual than discrimination. The choruses of songs like “The Ritual Tree” and “Call of the Coven” and even closer “Into the Wild” are catchy, and not unfortunately so for what they’re actually saying. Even the willfully sleazy nunsploitation hook of “Let the Devin In” — “Sister, you’ve been told that making love’s a sin/Open up your heart and let the devil in” — manages to capture the spirit of the grainy cinema from which it derives and periodically samples audio while leaving behind a dated objectification. This is but one element working to the advantage of an early contender to stand among 2019’s best debut albums.

And at no point throughout Woodland Rites‘ witch-rocking eight-song/42-minute run is craft sacrificed to theme one way or the other. Masson offers several solos that are marked accomplishments in and of themselves, including that in the apex of the penultimate “May Queen,” which is well plotted and complemented by Cave‘s bass and Wright‘s work on keys, but even beyond those performances or that of Templar across the earlier cuts or closer “Into the Wild,” there’s an overarching thoughtfulness to the LP’s construction that speaks to a specific intent on the part of the band. Its tracks break cleanly into two four-song sides, but more than that, each side has a progression of its own and a function that makes the entire album stronger while clean and clear in its own mission.

green lung (Photo by Sally Patti)

Each works its way toward its longest song in “The Ritual Tree” (6:49) and “Into the Wild” (6:51), respectively, and while this is nothing new, tapping into classic elements of sound and structure is part of the point stylistically. In addition, the movement from “Initiation,” which comes across an awful lot like something that might be played to introduce the band live, directly into the “Oh lord yeah!” that starts the title-track and through “Let the Devil In” to the end of side A with “The Ritual Tree” is not only fluid, but based around a quality of memorability in the material that conveys a sense of mood and ambience without giving up its direct impact. Wiseman‘s crash in “The Ritual Tree” is no less a standout than the melody that accompanies, and as the organ fills out that melody, Templar sounds smooth and comfortable over the rolling progression in a way that for many vocalists would prove awkward.

Going by a classic side A/B dynamic, the first half of Woodland Rites would be the place where the up front is upfront, and the second where they then branch out and expand their overall reach. The whole record is a multifaceted showcase of progression, but indeed, Green Lung follow the pattern and shift in side B from “Templar Dawn” and the Sabbath-swinging “Call of the Coven” to the mellowing out that happens in the first stretch of “May Queen,” which flows easily into its swell of volume before it hits its midsection, only to recede in the second half for another verse and rise again as it rounds out. This is a marked change of structure from what’s come before, and it signals not only the intended growth on the part of the band and their bringing that to bear, but their ability to work in multiple songwriting contexts and still maintain their sense of composition. Further, “May Queen” feeds directly into the initial riff of “Into the Wild,” which is tasked with summarizing the proceedings and lives up to that ably while pushing further and highlighting the promise so present in what Green Lung are doing. Another excellent guitar lead begins to draw the closer down, and “Into the Wild” ends somewhat suddenly but with a considerable impression that the band know that and are doing it on purpose.

The message there, and indeed of the album as a whole, would seem to be that Green Lung aren’t actually finished — which is fortunate. As quickly as they’ve cohered their take on heavy and found a recording partner in Wayne Adams of Bear Bites Horse Studios — who also helmed the EP — to bring their vision forward, I wouldn’t predict where they might go in terms of following-up their debut, but Woodland Rites is a significant opening statement for them to make, and if they have it in them to do the gritty work of honing their approach, could be well en route to a marked individualism that, in complement to their songwriting, is the stuff of something truly special. But as much as it’s an exciting showcase of what could be, and as much fun as it is to think of what Green Lung might go on to accomplish, it’s worth recognizing that wouldn’t be the case were Woodland Rites not as strong and as complete an offering as it is.

Green Lung on Thee Facebooks

Green Lung on Instagram

Green Lung website

Green Lung on Bandcamp

Kozmik Artifactz website

Kozmik Artifactz on Thee Facebooks

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Green Lung Announce March 20 Release for Woodland Rites

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

green lung (Photo by Sally Patti)

I love speculating about upcoming albums, and after a couple encouraging short releases from London’s Green Lung — 2018’s Free the Witch EP (review here), and the 2017 single, Green Man Rising (review here) — their debut holds marked promise as one of the most anticipated of the year, at least as far as I’m concerned. The five-piece outfit who blend aspects of doom, goth, heavy rock and a bit of the ol’ forest-worship, will issue Woodland Rites as their first offering through Kozmik Artifactz on March 20, have tour dates forthcoming and are set to play HRH Doom Vs. Stoner as part of a oh-hell-yes lineup this September. Killer to see an up and coming band doing good things. I can’t wait to hear the record.

Details from the PR wire:

green lung woodland rites

GREEN LUNG announce debut album, Woodland Rites

South London-based heavy rock quintet GREEN LUNG have today announced details of their debut album. Woodland Rites will be released on heavyweight vinyl, CD, cassette and digital editions on March 20, the Spring Equinox. The band captured the attention of the international underground in 2018 with the release of their much acclaimed EP Free the Witch, and spent the year sharing stages with the likes of Conan, Conjurer and Primitive Man before signing to cult Berlin-based label Kozmik Artifactz.

With the addition of new member John Wright on organ, the band have also expanded their horizons musically, voyaging beyond the doomy psych of the EP to explore a spectrum of heavy music. On Let the Devil In they conjure up a blasphemous, arena-baiting hard rock single, while on Templar Dawn they veer into the cavernous (free)masonry of traditional doom metal. The psyched-out, prog-inflected The Ritual Tree attempts to answer the mystery of ‘Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?’, while May Queen is an ergot-tinged ballad of failing harvests and human sacrifice. The overall, irresistible impression is of a young band summoning up the eccentric English spectres of 70s proto-metal, early 80s NWOBHM and 90s stoner rock and dragging those sounds kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

Singer Tom Templar said, ‘With the response to Free the Witch, the introduction of a new member and the chance to write a full LP we’ve been spurred on to take our sound to the next level – so expect a pro-witch party album of diabolical riffs, harmonized solos, inescapable hooks and lyrics inspired by folk horror films like The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan’s Claw. We hope Woodland Rites will become the soundtrack to many a debauched backwoods sabbath in 2019.’

Woodland Rites was recorded and mixed by Wayne Adams (Vodun, Ghold) who reprised his Free The Witch duties at Bear Bites Horse Studios. Mastering was undertaken by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege. Woodland Rites will be packaged in hallucinatory artwork by renowned woodcut artist, Richard Wells (The Wicker Man, Doctor Who) on vinyl and CD, with the cassette cover featuring photography by Courtney Brooke.

GREEN LUNG will be touring the UK and EU with labelmates Deathbell in May, with confirmed shows in Paris, London, Liege and Cologne; more information will be available in due course. The band will also appear at HRH Doom vs Stoner alongside Monolord, Orange Goblin and Church of the Cosmic Skull on September 29.

Woodland Rites tracklist
1. Initiation
2. Woodland Rites
3. Let The Devil In
4. The Ritual Tree
5. Templar Dawn
6. Call of The Coven
7. May Queen
8. Into The Wild

GREEN LUNG is:
Tom Templar – Vocals
Scott Masson – Guitar
Andrew Cave – Bass
Matt Wiseman – Drums
John Wright – Organ

Woodland Rites by GREEN LUNG will be released on March 20, 2019. Pre-order information will follow.

https://www.facebook.com/greenlungband
https://www.instagram.com/greenlungband/
http://www.greenlung.co.uk/
https://greenlung.bandcamp.com/
http://kozmik-artifactz.com/
https://www.facebook.com/kozmikartifactz

Green Lung, Free the Witch (2018)

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Geezer Announce Spiral Fires EP out Feb. 8: Premiere “Spiral Fires Part 1”

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on January 17th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

geezer

New Geezer? Don’t mind if I do, and whilst engaging in the groove-rolling outer-thereness of Spiral Fires, maybe take a second as well to process just how far the Kingston, New York, three-piece have come since issuing their first album, Electrically Recorded Handmade Heavy Blues, in 2013. With guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington as the sole remaining founder of the band, the trio have moved from a heavy blues style to an anything goes, slide-infused grit-psych jam band with one foot in traditional songwriting and the other dropped into a region of cosmic trippery that Spiral Fires brings to emphasis even more than 2017’s Psychoriffadelia (review here). Working with labels like STB, Ripple, and indeed Kozmik Artifactz — who’ll have the new EP out on vinyl following its Feb. 8 digital release — the band has grown into a stylistically amorphous, richly expressive outfit who are unpredictable and reliable in kind. The kind of quality you can rely on.

To wit, I knew I wanted to premiere “Spiral Fires Part 1” before I heard it, and after hearing it, knew I was right in getting on board for it. Spiral Fires continues to expand Geezer‘s reach in its two-part title-track and in “Darkworld” and “Charley Reefer,” showcasing a shift in dynamic with drummer Steve Markota in the lineup with Harrington — who also produced — and bassist Richie Touseull. I had been expecting the band to turn out a long-player in 2019, and they may yet, but whenever that inevitable “next album” shows up, these songs give a righteous glimpse of where Geezer are at nearly a decade after getting together and where they might be headed from here. Uncharted space brought to earth with anchored, locked-in groove. You probably could ask for more, but you’d be a jerk if you did.

You can hear “Spiral Fires Part 1” at the bottom of this post in a lyric video provided by the band. Release info for the EP follows here, courtesy of the PR wire:

geezer spiral fires

GEEZER TO RELEASE NEW 4-SONG ‘SPIRAL FIRES’ EP ON FEBRUARY 8, 2019 – KOZMIK ARTIFACTZ TO RELEASE ACCOMPANYING VINYL FORMAT

After recruiting Steve Markota as Geezer’s new drummer in summer of 2017, the band knew it was now the peak time to refocus and start afresh. With gigs as their inspired motivation, over the following year or so the Kingston, New York heavy blues triad set about performing at multiple regional festivals in the U.S.. From the Doomed & Stoned Festival to the New England Stoner and Doom Festival, from The Maryland Doom Fest to the Descendants of Crom. Throw in a supporting slot for Acid King in Brooklyn and many other righteous shows, and a full year did bloom indeed.

All the while, a revitalized Geezer was writing and road-testing new songs. During that process, it became clear that one album was not enough to fully capture what was happening. An EP would be the foundation to set the stage for the upcoming full-length LP. Drawing inspiration from the vinyl version of the most recent Child EP, Geezer hooked up with Kozmik Artifactz to release their own EP in the same vein. Limited Edition, one color cover, black vinyl, no bells and whistles… just rock and roll.

The result is the mind-altering new EP, ‘Spiral Fires’. A three-song collection edifying the embodiment of Geezer’s quest for all things heavy, trippy, and groovy. Spiral Fires is the first passage in Geezer’s new journey.

Guitarist and vocalist Pat Harrington on the new EP:

“Hooking up with Steve changed the band. For the first time in a long while, we had the ability to really take our time and see where the music would take us. Changes were taking place, we were traveling to new musical landscapes. Along the way, a flash of light would appear over the horizon, these songs are those moments… lightning in a bottle.”

The EP was produced by Pat Harrington and recorded at Darkworld Studio in Kingston, NY, assisted by Engineers David Daw and Robert Kelly. Mixing was done by Matthew Cullen at The Cat Haus in Catskill, NY, with Mastering by Scott Craggs at Old Colony Mastering in Boston, MA. The Spiral Fires cover artwork is by Lee Fenyves, with design layout by Steve Markota.

Spiral Fires will be available on vinyl through Kozmik Artifactz in the very near future. Firstly, the band is releasing the EP for digital download and streaming through their Bandcamp page on February 8, 2019.

Kozmik Artifactz Webstore: http://shop.bilocationrecords.com/
Geezer Bandcamp: https://geezertown.bandcamp.com/

Spiral Fires – Track List:
Spiral Fires Part 1
Spiral Fires Part 2
Darkworld
Charley Reefer

UPCOMING LIVE SHOWS:
Jan. 25 – Kingston, NY @ BSP Kingston (w/ Sun Voyager, Shadow Witch)
https://www.facebook.com/events/295547331302289/
Feb. 23 – Baltimore, MD @ Oliver Brewing (w/ Backwoods Payback, Cavern, Dana Ortt)
https://www.facebook.com/events/275935323074808/
Mar. 20 – New York, NY @ Arlene’s Grocery – ODE TO DOOM (w/Thunderbird Divine, Ancient Stone, +)
https://www.facebook.com/events/253278718707961/
Apr. 20 – Kingston, NY @ The Anchor (w/ River Cult, Eternal Black)
https://www.facebook.com/events/2329157044035387/

Geezer is:
Pat Harrington – Guitar, Vocals
Richie Touseull – Bass
Steve Markota – Drums

https://igg.me/at/xxo6XcM2mD4/x/16460786
https://www.facebook.com/geezerNY/
http://geezertown.bandcamp.com/
http://kozmik-artifactz.com/
https://www.facebook.com/kozmikartifactz

Geezer, “Spiral Fires Part 1”

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Godsleep, Coming of Age: Silence for the Kingdom

Posted in Reviews on January 16th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

godsleep coming of age

Call a record Coming of Age and you’re setting yourself up for an expectation of maturity. Godsleep, who released their debut, Thousand Sons of Sleep (review here), in 2015, do indeed solidify elements of their approach that very much worked in their favor the first time around on this The Lab Records/Threechords Records follow-up. Tracks like “Unlearn” and “N.O.U” desert-cruise with the best of ’em, and with returning producer George Leodis (also 1000mods), there’s a consistency between the two records in terms of the quality and depth of their fuzz and general tonal weight. However, while there’s some holdover on this level and in terms of the overarching quality of songwriting, the band’s ability to offset push-forward groove with more patient stretches, a new vocalist is inherently going to do much to change the character of any release. Godsleep are Coming of Age with Amie Makris fronting the band with guitarist Johnny Tsoumas, bassist Fedonas Ktenas and drummer Dennis Leventos, and the change is significant from the outward dudeliness of Kostas, with Makris — who also contributed the striking cover photography for Coming of Age — taking an approach that’s both more melodic and still laced with attitude and boozy fervor.

Her throaty delivery makes an immediately welcome arrival in the first verse of opener “Ex-Nowhere Man,” with backing lines layered in for emphasis atop pointedly desert-hued riffing. The tones of Tsoumas and Ktenas remain a great strength for the band, and Leventos does well both to complement the vocals and drive a progression like that culminating the opener to and through a marked apex. Have Godsleep come of age? In many ways, yes. They obviously learned from the first album who they want to be as a group and have a better idea of the kinds of songs they want to write. At the same time, bringing in Makris, they’ve also shifted the dynamic in a way that makes this eight-song/49-minute outing something like a second debut, beginning a new exploration of character and impression. The results across the LP are exciting and energized in the way of first records while also benefiting from the returning trio’s past experience recording four years ago. Best of both worlds.

The songs bear that out. “Unlearn” and “N.O.U.” follow “Ex-Nowhere Man” in succession, building a momentum that runs through the rest of the material while also prefacing the expansion of style that begins with the funky wah at the start of “Celestial.” Roll is still a factor and it will remain one, but a subtle shift begins with “Celestial” that ties the first and second halves of Coming of Age together, as Godsleep wind their way through the first half of the song and into the burst of pace that happens in the second. It’s not a radical change of character so much as a beginning point that serves to transition into what the four-piece are doing with the back end of the tracklist. And it’s also worth noting the fluidity with which their shifts play out. Whether it’s a turn from one part to another or a kick in tempo or a slowdown, Godsleep never lose sight of the underlying groove that is carrying them and their audience along the album’s steady but varied course. 49 minutes is by no means short for an LP, but neither is it unmanageable, and Godsleep hold firm to what works while pushing themselves to reach beyond what they’ve done before. There are more of them, but the songs on Coming of Age are by and large shorter than those on Thousand Sons of Sleep — none hit nine minutes, for example, though closer “Ded Space” comes close — and feel tighter in their composition.

godsleep

Even so, an open atmosphere pervades “Puku Dom,” which by all accounts is an interlude, about 90 seconds of subdued fuzz guitar leading the way into “Basic (The Fundamentals of Craving),” which tops seven minutes and begins with Makris‘ standout lines, “Let’s build a house ‘cause time is passing/You are mistaken for the feeling remains,” and runs through a flowing course that builds in energy as it goes, both linear and based on chorus repetition, breaking at around the five-minute mark to more progressive fuzzery ahead of the crescendo that finishes. “Basic (The Fundamentals of Craving)” on its own is demonstrable proof of the maturity happening across Coming of Age, and especially with “Puku Dom” providing listeners with a moment to breathe ahead of its arrival, it seems all the more like the band set it up for maximum impact; a self-awareness that is no less important when it comes to engaging listeners.

“Karma is a Kid” begins at a mellow sway with Makris‘ voice malleable to the situation before the full thickness of the central riff kicks in. It would seem to be the job of the penultimate track to tie the two sides of the LP together, and “Karma is a Kid” does that somewhat with a speedier thrust, but there’s also a change in structure as well, as LeventosKtenas and Tsoumas take over instrumentally after that initial arrival of the riff and the rest of the song plays out without vocals. Like the rest of what surrounds, it offers something new while remaining familiar in the context of the record as a whole, and while one doubts Godsleep sat down and masterminded exactly that impression, in putting together the tracklist, they obviously had a sense of what they wanted Coming of Age to do and when, and that’s crucial. They follow a plotted course through the rest of “Karma is a Kid” and crash out to a fading rumble and the start of “Ded Space,” which unfolds with a patient build of tension in the guitar and drums that moves through the early verses en route to an interplay of spoken and sung lyrics in the midsection.

There’s a quiet break in the second half, but Godsleep aren’t going to let the opportunity for a bigger finish pass them by, and they make no attempt to mask their intention all through “Ded Space” as it heads toward its finale. Nor should they — it’s a payoff well earned, both within “Ded Space” itself and across the entirety of Coming of Age as a whole. The closer’s lyrics seem to move from a personal narrative to take on a more pointed social commentary, perhaps addressing Greece’s political and economic turmoil through metaphor and a kind of big-picture perspective. That’s fair enough ground for Godsleep to tread, but like much of what precedes, it piques interest in terms of where they might go from here. That goes back to the idea of Coming of Age as a reset, or a second debut with the arrival of Makris as a distinguishing moment between their sophomore long-player and its predecessor. However one wants to think of it, though, and however they might progress, the high level of craft throughout Coming of Age indeed speaks to the burgeoning maturity of the band, and their consciousness of what they’re doing only heightens the appreciation thereof. I know I already used the word, but I’ll say it again: it’s an exciting listen.

Godsleep, Coming of Age (2018)

Godsleep on Thee Facebooks

Godsleep on Bandcamp

The Lab Records website

Threechords Records on Thee Facebooks

 

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Gypsy Chief Goliath Premiere “Stranger Desires” Lyric Video; Masters of Space and Time out Feb. 22

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 10th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Gypsy Chief Goliath (photo by Syx Langemann)

When one thinks of Gypsy Chief Goliath, one thinks of Al ‘Yeti’ Bones, and when one thinks of Al ‘Yeti’ Bones, one thinks of burl. Across two decades of work in bands like Mister BonesThe Georgian SkullThe Mighty Nimbus and, briefly, Serpents of SecrecyBones has been the dude bringing the dudeliness to maximum burl factor. And yet, in “Stranger Desires” from Gypsy Chief Goliath‘s fourth album, Masters of Space and Time — due out Feb. 22 on Kozmik Artifactz — he takes a more melodic approach rather than bellowing out with the gruffness he’s shown in the past. A softer side? Not really with those riffs behind him, but what the band are doing with “Stranger Desires” is taking on more of a classic heavy rock sound than they’ve had in the past — even 2016’s Citizens of Nowhere (review here) kept up the thread — and as one can hear in the track below, it suits them well.

Of course, with six dudes listed in the lineup — curiously, only five appear in the photo above; an invisible keyboardist would also be a nod to classic heavy rock — as guitarists Dustin Black and John Serio, bassist Darren Brush, drummer Adam Saitti and key-specialist Mark Calcott join Bones in this revamped mission, it’s not just about the guitarist/vocalist positioned in the center of the stage. Gypsy Chief Goliath seem to be making this semi-departure as a group. On “Stranger Desires,” with organ running alongside the guitar, they tap into proto-metal in style while keeping to a modernist impact in terms of the production, and ’70s rock and ’80s metal collide with a fervent rhythmic push through a chorus that edges close to poppy in its affect. Make your way through the song two or three times and you’re going to start to hear some of the depth to it. The first listen? All about the change. The second? All about the hook. But one or two more and you start to hear weird things going on that are both exciting and new for the band.

I haven’t heard all of Masters of Space and Time, just this track, so I can’t comment on how well it might showcase the album as a whole, but Bones says in the quote below it’s a “fitting introduction,” so it may well be that this evolution is playing out across the entire offering. If so, right on. It certainly works here.

Please find “Stranger Desires” premiering in the lyric video below, followed by more info from the PR wire.

And please enjoy:

Gypsy Chief Goliath, “Stranger Desires” lyric video premiere

GYPSY CHIEF GOLIATH’s Al Yeti Bones offers of the single, “’Stranger Desires’ is a tune about strange times. Simple. Lyrically, without getting political, because that is not my forte, it’s just to be interpreted loosely as weird times we live in, and that’s it. What we seem to appreciate on a global scale in terms of needs; entertainment and mainstream media and how the two have been cross-pollinated to unglue a lot of information and dirty the lines between fact and fiction. Realistically speaking I guess it’s always been this way. Nothing is new there. The lyrics are vague regarding specific topics, as I would hate to offend anyone, as I’m Canadian and too nice of a guy. But the tune itself, is the first thing we’ve put out in a few years and I felt this would be a fitting introduction to the new album. It’s different than previous work, but I hope people dig it! Crank it!”

Kozmik Artifactz will release Masters Of Space And Time on LP, CD, and all digital services worldwide on February 22nd.

GYPSY CHIEF GOLIATH Live:

1/12/2019 Call The Office – London, ON w/ White Swan
1/25/2019 Dominion House – Windsor, ON
3/02/2019 Willie Johns Big Easy – Niagara Falls, ON
3/16/2019 Dominion House – Windsor, ON *record release show

GYPSY CHIEF GOLIATH:
Al Yeti Bones – vocals, guitars
Adam Saitti – drums
Darren Brush – bass
Dustin Black – guitars
John Serio – guitars
Mark Calcott – keyboards

Gypsy Chief Goliath website

Gypsy Chief Goliath on Thee Facebooks

Gypsy Chief Goliath on Instagram

Kozmik Artifactz website

Kozmik Artifactz on Twitter

Kozmik Artifactz on Thee Facebooks

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the-top-30-of-2018

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2018 to that, please do.

It just wouldn’t be a year if it wasn’t completely overwhelming, right?

2018 has certainly met that standard and then some. The swath of output, whether it’s a new generation adopting and adapting established methods or out and out reinventing the stylistic wheel and then pushing it uphill on a seemingly endless barrage of tours, has been staggering, and it’s still happening. There’s a little more than a week to go in the year. You think a band isn’t putting something out today? Of course they are. It’s every day. It’s all the time.

But this year wasn’t just about quantity either. I think one of my biggest struggles in writing about albums in 2018 — and with the last Quarterly Review and various premieres and video posts that were basically album reviews in disguise, let’s estimate we’re somewhere past 300 records reviewed one way or another — was in conveying just how killer so much of the stuff coming through was. How many times can you say the word “awesome?” Well, I’m sure we’ll see it a few more times before this list is over, so there you go.

I say something like this every time I do a list, but please keep in mind these are my picks and I’m one person. But I am a person. I know there’s the whole internet-anonymity thing, but I assure you, I’m a human being (more of a cave troll, really) typing these words. I’m all for everyone sharing their own picks in the comments, and all for passionate advocating, but please, let’s keep it civil and respectful. These things can spiral out of control quickly, but let’s remember that we’re all human beings and worth of basic courtesy, even if some of us are dead wrong about a good many things. You should definitely punch nazis, though.

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

[UPDATE: You’ll notice the inclusion of an ’18a.’ I had Stoned Jesus in my notes as number 18 initially and they got dropped as I was adjusting things along the way. I’ve added them back in, but it didn’t seem fair to bump everyone else down after the post had already been published. That was the best I could come up with for a solution. If you’re pissed about one more killer record being added, please feel free to email me and tell me all about it.]

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Chicago’s The Skull had no small task before them in following up their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) — let alone living up to their pedigree — but their second album demonstrated a creative growth that sacrificed nothing of memorability when it came to songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “All that Remains (Is True).” They got down to work and got the job done, which is what a working band does. 2018 was by any measure a fantastic year for doom, and The Skull were a big part of why.

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

The Dec. 2017 murder of Rev. Jim Forrester was tragic. No other way to say it. Foghound, who were in the midst of making Awaken to Destroy at the time, put together an album that not only features Forrester‘s last recorded performance, but pays respect to his memory while the wound is still raw and manages to kick ass all the while. It’s a record that can’t ever be divorced from its circumstances — just can’t — and so it can be a heavy listen in more than just its tones, but it’s basically Foghound proving they’re unstoppable. And so they are.

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

Who among us here today is not a sucker for Orange Goblin? Come forward an be judged. I mean, really. Nine records deep, the London sceneforgers are nothing less than an institution, beloved by boozehounds, riffhounds, doomhounds, and really, a wide variety of hounds the world over. Also dudes. With its essential title-track hook and highlight cuts in “Ghosts of the Primitives” and “Burn the Ships” — or, you know, any of them — they added to one of heavy’s most unshakable legacies with an album as furious as it is welcoming to its generations-spanning fanbase.

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

fu manchu clone of the universe
Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed Feb. 15.

There are two kinds of people in this world, and they’re both Fu Manchu fans. Clone of the Universe turned heads with a guest appearance from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson on the 18-minute side-B-consuming “Il Mostro Atomico,” but really to focus on that instead of “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” etc., is only seeing half the point of the album in the first place. The long-running lords of fuzz hit a new stride with 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), and Clone of the Universe was in every way a worthy successor.

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain
Released by Svart Records. Reviewed May 16.

It was an unenviable task before Witch Mountain in replacing vocalist Uta Plotkin, but founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson found the right voice in Kayla Dixon and solidified the lineup with her and bassist Justin Brown enough to make a declarative statement in Witch Mountain‘s self-titled LP. That’s the story of it. They pulled it off. Met with what was unquestionably a bummer circumstance, they pushed through and moved their sound forward through a new beginning — and not their first one. Watch out when their next record hits.

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Richmond, Virginia, doomers Windhand‘s second collaboration with producer Jack Endino produced a marked and purposeful expansion of their sound, encompassing classic grunge influences and a heavy psychedelic swirl that added color their previously-greyscale sonic haze. Resonant in tone and emotionalism, Eternal Return readjusted Windhand‘s trajectory in such a manner that, where one might’ve thought they knew where the band were headed in terms of their progression, they’ve made themselves a less predictable outfit on the whole. For that alone, it’s a triumph. Then you have the songs.

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

I don’t even want to admit how long I was waiting for Sun Voyager‘s first long-player to show up, but when it finally did, the New York trio did not disappoint. Catchy, energetic, fuzzed-out tunes with driving rhythms and a heavy psych flourish, they tapped into shoegaze and desert vibes without losing any sense of themselves in the process, and if the extra wait was so they could be so remarkably coherent in their expression on their full-length, then I wouldn’t want it to have shown up any sooner. An easy pick to stand among 2018’s best debut albums. Now to wait for the next one.

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

It should tell you something that after working quickly to produce three albums, Louisiana’s Forming the Void are still defined by their potential. If I had my druthers, I’d put the recent Ripple signees on tour for the bulk of 2019, across the US and in Europe for festivals and support-slot club shows, really give them an opportunity to hammer out who they are as a band and then hit the studio for LP four. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but they’d only be doing the universe a favor by kicking into that gear. As it stands, their progression is palpable in their material and they stand absolutely ready for whatever the next level might be for them.

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

Released by BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed June 29.

Aside from the speed at which Spaceslug have turned around offerings — with Eye the Tide following 2017’s Mountains and Reminiscence EP (review here) and Time Travel Dilemma (review here) full-length and their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here) — the Polish outfit have undertaken significant progression in their sound, moving from pure heavy psychedelic warmth to incorporating elements out of extreme metal as they did on Eye the Tide. Adding to the latest record’s accomplishment is the smoothness with which they brought seemingly opposing sides together, only adding depth to an approach already worthy of oceanic comparison.

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

Conan Existential Void Guardian
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Conan‘s reign of terror has been unfolding for more than a decade now, and each of their albums has become a kind of step along a path of incremental growth. Consider the melody creeping into the shouts of founding guitarist Jon Davis, or the emergence of bassist Chris Fielding as a vocal presence alongside, the two sharing a frontman role more than ever before while welcoming drummer Johnny King to the fold of destructive tonality and doomly extremism. Existential Void Guardian may end up just being another stomp-print on their way to the next thing, but it affirmed the fact that as much as Conan grow each time out, their central violence continues to hold sway.

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

PALE DIVINE S/T
Released by Shadow Kingdom Records. Reviewed Nov. 21.

Look. A new Pale Divine record doesn’t come along every day, so yeah, their self-titled was probably going to be on my list one way or the other, but it definitely helps that not only was it their first outing in six years since 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here), but it had the songs to live up to a half-decade-plus of anticipation. It marked the first studio appearance from bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis alongside guitarist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey — now both of Beelzefuzz as well — and made a strong argument for how much Pale Divine deserve more than 20 years on from their initial demo to be considered classic American doom.

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands
Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed May 11.

The return and rise to prominence of Washington pure heavy rockers Mos Generator might be the underground’s feelgood story of the decade, but it hasn’t by any means been easily won. In addition to rebuilding the band however many albums ago, guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed has put in innumerable hours on tour and worked to actually develop the group creatively in addition to in terms of stage presence. This is shown throughout some of the classic prog elements making their way onto Shadowlands, and perhaps some of the collection’s moodier aspects are born of the aforementioned road time as well. Hard for that kind of thing not to be a slog after a while, but at least they have killer tunes to play.

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

The only safe bet about Stoned Jesus‘ fourth long-player, Pilgrims, was that it was going to sound different than the third. That 2015 outing, The Harvest (review here), preceded the band touring to celebrate the fifth anniversary and after-the-fact success of 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but Pilgrims defied narrative in that instead of incorporating elements from the second record in more of a heavy psych or jam sound, Stoned Jesus instead showcased a tighter, more sureheaded sense of craft than they’ve ever displayed before, and arrived on Napalm Records with a collection of songs that demonstrated the growth and sense of creative will that drives them. While one can take a look at their moniker and think immediately they know what’s coming, Stoned Jesus have made themselves one of the least predictable bands in heavy rock.

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

“Pirate Smile.” “Lines.” “Whatever.” “It Ain’t Right.” “Threes.” “Cinderella.” “Generals.” “Big Enough.” “Alone.” “Lucky. Mike Cummings, Jessica Baker, Erik Larson. Every player, every song, every minute. If you want to know what heart-on-sleeve sounds like, it fucking sounds like Backwoods Payback. In their line from hardcore punk to grunge to heavy rock, they encompass experiences and emotionalism that are both shown in raw form throughout Future Slum, and build all the while on the chemistry they set out in developing with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), when they welcomed Larson to the lineup on drums and revitalized their mission. Also worth noting, they were the best live band I saw this year. Anywhere.

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

No question the excitement of C.O.C. putting out their first record with frontman Pepper Keenan involved since 2005’s In the Arms of God was one of this year’s top stories in heavy. And No Cross No Crown tapped directly into the spirit of 1994’s Deliverance (discussed here) and 1996’s Wiseblood (discussed here) in terms of direction, while updating the band’s style with a four-part 2LP in mind. In some ways, it’ll be their next album that really gives listeners a sense of where they’re at and where they might be headed, but as welcome returns go, having Keenan alongside Mike DeanWoody Weatherman and Reed Mullin is in no way to be understated, and neither is the quality of their output together, then and now.

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It is no simple feat to hypnotize an audience and convey serenity while at the same time holding attention with songcraft, so that the listener isn’t actually so much unconscious as malleable of mood and spirit in such a direction as the band suggests. Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to become experts at this, and their third full-length fosters tonal warmth and jammy progressions with an overarching naturalism that finds them so committed to analog recording that one can buy direct transfers of the tape master of III. Some acts take classic-style practices as an aesthetic choice. With Naxatras, it seems to be the stuff of life, yet their sound is only vibrant and human in a way that, at least one hopes, is even more representative of the future than the past.

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

It was time for Clutch to make a change in producers, and the Maryland overlords of groove seemed to know it. Known as a live band, they went with Vance Powell, who’s known a live band producer. The results on Book of Bad Decisions might not have been so earth-shatteringly different from 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here), which was the too-soon follow-up to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — both helmed by Machine — but the inimitable four-piece indeed succeeded in capturing the electricity of their stage performance and, as ever, treated fans to a collection of songs bearing Clutch‘s unmistakable hallmarks of quirky lyrics, funky rhythms and heavy roll. They may always be a live band, but Clutch‘s studio work is in no way to be discounted, ever, as this record reaffirmed. Plus, crab cakes.

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

After 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), I wasn’t sure Ancestors were going to put out another record. They kicked around word of one for a while, but it wasn’t until the end of last year that it really seemed to congeal into a possibility. And by then, who the hell knew what they might get up to on a full-length? With Suspended in Reflections, in some says, they picked up where they left off in terms of finding a niche for themselves in progressive and melodic heavy, but I think the time showed in the poise of their execution and the control of the material. Suspended in Reflections can’t help but be six years more mature than its predecessor, and that suits its contemplative feel. In tracks like “Gone,” and “The Warm Glow,” they tempered their expansive sound with an efficiency that can only be had with time.

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

The narrative here was hard to beat. Matt Pike spending an album cycle talking about Lemmy Kilmister and paying homage to his dirt-rock forebear and the gods of old? It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Electric Messiah was the third collaboration between High on Fire and producer Kurt Ballou behind 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), and while it seemed after the last record that the formula might be getting stale, the band only sounded more and more lethal throughout the latest offering. Even putting aside their contributions to underground heavy, they’ve become one of the most essential metal bands of their generation. Metal, period. Doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re talking about it. If you’re listening to High on Fire, you know it. Usually because you’ve just been decapitated.

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

You know, if you take the time to separate Yawning Man from their 30-plus-year history and their legacy as one of the foundational acts of what later became desert rock, and you listen to The Revolt Against Tired Noises, you’re still left with basically a dream of an album. Mostly instrumental, as is their wont, they nonetheless had bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) sing this time around on a version of the previously-unreleased “Catamaran,” which Kyuss covered once upon a whenever although Yawning Man had never officially put it to tape. But really, that and all other novelty aside, guitarist Gary Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are a chemistry unto themselves. I don’t know if they’ll ever be as huge as they should be, but every bit of acclaim they get, they’ve earned, and if The Revolt Against Tired Noises helps them get it, all the more so.

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

Swedish heavy rock mavens Greenleaf have become an entirely different band than they once were. No longer a Dozer side-project from guitarist Tommi Holappa with a rotating cast of players, they’re a solidified, road-tested, powerhouse unit, and Hear the Rivers bleeds soul as a result. Holappa, frontman Arvid Hällagård, bassist Hans Fröhlich and drummer Sebastian Olsson sound like they’re absolutely on fire in the album’s tracks, and far from being staid or formulaic as one might expect a sixth long-player to be, Hear the Rivers built on what the band accomplished with 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) and came across as all the more vital and nearly frenetic in their energy. I won’t say Greenleaf has seen their last lineup change, because one never knows, but the band as they are today is the realization of potential I don’t think even Greenleaf knew was there.

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 4.

Five records deep into a career into its second decade, Gozu haven’t had a miss yet. Admittedly, some of their early work can seem formative considering where they are now, but still. And after the 2016 rager, Revival (review here), to have the band return to the same studio — Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where strides producer Dean Baltulonis — for the follow-up allows for the four-piece to directly show how their sound has grown more encompassing in the last couple years. And it has. Equilibrium is a rich and varied listen that holds true to Gozu‘s well-established penchant for soulful vibes and crunching, hard-hitting riffs and groove, but while it shares the directness of approach with Revival, it makes moves that a band could only make moving from one record to the next. I expect nothing less their next time out as well, because a decade later, that’s Gozu‘s proven track record.

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

monster magnet mindfucker
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 23.

The battle for the best album title of 2018 ended early when New Jersey everything-rockers Monster Magnet announced the release of Mindfucker. And what else to call a Monster Magnet LP at this point? They’ve stopped writing to genre. They’re driven by the creative mania of frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf, and they’ve seen psychedelic expanses and commercial success the likes of which would serve the tenure of four lesser bands. What’s left to do but whatever the hell you want? So that’s what Monster Magnet are doing. It just so happens that while they’re doing it, they’re still basically outclassing the entirety of the former planet earth as songwriters. As Monster Magnet fan in 2018, there was nothing more I could’ve asked than what Mindfucker delivered. And if you’re still trying to get your brain around it however many months later, you’re not alone. I think that’s the idea.

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Best doom album of 2018. The combination of craft and passion behind the delivery. The way the dark tones fed into the emotions so clearly on display and sheer presence of it in listening to songs like “Keeping the Lighthouse,” “Ruination by Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here.” Apostle of Solitude never seem to be the highest profile band out there, but their work seems never to be anything less than outstanding, and I refuse to accept them as anything less than among the most pivotal American acts out there making traditional doom. And not just making it, but making it their own, with a sense of new pursuits and individualism that extends to playing style as well as atmosphere. I know doom isn’t exactly in short supply these days — figuratively or literally — but if you miss out on what Apostle of Solitude are doing with it, you’ll only regret it later. I’ll say it one more time: Best doom album of 2018.

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

holy grove ii
Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 31.

Every now and again, anticipating the crap of an album really pays off, and such was the case with Holy Grove II, the Ripple Music debut from the Portland outfit whose 2016 self-titled (review here) seemed like such a herald of excellence to come while also, you know, being killer. Holy Grove II brought the four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis to entirely new levels of composition and execution. In songs like “Blade Born,” the shorter, sharper “Aurora,” the patiently rolling “Valley of the Mystics,” “Solaris” and closer “Cosmos,” which boasted a not-really-necessary-but-definitely-welcome guest vocal appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt, — and oh wait, that’s all of the tracks — Holy Grove entered a different echelon. Anticipation will likewise be high for Holy Grove III, but it’ll be hard to complain with this record to keep company in the meantime.

6. All Them Witches, ATW

all them witches atw
Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Over five All Them Witches albums, the Nashville four-piece have gone from a nascent heavy Americana jam band to one of the most distinct acts in the US underground. Their development in sound is chemistry-driven, so it was a risk when the founding trio of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) and drummer Robby Staebler welcomed new keyboardist Jonathan Draper into the lineup to take the place of Allan van Cleave. Amid a more naturalist production than that of 2017’s Sleeping Through the War (review here), the revamped four-piece flourished in terms of songwriting and conveying their stage-born sonic personae. From the gleeful fuckery of opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” to the memorable moodiness of “Diamond” and the back-end jam “Harvest Feast” en route to the stretched-out end of “Rob’s Dream,” All Them Witches essentially confirmed they could do whatever they wanted and make it work.

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

yob our raw heart
Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed June 7.

Actually, if you want a sample of YOB‘s raw heart, the place to go is probably 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), but whatever the Eugene, Oregon, shapers of cosmic doom might’ve lacked in titular accuracy on their eighth long-player, they made up for in a new, statesman-like posture. Their approach was mature, hammered out to a professionalism working completely on its own terms, and they never sounded so sure of who they are as a band or as confident of their direction. In extended cuts “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and “Our Raw Heart,” they explored new and progressive textures and melodies, and managed to reaffirm their core aspects while finding room for conveying emotion that came across as nothing but ultimately sincere. They have been and still are one of a kind, and as they continue to move forward, they remain a band that makes one feel lucky to be alive to witness their work. Our Raw Heart was perhaps more refined than it let on, but the heart was there for sure, as always.

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t a fan of the (relatively) harder-hitting approach Brant Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band took on 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), but Mankind Woman brought in some more of his soul influences, and whether it was the subtly subversive funk of “Chocolatize” and “Brand New Old Times” or the callout “1968” and laid back vibes of the title-track and “Swagger and Sway,” Bjork — working with guitarist Bubba DuPree on songwriting and production — offered a definitive look at what has made his 20-year solo career so special and demonstrates not only his longevity and his legacy, but his will to continue to progress as an artist honing his craft. His discography is well populated by now to be sure, but Mankind Woman represents a turn from the last couple records, and if it’s in any way portentous of things to come, it bodes well. Bjork is right at home nestled into classic-style grooves, and his legacy as one of the principal architects of desert rock is continually reaffirmed.

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

They’ve been great, not just good, for a long time now, and as forerunners of the San Diego heavy scene, they’re godfathers to an up and coming generation of bands taking their influence — let alone acts from the rest of the world — but Black Heaven is a special moment for them because of its departure. No, it wasn’t not the first time guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sang on an Earthless recording, but it did represent a tip of the balance in that direction for the band on a studio full-length, and that resulted in a special moment. Album opener “Gifted by the Wind” was one of the best songs I heard this year, and while “End to End” and the all-thrust “Volt Rush” affirmed that more traditional songwriting was well within the grasp of Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, they still found space for a sprawling jam or two, keeping their claim on the instrumentalism that’s (largely) fueled their tenure to date. Earthless don’t want for acclaim, but every bit of it is earned, and while their primary impact has always been live, Black Heaven saw them construct a traditional-style LP that still bore the hallmarks of their collective personality. It was the best of all worlds.

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

king buffalo longing to be the mountain
Self-released/released by Stickman Records. Reviewed Sept. 27.

In the dark early hours of 2018, the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson issued the Repeater EP (review here) as a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), so Longing to Be the Mountain didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but even with Repeater preceding its arrival, I don’t think anyone necessary expected King Buffalo‘s second album to have such a scope or to be so engrossing with it. In its melody, patience, atmosphere and heft, it was an absolute joy to behold. Its songs were memorable at the same time they were far-reaching, and while Orion was already my pick for the best debut of 2016, Longing to Be the Mountain realized even more potential than that record had hinted toward. It could be intimate or majestic at its whim, and its dynamic set an individual characterization of heavy psychedelia and blues-style sprawl that the band wholly owned. With production by Ben McLeod of All Them Witches behind them, they worked to serve notice of a progression undertaken the results of which are already staggering and still seem to be looking ahead to the next stage, literally and figuratively. One of the principal standards I use in constructing this list every year is what I listen to most. That’s this record.

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

Obviously, right? To some extent, when Sleep surprise-announced on April 19 they’d release their first album in 15 years the next day, and then did, they took ownership of 2018. Even with records still to come at that point from YOB and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike‘s own High on Fire, there was no way that when the end of the year came around, it wasn’t going to be defined by the advent of a new Sleep record. And even if it sucked, it would probably still be Album of the Year, but fortunately, as Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om) and drummer Jason Roeder (also Neurosis) took their long-running stage reunion to the studio, they brought material that highlighted the best elements from all players. Pike‘s wild soloing, Cisneros‘ meditative vocals and Roeder‘s intricate but smooth style of roll all came together in older pieces like “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Sonic Titan” and newer highlights “Giza Butler” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” and aside from the excitement at their existence, they showed the mastery of form that Sleep had been demonstrating live since 2009 and which they hinted toward in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here). A new Sleep full-length was something long-discussed, long-rumored and long-considered, but when it finally happened, I think the results vaporized expectation in a way no one could’ve anticipated. There’s a reason Sleep are Sleep. Having The Sciences as a reminder of that brought about the defining moment of 2018.

The Next 20

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a Top 30 at all if it didn’t go to 50. Don’t try to make sense of it, just look at the records.

31. Atavismo, Valdeinfierno
32. Grayceon, IV
33. Clamfight, III
34. Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique
35. Megaton Leviathan, Mage
36. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland
37. Arcadian Child, Superfonica
38. Freedom Hawk, Beast Remains
39. The Machine, Faceshift
40. Messa, Feast for Water
41. Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium
42. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Science Fiction
43. Domkraft, Flood
44. Träden, Träden
45. Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
46. Samavayo, Vatan
47. Foehammer, Second Sight
48. Bongripper, Terminal
49. Mansion, First Death of the Lutheran
50. Sunnata, Outlands
51. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Come and Chutney

Believe me when I tell you, I sweated over this section more than I did the actual top 30. Mansion should be higher. So should Chubby Thunderous, though something in me thought they might like being #50 on a list of 30. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Clamfight, Black Rainbows, Foehammer, Seedy Jeezus, Messa, Domkraft. All of these were fucking awesome. And there are more (we’ll get there). Eventually numbers add up. I won’t say a bad word about any of these. That’s it.

Honorable Mention

This section always winds up expanded as other people point out things I missed and so on, but here’s what I’ve got in the immediate, alphabetically:

  • Alms, Act One
  • Ape Machine, Darker Seas
  • Belzebong, Light the Dankness
  • Black Moon Circle, Psychedelic Spacelord
  • Blackwater Holylight, Blackwater Holylight
  • Bong, Thought and Existence
  • Carpet, About Rooms and Elephants
  • Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery
  • Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree
  • Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need
  • Death Alley, Superbia
  • Drug Cult, Drug Cult
  • Dunbarrow, II
  • Electric Citizen, Helltown
  • Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn
  • Evoken, Hypnagogia
  • Funeral Horse, Psalms for the Mourning
  • Fuzz Evil, High on You
  • Graven, Heirs of Discord
  • Graveyard, Peace
  • Green Dragon, Green Dragon
  • Green Druid, Ashen Blood
  • Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing
  • High Priestess, High Priestess
  • Horehound, Holocene
  • IAH, II
  • JIRM, Surge ex Monumentis
  • Killer Boogie, Acid Cream
  • Lonely Kamel, Death’s Head Hawkmoth
  • MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure
  • Moab, Trough
  • Mountain Dust, Seven Storms
  • Mouth, Floating
  • Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence
  • T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid
  • Onségen Ensemble, Duel
  • Orango, Evergreen
  • Owl, Nights in Distortion
  • Pushy, Hard Wish
  • Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground/Meditation
  • River Cult, Halcyon Daze
  • Rotor, Sechs
  • Somali Yacht Club, The Sea
  • Sumac, Love in Shadow
  • Sundrifter, Visitations
  • Svvamp, Svvamp II
  • Thou, Magus
  • Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse
  • Weedpecker, III

Special Note

Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to include these in the list proper because they’re not really underground releases, but there were two more records I especially wanted to highlight for their quality:

  • Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
  • Judas Priest, Firepower

Best Short Release of the Year

Normally I’d do this as a separate post, but as a result of being robbed earlier this year, I feel like my list is woefully incomplete. If you have any demos, EPs, splits, singles, etc., to add to it, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Still, the top pick was clear:

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Rarely do two bands work in such coherent tandem to their mutual benefit. Here are a few other essential short releases for 2018, alphabetically:

  • All Them Witches, Lost and Found
  • Alunah, Amber & Gold
  • Canyon, Mk II
  • Demon Head, The Resistence
  • Destroyer of Light, Hopeless
  • Ecstatic Vision, Under the Influence
  • Godmaker & Somnuri, Split
  • Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul
  • King Buffalo, Repeater
  • Minsk & Zatokrev, Split
  • Sleep, Leagues Beneath
  • Stonus, Lunar Eclipse
  • Sundecay, Gale

Looking Forward

A good many albums have already been announced or hinted at for 2019. I in no way claim this to be a complete roundup of what’s coming, but here’s what I have in my notes so far, in absolutely no order:

Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Cities of Mars, Heavy Temple, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan (LP), Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Om.

Okay, That’s It

Yeah, no, I’m serious. List is done. Everybody go back to your lives. Your families miss you.

Really though, while this is by no means my last post of 2018, I can’t let it pass without saying thank you so much to everyone for checking out the site this year, or for just digging into this, or for sending me music, or hitting me up on social media, sharing a link, anything. Thank you. Thank you. I could never have imagined when it started out where it would be now. Or that I’d still be doing it. Your support means more to me than I can say, and I thank you so much for being a part of this with me.

So thanks.

If you have something to add to the list, please do so by leaving a comment below, but keep in mind as well the above note requesting civility. Please don’t make me feel stupid because I forgot your favorite record. I forgot a lot of people’s favorite records. I’m one dude. I’m doing my best.

And please keep in mind if you’ve got a list together that the Year-End Poll is open and results will be out Jan. 1.

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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